Feminist icon Helen Reddy, known for her song “I am Woman,” died at 78 years old.
If you grew up in the ’70s, there’s a good chance you know that lyric of the empowerment anthem “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy – the iconic Australian singer who died Tuesday at age 78 – by heart. But even actress Tilda Cobham-Hervey, who plays Reddy in a new biopic also called “I Am Woman,” was familiar with the popular song from the iconic Australian vocalist.
“I have a memory of my dad singing it in the kitchen,” says the actress, 25, who is also Australian. “I’ve known this song really well. And, of course, going to women’s marches, you’d see it on every sign.”
More: Feminist icon Helen Reddy, the voice of empowerment anthem ‘I Am Woman,’ dies at 78
How did Helen Reddy’s hit song come to be, and why does it still resonate? That’s part of the story that director Unjoo Moon’s movie – which has the support of Reddy’s family – tells.
“I Am Woman” (out in select theaters, virtual cinemas through Kino Marquee, digital platforms and video on demand) follows Reddy’s inspiring journey from arriving in America as a single mother with a dream to becoming a star who isn’t afraid to sing or speak about feminism and gender equality.
The new movie “I Am Woman” details the inspiring story of singer Helen Reddy.
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In the movie, Reddy gets the epiphany to write the lyrics “I am strong. I am invincible. I am woman” after trying to convince record label executives that women should be on the radio and hearing her daughter say she wants to quit kung fu lessons to take ballet “like the other girls.”
Though Moon says that her Helen Reddy film is “a work of fiction inspired by her life,” the true story of writing “I Am Woman” isn’t so far off from the way it’s depicted. Reddy really did think up those words one night in her bedroom after feeling fed up with the sexism she encountered in her career and not finding meaningful music to sing.
“Helen (talked) about lying in bed and she could really see those lyrics,” Moon says. In the movie, Reddy’s then-husband Jeff Wald (played by Evan Peters) helps convince a male-run music label that the song they think is man-hating and angry ought to be recorded because it will sell. It’s mentioned in “I Am Woman” that Wald may have urinated on someone’s desk to help make his case, something Moon can’t deny actually happened. (“He had so many amazing stories,” she says.)
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“I Am Woman” follows Cobham-Hervey’s Reddy as she accepts a Grammy Award with Reddy’s real, daring speech: “I would like to thank God, because she makes everything possible.” It shows Reddy performing a number of her hits – with a singing voice that’s an amalgamation of the real Reddy and Australian singer Chelsea Cullen – in packed concert halls and, in her later years, at a cheering women’s march. The movie shows fans rallying behind the song and writing its lyrics on their protest signs.
Cobham-Hervey has seen those kinds of posters in real life.
In January 2018, she and Moon attended the Women’s March in Los Angeles. “It was then that I started to really take note of how many people had signs that said, ‘I am woman. Hear me roar,’ Cobham-Harvey says.
The real Reddy witnessed the immediate influence of her 1972 song, which, as is shown in “I Am Woman,” topped the Billboard Hot 100 the same year that Shirley Chisolm ran for president and the Equal Rights Amendment passed by Congress (it failed to achieve ratification after it was sent to the states).
Before her death, Reddy resided in an assisted living facility and had “some health and memory issues,” her daughter Traci Donat told USA TODAY in a statement prior to the film’s release. At the time, Donat said her mother was “thrilled to know this celebration of her life will soon be seen by audiences.”
Reddy watched her biopic through tears, says Moon, and had “this great energy” when visited. Moon says the singer long enjoyed listening to music and telling stories.
And Reddy felt the modern impact of her seminal song.
Moon sat with the singer in the audience at the Hollywood Bowl in 2017 when the band Pink Martini introduced Reddy and sang a cover of “I Am Woman.”
“She got this amazing standing ovation. People were running up to our box and saying to her how much they loved her, how much the music has meant,” says Moon. “She loved it.”
That night, she was wearing the perfect shirt to receive fans. It read: The future is female.
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