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).
“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)
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.”
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.