#womenandfilm

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    It is officially Women's History Month! And you can celebrate by experiencing the power of women in the film industry this March 23rd at the Girl Power Film + Media Summit curated by @imagineprods. Aspiring artists, creators, filmmakers and innovators should head to the Made in NY Media Center by IFP for a day of film screenings, discussions, panels, workshops and a dinner party. From 11am to 6:30pm, this informative and inspirational summit will feature an impressive roster of badass women who are passionate about motivating the next generation of female filmmakers.

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     Pique your curiousity with some trailers of films that will be screened: 

    Tickets for the event can be purchased here

    Photos courtesy of @imagineprods

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    Actress Charlize Theron, and recent star of the film Bombshell, has spoken in length to NPRabout her experience with sexual harassment by a “very famous director” early on in her career. The actress reported that the incident occurred in 1994 when she traveled to an audition to a well-known director’s house. Once Theron arrived, the director was “drinking in his pajamas” and at some point during the night, he touched her leg inappropriately, prompting her to get the fuck out of there.

    Like many victims of abuse and harassment, Theron blamed herself for not telling him to stop. She also figured that the motives behind the audition’s location should have been apparent, being in his private residence on a Saturday night. She felt foolish. "I put a lot of blame on myself... that I didn't say all the right things, and that I didn't tell him to take a hike, and that I didn't do all of those things that we so want to believe we'll do in those situations," she said.

    In Theron’s latest role, she plays former Fox News presenter Megyn Kelly, who alongside Margot Robbie and Nicole Kidman, portrays the real-life story of how women took down the CEO and chairman Roger Ailes for sexual harassment at work—leading to his resignation. Although the story is a remarkable one, Kelly and her colleagues were anything but feminists and have made some insulting remarks before (Kelly’s career has never recovered since she defended Blackface on air). After all, this is Fox News we’re talking about.

    But Theron and her co-stars know this. She commented on how their aim wasn’t trying to make them “heroes” or “whitewash” anything, “We were going to pepper those things into the film so that we were authentic to them and the story and still feel like, through all of that, that what they did was still incredible. They took down this media mogul, and that has never happened before.” Maybe her opinion would differ if she wasn’t white.

    Still, the coinciding of the film’s release and her story feels like we could be about to receive a second wave of the MeToo movement. The decision to speak out was changed from a moment she recalls a plan on confronting the accused years later, only to feel disappointed with his dismissal of what happened. He dodged the subject and acted like it was nothing, regardless of how much it had obviously affected Theron. She wanted this big moment but never got it. And now she feels that this is the start of his retribution.

    The importance of details, severity, names and so on are not what matters in this case. What does matter is the prevalence of this happening to women then and now and in every industry. When, and if ever, Theron decides to name the director is up to her. For now, what’s important is allowing women to feel safe to share their stories and see the sufficient actions taken against the perpetrators.

     

    Image Courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Flickr

     

     

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  • dolly 57480

    The queen of country is teaming up with the queen of wigs. Dolly Parton and Sia have recorded a new rendition of Parton’s “Here I Am.” The song originally appeared on the album Coat of Many Colors, and NPR describes the new version as “a bit slower, as a gospel-infused statement of purpose.” The Parton/Sia version is featured on the soundtrack for Netflix’s Dumplin’. In addition to being the soundtrack’s executive producer, Parton contributed six new compositions, which were co-written and co-produced by Linda Perry.

    Jennifer Aniston, Miranda Lambert, Mavis Staples, Miley Cyrus, Elle King, Rhonda Vincent and Alison Krauss also partnered with Parton on the Soundtrack. The film is a musical comedy based on Julie Muphy’s book, Dumplin’, about a former beauty queen, played by Aniston, and her plus-size teenage daughter (Danielle Macdonald), who is inspired by Dolly Parton’s music and enters into a beauty pageant. Rolling Stonereports the film is set to hit Netflix later this year. The Dumplin’ Original Motion Picture Soundtrack will be released November 30th via Dolly Records/RCA Nashville.

    Dolly photo header via RCA Records/WIkimedia Commons

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  • FAREWELL AMOR e49c4

    The feature debut of Tanzanian American writer/director Ekwa Msangi, Farewell Amor, follows an immigrant family from Angola that reunites 17 years after husband and father Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) left for New York to work as a cab driver and establish a home for those he left behind. When he is finally able to bring over his wife Esther (Zainab Jah) and daughter Sylvia (Jayme Lawson) to share his small Brooklyn apartment, expectations shatter as he realizes he is as alien to them as they are to their new adopted country.

    Told in the style of Akira Kurosawa’s famous 1951 film Rashomon, this family drama unfolds repeatedly from the point of view of each character. Father, mother, and daughter all do what they can to reconnect, carefully navigating conflicts that arise surrounding familial love and duty under pressure. A recipient of multiple prestigious filmmaking fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Tribeca Institute, and the Sundance Institute, Msangi proves with this impressive first feature that she is a rising star, and definitely one to watch.

    By Logan Del Fuego
    Header image via IFC Films

    This article originally appeared in the Winter 2021 print edition of BUST Magazine.
    Subscribe today!

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    Agnès Varda, the trailblazing French filmmaker who was instrumental in the French New Wave movement, passed away March 29 at her home in Paris. She was 90 years old. A spokeswoman from her production company, Ciné-Tamaris, confirmed her death from a short battle with breast cancer, The New York Times reports.

    Born Arlette Varda on May 30th, 1928 in Ixelles, Belgium to a Greek father and a French mother, Varda's family relocated to Sète, France in 1940. She changed her name to Agnès at 18. After studying art history at the École du Louvre and photography at the École des Beux-Arts, she worked as a photographer at the Théâtre National Populaire in Paris.

    Varda’s early films cemented her reputation as a feminist and cutting-edge filmmaker. La Pointe Courte, her first film, was released in 1956. “Both a stylized depiction of the complicated relationship between a married couple and a documentary-like look at the daily struggles of the locals,” the film is considered to the unofficial first film of the French New Wave and informed the narrative and visual styles of directors such as Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut and Alain Resnais, who edited La Pointe Courte.

    Varda preferred a documentary style for her films, often using regular people as actors, still images and narratives that build in complexity and intensity. Her second film Cléo From 5 to 7 from 1962 taps into viewers’ existential dread, as it depicts a slice in time where a woman awaits determining results from her doctor.

    Cléo From 5 to 7 was part of the “Left Bank” movement, a politically driven by-product of the New Wave that was “less referential and more focused on the experimental limits of cinema,” The Atlantic reports. Varda referred to her style as “cinécriture” or “writing on film,” in which she combined literature, photography and cinema.

    T. Jefferson Kline, a French professor at Boston University and editor of Agnès Varda: Interviews, told The New York Times, “She was very clear about her feeling that the New Wave was a man’s club and that as a woman it was hard for producers to back her. She obviously was not pleased that as a woman filmmaker she had so much trouble getting produced. She went to Los Angeles with her husband, and she said when she came back to France it was like she didn’t exist.”

    She took a break from her career after the birth of her son, but told actress Mireille Amiel in a 1975 interview that “despite my joy, I couldn’t help resenting the brakes put on my work and my travels.” To cope with feelings of stagnancy, she has a 300 foot electric line for her camera and microphone running from her home which she used to interview people on Rue Daguerre. The end product was her 1976 film Daguerréotypes.

    The appreciation for Varda’s work as only grown throughout decades. She received a Palme d’honneur from the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and in 2017 she was awarded an Oscar for lifetime achievement. She interwove important social themes with her art, particularly focusing on the role of women. “All life is borders. Language borders, ethnic borders, etc. and in cinema, I tried to erase borders, or make them smooth: between documentary and fiction; black and white and color; cinema and art,” she said in a 2015 Criterion Collection interview. At the 2018 BFI in London she told the audience, “I wanted to invent cinema, and be happy to be a woman. I wanted to be a radical.”

    Header photo courtesy of Harald Krichel via Wikimedia Commons

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  • Sylvie Weber The Prophetess Still 13373

    "What started as an annual public exhibition of womxn-made art films in storefront windows is now a mission to support global cross-cultural dialogue," says Zehra Ahmed, the curator behind "Womxn in Windows," a new exhibit on Canal Street in New York City. The show is part of a multi-city screening series in New York, Los Angeles, London, and Shanghai. In New York, "Womxn in Windows" is now showcasing the films of Rémie Akl and Sylvie Weber in the storefront window of 321 Canal Street in association with ON CANAL by Wallplay—a district with over 20 storefront spaces dedicated to hosting short-term projects

    In each city, the films are placed in storefront windows to subvert the notion of women as objects by presenting their emotions, experiences, and intellect in spaces where mannequins are usually displayed. The films deal with subjects lincluding culture, religion, history, and gender. And in this unique time of globally shared experience because of COVID-19, "Womxn in Windows" also aims to present perspectives from outside of America that showcase resilience in other parts of the world. "Through the platform ["Womxn in Windows"] we believe we are learning from one another's cultures and experiences in a way that can contribute to a world with more equality, freedom, and respect," says Ahmed.

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    Director Sylvie Weber is of German-Dominican descent, and her film on display is called The Prophetess. It is an award-winning exploration of spirituality, sisterhood, and the female body as a weapon of war. Set in the South Kivu region of the DR Congo, The Prophetess is based on the true stories of Furaha and Venantie, two women who experienced sexual terrorism. "I made a conscious decision to avoid the use of triggering imagery," says Weber of her film. "On the contrary, I wanted to focus on female strength and the healing effect of community."

    Director Rémie Akl, an artist from Lebanon, is showcasing three of her films. Each deals with themes surrounding the ongoing revolution in Lebanon and highlights the need to "restore humanity...regardless of belief."

    Weber says that upon viewing her work, she hopes people will feel, "hope, empowerment, and maybe even smile a little despite the highly sensitive topic. If I can evoke any of that in a few people," she continues, "I'm happy."

    Both Akl and Weber's films will be playing 24-hours-a day from now until November 15, 2020. They can also be watched online.

    Top Image: Still from Sylvie Weber’s The Prophetess, courtesy of the artist.

    Second Image: Still from Remie Akl’s A human, an animal or a thing, courtesy of "Womxn in Windows."

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    We’ve waited through one decade and twenty movies for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to give us a female-led film. Well, the first trailer for March’s Captain Marvel is here, promising all the female badass-ery the beloved character deserves.

    When we meet Carol Danvers, played by Oscar-winner Brie Larson, she’s crashing into a Blockbuster. The movie is set in the mid-nineties, a prequel to the current MCU. There are some familiar (though digitally de-aged) faces: Samuel L. Jackson is a young, two-eyed Nick Fury. Rookie agent Phil Coulson from S.H.I.E.L.D., and Guardians of the Galaxy’s memorably unmemorable villain, Ronan the Accuser.

    But the spotlight is on Danvers, as she navigates her nebulous origins and chaotic present battling Skrull (bad aliens) on the Kree (good aliens) Starforce. Also featured: her fellow air force pilot, Lashana Lynch’s Maria Rambeau. Rambeau is a prominent figure in the comics, and their deep friendship is a welcome addition to a universe sparse of two women even sharing lines onscreen.

    Captain Marvel first entered mainstream discourse during the end credits of last year’sAvengers: Infinity War. Remember it? As Nick Fury crumbles into ash, he sends a distress call over a high-tech pager. Before the scene cuts to black, the pager alights with Captain Marvel’s vintage insignia.

    Cue frantic googling: “Who is Captain Marvel?”

    Danvers has been fighting space crime since 1968. She was written as an officer in the United States Air Force. An explosion at a high security military splices her DNA with Mar-Vell (the original Captain Marvel, and played by Jude Law in the movie), an alien Kree warrior. This gives her a multitude of powers: strength, flight, and the ability to harness solar energies. Though it’s ten years before she officially takes the Marvel handle, writer Gerry Conway intended her as an empowering figure, writing in Ms. Marvel #1 (1977) that "you might see a parallel between her quest for identity, and the modern woman's quest for raised consciousness, for self-liberation, for identity."

    Still, some gross plot developments led to wide criticism by female readers. One particularly heinous storyline in Avengers #200 involved Danvers abducted, brainwashed, and impregnated by an interdimensional rapist.

    On that storyline, maybe scholar Carol Strickland says it best: “Isn't everyone entitled to respect as a human being? Shouldn't they be against something that so self-consciously seeks to destroy that respect and degrade women in general by destroying the symbol of womankind?”

    Once at the helm, Chris Claremont rewrote Danvers’ timeline, expunging the impregnation, but its memory lingered. Female characters in comics so rarely get to be it all: independent, intelligent, sexually liberated. She is super strong, but cannot be portrayed as muscular; feminine without the “burden” of sensitivity. Danvers is canonically the strongest hero in the MCU, but her comic iteration didn’t prove to be the exemption.

    For that, the first trailer of her big screen debut inspires hope that the hero can subvert the genre’s gender trappings and inspire more solo heroine debuts.

    (Seriously though, why is the Black Widow movie not here yet?)

     

    Top Image: Marvel Studios

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  • Mamie Van Doren  Photo: photofest

    Discovered by Howard Hughes at 18 and poised to become Universal Studios’ answer to Marilyn Monroe, Mamie Van Doren made a name for herself in the ’50s playing big screen bad girls. Now 90 and as daring as ever, Van Doren opens up about sexism, censorship, and that time she almost hooked up with Marlene Dietrich. 

    Mamie Van Dorenis a Hollywood icon. Tough as diamonds, she is the very last of the platinum blond studio starlets—appearing in 41 films between 1951 and 2002—and she is, at this very moment, casting her spell on me.

    “Do you like one-night stands?” Van Doren asks sweetly over the telephone from her home in Newport Beach, CA. She says exactly what she means and isn’t waiting for a permission slip. After decades of rebelling against ageism and gender norms, today she still poses as a nude model, and her desire to destigmatize female sexuality is ever-present. Within minutes, she’s uncovered my peculiar fetish for pencil mustaches and begins to dish. “Clark Gable had that mustache, you probably would’ve liked it,” she says, giggling, then goes on to describe how his signature facial hair tickled her in the kissing scenes for their 1958 film Teacher’s Pet. “We had to shoot 10 takes [because of it]. I had such a crush on him.”    

    A complex and provocative woman, Van Doren is the star of numerous midcentury films centering around counterculture and rebellion, including Untamed Youth (1957), High School Confidential (1958), and The Beat Generation (1959). Her performances made her the subject of juvenile delinquent fantasies for decades to come and gave her a reputation as the ultimate bad girl.

    Often captured bewitching audiences beneath a shock of icy blond hair, the points on her bullet bra sharp as daggers, there was nothing safe about Van Doren, and the censors knew it. A decade before the sexual revolution, she had the nerve to prioritize her own pleasure, saying and doing what she wanted, and she’s still that way today. 

    The press crowned Mamie Van Doren, Marilyn Monroe, and Jayne Mansfield the “Three M’s” in the 1950s. Hollywood’s “It” girls, they were considered the cream of the honey-haired crop. But while her peers would go on to die tragically in 

    their youths, further glorifying and commodifying them, Van Doren would not, outliving the combined ages of both Monroe and Mansfield decades ago. Her survival has spared her legacy the tacky adorations sold at tourist traps next to Van Doren’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But it also keeps her from the same degree of deserved recognition. 

    "I guess I’m known for fucking. That’s become my favorite word.” 

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    Photo: Thomas Dixon

     

    summer, 1975

    Photo: Still fromUntamed Youth, 1957

    “Can you imagine? I’ve been here almost a hundred years?!” she exclaims, laughing. “Imagine all the crap I’ve been through!” In fact, when I catch up with her she’s just celebrated her 90th birthday and is busy working on the follow-up to her 1987 memoir, Playing the Field. “How you treat your age depends on your attitude, so try to fucking forget about how old you are,” she muses before adding, “life doesn’t even start until 40.”

    Born Joan Lucille Olander, she grew up on a farm in South Dakota during the Great Depression. Her family had no electricity or running water and scarlet fever, polio, and tuberculosis were rampant in her community. “Only the strong survived,” Van Doren recalls. “Every day, I saw a hearse taking someone away. The whole family [next door] was wiped out from scarlet fever.”

    As a child, she was weaned on golden-era greats like Mae West and Jean Harlow, who helped her develop a taste for the sultry more than the sweet. And when her family moved to L.A. when she was 11, her interest in Hollywood grew. Taking her cue from her favorite femme fatale Carole Lombard, she paled her blonde to platinum and set out to see her name in lights.orn Joan Lucille Olander, she grew up on a farm in South Dakota during the Great Depression. Her family had no electricity or running water and scarlet fever, polio, and tuberculosis were rampant in her community. “Only the strong survived,” Van Doren recalls. “Every day, I saw a hearse taking someone away. The whole family [next door] was wiped out from scarlet fever.”

    Her ambitions almost ended before they began, however, when she eloped at 17 and found herself in a violent marriage. One evening, her husband attempted to throw her off their second-story balcony in a drunken rage. She fought for her life, escaped that man, and recommitted herself to creating a career. “I really wasn’t interested in getting married,” she says of her outlook after that. “A woman had to cook and be a prostitute for [her husband]. They had to do everything for him, and all he had to do was go to work in the morning. I don’t think so, that’s not my scene. I did what I wanted to do. I always have.”

    Van Doren marched on, landing a gig modeling for famed pinup artist Alberto Vargas and winning the Miss Palm Springs pageant when she was 18, which brought her to the attention of producer Howard Hughes. Through Hughes, she eventually made it into the pictures. But even in the small roles the studios assigned her at the beginning of her career, she always seemed to draw focus. “Oh God, the [studio executives] were afraid of me,” she recalls. “They wouldn’t put me on certain shows because they didn’t want women copying me and being independent.”

    And as her screen time grew, her voluptuous figure and provocative moves soon provoked the ire of the censorship board trying to make films of the day adhere to the “Hays Code.”According to the Hays guidelines, “no picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it.” This meant no “unnecessary passion,” interracial relationships, homosexuality, and of course, none of Van Doren’s signature pelvic thrusts. “I couldn’t do a forward bump when I was doing my dancing,” she recalls. “It wasn’t acceptable. Elvis was acceptable but women were not. Well, I just said, ‘Fuck that noise,’ and I went for it.” 

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    Photo: Photoplay magazine, 1958

    Rock ‘n’ roll was just making its way into the mainstream as Van Doren’s career was taking off. But fearing the havoc her hips would create, censors insisted she stay seated while singing during certain televised performances. “I was constantly a target,” she says of that time. “I was banned from TV because I was too sexy. I was giggling and wiggling, and they didn’t want women to do that. So, I was bad, and Marilyn was good.” 

    The Catholic church would come for her, too. The “Legion of Decency” was a rating system created by the Church to censor films they deemed indecent and immoral. And Van Doren’s film Untamed Youth was the only American film condemned by the Church in 1957. “They wouldn’t give me The Legion of Decency because, I guess, my breasts were too large, or I wore a cute sweater,” she quips. “That’s why he hated me, because I was a woman.” The “he” she’s referring to is Cardinal Francis Spellman, the enraged archbishop who personally condemned Van Doren and did his best to destroy her career. (Though it’s interesting to note that credible allegations of child molestation against Spellman eventually surfaced in 2019.) “He thought he’d stop me, and he did for a while. You have no idea, I was fighting the studio, fighting the Hays office,” she says with both pain and pride in her voice. “I was really having a problem. But I managed to pull it off. I’m glad I could help others in the future. Mae West opened the door for me. I opened the door for Madonna.”

    In the 1960s, Van Doren began transitioning from film to live performances. In one memorable brush with fate, she was unable to perform a gig down South, so Jayne Mansfield was offered the job instead. It was on her way to this show that Mansfield was killed in a fatal car crash. Profoundly affected by the tragedy, Van Doren decided to give back by making her first of two trips to Vietnam to entertain the troops. “Nobody knows what war is up close until you witness it,” she says. “For three months, I flew around in a helicopter wondering if any second I’d be shot out of the sky.” Then one night after a performance in the Mekong Delta, it looked like her fears might come to fruition. “All of a sudden I saw a red light...they were shooting rockets off, and the rockets were really coming after us. We nearly didn’t make it.”

    Another very close call would be in Saigon. After dinner one evening, she surprised a group of children attaching grenades to her jeep. Shortly after visiting multiple army hospitals, she would find herself admitted to one, spending three months bedridden with dysentery. “I nearly died in Vietnam,” she recalls. “I came so close to death.” In recognition of her service, Van Doren was made an honorary Colonel in 2015. “I sign certain things Colonel Van Doren,” she says, humbly.

    But even the horrors of war couldn’t prepare Van Doren for the date she went on with Burt Reynolds not long after returning home. In a misguided attempt to seduce her, he  invited her to his set to watch him perform his own stunts. “That, to me, wasn’t very impressive. I had just gotten back from Vietnam. That’s the genuine thing,” she says. “He jumps through a window and gets lots of applause and I’m thinking, ‘I’m bored to death.’”

    But then he said something that made her decide to give him a chance: “You know,” he told her, “I’ve been considered the male Mamie Van Doren.”

    She decided to indulge her curiosity. “Well, I found out when I got to his apartment, he was no male Mamie Van Doren,” she recalls. “One of those lady cigarettes would have covered itnicely.”

    Reynolds, however, was far from Van Doren’s only celebrity lover. She and music mogul Quincy Jones actually met as teenagers and quickly became sweethearts in the 1940s when racial segregation was overt, not implied. “We started to go out, making out, and going to all the Black places,” she recalls. “We weren’t allowed to go to any white places, they wouldn’t serve him. They wouldn’t serve me, either. It was really bad. We’d have to hide.” This was at a time when studios contractually controlled everything about an actress—from dictating their diets and monitoring their weight to managing their sex lives, pregnancies, and marriages. The studio executives were clear, dating a Black man would mean the end of her career. “I didn’t care,” she says, “he was perfect for me.”

    Other celebs the press has romantically linked to Van Doren include Clark Gable, Johnny Carson, Elvis Presley, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, and Warren Beatty. But for Van Doren, there will always be one star she will think of as the one who got away. It was a rainy day in 1956. Van Doren was in a powder blue suit and fox fur stole on her way to a fitting at Columbia Studios. When she arrived, a German accent caught her attention. “Oh my God, I’m thinking to myself, it’s Marlene Dietrich,” Van Doren tells me. “I felt so, I’m just, I’m just shaking.” Dietrich perched herself above Van Doren, her rain hat dapperly covering one eye. “Well, that was enough to do me in,” she tells me. “I knew she kissed women in her movies and that really turned me on.” Dietrich was oozing confidence. “I never had anyone flirt with me like that, and it was Marlene Dietrich on top of it! She acted like she was interested!” Van Doren explains she had just given birth—to Perry, the son she had with her second husband, bandleader Ray Anthony—and wasn’t sure what to do. “Today, it would’ve been a different story. Now that I’m older, I would realize being with Marlene Dietrich would be very sensuous, and she must be very, very, good at what she does,” she tells me with the only hint of regret she reveals in our entire two-and-a-half-hour conversation.

    Van Doren would go on to finally find the love of her life in her fifth husband, actor and dentist Thomas Dixon, whom she has been married to for the last 42 years. “I’m very sexy, even now. My sexual desires run really good about once a week,” she says of keeping that romance alive. “The feeling is even better than it was when I was younger because I enjoy it more.” Dixon is 17 years her junior and Van Doren thinks that is part of what makes them work. “It pays to be with somebody younger so when you get older you have somebody to help you. Generally, it’s the other way around, the men expect the women to take care of them.”

    When it comes to passions, however, Van Doren isn’t single minded. She’s also deeply invested in politics. During the last administration she reveled in using her Twitter account to troll Trump and she campaigned hard for Kamala Harris, whom she believes will be our next president. “We will have a woman, a Black woman, president. Isn’t that something?” she exclaims. “I never thought I’d live to see that. I hope I live that long to see it. I mean, I really do.” 

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    Photo: Born Reckless poster, 1958

    It’s clear after meeting her that the real secret to Mamie Van Doren’s eternal glamour is her unwillingness to self-destruct. Many forces tried to stop her, but she just continues fighting for the right to be herself. And at 90, she remains unjaded, unfiltered, and deeply inspiring. She would, unlike so many others before her, survive the double-edged sword of Hollywood starlet stardom, only to emerge stronger than ever. “You can do anything you want to do,” she reassures me before we say goodbye. “If you want to do it bad enough.”  

     

    Words by Kelly Kathleen

    This article originally appeared in BUST's Summer 2021 print edition. Subscribe today!

     

  • 14 09 HarlemH 077 idling AL crop tagged

    In the past several months, we’ve seen the #TimesUp movement challenge a romanticized idea of Hollywood and reveal just how much work the film industry has to do with the way it treats women. But the hope is that the exposure of this raw reality leads to progress. Cinema Libre Studio, based in LA, claims they’ve noticed a “subtle but important shift in the industry,” marked by the release of films about women who shaped history, directed by women. This year, the studio is telling the story of Mabel Stark, a female circus performer who performed stunts no man would at the time, and Lou Andreas-Salmome, the first female psychoanalyst. These women broke ground in their professions and eras, but their stories aren’t well known. The directors of these films are hoping to change that. We spoke with Leslie Zemeckis, creator of the documentary Mabel, Mabel, Tiger Trainer, about what drove her to explore Stark’s history.

    14 09 HarlemH 077 idling AL crop taggedMabel working with one of her tigers.

    You make documentaries about female performers. What inspires you to tell these stories?

    I am drawn to women that were hugely famous in their day, but have since been forgotten. Their stories have never been explored, we just know the headlines of their lives. Mabel’s, for example: “World’s First Female Tiger Trainer Mauled.”  We don’t know why she ever walked into the cage for the first time, or how hard was it for a woman—back when women did not even have the vote—to break into a male-dominated arena. I am always seeking the “why” and searching for inspiring voices that women today can look up to. It was so difficult on many levels in the early 1900s for women to succeed at any endeavor, be it burlesque or the circus (both which were a bit frowned upon), or really any other career. I like to look to the past to inspire the future and all that we, as women, can do.

    14 09 HarlemH 077 idling AL crop taggedMabel Stark, the world’s first female tiger trainer.

    What kind of influence do you think telling these stories have on our world?

    I think if we show women what other women went through, they will prevail. It wasn’t that long ago that a woman had to marry who she was told, her husband was in charge of her finances and property, and women weren’t allowed to enter certain careers. But Mabel Stark did not let being a female or an older female prevent her from pursuing what she loved. She trained tigers into her 70s!

    What happens when more stories about strong women are told?

    We become stronger. 

    14 09 HarlemH 077 idling AL crop taggedMabel Stark at the dining table with her tigers.

    Why is it so important that women work behind the scenes on films?

    Because we have important stories to tell that others might not pursue. When I decided to do my first movie about the history of burlesque, Behind the Burly Q, no one (producers and financiers) was interested. Why do you want to do that? I wanted to because no one had. And the movie is hugely popular, bought by Showtime, and that led to my next subject, Siamese vaudeville stars, and now Mabel. All subjects no one had explored before. Women have to take a leap of faith that what might interest them will interest others.

    14 09 HarlemH 077 idling AL crop taggedMabel worked as a stunt double for Mae West in “I’m No Angel” in 1933

    If you could go back in time to any era, which would you choose?

    I’d love to pop into the 1930s and 1940s! I’d see all the shows and would love to experience a big original authentic circus.

    Top photo: Mabel was in the ring with more tigers than anyone could possibly fight off her.

     All photos © Cinema Libre Studio

    More from BUST

     

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    According to the Council on Foreign Relations, peace agreements with women at the negotiating table are 35% more likely to last for at least 15 years. This is what executive producer Gini Reticker tells us, as we discuss part two of the acclaimed documentary series, Women, War & Peace.The series will return to PBS later this month.

    The four featured films, airing on Monday, March 25 and Tuesday, March 26, tell stories of women who’ve risked their lives for peace and altered history in the process. Reticker, who co-executive produces the series with Abigail Disney and Stephen Segaller, emphasizes that these are stories about women and conflict that have never been written into history before.

    The female-directed films take place all over the world—from peace negotiations in Northern Ireland, to activism in Gaza and Haiti, and culminating with the fight for justice during Egypt’s Arab Spring.

    “If you can’t look at war through a woman’s eyes, you can’t understand some of the most fundamental things about it,” says Abigail Disney. Fortunately, Women, War & Peace II will give us the look we need.

    Below, Disney and Reticker answer our questions about the series and give us some inspiring insight.

    What is so powerful about these stories? What do you hope these films accomplish?

    AD: It is a fundamentally radical thing to tell the story of war from a woman's eyes. Everything we think we know about conflict, unless we've actually fought in one, comes from movies and television and video games. The narrative has always been about the combatants—about men. But the reality is that in a conflict, there are women all over the place—in the crossfire, in towns and villages, on the road trying to find safer places for themselves and their families… If you can't look at war through a woman's eyes, you can't understand some of the most fundamental things about it. I hope that we can shift the assumptions that people make about war. I hope that people will remember all the consequences of going to war. I hope that people will think differently before they cheerlead for an invasion or an aggression.

    GR: And I think what’s so powerful about these stories is they are unknown, yet have been happening throughout history. As film subject and former politician from Northern Ireland Bernadette Devlin says in Wave Goodbye to Dinosaurs, the film that kicks off the series, it’s not that women have been written out of history, it’s that they’ve never been written in. The films in Women, War & Peace IIwrite women into history.

