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A Feminist Reading of the Short Film 'Coast' by Alistair MacDonald

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 2114 words Published: 6th Dec 2021

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This essay will provide a feminist reading of the short film Coast, written and directed by Alistair MacDonald. The main feminist topics that will be tackled in this essay lie around the lack of representation of diverse female characters and female issues in movies, the non stereotypical relationships that can grow between them, the women-to-men ratio in the film industry and how can all of the before mentioned affect the female audience. The first section will discuss the feminist approach of the main topics present in the short film, the second will focus on the way the two main characters are depicted, illustrating the evolution of female characters in films and the third one will consider how these changes can influence women spectators.

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Coast is a 13 minute short film that portrays a young woman living in her car escaping from what seems to be an abusive relationship. When her car breaks down in the middle of the road she does not expect what is about to happen to her because, not only does she get help, but also the opportunity of a fresh new start. This short film shows the surprising relationship of solidarity and sisterhood that can rise between two female strangers, a relationship that is not depicted as often as it could be in the film industry. The absence of portrayal in films of 'real life' issues women face on a daily basis has been discussed over the last few decades and some of them can be seen in Coast. A great example of this is the fact that the main character is running from a previous harmful relationship, which replaces the classic belief that women had to stay and be the sustaining piece of the relationship; or seeing that the older woman helping her is totally, economically and emotionally, self-sufficient, whereas in older times the women were seen as helpless, always depending on men to solve their problems; and sorority, the main topic in Coast, that substitutes the traditional thought of women fighting each other and putting down other women in order to succeed. Therefore, it is very important to see that there is a change in the narrative and important issues are being implemented.

On the other hand, some may say that this short film could not be considered feminist since it would not pass The Bechdel Test (1985), a test created to evaluate the representation of woman and their interaction in movies focusing on three simple facts:

  1. Does it have two or more women in it and do we know their names?
  2. Do they talk to one another?
  3. Do they talk to one another about something other than a man?

Coast does have two strong women that talk to each other about something other than a man but it never mentions their names until the final credits.

However, even though this test shows how women have been excluded in the entertainment industry, and how it has always been thought that their lives revolved around men, it does not focus on all aspects of a movie production, neither does it insure well developed female characters. So, in order to declare this short film 'not feminist', those issues should be tackled beforehand.

The evolution of female characters has also been a very argued topic in the film industry over the last decades, but as Dr. Martha Lauzen states, "there is a growing disconnect… between what we might perceive as being the current status of women in film and their actual status''. She also reports that in 2013 ''females accounted for 29% of major characters, and 30% of all speaking characters.'' and that they ''were younger than their male counterparts. Males were more likely than females to be identified solely by workrelated roles and females were more likely than males to be identified solely by personal life-related roles.''

In Coast, the main role, played by Roxie Mohebbi, is depicted as a young strong determined woman, attributes that are progressively becoming more frequent in female characters in movies such as Princess Leia in Star Wars (1977), Juno (2007), Peggy Olson in Mad Men (2007), or Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games (2012), but are not as common as everyone would think. According to David Gauntlet (2005), paraphrasing Barrie Gunter (1995) 'Overall, men were more likely to be assertive (or aggressive), whilst women were more likely to be passive. Men were much more likely to be adventurous, active and victorious, whereas women were more frequently shown as weak, ineffectual, victimised, supportive, laughable, or ''merely token females''.'

And, even though it is obvious that the protagonist clearly needs help, Alistair MacDonald, the writer, decided to avoid the stereotypical approach of a girl in need that waits for a man to fix her issues, showing her instead as a deep, well developed character, with a troubled past but willing to recover and get back on her feet. Her character goes through an interior metamorphosis from being scared and trying to survive by stealing fuel from a car on the side of the road to accepting a job and help from a total stranger. It is clear from this that her portrayal reveals a higher complexity and extent of her personality, making her a more developed character than the average Hollywood movie.

In the same way, the second main character: the older woman, goes out of the ordinary as well when building a female character. She is described as a strong, self-reliant woman, who lives on her own, with skills frequently associated to male characters, such as mechanics (fixing the car) or fishing.

Nonetheless, what makes a movie production 'feminist' is not only what lies in front of the camera, but also what is behind it and how it can impact the way women are portrayed or seen by the feminine audience. As Megan Deck reflects on her thesis, 'The exclusion of women from the film industry leads to misrepresentation of female characters and the prominence of a male gaze on-screen. These results influence how women are depicted on-screen and, on a more extreme level, how women are viewed in (…) society. ' Malegaze being the way women are shown to the audience and society from the men's point of view, which usually objectifies them and puts them on the back burner.

Behind Coast's production, unfortunately, the crew is mostly constituted by men. The only behind-the-camera roles undertaken by women, out of a 12-people-team, are the Producer, Art Department and one of the two A.D., which represents only 25% of the total. Less of what it would be expected from a self-proclaimed 'feminist film' and what it would be ideal, since the goal of Coast is to show the female audience a positive and empowering message.

This is supported by Natalie Busch's article Education By Film: What American Movies Tell Teens About Sex, Love, and Relationships:

'Faced with either silence or misinformation from figures of authority, teens implicitly learn lessons from visual media, like films.

While teens are not blank slates, or empty vessels to be manipulated by moving pictures, they are susceptible to unquestioningly and inadvertently internalizing the harmful ideas presented in films. Many films normalize and reinforce toxic ideologies like heteronormativity and misogyny. These movies imply that relationships are a battle of wills, equate men's controlling behavior with love, and present sex scenes where women's pleasure is ignored or absent.'

Following the previous idea, it is necessary to point out that, even though the short film has a far-reaching message, it would have been interesting, and surely more suitable, to have seen a female Director and a more diverse crew.

On the whole, Coast could be considered a good feminist short film, taking in consideration the topics it tackles and the construction of the characters. However, analysing throughly other facts, it does not pass the Bechdel Test, and the majority of the filming crew were men, which reinforces the idea that the film industry is mainly malestructured and women's voices are not always heard.


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