Hidden Figures

The women behind America’s successful Space Race…

Video Credit: Jimmy Kimmel Live

I have always been a huge fan of Historical Drama. The use of fiction to tell a factual story is nothing new however films can paint a better picture of history in people’s minds than most other media through the costumes, set design, cinematography, music and dialogue.

The great power of movies is how they can draw our attention to important issues and/or previously untold stories. Although this film is an adaptation of a book, without the Hidden Figures film being released, this story would not have received as much mainstream awareness.

Hidden Figures is a story about the black women ‘Computers’ who worked at NASA during the “space race” – the early 1960’s, when the team at NASA were trying to get a human being into orbit – and the moon landing was still a pipe dream at this stage.

HF-207 – Jim Parsons as Paul Stafford, Taraji P. Henson as Katherine G. Johnson, and Kevin Costner as Al Harrison in HIDDEN FIGURES. Photo Credit: Hopper Stone.

The film is set against the backdrop of two major political & social challenges engulfing American: The Cold War with Russia and the Civil Rights movement. Both of these significant shifts underpin the struggles faced by the women within this film.

The story is centred on three women, Katherine G Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan & Mary Jackson.

They were some of many female ‘computers’ whose main job at NASA was to calculate maths equations set by the all-male teams during the fight to beat Russia into space. While it’s true these three women worked at NASA during the period the film is set, for many reasons, creative licensing was used to interweave their stories more than in real life. Having said that, their academic and professional achievements depicted in the film did occur in real life.

Many of us would not have been born during the period of Hidden Figures but as a result of this movie, we have a better understanding of what happened and what these women had to deal with on a daily basis. This is in part because the point of view presented throughout the film, is of those who suffered. Among other things, we see the judging eyes, the uncomfortable stares, the annoyed looks and all-round disdain from their co-workers these women endured. It certainly puts into perspective the trials and tribulations of today’s office environment.

On top of the difficult daily racism they encounter, the segregation laws in place across Virginia stand within the walls of NASA, making it that bit harder for them to complete their jobs. One of the strongest examples of this in the film is Katherine G Johnsons bathroom ‘dashes’. Where she has to run (in heels, I might add!) across one wing of NASA, through a parking lot, to the West Computer office to go to the “Coloured” bathroom. The ridiculousness of this situation is finally laid bare when Katherine is again perceived as shirking on her work responsibilities. She has the gumption to stand up for herself in front her boss making it clear exactly what she has to deal with and where her time is being spent. As a result, he removes the labelling above the toilet doors and any segregation within his team’s office space. For Katherine’s boss, he saw a need of his own not being fulfilled, which was Katherine at her desk doing her work and the segregation laws were a barrier to achieving this. This may not have occurred in real life, but it is a poignant moment and a turning point within the film.

Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

These women were not only pushing boundaries of what black people could undertake, they were pushing boundaries of what women could do. They were mothers and wives who worked full time, which is not something most people associate with women of this era. Although it wasn’t a focus of the film, you could tell the community surrounding these women is what helped them to succeed and that hasn’t changed much in 60 years. Communities help raise children and keep people moving forward.

One of the film’s major storylines is about the first iteration of the computers that we know today. IBM’s computers were installed at NASA during the space race, and once these computers were functional, they would supersede the human computers. This would have put the women featured in this film out of jobs. Both in the film and real life, Dorothy Vaughn had the foresight to understand the impact of this change and realised that although the machine computers could calculate much faster than humans, someone still needed to program them. This storyline showed that technological impact on employment is not a new thing. The lesson is in order to stay relevant in a changing landscape, people need to learn and adapt their skills.

Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

In the same way Aesop’s Fables have lessons for the reader, films such as Hidden Figures use a combination of fiction and fact, to teach us lessons as well.

The main theme carried throughout this film, through their story, through NASA’s goal to get a man into orbit, is not to settle for the status quo. Just because it hasn’t been done before, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Innovation and growth come from pushing boundaries and without new thinking, the astronauts would not have landed on the moon. 

Katherine G Johnson passed away recently at the age of 101. It’s a shame her achievements, and those of the other black women computers at NASA, were hidden from us for such a long time. I am glad she at least received the recognition she deserved a few years before her passing.

Hidden Figures is available for rent or purchase on Google Play or Apple TV

The key players:
Main Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst
Director: Theodore Melfi
Writers: Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder
All cast & crew

Further information:

Aliens

An ode to kick-ass women

Video credit: Today Show

Still one of the best on-screen examples of kick-ass female protagonists, Aliens is a cult classic beloved by both men and women. Although the focus of the movie is on the struggle between humans and aliens, it is lauded for how it challenged film and gender conventions. 

I could have chosen any of the first four Aliens films to include within this blog, as they all have strong female representation as a defining feature. I chose the second film for three reasons:

  1. Sigourney Weaver’s character, Ripley develops further in the second film, cementing the traits of vigor & confidence
  2. It’s a study in the art of cinematography and direction
  3. The role of the mother is explored throughout the film and is a key sub-plot. While not new, this portrayal is vastly different to other films.

