-- Academy Award Winner, Matt Damon
Last week I had the honor of being a presenter for the 20/20 Awards –a ceremony held in Seattle that annually revisits the Academy Awards, using the advantage of 20 years of hindsight to re-evaluate the choices made two decades earlier.
Now in its second year, the ceremony has consistently stripped previous Academy Award winners while also donning new awards to some films that weren’t even nominated 20 years earlier. I loved the concept when I first heard about it from my friend and 20/20 founder Kris Kristensen, but then became a complete convert last year when the award for Best Documentary was given by 20/20 to Michael Moore’s “Roger & Me”—a film that wasn’t even nominated by the Academy in 1990 yet completely changed the landscape of documentary filmmaking from that date onward.
So last week, I got the opportunity to present the 20/20 award for Best Foreign Language Film. And again, the 20/20 voting syndicate stripped the original winner of this award (Journey of Hope—ever heard of it?) in favor of the French film La Femme Nikita.
La Femme Nikita wasn’t even nominated in this category 20 years ago, yet it not only has endured as a stylish piece of cinema but it opened the door for a new genre of the female action hero.
I loved this film when it came out in 1990. In 20/20 hindsight of my own life path, this film not only inspired me to launch a career committed to women being represented in the media both in front of and behind the camera (Yay Reel Grrls!) but also inspired my 20+ year training in the martial arts.
However, the film critics hated Nikita. The LA Times called it “An ultra-violent imitation of an American high tech urban thriller.” Entertainment Weekly called it “The Terminator re-imagined by French Vogue.”
While La Femme Nikita is a violent film (it is secret agent thriller after all) I believe that the real criticism was fueled by critics and audiences not being used to seeing women exercise power in the action genre in a very raw and unapologetic way. Nikita was no Charlie’s Angel—she was scrappy, tough and morally ambiguous. She was punk. Nothing like the saccharin, botoxed male-fantasy female action heroes that have been spawned by Hollywood since then. In the same way that the music industry has tried to co-opt strong women musicians, indie grrl bands like Sleater Kinney blazed a trail that can’t be commodified. Punk in sheep’s clothing doesn’t fly. Hollywood may say it likes “Bad Girls” but really it likes “Good Girls” who wear spandex.
In accepting the 20/20 Award for La Femme Nikita last week I assert that Nikita had something 20 years ago that hit a nerve and it hasn’t been seen since. Final take-away? Nikita could kick Lara Croft’s ass. Kudos to 20/20 for finally giving the icon Nikita the spotlight she deserves.