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Now Open: ACMI's World-Premiere 'Goddess' Exhibition Celebrates Women Across Screen History

Launched by Geena Davis, this stunning showcase spans 120-plus years, and over 150 original costumes, props and artworks.
By Sarah Ward
April 05, 2023
By Sarah Ward
April 05, 2023

Girls to the front: that's the mantra at Australia's dedicated Centre for the Moving Image in 2023. We're the country that gave the world Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie, to name just a few renowned Aussie actresses owning the silver screen in recent years, so we're no stranger to celebrating formidable women in cinema. It tracks, then, that ACMI has curated a world-premiere exhibition dedicated to femininity across screen history — which, from Wednesday, April 5, is now open.

Six-month-long showcase Goddess: Power, Glamour, Rebellion declares its affection for ladies of the screen right there in its name. Examining how women are represented in cinema and television, it pays tribute to standout ladies, how depictions and expectations of femininity have changed, and what female talents have symbolised — and been forced to deal with — about and from the society around them.

Displaying until Sunday, October 1, it's both a massive and a landmark exhibition. More than 150 original costumes, objects, artworks, props and sketches are now gracing the Federation Square venue's walls and halls, all championing oh-so-many women and their impact. Launched in-person by the one and only Geena Davis, who is also the exhibition's lead ambassador, Goddess fittingly includes outfits worn by her and Susan Sarandon in 1991's Thelma & Louise — and that's just the beginning of its treasures.

Among a lineup that spans threads that've never been displayed before, various cinematic trinkets, large-scale projections and other interactive experiences, attendees can check out odes to Marlene Dietrich in 1930's Morocco, Pam Grier's spectacular Blaxploitation career, Tilda Swinton in 1992's Orlando and the aforementioned Robbie via 2020's Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). Plus, there's Mae West's sky-high heels from 1934's Belle of the Nineties, as well as Michelle Yeoh's fight-ready silks from 2000's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

The list goes on, clearly, covering Anna May Wong, Marilyn Monroe, Laverne Cox and Zendaya as well. And, everything from Glenn Close's Cruella de Vil in 102 Dalmatians to the Carey Mulligan-starring Promising Young Woman also gets time to shine.

As it charts how representations of femininity have evolved over the years — not just in different eras, but in different places, too — Goddess also aims to inspire a rethink of plenty of cinema's memorable female characters. Silent-era sirens, classic Hollywood heroines, unforgettable femme fatales and villains, Bollywood stars, women in China and Japan's cinematic histories: they're all being given the spotlight.

Goddess is also plunging into provocative on-screen moments from Hollywood's silent days through to today that've not only left an imprint, but also played a part in defining (and altering) what's considered the feminine ideal. So, expect an interrogation of how women on-screen have helped to redefine fashion expectations, sparked boundary-breaking genres and spearheaded the #MeToo movement — and to spend time thinking about how screen culture has shaped the world's views of gender.

As it does with its big exhibitions, ACMI is pairing Goddess' wide-ranging display with soundscapes by Melbourne-based composer Chiara Kickdrum, and also hosting a sprawling events program complete with late-night parties, performances and talks — and film screenings, of course. Fancy taking an in-depth curator tour of the exhibition after hours? That's on the bill monthly.

There's also a music program called Goddess Nights from late May, which'll focus on three femme-centric live music lineups with performances by DJ JNETT, CD, POOKIE and Ayebatonye — and a curated range of food and booze put together just for each evening.

For film buffs, movie series Divine Trailblazers will focus on contemporary actors at the height of their powers, while the Goddess Sundays is all about on-screen personas. So, the first includes Angela Bassett's Oscar-nominated performance in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Academy Award-winners Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis in Everything Everywhere All At Once, Cate Blanchett conducting a masterpiece in Tár, Viola Davis in warrior mode in The Woman King, Filipino actor Dolly De Leon stealing every scene she's in in Triangle of Sadness, and Leah Purcell writing, directing, producing and starring in The Drover's Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson.

Unsurprisingly, the exhibition is ACMI's big midyear blockbuster — and its 2023 contribution to the Victorian Government's Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series, as Light: Works from Tate's Collection was in 2022.

After showing in Melbourne for its premiere season, Goddess will then tour internationally, taking ACMI's celebration of women on-screen to the world.

Goddess: Power, Glamour, Rebellion exhibits at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Federation Square, Melbourne, from Wednesday, April 5–Sunday, October 1, 2023. For more information and tickets, head to the ACMI website.

Images: Eugene Hyland Photography.

Published on April 05, 2023 by Sarah Ward
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