If you’ve seen the trailer for Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, it may feel like familiar territory: an anti-war message wrapped in comedy with an end-of-days edge to it. It harkens back to Robert Altman’s classic M*A*S*H. Both the 1970 movie and the long-running television series followed the lives and work of Army doctors. Although set in the Korean War, it was very much a condemnation of America’s presence in Vietnam. And whether true to history or simply to television practices of its day, women were not exactly front and center. Nurses, by and large, served as assistants and sexual conquests of M*A*S*H’s main characters. The one exception was the comic foil Major Margaret Houlihan, nicknamed “Hot Lips.” ‘Nuff said.
In Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, a woman is very much the center of the story. The new movie (with a title that’s tailor-made for Twitter: #WTF) is based on the memoir of real-life correspondent Kim Barker. Her book The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan chronicles five years of reporting. Filled with workaday frustrations, honesty and unlikely humor, the memoir has been described as “a personal, insightful look at covering an ambivalent war in a complicated region.”
Enter one of today’s smartest comediennes — and exceptionally well-cast here — Tina Fey. Fey plays Kim Baker (the author’s “r” has been removed), an underutilized and underwhelmed U.S. journalist. She leaves her lukewarm boyfriend and houseplants, buys an expensive, ill-advised neon orange duffel bag, and volunteers for a three-month assignment in Kabul. There, she meets her “Fixer,” her “Security,” and an animal house full of foreign press, partying as if its their last night on Earth. She stays for four years.
Fey is really quite wonderful in the film, which despite the trailer is more of a drama with some clever jokes than a comedy, per se. But, despite her best efforts, the movie starts to drift right at the beginning. We don’t see enough of Kim’s pre-Afghanistan life to understand her decision. Her initial discomfort with what must be a mind-blowing transition from yuppie journalist to war correspondent feels rushed and insignificant. Her biggest challenges seem to be finding a shower and a place to pee. She is preternaturally comfortable with everyone she encounters, swearing a blue streak along with the Marine Corps she’s covering.
At one point, when she’s asked why she’s there, she tells a rather silly tale about realizing that she’s cycled so many miles (on a stationary bike) and only moved backwards. It’s a bit of a relief when a fellow journalist calls her on it. “That’s the most American white lady story I’ve ever heard.”
When Women’s Voices asked me to write a review of Amy Poehler’s new book, my answer was an enthusiastic “Yes Please.”
Turns out that’s the book’s title.
Early on, Poehler tells us that she chose the title “from a few different places.” An important tenet of improvisational theater is to say “yes” to whatever your fellow actors (or the audience) serve up. You’re a rockstar, you’re a 6-year old, you’re the leader of a mythical country where unicorns play Monopoly with dragons. Yes, yes, yes. Poehler asserts that saying “yes” is important because it opens life’s doors, and that saying “please” is important because “most people are rude and nice manners are the secret keys to the universe.”
Yes Please is quick and entertaining. It’s part memoir, part “self-help,” part comedic monologue, and mostly funny.
And that’s the problem.
I expected 352 pages of uninterrupted chuckles and knowing smiles. I wanted to finish the book knowing Poehler better (and liking her even more). In her sketch-writing, her incredible characters, even her award-show hosting with gal pal Tina Fey, Amy Poehler has never been anything but wholly hilarious. Where humor is concerned, she has set her own bar incredibly high, and anything less feels like a letdown. Writing this book was a bit of a risk.
She knows this, of course. In fact, the first 10 or so pages of the book comprise the introduction “writing is hard,” a long-winded apologia with such confessions as “It’s clear to me now that I had no business agreeing to write this book,” and “It has been like hacking away at a freezer with a screwdriver,” and “Honestly, I have moments when I don’t even care if anyone reads this book.” Wow, I thought, not much of a recommendation.
Methinks the funny lady doth protest too much.
I have a professional colleague who likes to under-promise and then over-deliver, thus ensuring that expectations aren’t just met but are surpassed. That may be what Poehler was doing, but it didn’t make me particularly eager to read the rest of the book. Nevertheless, I had committed to writing this piece, so I continued. And, by and large, I’m glad I did.
Yes Please is divided into three parts: “Say Whatever You Want,” “Do Whatever You Like,” and “Be Whoever You Are.” Chapters are generally short and varied, seamlessly jumping between tales of Poehler’s childhood, her early years in Chicago improv, the star-studded mayhem behind the scenes at Saturday Night Live, and her current hit show Parks and Recreation. In between, we get to savor funny commentary on recreational drug use, pregnancy, sex (probably not in that order) and being a working mommy. Poehler seems more in her element when her writing is fast and funny.
Some of the best bits of Yes Please happen when Poehler is deflecting particularly painful episodes of her life. “I don’t want to talk about my divorce,” she warns the reader, “because it is too sad and too personal.” Instead, we get to enjoy a particularly entertaining essay entitled “my books on divorce,” in which she pitches useful self-help titles, like I Want a Divorce! See You Tomorrow! for couples with small children, Get Over It! (But Not Too Fast!) for those who just can’t seem to move past their split, and Hey Lady, I Don’t Want to Fuck Your Husband, a primer for newly single women getting dirty looks from still-married wives.
Another chapter, “every mother needs a wife,” rang especially true for me. I’ve bemoaned my own need for a June Cleaver for years. Poehler gives equal time to both sides of what she describes as the “women-on-women crime” committed between working and stay-at-home moms. She jokes that whenever she’s asked that insidious question “How do you do it?” she’s tempted to answer, “Ambivalence,” “Drugs,” or “Robots.”
