When Ruth Negga was preparing to play Mildred Loving in Loving, she said that she saw footage of Mildred in which she goes through a bureau looking for something of the children’s. Mildred bends from the top down, and Negga points to this as the encapsulation of Mildred’s essence.
To watch Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Jackie Kennedy in the eponymous Jackie, look between her arms and her waist. She walks with stiff arms revealing an awareness of her public scrutiny, which can only come from a lifetime of it. Jackie’s grace under fire and style is what has kept us talking about her all this time, but her true essence remains unknowable, and this space between what is shown and what is real (and Natalie Portman’s portrayal of it) is spellbinding.
Throughout the film, Jackie tells that she’s a lot stronger than people think she is. (And a woman generally must be.) By the time we meet her, she has already buried two children, one just three months before her husband’s assassination. She has lived a life in the spotlight, growing up in monied New York socialite circles. I couldn’t help but think about her cousin and aunt, tucked away in East Hampton’s Grey Gardens, how this is the kind of family secret that quietly gnaws. Hers was an armor of chiffon dresses and pillbox hats–and, of course, forced smiles.
As my parents and I left the cinema, we talked about Jackie and what she meant and who she was. Her devotion to creating a legacy for her assassinated husband is the focus of the film, and Portman’s Jackie even admits to perhaps establishing a legacy even greater than what he could truly be credited with. I told my parents that I didn’t know that Jackie was the first one to call their time in the White House Camelot, and my dad responded that he remembered it from the beginning. A quick “kennedy camelot” search reveals that it was indeed Jackie who coined the term, but the way that memory works is that you remember things the way you remember them. Or, perhaps rather, the way you are told to remember them. Jackie reminds us over and over again of the space between truth and what people believe.
This Jackie works hard to make sure that the world sees her as she grieves, not removing her bloodied stockings and suit. Walking the 12 blocks to lay her husband to rest, a feat in heels on its own but an even greater feat when I remember my great aunt collapsing in the pew at her sister’s funeral. Moving their infants to be laid to rest alongside their father in Arlington National Cemetery. These are the moments we forget. The ones for which there is no card. The ordinariness of death and the going-on-living part of it.
“You have your whole life ahead of you,” her assistant Nancy (played by Greta Gerwig) says to comfort her.
“What a terrible thing to say.”
This is a film about the cultivation of a legacy when your time is cut short. It is important for us now, as many of us look at January 20, 2017, as the end of some of America’s brightest years.
But on January 21, 2017, we have a women’s march in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles and so many other cities across the country. Once again, on the day after, women will get to work. We will take control of how we remember this history.
Ours is a strange time where people’s truths are wholly based on beliefs. I once caught myself calling these post-fact era lines “false facts.” I corrected myself: “lies.”
The truth right now is that we have a president-elect who does not represent what most of us believe.
The lie that we are telling ourselves is that women are going into four years of terrible times. The truth is that I am seeing more friends speaking up and working hard to provide spaces for amplification of dissenting opinions. The truth is that America has always been great at leading for progress. Our greatness has been being future-facing rather than yearning wistfully for a past that didn’t exist.
In the meantime, folks are reminding of all the ways that Obama failed as a president. But do not despair. We have our whole lives ahead of us. Let’s add it to the list. There are 65,844,954 of us who believed in stronger together. And it’s up to us now to make it true. This is our legacy.
Thank g we don’t have to smile while we do it.