I was watching a video recently on feminist theory as it relates to the Transformers movies, and was intrigued about what it had to say about the character of Mikaela Banes, played by the actress Megan Fox. The video pointed out something that I had often wondered in relationship to the falling out between Fox and the film’s fauxteur director, Michael Bay. If you look at the text of what Megan Fox’s character has to say as well as her narrative arc in the first and second Transformer’s movies, it is clear that a reading of the script would give us a sympathetic and respectful view towards this character. She has a juvenile record because of her standing by a less than honorable father and has shown genuine sacrifice in her life. She is an immensely competent person, genuinely interested in mechanics, who feels that she is disrespected because of her looks and the fact that no one bothers to look beneath the surface. If we listen to what she has to say without paying attention to how the camera of Bay frames her, we would be led to believe that the film would have a high degree of respect for her as a character.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. Those who watch the Transformer’s film are not very likely to remember the film’s dialogue or sometimes even its plot because of the way that Bay films it, but one thing they will remember is that Megan Fox is impossibly hot. Some of the comments I have read about this framing are pretty shocking, with people calling her character development “fan service” or “whore,” which both strike this viewer as somewhat lacking in taste as well as accuracy. Throughout the films Mikaela is presented by Fox as an honorable and decent woman, one capable of love as well as fixing a car engine and showing an interest in the robots and their ways. Yet the camera leers at her and influences the viewer of the film to linger on her curves and stare at her the way that Sam, played by Shia LeBouf, does, merely as an attractive object that chatters inconsequentially. The script and the visual elements of the film are at odds with each other, and as most people in the present age care far more about films and films are a visual medium as opposed to books, people remember what the framing of the film is telling them and not what the script is saying.
I must admit that I do not know Megan Fox personally, but what I do know about her through our common literary interests  suggests that she is a fond reader of texts that show strong female characters and that she wants to play a strong female character who is valued for her intellect and for her competence and not merely for being attractive. I suspect this is a fairly common feeling among intelligent women who happen to be physically attractive, a desire to be known for what is beneath the surface and not merely for looks. Obviously, being neither a woman nor having ever been particularly attractive, this sort of objectification is not something I know personally in that regard. Even so, I am familiar with the way that objectification works when it comes for being valued only for one’s competence and not for other aspects of one’s nature, as being flamboyantly intelligent has tended to obscure people’s interest in, say, a genuinely tender and romantic nature that has been largely ignored through most of my life. Just as a pretty body can hide an intelligent mind, so too an intelligent mind can hide a tender and loving heart. If people only view for what service we can offer them, they will not see us for all that we are, and in so doing they do violence to us by viewing us simply as an object and not as someone worthy of study and time and attention and respect.
Again, from what I know, Megan Fox is someone who wants to be viewed with respect when she is on the screen. That requires a tricky balance, though. How is it that we learn to respect characters in a movie? Part of that comes from what we bring to a film. We can pay attention to what characters say and how they present themselves and respect them because we understand them to be respectable. Most people, though, depend on the framing characters to tell them how to think about or view a character. A character who is portrayed as being dressed to draw attention to her looks or who is constantly being leered at is not someone that most people will respect. If we see the characters of a film treating someone with respect, though, we will be led to respect them as well, taking our social cues from how we see the character framed through the camera. This is how it is easy to tell which characters are comic relief and not to be taken seriously, how we tell the obvious love interests that we are meant to lust after, and so on. An actor or actress does not necessarily know how a given character is going to be framed in a movie, not least because this framing is often decided in the editing floor and in the way shots are put in relation to each other, and so they often decide whether to be in a film based on their understanding of the script. This puts an actress like Megan Fox at a disadvantage, because even where a given script shows a competent woman who has intelligent lines and a worthwhile character arc, the framing of shots and costume design and the behavior of others may lead her to be viewed as just T&A even though the script and the actress’ own portrayal show her as far more than meets the eye.
How are we to deal with this framing? It would benefit us as viewers of film as well as people in general, to be far more critical when it comes to the way that we deal with framing. It would benefit us, and lead us to be more respectful of others, if we treated others not based on the way that we saw others treat them through the eye of the camera or through our observation as social cues, but rather from our own character and respect for others. Whether we are watching people being bullied or treated cruelly and unjustly in our own lives, something that happens quite often, or whether we are viewing a competent and talented woman through the leering eye of a text that sees her as only an attractive object, we are often placed in situations where the text is at dissonance with the context. We may have limited means of influencing others to be more respectful in their own conduct, but we can choose how we act ourselves. We can choose to be critical about the way that others are viewing someone, whether on a screen or in person, and we can choose to act counter to the way that someone is being framed as an object of either desire or contempt (or both at the same time), and we can choose to treat people with respect because we are the sort of people who respect others, no matter how unpopular it is. It may not seem as if the framing of a film is such a big deal, but we are often in the place to view people who are misunderstood and abused outsiders who others view merely as objects and not as people worthy of respect. The same tendencies to either passively accept the framing that others provide or to reject that framing and treat others based on our own character and nobility present themselves in both art and life. How will we choose to respond to such opportunities to rise above the tendencies of our present evil age?
 See, for example: