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Participants: Derya Akbaba * Ben Allen * Natalia-Rozalia Avlona * Kirill Azernyi * Erin Kathleen Bahl * Natasha Bajc * Lucas Bang * Tully Barnett * Ivette Bayo * Eamonn Bell * John Bell * kiki benzon * Liat Berdugo * Kathi Berens * David Berry * Jeffrey Binder * Philip Borenstein * Gregory Bringman * Sophia Brueckner * Iris Bull * Zara Burton * Evan Buswell * Ashleigh Cassemere-Stanfield * Brooke Cheng* Alm Chung * Jordan Clapper * Lia Coleman * Imani Cooper * David Cuartielles * Edward de Jong * Pierre Depaz * James Dobson * Quinn Dombrowski * Amanda Du Preez * Tristan Espinoza * Emily Esten * Meredith Finkelstein * Caitlin Fisher * Luke Fischbeck * Leonardo Flores * Laura Foster * Federica Frabetti * Jorge Franco * Dargan Frierson * Arianna Gass * Marshall Gillson * Jan Grant * Rosi Grillmair * Ben Grosser * E.L. (Eloisa) Guerrero * Yan Guo * Saksham Gupta * Juan Gutierrez * Gottfried Haider * Nabil Hassein * Chengbo He * Brian Heim * Alexis Herrera * Paul Hertz * shawné michaelain holloway * Stefka Hristova * Simon Hutchinson * Mai Ibrahim * Bryce Jackson * Matt James * Joey Jones * Masood Kamandy * Steve Klabnik * Goda Klumbyte * Rebecca Koeser * achim koh * Julia Kott * James Larkby-Lahet * Milton Laufer * Ryan Leach * Clarissa Lee * Zizi Li * Lilian Liang * Keara Lightning * Chris Lindgren * Xiao Liu * Paloma Lopez * Tina Lumbis * Ana Malagon * Allie Martin * Angelica Martinez * Alex McLean * Chandler McWilliams * Sedaghat Payam Mehdy * Chelsea Miya * Uttamasha Monjoree * Nick Montfort * Stephanie Morillo * Ronald Morrison * Anna Nacher * Maxwell Neely-Cohen * Gutierrez Nicholaus * David Nunez * Jooyoung Oh * Mace Ojala * Alexi Orchard * Steven Oscherwitz * Bomani Oseni McClendon * Kirsten Ostherr * Julia Polyck-O'Neill * Andrew Plotkin * Preeti Raghunath * Nupoor Ranade * Neha Ravella * Amit Ray * David Rieder * Omar Rizwan * Barry Rountree * Jamal Russell * Andy Rutkowski * samara sallam * Mark Sample * Zehra Sayed * Kalila Shapiro * Renee Shelby * Po-Jen Shih * Nick Silcox * Patricia Silva * Lyle Skains * Winnie Soon * Claire Stanford * Samara Hayley Steele * Morillo Stephanie * Brasanac Tea * Denise Thwaites * Yiyu Tian * Lesia Tkacz * Fereshteh Toosi * Alejandra Trejo Rodriguez * Álvaro Triana * Job van der Zwan * Frances Van Scoy * Dan Verständig * Roshan Vid * Yohanna Waliya * Sam Walkow * Kuan Wang * Laurie Waxman * Jacque Wernimont * Jessica Westbrook * Zach Whalen * Shelby Wilson * Avery J. Wiscomb * Grant Wythoff * Cy X * Hamed Yaghoobian * Katherine Ye * Jia Yu * Nikoleta Zampaki * Bret Zawilski * Jared Zeiders * Kevin Zhang * Jessica Zhou * Shuxuan Zhou

Guests: Kayla Adams * Sophia Beall * Daisy Bell * Hope Carpenter * Dimitrios Chavouzis * Esha Chekuri * Tucker Craig * Alec Fisher * Abigail Floyd * Thomas Forman * Emily Fuesler * Luke Greenwood * Jose Guaraco * Angelina Gurrola * Chandler Guzman * Max Li * Dede Louis * Caroline Macaulay * Natasha Mandi * Joseph Masters * Madeleine Page * Mahira Raihan * Emily Redler * Samuel Slattery * Lucy Smith * Tim Smith * Danielle Takahashi * Jarman Taylor * Alto Tutar * Savanna Vest * Ariana Wasret * Kristin Wong * Helen Yang * Katherine Yang * Renee Ye * Kris Yuan * Mei Zhang
Coordinated by Mark Marino (USC), Jeremy Douglass (UCSB), and Zach Mann (USC). Sponsored by the Humanities and Critical Code Studies Lab (USC), and the Digital Arts and Humanities Commons (UCSB).

