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Originally published Friday, January 20, 2012 at 3:00 PM

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Movie review

'Miss Representation': required viewing for teens

A review of a scattered by thought-provoking documentary about images of women in the media, "Miss Representation," directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'Miss Representation,' a documentary directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom. 90 minutes. Not rated. SIFF Cinema at the Film Center, through Thursday.


Jennifer Siebel Newsom's documentary "Miss Representation" is peppered with statistics and anecdotes, many of them alarming: American teenagers spend nearly 11 hours a day in front of a television, computer or other media device. Seventy-eight percent of 17-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies. Some state's medical programs won't cover domestic abuse if it's considered to be a pre-existing condition. Nancy Pelosi tells the camera that when she first ran for public office, her youngest child was a senior in high school; yet, interviewers kept asking her who would take care of her children if she were elected.

That's just the tip of the iceberg in a film that's frustratingly wide-ranging; "Miss Representation" hops from body-image issues to the lack of women in higher office in the U.S. to TV violence to women directors to Katie Couric's skirt lengths (discussed by Couric herself), all in a quick 90 minutes. But as I wished that the movie was more focused, didn't have such sleep-inducing music constantly playing in its background, and wasn't telling me so many things I already knew, I remembered its primary audience: This film needs to be watched by teenage girls, for whom it may well serve as both a wake-up call and a course called Women's Images in Media 101.

Though a number of prominent women and men are interviewed in the talking-head-heavy film (among them Gloria Steinem, Margaret Cho, Rachel Maddow and many others), the film's most vivid voices are those of teenagers — young people just learning that the world is a heady stew of both unfairness and possibility. And "Miss Representation's" advice to these youth is important, both the inspirational words of Gandhi ("Be the change you wish to see in the world") and the more down-to-earth adage to simply "turn off the television and read."

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or