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Named after the supporting association of the Festival, the Leopard Club Award pays tribute to someone in film whose work has left a mark on the collective imagination.
You can never accuse Hilary Swank of playing passive women. The formidable actress has built a career playing both real and fictional characters whose common trait is a determination to overcome any hurdle thrown in their way. That’s not just the case in her career-defining performance as Brandon Teena, a transgender facing up to violent prejudice in small-town Nebraska, or her knockout turn as a woman driven to become a professional boxer in Million Dollar Baby (2004). But Swank has essentially made a coherent career of bringing fully realized, fully empowered women to the screen.
The women she plays always have agency. Take Mary Bee Cuddy, the character she embodies in Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman (2014). Cuddy is a single woman leading an epic journey eastwards with three other women and a claim jumper. In Freedom Writers (2007), she is Erin Gruwell, a teacher whose unique methods inspire a class of at-risk students. In Conviction (2010), she is Betty Anne Waters who puts herself through law school and becomes a lawyer in order to overturn her brother’s wrongful murder conviction. And in Amelia (2009), she is the legendary female aviation pioneer Earhart who disappeared while on her quest to fly solo around the world.
It’s no surprise that Swank is one of a handful of women to have won two Best Actress in a Leading Role Oscars. She handpicks roles which are bold and inspiring, and brings flaws, vulnerability and exquisite nuance to the women she plays. So, while she rarely plays second fiddle to a male lead, her women are not mere crusaders but real, complex, imperfect.
Even as her career continues to flourish, Swank is in many ways the epitome of the modern actress. In an age where representation of women on screen is under scrutiny, she has been quietly blazing a trail for two decades.