Monday, November 15, 2010

Ladies I struck a blow for the working classes:* In Praise of Robyn Malcolm

I haven't watched Outrageous Fortune for three seasons. Last night I came in half way through the finale. And I cried.

The episode was well written, everyone did a fantastic job, but a good 75% of why that episode was so powerful was Robyn Malcolm's performance as Cheryl West.

Cheryl West has always been a part of a lifetime. She is what I think about when I wish there were more strong female characters** on TV. I may like watching women kill their rapists on TV - but I'd prefer more Cheryl Wests. Women whose lives are shaped sexism and misogyny, by capitalism - by the power relationships in our society, who face the struggle with agency and strength.

Robyn Malcolm portrays Cheryl with warmth, strength and passion. But that's not why I want to praise her today. She fronted for the actors during the Hobbit dispute:

Malcolm says she has been accused of being little more than a loud-hailer. "But I really believe in this stuff. I believe in workers' rights.

"I could choose not to care. I could just very quietly not rock the boat. I am a working solo mother of two boys and I don't have a job. Outrageous Fortune has finished. I am looking for work. Would I really, in the words of Cheryl West, want to root my own industry?"

Union delegates often get attacked, but usually only by the boss. Brian Rudman made an important point about the way the women who fronted the dispute have been depicted in the media:

There they were, saying, "Tell us how long to grow our elven beards, and how hard to pull our forelocks, Sir, and we will do it. Straight after we burn those evil witches, Robyn Malcolm, Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Helen Kelly, in the public square for disturbing the tranquillity of our feudal land."


I say womenfolk, because throughout the whole battle, the patronising sexism aimed at the union side - nice gals, but out of their depth, not up to it, dupes of Aussie svengalis - has been shameful.

In fact John Barnett, executive producer of Outrageous Fortune, went several steps further than that:
"The feedback has been quite vocal and critical of them. They've been pushed into the front row and are now earning the opprobrium of the public."

He said anyone should be free to express their views but producers would be reluctant to hire them because public perception was a huge factor in casting.

John Barnett may be able to executive produce a good TV show - but he is an better Pontius Pilate. "As a producer it may be in my best interest to persecute and black-list any actress who shows an interest in collectively organise for wages and conditions. But that's not the reason I'm threatening to do so in a national newspaper - it's because the public demand it."

John Barnett is also wrong. Anyone who watched the last few episodes of Outrageous Fortune, even those with an underdeveloped sense of solidarity, is not heaping opprobrium on Robyn Malcolm, quite the opposite. Go to her facebook page if you want to join in the praises - or send some solidarity.

I will just say thank you Robyn Malcolm for Cheryl West, and more. All any of us can do is play our parts in the struggles around us - and you have been amazing.

EDITED TO ADD: In the original draft of this post I had confused James Griffin with John Barnett. I have fixed the error, and I'm very sorry for maligning James Griffin in this way.

* If you don't recognise this quote, then you haven't watched enough Outrageous Fortune. It is from the second episode - and it was the moment I decided the show was the best New Zealand television show ever.

** Gratuitous Joss linking

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