Female Perspectives of Economy in Film

Female Perspectives of Economy in Film

Valentina Figueroa-Sanford '23, Writer

From my perspective, it is rare to find films that focus on women who are economically struggling that aren’t dark, depressing, or uncomfortable to watch. However, El Planeta and Lady Bird are two films that have managed to discuss economic hardship through the lens of young women in a comedic yet sincere way. At a first glance, the films appear to be completely different in style and story, but upon further observation, their similarities become guiding parts of the film. Both films center around young women in different places struggling financially. 

El Planeta, directed by Amalia Ulman in 2021, takes place in Gijon, Spain, during the recession in 2012. The film centers around the two main characters Leonor and her mother, María, as they struggle to maintain a wealthy appearance while they have no income. Spain is a country that has long been dependent on its tourism, but the country faced a large economic decline around 2008. El Planeta took place in 2012, during the recession in Spain. According to a CNN article, in 2012, “Spain’s unemployment rate hit a record high of 25%”. This is important to understand the basic concept behind El Planeta. María no longer has a job, and Leonor is unable to buy a plane ticket to work in a different country. Neither of them has money to pay any bills, they no longer have electricity or warm water in their apartment, and they are being evicted. El Planeta follows the very serious impacts of a country’s economic decline. Amalia Ulman also puts a spin on the ideas of poverty and the poverty and economic struggles are depicted in her film. When discussing the economics of the film, director Amalia Ulman states, “The film shows a problem that is very particular to my generation in Spain, which is extremely different from the previous one—we’re way more underprivileged and unstable and struggling. The generation above is extremely secure—they only work until 2 p.m. or something, while the people of my generation hold multiple jobs.” 

Lady Bird may not seem like a film that discusses economics, and though it is definitely different from El Planeta in terms of severity, the film still depicts a form of economic struggle from the perspective of a woman. Lady Bird focuses further on the economic issues within middle-class families in the United States. Lady Bird takes place in Sacramento in 2002. Similar to El Planeta, the film takes place during a decline in the economy. In 2001 there was an economic recession, and though eventually, the economy in the United States recovered, according to the balance, the unemployment rate continued to rise. By 2003 the unemployment rate had reached 6%. It is important to note that though Lady Bird does not take place during an economic decline, it displays the lasting impact of those economic declines in certain areas and families. An interesting thing to note is that the beginning of the film starts with a quote from Joan Didion, stating, “Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.” In this film, the idea of living in a place like Sacramento represented a lack of opportunity or a feeling of missing out because of your situation. 

In both films, the main characters struggle to keep up with a certain appearance while they are struggling financially. In Lady Bird, Christine “Lady Bird” lies about where she lives in order to appear wealthier. The film mentions how she quite literally “lives on the wrong side of the tracks” in her town. This is a small part of the film, but it emphasizes the idea of appearance to others in struggling situations. El Planeta takes on a more serious form of keeping certain appearances and expectations. In El Planeta, both characters hold themselves to certain fashion standards to appear more wealthy. Their clothing and attitudes are used as a means to present themselves as wealthy when they are running out of money and food. 

Though these films are made in close time, they come from two different cultures and give different perspectives on the impacts of economic crisis through the eyes of a young woman. Both El Planeta and Lady Bird are films directed by women about women struggling financially. The films have comedic and understanding ways of displaying these struggles without being uncomfortable. They create a space where you can understand the characters and recognize their struggles.