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Discuss the dominant, alternative and absent discourses of femininity in a film of your choice.

Cinema as a genre has always been a man's world. From the early breakthrough auteur to the most celebrated directors of all time, movies as an industry and as a discourse have long been male orientated. Because of this, McCabe argues that for the female image, cinema has done nothing but "reduced women to a limited range of stereotypes." (2004: 10) In other words, in the most dominant discourse of women on screen - how they are portrayed - "Hollywood produced female myths of subjection and sacrifice." (2004: 9: McCabe) In general, these myths can be broken down into three specific areas of discourse: the dominant, the alternative and the absent. The dominant is the standard stereotype, the alternative displays an unusual form of the accepted discourse but is still important in the narrative, and the absent, which creates a discourse from the image of what the viewer already knows about the character, their culture and identity. Rose argues this discourse portrays itself through the work of American male directors, claiming they have "a skewed angle on what women are like and not like. And thus we have a fair share of stereotypes based on over-simplified ideas about womanhood like the domestic goddess, the success and the screw-up," ( This study attempts to discuss how these stereotypes are addressed throughout Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather Part II. (1974) McCarty claims that the gangster movie "has been male-dominated for most of its existence," (2004: 76) and is a true example of what McCabe would term as a "patriarchal film." It is for this reason that this study will highlight the film, as it is often referred to as one of the most compelling and true to life films of the genre (McCarty: 2004: 115). It will discuss how the cultural views of the director, along with set stereotypes surrounding femininity and family, affect the portrayal of the women involved within the Corleone family.

Rather than examining the dominant discourse first, this study will instead examine the role of Mama Corleone. Leitch suggests that "patriarchal films neutralize the potential power of women's images by fetishizing them or displacing their bodies to make them non-threatening." (2002: 70) It could be argued that this is the case with Mama Corleone. Constantly portrayed in an apron, slightly overweight and with graying hair, she is not the image of the femme fatale, but the image of a non-threatening, caring, mother, supporting Reith's claim that "women in The Godfather are symbolic of the family that is the centre of the Corleone universe." (2004:6) Despite the fact Mama's character forms an absent discourse, (she appears in very few scenes throughout the film and is often only referred to in the third person) she is a pivotal characters within the film through her portrayal of motherhood. McCabe claims that this is possible, by suggesting absent discourse "is the very mechanism by which a cinematic narrative both reflects and sustains social forms of oppression against women." (2004: 35) Therefore it is Mamas lack of character in personality form that is adding to the stereotype. She is the typical Italian mother, fussing about her children, always cooking and making everyone eat, and through her marriage to Vito, she emphasizes the importance of family and enforces morals through her dedication to religion in everyday life. Indeed, in flashbacks throughout the film she is portrayed doing little else but cooking, sewing, and nursing her children.

As a film The Godfather Part II displays elements of the dominant, the alternative and the absent discourse surrounding women, but appears to focus either on the stereotypical matriarchal aspect of the characters, or on their weakness for lack of it. It is highly likely that this is due to Coppola's repressed feelings of culture and identity. Although he wants to portray the American, Anglo-Saxon mentality of Kay, he cannot resist reverting to the concrete, idealized stereotype of Mama. And although Deanna is viewed as a sex symbol, someone beautiful and famous, she is not envied but pitied by both the characters and the director for being unable to measure up to the conceived, strong stereotype portrayed by the discourse surrounding Mama. This may be, as McCabe writes, because "Hollywood as an institution producing dominant representation endlessly produces patriarchal distortions." (2004: 9) In other words, it is a part of Coppola's history and heritage that he appears to have reverted to this stereotype. But it must be asked if women really needed as part of the discourse within this male-orientated world. As Leitch writes, "the women are merely catalysts, it is the men who destructive to themselves." (2002: 71) As they conform to such strict stereotypes, it could be argued that the female characters are unnecessary in terms of constructing a narrative, especially as the main feminine discourse is centered on a character that is largely absent.

However, it is through the female characters within The Godfather Part II, and within The Godfather trilogy as a whole that the discourse becomes not only important but crucial. For it is they who, above all, function within the framework of family and within the specific boundaries provided by men. Despite the fact the women are constrained and suppressed by the patriarchal attitudes throughout the film, it is they who support the discourse by performing as the glue that keep the family together. Even the divorced Kay continues to ensure she sees her children, against Michael's wishes continuing the bonds of family, and it is not till much later that Fredo and Deanna agree to divorce (she may continue to sleep with other men but extra-marital affairs are not uncommon within the set boundaries of "the family"). It is the feminine discourse that supports the family and holds it together. As Reith concludes: "The Corelones come as a package. Everything is done in the name of family." (2004: 5)

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