During the month of March, PopLifeSTL.com will recognize significant female contributions in filmmaking.

By Lynn Venhaus
“Strong, complex, fully realized women characters with their own stories to tell have lasting impact in our culture and at the box office,” wrote Jennifer Merin, Alliance of Women Film Journalists’ co-founder and president, and co-organizer of the Wonder Women project, back in 2016l

AWFJ members delighted in focusing on women characters whose stories that have impacted our own lives. We recommend them as essential viewing for women and girls and anyone who is interested in film,” Merin said.

To coincide with Wonder Woman celebrating her 75th year as a superhero in the D.C. Comics, we had begun the project the summer before. Fellow members of the national women’s organization were polled to select 100 women film characters that were inspiring, and live on in our hearts and minds.

AWFJ members nominated more than 500 characters from as early as 1915 to as recent as today. Real women, such as Queen Elizabeth II and Erin Brockovich, were eliminated to better showcase the writers who understood and created authentic fictional female characters with depth. The final group comprises 55 filmic wonder women who range from professionals to single mothers pursuing higher education and con artists. There are also warriors, divas, flirts and gals who love to kick up their heels.

In the last half of 2015, we compiled a master list of 250, then took another vote and whittled it down to a tidy 55. The list was announced in 2016 in a countdown revealed over several weeks. So many trailblazers and role models!

This countdown of the most fascinating, inspiring and singular fictional female characters who have appeared in movies as selected by the AWFJ membership. The project, AWFJ’s Wonder Women, commemorates the 10th anniversary of the organization’s founding.

Merin said the project’s title pays homage to Wonder Woman, the comic book heroine who debuted more than 70 years ago to offer young readers, then and now, a female character of substance. Like Wonder Woman, the characters on the AWFJ list are headstrong, loving, fierce, willful, confident,  good-hearted champions of justice, equality and peace, and they are not afraid to mix it up.

“The staying power of Wonder Woman is proof that audiences need and welcome robust female characters in popular culture. Since our beat is cinema, we decided it was time we remind the public and the movie industry about other ‘wonder women’ that audiences have embraced over the years,” said AWFJ member and project co-organizer Marilyn Ferdinand.

All of the characters on the Wonder Women list are annotated by AWFJ members Thelma Adams, Marina Antunes, Linda Barnard, Liz Braun, Anne Brodie, Carol Cling, Laura Emerick, Marilyn Ferdinand, Candice Frederick, Susan Granger, MaryAnn Johanson, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Rebecca Murray, Betsy Pickle, Lynn Venhaus, Liz Whittemore and Susan Wloszczyna.

I was honored to participate, and wrote three of the blurbs — #47 – Jane Craig of “Broadcast News” (Holly Hunter), #35 – Alice Hyatt of “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” (Ellen Burstyn) and #26 – Hermione Granger of the Harry Potter Series (Emma Watson).

Film Background

“Broadcast News” was released in a small number of theaters on Dec. 16, 1987, and went wide on Christmas Day. The romantic comedy-drama

Fun Facts: Journalist and news producer Susan Zinnsky was the role model for the character. Zinnsky served as an associate producer and technical advisor on the film.

Originally Debra Winger was supposed to play Jane, as she had worked with James L. Brooks in “Terms of Endearment,” but she found out she was pregnant (with son Noah Hutton), and was replaced by Holly Hunter.

“Broadcast News” Character Description (description credited to Wikipedia):
Jane Craig is a talented but intense news producer whose life revolves around her work. She is passionate about reporting, and abhors the trend towards soft news in news broadcasts. Her best friend and collaborator, Aaron Altman, is a gifted writer and reporter, but is lacking in many social skills. The two work in the Washington, D.C. bureau of a national TV network. The bureau hires Tom Grunick, a local news anchorman who started his career in sports. Tom is tall, handsome, likable, and telegenic, but lacks news experience and isn’t especially bright. He constantly seeks help from Jane to assist him with his reporting, who resents his lack of qualifications, but finds herself attracted to him. Tom is also attracted to Jane, but is intimidated by her skills and intensity.

This is what I wrote about Jane Craig for the AWFJ.org website:

47. JANE CRAIG from Broadcast News (1987)

Holly Hunter

Jane, Jane, Jane. We’ve all been there. After all, we have a pulse—and hormones. Broadcast News addressed the age-old heart vs. head dilemma in the battle of the sexes. A tiny dynamo, Jane is good—no great—at her job. She’s an intense, tightly wound network news producer in our nation’s capital, with fierce devotion to her career. As impeccable as she is about work, single-lady Jane is a neurotic hot mess socially. Against her better judgment, she falls for the new pretty-boy anchorman. He’s been hired to boost ratings as the news focus shifts to more entertainment razz-a-ma-tazz. Outspoken Jane despises the style-over-substance trend. She commiserates with her best friend, a real newsman who is secretly in love with her. Oh, it gets complicated. But Jane comes to her senses when, in good conscience. an ethical breach can’t be ignored She may have temporarily lost her head, intoxicated by romance, but a grounded workaholic like Jane had to wise up, see the light. Holly Hunter is luminous as Jane, and we can see her sharp mind at work. With a quick wit and verve to spare, Jane remains steadfast about what she stands for, no matter what it costs. Integrity never goes out of style, and Jane Craig is an enduring poster girl for it. —Lynn Venhaus

Awards Run and Film Accolades
“Broadcast News” was one of the top films of 1987 — placed on 67 major Top Ten Lists that year — and I reviewed it for the Belleville News-Democrat (not available at that time digitally). I will have to dig it up to see what I said then, but today, the film has had a lasting impact. After William Hurt died last week, many people cited it as their favorite movie of his. As a longtime journalist, the movie resonates so much about the news media.

Although it did not win an Oscar for any of its seven nominations, it was second behind eventual winner “The Last Emperor,” which won all nine of its nominations), and recognized as a nominee for Best Picture, James L. Brooks for original screenplay, and three acting nods for Hunter, Hurt and Albert Brooks, as well as editing and cinematography. Hunter won Best Actress from both the New York Film Critics and the Los Angeles Film Critics. (Besides “The Last Emperor for film and Oscars that year went to Michael Douglas for “Wall Street,” Cher for “Moonstruck” and Sean Connery for “The Untouchables.”)

While hurt had already won an Oscar and Hunter would win for “The Piano” several years later, Brooks has not — but that performance as the heavy-sweating Aaron is one of his finest, and had not Sean Connery won for “The Untouchables,” I have a feeling Brooks would be an Oscar winner today.

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 98% rating from 52 critics. The site’s consensus states: “Blockbuster dramatist James L. Brooks delivers with Broadcast News, fully entertaining with deft, deep characterization.”

On Metacritic, the film has an 84 average, based on 16 reviews, indicating “universal acclaim.”

Just a good solid movie that holds up in repeat viewings.

In his review in the Chicago Reader, Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote about Hunter’s performance: “something of a revelation: her short, feisty, socially gauche, aggressive-compulsive character may be the most intricately layered portrait of a career woman that contemporary Hollywood has given us”.

AWFJ Total List

:Numbers 55-44 as voted by the AWFJ membership are Olivia Evans from “Boyhood,” Elle Reid from “Grandma,” Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games” series, Mammy from “Gone with the Wind,” Jean Harrington/Lady Eve Sidwich from “The Lady Eve,” Laine Hanson from “The Contender,” Ada McGrath from “The Piano,” Tess McGill from “Working Girl,” Jane Craig from “Broadcast News,” Lucy Honeychurch from “A Room with a View,” Sally Bowles from “I Am a Camera/Cabaret” and The Bride from “Kill Bill: Vols. 1 & 2.”

