The New York Film Festival and Woodstock Film Festival hosted Drive-Ins, shared virtual screenings and presented panels. It was a unique way to gather film communities; a chance to gather even if we could only rub elbows or share opinions on a chat board. It was still a celebration of cinema. There were three films that resonated with me as a feminist and a promoter of women in film. Unusual in any year, to have three big films featuring a woman lead and a woman’s story is wonderful. It made it even better that of the three mainstream films, two were directed by women, and all three feature a mainly female cast.
I discovered a trifecta of middle-aged women trying to make a difference. All of the women are on the move; active in their lives and in their world. Nomadland, starring Frances McDormand, written & directed by Chloé Zhao is a quiet powerful film about one woman’s struggle to find her place after losing her husband and then her livelihood when a company town becomes a ghost town. She moves into a van and travels the US to find work and finds a new way of life.
Frances Lee, a male British director, wrote & directed Ammonite, inspired by the life of British paleontologist Mary Anning and starring Kate Winslet. Winslet as Anning, eshews make-up and modifies her period dress in order to scale the cliffs of the English Channel looking for fossils. Her plain attire and work in a predominately masculine field are echoed in Frances McDormand’s scissor-cut hair, lack of make-up and work on a sugar beet harvest.
Julie Taymor directed four actresses in the portrayal of 80 years of Gloria Steinem’s life. An aspiring journalist in a newsroom of men, Steinem endured sexism and forged ahead to found Ms. magazine. The film, The Glorias, uses a Greyhound bus as a story-telling device to look at her live’s work — much of which was spent criss-crossing America on her feminist crusades.
All three characters, two based on real women, are in some way trying to create a better world; for themselves and for others. I see Frances McDormand’s character on a personal journey to find healing but she’s also looking for economic freedom. Her character meets real-life nomads (playing themselves) trying to create a life free from rent and dead-end jobs. Mary Anning fought for recognition among her male peers and it wasn’t till 2010 (163 years after her death), that the Royal Society included Anning in a list of the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science. Gloria Steinem continues to strive for women’s rights and sadly, the progress that she made on the road for the Equal Rights Amendment–well, that’s still an uphill battle we all still must fight.