Friday, December 30, 2016

A Tribute to Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds [Contributors: Chelsea, Mel, Erin, Megan, Rae, and Marilyn]

The loss of mother/daughter duo Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher this week has been a blow to us all. Yes, we live in a celebrity-obsessed culture and we don’t actually know these people, but it’s okay to be sad about losing your heroes. These are the people we aspired to be growing up and helped shape our personalities. They both showed us that women could be complex, smart, and have so much more to offer the world than a smile. Debbie and Carrie broke the mold for women and let us be princess-generals and magical songbirds.

From Star Wars to Halloweentown, our staff shares their memories of these two fine women and how their presence has impacted them.

Chelsea: I knew about both of these women separately before I had any idea they were related. I was that kid who was OBSESSED with books and movies, absorbing every cool story I could find. Like so many, I first saw Carrie Fisher in Star Wars. I was, like, seven or eight when I really started understanding the films, but the one thing that really kept my attention was Princess Leia. She was super smart and told everyone what to do, and she had brown hair. I had brown hair in a family of dirty blondes, and she was surrounded by blondes and dirty blondes. I took this as some sort of cosmic sign. Leia got herself out of trouble. She was pretty AND got to shoot the gun!?! I had never seen anything like her.

I was also seven when Halloweentown premiered on Disney Channel. The star was a young girl with brown hair (I’m starting to see a life pattern), and she had the COOLEST grandma. Grandma Aggie was a whimsy genius of a witch and I wanted her to be my grandmother so bad. She was mischievous and never let a guy walk over her. It wasn’t until my teen years that I realized they were mother and daughter, and then everything just made sense. Together, Princess Leia and Grandma Aggie were Hermione Granger, the coolest brunette of them all. 

Growing up, I saw more of Debbie’s films and fell in love with her musicals. I got lost singing in the rain with The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Getting to watch them in music class in junior high, and now being able to teach them to a younger generation myself has made me appreciate everything Debbie did for the genre. She showed that women can be feminine and strong, and that these concepts weren’t mutually exclusive. She was one of the few talented actresses and singers before every young starlet had to do both. And a whole new generation falls in love with her work every Halloween season.

I would always try to find more films with Carrie that weren't Star Wars and wondered why the most iconic woman wasn’t in a lot of films. Turns out, she was probably the person writing every other film I loved. Being more than the princess of the galaxy, Carrie was a witty and amazing writer. She even rewrote parts of Star Wars to give Leia more agency and intelligence. She struggled with bipolar disorder and addiction, and didn’t shy away from frank discussions about it. She embraced her struggles and turned them into art. When I found that side of Carrie Fisher, I came to appreciate her for more than the princess she was. She showed us what it was really like being born into Hollywood and was hilariously frank about its glamour and trappings. If someone insulted her or had a dumb question, she shut them down in with wit. I’m glad Carrie Fisher had The Force Awakens press tour to really show who she was and how she was always the best. She’s the honest, dog-loving princess general I aspire to be. She drowned in moonlight and was strangled by her own bra.

My heart broke when she passed away this week. It had been days of sadness and rewatching Postcards From the Edge and The Force Awakens to keep in the holiday spirit. I was in my car when I heard of her passing, and pretty quickly Mel and I were texting each other our stories and GIFs, because we couldn’t comprehend her being gone. Debbie passed just a day after her daughter, with her last words being “I want to be with Carrie.” The two were inseparable, living next door to each other and will be inseparable in the afterlife. It will never be a real goodbye to these ladies because I can watch any film or television show and see how they inspired generations of women to be more than just props. I’m trying to not be sad about them being gone but appreciate what they left. Carrie was an amazing author and I recommend going to buy everything she ever wrote. Go watch Singin’ in the Rain with your family, and marvel at its charm and artistry. Introduce new generations to these wonderful women and keep their legacy alive. 

Melanie: It took several days to think about how to articulate exactly how and why this hurt so much. It didn’t help that I was sleep deprived from a 12-hour bus ride just before hearing the news and burst into tears for a solid half hour thereafter. I lost one of the first female role models I’d ever known. I had to quickly realize the next time I saw Carrie Fisher on screen for Episode VIII it would be for the last time. Princess Leia was my only model in Star Wars for the longest time, and the best one I could ask for with her take-no-crap attitude and her ability to completely hold her own in a galaxy invested with nothing but men (and Mon Motha for two hot seconds in Return of the Jedi).

I realize now, a few days later, what really hurts me more than anything. Leia will live on — she’s immortal now. My memories of Carrie saving the galaxy will never go away and can never be taken. What really brought into perspective the pain I was feeling, was the often quoted line from Hamilton: “Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?” One of the most outspoken and blunt people in entertainment has been silenced. I will never again get to hear her talk about the trials of being an older woman in Hollywood, about how you should never care for what the world wants to think or say about you. I won’t ever get to hear her shutting down the misogyny and ignorance of her fellows.

She was never shy about the things in her life that never seemed to go right. She talked often about how she was talked about: her appearance, her weight, her mental state. She was candid about it because someone had to be, and she knew she was a voice millions would listen to, even if the other million were trying to find ways to tear her down. For kids out there and adults alike, struggling to understand the chaos in their own heads, Carrie Fisher was there to be their champion. She was inspirational as an actor, a writer, and a woman who refused to be quiet when something needed to be said.