The Alliance of Women Film Journalists (AWFJ) has announced the debut of a partnership with Kino Lorber to present a film series curated by a number of esteemed female film journalists and critics under the new “AWFJ Presents” banner on Kino Lorber’s digital platform KinoMarquee. Selected by a curatorial team of AWFJ members from Kino Lorber’s vast catalog of hundreds of important titles, the inaugural selections include six exceptionally entertaining and relevant films by women directors.
Each film on the AWFJ Presents slate will be available for rent on the KinoMarquee streaming platform under the AWFJ Presents banner. In addition, a pre-recorded, 20-minute discussion of each film by members of AWFJ’s curatorial team can be found on AWFJ’s YouTube channel. The revenue from the sale of every series pass will be shared with the AWJF, supporting the important work that they do.  
Jennifer Merin, AWFJ president, said, “The alliance is very proud to partner with Kino Lorber for our inaugural ‘AWFJ Presents’ series to highlight some truly outstanding films by some of the world’s finest women directors. The films tell stories that are true to women’s experiences and represent women’s perspectives, but have universal appeal. We are also beyond appreciative of their enthusiasm and generosity regarding this partnership.”
Kino Lorber SVP Wendy Lidell, added, “It is as important to increase the number and presence of female film critics as it is to increase the presence of women filmmakers – in fact the two go hand in hand.  Which is why we are especially gratified to be partnering with AWJF on this initiative to present just a sampling of our deep catalog of great films by women.”  
The international slate of films covers a variety of genres—comedy, horror, drama, contemporary, period. They are all finely crafted, original, and entertaining. And, they created passionate debate among the curators who chose them from the 161 female-helmed films in Kino Lorber’s catalog.

Between the Lines

WFJ Presents inaugural selections

Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (1991)
Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang (2015)
Diane Kurys’ Peppermint Soda (1977)
Caroline Link’s Nowhere in Africa (2001)
Joan Micklin Silver’s Between the Lines (1977) 

The “AWFJ Presents” curators are an international consortium of well-respected film critics: Ulkar Alakbarova, Margaret Barton-Fumo, Betsy Bozdech, Sandie Angulo Chen, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Jennifer Merin, Kristen Page-Kirby, Jeanne Prisyazhnaya, and Susan Wloszczyna.
The cost to stream films individually is $8, or viewers can buy a pass to the whole series for $30. Contact [email protected] for more information.
About AWFJ
The Alliance of Women Film Journalists, Inc. (AWFJ) in a not-for-profit charitable organization found in New York State in 2006 whose purpose is to amplify the voices of women critics, provide a platform for the expression of women’s perspectives on film, and support work by and about women—both in front of and behind the cameras—through intragroup promotional activities, outreach programs and presentation of EDA Awards at year’s end and at film festivals throughout the year. AWFJ publishes an average of 22 reviews, interviews and news items weekly, including our Movie of the Week feature, and distributes two weekly eNewsletters, in addition to keeping an active and interactive record of fiction feature and documentary films by and/or about women, and/or of particular interest to women because they focus on women’s issues. Articles, eNewsletter subscription sign ups and lists are made available to the general public on our website (awfj.org).
About Kino Lorber
With a library of over 4,000 titles, Kino Lorber Inc. has been a leader in independent art house distribution for 35 years, releasing 30 films per year theatrically under its Kino Lorber, Kino Repertory and Alive Mind Cinema banners, garnering seven Academy Award® nominations in nine years. In addition, the company brings over 350 titles yearly to the home entertainment and educational markets through physical and digital media releases. With an expanding family of distributed labels, Kino Lorber handles releases in ancillary media for Zeitgeist Films, Cohen Media Group, Greenwich Entertainment, Artsploitation, Palisades Tartan, Menemsha Films, Raro Video, and others, placing physical titles through all wholesale, retail, and direct to consumer channels, as well as direct digital distribution through over 40 OTT services including all major TVOD and SVOD platforms. In 2019, the company launched its new art house digital channel Kino Now which features over 1000 titles from the acclaimed Kino Lorber library. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kino Marquee initiative was launched in 2020 pioneering “virtual theatrical” releases of art house films with revenue shares that allows audiences to support almost 400 local independent theaters.

Cover photo of “Peppermint Soda”

Note: Lynn Venhaus, St. Louis-based film critic and professional writer-editor, is a member of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. She is the founder of PopLifeSTL.com, in addition to writing reviews for Webster-Kirkwood Times and reviewing movies for KTRS Radio.