Ironically, Hollywood shows that sexual harassment is nothing new

Ironically, Hollywood shows that sexual harassment is nothing new

Seeing “The Battle of the Sexes” and “Victoria and Abdul” back to back proves that sexual harassment has been around for ages. Not in same manner as being locked in a hotel room with Harvey Weinstein, but the more garden variety harassment women have put up with for, well, centuries.

For Billie Jean King, it was going up against Jack Kramer, president of the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association, who refused to give professional women tennis players equal winnings purses because it was men’s tennis that “drew the crowd.” In “Battle of the Sexes,” this comes to a head when King (Emma Stone) accepts the challenge of playing retired pro Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell) for a $100,000 payday for the winner.

As the movie recounts, there was so much at stake, not only for women’s tennis, but for all women. Looking back, it’s a miracle King was able to push through the pressure (privately she was dealing with coming out as a lesbian) and beat Riggs in three sets. Even those close to her assumed Riggs would beat her. But she persevered, and the rest is history.

The match itself is recreated in all its hype and glory, and I know this because I was there that night in the Astrodome in 1972 pulling for King to win and show those guys a lady could beat them at their own game.

What no one knew was all the behind-the-scenes negotiations that were taking place, culminating with King and Kramer (Bill Pullman) in a face-to-face squabble about Kramer calling the match for ABC. King threatened to walk if the old misogynist got his way and he was forced to back off. It’s a great moment in a good movie about a long forgotten battle that was a milestone for female equality.

When Emma Stone was cast as King, I couldn’t see it, but she is super in the part. The glasses and hair go a long way for the physical look, but Stone captures her many facets from tough tennis player to the tenderness in finding love with a hairdresser (Andrea Riseborough). Of course, Steve Carrell is Bobby Riggs, and he nails the imitable bombastic brio of the self-promoter who struck gold with challenging women to tennis matches until King beat him. The period, including fashions, hair dos, even the set design, captures the plastic, hippy dippy style of that era.

Poor old Queen Victoria had a battle of her own in “Victoria and Abdul,” about the last days of her reign and a servant from India that she befriends. For the second time, Judi Dench plays the queen and there is even a reference in this movie to John Brown, played by Billy Connolly in that 1997 feature, “Mrs. Brown.”

This moves the story forward about 20 years at the advent of the Queen’s Jubilee. Abdul is sent from India to present her with a commemorative coin, and the queen takes a shine to him. It’s made clear that she’s bored to tears with her royal duties and those around her undermining her at every turn. When Abdul (Ali Fazal) joins the staff as a personal advisor to the queen, her head of house, Sir Henry Ponsoby (Tim Piggott-Smith), and her son Bertie, Prince of Wales (Eddie Izzard), thwart her efforts to bring Abdul closer to her, and in a desperate attempt, even seek to have her declared incompetent, something I doubt seriously would have happened had the queen been a king.

Dench is at her best in what is a perfect role for her. She’s cantankerous, funny, and when she summons the strength to dress down those who oppose her, it’s a great scene that showcases Dench’s range. She’s a lock for an Oscar nomination, and at this point, the front-runner, if you ask me.

As a period piece dealing with British royalty, everything is spot on, from costumes to many familiar British actors, including Olivia Williams as Lady Churchill and Michael Gambon Lord Salisbury. It’s also a great movie with surprising poignancy found in Dench’s performance.

Both films are in Houston theaters now.

Award-winning filmmaker coming to Lamar for screening, seminar

The Lamar University Department of Communication and the Reaud Honors College along with Lamar’s Beta Xi Chapter of Phi Deta Delta and the Office of Undergraduate Research, will be co-sponsoring as interdisciplinary seminar on politics, media, and storytelling. The seminar offers a fresh eye on storytelling and news making through various media formats (film, journalism/photo-journalism, radio broadcast, online) and political insights from an international expert who has traveled to many war zones of the world. The award-winning film director and news correspondent Martin Gerner, a German-based author, will present his vision of independent storytelling at Lamar University.

The seminar will also include a panel discussion with the guest speaker, Martin Gerner, and screening of his award-winning film, “Generation Kunduz: The War of the Others.”

First on Thursday, Oct. 19, from 3-5 p.m., it’s “Comparative Perspectives on Afghanistan: The Forgotten War,” a panel discussion featuring LU faculty and Martin Gerner, senior editor and correspondent with German Public Broadcasting, at the Mary and John Gray Library, 8th floor.

Then from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, it’s at screening of “Generation Kunduz” at the John Gray Center, Herman Iles Building, Price Auditorium. The film tells the story of five young Afghans who live in constant fear of Taliban attacks and the consequences of a foreign military’s presence. A Q&A with the filmmaker will follow.

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