'Bombshell' director Alexandra Dean talks women in STEM, female celebrity, and Hedy Lamarr's legacy.
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Alexandra Dean is the woman who directed, edited, wrote, and produced the fantastic documentary film Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story. It tells the extraordinary story of a glamourous Hollywood icon, whose beauty in the eyes of society precluded her intelligence. Despite her genius invention of frequency hopping is what led to a breakthrough in military technology, and opened the way for Bluetooth, WiFi, and many other essential technologies used today, yet she was treated as a sexual trophy and whose genius went unrecognised. As it soon becomes clear, Bombshell is not intended in a mere superficial sense. Yes, obviously “she was called a bombshell as an actress,” but she also “invented a bombshell, a torpedo that was remotely controlled.” And thirdly, whenever Dean “told anyone about the story they just kept saying ‘Well, what a bombshell!’ So, for me it had so much resonance that I had to go with that as the name of the film,” the director explains. This film pioneers a new perspective on Hedy Lamarr’s life, establishing her not only as an immigrant actress, nor as a woman who spent her last years a recluse, but as a genius inventor who did what she could for her adoptive country. “I was really looking for a powerful woman who’d gone through a very unusual experience, and had a life I could learn from. On a deeper level, that’s what I was looking for.” Dean continues, “I had done this series called Innovators, Adventures and Pursuits, which allowed me a great amount of time to look at inventors today. I knew of the problems inventors had, and I knew a lot of the female inventors weren’t getting the funding they needed from Silicon Valley.” She draws parallels between the treatment of women in STEM fields today and that of Hedy Lamarr all those decades ago. Even now, “people weren’t thinking of Hedy Lamarr, or even of any woman. They were thinking of a young man who looks a bit like Thomas Edison. And those were the types of people who were getting the funding, and consequently, are defining our future right now. And I thought well, I’ve got to really try and fight that notion. That was all in the back of my head when I discovered Hedy’s story.” It’s maddening that over 70 years later, there are still gender imbalances in science and technology fields. “I hope young girls and young women will be really moved by it,” Dean says of Hedy’s story, “I hope they’ll be a little big angry, and I hope they’ll be inspired to change things. “I think we’re at a really important moment, and I want young women to realise that we cannot let tomorrow’s world be designed only by men. Not even just women need to hear that, but every person of colour, of different social backgrounds. All need to realise that we are just a wonderfully diverse population, and we need a future that reflects all of us.”
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