Will ‘Suffragette’ continue tradition of Oscars for social justice crusaders?

27 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Suffragette’ reflects Hollywood fight for equal pay.

“Initially, when we tried to cast the male roles, the responses from agents were, ‘Yeah, it’s great and everything, but the guys don’t really have much to do. NEW YORK – It took a lot of women – and time – to make the British suffragette movement of the late 19th, early 20th century into a feature film called appropriately Suffragette. “Abi had worked with her before on Shame and she’s an actor that can inhabit a role so fully and she’s so truthful and watchable,” said director Sarah Gavron (This Little Life, Brick Lane) with screenwriter Abi Morgan (Shame, The Iron Lady, Brick Lane) at her side. “And we thought about her and we then approached her trepidatiously like, ‘Well, what if she doesn’t respond in the way (that we want?)’ But she did very quickly respond.Inspired by true events, SUFFRAGETTE movingly explores the passion and heartbreak of those who risked all they had for women’s right to vote – their jobs, their homes, their children, and even their lives.

The motion picture academy loves crusaders, from labor rights champion “Norma Rae” to gay rights pioneer “Milk.” Given voters’ usual penchant for standing up for justice – or at least standing up for movies about justice – “Suffragette” could be right up their alley.The film Suffragette is set in 1912 and is a gritty portrayal of a fictional, working class laundry worker from East London, Maud Watts, played by Carey Mulligan. I had this lunch with her and after 15 minutes she said, ‘What film do you want to make?’ And I talked about it and after 15 minutes she went, ‘I want to do it!’ And I was so relieved.” The movie, which opens in Toronto Friday before a wider Canadian release throughout the fall, stars Mulligan as working-class London laundry worker who is also a married mother of one. Academy Award nominees Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter, and three-time Academy Award winner Meryl Streep, lead the cast of the powerful drama about the fight for equality in early-20th-century Britain.

The stirring story centers on Maud, a working wife and mother who becomes an activist for the Suffragette cause alongside women from all walks of life. Compare that to recent Best Picture nominees like “Dallas Buyers Club” (2013), about Ron Woodroof’s advocacy for AIDS patients against drug companies; “Lincoln” (2012), about the 16th president’s fight to abolish slavery; and “The Help” (2011), about the struggle against racism in civil rights-era Mississippi. Directed by Sarah Gavron and produced by Owen and Faye Ward, the political thriller is the first big-screen depiction of the movement and blends fact and fiction. (Maud is an amalgam of real-life suffragettes, while Meryl Streep appears briefly as feminist icon Emmeline Pankhurst.) The film prominently features women on both sides of the camera, down to department heads for sets, costumes and makeup. It was great but I don’t think we ever wanted to distort what we had written.” Still, Streep came under fire by some for wearing a T-shirt that said, “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave,” which is a direct Pankhurst quote, on the cover of Time Out London. “We’re aware around the sensitivities around the subject, particularly in the U.S.,” said Gavron. “The intention of the film is to talk about inequality, wherever, whenever, for all women of all backgrounds and that’s what we hope – there’s a positive discourse around that.” As eventually advocated by Pankhurst, the suffragettes resorted to throwing stones through storefront windows, setting fires and demonstrating, which often led to clashes with police during which they were beaten, arrested and force-fed in prison due to hunger strikes. Like so many working class women at this time, she has worked in a laundry since she was a child, silently enduring the awful working conditions, with no opportunity of an education.

That was an added bonus for Mulligan, who says she would’ve signed on whether it was directed by a man or woman because of the “brilliant” role of Maud. “Reading scripts, you come across an awful lot of boring, one-dimensional ideas of women as opposed to real representations,” Mulligan says. “I suppose if you tipped the balance the other way and this was a film about men, it would’ve been made 80 times already. What is surprising is that one of those stories that clawed its way up a six-year hill to start filming was that of the women’s suffrage movement in the United Kingdom, a historical era rife with human drama. Maud stumbles upon the movement by chance, but soon gets swept up by their bravery, fighting for their voices to be heard in a world where they have no rights, not even over their own children. When Patricia Arquette won best supporting actress for Boyhood at the Academy Awards in February, she used her acceptance speech to speak out about wage inequality. Her research led her to discover just how poorly the movement was documented, even as it was happening. “The newspapers were written and run by men, the government was run by men, everything was so controlled by men,” she said.

