Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Women Who'd Make Great Biopics (I find yet another excuse to talk about the Godfather)

In "This Year’s Best Actress Race: A History of Inequality", Keith Dodge has outlined what he perceives to be problematic inequality in how stories of men and women are treated by the movie industry and the Academy, and he opens with thoughts on biopics. People who study movies methodically have attempted to measure this inequality, and I'm not in the mood to compile sufficient data to argue one way or the other. The truth is, however, that I like some of these "men's stories" a lot. So I decided to take a look at some famous movies about men and see how similar stories might be made about real life women. Here are three (an extremely incomplete list, but bed is calling):

If you liked Gladiator or Lincoln, what about a movie about Harriet Tubman?
Escaping from slavery once is an unbelievable triumph of the human spirit. Returning back to the South to continue to lead more and more slaves out is simply unbelievable. Now maybe there wouldn't be any gladiator-type fights in it, but when you watch Gladiator, it's not really the violence that's captivating. At least not for me. The violence in the movie was necessary to show how truly brutally harsh the life of a Gladiator was. That movie succeeded because of the convictions of Maximus won over the crowd. Surely, Tubman's convictions could as well? Harriet Tubman is one of the most remarkable figures in American history--probably in all history, and seems to be remarkably underrated. Brave, caring, principled, smart, and strong-willed, she is a hero in every sense of the word, and--perhaps more importantly for movie makers (though obviously not to the countless lives she changed at the time)--her story involves an incredible amount of suspense, danger, and (presumably) countless interesting interpersonal relations. Our obsession with the wrongs of slavery have led to an idolization of Lincoln, of which I have certainly participated. I haven't seen the Daniel Day-Lewis movie, but as history informs us, Lincoln didn't start trying to free the slaves until the middle of the war, whereas on-the-ground emancipation was Tubman's business from the get-go (after that was successful, she worked on women's suffrage). I greatly admire the work Lincoln did in politics and recognize the fortitude that is required for that field (more on that later). Since Lincoln was born free and worked to free others when it was militarily advantageous and Tubman was born a slave and had to free herself through her own skill and chose to liberate others through great personal risk, it seems inappropriate that her narrative has received so little attention in pop culture.

If you liked The Godfather, what about a movie about Angela Merkel?
This fall, a book was released that compared the German Chancellor to Vito Corleone. While it's not really fair to equate this real-life, legitimately elected, currently-in-power government official with a fictional Don, The Godfather is a movie about much more than organized crime. It's also a movie about power and priorities. It's a movie about having people who depend on you. One character (you know who if you've seen the movie) even says, "My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power, like a president or senator". So while I would take great objection to calling Merkel, whom I greatly respect, a criminal, one could certainly make a thoughtful movie in that vein about any political figure with that kind of power. In "Why We Love Politics", David Brooks writes "Politics is noble because it involves personal compromise for the public good...Politics involves such a perilous stream of character tests: how low can you stoop to conquer without destroying yourself; when should you be loyal to your team and when should you break from it; how do you wrestle with the temptations of fame". These are some of the many themes discussed by The Godfather and are presumably some of the Merkel's concerns, as she is tasked with determining what is best for Germany, what is best for the EU, and, if she finds the answers to be different, whom to prioritize. While the account would, of course, have to be fictionalized because that part of history is very much still in the making, necessitating either a fake history and future of Germany or some fictional character meant to approximate the German chancellor. But you'd have to presume that kind of decision making, drama, and responsibility would be seemingly made for the big screen.
(On a side note, you could, I suppose, make a movie about the real life cocaine "queen" nicknamed the "Godmother" who named her son Michael Corleone Blanco.)
Oh, and for the record, I agree with Bill Simmons that "there will never be another 'Godfather.'"

If you liked movies like Troy or ones about Hercules, why not a movie about Athena?
Okay, so Athena isn't a historical figure in the way these others are since she's not real, but the Greeks did literally worship her and named their most important city after her. Back in the day, I used to be very well versed in Athena mythology, but unfortunately I'm a little rusty right now. But she played a great role in guiding heroes to great successes. She also beat out her uncle for the right to claim Athens as her own (aren't there tons of movies about competing for power. Glengarry Glen Ross, though not a commercial success, was critically well-received, and that was a movie about competition in real estate. This would be similar. Except the competition would be between gods with superpowers and they'd be competing for a city whose prime we still idolize.

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