I wrote yesterday about some of the women who inspire me and COMPLETELY forgot to mention Hilary Swank. Despite her Oscar win, I think she’s a highly underrated actress. I love her work and admire her willingness to take daring roles that challenger her as an artist. I think she’s a force to be reckoned with as evidenced not only by her ability to act but to challenge her audience in a way that makes some feel that they must take petty pot-shots at her appearance.
I think the first time I saw Hilary in anything was in the 1992 film, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She plays one of Kristy Swanson’s dopey cheer-friends. She didn’t leave too much of a lasting impression on me at the time but looking back I’d have to say her comedic presence added nicely to the film.
The next movie that stands out for me is Next Karate Kid. While I don’t think any of the sequels quite live up to the original, Swank played an awesome misfit and I couldn’t resist the scene with the monks dancing to The Cranberries.
Swank acted in mostly TV roles until 1999 when she gave her Oscar-winning performance in the drama, Boys Don’t Cry. She and Chloe Sevigny stole my heart in this movie. Hilary demonstrated her ability to completely inhabit a character, playing Brandon Teena, a charming young teenager who is murdered by a bigoted acquaintance.
The next year, I saw her in a secondary, yet equally compelling role in The Gift, starring Cate Blanchett as a woman with psychic gifts who gets caught in the middle of a murder mystery. Swank went on to star as Alice Paul in one of my favorite movies, Iron Jawed Angels about the women’s suffrage movement in the US. While she played more vulnerable characters in the two aforementioned films, she filled the shoes of one of the strongest women in US history, no problem.
Continuing her role as a strong woman, Swank starred in Clint Eastwood’s boxing drama, Million Dollar Baby. While I can’t stand Eastwood’s surly cowboy persona, Swank delivers as a struggling fighter with an unbreakable spirit.
I’m a sucker for movies about teachers who go above and beyond to help their students beat the odds. Swank appears as another real-life, inspiring lady in Freedom Writers, the story of an idealistic woman who lands a job as a teacher in a school with a primarily Latino and black student body, most of whom come from poor and working-class families. I can only take “white savior” stories in moderation but I love education so much I could watch this movie again and again.
I was inspired to write this post after watching Swank in Amelia, today. I was reminded how absolutely fabulous she is as an actress and how much I look up to her as an artist.
While not one of my favorite movies of hers, I feel her role in The Homesman is worth mentioning because she does such a great job in it. It’s an interesting movie to watch about a woman (Swank) who transports a group of suffering frontierswomen thousands of miles by wagon to a place where they can be rehabilitated. She’s aided by Tommy Lee Jones, a local con-man, with whom she develops a rather awkward relationship. Kind of a tough watch but definitely demonstrable of her acting ability.
The final movie I’ll mention came out only a couple of years ago and it’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen on Netflix. In You’re Not You, Swank plays a classical pianist who has ALS. Needless to say, the character’s world is turned upside down by the degenerative disease but it’s her relationship with her free-spirited caretaker that makes this story so movingto me. I’ve worked with people with disabilities for years and have learned a lot from them about respect, dignity and what it means to be human.
So I’ll end by saying
Dear Ms. Swank,
Thank you for being you, a woman of integrity and incredible talent. Thanks also for taking risks and occupying roles of substance for me and women everywhere. You give us something to believe in.