Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Women Filmmakers Championed "Suffragette." (Thank goodness!)

Lately, I feel a weight on my shoulders when I attend a movie that is directed by a woman. I watch anxiously hoping to be inspired to promote the film and filmmaker - knowing how rare it is for mainstream films to be directed by a woman. (Less than 7% of studio productions this year were directed by women.) The stakes are great.  One bad movie by a woman director reinforces the view that women are not as good as men. One flop is proof that nobody wants to watch movies by women. These myths persist no matter how many big hits are helmed by women. It is not easy to change a patriarchal system that is so entrenched in our culture that many don’t believe it exists. But no progress is ever made without a struggle. So here we are.

Fortunately, “Suffragette” was developed by the female team that created the acclaimed film, “Brick Lane,” including director Sarah Gavron,writer Abi Morgan, and producers Alison Owen and Faye Ward.  I sat upright in my theater seat, poised for a prim and proper BBC style biopic. But I was immediately thrust into the brutal world of the suffragettes along with weary textile worker and mother, Maud (Carey Mulligan).  I was shocked by the unflinching depiction of her dismal work conditions and the extreme use of violence by the police to crush the women who protested.

Faye Ward (producer), Abi Morgan (Screen Writer)Alison Owen (producer) and Sarah Gavron (Director) looking at original police documents.
This gritty enactment was born out of thorough research on the first foot soldiers from the early feminist movement (concentrating on 1912-13), when the women were forced to pursue a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the increasingly violent state.

A fine piece of visual storytelling, “Suffragette” engaged my heart as well as my mind, showing just why women’s suffrage is so important to protect the basic human rights of women (and children) in a patriarchal society.  By law, women and children were men’s property.  So women were beaten, imprisoned, lost their jobs and even their children for fighting for the right to vote.  

The theme is relevant today. In this time when women’s’ rights and health care are being threatened, it is vital for women to safeguard their rights by voting.  “Suffragette” reminds us that those rights didn’t come easy.  Men didn’t gift us with the right to vote. Real women fought hard for over 70 years for the right to demand better working conditions at the polls. I hope "Suffragette" inspires us to fight for fair working conditions for everyone.

Ada from Jane Campion's "The Piano" 

I haven’t felt so moved by a movie since Jane Campion’s “The Piano.” I remember wailing, not crying – wailing, when the pianist’s finger was heartlessly hacked off by her possessive husband.  That image resonated with my artist soul that had been similarly amputated by our capitalistic society.  Both of these films moved me from a place deep within.  Both of these films were created by women.  There is something that these women filmmakers brought to these pictures - an understanding, a sensitivity that comes from a place of true understanding that you can only get from experiencing a similar struggle. 

Movie blessings, 
Jana Segal 


Angeline D'B. said...

And that is the issue at hand, a similar struggle. When someone isn't in your shoes they cannot see the struggle you are experiencing. To them what they see and hear is whining and playing victim. My argument is that if we were playing victim we would allow it to continue, not stand up to it to make it better, to demand change. When I tell someone my experience, as to show I have the shoes that walked it, doesn't mean I am crying. It means I stopped crying and said enough. I share my story to show them, the offender wearing blinders still, that I speak from a place of knowing and with evidence. Their denial and/or redirection of projection back to my angle of the table is demonstration that it is their issue, not mine, to wake up still - and in truth they are the one now whining, playing victim. It's once we get passed that level and they finally let their blinders down that we start to find common ground and resolution... And progression. I haven't seen this film yet. I cannot wait to see it!

Jana Stormont said...

OK. I am so frustrated with the Academy. I have seen the Best Picture nominees, and "Suffragette" was better than two of them. It is a gripping story (suspenseful to the end) the acting is great (Carey Mulligan was not nominated, but one-note Saoirse Ronan was!), the set design and costumes are spot on.

So why the snub? Could it because because the Academy is mostly white males over 60? Or worse, the movie has gotten some bad press for being "white washed." And the articles were written by women! Really, women! Can't we even stand up for THE ONE movie of the year that was for women's rights, made by a female team! Yes, this movie had a white cast, but that's because the women filmmakers did thorough research and found that there weren't black women in the British suffrage movement. They needed to stay very true to the facts, so people would buy the rest of the story.