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Women Talking is nominated for two Academy Awards this weekend, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.Michael Gibson/The Canadian Press

This is the weekly Amplify newsletter, where you can be inspired and challenged by the voices, opinions and insights of women at The Globe and Mail.

Marsha Lederman is a columnist at The Globe and Mail.

Women in a remote colony in Bolivia – named the Manitoba Colony, after the Canadian province from where the colonists had emigrated – were being drugged with cow tranquillizer while sleeping, and raped in their beds. The assailants were the men of the colony – even family members. The women would wake in the morning bruised and bloodied. Sometimes, pregnant.

The women were told by the colony’s elders – men – that these were Satanic attacks by demons, ghosts – punishment. Or that the women were mistaken, imagining it. That it was an act of wild female imagination.

A deep, dark gaslighting.

Two great Canadian women have taken these real-life misogynistic horrors and turned them into extraordinary works of art.

In 2018, Miriam Toews published a novel inspired by these events, which took place between 2005 and 2009. She began Women Talking with a note to the reader, explaining briefly what had happened. “Women Talking is both a reaction through fiction to these true-life events,” she wrote, “and an act of female imagination.”

Sarah Polley took Toews’s work of fiction based on this true story and adapted it for film as both its director and screenwriter. Minutes in, after a powerful opening sequence, Polley gives us these words: “What follows is an act of female imagination.”

It was the first of many times I got goosebumps watching Women Talking, which is nominated for two Academy Awards this weekend, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.

That is a huge achievement. But insufficient recognition.

Every now and then you see a film that digs into you and stays there, long after you leave the theatre (or put the iPad away). For hours, days. Months.

The first time I saw Women Talking was at a media screening in December, and I sat, transfixed, until the very end of the credit roll. Even then I was reluctant to get out of my seat and leave that world. All I wanted to do was talk about it. But I was alone, and the film hadn’t been released yet.

When you see a piece of art that is so exquisite and original that you feel changed afterward, you want to talk about it. And cheerlead for it.

The morning the Oscar nominations were announced, I was incensed that Polley was not nominated for Best Director – a category that shockingly (or maybe not) has only men in competition this year. Where is Polley? Where is Gina Prince-Bythewood, who directed The Woman King? The #MeToo film She Said, which is terrific, was shut out altogether; zero nominations. The patriarchy ensues.

Leading up to the Oscars, Women Talking has received many accolades, including the Independent Spirit Robert Altman Award. (At the SAG Awards, Mark Wahlberg, reading out the nominated films, flubbed the title and called it “Women are Talking.”)

It is so great to see a film about a society where women have no power be made in a way where women have all the power and used it to create a more humane filmmaking process.

Many stories about the making of this film focus on Polley’s approach. She’s been commended by her cast and producers.

The hours were reasonable. There was a therapist onset. If someone was having trouble – and with this traumatic material, it happened – cast and crew took breaks.

Collaboration was not just encouraged, but critical, Polley said in an interview with Globe contributor Johanna Schneller last September. “It’s a feminist process,” she said. “I don’t have to act like all the dudes I hated working with.”

I rewatched the film this week and was transfixed once again. But every now and then the experience was interrupted by my rage that not a single one of these superb actors was recognized with an Oscar nomination. Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy. Sheila McCarthy! These are among the best performances you will ever see.

It is extraordinary that the film was nominated for Best Picture. It won’t win (if it does, I’ll happily eat my bonnet), but Polley deserves the adapted screenplay Oscar. If she gets beaten by a testosterone-fest like Top Gun: Maverick, so help me, I’ll be tempted to force someone else to eat their bonnet. Or flight helmet.

In a recent Vanity Fair interview, Polley talked about encounters she has had with customs agents – always men – as she frequently enters the U.S. to promote the film. When she explains her reason for visiting, the officer will ask for the movie’s title. Her answer, “Women Talking,” elicits a similar response, repeatedly. “Cue the eye rolls, the ‘I don’t need any more of that in my life’ groans,” Polley recounted.

We have come a long way, baby. But at the Oscars, and too many other places, not far enough.

What else we’re thinking about:

In my circles, many women of a certain age have been reading and discussing the recent New York Times Magazine piece “Women Have Been Misled About Menopause.” The article states that for women enduring the effects of menopause, such as hot flashes and sleeplessness, there is an established treatment available. “Why aren’t more women offered it?” it asks. Good question.

A Globe and Mail piece this week looks at the mainstreaming of menopause, with women including Michelle Obama and Pamela Anderson being open about their experiences. There’s also a new generation of products aimed at the menopausal market. “That cultural shift is a long time coming,” writes Fiorella Valdesolo.

It’s good to see that women are talking about this.


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Marianne Kushmaniuk for The Globe and Mail

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