Poehler is less successful when we sense that she may not be a completely nice person. She complains—often—about the presumptions of starstruck laypeople. An unsolicited script, dropped on her lap while she slept on a train, evoked rage. And an even less intrusive query from a New York pedestrian,—“Excuse me, can I ask you a question?”—was met with a firm “No!” (Sheesh, Amy. Maybe the poor shlub just needed directions.)
An overlong piece called “Sorry, Sorry, Sorry” relates a true story from Poehler’s SNL days. In a sketch (that she didn’t write), she unwittingly made fun of a pair of severely disabled children. This provoked the anger of Marianne Leone and Chris Cooper, who had produced a television show about the two girls. Poehler felt guilty and ashamed (and more than a little defensive), but she didn’t address it. Years later, with the support of Spike Jonze, she connected with Leone and Cooper and eventually with one of the girls, by then a student at the London School of Economics. All of the correspondence is reprinted in the book, and while the story is interesting to an extent, it feels forced and out of place. At any rate, let’s hope Poehler is relieved to have gotten it off her chest.
Like any celebrity memoir, Yes Please contains plenty of A-list name-dropping. It’s especially fun when Poehler drops now-famous names of stars who weren’t yet stars when Poehler first worked with them. The reader gets to live vicariously backstage at SNL and on the road with Second City. And Poehler is probably at her most likeable when she recognizes her own good luck and happy life. (Regardless of my mixed feelings about this book, Amy Poehler is still pretty high on my dream cocktail-party list.)
I had high expectations, and I can’t give Yes Please an unadulterated rave review. But it’s worth reading if you’re a fan, or enjoy irreverent observations or backstage gossip. Toward the end of the book, Poehler humbly jokes, “By the way, THANK YOU for reading Yes Please all the way to the end. I know how busy you are.”
“That’ true,” I agree, but remember my manners. “You’re welcome.”
Most years, I take a look at the Emmy nominees and make some educated guesses. This year, between work and family obligations (and an unexpected fender bender), I didn’t get a chance to do that. It’s probably a good thing. In fact, it’s a particularly good thing that I didn’t have any spare money to send to a Vegas bookie.
I’d be broke now.
There were lots of surprises when The 65th Annual Emmy Awards aired Sunday night. The show was indeed surprising. And sad. And more than a little strange.
It began with the decision to hire that host among hosts, Neil Patrick Harris. Hosting a major awards show is no easy task. It’s hard work, and you’re setting yourself up for criticism on a monumental scale. Nevertheless, NPH has proven himself a fantastic host: funny, smart, with the best combination of self-deprecation and good-natured ribbing. The thing is, though, he’s already made a name for himself as a four-time host of Broadway’s Tony Awards. For me (an ad agency marketer when I’m not writing for WVFC), this seemed like a blurring of brands.
I like my different awards shows to be, well, different.
Of course, all of the major award shows tend to include an “In Memory Of” segment. This year’s Emmy Awards took that tradition one step (or five steps) further with spotlights dedicated to five of the year’s beloved casualties. Jonathan Winters, Jean Stapleton, Corey Monteith, James Gandolfini, and writer/producer Gary David Goldberg were remembered by close (often teary-eyed) colleagues.
As a colleague of my own remarked this morning, “File it under ‘Seemed like a good idea at the time.’”
My issues with the new approach were twofold. First of all, as one of my fellow WVFC writers pointed out in our live blog, why didn’t they show a clip of each person’s work? Yes, hearing Rob Reiner remember his TV mother-in-law was moving, but I would rather have seen a minute or two of Stapleton’s wonderful Edith Bunker. Second, by selecting just five people to salute, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences placed arbitrary—and in at least one case, unwarranted—importance on each of them. Yes, it was sad that a promising young star died last summer of a senseless drug overdose. But does anyone really believe that Corey Monteith (a one-hit wonder, sorry) contributed more to the art and business of television than a Jack Klugman or a Larry Hagman?
Or, more likely, did The Emmy Awards pander to a desirable demographic?
The recent trend of awarding certain awards before the awards ceremony was in evidence the other night as well. It’s nice that after 7 nominations over a 52-year career, Bob Newhart finally won an Emmy. But we didn’t get to see it because it was awarded at the so-called Creative Arts pre-show. He did nevertheless get a much-deserved standing ovation Sunday night.
(If it were up to me, I’d pull all those technical and creative awards back into the main show. All they’d have to do is cut some of [most of] the ubiquitous skits and dance numbers. His immense talent and likeability aside, did we really need so much Neil Patrick Harris? There was the TV show montage, the confrontation with past presenters, the intervention from his How I Met Your Mother costars, the musical number in the middle of the show, the interpretive choreography . . . I finally lost track. But you get my point.)
The award upsets included the rather baffling choice of Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom) over frontrunner Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), critical favorite Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) and overdue Jon Hamm (Mad Men). I joked in our blog that he’s become the Susan Lucci of primetime.
The show did have some highlights though, and several, I’m happy to report, were the work of some of television’s impressive and talented women.
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were by far the funniest bit of a tired opening sequence. (Why not simplify the whole awards show conundrum and let them host everything? I wish they would host my next business meeting!) Fey was also recognized with an Emmy for comedy writing.
