The #MeToo Movement got its start in Hollywood, but the still-moving movement for equal rights for women got its start from Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. Colette penned the bestselling series of Claudine novels under her husband’s name before breaking away to win the 1948 Nobel Prize in Literature for her novel Gigi. She was also an actress and journalist. She was the true genius behind her husband’s success and boldly challenged both the sexuality and gender identity status quos. Colette is the real Wonder Woman women deserve.
Colette is portrayed perfectly by Keira Knightley; it’s the best performance of her career. She truly is “the real Claudine” as well as the real Colette. Even while her husband received credit for the writing of the books, it was her who was credited with creating “a type.” Women upon reading the Claudine novels became Claudine—dressing like her, cutting their hair like her, even adopting her words as a regular part of their everyday vocabulary. Claudine was a literary phenomenon bigger than Harry Potter, and more in line with Madonna. Colette’s face was on hair products, cigarettes, everything.
Colette wasn’t always an empowered author, though. The film tells a most intriguing and often hilarious story of her growth from quiet, heterosexual housewife and letter writer to emboldened, bisexual novelist/actress and happy divorcee. She might not have been violated sexually like those women in Hollywood who spearheaded the #MeToo Movement, but she was violated by men nonetheless. None more so than her husband, who repeatedly used her writing to dig himself out of debt, going so far as to lock her in a room for four hours to write words he’d later claim as his own using the status quo and not his ego as the reason her name could not accompany his on the manuscripts.
Colette constantly challenged the status quo, whether it was women writing or the generally-accepted running around of husbands with mistresses and looking-down upon of wives doing the same. "Infidelity is a matter of gender to you?" Colette angrily asks her husband, Willy (real name Henry Gauthier-Villars, portrayed very well by Dominic West), at one point. She eventually falls in love with a transgender woman, Missy. When her husband refuses to acknowledge Colette's insistence that Missy be referred to as "him" instead of "her" despite Colette correcting him three times, you see exactly how far ahead of her time Colette really was. It would sicken her to see Donald Trump's administration looking to change the legal definition of gender back to what is or isn't swinging between your legs rather than what you see yourself as regardless of genitalia.
Colette includes one of the funniest montages you’ll see in cinema and doesn’t dull with dialogue. The conversation, especially with her husband, comes more quickly and more wittily as Colette’s character grows more and more emboldened. The moment she becomes aware of her genius isn’t as celebratory as the moment she allows herself to embrace it and enjoy it without her husband. Like a perennial, Colette blooms every year, but it takes years to fully realize her radiance.
Critics (86 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and audiences (75 percent like it) alike are loving Colette. It deserves better than the $3.7 million its made at the box office. With Colette, the New York-based Bleeker Street has given women, especially those brave women of Hollywood, the #MeToo movie their movement deserves. Reward them for doing so and you’ll be rewarded yourself.