As pressure mounts for greater gender representation in front of and behind the camera in Hollywood, it’s vital to remember the cinematic legacy of industry figures like Nora Ephron.
Director and writer of films like When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, and Julie & Julia, Ephron’s impressive career paved the way for the likes of Lena Dunham, Diablo Cody, and Mindy Kaling. Now, just over four years after her death, Blank on Blank has reimagined one of Ephron’s lost interviews with WFMT’s Studs Terkel in the form of a lively animated video now available on YouTube.
Several years before Ephron’s Silkwood screenplay was turned into her first theatrical motion picture, she became a defining voice of feminism thanks to several personal essays written for publications like the New York Post and New York Magazine. It was her 1972 Esquire piece on developing a lifelong obsession with the smallness of her chest, A Few Words About Breasts, however, that helped cement her place amid the growing women’s movement.
A Few Words About Breasts was later published in 1975 as part of a collection of essays, titled Crazy Salad, and Terkel’s interview focuses on Ephron’s career as a female writer working in a male-dominated industry, one in which she urges women to “be the heroine” of their own lives, “not the victim.”
First, Ephron shares her thoughts on objective journalism, which she says she doesn’t believe in, as all writers make conscious, subjective decisions about the things they want to cover and how they want to cover them.
“For someone like me who was sympathetic to the women’s movement and was trying to cover it as a journalist, it always seemed that if I wrote the truth about the movement it would somehow hurt it,” she said. “If you write that the women spent the Democratic convention squabbling among themselves, aren’t you giving people who want to put it down, the ability to say ‘Oh, those women, you give them a little power and they just behave like cats and dogs toward each other.’”
Ahead of recounting incidences of gender discrimination (she says she was once refused service at a bar because she wasn’t accompanied by a man), Ephron also discusses her views on how women interacted with each other amid the movement for equality throughout the 1970s.
“What this movement is about is choice… I don’t want every woman to go out and get a job if she doesn’t want to. She can do exactly what she feels, but deep down, I think there’s the sneaking feeling that I really believe that if everyone really got it together, the choice they would make is the one that I made,” she says of her decision to forge a successful career. “I think that’s true for a lot of women in the movement, and it’s the reason why we have so much trouble talking to one another. We say that, but we don’t really mean it.”
Ephron also criticizes society’s emphasis on beauty, admitting it’s a difficult construct for her to identify with. “I do think there is an implicit message in cosmetics that you don’t look good enough yourself… There’s a book I reviewed by Alix Kates Shulman called Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen. The entire novel is about how difficult, how absolutely abysmally difficult it is to be beautiful. Well, you know I can’t get into it. I don’t believe it because I was not beautiful and I don’t believe for a second that she wishes she weren’t. She’s trying to tell me something that will make me say, ‘Oh yes, I recognize your pain,’ and I don’t.”
Toward the end of the interview, Terkel says, “You are a young woman, a gifted writer. The year is the latter third of the 20th century. Being a woman right now, I imagine, is a very exciting moment.”
Without missing a beat, Ephron responds. “Yes, it is. It’s terrific. Absolutely terrific, don’t you wish you were one?… It’s okay being a woman now. I like it. Try it sometime.”
Check out Blank on Blank’s animated retelling of Ephron’s lost interview in the video above.