Nurse Jackie’s Merritt Wever gave one of the briefest acceptance speeches ever. Despite a laundry list of people she wanted to thank, the stunned Supporting Actress winner lost her nerve and simply said, “Thank you so much. Um, I gotta go. Bye.”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus won her fourth Emmy for the lead role in Veep, comically bringing her assistant “Gary” onstage to feed her lines. (Veep costar Tony Hale didn’t seem to mind; he had just won an Emmy himself.)
Other winning women included Claire Danes again this year for the drama Homeland. Anna Gunn was recognized for Breaking Bad. And Laura Linney, unable to attend, won for The Big C.
The show ran a little long (as usual) and was a little uneven (as usual). But there were plenty of smart, talented (very nicely dressed) women to watch. My favorite moment was this: Ellen Burstyn, magnificent and gracious, as she accepted her Emmy for the miniseries Political Animals. She jokingly, but pointedly, thanked the creative team for “the wisdom to write a woman over 65 who still had a lot of juice.”
Takes one to know one, n’est-ce pas?
Yes, it’s awards season again. It’s time for a red carpet, and competing predictions, and laughter. We’ve made a tradition, at WVFC, of live-blogging the awards ceremonies as they happen, to cheer on our favorites and dish about absurdities.
Starting at 8 p.m. (EST) tonight, Sunday, September 22 on CBS, we’ll be watching and live-blogging the 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris.
Many of our favorite women are nominated and many of the women we love will also be presenting statuettes to others, which gives us a chance to see them, whether or not they win.
Join us and cheer along. Meet us right here on our “Emmy Live Blog 2013” post, scroll down below, and comment. It’s that simple! (You will be asked to enter a name and email address only once.) We welcome your opinions—as short or long as you like. Comments will be screened before we post them, and our online chats are famously civil (if a little catty sometimes about fashion). Feel free to share links and photos—and Tweets @womensvoices, too! (Here’s how it went at this year’s Oscar night.)
Do you remember the first time you saw Lily Tomlin? Was it as Edith Ann on Laugh-in? Ernestine from the phone company? Violet Newstead, the super-competent office manager from Nine to Five?
Tomlin has been “doing up characters” since she was 5 and performing since the 1960s in bars, clubs, and on TV. And this month she’s sharing some of that with the world as she promotes her new movie, Admission, in which she plays Tina Fey’s indomitable feminist mom.
It’s hard to choose just one of the comedienne’s roles from her 30-plus-year career as her best: they’re all classics—feminist and ridiculous by turns. The producers of Admission have compiled a slideshow of some of her greatest hits, each of which shines in our memories now.
To that list we suggest adding her role The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as Susannah in the new film. Like Tomlin herself, Susannah is a veteran feminist who’s been on the front lines and is uncomfortable anywhere else. “As a feminist from that era, I really plugged into the role,” Tomlin told. “I had so many friends who were notable at the time, and then the times changed. I had an inkling of what it meant to follow a doctrine to the letter and then have it bite you on the other end.” She even designed the tattoo of iconic Congresswoman Bella Abzug for Susannah’s arm—although, as she told Salon.com this week, “young women don’t even know who Bella was!”
Admission is also one of the few films that Tomlin’s been offered lately that meet her artistic standards —those of an actress who’s worked with the likes of Robert Altman. “I can’t be in a movie unless it has something that’s interesting to express about the world,” she told The Los Angeles Times. “Or at least it can’t be debasing to my view of the world.”
As she makes the rounds—the View, Vanity Fair — she’s asked over and over when she’s marrying her partner of 42 years, Jane Wagner. That’s a question that this never-closeted woman would never have been asked when she started out. Instead, Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show asked her in 1973 when she was going to be a mom. “I like children but don’t want to bear them,” she replied back then. “By the way, who has custody of yours?”
In place of those babies are her artistic progeny—including her co-star Tina Fey, a comic powerhouse in her own right. “I admire [Tina] immensely,” she told Vanity Fair. “It was fun to be with her and to do something that would be recorded and around, and something that I could watch later. I felt like she was my daughter.”
Her progeny also include those of us who’ve watched, laughed at, and learned from her over the years. Now that she’s back, we really can believe spring is coming.
Above, Tomlin talks to Fox TV Houston about the film, working with Tina Fey, and a whole lot more.
Elizabeth Hemmerdinger, a member of the board of Women’s Voices, has played many roles—as playwright, screenwriter, executive director of The Real Rosie the Riveter Project, and producer. Her producing credits include a short film, Good Sister, which will premiere at the Boston International Film Festival; the short documentary Beyond These Walls, and being producer/writer of The Girl With the Rivet Gun, a new-media project in development.
Here, she shares her exhilaration at stepping into a new role—that of producer of an independent film she strongly believes in. That film is a celebration of the life of the formidable Elaine Stritch. This post is Episode 2 of the story of the making of SHOOT ME; Episode 1 can be found here. —Ed.
I am simply delighted to report that a film I am associated with, ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME, will have its World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 19. Chiemi Karasawa of Isotope Films is the director/producer. I am a fellow producer. Very few women get to “walk the red carpet” as producer of an independent film, a movie made by an individual or small group without the backing of a studio or major financier. Very few women. And so this venture, with its affirmation that I am indeed an independent-film producer, marks a career change for me.
