SOU student actress Maddy Flemming boarded a plane in London early this month with her mother, Mary Pennylegion of Kirkland, Wash., and suggested that they watch a meaningful movie – and one with a strong female lead – on their flight back to Seattle.
They chose “Denial,” an acclaimed 2016 film about Emory University historian Deborah Lipstadt’s court battle to challenge a Holocaust denier’s distortions of the truth. Afterward, Maddy and her mother became a focus group of two for Lipstadt – who happened to be on the flight herself and introduced herself to them after they’d finished watching the movie.
“It was crazy,” Maddy said this week. “I can't even imagine what the odds of something like that happening are.
“It was crazy, too, because it wasn't just another movie you watch on a plane; it was one I was particularly touched by, and couldn't stop thinking about.”
Maddy’s sensitivity to the movie’s topic was heightened by her participation as a cast member in SOU’s fall production of “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” – which she describes as a “political parable about the rise of Hitler before the holocaust.” Maddy played multiple roles in the Bertolt Brecht play – a servant, a shoe-shine boy and a journalist.
“It absolutely made ‘Denial,’ and meeting Deborah, more powerful,” said Maddy, explaining that playwrights such as Brecht and historians such as Lipstadt have served humanity by honoring survivors and standing up against the “fictionalizing” of fact.
“In our current political climate, making note of their warnings is especially paramount and we cannot afford to have them compromised,” she said. “We swore as a human race to not forget the Holocaust, so that we can remain watchful.”
Maddy had previously seen the film, in which Academy Award-winning actress Rachel Weisz stars as the Emory University historian and author, and she thought her mother would be touched both by the story and Weisz’s performance. She otherwise knew nothing about Lipstadt or her background.
After the in-flight movie, a bespectacled, red-haired woman stood in the aisle of the plane and asked Maddy and her mother what they thought. She then introduced herself as the film’s author and inspiration.
“I definitely realized who she was, and I got a little star-struck,” Maddy said.
Lipstadt visited with Maddy and her mother for several minutes, took a photo of them and later shared the story – and drew hundreds of likes, comments and shares – on her Facebook page.
“My encounter with Mary and Maddy, especially the way it played out in ‘real time’ over social media, left me flabbergasted,” Lipstadt told the Emory Report, for a story that was published earlier this month. “I’m still smiling about it.”
Looking back on the episode, Maddy says she learned two important lessons. The first is that truth is the most important tool when seeking justice.
“If you're going to watch a movie on a plane, pick the one with the (strong) female lead.”