So much of my taste in film, I owe to my mother. The movies we watched when I was growing up have indelibly shaped how I discuss the medium to this day, and what I always end up reaching for in terms of comfort or entertainment. For May, the month of femininity, I sat down to discuss film with my mom, Vanessa. We talked the films of her childhood, the films we watched during mine, the rise of bad-ass female action heroes, and our plans to eventually make a girlboss movie together.
Lyvie Scott: When did you first fall in love with film?
Vanessa Stewart: I don’t know the exact film, but I think when I used to… when [my mom and my dad] used to put me in the back trunk of the car and take me to the drive-in. Me and my “uncle” Eddie. He was only three years older than me, so we were like, inseparable. He was my mom’s little brother, and then she had me, and we used to be little buddies and they used to put us in the trunk right outside the drive-in. And then they would drive in, and they would park, and they would get all the food and then they would let us out and we’d be in the backseat, just watchin’ a movie.
LS: Kids weren’t free? Dang.
VS: I don’t know if they did that because they didn’t wanna pay for us or because we couldn’t get in the movie. It might have had a bad rating. [Laughs] I don’t think it was all for kids.
LS: What film do you remember the clearest from those adventures?
VS: Mm... When did Jaws come out?
LS: I think it was ‘75?
VS: I think it might be Jaws. [Laughs]
LS: Did it scare you? Or were you kind of just like, “Whatever”?
VS: Uh… it was scary, that sound. [imitates the Jaws theme] Buh-dum. Two notes, right? That, right there, the sound, was the scary part.
LS: What kind of films are your favorite to watch alone? I know you don’t do that much anymore, but…
VS: So… when I got separated from your dad, and we were in that apartment… I got a TV, and that was like my first time ever being alone; that was my first apartment, actually. I would get takeout on Friday nights, I would clean the whole apartment, take a bath, shower, whatever, and get my takeout and eat it, and I would watch … I think it was still action [movies]. I would rent a DVD… that was my thing, renting a DVD. And that was like the beginnings of self-care. That was my version of self-care.
LS: Self-care is watching an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie on Friday night.
VS: That was my, I guess, ritual. I did that every Friday.
LS: Where was I?
VS: As you know, [your dad] requested every Friday.
LS: Oh, yeah. “Daddy Day.” Did that make you sad?
VS: No! Remember, that was my private time.
LS: Right, right, right. Well, you know he was always really fixed on introducing me to the sort of films that shaped him growing up. Did you get similarly excited watching films with me, and showing me the films that you really like?
VS: Yes. The Sound of Music. And even though I hadn’t seen it before, I liked watching The Little Princess. Those two were the main ones. And I also liked The Empire Strikes Back. I didn’t share that one with you, though.
LS: No, but it’s nice to know we have the same taste in movies. I didn’t realize you liked romance so much.
VS: Oh yeah. I do.
LS: So those were your favorite films to watch with me? Not action?
VS: No. No action. It’s like, me and you, when we’d watch movies … y’know, it was like kid movies. That was the stuff that I wanted you to watch.
LS: Were you surprised when you found out how much your taste in film actually influenced me? I know you didn’t realize [until recently] that I liked kung fu movies as much as I did.
VS: Yeah, I was like “whaaaat?” I didn’t know that I had contributed to it. It’s that thing that you do without realizing that you’re making an impact … until they grow up and say “Yeah, remember when we did this? Remember when we watched this?”
LS: I always remember that stuff. That’s one of the few things I do remember. I remember I’d be sitting on the floor in our bedroom watching movies, and you’d bring me spaghetti.
VS: Oh yeah, that was when I started getting into movies for real. That’s that [same] apartment! My first apartment.
LS: That’s like when we started getting into movies together. How old was I?
VS: You were only like five or six in that apartment. 2000.
LS: That’s the year Charlie’s Angels came out. Dang, was I watching Charlie’s Angels at five years old?
VS: I don’t think we let you watch that at five. I think you watched James Bond, though.
LS: Yes. I remember The Spy Who Loved Me. I remember, specifically, that closing shot when they’re in like the little pod.
VS: I was excited to let you watch that, ‘cause that was my movie.
LS: Roger Moore, that was your guy.
VS: That movie shaped my childhood. [Laughs] It was one of my favorite movies of my childhood.
LS: What other movies shaped your childhood?
VS: Bruce Lee movies, a lot of Diana Ross movies … I’ve probably seen all of her movies. Like, everything she was in. Whatever she did, we watched ‘em.
LS: That’s one thing I remember too: When you made me watch The Wiz.
VS: I had you watch The Wiz, too?! I didn’t even realize. Did you like that one?
