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5 Films: The Powerful Woman Edition

by Nancy Ford

Madonna in "Truth or Dare."







With its theme, “Women’s education—women’s empowerment,” March is National Women’s Month. Appropriately, this month’s edition of 5 Films focuses on women who broke ground in their own specific fields of expertise, educating and empowering future generations of women with their bravery and sacrifice. Pass the popcorn!


The resemblance between Vanessa Redgrave and her late daughter, Natasha Richardson, is more than a little eerie in this remarkable recollection of the life of the decades-ahead-of-her-time mother of modern dance. “Any intelligent woman who reads the marriage contract, and then goes into it, deserves all the consequences,” Isadora Duncan famously observed, yet went on to wed once, for big money, and a second time for pure, unadulterated passion. She knew what she wanted, and this film is an enduring tribute to women who, despite being born in a time of extreme misogyny, danced literally and figuratively to their own tune. A product of the early 20th century, Isadora met her untimely demise by dangling scarf and spoked hubcap, yet lives on each Halloween via informed fans’ costume recreations.

Gayest moment: Constantly surrounded by gay men who worshiped her flair for the avant garde, Isadora was possibly The Original Fag Hag. Nonetheless, the misguidedly enamored poetess/notorious lesbia, Natalie Barney, who was also Isadora’s salon contemporary and unrelenting would-be paramour, comedically stalks her in a courtyard in this otherwise heavy biopic.

1968. Karel Reisz directs.


The showbiz story of Gypsy Rose Lee is legend, thanks to her unrelenting stage mother who, despite never finding stardom herself, seeks celebrity through her daughters. Think Toddlers and Tiaras, but with show tunes. In a spectacularly balanced tandem, this biopic is as much about Gypsy’s (Natalie Wood) mama, Rose Hovick (Rosalind Russell), as it is the infamous burlesque star.

Gayest moment: If not the gayest, certainly one of the movie’s most memorable songs is “You Gotta Have a Gimmick,” an instructional given to the young Louise (before adopting the name Gypsy) by the racy new friends she makes when accidentally booked into a burlesque hall. Faith Dane, who plays Miss Mazeppa, one of the trio of strippers, turned out to be an exceedingly strong woman beyond both Gypsy’s film and stage versions. Dane claimed to have created her own direction, and sued her Broadway producers for credit and compensation. She lost, but the suit resulted in the “Faith Dane” clause which is now regularly included in Broadway actors’ contracts, protecting producers from similar suits. Hardly a schlepper, the newly energized Dane would eventually drop her last name and, as “Faith,” go on to run for mayor of Washington DC no less than six times.

1962. Mervyn LeRoy directs.

Madonna: Truth or Dare

Regarded as one of the most candid follow-a–star-around-with-a camera documentaries of all time, this film is real reality TV, but for the big screen. Madonna’s early-1990s Blonde Ambition tour took her steamy theatrical antics to international capitals where she not only violated community standards, but also gob-smacked her father. Twenty-one years later she took on the Super Bowl half time show—the riskiest dare an entertainer can accept—proving once again that Madonna set the very opulent, Papal-poking stage that Lady Gaga and Nikki Minaj currently blaspheme on.

Gayest moment:
: So what is considered masturbation?
Christopher Ciccone
: When you stick your hand in your crotch.

1991. Alek Keshishian and Mark Aldo Miceli direct.

Serving in Silence

If the scrawny Albert Nobbs tried to enlist in the military, he probably would have been classified 4F. But as the steely Col. Grethe Cammermeyer, Glenn Close nonetheless once again opens our eyes to the fact that will can indeed triumph over oppression. It just may take a while.

In 1989, preceding the antigay “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy, Col. Cammermeyer refused to lie about her lesbianism during a security clearance, thereby becoming the United States’ highest-ranking military officer to be discharged as such. Barbra Streisand executive produced this made-for-television film, earning Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actress (Close), Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Special (Judy Davis), Outstanding Individual Achievement in Writing (Alison Cross), and Outstanding Individual Achievement in Editing (Geoffrey Rowland). And today, DADT is but a bitter memory. Mission accomplished, Col. Cammermeyer.

Gayest moment:
Far (Jan Rubes, as Cammermeyer’s father): Do you know why I never hugged my sons?
Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer
: You didn’t want to.
: I did. I was afraid they would become homosexuals.
Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer
: And you ended up with one anyway. At least it was only your daughter.
: Are you blaming me?
Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer
[after a short silence]: You missed so much.

1995. Jeff Bleckner directs.

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

The physical and emotional abuse that Tina Turner endured at the hand of her husband and business manager, Ike (Laurence Fishburne), is more than a little difficult to watch. Despite years of torture and downright servitude, Tina rises from the ashes of early rock-’n’-roll’s Ike & Tina Turner Review to become the undisputed Queen of Rock ’n’ Roll in her own rite.

Gayest moment: Even if this weren’t an exceedingly inspirational film filled with breathtaking choreographed musical moments, it’s well worth investing two hours watching Angela Bassett show off those incredibly cut arms of hers.

1993. Brian Gibson directs.


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