The film starts with Sigourney Weaver’s character, Ripley, being found 57 years after the end of Alien. She not only has to acclimatise to a new world but provide a mission report to the ICC Commission. This is no easy feat considering the amount of time that has passed and the group assembled were either infants or not born at the time of Alien took place, making it harder for them to comprehend the situation the crew was in. Despite the content of the discussion, the scene plays out like a typical boardroom situation. What stands out is how Ripley holds her stance even when she is being challenged and eventually over-ruled. She isn’t afraid to speak up or face confrontation. These are traits atypical in the corporate world where historically women have had to tread the fine line between asserting their point of view and being seen as bossy. Seeing Ripley command that room like she did is inspiring, and one of the main reasons young women today should watch this film.

Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

There is more to Ripley than expected.
Ripley is far from one-dimensional. Although the focus of the film is on her courage in the face of adversity, there is a nurturing and gentle side to her personality which is explored in-depth in this film. Ripley demonstrated that women can be motherly, feminine, vulnerable and strong, all at the same time. She knew what she was talking about, didn’t play games and was fearless. It’s because of this she was respected and treated as an equal by her peers.

To aid in building this view of Ripley, her clothing is largely androgynous; slacks, singlets, shirts and overalls. These clothes are not typically characterised as being feminine. There is no doubt this was a deliberate choice and meant the focus was less on her as a female and more on the aspects of her personality.

The strong female characters don’t stop with Ripley.
There is great diversity in the female characters in this film. I would argue women were given more diverse roles than the men. They play the leader, healer, soldier, pilot, mother, the hero and the leading antagonist is female too, just in a different form. A stand-out is Vazquez, played effortlessly by Jenette Goldstein who went through a significant physical transformation to play this role and completely invoked Vazquez in every sense. She was fearless, dominant, driven and a true team player.

This film may be about aliens, but at its core is human interaction and relationships.
As with most post-apocalyptic films & TV shows, the evolution of human relationships & personalities underpins the bigger struggle. That’s what makes them great to watch. When the fight or flight response kicks in, it’s fun to watch who fights, who schemes and who runs. It’s a fascinating insight into human behaviour and what we are like when we strip back the façade & the bravado.

Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

There is one relationship that stands out for me in Aliens. Ripley finds out early on in the film her daughter has passed away and you can see how it affects her.  When she meets Newt, the sole survivor on LV-426, her protective mothering instinct kicks in. It’s an opportunity for her to be there like she couldn’t be for her own daughter. It this desire to protect and nurture that drives Ripley’s fight at the end of the film against the Alien mother. I loved the battle between the two alpha mums. It shows how strong mums are and that we will stop at nothing to protect our young. After all the effort to save Newt, the reward for Ripley is when Newt calls her “mummy” in the last scene, it was a touching moment in an otherwise very intense movie.

Let’s talk about the Special Effects.
It wouldn’t be a review of Aliens if I didn’t mention the special effects. Given when this film was made, they were impressive. At several moments during the film, I was amazed at how they could pull off some of the cinema trickery. If I had the time, I would love to spend it learning about how they put this film together, the tricks they used to achieve things like flying machines, walking robots and the aliens. I think if they made it now, although it would have looked a lot ‘slicker’, the magic would have been lost. James Cameron has always been known for pushing the boundaries of what is possible on screen, and he didn’t disappoint with this film.

Aliens is a highly suspenseful film that everyone should watch, even if you aren’t a sci-fi fan. Watch it to marvel at the pre-CGI special effects and the brilliant acting.

The key players:
Main cast: Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen & Jenette Goldstein
Director: James Cameron
Writers: James Cameron, David Giler & Walter Hill
Producers: Gale Ann Hurd, Gordon Carrell, David Giler & Walter Hill
Full cast & crew

More info..

Bad Moms

‘A Call to Arms for modern mums’

Video credit: The Ellen Show

Bad Moms is a deliberately over the top depiction of the reality of being a modern mum. The movie centres around Mila Kunis’ character, Amy, and her trials as a mum, worker, wife and friend. Her seemingly perfect life unravels early on in and she spends the film rediscovering who she is and what really matters.

Mila Kunis is supported by an excellent cast. Each actor owned their character and equally contributed to the hilarity on screen. Although written and directed by men, Bad Moms is written for women with an impressive understanding of what motherhood is now like.

The scenarios in this story are relatable and although fanciful, are drawn from reality. I empathised with each of the mum’s situations and the constant push/pull in several directions at once. Sometimes you just want to say ‘F*** this s***, I’m having a break’ and boy did they do that. I am fortunate through my job to have several opportunities to do just that, but I know a lot of mothers who aren’t. Children are certainly a blessing, but they turn your life upside down and its easy as a parent to get lost in their world.

