It’s been said that it takes a village to raise a child. But for baby cinephiles, all it takes is a few good films. For May, the month of femininity, I team up once more with my mother, Vanessa, to discuss the female-led films that left the biggest impressions on us growing up.
The Sound of Music (1965)
Vanessa Stewart: I don’t know when I first watched The Sound of Music, but I knew that I had to have the movie to show you, when you were little. You were musically inclined, so I knew that you would enjoy it, but even if you didn’t like music, I knew it’d be a good kid movie. It’s just a movie of hope. It’s like a happy movie. I feel like that movie takes you away. It opens your eyes. No matter what happens throughout, [Julie Andrews] is just so optimistic. “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” She handled it all like a champ.
Lyvie Scott: It’s funny you bring up my musicality, because I definitely feel like the musicals we did watch really shaped that part of me. To this day Rogers & Hammerstein are my boys. I love every musical they’ve done, but I think Sound of Music will always be number one. It’s just the best.
VS: It’s one of the greatest movies of all time.
LS: Oh, for sure. It has it all! It’s got romance, it’s got intrigue, it’s got … resistance to fascism. [Laughs] And Julie Andrews inhabits her role as these kids’ governess with such tenderness and patience. If I sat on a frog my first night at some strange house, I’d be out of there the next day. Watching her grow from like, Wild Mountain Girl into a mature and loving mother to those kids is so heart-tugging every single time.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
LS: Michelle Yeoh is mother. There is no question: she has been the OG and will remain as such for the foreseeable future.
LS: Oh, oh – it’s like slang, like a slang term. It’s like the new “Queen,” I guess.
VS: Ah… [Laughs]
LS: For the longest time, Crouching Tiger was the only Michelle movie that I’d seen, but her performance in it was so powerful that I just became instantly obsessed… Actually, that’s not true. I think it was Zhang Ziyi that I was proper obsessed with for many, many years.
I think when you’re young, you look at someone like Zhang Ziyi, who’s decidedly the youngest person in the cast most of the time, and you see her rebelliousness, you see how she’s desired by the hottest guy in the wuxia film, and you’re like “Okay! I’m aspiring to that.” Especially because Michelle was just kind of lecturing her the entire time. Her and Chow Yun-fat were always just so in her face. They were like parents to her. And I think you grate against that in the same way that Zhang Ziyi grates against that, because you want to be free in the way that she wants to be free. But I think with each time that I watched Crouching Tiger, especially as I got older and I began to understand more of what was happening, I began to realize that Michelle … was valid.
More importantly, my gaze started to shift from Ziyi who, for most of the film, has this magical sword, the Green Destiny. This sword that like smashes everything in its path and destroys every adversary. I started to look at Michelle, especially when she duels Ziyi towards the end of the film. It’s such an iconic fight, but it’s also memorable because Michelle uses, I wanna say, like four or five different weapons against Ziyi, to get back this sword that she stole. And the Green Destiny slices, dices, annihilates every single weapon. But Michelle eventually wins. Because of her skill, not because of the weapon. And if that’s not some powerful stuff, I don’t know what is.
It’s kind of like how, when you’re young, your mom is not your friend. She’s annoying, and everything she says is like nagging, and she’s trying to stamp out your fire, or whatever. But as you grow older, she does become your friend, and you start to empathize with everything that she’s given up.
VS: Yeah, ‘cause when you’re a kid, all you see is what you want. You can’t really rationalize. You can only feel your own desires.
LS: The story of B.A.P.S. essentially follows Halle Berry and Natalie Desselle Reid, who are these two homegirls from Decatur, GA. They’re tacky, they’re loud, they’re ghetto, and they’re determined to become video girls in Los Angeles. Well – that’s Halle’s dream. Natalie wants to open a restaurant, I think. So they fly out to LA, they get flewed out, and though they fail at becoming video girls, they get kind of recruited by this rich white millionaire who’s the son of another, dying millionaire.
