With the passing of Farrah Fawcett yesterday, it's easy to remember her for the 70s icon that she undoubtedly was. But it is her later work, first the play Extremities about a woman who fights back against a rapist and the 1984 groundbreaking (and controversial) movie The Burning Bed that I believe to be her most significant.
Her portrayals of women affected by violence and domestic abuse allowed others to become educated and aware of the signs of domestic violence. This was in a time when domestic violence was talked about in a whisper, if at all. The Burning Bed was a controversial movie for the heavy issues contained within.
It was a role that many other actresses might not have felt brave enough to take on, but which Farrah did. And by making a contribution to erase the stigma of rape and domestic abuse, she became a champion for women whose voices were silent. Finally, they were beginning to be heard.
They were heard on the hotlines, and The Burning Bed was reportedly the first such movie to include a toll-free domestic violence hotline at the closing credits, that of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which continues to be available for people in crisis at 800-799-SAFE. Anyone can call them and be referred to a shelter nearby. Farrah later became a board member of NDVH, and identified with the issue of domestic abuse.
There's no way to measure how many women Farrah touched by her portrayal of a battered wife. But if she saved only one life, or inspired only one woman to seek help and find her way out, then Farrah becomes more iconic in a way that deserves our remembrance, honor and gratitude.