Lately, Monkeyrotica and I have been digging through the recesses of our brains, recalling some of our favorite childhood movies to share with our kids. While I watched Secretariat at a screening last week, I was transported back to the 1970s, when I was growing up, and viewed a familiar time packed with feminist issues I can recall clearly, as well as a world I never knew—the world of horse breeding and racing. The authentic feel (awesomely bad 70s wardrobes, among many other great details) of this movie and the inspiring story that unfolds brought today and forty years ago together for me, and I want to share with you and my kids.
Penny Chenery Tweedy (Diane Lane) was a highly educated woman, in a time when many women were in the first generation in their families to go to college. And, as did many women of her time, she found that along with marriage and children, having her own career outside the home was fraught with barriers. My own mother joined the National Organization of Women and AAUW to vent her frustrations with having a career thwarted by family life (she was told to quit as she became visibly pregnant). Penny Tweedy may not have sought out those support groups in 1969—she had an outwardly comfortable life as a stay at home mother of four and wife to a successful lawyer husband. What became apparent was that after the death of her mother, her father's decline into dementia would quickly take their family's horse farm. Unless she drew upon her education—from learning the ropes as a child as well as her university degree—and saved her father's empire, the family horse farm and the many generations of husbandry, care, and prestige built upon it would fail. The horses were of no interest to the men in her life (her university professor brother or her husband); they just wanted her home, in her place, caring for the kids.
She was raised to run that business. She wanted it, she knew how to do it, and she could make all the right decisions. If only someone she loved believed in her. Well, nope, that wasn't going to happen; see ya, bro & hubby! If only she could hire people to believe in her. YES! Her father's house manager, a crusty horse trainer (John Malkovich), and a gentle stable hand would take that on. And history was made.
Secretariat. Penny Tweedy's only non-fair-weather friend. Everyone else in her life abandoned her when the going got rough.
I will take my kids to this movie. I want to see it again and add it to our collection of movies, I enjoyed it so much. What I want to see more than anything else, beyond the edge-of-my-seat, heart-thumpingly exciting horse racing, beyond watching Penny rock on with her bad self, telling off her competitors and creditors (all high-powered men), is John Malkovich. I want to see pink-suited, plaid-hatted, crusty old horse trainer Malkovich swearing in Disney-curses and in stilted French, dancing while celebrating the horse that he helped train to victory beyond belief.