Backwards & in Heels: The Past, Present and Future of Women Working in Film by Alicia Malone
I have really struggled to figure out exactly what to write about Backwards & in Heels. When I first saw this book featured on TCM, I was really excited to give it a try. Once I picked it up from the library and started to read, I experienced the same feeling that I did with Robert Wagner’s book. There was so much information in each sentence that it felt as though I was studying for a test. The information was all very good and interesting, but there was a lot of it.
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Starting in the very early days of film, Backwards & in Heels covers women holding all different positions throughout the film industry. From editors, to directors, to producers, to actresses, women have done it all. The problem is, in many areas, the number of women who have held these positions is few and with very little recognition. It is a battle for women that is still being fought today. In some ways, they are battling more now than women did when the film industry first began. It was interesting to read how quickly some women moved up in the industry in the early days. They held positions of power that some women now can only dream of.
Struggles with gender aren’t the only things this book covers. Some women have had to battle their race and age too. The stories of Hattie McDaniel and Anna May Wong stick out in particular to me because they had to fight the industry because of their race, and the outside world as well. Those in power in the industry were reluctant to give non-whites good parts, so Ms. McDaniel and Ms. Wong took what parts they could. This angered those on the outside and these women were accused of playing stereotypes. It was really a no-win situation. Fortunately, at least Ms. McDaniel had an ally in the industry. It was very encouraging to read about Clark Gable refusing to stay on as Rhett Butler if segregation continued on the Gone with the Wind set. Too bad there were not more like him earlier.
As for the problem with age, the main example was Meryl Streep. I did not have any idea that after a certain age all she kept getting offered was witch parts. I’m really glad Ms. Streep stood her ground and refused to take them, because she has definitely proven that older women can be far more than a witch.
Since I have already mentioned Clark Gable, I am happy to say, that while this book concentrates mainly on women, there are men mentioned as well. This may sound a like an odd statement since this book is about women in film, but the reason I am happy about this is because the men mentioned are ones doing something to try and create equality in the industry. Two men very particularly mentioned are the directors J.J. Abrams and Paul Feig, but others, such as actor David Oyelowo, are as well. Each man encourages and pushes for equality in their own way, either by hiring women, making films about women, or working for female directors. No matter which way they push for equality, these men show all the women of the film industry that they are not in this fight alone.
With all the great information this book has about women in the film industry, I found some surprising omissions. One stood out to me in particular. I don’t think Kathryn Bigelow is mentioned anywhere in the book. As the first female to win the Best Director Oscar, I would think she would be mentioned in a book about women in film. Why she was not mentioned, I’m not sure, but it would be interesting to find out.
Of course, Ms. Bigelow could always be brought up in the next book, implying there is a next book. I really hope there is. With so many revelations coming out in Hollywood right now, I think there are many more books that could be written about women and film, about both those in the past and the present. There are so many stories that exist that have yet to be told, and I, for one, would love to read them.