It seems strange that no-one has told Helen Reddy’s story on the big screen before. Sure, Reddy did write a book about her life titled, The Woman I Am, but to date, we haven’t had a film about this Australian singer-songwriter and Grammy-award winning artist.
Not only is Reddy one of the most successful performing artists ever to emerge from Australia, she’s also the person who co-wrote and sang the song that went on to become the anthem for the women’s movement in the 1970s – I Am Woman.
The new film about Reddy’s life is simply named after that iconic song – I Am Woman. Due for cinematic release earlier this year, due to COVID-19 the film has recently been premiered at cinemas and now it’s streaming on Stan.
Made by the producers of The Sapphires, I Am Woman was directed by Unjoo Moon and shot by Oscar-winning cinematographer Dion Beebe. Australian actor, Tilda Cobham-Hervey stars as Reddy and American actor, Evan Peters, stars as Reddy’s husband, Jeff Wald.
It’s an inspiring story because Reddy, who arrived in New York in 1966 with $230 in her pocket and her three-year-old daughter on her arm, went on to have incredible success as a singer in both the American market and then, worldwide.
It wasn’t long before she ran out of money but five years later, she was one of the biggest superstars of her time. She became an icon of the 1970s feminist movement by co-writing a song which galvanised a generation of women to fight for change.
Reddy traveled to America because she’d been told she’d won a recording contract, but when she goes to see the record company about it, she’s met with blatant sexism and a dismissal of her work as a female artist.
Without a visa, Reddy decides to stay in New York anyway and pursue a singing career, struggling to make ends meet and provide for her daughter. She befriends fellow Australian and legendary rock journalist, Lillian Roxon and later, it’s Roxon who inspires her to write and sing the iconic song, I Am Woman.
Roxon holds a party for her and it’s there Reddy meets Jeff Wald, a young aspiring talent manager who later becomes her agent and husband. Reddy’s story unfolds as she marries Wald and they move to LA so he can help her get the breaks she needs. But it’s not easy and Reddy has to persuade him to keep pushing her.
In the end, Wald helps her achieve her goals, but it’s not enough to save their marriage because he becomes addicted to cocaine and this gradually turns their relationship toxic.
Reddy’s iconic song, I Am Woman, was released at exactly the same time the Women’s Liberation Movement was at its initial peak. It became the perfect unofficial anthem and was a smash hit at the same time. Of course, the song upset some of the men who said it was “angry” or even “man-hating.”
Reddy sang many popular songs after this one but she didn’t write many more, which would seem to be a pity.
Filmed in Australia with help from Screen Australia
The film, I Am Woman, is a Goalpost Pictures production in association with Deep Blue Pacific. It had funding from Screen Australia, in association with WestEnd Films, Screen NSW, Adelaide Film Festival and South Australian Film Corporation.
At the film’s premiere in Sydney yesterday, Director, Unjoo Moon, and actor, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, were there after having spent two weeks in a hotel in quarantine. But Unjoo Moon said she was thrilled to be there and that despite COVID: “Audiences in Australia will finally get to see our film. During these tough times it’s deeply meaningful to me that the release of Helen Reddy’s inspirational story, I Am Woman, will kick off in Australia. Not only did Helen’s story begin in Australia but so did our journey of making this movie.”
Moon continued, saying her inspiration for the film came from her early years: “I remember so clearly, when I was a young girl growing up on the north shore here in Sydney. I wasn’t old enough to have been at a Helen Reddy concert but I remember what would happen when her music came on the radio. I’d be sitting in the back seat of the station wagon and the windows would get rolled down and everyone’s hair would come out – and I knew she just had this kind of impact on my mother and her friends,” said Moon.
This film is timely because it still has relevance today
Some reviewers have said this film about Reddy’s life is timely for 2020 because it gives us historical background to issues which are still relevant to feminist discussions today. While it appeals to a specific audience – those women who grew up with Reddy’s songs as background to their lives and their children – it is still interesting for younger women who may not know about these events.
For the women and their children who lived through the 1970s, watching Reddy sing her songs on the big screen would be a deeply personal and rewarding experience. For those who are younger and don’t know Reddy’s songs as well, it’s probably enough to learn about how these songs gave women inspiration for their feminist cause – and how Reddy will always hold a special place in their hearts for the role she played as a strong and successful woman.