I asked Chiemi Karasawa, whose life certainly changes today in a bigger way, to describe what a producer contributes to the making of a film. She replied: “Essentially, taking on the role of what is best for the film and its director—from conception through production, supporting the foundations of the film within the budget, and getting the film to market—is a producer’s role. So through your supportive relationship with me and the film, your hard work, tenacity, and investment in the fundraising/budget, you have become a producer—responsible, like any other producer, for the finishing of the film. It’s like becoming an adoptive parent of a child. That’s how I look at it.”
The power of assuming this new role and responsibility rather suddenly—of actively working to get to “yes” for a project in which I utterly believe—is really quite delicious. I clearly remember believing that I needed to arrive by the age of 35. When that didn’t happen, I had to deal with what I thought of briefly as failure. And then I learned to accept and savor all the good people and opportunities in my life, and to live and love with purpose. Though I kept writing and working for causes, and though I continue to adore my large family and savor times with them, I confess that I never stopped searching beyond the prow for the Arrivals Dock.
And now, in this fairly new career, I have already learned things—most of them from working with Chiemi and Laverne Berry, a pragmatic entertainment lawyer and great mentor. Be clear, be generous, be strong—particularly in the face of a man throwing a hissy-fit. Be protective of the safe space a working artist (including me) needs—a mental and sometimes physical space of one’s own, where family and finances and daily concerns must be put aside. But the process of learning brings the biggest satisfaction to me.
And so we come to the film, an always-entertaining, often startling paean to an often irascible, fiercely perfectionistic, always independent, long-lived woman. The official description of the film reads, “What does it mean to be a performing artist—first, last and always? Broadway legend Elaine Stritch can answer that. At 87, Stritch is still here, dominating the stage in her one-woman cabaret act, torturing Alec Baldwin on 30 Rock, giving us her take on aging, her struggle with alcohol and diabetes, and the fear of leaving the followspot behind. In stolen moments from her corner room at the Carlyle, and on breaks from her tour and work, candid reflections about her life are punctuated with rare archival footage, words from friends (Hal Prince, George C. Wolfe, Nathan Lane, Cherry Jones and John Turturro) and photographs from her personal collection. By turns bold, hilarious and achingly poignant, the journey connects Stritch’s present to her past, and is an inspiring portrait of a one-of-a-kind survivor.”
Serving on the board of WVFC, participating in the founding of this online presence, I have had to learn a fair amount about the Web. Now I’m learning something about the art and craft of crowd-funding—which is very new media for a grandmother of five. In our present universe of interactivity and pro-activity, crowd-sourcing is one of the ways an independent film raises money and builds an audience and participating followers. Click here to see what transparency and grassroots look like today.
Read what folks are saying about us.
In this week’s Wednesday 5: the barrage of scrutiny and criticism that women anchors and reporters constantly face; Tina Fey runs the world (in case you didn’t know); male writers still outnumber female writers in major literary publications; an end to Women’s History Month?; and Sandra Day O’Connor on the high stakes of her appointment to the Supreme Court.
For Women Anchors and Reporters, A Constant Barrage of Scrutiny and Criticism
Our favorite media watchdog, Women’s Media Center, is back with a powerful piece this week, “A Tale of Two Journalists,” by Crissinda Ponder. The article lays out two very different responses by news organizations after two female journalists publicly took on harsh viewer comments. Meteorologist Rhonda Lee ,who worked at KTBS in Shreveport, Louisana, was fired after responding to a racist Facebook comment by a viewer who referred to her as “the black lady” and wrote that she “needs to wear a wig or grow some more hair.” Lee’s response included, “Women come in all shapes, sizes, nationalities, and levels of beauty.” Conversely, a viewer wrote an email criticizing plus-size anchor Jennifer Livingston of WKBT in La Crosse, Wisconsin, noting she shouldn’t “consider [herself] a suitable example for [the] community’s young people, girls in particular.” Livingston in turn was supported by her station in issuing an on-air response. “You know nothing about me but what you see on the outside; and I am much more than a number on a scale.” Very similar situations, and yet two very different institutional responses and outcomes. Click here to read more on the scrutiny women anchors are subject to, and the growing debate on responding to viewer comments.
Who Runs the World? Tina Fey, of course!
If you watched the Oscars, you were probably wishing it was hosted by Tina Fey instead. Well, don’t hold your breath, because apparently she’s not too interested in the gig anyway. In fact, the demand for the 42-year-old actress has never been greater since she recently retired from 30 Rock. Mary Elizabeth Williams writes in Salon that “At a moment in a Hollywood career when a woman is often relegated to what a character in The First Wives Club referred to as the ‘district attorney’ phase, Fey has never looked more like a full-on, A-list leading lady.” Beyond her own leading-lady status, she’s paving the way for a whole generation of funny women who now have a model for how to be both charming and witty despite the current culture of comedy epitomized by films like Hangover.
Read more at “Tina Fey: She’s on everyone’s A-list, including Hollywood’s” at Salon.com
Male Writers Still Outnumber Female Writers in Literary Publications
Not that we needed a study to tell us the obvious, but here it is anyway: According to a report by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts entitled “VIDA Count 2012,″ male writers still outnumber female writers in a number of major literary publications. Some of the more startling examples are Harper’s, with book reviews written by 3 women, and 28 men, and The New York Review of Books, with book reviews written by 215 men and 40 women. The New York Times Book Review came closer to gender parity, with book reviews written by 327 women and 400 men. What are the watchdogs to do? The writers of the report offer:
While it would be incredibly easy to begin by lambasting national publications. . . for their gross (& indecent) neglect of female writers’ work, I fear the attention we’ve already given them has either motivated their editors to disdain the mirrors we’ve held up to further neglect or encouraged them to actively turn those mirrors into funhouse parodies at costs to women writers as yet untallied.
