October 28, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Leading ladies are taking over. Its the year of the ‘Woman’

This awards season is shaping up as a veritable “Year of the Woman.” But amid the beautiful bounty of films boasting women front-row center — on either side of the camera — could a few similarly titled movies be causing confusion for both viewers and awards voters?

Sure, with almost 80 years of branding behind its beloved titular character, “Wonder Woman 1984” — brought to us by writer-director-producer Patty Jenkins and producer-star Gal Gadot — is probably not being confused with other, smaller releases. But consider the confusion that “I’m Your Woman,” “Pieces of a Woman” and “Promising Young Woman” could bring. These films could surely benefit from some demarcation and, always here to help, The Envelope breaks it down.

Marsha Stephanie Blake and Rachel Brosnahan in “I’m Your Woman”

(Wilson Webb / Amazon Studios)

“I’m Your Woman”

“Most of the classic 1970s crime movies we’re still talking about today are about, written by and directed by white men,” writer-director Julia Hart says via Zoom from the Los Angeles home she shares with husband, co-writer and producer Jordan Horowitz, and their two children. “There are some Black characters and people of color in those films, but much like the women, they’re pushed out and not given much depth.”

In crafting their hommage to the genre, Hart and Horowitz wanted to run in the opposite direction. So, in this Amazon Studios original, it’s the felonious fellow who drops out of sight, while his wife, Jean (Rachel Brosnahan), forges her way to freshly discovered strength and freedom — with illicitly acquired but treasured baby in tow. Oh, and her new chosen family is African American.

According to Horowitz, the streaming model is particularly welcoming to diverse subject matters and filmmakers. “We can all probably agree that white men have been spoken to directly for the past hundred years,” he says. “It’s the depth of content that can speak to marginalized groups that helps grow the subscriber base.”

“Women are finally being given the opportunity to tell the stories they’ve been wanting to tell,” echoes Hart of this embarrassingly belated moment, adding she believes the more movies with “woman” in the title, the merrier. “It means those movies are probably about women, and more movies about women is always a good thing.”

 Vanessa Kirby as Martha in a scene from "Pieces of a Woman."

Vanessa Kirby as Martha in a scene from “Pieces of a Woman.”

(Benjamin Loeb / Netflix)

“Pieces of a Woman”

A miscarriage endured by Hungarian filmmaking couple Kata Wéber and Kornél Mundruczó was the springboard for their haunting fictional drama, in which Vanessa Kirby’s Martha clashes with her mother and partner while gathering up the shards of her existence following the loss of a child.

In real life, the pair found themselves unable to speak to each other about their joint tragedy, so Wéber took to her journal, penning fragments of dialogue between a mother and daughter, above which she scribbled a possible title. When Mundruczó glimpsed those stirring words, he urged his wife to expand the passage into a play the duo had been commissioned to create for a Polish theater company. She wrote. He directed. The kudos the show received convinced them to share the story with a wider audience via its cinematic adaptation.

“There’s definitely something in the air,” Wéber says over a video call from Budapest, where she lives with Mundruczó and their young daughter. She’s speaking of the sharp focus on female stories this year, as well as of the intense need those suffering miscarriages have to break their silence. “I got a letter from Buenos Aires in which a woman shared experiences that happened to her 43 years ago. She thanked me, telling me our movie helped her talk about it.”

“That’s exactly what we wanted to express through Martha,” adds Mundruczó. “If you can overcome your grief, you can become a stronger person.”

Utter newcomers to awards season, the two are still pinching themselves, extremely thankful for the healing Netflix’s global reach has afforded them and countless strangers. “It’s been an amazing, amazing journey,” Mundruczó concludes, “because it came from a very personal place.”

Carey Mulligan in "Promising Young Woman."

Carey Mulligan in “Promising Young Woman.”

(Focus Features)

“Promising Young Woman”

As is customary for actor-writer-director-producer Emerald Fennell, an entire script sprang from a single scene popping into her head: Splayed on a bed, a seemingly inebriated young woman is being undressed by her predatory one-night stand. She repeatedly slurs, “What are you doing?” before shooting up — stone-cold sober — and repeating the question, steel in her voice. Pitching her dark romantic comedy-revenge thriller confection to producer Margot Robbie with that one small seed, Fennell sold it on the spot. Carey Mulligan stars in the Focus Features release.

Although the multi-hyphenate is pleased that her voice — and those of her much-admired filmmaker sisters — is finally being heard, she can’t help but mourn missed opportunities. “These movies by women are brilliant by any standard,” she says, calling from London, where she lives with her toddler and husband. “It’s not like these women — and I’m really talking about other people rather than of myself, here — have suddenly just arrived. It’s that nobody’s worked hard enough to let them speak. It’s the same for all manner of people. What’s so sad [about this historical lack of diversity] is just how much has been lost over, I mean, centuries, but certainly over decades of the movie business. How many masterpieces just didn’t get made?”

Fennell sees an exciting evolution in the fact that so many recent films actually have the feminine baked into their title. “I’m sure that, even a couple of years ago, putting the word ‘woman’ in a title — unless it was, you know, ‘The Woman at the Bottom of a Well’ — people wouldn’t really have been that interested,” she says, noting that she gets how puzzling the resemblance in titles may be. “But at the same time, hopefully, it will encourage people to watch all of them.”