Making a film about ‘women’s issues’ is always risky business. That’s been true since the first reel unwound in a darkened theatre. Men make up names about them—weepies, chic flicks—in order to dismiss and disparage the idea that women might sometimes see and react to the world differently from men. Despite the danger of critical and popular disdain we keep at it, thank goodness!
The recently released Suffragette tells the story of the women who battled, literally, for the right to vote in England. Noting that men don’t recognize anything but violence (kind of like movie reviewers) the Suffragettes resort to blowing up things like mailboxes and country estates! Which results in them being bludgeoned with billy clubs in the streets and force fed in prison. And being shunned by neighbors and losing their children.
Suffragette, which takes place in England in the early 1900s, has a great cast and tells the story at a fast clip providing the drama of a working class woman’s awakening to the power in taking control of her life. There’s a scene when the main character, an inexperienced laundry worker, speaks about the danger and despair of her work before a body of high government officials—all tail-coated men. As I watched their haughty condescension I immediately thought of the US Republican committee hearings in 2012 about the right of women over our own bodies, and there was not a single woman sitting in the power seat.
The committee refused to hear testimony from activist, Sandra Fluke, on insurance coverage of birth control and radio pigs immediately called her a ‘slut.’ The two moments in history were mirror images of each other.
Another film, Iron Jawed Angels made in 2004, told a similar story about a more peaceful fight for women’s right to vote in the US. Peaceful in the sense of women remaining calm and men getting hysterical and violent. This film did an interesting thing: it used anachronistically arranged, contemporary music to grab you. It was an amazingly effective technique to remind the viewer that this is not just history, it’s today.
On the other side of the coin Miss You Already tells the story of women’s friendship and how it can weather romantic relationships, children and cancer. It may remind us of other earlier films but this film has Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette, who are incomparable. But reviewers don’t know what to do with movies in which remain friends and refuse to abandon each other whether they’re in a fight for the vote or for their lives.
Now I’m waiting for the film about lesbian activists Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin. And the one about black suffragist Ida B. Wells. And the one about black lesbian activist Mable Hampton. And indigenous rights activist Rigoberta Menchu. And civil rights activist Yuri Kochiyama. And how about Trans activist, Sylvia Rivera, gets her own movie and not be a footnote in a movie about a fictional boy from Indiana dropping in on “Stonewall?”
How many more times do I need to see the world from the perspective of a Civil War general (either side), a spy (in or out of the cold), a Viking warrior (real or mythologized), a band of brothers at war (pick any war), the man who built (put name of building here), a president (revered or reviled)? Not so much.
Think I’ll pull out my DVD of League of Their Own.
PS: women in some countries are still waiting for the right to vote