Reel/Real Women: AWFJ Pays Tribute to Movies About Real-Life Female Characters

Posted on March 6, 2019 at 6:59 pm

The Alliance of Women Film Journalists has published a new list in honor of Women’s History Month — our favorite portrayals of real-life women in feature films. AWFJ founder Jennifer Merin writes:

Throughout cinema history, films by and about women have enthralled audiences, accrued awards and honors worldwide and scored at the box office while influencing out social social mores and enriching our cultural conversation. Although some Hollywood honchos and haters assert that female-centric movies are less likely to be commercial successes, our list proves them wrong. Movies that tell women’s stories have legs.

Released to celebrate Women’s History Month, AWFJ’s REAL REEL WOMEN List is an annotated roster of 50 fascinating real women whose remarkable true stories have been told in narrative features since the earliest days of moviemaking. The REAL REEL WOMEN List is a companion to AWFJ’s WONDER WOMEN List of iconic fictional females, published as a five-part countdown series in 2016.

AWFJ members selected our 50 iconic REAL REEL WOMEN from more than 150 nominees, all of whom have had their stories told in watch-worthy films. Short essays about our REAL REEL WOMEN’s lives, accomplishments and the films made about them have been written by AWFJ members Betsy Bozdech, Liz Braun, Sandie Angulo Chen, Carol Cling, Leslie Combemale, Linda Cook, Laura Emerick, Marilyn Ferdinand, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Kimberley Jones, Loren King, Sarah Knight Adamson, Cate Marquis, Brandy McDonnell, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Lynn Venhaus, and Susan Wloszczyna.

We hope that reading about these REAL REEL princesses and pilots, artists and actors, poets, political activists and other women from all walks of life will prompt you to add all the films about them to your watch list, and that you’ll then be motivated to seek out and enjoy additional current and classic movies about other real women whose stories are memorialized in cinema.

One of my contributions to the list was Fanny Brice, unforgettably portrayed by Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl.”

Fanny Brice, born Fania Borach, was the daughter of Jewish immigrants who dropped out of school as a teenager to work in burlesque and began her association with vaudeville impresario Flo Ziegfeld two years later. She headlined the Ziegfeld Follies from 1910 through part of the 1930s. Best known in sketch comedy as bratty little girl “Baby Snooks” and performing songs like the comically self-deprecatory “Second Hand Rose,” her signature was the heartbreaking torch song, “My Man,” which inspired her first film, My Man (1928). She played herself in the Oscar-winning The Great Ziegfeld (1936), acted in several other films, and had a hit on radio with the “The Baby Snooks Show,” but there is no question that her own fame has been eclipsed by the performer who starred as Brice on Broadway and in her first film—Oscar-winner Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl (1968). It was a perfect match—one brash, prodigiously talented, unconventionally pretty, New York Jewish singer equally adept at comedy and drama portraying another. Streisand sings “Second Hand Rose,” “My Man,” and original songs created for the Broadway show, including the now-standard “People.” The story of Brice’s determination and resilience despite the heartbreak of her marriage to a handsome scoundrel is now a classic and prompted a sequel, also starring Streisand, that told more of Brice’s story, 1975’s Funny Lady. Brice helped pave the way for unconventional-looking lead performers, and her few films are well worth watching.

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