In light of continued recent exposure in the press of gender inequality in Hollywood I’ve been thinking about women and their role in the world more than usual. As a woman desiring to go into the male-dominated film industry the subject is not often too far from my mind, but my concern does ebb and flow. When I walk down the street and am the target of male-originating condescending and bitter verbal exclamations my mind starts racing, trying to unpack how long ago women became so inferior to men in this culture, and why this perceived inferiority has managed to stick.
While those musings are the subject of a different work, it was from this mindset that I recently found myself flipping through the pages of my journal. I am not a particularly dedicated journal writer, and so the tome has entries ranging from 2013 to present. However, it was on these pages that I first began to elaborate upon the idea of writing these letters, and I happened to find the letter to you, Ms. Armstrong, written as a somewhat stream-of-consciousness, late night reaction to my viewing of My Brilliant Career in February of 2014. Upon discovering this entry I was startled that I had not yet completed the letter. I do so now.
What a unique perspective does a woman have on storytelling! She would tell a story that few (if any) men would deem noteworthy, and she would do it with such compassion and lacking in excessive bitterness that she should be most heartily and readily applauded. This is truly what Ms. Armstrong has done in this film, and really, all of her films that I have been lucky enough to see.
It is a wonderful love story, but importantly, the protagonist knows that she has no hope of being fulfilled by any man– no matter how progressive, lenient, and understanding he is, unless she is first able to fulfill herself as a person. This is such an important notion for any remotely independent woman to grasp that I find myself quite struck, and staying awake (though I desperately need and desire sleep) to muse upon it. Because, even while she wants to be fulfilled, above all else, there resides within her another great yearning (that is perhaps not quite as strong but still driving), to be loved and to have an understanding partner in life.
“Loneliness is a large price to pay for independence.” Indeed it is, and indeed it is the scourge of the strong-willed, independent woman to be quite lonely, possibly for the majority of her life. That is not an entirely comforting thought. Ultimately, however, it is better to tell this sort of story than it is to refrain. It is far more realistic after all, and I am angered by the lack of recognition for this type of alternative narrative.
Kudos, and thanks, and honors to you, Ms. Armstrong, for your unflagging portrayal of strong, independent women on the silver screen.
Where is your recognition? I went to find some of your credits on IMDb and you didn’t even pop up in the search dialog suggestion box. Certainly IMDb is not the end-all for assessing saturation of a particular film personage in the film-going consciousness, but is an incredibly popular site that caters to the whims of popularity. To reach your profile, the searcher needs to know your name. It would be difficult to stumble upon it by chance, which continues to perpetuate general invisibility. To attempt to combat this, it is vitally important that we all take a moment to recognize the invaluable contributions of female filmmakers like yourself to the history of cinema.
There used to be a time when women were widely accepted as screenwriters and directors. Movies used to feature female characters as the protagonists. It does not matter if the protagonist is male or female; as long as the story is compelling it will be universal. There is no need to differentiate between a story for boys or a story for girls. That is ridiculous. However, there is also no need to box in a woman for choosing to direct stories about women. We need perspectives like this in the realm of cinema. Just because she chooses to bring to the silver screen compelling narratives about a markedly underserved population does not mean she is not capable of directing all stories. A film featuring a female protagonist is not therefore a “women’s” picture. It is an everyone picture.
Ms. Armstrong, as one of the few female directors who has managed to have a relatively steady career (directing more than two films), I think it is a shame that your name has fallen to the wayside of more mainstream recognition. Though your name may not be upon the tongue of the masses, know that you have one fan who will continue to champion your work and contribution to global cinema. Thank you for your films.