Arts preview: "Don't Call Me Honey: Fierce Women of Film"

Melissa Starker, Columbus Alive

Hollywood hasn't always been a man's world, but it's got a long history of treating women like the weaker sex.

In the earliest years of the film industry, women filled many behind-the-scenes jobs - until the business grew in legitimacy and status, and men pushed the female pioneers aside. In the early-to-mid 20th century, the age of the studio system, actresses were told what parts to play and virtually put in a corner if they refused.

In this century, actresses have more freedom in choosing roles, but for pay that's way below their male peers, as emails leaked through the 2014 Sony hack illustrated. And there's still a statistically sorry chance that these performers will ever work with a female director.

This past May, the ACLU brought a ray of hope to women wanting more out of Hollywood with word that its 2015 report on gender disparity in the industry is being followed up by a federal investigation into hiring practices. With this development, the choice of focus for this year's summer film series at the Wexner Center feels perfectly timed.

Starting Thursday, July 7 and running through late August, "Don't Call Me Honey: Fierce Women of Film" presents 19 cinematic examples of women wearing their badassery on their sleeves. The selections range from films made by some of the earliest women directors to modern, female-fronted blockbusters in the action and comedy genres.

"Years ago we did a series called 'Cool Guys,' and ever since we've thought it would be interesting to do a female version," explained Dave Filipi, director of film/video at the Wex and co-curator of the series. "I started bouncing the idea around again. At the same time, I was on [filmmaker] Jennifer Reeder's Facebook page for her feminist book club Tracers and I was struck by how often the word 'fierce' was used to describe actions and types of people.The idea kind of came together then. Exploring what 'fierce' meant became the guiding principle."

As a feminist-sympathizing guy, Filipi realized it wouldn't be right to curate the series on his own, so he connected with women he'd worked with in the past to flesh it out. They included OSU faculty such as filmmaker Vera Brunner-Sung and artist Laura Larson, as well as California-based artist-curator Astria Suparak and artist-activist April Martin.

They were asked to create a list of films that embodied each curator's concept of the word "fierce." From there, an effort was made to represent a multitude of cultures and points of view, to emphasize work by women directors and to show the legacy of fine work made by women throughout cinema history.

"Right until the end, members of the panel were suggesting other films, pushing for one film over another," Filipi said. "It's obviously not an exhaustive series, but in a way it became more interesting by trying to narrow it down to the slots available. That really refined the final series."

While it may not be exhaustive, "Don't Call Me Honey" is a primer on women in film that lives up to the fierceness of its title.

The series opener, Chantal Akerman's "Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles," is a newly restored, rarely screened masterpiece of slow-burn realism that isn't without a kick to the audience's gut. Friday, July 8 brings "North Country," an underseen drama by New Zealander Niki Caro ("Whale Rider") in which Charlize Theron's mineworker takes on a culture of harassment. On Saturday, the Wex's screen will be filled by an icon of women's empowerment, Sigourney Weaver's Ripley, in the director's cut of "Aliens."

Other program highlights include a restored print of Lizzie Borden's sci-fi feminist manifesto "Born in Flames," a double feature spotlighting blaxploitation queen Pam Grier, nerve-racking single-mother-in-peril thriller "The Babadook" and "I Will Follow," the first narrative feature by "Selma" director Ava DuVernay. Additionally, the series will screen a double feature of films directed by early trailblazer Dorothy Arzner and Ida Lupino, the first Hollywood actress to make the move into directing.

Along with the features scheduled for the Film/Video Theater, a complementary program of two experimental videos has been curated for The Box by Jennifer Lange of the Wex's Film/Video Studio Program. Appropriately, filmmaker and Tracers lead Jennifer Reeder kicks this off with her 1996 work "The Devil Inside," a short, nasty, deliciously attitude-heavy spin on the superhero origin story. It screens throughout July, followed in August by Dara Birnbaum's hypnotic looping video of a spinning TV superhero, "Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman."

"Don't Call Me Honey:

Fierce Women of Film"

Wexner Center

for the Arts

July 7-Aug. 27

1871 N. High St., Campus