The Woman of the Wild West Cinema: Drawing Comparisons Between Meek’s Cutoff and Deadwood


Before even starting the readings and viewing for this week, I was immediately intrigued by the utilization of a woman in the poster for Meek’s Cutoff. Forgive my ignorance, but my knowledge of the western genre is limited to playing the Oregon Trail, Deadwood, and now Meek’s Cutoff. Typically, when thinking of films or cinema that fall within the western genre, it is often believed to be a “John Wayne” type film where the cowboy comes riding in with his trusty steed to save the damsel(s) in distress. However, within the opening scenes from Meek’s Cutoff women are baring the burden of unloading the wagons, moving goods across the deep flowing waters of the creek, and then unloading and drying clothing items. This is a stark difference than how we see women portrayed in Deadwood.


Within Deadwood, woman have seemingly three roles. The prostitutes, the prim and proper ladies/maternal roles (a “classic woman’s role”), and the ‘undesirables.’ I struggled with the categorization of the latter because while they are woman, they do not portray the desirable qualities of a lady. Even in just looking at the comparison between posters, Meek’s Cutoff has a strong young woman wielding a shot gun whereas Deadwood has a pushed the women (totally blanking on her name right now) to the back of the shot while foregrounding a dead woman/prostitute.

During Gregory’s interview with Kelly Reichardt, she notes that “a lone man can be a hero — readily and right from the start — a lone woman is cause for concern.” This is especially true within certain genere’s. While a lone woman would be perfectly normal is say a rom com or a musical, it is a shocking occurrence within the realm of westerns or even horror films. Looking back, a quote from Gregory’s article sticks with me while investigating the woman’s role within the western genre and just cinema in general.

“The characters are just sort of an extension of the landscape they’re in,” Reichardt said,  “They’re a product of the places they’re from and their troubles — their everyday troubles.”

This quote makes me wonder, not just about westerns but across the silver screen, are woman a product of their environment or are they just falling prey to the stereotypical roles of female characters? Do aspect rations have anything to do with the feel of these films and how emotions are portrayed? Meek’s Cutoff was film with a 1.33:1 academy aspect ratio which makes the whole film seem tense, claustrophobic and oppressed compared to Deadwood that is filmed with a 1.78:1 “digital television” aspect ratio. Does this influence how the viewer interprets their cinematic experience? Can this change how we feel about certain characters?aspectratio

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