I Am Woman: Is the Movie Based on Helen Reddy’s Life?

The song ‘I Am Woman’ released in 1972 and smashed many records, but most importantly, it carried forward the wave of feminism and became the anthem for generations of women across the globe. The eponymous biographical film follows the story of Helen Reddy (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), an Australian singer. In 1966 at the age of 24, Helen moves to New York in pursuit of her dreams with a three-year-old daughter and only around $230. When one puts everything at stake for their dreams, there is no other direction to move other than upward and forward.

This is a story of grit and perseverance as Helen Reddy goes on to become one of the biggest stars in the music industry in just five years. On her way to the top, she meets two significant people in her life: Lilian Roxon (Danielle Macdonald), a music journalist, and her manager and husband, Jeff Wald (Evan Peters). Director Unjoo Moon won the Athena Breakthrough Award for this film at the 2020 Athena Film Festival in New York City. Let’s find out whether the film is inspired by a real person’s life story!

I Am Woman: The True Journey of Helen Reddy

Yes, ‘I Am Woman’ is based on a true story. It’s the real-life story of the Grammy-award-winning Australian singer, Helen Reddy. Directed and produced by Unjoo Moon, with a screenplay by Emma Jensen, the film is based on Reddy’s auto-biography, ‘The Woman I Am: A Memoir,’ which came out in 2005. Her song ‘I Am Woman’ topped all the major charts and became the anthem for the women’s movement in the 1970s. Although having a strong influence on Moon and her mother, she did not know much about Reddy’s personal life but considered her an inspiration as her lyrics hit hard.

At an awards function in L.A. a few years ago, Moon got the opportunity to meet Helen Reddy, which led to a friendship between the two. Eventually, Reddy’s family felt comfortable sharing her story with Moon, which led to the making of this film. When Reddy first came to New York, she was snubbed by the potential label that seemed interested in signing her.

They said that there were enough women in the industry, and Reddy was told to enjoy her trip before returning to Australia. Determined to make it big, Reddy refused to give up and stayed on without a visa, struggling to make ends meet along with her young daughter. Her life changed when she befriended the rock journalist, Lilian Roxon, and then Jeff Wald – her manager and future husband.

In the last few years of her life, Helen was going through severe health and memory issues. Before her death, Reddy was living at a care facility in Los Angeles. She passed away a month after the Australian release of the film, at the age of 78. Helen Reddy’s life journey is an inspiration to many as she battled sexism in the music industry and fought to be taken seriously. The song ‘I Am Woman,’ which was part of her debut album, found it difficult to make its way to the audiences.

It was challenging to convince the label to release the song, which they considered “man-hating” and “kind of angry.” Her husband ultimately convinced the record labels that the song was going to be a smash hit. The song rose to fame around the exact time when the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment started to pick up momentum. Today, no women’s march is complete without the words, “I am woman. Hear me roar.” The film was specially screened for Helen Reddy, her two children, and ex-husband Jeff Wald before it was considered a finished project.

Moon felt a great responsibility to portray the life of a legend with sensitivity and finesse that it demanded, and was relieved when Helen Reddy was happy with the result. Helen sang along with her songs and watched the film through tears as she realized how her life touched so many women across the world. The song, ‘I Am Woman’ is used twice in the film and very delicately contrasts the first time she conceived the song to the second time when she was invited to perform at the Women’s March in Washington D.C., in 1989.

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