The Liberation of Women in Cinema

     Women have come a long way in recent times, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the theater and cinema. In recent years not only have women become more prominent in feature films and theater, but also they have in many cases been lead characters. This emerging role in literature has helped change the attitude some employers and high-ranking officials have towards women.

     One of the beginning steps was taken by Emily Brontė in her Wuthering Heights, written in 1847 and adapted for the screen in 1939 by William Wyler. Catherine and Isabella, played by Merle Oberon and Geraldine Fitzgerald, were some of the early pioneers in portraying women emotionally instead of being constantly damsels in distress or simple objects for men to fight over. Catherine and Isabella show the emotional struggles the women had to contend with along, with their interaction with each other, which at times is very heated and emotionally charged.

     The next step was taken in William Wyler's film The Heiress, made in 1949, based on Henry James's 1880 novel, Washington Square. Olivia de Havilland plays Catherine, a future wealthy daughter of a doctor. She is actually the leading character in this screenplay, and she shows a great deal of emotions throughout the book, especially at the end, when she rejects Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), with whom she had earlier fallen in love She does this after he had left her and has come back to ask for another chance. The greatest thing that this cinematic interpretation shows that women have choice in what happens to them and that their life cannot be predestined forever by a man.

     One of the final steps was taken in two different cinematic adaptations occurring decades apart. The first was Gabriel Pascal's 1938 version of Pygmalion, directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard; and the second was Jack Warner's 1964 musical My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor, both of which are based upon the original story of Bernard Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion. In Pygmalion Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller in Pygmalion and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady), are taught by Professor Henry Higgins how to speak the English language properly. She eventually leaves Professor Higgins (Leslie Howard in Pygmalion and Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady), when she feels that she has been nothing more than a plaything for him. He pleads for her to come back; but she refuses and only comes back when she decides she wants to, which she does not do in the original play. This brings into society the prospect that women have as much free choice as men do.

     These movies permeate the collective mind of society and make it more acceptable for these views and concepts to be shown more freely. Through this the idea of feminine equality has emerged and triumphed in our society.

Bryan D. McGregor

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