‘The Women’ Revisited: 1939’s All-Female Event Film Feels Like the Precursor to ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Crazy Rich Asians’
Posted on Wednesday, June 26th, 2019 by Jessica Mason
(Welcome to 1939: Revisited, a column dedicated to taking a look back at some of the films of one of the most highly-praised years in film history and explaining why they still matter today. In this entry: The Women feels reminiscent of modern blockbusters that focus on groups that don’t often get to dominate the screen.)
In our first installment of this series, we took a deeper look at one of, if not the most iconic motion pictures of all time, The Wizard of Oz. Nowadays, Oz is the defining film of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios and their images are so entwined that the old MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas is basically a Wizard of Oz homage, with it’s emerald walls and towering gold lions. But 80 years ago, Oz was just one of dozens of films released by MGM in ’39 that helped contribute to the studio’s continued domination of the box office. It wasn’t the crown jewel. If any film made in-house by MGM were to take that title, it would be one that debuted just a week after Dorothy went over the rainbow: The Women.
Many modern audiences may not have heard of this film, but its elements and success are highly instructive to things that are still happening in cinema today. It was promoted and propelled by what we’d now call inclusion as a gimmick: a movie showing only females, down to the pets and paintings. Even so, it was a huge, if isolated, step forward for representation. Textually, it’s still all about women’s relationships with men, even if they’re not seen. But in a broader sense, it’s about how women were used, seen and portrayed – and the ways Hollywood, MGM and the world were changing.