‘Big Eyes’: Hidden Histories

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Women’s stories are just beginning to come to light in film beyond chick flicks and romances. Tim Burton’s latest feature goes a step beyond drama, even, depicting the true story of a talented woman who was taken advantage of by a thieving conman (who she married). ‘Big Eyes’ unmasks an awful trend in history, one which says so much about the way things were for women for so long. It takes the woman’s perspective and tells a story about actual triumph.

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The film is about artist Margaret Keane (played with extraordinary empathy by Amy Adams), whose “big eyed” portraits of children became very popular in the 1960’s, earning a fortune. Unfortunately, the fortune was not in her name, but in her husband’s (played by expert film maniac Christoph Waltz), as he talked her into selling the art as though it was his. Believing that the work would make more money if it was from a male artist, Margaret reluctantly agreed to take part in the lie. The film shows how living one important lie leads to living many lies. Margaret eventually proved in court that the work was her’s and retained full rights to it all.

Still, it is tragic that this ownership of art, scholarship and effort was taken all to frequently by men who, on the one hand generally helped women gain access to resources that wouldn’t have normally been possible, but on the other abused their power. Without access to libraries, classes, school degrees, independent income, or bank accounts, women had little hold on the material world they lived in for most of recorded history.

For Margaret Keane, speaking the truth and gaining credit for her work set her free, but countless other women in history have chosen to remain quiet due to a sense of duty to authority and the place in society. The accomplishments of these suppressed histories of women are traditionally supposed to be part of a private world, like women in the Hasidic tradition who may only sing in the presence of other women and their husbands and family: private pleasures, skills that may only be praised by the ones who own their bodies or who are no threat to the man who does. This story and many more that are emerging stand as a foundation for the parts of history women have influenced and we must honor them and include them in history as we move forward into a new era of equal rights.

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Keane shirked her responsibility to what was proper and devoted herself to her work, as many women do around the world today. She lived by her heart and had purpose , which eventually won over a jury and got her her artwork back. But how many stories of women will we never know? How many women are hiding in the bushes, too afraid to lose love by being honest about their creation? With groups like @ProjectContinua and the @SuppressedHistoriesArchive , we are making progress resurrecting these lost women, but there are -fortunately- many who need to be recovered, still! Lend support to the women’s history project of your choice!

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