In 1996, HBO aired a television movie titled If These Walls Could Talk. It was about three women, 22 years apart, and their experiences with abortion. Despite its obviously controversial nature, it was one of HBO’s highest rated programs. Four years later, another installment of If These Walls Could Talk premiered, this time with stories about lesbianism. Both movies received good reviews and some Emmy recognition, including a nomination for Best Made for Television Movie each. However, neither film won for their respective year. Should they have? Let’s take a look at those years…(Ranking in preference order)
Outstanding Made For Television Movie – 1997
- If These Walls Could Talk (HBO)
- Miss Evers’ Boys (HBO) *WINNER*
- Bastard Out of Carolina (Showtime)
- In the Gloaming (HBO)
- Gotti (HBO)
It’s crazy how, even in the mid nineties, HBO and premium cable as a whole were pretty much dominating this category. I guess that’s why they got rid of the CableACEs. Gotti, like the name suggests, is about infamous mob boss John Gotti. As someone who had just watched Black Mass in theatres about a week ago, it’s interesting how similar both movies are. They’re both bloody, and sort of show the “rise and fall” of these powerful criminals. Gotti also seems like a spiritual predecessor to HBO’s hit series The Sopranos, even having some actors from Gotti transfer to the series three years later. Armand Assante is wonderful as Gotti and he won the program’s only Emmy for Lead Actor.
In The Gloaming is mercifully short. I think a simple run time of one hour is enough to peek at this relationship between a mother (Glenn Close) and his adult son dying of AIDS (Robert Sean Leonard). Interesting fact: this movie is based on a short story by Alice Elliott Dark. While this movie received a lot of press in 1997 (because it’s HBO, and because it was Christopher Reeve’s debut as a director), another adaptation of this story aired a year earlier on The Odyssey Network (now Hallmark Channel). That version is all but forgotten. It doesn’t even have its own IMDB page. And besides a CableACE nomination where it lost to the HBO version, the Odyssey version didn’t receive any awards or nominations. I’d love to watch that version so I can compare the two but, again, it’s unfortunately all but forgotten. Anyway, Glenn Close and Bridget Fonda (as the sister in a pretty small role) received Emmy nominations.
Bastard Out of Carolina and the winner Miss Evers’ Boys are both great films that also infuriate me. Bastard Out of Carolina is about a girl (Jena Malone) who is physically and sexually abused by her stepfather (Ron Eldard). Jena Malone is great, and it’s literally crime that neither she nor Jennifer Jason Leigh (the mother) received Emmy nominations. Miss Evers’ Boys is based on the extremely unethical Tuskegee syphilis experiment, where, from 1932 to 1974, African American men with syphilis were purposely not given real treatment in order to test the effect the disease has on African Americans. Alfre Woodard plays Eunice Evers, a nurse for the study that knew what was going on, but was told it was for a greater good. I had no idea this was ever thing before I watched the movie, and I’m glad HBO put a light on this terrible, racist research experiment. Both the film and Woodard won Emmys for the movie, among other awards (although Joseph Sargent, the director, inexplicably didn’t receive a nomination). It’s a truly deserving film.
However, my heart is saying that If These Walls Could Talk deserved more than it was given. The film is split in three parts, three different eras, featuring different characters, all living in the same house. The most captivating part is the first one, which takes place during the 50’s. A widowed woman (played by Demi Moore) frantically searches for a way to get an abortion. She is desperate because the father of the baby would be her brother-in-law. When she finally receives a backdoor abortion by a shady man, the results are devastating. This is a “pro-choice” movie, and it does a great job of allowing the women in the movie to make the choice best for them, for better or worse. I think the first story in particular shows that if we don’t allow women to receive safe, clean abortions, the effects will be disastrous. This movie, made nearly 20 years ago, is unfortunately still relevant today. It’s a winner in my book.
Outstanding Made For Television Movie – 2000
- Annie (ABC)
- Tuesdays with Morrie (ABC) *WINNER*
- RKO 281 (HBO)
- Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (HBO)
- If These Walls Could Talk 2 (HBO)
OK…I’m a silly willy sucker for Annie. ABC definitely produced the best, most faithful adaptation of the musical. And even Andrea McArdle (original Broadway Annie) has a cameo! A part of me wishes it had competed in the “Children’s Program” category because it probably would have won there (although that’s the year Disney Channel’s The Color of Friendship won, a movie which is, quite frankly, stronger than any of these TV Movie nominees. Let’s be real here).
Tuesdays with Morrie, for the most part, rightfully won here. It’s a simple story; and it’s certainly not made for the guy who is allergic to sentimentality. But the strong Emmy winning performances by Hank Azaria and Jack Lemmon really anchor this film. Although…I gotta say…it’s BS that Azaria got to compete in the Supporting category. He is 100% a co-lead…he probably has more screentime than Lemmon. The film is through his character’s perspective. Emmy politics, I tell ya!
This post took a little longer than I originally thought, because I decided to watch both Citizen Kane and Carmen Jones (for the first time!) before watching RKO 281 and Introducing Dorothy Dandridge respectively. RKO 281 makes me angry more than anything. Entertainment was so dirty during the early years of Hollywood. What Hearst did to Orson Welles – …well, that’s another post for another time. Anyway, it’s a very good biopic along with the Dorothy Dandridge one starring Emmy winner Halle Berry.
So, that leaves us with If These Walls Could Talk 2. While the first movie contained three perfectly timed poignant stories about abortion, the sequel made me wish the first story about an elderly lesbian couple during the early 60’s had just been the whole story. That story is deep, beautiful, and oh-so sad. I wanted to know more about this couple. I wanted to know more about the characters. As a short film, it’s very good, but I didn’t feel much for the other two stories. One story is set in the 80’s and it brings up issues of intersectionality in feminism and the butch vs. femme dynamic. The other story is set in 2000, and it stars Ellen Degeneres and Sharon Stone as a lesbian couple who are trying to conceive via sperm bank. Both bring up very interesting points and have pockets of greatness; but, overall, the stories dragged and seemed a bit filler-ish. Thankfully, Vanessa Redgrave deservedly won an Emmy for her performance in the first story, but, unlike the superior first installment, that’s all this movie really deserved.
Do you think there should be a If These Walls Could Talk 3? I feel like this should have been a trilogy. What would the third movie be about? I think sexual assault would be an interesting topic. Or maybe a special on women in the workplace (paid leave, lower pay that sort of thing.) Or, maybe because it’s in right now, a special on transgenderism. Recently, Lifetime continued this “mini episodes in larger TV movie” theme with Five (breast cancer) and Call Me Crazy (mental illness). Five is wonderful and I would definitely recommend it. But, still, I think we’re overdue for another installment of ITWCT. MAKE IT HAPPEN HBO!!!