Daddy, My Buddy, Versus Daddy, My Protector: Fathers in Film

Father’s Day is an opportune time to reflect on what fathers mean to us, not only individually, but as a society.  Looking at entertainment is a means to understand how popular culture constructs some of our ideas. The top three lists of films with the “best dads” (Total Film, Time Entertainment, and Sabotage Times) showcase fifty-seven movie fathers. These fathers are admired for their unwavering protection of their children, whether this is through fighting terrorists or teaching them about the woes of growing up. The majority of these movies (54%) focus on the father-son relationship, while only 18% look into relationships between fathers and daughters. A study from the Western Journal of Communication shows that films targeting young girls often send the message that they should look to their fathers for protection, guidance, and financial support. “Daddy’s little girl” is vastly underrepresented and marginalized as an unfocused, needy figure.

Even the ways that these relationships are portrayed differ dramatically. The following graph depicts how many of the father-son and father-daughter films belong to different genres (genres determined by IMDB, and most individual films belong to more than one genre). Most of the positive father-daughter relationships are portrayed in comedy and romance, while father-son bonds are dramatic and adventurous. What does this say about how we value familial relationships based on gender? Are the relationships between fathers and sons that much different than between fathers and daughters? A study in Twenty Questions about Youth & the Media points out that media shapes adolescents ideas of who they are, how they see others, and how they understand their place in the world. Specifically, it can teach them how to deal with familial issues or how to activate conflict. Surely, the persistence of producers and directors to use familial stereotypes in films must cause children to believe that there is only one way to develop relationships with their fathers. How do we break out of this cycle?


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