Movies for Women’s History Month

Posted on March 8, 2018 at 7:56 pm

The Alliance of Women Film Journalists has assembled an outstanding list of films by and about women to watch for Women’s History Month, International Women’s Day, or just anytime you want to see a good movie.

There are some well-loved classics, of course, like “Alien” and “Norma Rae.” There are some surprising choices like Douglas Sirk’s “Imitation of Life,” too often dismissed as a soapy “women’s picture” in the most dismissive sense of the term. I was delighted to see last year’s “Step” and “Their Finest” on the list, along with underappreciated gems like “Made in Dagenham” and documentaries like “Without Lying Down,” the story of pioneering screenwriter Frances Marion from the silent era to the Golden Age of Hollywood. Enjoy!

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Black Panther: The Accents, The Villain, The Women

Posted on February 25, 2018 at 2:20 pm

“Black Panther” is now more than a blockbuster, record-smashing superhero movie. It is a genuine cultural phenomenon, with thought-provoking and remarkably nuanced issues of identity, race, gender, and politics, and it has inspired some fascinating commentary.

Slate goes behind the scenes in an interview with Beth McGuire, director of speech and dialects at Yale and dialect coach for the film.

Aisha Harris asks:

In general, even if you’re a classically trained performer, do you think there’s a greater jump from an American accent to an African accent than there would be from a British accent to an African accent?

I think so. It depends on the country, because if you’re doing Liberian, then American’s gonna help you. If you’re doing Rwanda, neither British or America’s gonna help you because it depends on who colonized the country. But if you’re doing Nigerian, then yes, definitely British is gonna help you. If you’re doing South African, you know, that’s a call, because you had the Dutch. Honestly, it depends on who the damn colonizer was.

Copyright Marvel/Disney 2018

I always say that the most important character in a superhero movie is the villain, and Michael B. Jordan’s Erik may be the best bad guy in the history of superhero movies. He isn’t some alien who wants to control the universe. He’s just an American guy who has experienced and witness a lot of injustice. As Ryan Coogler told me in an interview, at the beginning of the film he is more altruistic than the hero. But because of the losses he has suffered, he is a damaged person and his empathy does not extend beyond the people he identifies with.

In The Atlantic, Adam Serwer compares Killmonger to X-Men Antihero Magneto:

Killmonger’s stated purpose, to liberate black people all over the world, has sparked a lively discussion over whether he is a bad guy to begin with. What could be so bad about black liberation? “I fist-pumped in the silent, dark theater when he was laying out his plans,” writes Brooke Obie at Shadow and Act. “IT’S A GOOD IDEA!” That Coogler’s villain has even inspired this debate is a testament to how profound and complex the character is.

“In the end, all comes down to a contest between T’Challa and Killmonger that can only be read one way,” writes Christopher Lebron in a well-argued piece in Boston Review, “in a world marked by racism, a man of African nobility must fight his own blood relative whose goal is the global liberation of blacks.”

This is not actually what happens in the film. Killmonger’s goal is, in his eyes, the global liberation of black people. But that is not truly his goal, as Coogler makes clear in the text of the script and in Killmonger’s interactions with other characters. Like Magneto, another comic-book character who is a creation of historical trauma—the Holocaust instead of the Middle Passage—Killmonger’s goal is world domination. “The sun will never set on the Wakandan empire,” Killmonger declares, echoing an old saying about the British Empire, to drive the point home as clearly as possible. He sees no future beyond his own reign; he burns the magic herbs Wakandan monarchs use to gain their powers because he does not even intend to have an heir.

In The Root, Carolyn Hinds and Clarkisha Kent talk about the themes of duality in the film.

During the challenge ceremony, M’Baku chastises Shuri (because what he sees as a child who is in charge of all the tech in Wakanda and thereby the future of Wakanda) for showing disregard for traditions that T’Challa himself is taking part in. What I also appreciated about that scene was when T’Challa told M’Baku to yield, he did because he realized that his people still needed his leadership.

Now, what Ryan Coogler did so brilliantly with the challenge scene is that at the climax of the film, T’Challa and Killmonger are practically in the same situation, but instead of yielding Killmonger chooses death later on over instead of yielding to T’Challa. When he said that he’d rather be thrown into the sea instead of being in bondage, I felt like someone had punched me in the gut and started to cry because that imagery and history is so real to me that I didn’t pick up on his other reason. Over time, I came to realize that in his mind, Killmonger would rather be dead than owe T’Challa anything—including a life. He chose death over possibly being locked up for what he did.

The gender politics of the film are as thoughtful as the race politics. In the Washington Post, Shanon Lee writes:

From the start, the story avoids the sexist tropes we are accustomed to watching on film. The women’s sex appeal is obvious but secondary to their personality and skill. They are strategic opponents in battle, saving the life of Black Panther T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) several times over. Equally entrusted with guiding and protecting the nation, they do not need to be rescued, sustained or lauded by men.