The End of Women’s History Month?
Karen Swallow Prior, a professor of English at Liberty University, recently wrote in The Atlantic that “Women’s History Month seems superfluous and tacky, like an ’80’s perm.” It’s not that it’s not needed, she says, but it’s the relegating of a national celebration to a single month of events and programs that is the issue. “Women’s past accomplishments (and failures) deserve to be studied, appreciated, criticized, and otherwise actively engaged,” says Prior, “not passively cheered in a banal annual celebration.” And she’s not critical only of Women’s History Month; the criticism applies to African Americans or Jewish Americans or Asian Pacific Americans and other countless honorees. “It’s a two-sided coin: The honor it bestows marks, yet also perpetuates, [the groups’] marginalization.”
Do you agree? We at WVFC are glad to have those History Month designations; without such a “news peg” there’s no way we could bring up the stories of, say, Sojourner Truth, or Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or Frances Perkins.
Read more at The End of Women’s History Month at The Atlantic.
Sandra Day O’Connor on the High Stakes of the Supreme Court
In this week’s dose of inspiration, we share with you a segment from the groundbreaking three-part documentary MAKERS: Women Who Make America. Here, Sandra Day O’Connor, the First Female Justice at the U.S. Supreme Court, talks about the high stakes of her history-making appointment to the Court. And, if you have three hours of downtime, watch the full documentary at www.makers.com/documentary/
House lights down! Tempo up! Cue the follow spot! Elaine Stritch, feisty and fabulous in a white silk shirt and black tights, weaves her way through a jammed audience, steps up to the very tiny, and very famous, stage at the Café Carlyle, New York City’s premier cabaret. Elaine makes the stage, the room, the tables, and most certainly our hearts, swell with her talent and power. At 87, Elaine is one hell of an entertainer! And also very fragile.
ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME, a new film produced and directed by Chiemi Karasawa, has a cast of thousands, including a fearless performer; a diabetic; an alcoholic; a needy friend; a giving stranger; a comedienne beyond compare; a fearsome perfectionist; and an open, honest, irascible old broad. Oh, you guessed? These are all aspects of one icon who tells the story of her early days—a convent girl at heart—on the stage, the false starts, the failed and full-blown romances, and her present-day struggles with time as she soldiers on from rehearsal to performance, cursing, praying, laughing, despairing, and wrestling with the tricks aging plays on us.
My company, Providence Productions, Inc., has taken on a new role: Executive Producer. The role of raising money for someone else’s project is a challenging exercise. What is easy and important for me is defending the safe space of a really wonderful artist. IsotopeFilms, Chiemi’s production company, has made many films. Although she’s been hired and often-awarded for her producing in the past, ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME marks Chiemi’s directing debut.
Each choice a director makes is freighted. I’ve watched the complex process up close as Chiemi has pored over and shaped hours and hours of footage, original music, clips, and photos. (Where, for instance, to work in Alex Baldwin’s wry interactions, Cherry Jones and Tina Fey’s takes on Elaine, John Turturro’s astonishment, James Gandolfini’s amorous declaration, Hal Prince and George C. Wolfe’s admiration, and Rob Bowman and Julie Keyes’s dedication?) We have held a series of screenings for small groups. Each time the audience would applaud Chiemi, but she has always been quick to quiet the folks to ask for feedback so she could make refinements. Like Elaine, Chiemi is a perfectionist.
The latest viewing of the current cut of the film was different. We showed the film on a state-of-the art screen at my alma mater, NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, because Elaine had seen it only on the filmmaker’s small laptop. And let me tell you, it’s a gut-wrenching experience to view in a small room the loving, yet raw, portrait of an aging, ailing, fierce icon—while she watches along with you.
In the movie, Elaine focuses on her love affair with the audience. When the house lights came back up we turned to the back row to applaud Elaine. She thanked us and talked a little of her appreciation for Chiemi, for the response from the present audience, and for those who have supported her work over the years. And then people just hurled themselves at her. Well, I’m exaggerating. They were orderly and gracious in wanting the chance to tell her how much the movie meant to them.
When can you see the film? Not just yet. It will premiere in New York City in April. I feel confident that the audience there, and then beyond, will feel fulfilled. Both Chiemi Karasawa and Elaine Stritch are vulnerable and victorious, and I count my lucky stars to be, as they say in the biz, “attached.”
Yes, it’s awards season again. It’s time for a red carpet, and competing predictions, and laughter. We’ve made a tradition, at WVFC, of live-blogging the awards ceremonies as they happen, to cheer on our favorites and dish about absurdities.
Starting at 8 p.m. (EST) tonight, Sunday, September 22, we’ll be watching the 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris. Many of our favorite women are up for awards and many of the women we love will also be presenting statuettes to others, which gives us a chance to see them, whether or not they win.
Why not join us on our live blog and cheer along? We’ll be Emmy Central all evening, and will welcome your comments — as short or long as you like. Did you go to high school with a nominee? Do you have a story to tell about the awardees, or TV?
Meet us right here on our “Emmy Live Blog 2013” post, scroll down, and comment. It’s that simple! (You only have to enter your name and email address once in the fields below). Comments will be screened before we post them. and our online chats are famously civil (if a little catty sometimes about fashion). Feel free to share links and photos—and Tweets @womensvoices, too!(Here’s how it went this past Oscar night.)
