The Role of Gender in “A Private War”

In an explosion of conflict and tear-jerking combat, “A Private War” takes a look into the life of Sunday Times foreign correspondent Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike). In the film based on a Vanity Fair article, Colvin shatters the Western view on foreign war-fare and glass ceilings.

Colvin was among few female war correspondents embedded in overseas military operations at a time when women were banned from combat. Colvin pushed her way to the front lines of the wars of governments, rebels and sexism. What was lacking in the film was the word “gender” in the end credits because it played a significant role.

For example, the film depicts Colvin’s interview with Gaddafi. He continuously flirts to which she replies that when she first met him he tried to take her blood. This unexplained comment piqued my interest. I found, according to a Time Magazine interview with Colvin’s photographer Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan), the Libyan revolutionary once tried to test Colvin for HIV because he wanted to bed her.

This scene speaks to a phenomenon journalist Gayle Tzemach Lemmon discussed with USC students Friday evening. Lemmon shared her experience using Arab men as sources and how “they tend to speak with more candor” to her than with men and women of their own communities. She attributed this to being an American woman. Like Colvin, Lemmon also used her gender to interview Arab women. Lemmon noted that because their culture barred women from interacting with men outside their families, a unique vacuum was left for female journalists to fill.

In speaking to female Syrian refugees, Colvin got one woman to share the loss of her 5-year-old daughter and how stress had left her and many other women incapable of producing breast milk for their infants. When the interview finished Colvin rubbed her arm in comfort. This physical touch mimics the emotional connection they have as women and their shared loss as mothers. 

“A Private War” looks not only into Colvin’s life as a journalist, but her personal life and mental health. Though she is tormented by her PTSD from being in war zones, she also laments her two miscarriages with Conory. She tells him of her life-long dream of being a mother and the pain she feels knowing she will never get the chance. It is that vulnerability that allowed Colvin to connect with her female sources–largely mothers in fear of their children’s lives–that could not be paralleled by male counterparts. Some stories demand a woman journalist; like Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s 2019 Pulitzer Prize winning coverage of Harvey Weinstein or Jessica Bennet and Jesse Ellison’s story on sexism at Newsweek. These are stories the world wants and deserves to hear, and it’s imperative women tell them. “A Private War” not only touched on this topic in an incredibly powerful and nuanced way, but discussed why gender is important in covering war.

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