#WCW: Taking Charge of Our Narratives with Greta Gerwig
For all the times we’ve felt hesitant to tell our stories, Greta Gerwig is there encouraging us to speak up, and raise our voices while we’re at it.
With her film Lady Bird raking in five Academy Award nominations (including one for Best Director), it’s clear that Greta’s path towards success is paved in gold and will go on for miles. Despite growing as an artist in an industry saturated in narratives unlike her own, our #WCW has demonstrated the power in telling your own story on your own terms.
Read on to learn more about Greta and the importance of speaking your truth.
By: Emily Dinenberg
Greta grew up in Sacramento, California. She described her younger self as weird, competitive, intense, but happy.
As she told Dazed Magazine, “I was always living at a ten, emotionally.” It was this fiery passion that led her to begin a career in the arts at a young age.
In The Guardian, she explained, “It was scary with ballet – I would have gone to class for four hours a day, seven days a week, if I could have.”
Like Lady Bird’s protagonist, Gerwig attended an all girls catholic school. However, the congruence between her and Lady Bird ended there. “…I wasn’t a rebel. I never made anybody call me by a different name or dyed my hair bright red. I never challenged authority. I was a very rule-following kid,” she told The Washington Post.
The light in which Gerwig reflected the Catholic School experience serve as a testament to her knack for honest storytelling.
Tired of the common tropes associated with the Catholic school system, Gerwig’s interpretation showed a side less exciting, but all the more genuine.
“I encountered so many adults there who really impacted my life so positively” she explained.
“There were priests and nuns who were just compassionate and funny and empathetic and thoughtful, and they really engaged with the students as people, not figureheads. And that was also true of the lay people who were teachers…I wanted to do something that reflected more like the genuine guidance and interest and compassion I found in those people.”
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It was during high school that Greta found theater. She was determined to go to New York University to pursue a career in musical theater. After graduating, she attended Barnard University, and briefly considered becoming a lawyer. But her love a theater remained and she continued acting and writing in plays. “I didn’t really know I could write plays,” she told Dazed Magazine.
“I knew somebody had to write plays. But most of the writers I was reading were men … It wasn’t until college that a teacher said to me, ‘I think you’re a writer’. It had almost never occurred to me.”
After being rejected from M.F.A. programs, Greta began her career as an actress. She worked on indie films, including The House of the Devil, Greenberg, Damsels in Distress, and 20th Century Women.
It was in these roles that Gerwig’s attention to authenticity became even clearer.
During the research stage of France Ha, Gerwig and co-writer Noah Baumbach sought to evade the all too common trope of the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” This is a character created and lived through the male gaze. She has no purpose outside “saving” or “inspiring” a classically brooding male protagonist’s view on life. As Dazed Magazine’s Lily Pelly wrote,
“Gerwig and Baumbach’s characters evade the male gaze by practically writing romantic relationships out of storylines altogether. Instead, the bulk of their daily drama revolves around matters like friendship, living situations, securing jobs, authenticity, and other distinctly modern anxieties of 20-something women. They straddle the line between being fiercely independent and total loners. They are full of ambition, but also sort of lost. They also have so much life, glimmers of idealism, and hopefulness.”
In short, Francis Ha explored the life of women through the eyes of women.
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Despite not attending film school, Gerwig’s touch of reality can be partially attributed to her keen observancy.
“I think so much of who I am as a director is my experience as an actor and as a writer and producer and other things I’ve done” She told Slate.
“…I didn’t go to film school, so I learned on set and I tried to keep my ears and eyes open to what was going on around me and seek out mentors and people who would give me advice and tell me how they were lighting a shot and what were we doing exactly.”
In January of 2015, Greta checked herself into a bed and breakfast. She was intent on finishing the 350 pages of Lady Bird that she’d begun. A little over two years later, the film released, and the rest is history. After earning a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (the highest in history), it is now A24’s most financially successful films, making $28,306,445 in the United States alone.
Lady Bird’s success can not be argued.
As the New York Times Film Critic A.O. Scott said, “Lady Bird is big screen perfection…What Ms. Gerwig has done — and it’s by no means a small accomplishment — is to infuse one of the most convention-bound, rose-colored genres in American cinema with freshness and surprise.”
And, as many women feel, this fresh perspective was long overdue. “It wasn’t until I actually started writing Lady Bird that I thought, ‘Where’s this movie? Why hasn’t this one been made?’” says Gerwig to Variety. “John Hughes movies I love; they loom so large for me. But that’s not what it felt like, did it? That’s not what it is inside. I wanted to show what it was inside.”
In an industry dominated by the male perspective, it can be unimaginably difficult to obtain a female character deemed worthy of a protagonist role. Especially one written with all the real nuances experienced in growing as a woman.
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It is Greta’s determination to portray the unique variations of womanhood in her work that makes her our #WCW.
Rather than search for cinematic heroes in female characterizations, Greta serves as a prime example of becoming your own inspiration, and writing the story yourself. “I’m not just interested in female friendships, I’m just interested in all of the configurations of the ways women relate to each other,” Gerwig says.
“Peer to peer, older to younger, mothers and daughters, sisters, groups of women, professionally … In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf talks about how men can’t write about what women do alone because they’re not there. Men don’t know what they’re doing when they’re not around. They can extrapolate, but to me it feels like a secret world. That’s the world that I feel some ability to report back on.”
Greta has proven that the best stories are told from the eyes and mouths of those who’ve experienced them. Furthermore, we can and should take back the power in telling our own stories.
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This March at the 90th annual Academy Awards, Gerwig will enter as both a nominee and a record holder.
She is the first female director to be nominated for an Academy Award in eight years (after Academy Award Winner Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker in 2010). Additionally, she’ll be the fifth nominated female director in Academy history. “There are so many great films this year, and to be included among them as a woman means so much…” She told Entertainment.
“The women who have been filmmakers who are both my peers and the ones who have come before me have meant so much to me, and they’re the reason that I found the courage to do this…I just keep feeling like I want more female storytellers and I want it quite selfishly because I want to see their stories. I want to watch their movies.”
However, while she hopes her film strikes a chord of familiarity within her female audiences, she also hopes it inspires them in a different way. “I hope that there’s a 16-year-old girl watching them, saying, ‘She’s got it all wrong, I’ve gotta make my own!’” she said. “…I want more of my gender expressing what it means to them to be alive.”
The intersectionality of all of our lived experiences gives each of us a unique perspective and story all our own. Our #WCW has inspired us to shout them from the rooftops.
This March, we’re rooting for Greta Gerwig to make Academy Award history. But we love Greta because she’s been rooting for us and our voices from the very beginning.
Who inspires you to speak from your heart? Share with us in the comments!