Stephen Tapert

Stephen TapertEducation

B.A., The Evergreen State College, 1997
M.A., The University of Chicago, 2002

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Biographical Note

Stephen Tapert is a film historian, writer, and filmmaker. After spending his junior year abroad as a student at the Université Paul-Valéry in Montpellier, France, he earned his B.A. from The Evergreen State College in 1997, and cites Susan Fiksdal, Marianne Bailey, and Rita Pougiales as his most influential professors. With a concentration on film history, he went on to earn an M.A. from The University of Chicago, and subsequently worked for eight years at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, where he provided foundational work for the Academy's forthcoming film museum. He resides in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, and is currently curating his first exhibition at the largest film museum in the world: The Museo Nazionale del Cinema in Turin, Italy. An amalgamation of film history, world history, and feminist studies, the exhibition, which opens on April 3, 2014, focuses on the first 72 women to have won the prestigious Oscar for Best Actress. In conjunction with the exhibition, his book, Best Actress: Dizionario delle Dive da Oscar®, is being published by the Milan-based Silvana Editoriale.

Publication Type

Non-Fiction

Latest Publication

Best Actress: Dizionario delle Dive da Oscar, Silvana Editoriale, 2014.

Publication Excerpt

It has often been said that if you want to learn the history of a culture, then you must learn the history of its women, for they tell you an intimate story of what is truly going on. This book explores a segment of film history by way of the first 72 women to have won the Oscar for Best Actress. While not necessarily taken for granted, the Academy Award for Best Actress has certainly been overlooked in terms of its relevance to a world that is still dealing with such issues as women’s rights, gender-based violence, modern slavery, and the long-held notion of male supremacy. Operating in an industry “notoriously bereft of strong female characters,” that tends to prioritize the female body over talent and intellect, and where female protagonists are only accounted for in 16% of the general movie output, the Best Actress Oscar has become “essential to maintaining even a tenuous presence for talented women in Hollywood. ” Taking into consideration that rules once precluded women from performing at all (as exemplified by Gwyneth Paltrow’s Oscar-winning turn in Shakespeare in Love [1998]), it is extraordinary how far women’s freedoms have evolved, and how cinema – as a vehicle of mass communication capable of altering perception and eradicating prejudice – has helped to propel this evolution. Whereas before, women could only find fulfillment through childrearing, homemaking, or under a masculine pseudonym, the movies – a synergy of art, commerce, and technology that first went public in 1895 – helped to give women a new perception of themselves, and, ultimately, a new, important, and effective voice. Replacing theatre and literature as the most dominant art form of the 20th century, the movies, both visually and narratively, presented women with a wide variety of behavioral paradigms. Through the guise of fashion, politics, and social mores, they helped to make things once considered immoral, illegal, and inconceivable become possible, acceptable, and standard. Although countless films have contributed to this ideological thrust forward (while countless others have negatively branded women as objects “to be desired, investigated, pursued, controlled, and ultimately possessed by a subject who is masculine”), only a small number of films have been formally awarded and thereby elevated to a more global realm of collective consciousness. Currently watched by estimates of up to one billion viewers worldwide (or about one-seventh of the world’s total population), the annual Academy Awards, the most glamorous and anticipated event in Hollywood, has served as a supreme catalyst for furthering women’s empowerment and equality. By honoring performances from such bold, socially challenging films as Network (1976), Mildred Pierce (1945), Norma Rae (1979), Erin Brockovich (2000), The Iron Lady (2011), The Divorcée (1930), and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), the Academy has cast its inimitable spotlight on work by women that – spanning some 85 years of filmmaking – has educated, compelled, provoked, and inspired.

How did Evergreen help you in your career?

During my first year at Evergreen, my core program, entitled "Mirrors of Language," exposed me to film history and provided me with an opportunity to do in-depth, analytical work in critical film theory. In the process, I was exposed to such writers as sociolinguist Deborah Tannen, and film historians David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, and I began to realize that I could potentially develop a career in film studies, which I have now enjoyed for the last 13 years. In addition, I credit Evergreen, and professors Susan Fiksdal, Marianne Bailey, and Rita Pougiales in particular, for exposing me to the work of such progressive, innovative directors as Roberto Rossellini (Paisà, 1946), Marcel Camus (Black Orpheus, 1959), and Ken Russell (Women in Love, 1969), and for giving me the opportunity to turn this into an area of academic emphasis. To be sure, my experience at Evergreen served as launching pad for my later academic work, and has stayed with me as source of inspiration.