Thursday 14 November 2019
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What She Said! with Christine Bentley & Kate Wheeler
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Strong Women in Film – by Anne Brodie

Strong Women in Film

Cate Blanchett stated the obvious last year when she took to task studio executives “who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are a niche experience.”  Her words sparked a spirted debate and some soul-searching.

Maureen Dowd published some startling figures in response. She found that women comprise 52% of moviegoers, 15% of protagonists and 30% of speaking characters in the top 100 grossing domestic films in 2013.  The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University found that 6% of directors, 10% of writers, 15% of executive producers, 17% of editors and 3% of cinematographers in the top 250 films are women. 

One of the problems is that cavemen like Aaron Sorkin continue to pull women down. He stated in a New York Times op ed letter that male actors face a higher “degree of difficulty” than their female counterparts.  Sorkin, a writer known for his two dimensional female characters, said “Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep can play with the boys but there just aren’t that many tour-de-force scripts out there for women. That’s why year in and year out the guy who wins the Oscar for Best Actor has a much higher bar to clear than the woman who wins Best Actress”. 

A quick review of this season’s awards films reveals a strong and capable female hand across the board, and roles that asked a great deal of any actor, male or female. Work is underway to level the playing field through better roles, scripts and opportunities for women and the results are clear.

Disney, one of Hollywood’s most powerful studios, has always celebrated feminist ideals with its consistent through-lines of heroism and capability in female characters.  Frozen grabbed the imagination of a generation of girls with positive messages about personal growth and success – and a killer song.

Golden Globe Best Actress nominee Reese Witherspoon eschews glamour and romance for dirt, sweat, open cuts and a broken heart, mourning the loss of her adored mother in Wild.  She handles physically gruelling and emotionally devastating territory like a boss. Don’t tell her it wasn’t difficult.

Jennifer Aniston, a nominee for her down-and-dirty performance as a bitter, suicidal accident victim in Cake is stunning. She’s morose, puffy-faced and in such pain it’s hard to watch.  And she’s not especially likeable.  Grief is etched in every cell. No, not difficult at all.

Julianne Moore blows away any remaining arguments in Still Alice.  She is a 50-something linguistics professor whose memory is failing her, only to learn she has Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease. The deep work and rigorous observations she tied into her performance make this a fearsome portrait of a dying woman. Anyone over 40 will watch in utter horror. Mr. Sorkin, what she did was difficult.

Ava DuVernay won a Golden Globe nomination for her first feature film, and what a debut! Selma is the only feature ever made about Dr. Martin Luther King’s civil rights freedom march in Selma, Alabama.  It’s her first feature, as she transitioned from unit publicity to writing one of the most anticipated films of the year.  Easy peasy.

Amy Adams won a Golden Globe nom for Big Eyes, the incredible story of Margaret Keane the 60’s artist whose husband claimed her work as his until she had enough and fought back.  She symbolises strength and spirit.

Laura Poitras was with Edward Snowden when he leaked CSA surveillance information and when he escaped Hong Kong.  Her documentary is riveting and important and put her on the edge of danger. Her account is sober, disturbing and extremely well made. 

No, none of this sounds too difficult. Women can handle anything, including a camera or a nice set of wheels.  We are women, hear us roar down the road. Or whisper if you’re (in a statement car as hardworking and pretty as this one).   

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