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Family Symbols

June 05, 1994|SUSAN KING

Madge Sinclair was "flattered" to be asked to be involved. Talia Shire told her husband she was really lucky in life: "I have had the chance to work with the very best and that's a wonderful feeling." And Justine Bateman and Jasmine Guy found working on the fictional segments of TBS' "A Century of Women" to be a great learning experience.

Directed by Academy Award-winning Barbara Kopple, the fictional segments of the documentary follow the lives of four generations of women in one family. Teresa Wright, Olympia Dukakis, Talia Shire, Justine Bateman and Brooke Smith play the women who gather to celebrate the birth of Bateman's daughter.

Madge Sinclair and Jasmine Guy play mother and daughter--African American friends who join in the celebration. Throughout the course of the gathering, they discuss the changes women have seen and fought for over the course of the century.

"To me it just showed that everything starts with the family," Sinclair says of the fictional scene. "You can find every single instance of anything that happens in your life within the family. It only is multiplied to that many powers when it goes out in the community. Everything that happens in the community happens to the family."

Originally, Sinclair worried that her and Guy's characters were included to fill a quota. But then she realized their inclusion made perfect sense. "If we are talking about the journey of women, this is about where we have arrived at from a place where black women and white women could barely talk to each other in public, except if one was giving orders and the other was saying, 'Yes ma'am.'

"To have a family as closely knit as that one was to feel comfortable enough with these two women to invite them to a happening, I thought it was pretty nice and indicative to where I think we have arrived, which is a happy place."

The weeklong shoot brought all the actresses closer together. "I came out with such enormous respect for all of those women," Shire says. "It was hard to say goodby."

Guy recalls how much they talked about about their lives and careers when the cameras weren't rolling. "For me, Justine and Brooke Smith, to get a perspective from Olympia and Talia, I think, was really invaluable. At least where I am, I'm still trying to plot everything out and pursue specific goals. I think Olympia said to me one day, 'You can't plan this career. Your career just is.' It was a relief to know that because you are kind of fighting a losing battle thinking we are in control of this business."

Bateman believes the documentary is important for women her age. "I'm 28 and I need to see this stuff," she says. "I came into a world where I already had the vote. I already had equality--the most equality we've had. And to see that this was hard won, I can be really grateful for where I am now."

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