Image credit: STX Entertainment

The kind of strong female character development we need portrayed more often.
Several of the main characters went through significant growth in this film. It’s one of the main themes of this film, growth and change may be scary but is a good thing. What’s important though is that the women didn’t go through this change on their own. They had their friends to support, challenge and push them forwards. These examples of healthy female relationships need to be seen more often and celebrated.

Amy (Mila Kunis) and Kiki (Kristen Bell) went through the most significant change. At the beginning of the film, Amy was highly strung, stressed out and under-appreciated. When she caught her husband cheating, she kicked him out and was reborn as a woman who wasn’t going to put up with any crap. Obviously, this didn’t go perfectly to plan (if it did, we wouldn’t have a film) but she learnt along the way and her self-worth increased exponentially.

The increased self-worth was also on display with Kiki. At the beginning of the film she was a meek & stressed mum who had lost herself in raising her children and her dominating husband. By the end of the film, with the support of her friends and a good example set by Amy and Carla (played brilliantly by Kathryn Hahn), she found the inner strength to set her own boundaries.

Although romance is featured within the film, it’s not the focus.
There were two main love interests in the film for Amy: her husband Mike, and Jessie. These romantic relationships are used more as stimulus for the bigger theme of ‘the sisterhood’ as opposed to being the main focus.

Amy’s return to the dating scene made for great comedy. It wasn’t about her finding a new forever man, but her having a good time, on her terms. It was a great set-up for some fantastic scenes. The bathroom scene left me in tears…of laughter. It was comedy gold and gives an insight into the kinds of conversations women have with each other (We don’t all sit around drinking tea and talking about the weather or fashion. Women talk about sex as well, and we enjoy it.)

Image credit: STX Entertainment

Diverse female characters are the foundation of Bad Moms.
All parents are different however, this isn’t always portrayed on screen and is a real sticking point for me. Without diverse portrayal, there isn’t relatability. Bad Moms succeeds in showing a diverse range of mums and dads. It reaffirms to the audience that we’ve moved on from the 1950’s perfect housewife and that’s ok. In fact, it’s better than ok, it’s the way it should be.

This was particularly apparent with the three main protagonists Amy, Kiki and Carla. They brought to the friendship not only three different personalities but diverse life experiences. Yes, there were moments in the film when they ribbed each other, but that’s what happens in friendships. By and large they were accepted for who they were and pushed each other to be the best forms of themselves. It’s something we should all strive to have in our lives. This bond extended beyond the screen. Watching many of the promotional interviews with the three of them, it’s clear they genuinely support and care for each other.

I also need to make mention of Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Annie Mumolo who did a fantastic job as the mum version of Mean Girls, it added punch to the story.

Image credit: STX Entertainment

Comedy was the vehicle for life lessons.
The power of this film is its ability to address the difficult moments we experience as adults and parents in humorous and relatable ways.

As modern mums, there are expectations to be everything to everyone, and it’s just not viable. This is largely driven by a combination of gender constructs, a preoccupation with perfection and our desire to take every opportunity we have because of those who didn’t have the opportunity before us. But somethings got to give.

There are several lessons I take away from this film:
1. We live in a bullshit pretend world. Let’s occasionally stop pretending everything is ok and remember that other people are going through as much of a hard time as you are.
2. The power of the sisterhood when we come together and support rather than criticise.
3. Parents should take the opportunity to go out and explore the non-parent part of you. It’s there, sometimes we just need to dig deep to find it!

Bad Moms is available on Stan in Australia and Netflix in most other countries.

The Key players
Main cast: Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn, Kristen Bell, Christina Applegate & Jada Pinkett Smith
Directors: Jon Lucas & Scott Moore
Writers: Jon Lucas & Scott Moore
Full cast & crew

More info
There’s a real life Bad Mom’s group inspired by the movie and we attended one of their epic parties
Bad Moms is getting is a third instalment, because Bad Momming never ends
Mums behaving badly: films take aim at the myth of the perfect parent
7 Times Bad Moms was scarily accurate about parenthood
Bad Moms: Kristin Bell, Mila Kunis reminisce with their moms
Mila Kunis, Kristin Bell and Kathryn Hahn on ‘Bad Moms’, Junk Food and the all Female cast

Sleepless in Seattle

An early 90’s classic that shaped the Rom Coms of the present

Sleepless in Seattle is an iconic movie from the early 90’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if most people my age watched the film growing up, in fact, many of my friends reminisced when I told them I was watching it for this blog.

Image Credit: AP Photo/1993 TriStar Pictures, Inc.

There are several reasons why Sleepless in Seattle is an icon.
Nora Ephron; the writer and director; set out to achieve something different from what movie goers had seen previously in this genre. Unlike other romantic comedies, the two potential lovers share hardly any screen time. Their stories are interlinked but told in parallel.

Although it is a rom com, the characters are relatable. In essence, this story could be about anyone of us, albeit with a bit of Hollywood magic thrown in for good measure. This was a seismic shift in a genre that followed the same tired formula of the pretty damsel saved by the handsome man and them falling madly in love.

