Category Archives: Women’s Rights

No Girls Allowed (dir. Darlene Craviotto, 2011)

Filmmaker: Darlene Craviotto
Year: 2011
Country of origin: United States
Running Time: 52 min.
Original Format: Digital Video, DVD
Tripod
Website

No Girls Allowed 

Up until 1983, Philadelphia’s Central High School enjoyed a longstanding and prestigious reputation as America’s last all-male public school. Darlene Craviotto’s 2011 documentary No Girls Allowed traces the steps taken by seven girls who changed its legacy forever.

The film begins with the court case between Central High and Susan Vorchheimer, who wanted to attend the school because of its superior academic opportunities. Despite a court-ordered mandate to let her in, the school was obstinate in its unisex tradition, and she was not allowed to attend Central. Vorchheimer remained at Girls High, the standard choice for girls in the area. A few years later, a group of six students from Girls High pushed even harder for admittance to the boys’ school and won what Vorchheimer couldn’t; it was not, however, won easily.

In interviews with the women who achieved desegregation at Central, they coolly recount the relentless name-calling, pranks, and the overall sense of heavy isolation inflicted upon them not only by their male classmates but by their male teachers as well. These stories, however, do not infuse the film with the gloominess that may be expected. They discuss the sadness they felt because of these events but seem more excited to recall inspiring moments of resistance: the press conference in which they boldly declared their right to equal education to the media, the astute sense that they were involved in a defining moment for women’s liberation, and the striking image of flowers planted in the urinals of the newly-instated girls’ bathroom (the building had no urinal-free bathrooms, for obvious reasons).

Craviotto’s clear narratorial voice and rigorous incorporation of local newspaper articles and news segments makes No Girls Allowed a valuable resource for anyone seeking a personalized collective account of what happened at Central High. The events that transpired when the Central Six refused to be shut out by the “traditions” so dearly clung to by an ivy-clad institution illuminate feminism’s intersections with educational policy and the patriarchal history of American public schooling.

“The story of the struggle to open Central High School to female students is vividly reconstructed by filmmaker Darlene Craviotto in her engaging documentary No Girls Allowed.”
–  Juliet A. Williams
The Separate Solution? Single-Sex Education and the New Politics of Gender Equality, pp. 167.

Trapped (Dir. Dawn Porter, 2016)

Trapped (Dir. Dawn Porter, 2016)

Director: Dawn Porter

Year: 2016

Initial Release Date: January 24

Country of origin: USA  

Running time: 81 minutes

 

Trapped narrowly presents the legal battle over a woman’s right to choice what they want to do with their body, whether that is to get an abortion or not. This is not a two sided story with commentary from both pro-lifers and pro-choice people. Trapped is direct in its powerful and informative documentary about why women’s health care is under attack from politicians; the analysis of the system that often traps women’s health care facilities to shut down is casual. The portrayal of both observational and participatory modes of film illustrates how doctors, patients, and staff of these clinics are innocent victims to the consequences of politics and the government that are “letting politics trump medicine”.

The documentary is indeed necessary to show that reproductive rights are a person’s decision and not the governments, but this film does not answer a question. It merely presents an answer. This is useless because Trapped will not change a pro-lifers mind about abortion; although it is persuasive for pro-choicers to continue the fight for women’s rights. The film is telling the story of the doctors and owners of women’s clinics in the south; a region that is toughest on abortion laws because of the amount of religious politicians and citizens. A reason why the documentary focused on the doctors and staff is to get the audience to understand that abortion is a human right and is, despite its reputation, safe; the CDC puts “a first trimester abortion as safer than a penicillin shot”.

At the beginning, there is a woman talking about her experience with trying to get an abortion in a state with strict policies. The footage is in a dark setting where the audience can barely see her face. This adds to the real dramatic effect that this woman probably did not want pro-life protesters finding out who she is and where she lives and thus harassing her. Throughout the middle duration, Porter interviews women who are getting an abortion and only shows their bodies from the neck down, usually the women’s fidgeting fingers.  At the end, the director interviews a woman who is getting an abortion, actually showing her face in the light. This is to almost exclaim that “the darkest nights bring the brightest tomorrow”; the transition from the beginning to the end is saying that women should not be shamed or harassed for having abortions. It is their right to decide.

Trapped contains footage from past protests with signs such as “women power”. On the other hand, there is footage of politicians and citizens expressing their belief that abortion is wrong. The documentary shows a few politicians in the south who run on anti-abortion platforms as the central component of their argument. Anti-abortion protesters are seen on the lawns of several clinics yelling and harassing the doctors. So the film is clear in its persuasion that pro-choice is the right choice.