So, it’s up to us now to do just that — tell her story. I hope we never forget the good she brought into our world through the movie screen, the pages of books, and eloquent interviews. Carrie is gone, and it leaves a gaping hole for a lot of us. But all that means is that time for us to fill it in ourselves and become the hero you lost.

So rest in power, princess. She drowned in moonlight and was strangled by her own bra. What a way to go. 

Erin: Unlike most people my age, I first became aware of Carrie Fisher because she was Debbie Reynolds’ daughter. I was a big fan of old Hollywood musicals, and Singin’ in the Rain is one of my all-time favorites. I didn’t see the Star Wars movies until I was an adult although Carrie was on my radar well before I finally succumbed to that fandom. I was first introduced to her as an actress in The ‘Burbs and When Harry Met Sally. “I will never want that wagon wheel coffee table” is one of the best lines in a highly quotable movie. I adored Postcards from the Edge because I loved any behind-the-scenes look at Hollywood, and Carrie was Hollywood royalty. That was my introduction to her writing and her humor. And that is the reason I became a true, die-hard fan.

She was charmingly irreverent and unabashedly honest. On the page and in life, her acerbic wit and sardonic comedy shone a light on difficult topics. Her willingness to talk about and destigmatize issues like feminism, mental disorder, and addiction was and remains vitally important. She spoke from experience and she spoke the truth. She was a bright light and an influential voice in this world, of which we are in need now, more than ever. This is a heartbreaking and heavy loss. I will forever be inspired by her words and her courage. May the spirit of her moonlight shine down and drown us. 

Megan: I loved Carrie Fisher. Not because she was the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and not because she was Princess Leia. (Though, admittedly, those were some pretty great things about her.) Sure, she was a Hollywood icon and one of the most beloved characters in cinema history, but she was real.

She was never the cookie-cutter celebrity we’ve grown accustomed to. Carrie was brash and brazen and she was never one to shy away from the truth, however difficult it was for many to hear. She was forthright when it came to her addictions and, most importantly, frank about her struggles with mental illness. Carrie became an advocate for making the hard discussions — like braving your addictions and the stigma of mental health — more accessible and easier. She was never coy about those topics. She believed we should discuss them as freely as we discuss the weather. It was remarkable for someone of her fame and standing to be so upfront in that fight.

Carrie was a feminist who believed that all people are created equal, and she fought sexism and ageism. When people came at her saying she looked old and out of shape for The Force Awakens, she clapped back saying she was old and who cares if she was out of shape? That’s why they got her a trainer. It was refreshing to have such a humor about things that others were taking so seriously.

Carrie Fisher was honest, talented, humorous and will be sorely missed. 

Rae: Over the past few days, plenty of people have been jumping to point out that Carrie wasn’t just a princess, that she wasn’t just an actress, or a writer, or a daughter, or a mother, or a mental health advocate, or a fiercely brave woman. I feel like people are still struggling to grasp the complexity of what she was, and what she did.

But the truth is, just bringing Princess Leia to life would have been enough. Just being an advocate would have been enough. Just being a mother, daughter, actress, writer, or fiercely brave woman would have been enough. The difference with Carrie is that she was able to show her complexity to the world, when so many other women can’t — or are overlooked if they try.

These attempts to define what she is and what she isn’t still feels like people trying to place her into a box. If Carrie had only ever accomplished one of those things, that would have been enough to have a life well-lived. If you only knew her as one of her many roles, that would still be enough to love her.

Women are shoved into boxes all the time, but Carrie broke the mold on all of them. I hope her legacy reminds people that even if you only know a woman as one thing, she has a complex life and mind behind her, even if you can’t see it. That Carrie showed us so much of herself is a blessing, and I am so, so grateful. She, in any of her roles, makes me braver, and I will live loudly and try to show my whole self to the world in her honor. 

Marilyn: It’s hard to know what to say. When the news of Carrie’s heart attack first hit on that Friday before Christmas, it felt like a blow to me personally — as though I was getting news about one of my own loved ones. In a way, she is a loved one because she’s been a part of my life since I was a child. I grew up with Carrie Fisher. Star Wars was such a big deal when I was a kid. Everyone had the toys, everyone talked about the movies at school, everyone knew Princess Leia, and all the girls idolized her. She wasn’t just a princess, a damsel in distress. She took charge, picked up a gun and saved Luke and Han’s butts just as much as they saved hers. That’s huge for a young girl, growing up in the world, to see such a strong female character be so beloved.

As I grew older, I learned more about Carrie’s other roles and I learned more about her as a person. And the more I learned, the move I loved her. I don’t want to use the word fearless to describe her because she certainly did have fear. But she never let that fear beat her. She turned her tragedy into comedy and took away the fear’s power. If that’s not inspirational, I don’t know what is.

The world has lost an amazing figure in Carrie Fisher. Her talent goes beyond her acting, her writing, her comedy, and her candor.

To have lost her mother as well, the great Debbie Reynolds, just a day later... that’s a level of tragedy that I can hardly comprehend. But it speaks to the bond between this mother and daughter, a bond that was only hinted at in books (and movies and comedy shows) such as Postcards from the Edge.

This has been a hard year, having lost so many icons that are important to so many of us. And it hurts my heart more than I have to say added Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds to that long and tragic list.

But let us all make like Carrie in the new year, and find a way to turn that tragedy into comedy.


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