Similarly, Jennifer Lawrence made headlines this month for her essay in Lena Dunham’s Lenny newsletter about the Hollywood pay gap, after it was revealed in last year’s Sony hack that she and Amy Adams earned less than their male co-stars for American Hustle. She’s proven herself with her Best Actress-nominated turn in “An Education” (2009) and continuing to appear in respected prestige projects like “Drive,” “Shame,” “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “Far From the Madding Crowd.” On top of that, she’s just coming off her first Tony nomination, for “Skylight.” Now 30, she has the pedigree of a potential Oscar champ and “Suffragette” gives her the opportunity to deliver the kind of showy performance that often wins awards.

The borough of Richmond had its own movement where there was a great deal of militant activity between 1906 and 1913 including the burning of houses, a racecourse grandstand and a train. It’s a move that Mulligan praises, saying that although she is unaware of being paid less than male co-stars, she hopes “the conversation around pay in Hollywood has a bigger effect on society as a whole and that we can use it as a platform that isn’t ultimately self-serving.” With other actresses such as Cate Blanchett, Viola Davis and Jessica Chastain calling for more diversity and roles for women on screen, Gavron says feminism has “gathered this momentum like I’ve never seen before.” “I’m really excited by the fact that there’s a new awareness and people are speaking out in the film business, because that hasn’t been the case,” Gavron says. “It’s certainly given me confidence to feel like there are going to be people being more receptive to women’s stories.

As Maud, she shows defiance against the male characters who wish to stop her, including Brendan Gleeson as a police officer and Ben Whishaw as her husband. The truth is, women buy more than half of cinema tickets and we need those stories not only for women to see, but men to see stories about our culture.

Answer: I think largely because in the time that this all happened, everything was documented by men and they were basically trying to censor the entire movement … So much of what (these women) did went undocumented because they (men) were trying to pretend it was not happening and trying to quiet the revolution. This all culminated in February 1913 when the tea house in the Gardens was burnt down by Olive Wharry and Lilian Lenton during a series of arson attacks.

The gender wage gap in Hollywood was dramatically exposed when the Sony cyber-hack revealed unequal pay for the actresses in “American Hustle,” including Jennifer Lawrence, one of the biggest stars in the world. While there are other major contenders this year centered around women — “Joy,” “Carol,” “Inside Out,” “Brooklyn,” “Room” and “The Danish Girl” (starring a male actor, but telling the story of a transgender woman) — “Suffragette” also boasts both a female director (Sarah Gavron) and a female writer (Emmy-champ Abi Morgan). More about the activities in the Richmond Borough can be found in the book “The Women’s Suffragette Movement in and around Richmond and Twickenham” written by Gerald and John Heath. Consider “Selma,” the film about a pivotal chapter in the life of Martin Luther King, which was nominated for Best Picture last year but was snubbed for writing, directing and acting.

That might have been due in part to its more critical portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson, who is considered a hero of the civil rights movement to many of the older white liberals who match the academy’s demographic. The academy is also male-dominated, so if they’re feeling defensive about the bad publicity regarding inequality, they might reject a push for greater gender parity in their nominations. Some of the women were actually committed to mental institutions by their husbands because they were deemed mentally ill for becoming suffragettes A: It was definitely a completely new experience working with so many women on “Suffragette” … It’s rare to end up in a room with so many women.

On Rotten Tomatoes, which judges on a pass-fail scale (fresh or rotten), the film has an impressive 78%, but on MetaCritic, which measures on a sliding scale, its score is a bit lower (65). Nevertheless, “Suffragette” has a timely subject and an Oscar-friendly cast, which also includes a cameo by Meryl Streep as real-life suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, and of course it never hurts to have Queen Meryl on your side in an Oscar campaign.

Make your Oscar predictions beginning with Best Actress and you could earn a place of honor on our leaderboard and a starring role in next year’s Top 24 Users (the two dozen folks who do the best predicting this year’s Oscar nominations). It was the first time that a film had been allowed to film there since I think the 1950s, and we were recreating history, we were recreating Black Friday, which was a famous riot where women marched to Parliament and were beaten and arrested … and we were recreating it in the very spot that it happened.

Next up were Gold Derby’s Editors with 74.44%, followed by the Experts with 71.11% and all Users with 68.09%. (Click on any of these groups to see what they got right and wrong last year.) Which group will be victorious this year? Meet the guy who won our contest to predict the Oscar nominations last year — and learn how he did it and how you can be our next Gold Derby superstar.

There’s always noise, there’s always conversation, they spend their whole days chatting to the people who live there … Everyone’s story is written down on a notice board in the bedrooms, so everyone knows that my grandmother was a geography teacher, and people can talk to her and relate to her, even though she can’t communicate back.

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