“In a world that told them how to think, she showed them how to live.”
Web Summary By: Alyssa Jacobsen
Mona Lisa Smile is the story of a 1950s woman (Katherine Watson) who becomes an art professor at Wellesley College and teaches a group of conservative Wellesley girls how to break away from their traditions. This 2003 film tackles what it means to be a woman in the 50’s: a life that means conforming to society by marrying young, having children, and putting on a stepford smile. Watson tries to open up her students’ minds to their freedom to do whatever they want with their lives, and Watson’s ideas and ways of teaching are contrary to methods deemed acceptable by the school’s administrators, conservative women who firmly believe that Watson should not use her class time to encourage modern ideas or points of view, that she should just stick to teaching art. Feminism takes a drastic turn within this film, all the while inspiring freethinking and instilling a spirit of change in women’s rights and what it truly means to be a woman in the 50’s.
During the filming of Mona Lisa Smile, there was an outbreak of controversy surrounding the casting of student extras. The use of the phrase: “not too tan” in a casting call for current Wellesley students sparked a fear that casting directors were using race to discriminate against potential extras. Producers claimed that they were merely stressing the importance of finding women that had the “look of 1953,” but later their response to the growing concern was that the film could not reflect the current Wellesley demographic, and had to be “accurate” to the period. Student extras also frustrated professors by missing class and important exams, and the entire campus began to speak out against the film’s presence. The film was so intrusive to the quiet campus, that the board of trustees deemed that Wellesley College will never again open its doors to a film studio.  –all...