The representation of women in film has changed in 27 years.
I hadn’t watched Sleepless in Seattle for many years and although at the time I enjoyed it, watching it as a woman of 2020, it left a different impression. It was ground-breaking in 1993, however it came across as dated, and not just because of the 90’s fashion. Meg Ryan’s character Annie was skittish, unsure of herself and lacking in substance. It’s a shame really, it would have been nice to see her with a bit of sass, but that’s likely not what 1993 viewers would have wanted. What is most concerning with her character is that every decision she made [in the film] was centred on men and love. At one point she flew across the country to meet Sam; Tom Hanks’ character; but instead ended up watching him from afar play on a beach with his son. Maybe in 1993, this was considered romantic but not in 2020. There is nothing wrong with pursuing love, but to devote your every decision to that is questionable.

There was one moment in the film that was particularly cringe worthy. Rita Wilson’s character Suzy was describing the ending to an Affair to Remember; a film referenced multiple times in Sleepless; and was ridiculed by Sam, Jonah and her husband Greg; for getting emotional and crying. As if it was something that men never do. They rolled their eyes and had a looked alarmed as she started crying. It was demeaning and deprecating. I know most movie goers would have laughed at this scene, including me, but in 2020 I have to believe we have moved on from this style of humour.

Thankfully, there was a positive female relationship in Sleepless which showcased the strength of the sisterhood. Annie and her best friend Becky; played brilliantly by Rosie O’Donnell; are as close as you can get. Their relationship was wonderful, you could see how much they supported each other no matter how extreme their endeavours were. Instead of being pitted against each other, they were each other’s rocks. Although most of their dialogue centred around men, they supported each other. It also made for some great scenes. The scene where they are watching the ending of Affair to Remember together on the couch is reminiscent of moments I have shared with my girlfriends. It was a nice touch.

Image credit: TriStar Pictures, Inc

The role of fate in our lives is explored.
Destiny as a theme is carried throughout the film and referenced several times by Meg Ryan’s character Annie. There are a number of moments when Sam and Annie are so close to meeting up but miss each other. These moments help to build the suspense and hope in the audience. We want them to meet, we want their destiny to be fulfilled.

This storyline reaches its climax at the end of the film. It is so quintessentially over the top but just what a romantic comedy needs, even one steeped in reality. However, the older I get, the more cynical I become, and I struggled with it. The scene starts with Annie having dinner with her fiancé Walter. She tells him she is leaving him and is meeting a man at the top of the Empire State Building. He accepts this and she leaves.  Let’s be honest, there is no way a guy is going to take it that well when you tell him you are leaving him for someone else you’ve never met (especially after he has bought you a Tiffany’s engagement ring and champagne).

Even if I don’t agree with it now, Nora Ephron finished the film the way the viewer would have wanted, with Sam and Annie finally meeting against the backdrop of New York.

The real love story in Sleepless
Now obviously, there must be a happy ending and Sleepless in Seattle certainly has that. Sam’s eyes meet the Annie’s and that’s it, they are in love…and they live happily ever after of course.

I was more interested in the relationship between Sam and his son Jonah. At the beginning of the movie they lose a mother and wife, and the two of them have to muddle their way through their new life together.

They were two people dealing with shared grief in their own way. It was really quite lovely to see their connection and bond on screen. In fact, Jonah is the catalyst for the romantic adventure Sam undertakes in the film.

They had some fantastic scenes together and I felt privileged to see this relationship on screen. Nora Ephron’s direction made it feel like I was personally invited into their home. I don’t recall many films from the 90’s that had such positive father and son relationships. As a father, Sam was engaged, emotionally intelligent and connected to his child. This is the great love story in this film.

Image credit: TriStar Pictures, Inc

Nora Ephron’s legacy lives on
Sleepless in Seattle is one of many iconic films written or directed by Nora Ephron. Most notably When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail and Julie & Julia. Nora was a trailblazer of the industry and her legacy will live on for many years to come. Her work inspired the people around her and she helped pave the way for many women making a name for themselves in Hollywood now. She wasn’t afraid to smash the glass ceiling with a hammer and was unashamedly proud of her work.

There is no doubt Nora Ephron wrote a good screenplay, filled the movie with top actors and directed each scene beautifully. It would not have been easy to film two separate stories and keep them flowing as well as she did. I am glad I watched it again because of the great one-liners but also to watch a wonderful relationship between a father and son. On reflection, I think that’s the beauty of what Nora created, a rom com with depth, featuring several love stories. I need to park my cynicism at the door and appreciate the film for what it meant in 1993, not where we are as a society now.

