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These Women Were Dreamers and Doers

Counterpunch

February 14, 1994|GAIL CHOICE | Gail Choice is an independent film and television producer, writer and director. and

If perseverance, determination, broken dreams and heady triumphs help describe the entertainment industry, then the Hollywood La Brea Gateway is a lasting tribute to the spirit and world-renowned allure that make up the Hollywood image.

Art is truly subject to interpretation. When Times Art Critic Christopher Knight reviewed the Gateway, he lambasted it for its presentation of women, referring to it as multicultural sexism and much more. Yet when I looked at the work I said, "Hallelujah! It's about time."

Never in my wildest dreams did I believe I'd ever see women of color immortalized in such a creative and wonderful fashion. The Art Deco style, neon, glitzy, gutsy approach to the gateway design makes me think of the Hollywood embedded in my soul; a place of magic, wonder and imagination. But the mere presence of these brave, gifted women reflects the reality of Hollywood.

The sculptural figures supporting the dome--Dorothy Dandridge, Anna May Wong, Mae West and Dolores Del Rio--are more than mere sex symbols or glamour girls. Their individual histories mark them as daring, courageous and determined. These enormously talented women took on a town that created false images in the midst of hate, racism and prejudice.

Knight, in blasting the use of these women, offered instead Hattie McDaniel and Margaret Dumont, believing them to be more representative of women in Hollywood.

It is true McDaniel is an Oscar-winning legend; however, she epitomized the Hollywood stereotype of black women of that era. Her screen image was most comforting to white America and did not challenge the film industry's campaign of viewing the black woman as less than desirable. Dandridge's image not only added balance but demonstrated to Hollywood that indeed America and the world could celebrate a black woman.

Wong and Del Rio faced the same challenges and prejudice on behalf of their cultures. West battled the age and control factor. Their beauty and intelligence were held against them, making it difficult to find meaningful work that wasn't reduced to racial stereotypes or cultural myths.

All four women took charge of their dreams and made film history against tremendous odds.

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Dandridge, for instance, gained national and international stardom for her Oscar-nominated performance in "Carmen Jones" at a time when America was desperately clinging to Jim Crow laws and an apartheid system that also reached into the Latin and Asian communities.

But they were dreamers and doers. And for one fleeting moment they forced Hollywood to deal with them on their own terms. They opened doors, challenged old beliefs and fought the good fight for balanced screen images. These women carried a tremendous burden on their feminine shoulders with only a hint of fragility. In essence, they had the strength of the universe.

Hats off to creator Catherine Hardwicke for her vision and courage to create a work of art that breaks new ground in mainstream Hollywood. She gave us a double treat, the magic and history of Hollywood in the form of pioneering women.

For everyone who has ever dreamed of Hollywood fame, for those down to their last dime but holding on. . . . For writers, producers, directors wishing to express their visions, and for those of us who are simply not connected or "just not right" for this or that, let these women be your shining beacons of hope.

And don't you, like the Hollywood of their era, hold their beauty against them. They are Hollywood's women of steel.

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