Uma Thurman on gender and the future of feminism

Written by Gaby Becker, CNN

When Uma Thurman crossed paths with acclaimed British designer Hubert de Givenchy — also known as Hubert de Givenchy — in Paris in 1964, she had no idea he would become a national hero for the evolution of female power dressing.

More than half a century later, when Thurman walks on set as Ethel in “The Beguiled,” she is being awarded a similarly grand title: “American Queen of the Village.”

According to the film’s star, she didn’t ask for the role. Thurman accepted simply because producer Kimberly Steward invited her to read for the part.

US actress Uma Thurman, known for her roles in “Kill Bill” and “Pulp Fiction,” during the film ‘The Beach’ in 2000. Credit: Copyright Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair

“I am not a queen and I never dreamt that I would be in any sense,” Thurman told reporters recently in San Francisco while promoting the film. “But I want to know who the queen is and who the duke was.”

Credit: Chloe Dao

For “The Beguiled,” she inhabits a character similar to that in “Lady Bird,” which won the Best Picture Oscar in 2017. Thurman plays a young woman who teams up with an idealistic naive woman played by Nicole Kidman to look after the children of a wounded Union Army soldier — played by Colin Farrell — who they take into their safe haven at a Southern school. It’s an opportunity for many (at least on the surface) good times. However, moments of serenity are interrupted by frightening events. The violence starts with the arrival of Farrell’s character and a group of Southern women with ties to the Confederacy, and it escalates with bloody climaxes before finally ending in a gallows.

“The Beguiled” is not just about the well-brought-on violence, which is graphically depicted. The film follows a feminist narrative like few other movies in recent memory.

Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, the screenplay is credited to the script’s co-writers Nicole Holofcener and Dario Marianelli, who previously teamed for “The Lovely Bones” and “Atonement.” Coppola said she wanted to make the film “much more than a female-feminist movie,” but also “a Rosetta Stone for how you listen to women and how women are taught how to talk about men. It was important for me to fight against that aspect.”

And fight she did. There is no levity in the lead role of Farrell’s troubled soldier, just a measured intensity that allows one to imagine Thurman’s role in a later era was pitched as anything but an American queen.

“I don’t think it is appropriate to have American royalty in a world where it is impossible to have equal rights and privileges, where many women are trapped in marriages,” said Thurman. “I think we should have learned a lesson. You can’t just sing about peace and love, and then you have to feed them the bullets.”

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