Yet despite this being a serious film, there are comical moments such as June Ayers setting the sprinklers on protesters to get them to leave the premises. The shots in Trapped are repetitive and straightforward, especially with the transition between the clinics in the different states; there is always a shot of a state’s map. There is cuts to direct action sometimes with instrumental music playing in the background. It is not an artistic documentary but is nonetheless important in explaining reproduction rights.   

Suggested use:

I suggest this documentary for the educational purposes of already pro-choice individuals. I would not recommend someone showing their pro-life friend or family member this particular film if their intention is to change their friends mind. It is not as emotional or thought provoking as one would need to fully and engagingly realize abortion is a right.  

Bibliographic items:

Information about the film:

http://www.trappeddocumentary.com

http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/films/trapped/

https://www.democracynow.org/2016/1/25/trapped_new_documentary_follows_abortion_providers

Information about the restrictive laws discussed in the film:

https://www.texastribune.org/2016/06/27/us-supreme-court-rules-texas-abortion-case/

http://www.statesman.com/timeline/texas-abortion-law/

 

India’s Daughter (Leslee Udwin, 2015)

Filmmaker:
Year:
Country of Origin:
Format: , ,
Running Time: 62 min
Indian women participate in a candle light vigil at a bus stop where the victim of a deadly gang rape in a moving bus had boarded the bus two years ago, in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. The case sparked public outrage and helped make women’s safety a common topic of conversation in a country where rape is often viewed as a woman’s personal shame to bear. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)

Indian women participate in a candle light vigil on the anniversary of the gang rape in 2012. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)

Synopsis:

India’s Daughter tells the story of an infamous gang rape that occurred in New Delhi in 2012, and the protests and legal action that followed. It succeeds in portraying the heinousness of the crime committed and, through interviews with the victim’s parents and others, representing how horrifying and heartbreaking the event was. In terms of the other tasks that Udwin set out to accomplish — answering the question “why do men rape?” and unpacking the incident’s connection to its cultural context – the film not only comes up short, but constructs an actively problematic narrative. The film ties, sometimes implicitly but often explicitly, the rapists’ mentalities and motivations to their Indianness and to their poverty, a dangerously inaccurate representation.  It also focuses heavily on the story of the rape and the lives of the convicted rapists, and very little on the organizing and activism undertaken by so many Indians in the months after the attack (only three people involved in protests are interviewed, each is on screen only once, for a minute or two).

After the first few minutes, in which the gang rape case is briefly described in voiceover, the film contains almost no overt narrative voice, in voiceover or on-screen text. The film is largely made up of interviews, the most prominent and controversial among them being an interview with Mukesh Singh, one of the men convicted of Jyoti Singh’s rape and murder (though he maintains that, while his brother and friends committed the assault and rape in the back of the bus, he was driving the entire time and did not commit the crimes himself). Much of the narrative work, then, is done through the juxtaposition of particular moments in different interviews. An exemplary instance of this narrative strategy is when Jyoti’s friend recalls Jyoti saying “A girl can do anything,” and the film cuts to Mukesh Singh saying “Boy and girl are not equal” (this quote is drawn from the English subtitles because Mukesh is speaking in Hindi – it is interesting to note that, though Hindi does not have articles, they chose not to supply them in the translation, making his speech appear improper or uneducated) and then shows shots of crowds of Indian men in public while Mukesh continues to recount his sexist views. While Jyoti and her family are heralded as progressive, the subtle work of the filmmaker presents Indian men, in general, as sexist and archaic. Besides interviews, the film contains a small amount of footage from the massive protests that occurred in the months following the rape, and some shots of the rapists being transported after their arrests and convictions. It also utilizes a vague form of reenactment — interviewee’s accounts of the rape itself are played over dark, blurry shots of a bus, the back of a driver’s head and hands, a religious figurine bouncing on the dashboard. These formal choices suggest a tendency of the filmmaker to amplify­­­ dramatic effect, perhaps at the expense of accuracy.