Sleepless in Seattle is available to purchase or rent on Google Play or Apple iTunes

The Key players
Main Cast – Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Ross Malinger, Rita Wilson, Victor Garber, Bill Pullman, Rosie O’Donnell
Director – Nora Ephron
Writer – Jeff Arch, Nora Ephron and David S. Ward
Producers – Jane Bartelme, Patrick Crowley, Delia Ephron, Gary Foster, Lynda Obst, James W. Skotchdopole
Full Cast & Crew

The story behind the story:
Sleepless in Seattle at 25
How Sleepless in Seattle and Nora Ephron changed romantic comedies
The cast of Sleepless in Seattle: Then and Now
11 surprising facts
Rosie O’Donnell explains why it hurts to watch ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ 25 years later

Black Panther

Challenging the status quo in a male dominated genre.

Video credit: BAMorg

Courage                      Family                         Tradition                     Innovation

Some of you may be asking why a superhero movie about an African king, directed by a man has been included within this blog. Out of the 9 producers of this film, there are two females, which warrants its inclusion. More importantly though, T’Challaaka The Black Panther, is supported by a female team. Ryan Cooglar could have quite easily focused most of the movie on the battle between T’Challa and Killmonger and it still would have been a success. He chose however to place the women supporting T’Challa central to the story.

Diverse female representation is a key pillar of the film.
In Wakanda not only are the women treated equally to the men, they can ascend to any position in society (with the exclusion of king). The core team of women supporting the King are; the general of the King’s personal guards Okoye, T’Challa’s sister Shuri, the master engineer, and his love interest (and Wakandan spy) Nakia.

There are many other strong female representations in Black Panther. The king’s personal bodyguards, the Dora Milaje, are all women and female tribe elders sit on T’Challa’sadvisory council. Each of these characters collectively showcases the roles women take in society and their ability to take on positions more commonly perceived in the real world as being for men. Central traits to each of these characters is their confidence, strength and assertiveness.

The importance of the Black Panther film is not limited to gender representation. It is the first superhero movie set in an African country, stars a nearly complete black cast and celebrates black culture. The film challenges the status quo expertly and effectively. This has resulted in it being one of the most successful superhero films of all time, with a sequel in the works. The significance of this movie cannot be understated. Although the focus of the movie is on Africa and the US, the issues around privilege, prejudice and racial bias addressed in the film are commonplace across the Western World.

Photo credit: Walt Disney Studios

Yes, it is a Superhero film with all the applicable bells & whistles.
I am a huge fan of Superhero films. I have watched all MCU & DC movies (even the bad ones) and where possible, in chronological order. They are easy to watch and highly entertaining regardless of whether the storyline is any good. Despite certain director’s opinions on this genre, there are millions of people who agree with me. Black Panther stands apart from other movies in the superhero genre because it has depth and meaning and left a lasting impression on me. 

Being a superhero film, it must include the golden triangle of; fight scenes, tech and triumph over evil. But underpinning all this, is a story about family and our place in the world. 

Black Panther leads off from the end of Captain America Civil War with T’Challa having the unenviable task of taking over as king from his recently departed father, T’Chaka. He is young and must lead a country shut off from an ever-changing and in some places, unstable world. Chadwick Boseman plays the role with grace, humility, compassion & fortitude. He is T’Challa. Throughout the film he has to grapple with his own concerns about living up to his fathers legacy and carve out his own way. On top of this, he is challenged by an outsider who believes Wakanda hasn’t done enough to assist black people suffering around the world.

The theme of Nationalism is weaved throughout the story.
The Nationalism narrative is seeded throughout the movie with both sides of the argument represented. The fictional country of Wakanda is rich in Vibranium, a metal with a plethora of good uses. This metal has made Wakanda a rich African nation, however they have hidden this from the world, who perceives them as a poor country. This is born out of fear from deception and loss. Similarly, the Nationalist diatribe often seen in the news is also from fear though its origin and reason is vastly different. The main antagonist, Erik Killmonger (played brilliantly by Michael B. Jordan who has the right mix of anger and resentment), believes Vibranium can help solve the problem’s facing his fellow humans. However, he doesn’t necessarily want to use it in the best way. It’s a decision T’Challa and the rest of the council grapple with throughout the second half of the film.

I’m hoping this storyline in connection with the ever-constant news about the Border Wall & refugee crisis made people stop and think about their responsibility as human beings in a globalised world.

Photo credit: Walt Disney Studios

The balance between tech & tradition
Innovation is a key component of the Iron Man films and it’s nice to see another MCU character being given the innovation baton. In this instance it’s not T’Challa who is the tech genius, it is his sister Shuri. She is forthright, smart, sassy and doesn’t fit the typical princess mould. What is particularly impressive for me is her confidence in her abilities. She is supported in her endeavours not only by her brother but also her mother, Ramonda, who allows her to be the best version of herself. Her inclusion in this film is important because little girls can look at her and say, “I can do that”. I also enjoyed seeing the relationship between Shuri and T’Challa, who have great on-screen chemistry. I suspect the actors had lots of fun making this film together.