“It is a testosterone night, that is for sure,” sighed Dr. Patricia Yarberry Allen halfway through last night’s Oscar telecast as we shared the experience on our liveblog. The WVFC publisher wasn’t kidding: If you left out the best-actress category, the night ended without a single woman’s having earned an award in any of the major categories. This turn of events included the exclusion of editor Thelma Schoonmaker from Hugo‘s otherwise complete sweep of the major technical awards.
Still, before any of those disappointments, and some unexpected good news, came Billy Crystal, and before then the red carpet pre-show. About that parade the WVFC team was in full-throated chorus, even without our fashion editors Stacey Bewkes and Colleen Caslin. We agreed that the newest video technology exposed how unnaturally thin Angelina Jolie really is, even though the still photo at left makes her look luscious (while about her husband and Best Actor-nominee Brad Pitt, Dr. Allen had only one question: “Why didn’t he shampoo?”).
Most of us loved both Viola Davis’s Vera Wang gown and her fearless hairdo, while finding Emma Stone’s dress “unfortunate” for its overflowing red and agreeing that Tina Fey knew best when she first saw her dress and “feared the peplums.”
Dr. Allen was the jewelry observer, noting Penelope Cruz’s “lovely diamonds,” Michelle Williams’s brooch at the waist, and that “Natalie Portman’s jewelry may be the most impressive of the night. She looks elegant in the deep red strapless gown.”
Dr. Allen also provided the most-favorited @womensvoices tweet of the night: Has anyone noticed the men with bad facelifts? Hair plugs are one thing, but this facelift thing for men is so weird. Despite the latter, our livebloggers found lots of male eye candy on display, including best-actor nominee George Clooney, presenter Robert Downey Jr., and the immortal Best Supporting Actor winner, hailed by our Eleanore Wells: “Christopher Plummer, aging nicely at 82.”
As for the other awards, most of us were both surprised and pleased for Meryl Streep as Best Actress, and Octavia Spencer’s acceptance speech had ALL of us choked up. (Note also, below, the clever ruching on Spencer’s dress.)
And we were pleasantly surprised when the Best Documentary was awarded to “Saving Face.” We knew we had to include this clip of the wise, grateful words by director Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, the first Pakistani filmmaker to win an Academy Award.
Still, it was hard to find a moment free of sexism. A clumsy skit with Portman and Downey “serves as a summation of a summation of all the things that are wrong about the way women have been represented this year,” wrote our Elizabeth Willse; we noted the lack of women in the tribute-to-Hollywood montages, including the Movies We Love clips. Alexandra MacAaron added sadly: “Who said there weren’t enough women? What about all the Barbie dolls handing out snacks just now?” We agreed with the apt hashtag from the Women’s Media Center: #WhereRTheWomen?
As the night finally ended, Dr. Allen closed with a similar rallying cry:
At least the night was worth it to see and hear the wonderful Meryl. Tomorrow is the day we begin to make a difference for women in film. Perhaps we have to see how little women are valued in the world of film to be reminded . . . yet again . . . that we have battles to fight. It is inexcusable for women to be invisible in this most visible of the arts.
What did you think of it all? Do you have some ideas on how we, as WVFC, can help promote this change? Or do you just disagree in our dress assessments? Let us know below, and stay tuned for better news from the Athena Film Festival, which was founded to celebrate women and leadership.
Between now and the 63rd Annual Emmy Awards on Aug. 29, WVFC is launching a series of profiles of our Power Women Honor Roll — actors, writers and producers who are also, like us, women discovering this new phase of life. Stay tuned for publisher Patricia Yarberry Allen on The Big C, aspiring comedian Rachel Rawlings on the powerhouse that is Tina Fey and others, including our movie/TV maven Alexandra MacAaron. Today, some thoughts on Diane Lane, 46, nominated this year for HBO’s Cinema Verite (see clip above).
| Full disclosure: Diane Lane went to my high school (and Justice Elena Kagan’s), though I didn’t know her then. She was already a professional actor in those days, including her movie debut in A Little Romance, (left, 1979), and a pioneering role in Elizabeth Swados’ Runaways before she was 16 years old. At right, Lane as one of the earliest girl punk rockers in Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains. (1981).
| Lane continued her young-rebellion persona into the late 1980s with Rumble Fish and The Outsiders (left), before broadening her range via the 1989 TV miniseries Lonesome Dove and a featured role in 1992’s Chaplin (right).
| But as the 21st century began, Lane emerged in her full power, as the central character in the love triangle in 2002’s Unfaithful. In 2006’s Nights in Rodanthe, she went on to demonstrate that love in midlife doesn’t have to be played for laughs (and can even include Richard Gere, as her real-life does Josh Brolin). And in last year’s Secretariat, she showed that she didn’t need a leading man at all to carry a movie: just a woman with a dream.
| What about the 2010 film for which Lane’s been nominated — an HBO look at the 1970s television series An American Family? In a performance hailed as “icily spot-on” by the San Francisco Chronicle, Lane plays the mother in the Loud family, the first to allow TV cameras to follow them 24/7. The family crumbled under the pressure long before the term “reality TV” existed.
