Women in Film, the young and aggressive organization committed to improving the lot of women on both sides of the camera, last year announced its Luminas awards, which will be given for the first time on Nov. 16 as the concluding event of the second annual Women in Film Festival.
The intent of the awards is to honor and encourage the positive depiction of women in films and on television. The awards are non-competitive, which is to say there can be as many winners in each category as the judges conclude are deserving.
"The first problem," said Barbara Klein, a producer and current president of Women in Film, "was to decide what positive depiction was. "
What the judging committee agreed on quickly was that the enemy, so to speak, was the old Hollywood tradition of women portrayed as reactive rather than active, the vision of women standing in the doorway in their aprons as the menfolk went off to do their noble thing.
The discussions, Klein says, were hot and heavy and involved a lot of movie and television case histories. But the criteria that finally emerged were unanimously adopted.
At a quick skim, the criteria would seem to single out dramas drawn from the lives of Mother Teresa and other female winners of a Nobel Prize.
But it is in the nature of award criteria to define absolute perfection, going back to the "neatness, originality and aptness of thought" without which no write-in contest of yesteryear was complete.
The Luminas awards will look for 10 desiderata, some of them fairly wide-ranging. But in less legal phrasing than the entry form uses, the heart of the matter is that the female characters should move the story along and affect its outcome. They should overcome troubles through their own efforts, and they should be multidimensional women, not unimaginable paragons of virtue.
The hope is that the fictional women will reflect the range of women in society and that the dramas will recognize the issues, from child care to power, money and politics, that concern women.
The final aspiration on the list, but obviously not the least important, is that the dramas should demonstrate that sexuality, loving, caring and understanding are important to women of all ages.
The sadness is that even now, this far into a new day, the pickings seem so relatively thin. The six categories include one for theatrical films and five for television: a series as a whole, miniseries, movies of the week, a series episode and dramatic specials.
But at this point, the judging committee, headed by script consultant Linda Seger and Brenda Norman of ABC television, realistically expects perhaps three dozen scripts. (The deadline for entries is July 30.)
I have no idea what's come in so far, but an independent media watcher would hazard a thought that television does far better than movies these days. The best movies for television I've seen lately all seemed to be centered on fully dimensional women. "Love Is Never Silent," "Love, Mary," "Do You Remember Love?" were three of several. "Cagney & Lacey" seems to prove week after week that you don't have to sacrifice character or reality to provide excitement, and the two women are nothing if not dimensional.
The pickings are leaner in your neighborhood cinema, yet "Out of Africa" is a stunning portrait of a complicated and remarkable woman, and "The Color Purple" was an all-stops-out celebration of a woman and of sisterly bondings.
The entry form notes that productions will be disqualified if they "ridicule male characters in order to make female characters appear more powerful or attractive." It may be that "The Color Purple" treads a thin line there, although I thought its menfolk, brutish as some of them were, reflected chauvinist attitudes of the period (attitudes on which no race had a monopoly).
It is bemusing to speculate how the just-opened "Aliens" might fit into all this. It is nearly 2 1/2 hours of nonstop blood, cacophony and large-arms fire. Yet it is nothing if not a woman's picture, centering on, moved along by and (I thought) dependent for its success on a woman, Sigourney Weaver.
What intrigued me about "Aliens" was the skill with which Weaver's compassionate concern for an endangered small child (Carrie Henn) provides a kind of humanist oasis amid the cannonading and the giant toothy squid.
Weaver is Earth Mother and Supergirl rolled into one, and surrounded by generally incompetent if not actively ridiculous males. I'm not sure what Women in Film will make of it.
But you have to wish Women in Film well with the Luminas awards, not least for such longer-term success as they may have in encouraging more dramas centering on women not as victims or objects but as doers.
Writing about women on screen a decade ago, I said, "Women endure things or watch things happen but even now it is rare for a film to have as its protagonist a woman who makes things happen; or for a film to present what she thinks, feels, or wants as its central concern; or to make its point of view her point of view."
Despite a relative handful of exceptions, you could write that today.
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