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‘I Am Woman’ Is a Beautiful, Authentic Story About Fame, Love, and Motherhood

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Before I watched I Am Woman, a new movie out September 11, I didn't know much about Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Helen Reddy. I thought her hit song “I Am Woman”—the unofficial anthem of the women's movement in the 1970s—was actually kind of cheesy. And even though I'm a proud feminist, I didn't feel like watching what…
‘I Am Woman’ Is a Beautiful, Authentic Story About Fame, Love, and Motherhood

Before I watched I Am Woman, a new movie out September 11, I didn’t know much about Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Helen Reddy. I thought her hit song “I Am Woman”—the unofficial anthem of the women’s movement in the 1970s—was actually kind of cheesy. And even though I’m a proud feminist, I didn’t feel like watching what I thought would be an oral history of women’s rights when we’re fighting many of these same battles today.I’m happy to say I was wrong.I’ve now watched I Am Woman twice and am stunned that someone didn’t make a movie about Reddy sooner. It’s the kind of biopic that makes you want to google the heck out of the Australian icon by the time it’s over. And every time I hear Tilda Cobham-Hervey—who gives an incredible performance as Reddy—belt out “I Am Woman,” I get chills. (This was not a fluke; it happened during the second time I watched too.) Furthermore, the movie, directed by Unjoo Moon, is a poignant and captivating look at marriage, motherhood, career, and friendship (not to mention fantastic fashion and decor from the time period). If anything, I appreciate the fight for equality even more now after watching the film. And it’s why every woman—and man—needs to see it. The movie begins in 1966, when single mother Helen Reddy (Cobham-Hervey) leaves her home in Australia, hoping to find success in the music industry in New York. With her adorable, young daughter in tow, she’s made meticulous plans to give herself the best chance at success, but label executives brush her off. What follows is a nuanced story about confidence, stardom, love, the patriarchy, and the pitfalls of fame that even the most experienced artists face. “I worked on this for over seven years,” Moon tells by phone from Australia, “and at the heart of the film is a love story—the relationship between Helen and Jeff (American Horror Story‘s Evan Peters) and the incredible things they did as a team.” Moon says it’s that reason that she’s had as many men reach out after seeing the film as women. “It’s not just a story about a woman’s journey,” she says. “It’s a story about all our journeys.”Lisa TomasettiThanks to actual footage from the women’s movement in the ’70s—which is so timely it’s eerie—the film takes on added significance. Says Moon, “Using real footage from that time not only brings out emotions in people, but it lands Helen’s story in the greater context of what’s happening in the world. We as women stand on the shoulders of the decisions that have been made before us, so I hope young women are inspired to learn more about what happened then and why it’s important to make thoughtful changes now.”It’s also why casting the right person to channel Reddy’s talent, spirit, and fierceness was essential. Moon says she and the producing team searched five countries for the right actor, and interestingly, Cobham-Hervey (best known for playing Nanny Sally in Hotel Mumbai) wasn’t even on the initial casting list. Once Moon saw a photo of Cobham-Hervey, she immediately noticed the resemblance to Reddy, but it wasn’t until they met that Moon knew she had found the perfect person for the role. “Tilda has a similar background to Helen,” Moon says. “She grew up with parents who were performers and in the industry, so she had a showbiz life like Helen. She had also just gone through the process of moving to L.A. [from her native Australia] and was pursuing her own dreams, so there were so many parallels.”Danielle Macdonald, here with Tilda Cobham-Hervey, plays Helen’s good friend and legendary rock journalist Lillian Roxon.
Lisa TomasettiBut similarities aside, stepping into the role was terrifying for Cobham-Hervey, who had months of voice classes, breathing lessons, singing lessons, and movement classes to play Reddy. “I went down this massive YouTube hole of watching all of Helen’s performances and then reading everything I could about her,” Cobham-Hervey tells me. “I got the role when I was 22 years old and living in Adelaide. Here I was getting asked to play this international superstar and it felt absurd.”She continues, “It’s a huge responsibility, but also very exciting too. I think I almost fell too in love with Helen. She became my hero because she made me question my experience as a female artist and as a woman, and how I want to find my voice and speak my mind. I’m incredibly grateful for that.”As for Cobham-Hervey’s singing voice in the film, the actor says she sang live on the days they filmed, but singer Chelsea Collins then sang over Cobham-Hervey’s performances to get Helen’s voice exactly right. “I wish I could say it was [all] mine,” Cobham-Hervey says, “but Chelsea is a gorgeous, amazing artist, so it was sort of an amalgamation of both our voices.”Cobham-Hervey had 73 costume changes in I Am Woman
Lisa TomasettiThe attention to detail, from the vocals to the fashion to the historical references, make I Am Woman one of those rare uplifting movies worth watching more than once. It reminds you just how far women have come—and haven’t—and why we must keep fighting. “At the end of the film, we talk about the Equal Rights Amendment, and that is an amendment that has still not been passed,” Cobham-Hervey says. “You think, Wow, how crazy some of the things that women had to deal with at that time—like women couldn’t have a bank card with their name on it—but there’s still a lot more work to be done.”Moon seconds that. “It has to be an entertaining movie if the message is going to have any impact,” she says. “First and foremost, it’s the story of an entertainer. But what I think we’ve managed to do is imbue it with really great messages. In the end, I hope people are inspired to make a bigger change for themselves or the world.”I Am Woman is available now on demand. Jessica Radloff is the Glamour West Coast editor. You can follow her on Instagram @jessicaradloff14 or on Twitter @JRadloff.Read More

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