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Mom's The Word

Friday, March 09, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

The Academy Awards ceremony this year was marked by the wonderful Frances McDormand’s speech, on which she exhorted to Hollywood industry to support women in movies and be more inclusive.

She won for her role as the fierce mother seeking justice for her murdered daughter in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missourie, but it’s interesting to see that in the Supporting Actress category, three of the five nominees played unusual mothers.

Now, of course, Hindi cinema has done away with the mother altogether, except for a sporadic Maatr or Mom, but in the past, when film heroes worshipped their hard-working mothers, the actresses, often younger than their on-screen sons, were either angels or wicked stepmothers.

Allison Janney, who won the trophy for her role as LaVona Golden in I, Tonya, is the abusive, pushy mother to figure skating champion Tonya Harding. LaVona is the sports equivalent of the stage mother, who drags her daughter to stardom, with no thought to how it would affect the girl’s mind and body. Interestingly, Janney, a seven-time Emmy winner, swept all major acting honors this year, including Screen Actors Guild, Golden Globe and BAFTA awards.  She underwent a startling physical transformation, wearing a short wig, big glasses and a parakeet on her shoulder. Even though the woman is not particularly likeable, Janney made her somewhat sympathetic, so that audiences would not hate her outright. She said in an interview, “He (writer Steven Rogers) wanted to show people what else I could do, that I could play someone this far away from myself and yet make her real and grounded.  I have to say it’s hard to say you had fun playing someone so awful, but it was a fun challenge.”

Her closest competitor for the Oscars, was Laurie Metcalf, playing Marion McPherson, a loving-cum-horrid mother to Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird.  In the memorable opening scene, her daughter is so fed-up of her put-downs that she flings herself out of a moving car.  Marion says she wants her daughter to be the “very best version of yourself that you can be,” while the girl just wants to get away from her stifling life.

Director Greta Gerwig said of Metcalf in an interview to, “She is a powerhouse emotionally, and she has a way with language that I think is astonishing. I write very specifically, and I don’t like to have the words changed at all, and she is an actor for whom words help her grow a character. I think this comes from her extensive theatre background. Language and character are deeply intertwined for her, and she plays lines like a virtuoso musician. She is in full control and also lets the music take over. It’s utterly thrilling to watch.”

Mary J. Blige, nominated for her performance in Mudbound as well as for Best Song,  plays against her sexy image, the role of the simple Florence Jackson, a sharecropper’s wife, and the leading man’s mother in the tumultuous times when American blacks suffered the worst kind of racist violence. The director Dee Rees said of her performance in an interview to, ““She had this vulnerability and reserve. She could feel much and withhold much. There were just moments of stillness and her silences — this dark commentary she could say under her breath. A lot of actors tend to be very aware of their surroundings. She would just go perfectly still, and she was in her head. Just sitting, thinking.”

Bollywood has the talented actresses; what they need is producers, writers and directors who can give them challenging roles, and audiences that will allow them to break stereotypes.

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