The Tequila Diaries #1: Strong Drinks, Not Strong Women
Margarita musings from a feminist film lover. A fortnightly take on all things cinema, which you can read in the time it takes to shake up a margarita.
No More Strong Women Please, We’re Full
Another year, another BFI London Film Festival, and if film festivals give any insight into what’s to come then the few films I saw - there were nearly 300 in total - demonstrate a range of female talent. The performances shone with variety and, especially exciting, they were vanity free. For we are seeing a period of on-screen depictions of women that refract light: flawed, sometimes dirty - I mean actually dirty, not ‘naughty’ dirty - with definitely questionable mental health. And what a joy it is to see these cine-wonders.
Melissa McCarthy excels in the wry and witty Can You Ever Forgive Me? playing writer Leigh Israel, a woman who made a career by forging letters from celebrities.
Rosamund Pike is the heroic Marie Colvin in A Private War, capturing the nightmarish inner life of the troubled but undeniably brilliant war reporter who lost her life in Homs in 2012.
Olivia Coleman has already won an award as the sad but funny Queen Anne in The Favourite, but there are more to come, I’m sure.
Keira Knightly shines as the irrepressible, ahead of her time Colette.
And Jessie Buckley thrills in Wild Rose, demonstrating How. Not. To. Parent.
The things that bind them are the raw and uncompromising depictions of women, giving dignity to the real or imagined real-life counterparts, and making their performances un-showy and authentic. If there is one thing I’d beseech it’s that we stop saying ‘strong’ women when we talk of their stories. This overused and generic phrase does no justice to what we see on screen, these are women playing women. Just women. You know, women in their fullness with their real desires and demons, frustrations and successes, with often no agency over their position. Whether via circumstance or an imposed, compelling reason to participate they are doing what comes naturally.
Leigh Israel would have been evicted, and worse, jeopardised her ill cat’s life if she hadn’t found a way to make money.
Marie Colvin, despite all the horrors of the civil wars she reported on, felt an urgent need to cover them and tell the stories of the innocents affected.
Queen Anne, well… I guess nobody chooses to be a queen.
Women have always been strong so let’s stop this adjective and let them shine In the spotlight for who they are.
Articulate. Funny. Frank.
Jane Fonda was just getting started by the time she left the stage. As one of the lucky invited guests at BFI Southbank last week, I was witness to a Hollywood presence who truly has seen it all.
From studio contracts to activism, we heard tales of a full life from a woman aware of her agency and how to use it. Fonda spoke passionately about the living wage in the U.S and advocating for women’s rights, and how following the talk she would leave London for Michigan where she would literally be knocking on doors to promote equality.
But Fonda was at her most captivating when mimicking Katherine Hepburn (which she did wonderfully), conjuring spikiness, humour and warmth, my absolute favourite combination. What was clear from the 80 minutes spent in her company, is that Fonda should be President of everything.
Our top five (spiky, humorous and warm) Jane Fonda moments
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Made in 1968 (released in 1969) this film (directed by the then unknown Sydney Pollack) saw Fonda earn her first Oscar nomination, marking a distinct shift in tone for the actor towards more political roles. Heartbreakingly sad and atmospheric, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? gets right under your skin with its portrayal of Depression era USA and the choices desperate people make.
Fonda spent months talking to Vietnam soldiers and paraplegic victims to get the heart of veteran Ron Kovik’s (played by Jon Voight) story. This utterly authentic film about Sally Hyde (Fonda), a military wife, and her evolving relationship with a wounded veteran gave Fonda her first Academy Award.
9 to 5
At the heart of the BFI’s Comedy Genius season is this riotous comedy starring a trio of whip-smart women: Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton, who together make for an administrative outfit you do not want to mess with. Fonda spent time with a union of secretaries to fully understand the issues they had with their bosses. When asked “what would you like to do to your boss?” well… their answers were unprintable.
On Golden Pond
Katherine Hepburn won an Oscar for playing Fonda’s mother in this film and, the morning after, gleefully told Fonda that she would never catch her up now! Fonda acknowledged that the similarities between her and her father, up there on the screen, were rather too close to home. She accepted the best actor award on behalf of her late father, who died five months after completing the film.
“I knew people would come for Jennifer Lopez, but they would leave talking about my character,” she says. And she’s right. It’s the film that coaxed Fonda back in front of the camera, playing Viola Fields, a mother-in-law, yes, but also a successful television broadcaster who has to deal with being unceremoniously usurped by a younger newscaster. Whilst less popular with critics, it was a huge commercial success.
[Words by Kate Gerova]
BFI Southbank Comedy Festival runs throughout October and November.