LS: I love The Wiz. I thought it was a little long, but I was eating it up.
VS: Wow… I can't even remember that I showed you The Wiz.
LS: Speaking in that same vein: this month’s theme at Blossom is femininity. Besides Diana, are there any other iconic female characters or actresses that made an impression on you, either in the past or recently?
VS: Pam Grier. Recently, it’d be my girl… what’s her name…
LS: Alicia [Vikander]?
VS: Yes. Ali-SHA. Miss Alicia! [Laughs] And I do love my girl from Twenty-five Twenty-one.
LS: [Screams] Na Hee-do [The Handmaiden actress Kim Tae-ri]!
VS: Na Hee-do!
LS: You don’t like Michelle Yeoh?
VS: That’s your girl. You like her. [But] you’ve been pointing her out to me lately. I actually like the girl that fought her [in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Zhang Ziyi]. She looks so pretty and so innocent and so gentle – and yet she can fight so fiercely. That was amazing to me. Like she’s such a lady, y’know? But she can tear you up.
LS: Yes, that’s totally her vibe.
VS: Oh, and this other girl… the Mission: Impossible lady.
LS: Rebecca [Ferguson].
VS: Yes. That's my girl right there. She’s like, a force.
LS: She can throw down.
VS: She’s intense. She needs to be on a James Bond movie.
LS: They do not deserve her!
VS: I mean, she needs to be on something. A solo movie.
LS: Do you feel like female heroines are underrepresented in film?
VS: I was going to say Alicia, but she’s got Tomb Raider.
LS: I know what you’re saying, though. It’s not enough. Like yeah, she’s Tomb Raider, but where’s the rest?
VS: Right. And I’m trying to think of a woman of color…
LS: Did you like [Lashana Lynch] in No Time to Die, though?
VS: They didn’t give her enough to do, for me.
LS: There’s really no black women out there right now.
VS: There’s none! Whats-her-name had started. From Jumping the Broom…
LS: Paula [Patton]? Yeah, she was in Mission: Impossible too … and y’know, I like her in Mission: Impossible. When she kicked that girl [Lea Seydoux] out of the window, I was like “Period!”
VS: [Laughing] They were like “Oh, be careful. Don’t injure her.”
LS: “We need her!” No, you don’t. You sure don’t.
VS: You better find another way, ‘cause she goin’ down. And I do love Sandra.
LS: Sandra who… Bullock?
LS: When was the last time you saw her do an action movie? Quickly.
VS: It wasn’t action, but Ocean’s Eight. She snapped in that. And we’d never seen her in that kinda role. She was always comedic [before]. And my girl from The Crown. The first Queen.
LS: I knew you were gonna bring her up. Vanessa Kirby?
VS: Oh my gosh, I forgot about her! No, I’m talking about the Queen.
LS: Claire Foy?! Okay, yeah. Because she was the girl in the spider’s web.
VS: She’s off the chain. She’s at the top of my list. But I do like Vanessa too. You can put all them on there.
LS: I like that you have so many girlies on your list. For me, growing up, I really resonated with the guy protagonists for some reason – Harrison Ford, Jackie Chan… it’s probably because there were just very little opportunities for the girls until really recently. But do you feel like you connected more with the male protagonists, or…?
VS: For me, I guess it was whoever was the protagonist in the movie. It could have been a female, like with Pam Grier. And growing up I kinda liked Billy Dee [Williams] more than Diana Ross. Maybe because of the character. And then Bruce Lee and Roger Moore.
LS: Is there a classic film with a super macho male lead that you’d love to see a woman make her own? Or do you think we should just make our own?
VS: Hmm. “Classic.” I mean, that would be a Bruce Lee film. [Laughs] It’d also be 007. It’d be the Mission: Impossible franchise. Even though I love, love, love Tom [Cruise] in that role…
LS: He’s getting old! Eventually he’s gonna have to stop. He can’t go sprinting over buildings forever.
VS: I think Batman, too. They need a woman.
LS: There’s a Batwoman TV show now! And she’s Black!
LS: Yeah, girl. We can watch it if you want.
LS: Last question: how do you feel about your daughter being a filmmaker?
VS: Since I love film so much, I’m really excited about that. I also feel good, not just because I love it, but because you found something that you love. Like when you were getting into it, it was exciting to have that in common. I think that you have a unique perspective. If you did your own stuff, it’d be unique. It’d be something that we haven’t seen. And I’d love to be involved in a film that you produced.
LS: Yeah, you’ll be my casting director.
VS: Oh my gosh, I’m so good at that.
LS: Let’s think of a movie where we can use all the girls we just talked about.