Movie stars establish themselves as brands--and Taylor's brand, in its most memorable outings, has repeatedly introduced a broad audience to feminist ideas. In her breakout film, "National Velvet" (1944), Taylor's character challenges gender discrimination: Forbidden as a girl to ride her beloved horse in an important race, she poses as a male jockey.Read more...
Movie stars establish themselves as brands--and Taylor's brand, in its most memorable outings, has repeatedly introduced a broad audience to feminist ideas. In her breakout film, "National Velvet" (1944), Taylor's character challenges gender discrimination: Forbidden as a girl to ride her beloved horse in an important race, she poses as a male jockey. Her next milestone, "A Place in the Sun" (1951), can be seen as an abortion rights movie--a cautionary tale from a time before women had ready access to birth control. In "Butterfield 8" (1960), for which she won an Oscar, Taylor isn't censured because she's a prostitute, but because she chooses the men: she controls her sexuality, a core tenet of the third-wave feminism that emerged in the 1990s. Even "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966) depicts the anguish that befalls a woman when the only way she can express herself is through her husband's stalled career and children.
The legendary actress has lived her life defiantly in public--undermining post-war reactionary sex roles, helping directors thwart the Hollywood Production Code, which censored film content between 1934 and 1967. Defying death threats she spearheaded fundraising for AIDS research in the first years of the epidemic, and has championed the rights of people to love whom they love, regardless of gender. Yet her powerful feminist impact has been hidden in plain sight. Drawing on unpublished letters and scripts as well as interviews with Kate Burton, Gore Vidal, Austin Pendleton, Kevin McCarthy, Liz Smith, and others, "The Accidental Feminist "will surprise Taylor and film fans with its originality and will add a startling dimension to the star's enduring mystique.
- ISBN-13: 9780802716699
- ISBN-10: 0802716695
- Publisher: Walker Books
- Publish Date: January 2012
- Page Count: 224
- Reading Level: Ages 0-5
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-10-31
- Reviewer: Staff
Elizabeth Taylor is synonymous with “icon” both on and off the screen, but culture historian Lord’s (Forever Barbie) analysis of her film persona viewed through the lens of feminism is shaky at best. Lord alternates between rehashing biographical details of Taylor’s life—from her upbringing as a child star under strict control of her mother to her multiple marriages and lifelong friendships among the Hollywood elite—and surface-level film theory. She admits that the actress might not be synonymous with feminism in viewers’ minds, but argues that “the Taylor brand deserves credit for its under-the-radar challenge to traditional attitudes,” using films such as National Velvet (1944), A Place in the Sun (1951), Giant (1956), Butterfield 8 (1960), and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) to illustrate her point. But while Lord makes a convincing case that many of Taylor’s best-known roles do go against the grain of prescribed attitudes toward women in studio era Hollywood and beyond—for example, Taylor’s Leslie Benedict in Giant is a mouthpiece for social justice and Gloria, the call-girl she plays in Butterfield 8, is in control of her own sexuality—ascribing that feminist bent to Taylor’s onscreen persona as a whole is much murkier. Perhaps it’s Elizabeth Taylor’s status as a Hollywood legend, but Lord has bitten off more than she can chew, rather than narrowing her focus to a few films that could substantiate her point. (Feb.)