The women in front and behind the lens are instrumental to the success of this film.
Black Panther has showcased the diverse roles women can play seamlessly. Ryan Cooglar and his team should be applauded for this, as the issue of limited role types continues to plague Hollywood.

His behind the scenes team included several women across cinematography, costume design, set design, editing, casting and production design. It was a deliberate choice by Coogler, and one he understands is important to further increase gender diversity in the industry.

I can’t finish this post without mentioning the brilliant Danai Gurira. Mostly because watching her in anything after seeing her kick-arse on many seasons of The Walking Dead is an absolute treat! She is so damn cool and absolutely nails this role as the conservative & protective warrior.

Photo credit: Walt Disney Studios

A movie worthy of the accolades.
I want to leave you with words from T’Challa’s address at the UN at the end of the movie to announce Wakanda’s opening of their borders. We should all reflect on these words given the current political climate globally.

‘The wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we are one single tribe’

Black Panther is available to watch on Disney+

The main players
Main Cast – Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett, Forrest Whitaker and Andy Serkis
Director – Ryan Coogler
Writers – Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole
ProducersVictoria Alonso, Jeffrey Chernov, Louis D’Esposito, Kevin Feige, David J Grant, Genevieve Hofmeyr, Danny ‘Yun Tae’ Kang, Stan Lee & Nate Moore

For more information
The Black Panther effect is changing the face of Hollywood
Black Panther is a gorgeous, groundbreaking celebration of black culture
The Revolutionary Power of Black Panther
The women of Black Panther are empowered not just in politics and war but also in love
Women of Wakanda: The Female Forces Behind ‘Black Panther’s Historic Oscar Push

A League of Their Own

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Resilience                    Choice                         Friendship                   Strength

I watched this movie several times as a teenager & young adult and certainly enjoyed it for its entertainment value however I don’t think I fully understood the significance of this movie or the story. I’ve spent the last decade learning about the women who paved the way for the freedom and choice I am afforded, and as a result, it’s a different experience watching this film now.

A League of their Own is set during World War II and centres on a group of women who play in the first women’s baseball league in the United States, while their men (and most male baseball players) are away fighting. Although the characters are fictional, the League and the women’s experiences are based on reality.

We wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to watch this remarkable story if it wasn’t for the documentary of the same name made in 1987 by Kelly Candaele and Kim Wilson.

The late Penny Marshall stumbled across the documentary and saw the need for these women’s’ stories to be put on the silver screen.

Photo credit: Entertainment Weekly

What was the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League?

The league was set-up to keep Baseball team owners in the money whilst the war was on amidst fears that baseball as a sport would become extinct while the men were away. As a result, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League or AAGPBL for short was born.

The players were essentially a short-term sub for the male players with the expectation that when the war was over, professional men’s baseball would resume as if the AAGPBL never existed.

My first thought was for the women who had been given an opportunity beyond marriage & children – to have that ripped away would have been heart breaking. The film suggested there was an assumption amongst the leadership that these players would easily forget about playing and revel in a return to their normal life. Fortunately, in real life, the league continued on until 1954, well after the end of WW2.

A very different time.

The film offers us an insight into a different era, where women weren’t given the plethora of choices many of us have today. Where the assumption was that they were good for having children, tending to the home and were judged largely on their looks. This was seeded it into the dialogue throughout the film. It wasn’t overt, rather as if it was done to show us that it was simply part of the vernacular of the day.

For example, throughout the film the players are called “girls”, “honey”, “darling”, “gal” and the team names followed suit with the Belles, Chicks & Peaches – words we now consider derogatory & demeaning, but they were part of everyday language in the 40’s.

It showed me that although we have a long way to go, we have come so far. I personally don’t know how I would have handled it, being judged for my looks with the assumption I had nothing else to offer. I can assure you, my inability to sit quietly in the corner with my pretty smile would have been my undoing.

In keeping with the image of the time, all players were expected to attend etiquette lessons, fit the beauty ideal, not drink, smoke or cuss and were given dresses for uniforms. This was to appease the viewing public, who already had strong negative opinions about the league and its players. I have no doubt image and brand are still very important today in baseball, as with all sports, but I have to wonder what emphasis is placed on male players clothing, masculine behaviour and looks by the league, then and now.

Photo credit: The Film Experience

A strong cast playing diverse, dynamic characters was pivotal to the story resonating with the audience.

Every cast member contributed to the success of the film and provided weight to the story. Standouts for me are Tom Hanks as the washed-up disinterested manager, Lori Petty as the ‘other’ sister and Rosie O’Donnell & Madonna who had fantastic on-screen chemistry.

My favourite character in the film is Marla Hooch, played by Megan Cavanagh. Although she wasn’t a principle character in a movie littered with very strong performances, Marla’s story is the one that stayed with me. Her change from an unconfident & meek girl living in the shadow of her father and his dreams, into a woman making her own decisions is what signified to me why this league was so important for women’s development. She didn’t fit the mould of what the league was looking for, despite her obvious talent, but with a push by Dottie & Kit, she was given a chance. Throughout the first half of the film, many jokes were made at her expense, but in a world where looks is of primary importance and she was the ugly duckling, she was easy fodder. It was the second half where she started to blossom and make her own decisions.

