I’m a connoisseur of women’s art and culture all year round, but this March month brings special opportunity to highlight what I found particularly absorbing from women creatives. From theater to song, mesmerizing works from women make history today. Hope you check these four out!
The Lost Daughter (film)
From the maddeningly complex middle-aged female character to an eerie children’s doll who upstages her in several scenes, The Lost Daughter film (2021) is a visual feast of unorthodox womanhood on display all-around. Director Maggie Gylenhall adapted the script from the 2006 novel of the same name by Elena Ferrante.
Olivia Colman’s face and body carry the weight of the protagonist Leda’s entire story through most of the film but Jessie Buckley carries the lion’s share of her mysterious past through well-paced flashbacks. I was late to see the film on Netflix after its wide release in theaters, and I wonder how the big screen viewing would feel. The ocean is the soundtrack and the palette is slated to paleness. Men serve simply as mates and scene partners for the women. None are important.
In the beginning, Leda is a famous professor on vacation in a seaside town. Her lazy sunbathing days eventually lead to an attraction to another woman and her family, her husband and daughter and sister-in-law primarily. Leda compulsively remembers her worrisome past as a self-absorbed woman who left her two daughters to pursue an academic career when the other woman, Nina (Dakota Johnson), reveals herself as a hot mess disenchanted with her daughter and husband now. Who knew a little girl’s lost doll could lead to a stabbing? While it takes time to come to a quiet and sad showdown between Leda and Nina, it is slow burn well worth the wait.
It’s a story and picture of close-ups. I was unsure who or where or how Leda would fix her owl eyes and omniscient gaze next. She’s sexy without being sexual and cunning without being detected until she’s controlled most other people close to her in her world, including her husband and daughters she abandoned in her roaring 20’s, to become the respected and brazen well-known professor she is today.
The Lost Daughter would make a good case as a domestic thriller if all the characters weren’t away from home. As it is, it careens to psychological thriller and even horror as all characters morph from innocent or easy to vicious or troubled by the end. It is a dramatic war between women and their faces, whether they are going head to head or heart to heart, that I see as one of the best women’s films I’ve seen in recent years.
Call Me (play)
Call Me, a short play, debuted at the Black Box New Play Festival in February. This month brought the chance for me to view several replays of the play’s two actresses’ journey through the past, present and future in their 10-minute Zoom dialogue. The new age of Zoom Theater brings opportunity for playwrights to rely on the bare bones -the strength of a script and the actors’ delivery of its words- under the modern plot premise of Zoom conversations we’ve all had to have.
We get this is not a normal mother-daughter relationship or conversation from the start. The action begins as Louise, played by the sublimely austere Annette Fox, adjusts her clothes and applies a last mashing of red lipstick as if she’s waiting for a corporate exec interview on Zoom. Turns out she is meeting her estranged adult daughter she gave up for adoption at birth, Pauline, played with painful reserve by Claire Louise Frost.
Louise refuses to reveal whether or not she felt a part of her was missing without her lost daughter, but Pauline makes her inner turmoil palpable. The warmth generates within a few minutes between the artist mother and doctor daughter, as Pauline heats up the tension with her heartbreaking admission: “I used to go up to women around your age and ask for directions. I wasn’t lost but I wanted to know if any of them were you.”
While one woman gave up her biological child conceived from a one night stand, the woman she gave up has chosen to use sperm donation to achieve her dream situation of lifelong, hands-on motherhood. From their seated positions before computer screens as their cinematographers, the two actresses brew awfully polite conflict and maybe even a little understanding when Pauline suggests a revisionist history of their relationship can come from Louise’s role as a grandmother to her daughter now.
“Call Me” begins 10 minutes into the Gallery Players YouTube Channel video of all three plays in the series. The female driven project was written by Caroline Boris-Krimsky and directed by Whitney Stone, and you may watch it HERE.
The Strong Black Woman (book)
Marita Golden’s September 2021 release continues to mobilize, educate and light up online audiences and readers across the country. The Strong Black Woman: How a Myth Endangers the Physical and Mental Health of Black Women is still, in 2022, one of the books of the year.
As one black woman for whom “I’m fine” and my “Black don’t crack” are mottoes, this book is near and dear to my heart for the author’s benevolent window into her own life and road to accepting her mortality and fragility. More important than the book’s themes are its cross-genre content and versatile structure. Golden starts as memoir, moves to scientific study, leans into historical figures and presents real women’s personal stories of losing the pressure to stay “strong.”
The Strong Black Woman is not a standard self-help book from a motivational speaker who has it all figured out. It’s a piece of pandemic literature created by a literary legend willing to admit how personal struggles from her past may have led to health problems later. Confident without being preachy, vulnerable without being helpless, Golden’s smooth writing and varied presentation move this valuable text along quickly. I especially enjoyed her re-imaginings of black female historical figures who fell prey to America’s structural racism demands to compete with women of other races, men and even white children for protection, resources and care. A real winner.
“Chess Moves” (song)
Nemiss ChiYork released a women’s power anthem just in time for us to enjoy this Women’s History Month and all spring. For an intergenerational twist, her daughter models as album art. Nemiss’s leaping lyrics reminisce through years of her own strides as an artist while boosting listeners to strive for their own goals, hustles and achievements. The lady emcee insists on respect for longevity and experience as she stays “ten steps ahead on my Queen.” With references to Janet Jackson and the film Sparkle, women all over will appreciate this fun jam all year round. Listen above!