Gender and Programming Culture: Representing Code in Movies with Female Programmers

Given the recent critical success of the film Hidden Figures, it might be useful to facilitate discussion about how female programmers appear in a range of motion pictures from mainstream movies like The Net to more art house-oriented offerings like Lynn Hershman Leeson's Conceiving Ada. Streaming video services like Netflix have also presented female programmers who appear in series designed for niche audiences, such as Halt and Catch Fire. How much code is visible and open to critique in these media representations? If code is denied its potential starring role in these Hollywood vehicles, does its obfuscation say anything?


  • edited January 2018

    There's quite a bit of code-like text in Westworld (speaking here of HBO's TV/Internet version, not the film).

    Here's a handful of code by Elsie Hughes.

    Not quite legible. I'm not sure we ever get to read her code.


    Now, Elsie is eventually killed off, or is she? There's an easter egg. that suggests she's still alive.

    Of course, much to talk about in the programming of Westworld, including an autonomous agent who gets to see the code that's generating her sentences. But perhaps that should be saved for a different thread.

  • edited January 2018

    Great examples!

    A general resource for more examples of how code is represented in film and TV (and what it refers to, or doesn't) is the MovieCode site by John Graham-Cumming. Since it launched in Jan 2014 it has collected over 300 examples of code screenshots paired with source references or observations on the true nature of the content. For a recent example highly relevant to this week, it notes that Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets showcases snippets of Apollo source code.

    One of its very first examples was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It is an interesting example because it is of the more unusual "realist" type, where the Lisbeth Salander uses actual SQL to write actual police database queries. One game of the site, however, is partly to laugh at Hollywood and the inaccuracy or silliness with which it represents code -- and this can sometimes read as condescending to the films, characters, and/or audiences:

    "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo uses apparently legitimate SQL to show the character’s attempts to research murders. Her skills may be questionable though."

    Another recent documentary film of interest (which I have not yet seen) is CodeGirl (2015).

  • I find the representations in Mr. Robot particularly interesting, as there's both a sense of fidelity to representing code / software / interfaces with a level of accuracy within that show as a text, and some gender inclusivity within those representations.

    Here's a few relevant links on the depictions within Mr. Robot:

  • The film “Hidden Figures” was groundbreaking as it was a box office hit and critically acclaimed and featured women of color. In our Week 1 thread @JudyMalloy listed Margaret Hamilton, or African American Dorothy Vaughan, or Dame Wendy Hall, or Mary Ann Horton (transgender), or Asian American Michelle X. Zhou as notable women we should know about in programming culture. More women’s stories need to be told and represented in film and television to change the ratio. Hollywood can start with Margaret Hamilton.

    Just like there is a genre of movies like “war film” or what we refer to in journalism and mass communication doctoral studies as “master war narrative” perhaps there could be one for women programmers. Clearly, there is no shortage of women’s stories in programming that the public has yet to discover. (This working group is a treasure trove for a show runner or film producer!) In terms of marketing and popular culture, the awareness from a box office movie or even inclusion in Netflix would do much to improve diversity of available content and exposing more young girls to STEM education and careers as possibilities. I appreciated the references to literature for Latina and Hispanic women’s inclusion in programming culture.

    Moreover, there is a shift in society in terms of improved awareness of intersectionality when it comes to representation. For example, NY Post headline “School swaps Jacksons to honor ‘Hidden Figures’ pioneer” stated, “A Salt Lake City school named after President Andrew Jackson will soon honor a woman pioneer in the US space program.” More here:

    More on the impact of “Hidden Figures” on popular culture:

    In reference to the inequality and sexism in Hollywood, the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative released their annual study in 2017, titled Inequality in 900 Popular Films.

    The study, released in summer 2017, reveals how little top-grossing movies have changed when it comes to the on screen prevalence and portrayal of females, underrepresented racial/ ethnic groups, the LGBT community, and individuals with disabilities. The study is the largest and most comprehensive intersectional analysis of characters in motion picture content to date.

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