When romances are revealed between Nakia and T’Challa, and Okoye and W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), we get to see the dynamics of each relationship play out.

And Slate calls Black Panther more feminist than Wonder Woman. “Black Panther confidently performs the tricky balancing act of writing fully realized women characters into a traditionally male-centered narrative by wholeheartedly believing that they are integral to the storytelling.”

TIME’s Arica L. Coleman writes about the real-life inspiration for “Black Panther’s” women warriors.

In the film, the fictional Dora Milaje — “adored ones,” an all-female military group that protects the King and the fictional nation of Wakanda — are perhaps the most obvious example of female strength. The Dora Milaje were introduced in Black Panther comic by Christopher Priest, who took over as lead writer of the series in 1998; since the series’ relaunch in 2016, they’ve become much more central to the plot. (The title character, who was Marvel’s first African-American superhero, was created in 1966.) In their initial appearance, Priest’s narrator describes the female bodyguards as “Deadly Amazonian high school karate chicks,” who were also the King’s “wives-in training.” While many have speculated about the inspiration behind these warriors, it is clear that one of their main antecedents was the famous all-female African military corps of Dahomey, West Africa (now The Republic of Benin), whom the French dubbed “Dahomey Amazons” after female warriors in Greek mythology.

Those who want to understand the history of the character will enjoy these comments from one of the leading writers on race and politics, Ta-Nehisi Coates, who has written Black Panther comics:

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Women Directors to Watch Out For

Posted on January 28, 2018 at 4:06 pm

Copyright 2017 Walt Disney Pictures

Film School Rejects has an enticing list of 81 movies by woman directors scheduled for release in 2018, including one of this year’s most anticipated big-budget studio films, “A Wrinkle in Time,” directed by “Selma’s” Ava Duvernay. The topics range from thrillers (“The Strange Ones,” “Blame,” “The Turning”) to comedies (“I Feel Pretty”) to documentaries (“On the Basis of Sex,” one of two films about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg coming out this year). I’m especially looking forward to “Freak Show,” directed by Trudie Styler, “Oh Lucy!,” directed by Atsuko Hirayanagi, and “Valley Girl,” a musical remake of the 1980’s cult classic, directed by Rachel Goldenberg.

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AWFJ Awards 2018: Shape of Water, Frances McDormand, and Hall of Shame

Posted on January 10, 2018 at 3:32 am

Copyright 2017 Fox Searchlight

The Alliance of Women Film Journalists is pleased to announce the winners of the 2017 AWFJ EDA Awards. This year, AWFJ presents EDA Awards in 25 categories, divided into three sections: the standard ‘Best Of’ section, the Female Focus awards and the irreverent EDA Special Mention awards—including Actress Most in Need of a New Agent and the AWFJ Hall of Shame Award.

In the ‘Best Of’ section, this year’s big winner is “THE SHAPE OF WATER”, garnering EDA Awards in two categories including Best Film, Best Director for Guillermo del Toro.  The film’s lead actress, Sally Hawkins, was awarded an EDA Bravest Performance Award to make the film’s cume of three awards.

Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” was also honored with three awards that included Best Supporting Actress for Laurie Metcalf and two awards for Gerwig for Best Woman Director and Best Woman Screenwriter.

“The Florida Project” won two EDA Awards for Best Supporting Actor for Willem Dafoe and Best Breakthrough Performance for Brooklynn Prince.

In the EDA Special Mention Categories, documentary filmmaker Agnes Varda was voted the Actress Defying Age and Ageism Award, while receiving the Best Documentary Award for her film “Faces, Places.”  Kate Winslet won the Actress Most in Need of a New Agent for  “Wonder Wheel” and “The Mountain Between Us.”

The AWJF chose to honor Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd and all women who spoke out against sexual harassment with the EDA Award for Outstanding Achievement by a Woman in the Film Industry.

The Annual AWFJ Hall of Shame Award was bestowed upon Sexual Tormentors:  Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, et al.

“This year was an important year for women to feel empowered to speak out and be heard,” states EDA AWARDS and AWFJ founder and film critic Jennifer Merin.  “The need for gender parity and gender diversity in the movie industry is patently clear, and the time to stop sexual harassment in all industries is now.  These goals are fundamental to AWFJ’s mission and it’s core values. I am thrilled that for this year’s awards, our AWFJ members voted to honor such a diverse array of talent and to recognize those who are leading with their voices to put an end to long time misconduct making the 2017 EDA Awards particularly relevant when art and film must be the vanguard of social progress.”

Here’s the entire list of this year’s winners:

AWFJ BEST OF AWARDS

These awards are presented to women and/or men without gender consideration.

