Exploiting Feminism in Stephanie
Rothman's Terminal Island
I think films are a compromised and corrupted art form, a combi-
nation of business and art. And I think filmmakers who treat it
completely as a business fail. A business-oriented film is too blatant.
It must have something more. To me, films that succeed are those
that are slightly corrupted, that attempt to be both business and art,
knowing they can never be a full work of art and should never be a
full work of business.1
Two women—one white and blonde, the other black and sporting an Afro—are harnessed to a plow, struggling to move forward through thick muck. Glistening sweat slides through their exposed cleavage and down their taunt, muscular thighs. Their expressions are at once determined and humbled. They are dressed in tight cut-off jeans, halter tops tied off at the midriff, no bras and no shoes. Behind them, a man snarls, driving his human “cows.”
This disturbing image is the core icon in the advertisements for Terminal Island. In the same ad, we see a stereotypical image of the black “buck,” his broad chest bare, crushing a black woman's head into the dirt with his foot, “Welcome to Terminal Island, Baby!” The promotional campaign for an exploitation film characteristically reduces the movie to its most sensationalistic images, images that make its desired audience want to see more. Terminal Island is being “exploited” as a film in which one can see beautiful women “put in their place” by powerful men.
Another image circulates around Terminal Island—the only photograph I have been able to find of its director, Stephanie Rothman. Rothman, an attractive young woman with flowing black hair, is directing an early scene set in a television studio control-room. Her look is passionate,