I studied German and Comparative Literature at the University of Heidelberg. My Bachelor thesis was about the image of Indian women in German literature. A lot of German writers were fascinated by India and thought it would be like a paradise on Earth. Nevertheless, I found out that writers such as Goethe, Hesse and Mann showed a very one-sided image of Indian women.
According to the most famous German writers, Indian women are beautiful, silent and suppressed by men. By the end of the stories, all of them are dead because each of them committed a sin. This was not surprising for me, because the authors re-produced an image of Indian women that was widespread during their time of writing. None of them has ever met or spoken to an Indian woman. After my research, I took a look at the current image of Indian women in novels and movies. And not much has changed. The production and distribution of culture is still in the hands of men, especially white men, and because of this, most narratives are very similar to each other.
When I was young, I craved for stories about girls in my age and I enjoyed Disney movies with strong female characters. However, they were hard to find. Most cartoons were about the life of male characters. Female characters used to stay in the background and had not much to say. A recent study conducted by Polygraph shows that male characters speak more than females in most movies. For example, 22 of 30 Disney films have a male majority of dialogue. The dialogues of romantic comedies is 58 per cent male on average. And a closer look at the the age-range shows that female characters who are over 40 years old have much less to say than men in the same age.
Let’s look at the way how black people are represented: They usually play negative roles such as slaves, terrorists, murderers, mafia bosses or drug dealers. A group of African men did an interesting video about stereotypes of African men in Hollywood movies:
Not one black actor was nominated for an Oscar this year. Characters of black women are rare in general, and often they die or face violence. Only 10 black women have been nominated for an Oscar so far, and nine of them played characters in poverty.
In my opinion, Leonardo DiCaprio deserved the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. But we should keep in mind that the only important female role in his movie “The Revenant” was a Native American who died right at the beginning of the story.
Language is power. Who has nothing to say, will be silenced by others.