Adventures in Feministory: Diane Keaton

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In honor of the 82nd Annual Academy Awards and Kathryn “I don’t want to talk about gender” Bigelow’s historic Oscar win AND the 99th Anniversary of the first International Women’s Day Conference, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight some Hollywood feminism that seems to always be in quirky style – the marvelous Diane Keaton, actor, director, photographer and singer.

Young Diane Keaton

Diane Keaton was born Diane Hall on January 5th, 1946. She later took her mother’s maiden name when it was discovered that another actress had already been working under the last name Hall.

Her initial interest in acting was spurred on by being in the audience to see her mother, Dorothy, win first place in the Mrs. Los Angeles pageant for wives and mothers who worked in the home doing reproductive labor (read: homemakers, but see how I tried?) Amazed by the performativity and theatricality of the pageant, Diane Keaton was destined to become an actor. The influence of the pageant and her oft-cited reverence for Katharine Hepburn’s choice of deeply complex and strong female characters certainly made an impact on Keaton’s craft.

Having worked on the stage and screen tirelessly for over 40 years, it’s no surprise that Diane Keaton’s name and work is easily recalled and enjoyed.

A Scene from The Godfather with Diane Keaton and Al Pacino.

Arguably the breakthrough role of her career, Keaton played Kay Adams, the eccentric girlfriend of Michael Corleone in The Godfather. Her reputation of being quirky, kooky and eccentric (all adjectives for various ways that interesting, layered, non-dream girls get coded) has been a lasting legacy, informing many of her performances and her portrayal in the media.

I will forego the parts of her bio that dwell on her romantic and professional relationships with powerful men in Hollywood. Don’t people get sick of this trend? *Cough Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron, Cough*

In 1977, Keaton starred in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. Loosely based on the actress herself, the film was an acclaimed hit. Diane’s performance earned her an Oscar nomination and the win for Best Actress. The movie highlighted another distinct feature of Keaton’s – her stylized way of dressing. Her wardrobe in the film was mainly composed of vintage men’s clothing – ties, vest, belts, dress shirts, roomy pants and the like. Instantly becoming a fashion icon that presented an alternative to the form-fitting heavily feminized looks of the ’70s, Keaton still wears vintage suits and is usually found sporting a turtleneck (as so famously criticized for in Something’s Gotta Give by Jack Nicholson’s character), some form of suspender and the occasional pair of gloves.

Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in Annie Hall

In the same year, Keaton played the lead in Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Keaton’s character is a Catholic teacher who works with hearing-impaired children but secretly finds casual sex partners in various bars around the city. Keaton’s reasoning for choosing the role shows feminist gusto. The September 1977 cover story of Time noted the trend toward valuing female narratives and highlighted the role Keaton was playing in changing film:

A male actor can fly a plane, fight a war, shoot a badman, pull off a sting, impersonate a big cheese in business or politics. Men are presumed to be interesting. A female can play a wife, play a whore, get pregnant, lose her baby, and, um, let’s see … Women are presumed to be dull. … Now a determined trend spotter can point to a handful of new films whose makers think that women can bear the dramatic weight of a production alone, or virtually so. Then there is Diane Keaton in Looking for Mr. Goodbar. As Theresa Dunn, Keaton dominates this raunchy, risky, violent dramatization of Judith Rossner’s 1975 novel about a schoolteacher who cruises singles bars.

From her role as a hardened prison warden’s wife who falls in love with a prisoner in Mrs. Soffel to her role opposite Steve Martin in Father of the Bride I and II, Keaton is someone we identify with, someone we find charming and captivating.

My favorite Diane Keaton film is, without a doubt, Baby Boom. In the 1987 film, Keaton plays J.C. Wiatt, a high-powered career woman whose life is thrown into chaos after being given guardianship of an estranged cousin’s baby daughter. Of course, the world of big business is not OK with this and J.C. loses her job and live-in lover when she decides to keep her new-found baby instead of giving her up for adoption. Institutional barriers for working moms, anyone?

Baby Boom Poster

Long story short, J.C. moves to Vermont, completely renovates a derelict house and develops some amazing baby applesauce (I can only imagine what it tasted it like, but still) which she starts to bottle and sell in her small town. Word (and taste) spreads and before she knows it, J.C. is back at her old office negotiating an offer to sell her DIY business for millions. She refuses and returns to the green mountain state (and her new lover) where she is content to raise her little bundle and continue her business. And yes, this was well before opt-out revolution narratives were being churned out by every major news outlet.

What else has superwoman Diane Keaton done? Uh, well she directed the music video for Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven is a Place on Earth”! You think I’m lying, but the proof is in the pudding (aka YouTube link):

Keaton’s recent choices of roles, from The First Wives’ Club to Something’s Gotta Give, have showcased women and lifestyles that are often are ignored by mainstream Hollywood interests. Aging, post-marriage, and the continued success of women beyond motherhood are themes that Keaton’s films explore and engage with.

Recent talk of a potential HBO show with Keaton running a feminist, sex-positive magazine has made me love Diane Keaton even more.

Sometimes it’s OK to talk about gender. Just sayin’.

by Shaamini Yogaretnam
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4 Comments Have Been Posted

Baby Boom

Excellant choice! Baby Boom could even be considered ecofeminist :)

Love her!

Thanks for this piece! I love Keaton, and Annie Hall is my all-time favorite film. No one could have done it better (and not only because she *is* Annie,) and while I occasionally dislike a film she's in, I have never been disappointed by a performance. I didn't know she directed that video, though...

Manic Pixie Dream Girls

"Her reputation of being quirky, kooky and eccentric (all adjectives for various ways that interesting, layered, non-dream girls get coded)" Except for Manic Pixie Dream Girls who are described with those exact three words.

Adventures in Feministory: Diane Keaton

She is a gorgeous, strong woman who has survived the rigors of Hollywood and beyond...she's just fantastic.

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