Nov 22, 2017

Writing Women Back Into History

A studio shot of Hedy Lamarr, the subject of a new documentary. (Courtesy of Zeitgeist and Kino Lorber)
In the past few weeks, I have written about four female-centered stories, which is quite unusual. Rarely do I have the opportunity to review one film a month with a female protagonist, and most years, I am lucky to speak to three or four female directors. In October and November, I interviewed three, one of whom is celebrating her theatrical debut.

Under "Feature Articles, Print and Online," there is a link to my interview with Alexandra Dean for her biodoc Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story that will open in theaters this Friday. The documentary is about the late Austrian-born Hollywood actress's little-known talent for invention. In the course of our conversation, Ms. Dean spoke about her passion for finding other women's stories, especially about innovators who have been written out of history.

Brett Morgen's documentary Jane (link to my review appears in "Film Reviews, Print and Online"), about Jane Goodall, is another important reminder of the work of women in science. While Hedy Lamarr only received posthumous recognition for developing a communications system that served as the basis for WiFi and Bluetooth, 83 year-old Ms. Goodall, a primatologist, is world-renowned, and remains the leading expert in chimpanzees.

Lastly, I reviewed Thomas Morgan's Soufra, a wonderful documentary about Mariam Shafar who is the third generation of her family to live in a refugee camp in Lebanon. The title of the film is also the name of her catering business that consists of an all-female crew of chefs, sous chefs and kitchen helpers, Palestinian and Syrian women who also live in the camp. The documentary breaks every stereotype of Muslim women audiences are accustomed to seeing onscreen.

This is a still of Vevo Tshanda Beya, the star of Félicité. (Courtesy of Strand Releasing)
Earlier this month, I neglected to add a link to my interview with Alain Gomis for Félicité (it is under "Features") a sublime women's quest film set in Kinshasa, the capital of the Congo. The eponymous performer and uncompromising single mother questions the purpose of her life when her son is involved in a motorcycle accident and she must raise a large sum of money for his surgery. It is one of the finest narrative features of 2017.

Two of the three interviews I conducted with female directors will be published in the next few months. While I wish I could say this represents a trend, I do not think it does. On the other hand, recent events have turned the tide. Women speaking out about their sexual assaults, for instance, will soon be reflected in our most popular art form.

It has been 26 years since Anita Hill testified to sexual harassment at the hands of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and women hoped then that it would open a national debate on harassment. It did not, but now Ms. Hill is revisiting that testimony. I hope some smart woman filmmaker will seize the opportunity and tell Ms. Hill's story, as well as those of the other women never called before the Senate hearing that day who were also victims of Justice Thomas's crimes.