An eye-opening work which may change the way you look at movies, Nina Menkes’ documentary essay uses footage from hundreds of films to deconstruct and re-examine the male gaze in cinema.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2023
A masterclass on unpacking the ubiquitous male gaze, Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power examines the language of cinema to reframe our own lens on visual power and pleasure.
Based on director Nina Menkes’ 2018 lecture Sex and Power, the Visual Language of Oppression, her documentary is more informative than an extended Ted Talk. Featuring interviews with fellow directors, actors, and academics, and richly illustrated with clips from the history of the moving image, Menkes presents an accessible and engaging exploration of the insidious nature of cinematic tropes. NZIFF regulars are sure to recognise more than a few of the films mentioned.
In her landmark 1975 essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, critic Laura Mulvey – who features in Brainwashed – proposed that sexual inequality is a controlling social force in the cinematic representations of women and men. In turn the male gaze, which is only concerned with the aesthetic pleasures of the heterosexual male viewer, works as a tool of patriarchy. In this documentary, Menkes is asking us to consider how far we’ve come since then, and what work remains.
Brainwashed is by no means an attack on the cinematic masters or their audiences, it is a searing look at how cinema has trained us to look at bodies, and in turn decide their value. While the documentary does not explicitly depict queer or trans bodies, the perpetuation of this visual language energises the toxic perceptions of what it means to not be a heterosexual cis man, and who deserves bodily autonomy both in and outside of the frame. – Kailey Carruthers