With change comes fear & misinformation.

A League of their Own also showed fear mongering, such as older women announcing on the radio that women playing baseball would have a negative impact on children and the family. Many people struggle with change and this results in poor behaviour. Baseball in the 40’s was considered a ‘masculine’ sport, something women should not be associated with.

These feelings are also on display in the first few games the women play. The crowd of mostly men and older women laugh and call names to the girls. Instead of supporting them, they choose to ridicule them. As if these women playing baseball might turn the world on its head. It’s only when the players show their skills and start to display some of their femininity that they are taken seriously.

Unfortunately, even in 2020 there are instances when women are having to prove their abilities in traditionally male sports, with old attitudes still in place on what women can and cannot do. 

Recently, there have been some incredible examples of progression though. The Matildas, the Australian Women’s soccer team, have secured pay parity with the Australian Male team. When the US Women’s soccer team won the 2019 World Cup, it made international news and there were some key standouts such as Megan Rapinoe who stood up against the haters.

Also, the Australian Football League Women’s (AFLW), is now shown in prime time on TV and Women’s Cricket is getting a place on-screen as well. Challenging stereotypes & overcoming sexist vitriol is still the biggest hurdle, but one that will take time and support from the mainstream media & leadership in each field.

Photo credit: Columbia Pictures

The hard moments are what makes it worth it.

This film is packed full of great one-liners. However, one in particular piece of dialogue stands out for me. Towards the end of the film when Dottie Hanson has to make the difficult decision to choose between baseball and her husband, she tells Hank’s character Dugan that baseball is hard. His response is still relevant today, not just in baseball but for life’s difficult moments.

“It’s supposed to be hard,” he says. “If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
A League of Their Own can be purchased or rented on Google Play or Apple iTunes.

The key players
Directors – Penny Marshall
Main Cast – Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, Tom Hanks.
Producers – Elliott Abbott, Ronnie Clemmer, Robert Greenhunt, Joseph Hartwick, Amy Lemisch, Penny Marshall, Bill Pace
Writers – Kim Wilson, Kelly Candaele, Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel
Full cast & crew

Further information
The story behind the story:
A League of their Own behind the scenes
Real Life players’ view on the film
Meet the real women who inspired the A League of Their Own
What Penny Marshall did for girls
Kelly Candaele on Penny Marshall

Frozen 2

Bravery           Growth            Vulnerability               Trust                Love

If you haven’t heard of Frozen, then you have certainly been living under a rock these last six years. Frozen broke the mould for children’s movies and surpassed everyone’s expectations. Although the movie was about love, it was about a different kind of love, a love vastly different to other female centred Disney films. Frozen was able to prove there is an appetite for different stories, with different ‘Happy Ever After’ endings.

As a mother of young children, I am very aware of Frozen. Both of my children (and I) have danced to every song, dressed up as the characters, held special Frozen birthday parties and watched the film at least 1,000 times. We have championed this, although occasionally people have found it surprising that my son was as obsessed with a ‘girls’ film as our daughter, although as it wasn’t overtly feminine, had strong male characters and a great story arc, it was generally accepted. There is still a presumption amongst some adults and children we know that because the two main characters are girls, then it ‘must’ be a girl’s film. We have never told our children they are girls’ movies and as a result, there is no gender bias attached to either of the films.

When the production of Frozen 2 was first announced, I openly wondered how they could top the first film. We have all seen examples of sequels unable to reach the peaks of their predecessor and I was concerned if Frozen 2 couldn’t live up to the standard set, it could taint the story in my children’s minds. My worries were diffused when we watched Frozen 2 for the first time….I will point out we have already seen it twice and will no doubt add a couple of zeroes to that number over the next few years. 

Photo credit: Walt Disney Studios

A story for both young and older audiences.

Frozen 2 was truly wonderful, it captivated all of us. My children and I were seeing the same film but walked away with a very different experience. What the writers have been able to achieve in the second film was to weave different themes through the film and appeal to multiple audiences.

It is a more mature story, with the characters having depth not seen in the first film and I would suggest that was written, in part, for the adult film watchers. This film also included more adult jokes & references, which for a parent who is going to see this movie at least 100 times, is much appreciated.

Fear of the Unknown is a key theme throughout the film.

Fear can be seen in most of the characters storylines, with Elsa afraid of venturing into another ‘adventure’, Olaf discussing change & getting older in his own light-hearted way and Kristoff worried about Anna’s proposal response.

However, the most significant example of this fear of what is unknown and different is the girls’ grandfather and his contact with the Northuldra people. It was because of his fear and deception, that Elsa, Anna & co had to follow the path set out in the movie.

