Visiting Filmmakers Series: Nina Menkes with Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power

Thursday, February 16, 2023 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM EST
Online Location


Join filmmaker Nina Menkes for a discussion of her new documentary, Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power. Presented by Visiting Filmmakers Series and Women and Gender Studies, this zoom webinar on February 16 is free and open to the public. 

“If the camera is predatory, then the culture is predatory.” In this eye-opening documentary, celebrated independent filmmaker Nina Menkes explores the sexual politics of cinematic shot design. Using clips from hundreds of movies we all know and love – from Metropolis to Vertigo to Phantom Thread – Menkes makes the argument that shot design is gendered. Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power illuminates the patriarchal narrative codes that hide within supposedly “classic” set-ups and camera angles, and demonstrates how women are frequently displayed as objects for the use, support, and pleasure of male subjects. Building on the essential work of Laura Mulvey and other feminist writers, Menkes shows how these embedded messages affect and intersect with the twin epidemics of sexual abuse and assault, as well as employment discrimination against women, especially in the film industry.

The film features interviews with an all-star cast of women and non-binary industry professionals including Julie Dash, Penelope Spheeris, Charlyne Yi, Joey Soloway, Catherine Hardwicke, Eliza Hittman, Maria Giese, and Rosanna Arquette. 

Writing about Brainwashed in Bust magazine, Violet Lucca observes, "Menkes does not argue that a “female gaze” should replace the current male-dominated paradigm, nor does she proselytize for the abolition of all on-screen eroticism. Rather, she calls for a radical reinvention of how shots and film grammar are formulated. Crucially, Menkes’ documentary is not calling for cancelation. Viewers are meant to wrestle with this film, not passively consume a simple message—and they’ll leave invigorated." 

Speaking with Ann Hornaday about gendered objectification in movies, Menkes says, "I don’t think that by itself there’s something wrong with seeing a shot of a beautiful woman. It’s just that it’s part of this tsunami of images which have created a situation where women are the only oppressed people who are a majority on planet Earth. We’re 51 percent [of the population] and we earn less, we have fewer rights, we can’t pass the ERA in this country. So this beauty thing is just loaded down with all this massive baggage that is all around it and on top of it and under it, and it’s damaging. Does that mean we can’t have beautiful women in films? No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying let’s let consciousness illuminate and see what happens."

See the film's website, which includes resources and background for its argument. 

Nina Menkes' films have shown widely in major international film festivals including multiple premieres at Sundance, the Berlinale, Cannes (ACID), Rotterdam, Locarno, Toronto, La Cinematheque Francaise, British Film Institute, Whitney Museum of American Art, MOMA in New York, MOCA and LACMA in LA.

Menkes synthesizes inner dream-worlds with harsh, outer realities. She has been called “brilliant, one of the most provocative artists in film today” by the Los Angeles Times and her body of work was described as “controversial, intense and visually stunning” by Sight and Sound. Menkes has referred to herself as a witch, and Dennis Lim, writing in The New York Times, called her a “Cinematic Sorceress.”

In 2018-19 Menkes toured with her cinematic talk “Sex and Power; The Visual Language of Oppression”, which was presented at multiple high profile venues including AFI Fest, BFI London, Rotterdam International Film Festival, the “Voice of a Woman’ series at Cannes, and Sundance’s BlackHouse. The talk was subsequently made into a feature documentary, entitled BRAINWASHED: Sex-Camera-Power (2022), with significant support from Executive Producers Tim Disney, Susan Disney Lord, and Abigail Disney.

BRAINWASHED: Sex-Camera-Power premiered in at Sundance 2022 and went on to screen at the Berlinale, CPH:DOX, Karlovy Vary, Frameline, and many additional film festivals worldwide. 

Nina Menkes has an MFA with high honors from the UCLA Film School (1989). She has taught film directing at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), and is currently a faculty member at California Institute of the Arts. She is a directing member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).

"Gendered shot design: angles, lighting, framing, and camera movement have become so normalized that we are inured to it, and when all that comes to consciousness, it can be rough," says Menkes. "So when the Weinstein story broke in The New York Times in October 2017, I decided to write an essay about how the formal language of cinema is an important causal factor in the issues addressed by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, and might even be called the bedrock of rape culture. Much to my surprise, the article went viral on Facebook and was later named Filmmaker magazine’s most popular article of the year!"

Read Alliance of Women Film Journalists reviews of Nina Menkes' early films. 

Read “This Film is Here to Illuminate and Mediate Objectification for You”: Editor Cecily Rhett on Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power," in Filmmaker Magazine, Jan 22, 2022.

This event is presented by Visiting Filmmakers Series; College of Humanities and Social Sciences; College of Visual and Performing Arts; Film at MasonEnglish Department; Global AffairsHistory and Art History; University Life; and Women and Gender Studies. 

#VisitingFilmmakersSeries #FilmAtMason #Brainwashed 

For more information: 

Anjuli Singh,, Exhibitions and Office Coordinator, Film at Mason

Cynthia Fuchs, Director, Visiting Filmmakers Series at Mason; Director, Film at Mason

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