Best Film 

THE SHAPE OF WATER

Best Director 

Guillermo del Toro – THE SHAPE OF WATER

Best Screenplay, Original

GET OUT – Jordan Peele

Best Screenplay, Adapted

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

Best Documentary

FACES, PLACES

Best Animated Film  (Tie)

COCO

LOVING VINCENT

Best Actress

Frances McDormand — THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Laurie Metcalf — LADY BIRD

Best Actor

Gary Oldman — DARKEST HOUR

 

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Willem Dafoe — THE FLORIDA PROJECT

Best Ensemble Cast – Casting Director

MUDBOUND – Billy Hopkins and Ashley Ingram

Best Cinematography

Roger Deakins — BLADE RUNNER 2049

Best Editing

Lee Smith — DUNKIRK

Best Non-English-Language Film

THE SQUARE

 

EDA FEMALE FOCUS AWARDS

These awards honor WOMEN only.

Best Woman Director

Greta Gerwig — LADY BIRD

Best Woman Screenwriter

Greta Gerwig — LADY BIRD

Best Animated Female

Parvana — THE BREADWINNER

Best Breakthrough Performance

Brooklynn Prince — THE FLORIDA PROJECT

Outstanding Achievement by A Woman in The Film Industry

Rose McGowan, Ashley Judd and all who spoke out against sexual harassment

 

EDA SPECIAL MENTION AWARDS

Actress Defying Age and Ageism (name actress and film)

AGNES VARDA — FACES,PLACES

Most Egregious Age Difference Between The Lead and The Love Interest Award

I LOVE YOU DADDY  — Chloe Grace Moretz and John Malkovich

Actress Most in Need Of A New Agent (name actress and film)

Kate Winslet for WONDER WHEEL and THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US

Bravest Performance (name actress and film) (Tie)

Sally Hawkins — THE SHAPE OF WATER

Margot Robbie — I, TONYA

Remake or Sequel That Shouldn’t Have Been Made

THE MUMMY

AWFJ Hall of Shame Award

Sexual Tormentors: Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, et al

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Golden Globes 2018

Posted on January 8, 2018 at 3:45 pm

Many people were given awards at the 2018 Golden Globes, but there was just one winner and that was the #metoo movement and the cause of women’s equality.  From the sea of black gowns that women attendees wore as a sign of the “Time’s Up” movement to the barbed comments from host Seth Meyer,  presenters like Natalie Portman and Reese Witherspoon, the theme of the night was that discrimination and abuse will no longer be tolerated and women’s voices will no longer be silenced.   As Meryl Streep said, ““We feel emboldened in this moment to stand together in a thick black line dividing then from now.” (The Washington Post’s Robin Givhan points out that many women declined to give credit to their designers on the red carpet.  This is something of a mixed message as on one hand they want to be seen as more than mannequins representing the designers, but on the other hand, as creative artists they should respect the work of the designers and their staffs that made their finery, well, fine.)

Many of the women who attended brought non-celebrity activists with them including the founder of the #metoo initiative,  Tarana Burke.  Several speakers emphasized that the movement is inclusive of people outside the Hollywood celebrity community.

Unquestionably the show’s high point was Oprah Winfrey.  It was fun to see some of the biggest stars a bit abashed when they took the podium to accept their awards and saw her sitting in the front row.  Winfrey herself took the stand to accept the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille award, the first black woman to receive it.  Her nine-minute speech was stem-winding, spell-binding, and just plain thrilling.  The Baltimore Sun called it “a moving jolt of moral authority.”

Winfrey spoke about being a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of her mother’s home, waiting for her to come in from cleaning other people’s houses, and seeing Sidney Poitier receive the Oscar for “Lilies of the Field,” realizing for the first time that even for a poor black girl, the possibilities were endless.  She spoke to the girls out there now, who needed to get that message from her.

Many of the most significant awards went to stories about women, including HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” Amazon’s “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Hulu’s “Handmaid’s Tale,” and the film “Lady Bird.”  Portman noted in presenting the Best Director award that all of the nominees were male, excluding “Lady Bird’s” writer/director Greta Gerwig.

Men of color made some news as well, with Sterling K. Brown (“This is Us”) as the first black man to win Best Actor in a Television Series and Aziz Ansari became the first South Asian man to win Best Actor in a Comedy Series.

Meyers was a capable host, making some pointed jokes and some welcome points during his monologue and then getting out of the way.  The Hollywood Foreign Press Association made some progress in improving its reputation with million-dollar grants to two journalist organizations, including one of my favorites, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.  

Some of the other highlights: Amy Sherman-Palladino’s heartfelt “Spanx, oy” comment when she accepted her award for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Carol Burnett and the Thelma and Louise team up of presenters and the tribute to Kirk Douglas not just as an actor but as a fearless advocate in breaking the blacklist, underscoring the evening’s themes of integrity and justice.

List of nominees and winners.

 

 

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