|Jodie Foster at last year's Golden Globes|
Written by Robin Hitchcock.
This weekend at the Golden Globes, Jodie Foster will be honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Award to honor her lifetime achievement in cinema. At age 50, Jodie Foster is the fourth-youngest recipient of the award, but having started acting at only three years old, her career spans as long as many more senior actors, directors, and producers.
For many, Jodie Foster represents the ideal model for transitioning from child acting to an adult career. She's also known for being one of the most private people in Hollywood, despite her nearly lifelong stardom and such high profile incidents as her stalker John Hinckley shooting President Reagan in 1981. Jodie Foster is the first "openly gay" woman to receive of the Cecil B. DeMille Award, but she has almost never publicly commented on her sexuality. She "came out" in a 2007 when she thanked then-partner Cydney Bernard while accepting an award. Foster still generally refuses to answer questions about her relationships and other aspects of her personal life, and in so doing has, against the odds, cultivated genuine movie stardom without the trappings of celebrity. This is a rare feat for anyone in Hollywood and even more unusual for a woman.
And there can be no doubt this has made a direct contribution to Foster's ability to practice her craft; the piece she authored for The Daily Beast responding to the tabloid spectacle surrounding (her Panic Room co-star) Kristen Stewart's affair with director Rupert Sanders asserts, "if I were a young actor today I would quit before I started. If I had to grow up in this media culture, I don’t think I could survive it emotionally." Foster elaborates:
|Foster's priceless response to Ricky Gervais' jokes about her sexuality at last year's Globes|
Acting is all about communicating vulnerability, allowing the truth inside yourself to shine through regardless of whether it looks foolish or shameful. To open and give yourself completely. It is an act of freedom, love, connection. Actors long to be known in the deepest way for their subtleties of character, for their imperfections, their complexities, their instincts, their willingness to fall. The more fearless you are, the more truthful the performance. How can you do that if you know you will be personally judged, skewered, betrayed?
Jodie Foster has built her career on her ability to communicate vulnerability without diminishing her dignity, a compelling balance she is able to bring to her characters partially because her talent is not eclipsed by her celebrity.
|Jodie Foster in The Accused|
A recurring thread in Foster's films is the issue of credibility: her characters often have to fight to have their voices heard and stories believed, and/or to be afforded the authority and status that they rightfully deserve. In The Accused, the first film for which Jodie Foster won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Actress, Foster plays Sarah Tobias, a victim of a brutal gang rape. The prosecuting attorney Kathryn Murphy (Kelly McGillis) makes a plea bargain deal with the perpetrators in part because she thinks Sarah makes a poor witness for a trial because she has a reputation for promiscuity and uses drugs and alcohol. Sarah has to continually reassert that she is worthy of justice and deserving of being heard, even to her ally Murphy. Ultimately, Sarah is given the platform to tell her story in the court and help secure some measure of justice toward those who assaulted her.
|Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs|
Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs, perhaps Foster's most celebrated role, is largely defined by her ability to command respect from a world that seems hell-bent on denying her equal status (as is astutely analyzed in this post by Jeff Vordham that previously appeared on Bitch Flicks.) Hannibal Lecter at first dismisses Clarice as a "rube," but she wins his respect by forthrightly communicating with him through his constant attempts to play status games with her.
Like Clarice Starling, Ellie Arroway, Jodie Foster's character in Contact, is not taken as seriously by her peers and colleagues despite her merit. Arroway has to passionately fight to keep funding for her search for extraterrestrial communications. Even after the value of her research is proven by her discovery of a message from outer space, she is kept on the periphery of the (largely white and male) "in-crowd" that responds to this development. In the film's final act, Arroway's experience travelling through a wormhole and speaking with a representative of the alien species who sent the message is officially disavowed due to lack of evidence, although it is clear most of the characters trust the veracity of her account. Again, Jodie Foster's gift for credibility connects the audience to her character's struggle to be accepted and believed.
|Jodie Foster fights to be believed in Flightplan|
This recurring theme of asserting one's credibility and value in the face of denial and dismissal is a fundamentally feminist motif. When she appeared on Inside the Actors Studio, Jodie Foster discussed her role in Flightplan, which also hinges on her character's questioned credibility. The character was originally written for a man to play, and when Foster lobbied for the role she specifically noted that this conflict is inherently female: "‘There’s a point in the film where she is so bereft that she has to consider that she’s lost her mind... Well that’s a scene a man could never play. A man in a crisis like this wouldn’t question his sanity, he’d question someone else’s.”
Jodie Foster understands that as women, each of her character's credibility is considered inherently questionable by a sexist society. In film after film, Foster infuses her characters with an authority that silences those doubts. And as such, watching Jodie Foster's characters is often immensely satisfying to the feminist viewer. It's fantastic to see the Hollywood Foreign Press honor her remarkable career with the Cecil B. DeMille award. Congratulations, Jodie.