    When Abigail and I first made Pray the Devil Back to Hell,which was the kickoff film for the initial Women, War & Peace series, I had never really thought much about women and conflict before. I had done a lot of films about women, but women and conflict was a whole new world. Once we began to take Pray out into the world, and I had the opportunity to meet women around the globe, I realized that there were countless other similar stories that were simply unrecorded.

    Let’s just say, I got schooled in how utterly critical it is to include women and the different perspectives that we offer if we want to successfully deal with conflict in the world.

    At this historical moment, everyone seems to be waking up to the key contributions women make, whether it’s the #MeToo movement, the newly energized women’s movements, or The New York Times finally publishing obituaries on women they had glaringly overlooked in the past. There’s a growing recognition that women have made contributions to the world, and to history. This series is part of that.

    How did you select these films?

    GR:Over the last couple of years, Abigail and I looked around and saw all these extraordinary women filmmakers who were taking a fresh look at history with an eye on bringing women into focus. Whether it was Julia Bacha doing a story on the phenomenal role Palestinian women played in the first Intifada, or Eimhear O'Neill exploring the significance of the Northern Irish women during the peace negotiations, or Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Geeta Gandbhir exploring the role of a women’s peace keeping unit, we really wanted to include the perspective of these filmmakers. The films, together show a trajectory of what has been happening for the last 30 years, culminating in what has happened with women in the Arab Spring.

    AD: We tried to find a range of different places and people, a range of situations, a range of characters.  Partly we wanted to show what a rich variety of stories there are, but also how similar the realities are for women no matter where they are.  

    Do you think women are particularly skilled as peace-builders?

    GR: Here is what we have seen universally to be true: when women come to the table in peace negotiations, in countries around the world, they tend to talk about things like water, schools, roads, jobs, civil rights. Those are the kinds of things that get people into war in the first place. These women are not jockeying for positions of power, instead they are focusing on how to address these issues that most shape people’s daily lives.  So does that make it better to have women as part of the negotiating team? I certainly think so. In fact, the statistics for success of peace negotiations that include women are much better.

    AD: I believe that every single woman is not peaceful, just as every single man is not aggressive. But, and this is important, there is a difference at the general level. Is that difference biological? Developmental?  Social? I don't know and honestly I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure. And really, who cares? We have thousands of years of recorded human history that make the case. So whatever it is that draws women into peacebuilding, it is universal.  And it makes sense. Why would you entrust the building of peace to those who specialize in making war?

    What makes someone able to risk everything? How can we learn from them?

    AD: Leymah Gbowee, who led the Liberian women in Pray the Devil Back to Hell, told me that they could never have done what they did if their backs had not been against the wall. I think almost any women, if their children are threatened, if their capacity to take care of their families is threatened, would be willing to risk it all. And this motivation is very important. What is the ferocious desire to bring peace to protect your families rooted in if not love? How much more different a starting point can that possibly be from the starting point of war?

    GR: All of the women profiled in this series are ordinary women who did extraordinary things. I actually think that all of us have that bravery within us. At times I think challenges seem insurmountable. But when I watch these films, and think about these women, I can deal with the problems in my own life and begin to think about addressing the problems in my society.

    Do you think we'll be seeing an increase in female-directed projects? What do you think can be accomplished by encouraging female-led projects in the media, and elsewhere?

    GR: Are we at some historical tipping point? Will we see more female directed films and female content? Yes. I think the push for parity across the industry will have an impact in us seeing both more women filmmakers and women’s stories. Part of why I feel so strongly about these films is that it’s difficult to imagine oneself doing things that you have never seen. It is almost as if reality doesn’t exist unless it’s reflected on screen. So we are thrilled to be able to broadcast these stories because we know that women and girls will see themselves in the women we portray and be encouraged to step forward in their own lives.

    AD: Women in general, and young women in particular, are no longer content to sit by and be spoken for. And every project that succeeds makes the next ten possible. The genie is out of the bottle, and I don't think we will ever see her put back in. So yes, we are going to see a lot more leadership from women around the world, of all kinds. And that will shift the paradigms under which we all function.  

    The show airs on PBS Monday, March 25 and Tuesday, March 26, from 9-11 p.m. (check your local listings).

     

    Images c/o Asad Faruqi, Mahfouz Abu Turk, Mosireen Archive, Derek Speirs

     

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