The Review/Feature/

Wonder Women

From Precious to Princess Diana, our summer reading slate salutes film femmes who rise above

by David Davidson
Jun 27, 2017

Reel Reads spotlights the best film books and magazines currently on the shelves in TIFF Shop.

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This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare by Gabourey Sidibe

Of all the new celebrity memoirs published this summer — including such diverse items as Alec Baldwin’s Nevertheless, Charlotte Rampling’s Who I Am and Kevin Hart’s I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons — Gabourey Sidibe’s might be the most interesting, as the Oscar-nominated Precious actress’ early life experiences and challenges are not the ones normally associated with stardom. “Precious is a survivor, and I refuse to be anyone’s survivor because I prefer to think of myself as a winner,” says Sidibe of the difference between herself and her most famous character — and that winner’s mentality is all the more impressive considering the travails that the actress recounts in her charming, funny, and often touching book.

While there is of course much attention paid to the public high points of her life — including her meeting with Lee Daniels and starring in Precious (unfortunately there’s nothing here on her experiences working with the great Gregg Araki), as well as her encounter with Barack Obama (who declared “You’re the bomb, girl!”) — Sidibe also discusses the shaming that she has experienced due to her weight, her childhood in Harlem, frank discussions about sexuality and mental illness, social workers, hair, visiting relatives, her relationship to Senegal, dating, and her fashion anxieties at Sundance and Cannes (there’s a particularly funny story about posing on the red carpet next to Mariah Carey). There are also reflections on her favourite comedians and entertainers (including The Kids in the Hall, Lena Dunham, The Benny Hill Show and Beyoncé), some endearing stories about setting up her Twitter account, her work on such series as American Horror Story and Empire, and her directorial debut, the short film The Tale of Four.

As Patty Jenkins’ venture into the DC Extended Universe continues to set box-office records (and establish itself as the first DCEU film that people actually like), this handsome coffee-table book offers a lavish guided tour of the cut-above blockbuster’s concept art, sets, costumes, sketches and storyboards, as well as reflections and insights from the cast and crew.

This impressive little volume (a sequel of sorts to the publisher’s previous book Le cinema québécois par ceux qui le font) consists of seven interviews with women who work in the Québécois film industry — General Director of Québec Cinéma Ségolène Roederer; producer Nicole Robert (La guerre des tuques, Nelly); directors Chloé Robichaud (Sarah préfère la course), Izabel Grondin (Les oubliés), and Sophie Deraspe (Les loups); Isabelle Hayeur of the female filmmakers association Réalisatrices Équitables; and cinematographer Jessica Lee Gagné (Boris sans Béatrice) — all of whom are asked to reply to the question: “What is the role of women in Québécois cinema?”

Some of the topics and challenges addressed include the necessity of having women role models in the industry and the need to push oneself towards new territory and bigger projects; the importance of militant feminist cinema, such as Anne-Claire Poirier’s landmark film Mourir à tue-tête; the problems of being forced into a niche (Robichaud worries about being branded as a “lesbian filmmaker”); the dearth of substantial female roles in Québécois cinema, which has forced many Québécoise actresses to leave the province and seek out work elsewhere; and the fact that even though there are now more women in decision-making and producing positions, women are still underrepresented in creative roles. Tackling issues that are as relevant to Toronto and Canadian cinema generally as they are to that of Quebec, Le cinema québécois au féminin is an important contribution to the conversation about equity and representation in our nation’s film industry.


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