Inclusiveness is becoming more of a priority

In a positive sign for inclusion and cultural progress, Disney consulted and entered into a contract with the Sámi people, the indigenous people of the Scandinavian region to ensure their portrayal was respectful & culturally accurate.

Disney have been able to portray a complex issue, with examples of indigenous marginalisation unfortunately littered throughout our history, and tell it in a way that is easily digestible for very young audiences. It’s a delicate, highly emotive subject but one that is very important for them to see & hear.

In our house, as I’m sure in others, Disney & its movies is held in high regard. It is refreshing to see they are showing more diverse characters on screen and taking representation seriously. This storyline also provided an opportunity for us to discuss the topic with our children and the importance of diversity, inclusion, respect of others and that different is not something to fear, it is how we learn and grow as individuals & societies.

Photo credit: Walt Disney Studios

Yes, there were tears……..and a whole range of emotions experienced.

I also need to admit that I cried in this film…twice…my kids thought it was hilarious. Those who know me well wouldn’t be surprised though as I cry when watching the news, TV commercials, hell I even cry when Ellen does her 12 days of Christmas (She does it every year…and yet I still ball my eyes out every time!). It surprised me that I cried in this film though, namely because it is animated, not real people.

Not only are the characters fictional, but this is a cartoon. Somehow though, the team behind the film were able to convey real-life emotion and experiences that draw in the viewer. Moments like when Elsa discovers her true self (spoiler alert) or when Anna needs to get back up after Olaf disappears, we can put ourselves in their shoes and relate it to similar moments in our own lives.

Elsa, in particular, showed a range of emotions throughout the film. There were moments of Elsa we knew with her nervousness, vulnerability and then elation when she discovered her truth. She questioned her abilities, her path in life and it was refreshing to see a strong character showing vulnerability when she faced adversity. Both Elsa and Anna are examples I use when demonstrating resilience and strength to my children.

Oh the songs…..

I have been a fan of musicals for a long time. They capture your attention and leave a positive emotional imprint. There are songs from big movies of my childhood whose words I still know. Every time I hear these songs I cannot stop singing along and it brightens my day. I’ve noticed in recent years children’s films have had less of a focus on lyrical music and I am pleased to see this trend has started to change.

The music in Frozen 2 is moving, haunting and enchanting. The soundtrack is at the very core of this film, as it was for the first. I believe this film would not be as successful and connect with the audience as it has without the songs.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing every word to Let it Go, Open Door and In Summer for a number of years. I can now add Into the Unknown, Some things never change and When I am older to my Frozen repertoire as the album has been on repeat since we watched the film. The musical geniuses behind the Frozen soundtracks sure know how to produce catchy tunes, so catchy in fact that my wonderful friends, who haven’t even seen the film, are also humming the tune! We even heard grown men singing Into the Unknown on New Years Eve’s in the middle of Australian Bush, it ended up turning into a cross camp sing-off. Music really does bring people together!

One song that stood out for me was Kristoff’s nod to late 80’s rock ballads, Lost in the Woods. As a child of the 80’s it was a wonderful opportunity for me to reminisce. It reminded me of the old video clips I used to watch growing up, particularly Bon Jovi’s Always, what a classic song and an even better video!

Photo credit: Walt Disney Studios

Routine & consistency underpinned the story

The film followed a similar formula to the first movie which is perfect for a kid’s film, as routine & consistency is beneficial for children. These included the first scene with young Anna and Elsa conversing with their parents, Anna headlining a positive song at the beginning of the film, Olaf with the great one-liners and singing the humorous songs, Elsa had the big song which now fills my head and the second act provided the meat. Music was also used to link the two films, with similar background music used throughout the second film. There was of course also a happy ending, which is essential in a kids’ film.

A love story, told in a different way

We are all used to the story where the guy gets the girl at the end of the film. Well, this film certainly had it but it was Kristoff’s story that centred on relationship woes, not one of the female characters. Anna did show a bit of romantic irrationality, but it appeared to be included more to support Kristoff’s story, and comic relief, instead of as a main part of Anna’s character. It is a refreshing change to see a male character in a cartoon show such vulnerability.

There was a second, albeit more subtle love story seeded throughout the film and that was the love of friends and the family you choose. Their chosen family is not conventional, it has a snowman, a reindeer, two sisters and a male partner. There is a subtle message here in that your family doesn’t have to fit a particular mould and you support each other when it counts. Ultimately, love is love.

In Summary……

Frozen 2 was enjoyed by my whole family. It is full of love, laughter and catchy-songs which makes for an entertaining experience, but with a very important message: Find out who you are & your purpose.

Even if you don’t have children, take the opportunity to watch this film.

Frozen 2 is currently playing in cinemas in Australia and no doubt across the globe. I am sure it will be released on Disney+ before the end of this year as well.

The key players

Directors – Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

Main Cast – Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff

Producers – Peter Del Vecho & Byron Howard

Writers – Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck, Marc Smith, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

Full cast & crew list

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