The son wants Halle Berry to pretend to be the daughter of this woman that this old sick man was in love with years and years ago, his former lover that he couldn’t marry because his family didn’t approve. So they start off trying to scam this dude out of his fortune, but the dude ends up falling in love with them. And not in a romantic way or an erotic way or a pervy way, but in a way that’s just like … they become a family. It’s a Black girl fairytale. And I don’t care what anybody says about it: it’s amazing, and it’s so beautiful, and it’s delightful.
VS: I think it might have been before its time.
LS: I agree so strongly. It’s on the same level as like Clueless and Legally Blonde, in like that campy way where there’s such good fashion – and like Last Holiday where the Black woman is touching the lives of everyone that they meet, and they get rewarded tremendously in the end. But B.A.P.S. got horrible reviews!
VS: I don’t think they were ready. They weren’t ready for it. Maybe ten years later, it would have been more appreciated. I feel like that’s another feel-good movie. The colors, the clothes… the pretty aesthetic of it. I liked it.
LS: Even when Halle and Natalie are just like stupid homegirls from Decatur, and they each have one gold tooth and beehive hairdos. They’re still so cute!
VS: You know what it is? It has an organic feel to it. Like people can identify with it, y’know what I mean? It also helps you to realize that people are people. You can’t dismiss people because of their appearance. Don’t count them out!
LS: Yes. Like the British butler character. He could not stand them when they first showed up at that rich guy’s house.
VS: And by the end, he was their friend.
LS: He loved them! I will never forget the scene where he fully just goes to the music store to buy rap albums for Natalie Desselle’s character.
VS: You know the thing about ignorance being bliss? That applies to them. They were happy, and… [Laughs] they were ignorant. But they turned out to win! They were the winners. It’s kind of like, when you don’t dwell on the bad, you get rewarded. And they were good no matter what.
VS: So, Mahogany is about two people from the same background, pretty much. Diana Ross was interested in fame, and she fell in love with Billy Dee Williams – but I think he quickly realized that Diana wasn’t really like he was. She was more interested in fame, but Billy was trying to do good. He wanted to go back to the neighborhood that they came from and do good in that neighborhood and help his people. Diana wanted to get out, and she was willing to do anything to get out. She fell for anything. And she fell hard. Real, real hard. She was compromising who she was – or maybe she didn’t know who she was. Trying to find herself, I guess. Ended up in the wrong places.
LS: The other day you said something about resonating with Billy Dee Williams the most in this film.
VS: Yes, I did, because of [Diana Ross’] character being submissive – or, submitting under white male characters. I think that she wanted their life. Instead of creating her own life, she wanted what they had. She wanted to be accepted in their industry; she wanted their notoriety. But Billy Dee was secure in himself, honey. And his culture. That’s why I liked his character more as a child. He was good. All the way to the core.
LS: Wait... “as a child”? How old were you when you first saw this?
VS: They let me see this the year it came out, so if I wasn’t five, I was six. That was the seventies though; everything was a go! Everything was permissible.
It’s sad, but it’s a beautiful movie. Glamorous, beautiful … the acting was great. I think it moved me, y’know what I mean? Like it was deep. And it was real. You can watch movies like this – like we did when we were little – and we knew what was good and what was bad, what was right and what was wrong. When you watch movies like this, you make determinations. “Oh, I’m not gonna be like that. I’m gonna do this” or “I’m gonna do that.” At least I did. I took their lives seriously. Seeing this movie, I thought there were possibilities.
My country [the Bahamas], we were independent in 1973, so we didn’t have nobody over us. Growing up in a Black nation, you grow up thinking there’s a possibility for everything. You don’t see another race over you. You know the sky’s the limit. But watching these movies took that to the next level. You watch movies and you dream, and it doesn’t matter what anybody says, ‘cause you got the movie in you, inspiring you to do whatever.