|We’ll be watching Lane on awards night with a lot of interest. And we hope she keeps checking back with us, too; her mix of grit and grace is part of what Women’s Voices for Change is all about.|
When the Emmy nominations were announced, we looked to see how many of our peers made the cut, not just how many women were nominated. Women in Hollywood gives a good summary of the latter, including the paucity of women writers nominated and better news for the directing awards: “While we can’t seem to get a female solo showrunner, we got a couple of women directing comedies who got nominations: Pamela Fryman, How I Met Your Mother – “Subway Wars” (CBS); Gail Mancuso, Modern Family – “Slow Down Your Neighbors” (ABC) and Beth McCarthy-Miller, 30 Rock – “Live Show” (NBC). One woman Patty Jenkins was nominated for directing a drama for the Pilot of The Killing. We’ll say more later about those issues, but right now we wanted to fully honor the bodacious number of women nominees busy demonstrating that life after 40 isn’t over: it rocks. Last year, we honored our winners with a photo gallery; this year we thought we’d do it now, so on awards night you’ve got a list to cheer for, with links to the nominated shows and, when you see her name linked, look at previous WVFC love. Who on this list do you love? What will you be watching for next month?
Outstanding Actress in a Drama
|Kathy Bates, Harry’s Law|
|Mariska Hargitay, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit|
|Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife|
Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama
|Christine Baranski, The Good Wife|
|Margo Martindale, Justified|
|Michelle Forbes, The Killing|
Outstanding Actress in a Comedy
|Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie|
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
|Laura Linney, The Big C|
|Melissa McCarthy, Mike & Molly|
|Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation|
Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy
|Jane Lynch, Glee|
|Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock|
Outstanding Guest Actress In A Comedy
|Kristin Chenoweth, Glee|
|Cloris Leachman, Raising Hope|
|Tina Fey, Saturday Night Live|
Outstanding Leading Actress in a Mini-series or Movie
|Elizabeth McGovern, Downton Abbey|
| Diane Lane, Cinema Verite
|Taraji P. Henson, Taken From Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story|
|Jean Marsh, Upstairs Downstairs|
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Mini-series or Movie
|Melissa Leo, Mildred Pierce|
|Mare Winningham, Mildred Pierce|
|Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey|
|Eileen Atkins, Upstairs Downstairs|
Tina Fey has it all. A loving family. A kick-ass career. Bossypants, a best-selling book. And judging by Fey’s photo on the book’s cover, big, beefy man arms. Some dude’s hairy arms have been photoshopped onto Fey’s photo, turning a glamour shot into a sight gag. I think it’s her way of saying: “I didn’t get here on my looks. I’m here because I get laughs.”
Good choice. Beauty can be a mixed blessing, but you can take funny to the bank. (“Funny is money” is an old show biz saying.) Bossypants is a humorous memoir about Fay’s journey to the top, with riveting behind-the-scenes essays about Second City, Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. But that’s not all it is. It’s basically a grab bag of biographical pieces, funny riffs and useful advice on topics from comedy writing to breastfeeding. You’ll learn about being the focus of a photo shoot and about gender politics in the SNL writers room. Not to mention becoming Sarah Palin. There‘s a funny essay about responding to Internet hate mail and a facetious one about beauty secrets. The author shares her thoughts about Photoshop. (“Photoshop itself is not evil. Just like Italian salad dressing is not inherently evil, until you rub it all over a desperate young actress and stick her on the cover of Maxim, pretending to pull her panties down.”) There’s a wise and funny “Mother’s Prayer for Its Daughter.” (“Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to finance.”) And you’ll enjoy the piece about juggling career and motherhood whether you work in show biz or at the public library.
There’s a laugh on every page, but there’s more here than just yucks. Fey also shares a number of useful life lessons. (“When people say, “You really really must do something, it means you don’t really have to. No one ever says, “You really, really must deliver the baby during labor.“) She’s also remarkably frank about the mistakes she’s made, including mean-spirited things she did to other girls as a teen, before she wised up and realized that other girls are not the enemy. When Fay’s boyfriend dumped her for a “talented blond dancer,” Fey made damn sure that dancer’s career in their little theatre group went right into the toilet. Fey was no nastier than any other teenage girl. But she owns up to it, years later, in print, when she could be burnishing her Nice Girl image. Why? It may not be pretty, but Fey is into telling the truth.
But not telling all. Bossypants isn’t a juicy celebrity bio. The only thing we learn about her husband, for instance, is that he’s scared to fly. At book’s end we know very little about Fey’s private life. But plenty about her career path. Fey knows how to make nice and wants to get along, but she is also unabashedly ambitious. She wanted to be where she is now and worked damn hard to get there. Coming up, when she saw an opportunity, she grabbed it. Fey refuses to take herself seriously, but she also refuses to undervalue herself. All female celebrities should be this self-assured. And this supportive of other women.
Fey refers to herself as “obedient” and says she wants to be liked. But this doesn’t come from a place of low self-esteem. When a fellow writer calls her a cunt during a writing session, she shuts him right down. She told him that she was well brought up and well loved by her parents and that she didn’t have to put up with that kind of verbal abuse. A highpoint of the book occurs when Fey describes what happened early on when a male SNL writer said he didn’t like a funny and filthy remark Amy Poehler had just made because it wasn’t “cute.”
“I don’t fucking care if you like it,” Poehler came right back.
“With that exchange,” Fey writes, “A cosmic shift took place. Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it.”
That’s not just about Poehler. It’s also about Fey herself. And about the major transformation these two helped bring about for women in comedy. “The women in the cast took over SNL in that decade,” Fey writes, “and I had the pleasure of being there to witness it.”
