The Un Self Conscious Year of the Woman

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There was no escaping the Mama Bear this year. They were around every corner. Here’s Keri Russell and her grizzly counterpart in Cocaine Bear looking for their babies in cocaine dotted woods.

Ladies: Does repression depress you? Women’s rights feel like one step forward, two steps back? Escape to the movies! There, we rule. The official Year of the Woman might have been 1992, but, 31 years later, Oscar actresses won’t let them tell us we’re past our prime. They portrayed warriors, leaders, victimizers and prey — even Mama Bears, literally!  The beauty of the moment: no one found this remarkable.

Women didn’t proclaim, Hear Me Roar, they just did: from the grey parsings of Women Talking to the armored battle cries of Wakanda. A feminine fighting spirit — sans stereotype — poured out of Hollywood like hot lava. Yet, the only film Oscar singled out for positive role modeling was The Little Mermaid. Disney, we forgive that blatant cross promotion. And we dub Oscar 2023 the Un Self Conscious Year of the Woman.

Watch and you’ll see
Some day I’ll be
Part of your world …

Is anyone talking about the role reversals in Everything Everywhere All at Once? Two male writers pitted three fierce women against each other, often in actual battle. Michelle Yeoh channeled her inner Crouching Tiger to combat a tough as nails female IRS agent, and — in a twist of the son fells father fable —  her character’s daughter.

Yeoh is the tough unemotional head of the household, dismissing her husband as a dingbat, her daughter as flawed. He’s the love starved mate who threatens to leave, just to get noticed. In the end, his soft power and unconditional love spark her epiphany. Love is the answer. Happiness can be found everywhere in anything.

Michelle Yeoh channeling her inner Crouching Tiger.

Here, gender bending felt besides the point. Hey, many friends didn’t even get the point. Hint, the Metaverse is not the new name for Facebook, at least in this universe.

Your mama may not understand its plot, but “Everything” celebrated her nonetheless. In fact, Mama Bears were everywhere in the movies: from the Queen of Wakanda to an actual four legged one. In Cocaine Bear, two baby cubs crying over their injured mama was a more heart wrenching moment than all the camp human dismemberment.

A two legged mama bear, played by Keri Russell, was their Indiana Jones. Men can’t keep her out of that bear-stalked cave. She’s a mother going in to save her child! (Even director Elizabeth Banks defied stenotypes, with a slash and gore flick.)

The grey tones, claustrophobic space, and antiquated manner of Women Talking echoed the repressed culture they sought to escape.

While Women Talking showed a newly formed female democracy, complete with a Declaration of Independence, Triangle of Sadness gave us a fascist meritocratic matriarchy.

A Russian Oligarch says he “sells sh-t.” Chief toilet cleaner Dolly De Leon cleans his sh-t. When they are “swept away,” her survival skills rule. She seizes control and takes a male model as her concubine.  He happily nestles into her seat of power.  And the girlfriend he abandons accepts her extra rations reward with respect for the new estrogen order.

Dolly de Leon takes charge in Triangle of Sadness.

Conductor extraordinaire Tar also creates a new estrogen order through talent, then adopts the abuses of white male privilege. Playing a gay woman conductor in a man’s world, white tailored shirt and black slacks, no one does butch better than Cate Blanchett. “I am the girl’s father,” she threatens the boy who bullied her child.

The movie blurs the line between victim and victimizer, reality and fever dream, cancel culture and persecution.  Tar mentors women, but shows no conscience trampling others in power plays. Her position is unassailable. Until #MeToo allegations and cancel culture clip her wings. Seducer or seduced, putting a woman in the cross hairs adds nuance.

Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár. Photograph: Courtesy of Focus Features/AP

“There are a lot of hot-button issues that come up, but it’s not about those things,” Blanchett said in a press conference, via The Hollywood Reporter. “Although the film is almost entirely about a loose group of female characters, this film isn’t about women. It’s about humans and being human … I think that we have perhaps matured enough as a species that we can watch a film like this and not make that the headline issue.” Brava Blanchett!

Thus, the victims in Women Talking were set in an archaic grey world. In the vibrant world of Wakanda Forever, a princess becomes the Black Panther.

Princess turned Black Panther in Wakanda Forever.

The #MeToo movement always makes me think of the beginning of my television career as a network publicist at NBC. Roger Ailes was there. Fox, a twinkle in his eye. Sleeping with the boss was such a given for female advancement that six years after I was promoted I was asked to address the rumors I had slept with mine. And that was my boss asking.   To be fair, the two men above him had, in fact, propositioned me — together!

In those days, a friend and supporter was fellow publicist, Andrew Freedman, news publicist for NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, the Today Show, and Meet the Press. (Later, he oversaw the network’s press operation for the U.S.-Russian Reykjavík and Geneva summits, the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and the network’s presidential election coverage.)

Andrew Freedman (March 26, 1955 – February 8, 2023)
Andrew Freedman (1955-2023).

I got a call from Andrew, out of the blue, this fall. “I’m not going to bury the lede,” he told me. “I have cancer.” Of course he used a journalists’ term. Media was his life. He had come to NBC after serving as Ted Kennedy’s Presidential campaign mouthpiece, with a host of Kennedy kids as  besties. When he married actress Patty Dworkin, she became his business partner. (She died of cancer in 2017). “She built it,” he modestly told me, of their firm.

Andrew E. Freedman Public Relations represented such clients as Barbara Walters, Gayle King, Arianna Huffington, Eartha Kitt, Gretchen Carlson, Joan Collins, Margo Martindale, Connie Chung, Maria Shriver, Jeff Garlin, Stephen Schwartz, Billy Stritch and more. Andrew fell in love with them all, acting as a fierce and loyal advocate.

I joined a host of friends who showed up at his home to share memories and his dwindling days. My visits with him were punctuated by calls. Listening to him laughing and schmoozing, I doubted they realized how sick he really was. “Friends?” I asked. “The office,” he replied. “Of course I’m still working! I just made a big deal yesterday.” Business associates/friends: it was all of a piece.

Andrew was all heart, all personality, an unequalled publicist — old school in the best sense. He loved celebrity, politics, the media. And he championed those he loved, especially sons Alexander and Chris.

And so, he savored it all to the end, and died with his boots on.

Last week he would have been 68. Happy Birthday Andrew. You would have loved those big obits in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. I hope you saw them and that this smaller tribute pleases you as well. It’s probably one of the last stories I can give you. As deserved: you got great press to the end.

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