Ballot Cast for Voting Rights Film

Nov 1, 2004  •  Post A Comment

By Robert Pietranton

Special to TelevisionWeek

Home Box Office adds another prize to its collection this week as Women in Cable & Telecommunications awards its Tribute Accolade for drama, music, variety or comedy programming to the premium cable channel’s original motion picture “Iron Jawed Angels.” Olivia Smashum, executive VP of marketing for HBO, will accept the award on behalf of the network Nov. 3 at WICT’s 20th annual Foundation Benefit Gala in Washington.

Established by WICT in 1995, the Tribute Accolade is given annually to original cable television productions that best portray women as strong leaders or role models or showcase women’s impact on issues or events. Previous winners include “Lifetime’s Achievement Awards: Women Changing the World” and Showtime’s “In the Time of the Butterflies.”

An HBO Films presentation of a Spring Creek Production, “Iron Jawed Angels” stars Hilary Swank and Frances O’Connor in the story of American suffragists Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, who fought to secure passage of the 19th Amendment establishing women’s right to vote in the United States. Ms. Paul and Ms. Burns founded the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage in 1913 and organized activities, including congressional lobbying, marches on Washington and White House protests on behalf of voting rights for women.

The film also stars Anjelica Huston as conservative activist Carrie Chapman Catt, who clashes with the brash suffragists, and Julia Ormond as Inez Milholland, who makes the ultimate sacrifice for the cause.

The film’s depiction of women from disparate backgrounds coming together to achieve a common goal exemplifies WICT’s essential purpose of collaboration, said Parthavi Das, director of research and advocacy for WICT and the organization’s liaison to the Tribute Accolade selection committee.

“One criterion for the award is a production that portrays women in a positive way, and clearly `Iron Jawed Angels’ shows two women who are leaders who worked together to get women the right to vote,” Ms. Das said. “The movie reflects the action of two women, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, whose efforts reflect our mission, which is creating leaders.”

“Iron Jawed Angels” premiered Feb. 15, 2004, and went on to receive five Emmy nominations, including outstanding supporting actress in a miniseries or movie for Ms. Huston and outstanding writing for a miniseries, movie or dramatic special for Sally Robinson and Eugenia Bostwick Singer & Raymond Singer and Jennifer Friedes.

German director Katja von Garnier, who made her English-language debut with this project, was excited about the opportunity to tell the story of two relatively unknown American heroes and to present them in a relatable fashion to a contemporary audience.

“I was very moved by the story, which I found very powerful,” said Ms. von Garnier. “I had no idea about this part of the history, the degree to which they had to sacrifice to gain the vote for women. I wanted to show that one person-a man or woman-can make a difference. No matter how entrenched or static a situation is, things can be changed with persistence and will. That’s an important and inspiring aspect to the story, and I wanted to bring that to people’s attention.

“I also wanted to break with the stereotypes of women who fight for their rights-and women in general-as being one-dimensional,” Ms. von Garnier said. “I thought it was important to show that these women are determined and on a mission but also have personal flaws and quirks, have a sense of humor and are interested in love.”

Screenwriter Ms. Robinson concurred. “The story of these women was so remarkable, you just had to tell it and almost just get out of the way,” she said. “Alice Paul had such incredible determination that you have to sit back in awe. She was unstoppable. The most important thing for me to do was to make the characters come to life. Just because they lived in a time before any of us were alive doesn’t mean they weren’t like us. I simply tried to understand that these were real people as opposed to historical monuments.”

In a satellite press conference before the film’s premiere, Ms. Swank spoke about the effect the project had on her. “Movies can reawaken something within you. I will not miss a day of voting or an opportunity to get my voice out there and to hopefully make a difference for other women,” she was quoted as saying.

“When you see what these people went through to get you the vote, you’d be quite an ingrate not to go to the polling place,” Ms. Robinson said. “It’s as if someone gave you a gift, and not to use it is wrong.”

“Before having read the script, I had taken that privilege for granted, and I hope our film inspires people to vote,” Ms. von Garnier said. “The movie is a beautiful reminder of what it took to get the right to vote, and it reinforces how important it is for people to use that right.”