Postcards from the Edge (1990)
LS: This is a movie adaptation of a book that Carrie Fisher (aka Princess Leia) wrote, which is also based on her relationship with her mom in real life. She wrote the screenplay, she helped adapt it, and she managed to get Meryl Streep to play her in the movie – which I think is just a massive flex.
I picked this not because this movie shaped my life when I was young. And I didn’t pick it because of the codependency-slash-toxicity-slash-reciprocal-resentment of Meryl Streep’s character’s relationship with Shirley MacLaine’s. It’s more because Carrie Fisher has always been a massive figure for me. You’d have to be living under a rock to not know how I feel about Carrie Fisher. But I only recently started getting into her novels, and just to see how mental health affected her, and how it also affected her mother, was really cathartic.
There are just times, y’know … not to alarm you or anybody else, but there are times when you wanna just go crazy. Because life is oppressive. But I love that Carrie never wallowed in it. And she doesn’t let the dramatization of herself or her mom wallow in it either. Even when Shirley MacLaine is literally laying in a hospital bed, just a mess. She’s a former actress, so she’s like really freaking out because she’s aging, she’s losing her hair, she doesn’t think she looks good without makeup anymore. But Meryl Streep brings her like a bag full of her makeup – or at least her lipstick – and a hairpiece … or a scarf. Something. First of all, it’s such a selfless gesture, because the last time they spoke they fought. Terribly. And second of all, it’s like life. You can’t stop. You’ve gotta just put on your lipstick and smile sometimes.
I know I’ve had so many conversations with you about fighting for life. And you know how hard it can be for me to fight. But I think having you, it helps tremendously. I don’t think it’s always easy having a mom as your best friend – or your best friend being your mom. But it’s also really needed. It’s saved my life on so many occasions.
Bend it Like Beckham (2002)
LS: Do you remember Bend It Like Beckham? The soccer movie?
VS: Mm-hmm. I remember. Did I show you that?
LS: I think so! I think that was like, in our phase when we would rent movies at the library? I think you picked it!
VS: Yes! I’d make sure to find movies there for you.
LS: I know that Keira [Knightley] wasn’t the main actress in that, or at least she wasn’t supposed to be – it was mostly the story about this Indian family – but I remember feeling so drawn to her character. It’s like I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. Her and Zhang Ziyi were like … those were my sisters. I was so obsessed with them. And they had similar kind of waifish energy. Kind of like the gamine, the archetype that Audrey Hepburn had perfected, just with swords. Much more fiery, and they were formidable, and they had autonomy but they also had romance.
VS: I think Keira’s really strong. I haven’t seen a bad movie with her. She’s real. She’s good. I think she’s one of the best actresses of her time. She’s probably gonna have a second wave soon. [The ‘00s] was like her first, looooong wave.
LS: She was everywhere! She was the It Girl.
VS: Yeah. She’s coming back, though. I don’t know when, but it’s happening.
The Wiz (1978)
LS: I don’t know how people could dislike The Wiz.
VS: People like who?
LS: ….White people. [Laughs]
VS: Of course you know why they don’t like it!
LS: The Wiz was really something for me, though. Like watching that for the first time was on par with Brandy’s Cinderella. Seeing people who looked the way that I did, taking a journey that I was already familiar with, will always be a truly out-of-body, euphoric experience. We need our own protagonists, we need our own odyssey. Plus, the music is better in The Wiz. It’s so much funnier … it’s just pure joy. And it’s literally a distillation of Black culture, too.
VS: Just fabulous. And we’re not trying to compare, but –
LS: Oh, I’m trying to compare.
VS: It’s not a competition! We’re just trying to meet the needs of our children, because that’s our responsibility. It’s not the white man’s responsibility to show your culture to you.
LS: Well, a white guy did direct The Wiz. Sidney Lumet.
VS: ….Well. Thank you very much for your service, Sidney Lumet.
Check out the rest of Lyvie’s (and Vanessa’s!) picks on Blossom’s Letterboxd.