What makes Fey so funny? It doesn’t come from anger. Fey, consistently level-headed and forgiving, has no axes to grind or backs to stab. Wit sometimes results from growing up with an “outsider” mentality (like being a Jew in a predominately gentile culture) or a childhood event that brings you up against the gap between what is and what should be. When Fey was in kindergarten, her face was slashed by a stranger. That could do it. But she refuses to dwell on this and certainly doesn‘t credit the slasher for transforming her from an ordinary child into a comic genius. The source of her gift remains a mystery. Maybe she was just born this way.
I zipped through Bossypants in a day and was sorry when it was over. “I hope you enjoy it so much that you also buy a copy for your sister-in-law,” Fey writes in her introduction. I haven’t got a sister-in-law. But I can (and do) highly recommend Bossypants to you, my WFVC “sisters.”
It’s hard to be a woman, especially one older than 40, and not be aware of Tina Fey’s new memoir Bossypants. At WVFC, we’ve alerted you to its New Yorker excerpt and to a clip of her and Jane Curtin discussing media sexism. We also knew Bossypants was opening wide — but we never thought that would include an hour schooling the geniuses at Google headquarters. Whether you’ve been a Fey fan before now or not, check her out below for insights into women and comedy, and for Fey’s compassionate and funny rapport with audience members. And stay tuned for our own inimitable review of Bossypants on Sunday, by our own always-amusing-in-her-own-right Roz Warren.
The Wednesday Five: Jane Curtin on ‘SNL’ Sexism, the Cost of Later Retirement, and Remembering Barbara Seaman
- When Oprah brought together former “Saturday Night Live” cast members last week, we all expected to hear 1970s stories and the tributes to Lorne Michaels. Fewer, probably, expected Jane Curtin to expose the sexism of those early days quite so baldly. But when she did, Women and Hollywood was among the first to report it: “Curtin talked about how John Belushi (the clear star of the show in the early years) thought that ‘women were just fundamentally not funny’ and that he felt it was ‘his duty to sabotage women-written skits.’ ” Click over to watch the video, and look carefully at the reaction of Tina Fey, who has chronicled how that idea still lingers.
- Our Eleanore Wells‘ Spinsterlicious Life hosts a guest blog by a non-spinster buddy Felicia, head of the Tulsa YWCA, who listens to her iPod during a family crisis and thinks about what marriage means to her. ” ‘No One,’ by Alicia [Keys], the first song I purchased years ago when this device was new, speaks to the love I feel for my husband, the love of my life for nearly thirty years. My husband who still cracks me up with his wicked sense of humor and whom I miss the moment we are apart. The man whose body I know and love as much as much as my own. … Being single in your fifties I think might be fun, but I can’t imagine going through this profound loss and managing these feelings of grief without having [his] love, support and comfort.” We feel honored to be privy to this sisterly dialogue: you will too.
- In the current budgetary debates, many of the competing proposals involve raising the current retirement age to 70. What would that mean in our lives? Diana Jean Schemo at Remapping Debate looks into the question, interviewing experts and retirees about quality-of-life issues. Psychologist Margaret Barbee tells Schemo: “For the vast majority of employees who may have struggled for decades to perform jobs that are low on fulfillment and independence but high in stress and enforced indignities, having to work longer to collect retirement benefits can become acutely difficult. Persisting in an unhappy job for the sake of salary or benefits alone can become a kind of sentence, [known as] job lock.” Thus the piece’s title, “Ball and Chain: The Human Cost of Raising the Retirement Age.”
- “Let it be remembered that in the eyes of the medical profession, big Pharma and various other establishment players, Barbara Seaman was a real nuisance – noisy, unstoppable, and, when necessary, downright disruptive.” So opens Barbara Ehrenreich’s tribute to the iconic journalist and founder of the National Women’s Health Network. Ehrenreich’s essay is just one of many tributes in On the Issues Magazine’s special issue on Seaman,whose books included Free and Female and Women and the Crisis in Sex Hormones. On the Issues’ enconiums start with Seaman’s first book, 1969’s The Doctors’ Case Against the Pill, which “questioned harm caused by the estrogen levels in early birth control pills — 10 times current dosage — and became the basis for Senate hearings in 1970” and traces her life all the way to 2008, and the posthumous publication of her No-Nonsense Guide to Menopause. We think she’d be by our Dr. Pat’s side in her concern with bio-identical hormones hucksters.
- WVFC contributor Janice C. Simpson has had a busy theater season, and rarely spares space on her Broadway and Me for unalloyed praise. So we were surprised to see her delight this week at Chris Rock’s somewhat-obscenely titled play at the Schonfeld Theatre. “People have taken to saying “the new Guirgis play,” or “Hat” or “the Chris Rock show” because the comedian is making his Broadway debut in it,” Simpson writes. “But there’s so much more to say. For starters, I’m going to say that The Motherf**ker with the Hat may be the most entertaining show I’ve seen this entire season. ” Simpson’s review is entertaining in its own right, and gives particular attention to co-star Elizabeth Rodriguez: “Rodriguez plays Veronica with a go-for-broke intensity that is, at times, almost frighteningly real and yet totally relatable. The two college-aged women in the seat next to me literally gasped at some of the words coming out of her mouth but kept nodding in solidarity at what she said.” Simpson makes some of us want to see it, as does the preview below.