At the end of the documentary – over a still black and white shot of candles and a blood-spatter graphic – a list of statistics about gender-based violence in different countries scrolls across the screen. While this is presumably an effort to demonstrate how widely rampant violence against women is globally, it instead highlights the complete lack of international context given in the entirety of the film preceding. This last ditch attempt to broaden the film’s scope seems somewhat disingenuous in light of the overarching message that violence is the specific cultural product of a uniquely Indian misogyny.  Though an account of the event itself would not necessarily need to incorporate an international context, the film’s fixation on Indian culture and its omission of any other contextualization creates the impression that rape is India’s problem.  Particularly because this film was made for English-speaking audiences, i.e. primarily for outsiders to Indian culture, its myopic view leads to dangerous and counterproductive conclusions.

Suggested Uses:

I would only advocate the use of this documentary in very specific settings, among viewers already equipped with a background in intersectional and global feminism, wherein it might be consciously consumed and critiqued. It should not be turned to as an objective source of information on the facts of the case, as they are not carefully explained and one would do better reading about the incident.

Bibliographic Items:

Courting Injustice: The Nirbhaya Case and its Aftermath: A book by Rajesh Talwar on the legal changes made in India since 2012, the reasons the changes have not affected enforceability, and the cultural context in which all of this is taking place

Kavita Krishnan, prominent Indian feminist activist, on the Udwin’s white savior problem: http://www.dailyo.in/politics/kavita-krishnan-nirbhaya-december-16-indias-daughter-leslee-udwin-mukesh-singh-bbc/story/1/2347.html

Nilanjana S Roy, Indian journalist and writer, on the glaring absence of protestors’ and activists’ voices in the film: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/03/indian-women-delhi-rape-film-rapist-indias-daughter

Lesbian Avengers Eat Fire, Too

Year:
Country of Origin:
Running Time: 55 min

Lesbian Avengers Eat Fire, Too (2013), Dir. Su Friedrich and Janet Baus

Lesbian Avengers
(lesbianavengers.com)

Lesbian Avengers Eat Fire, Too documents the 1992-1993 activities of a New York chapter of the lesbian direct action group the Lesbian Avengers. The film gives a sense of the flamboyant and unapologetic yet varied direct action tactics the group used, from eating fire at protests, to leaving stink bombs outside the office of a lawyer for a homophobic school superintendent and covering his office with “Homophobia Stinks” stickers, to protesting inside the office of SELF Magazine after the magazine planned a conference in Colorado, a state that had recently passed an anti-gay and -lesbian amendment. We see extended footage of the protest in favor of the multicultural Rainbow Curriculum; an anti-violence march and vigil in Greenwich Village following the murder of two gay people in Oregon at a time when Oregon had an anti-lesbian and -gay measure on the ballot; and of the Valentine’s Day installation of a statue of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein’s lover, next to the statue of Stein.

Formally, the documentary cuts back and forth between interviews with members of the organization, extensive footage of direct actions, and often hilarious clips of passers-by responding to the question, “Who do you think the Lesbian Avengers are?” The candid, conversational interviews, filmed during Avengers meetings, and the glee and raw power of the extensive protest footage combine to relay a sense of the explosive political energy of these lesbian activists, fed up with invisibility in women’s and gay movements and respectability politics among their fellow lesbians in this historical moment. Absent from the film is any overview of the group’s structure or sense of how the group was situated with respect to other queer activist groups. The film, directed by two Avengers, treats each action as a victory, and functions as a call to action, ending with the Avengers’ hotline number. The content of the interviews shown, which feature racially diverse lesbians, suggest that the group took an intersectional approach to; as one woman says, “Anything can be a lesbian issue.” However, critiques of the group by lesbians of color are given no screen time in this documentary.

Suggested Uses:

Because the documentary focuses exclusively on the Avengers, with little attention to coexisting groups of the era like OutRage! and ACT-UP, and because it presents no criticism of the Avengers, it is of limited use in conveying historical information. It would be more useful in conveying the mood of the group and in presenting a compelling case for the Avengers’ brand of activism. While it is necessarily one-sided, it could be an entry point into the women’s and gay movements in a high school history class, or in a college class focused on lesbian activism, if shown in concert with readings or films that offered other perspectives on the activism of the time. Or, watch it just for fun!

Bibliographic Item:

the march, off our backs: The radical feminist periodical off our backs documented the Avengers’ activities, including the inaugural Dyke March in Washington, DC.

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry

Filmmaker:
Year:
Country of Origin:
Running Time: 92 min

broadsheet.com.au

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (2014), Dir. Mary Dore

Synopsis: Dore’s film covers a huge range of issues in the rise of the women’s movement, mostly between 1966 (beginning a few years back with the 1963 publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminist Mystique) and 1971. The documentary covers a range of issues the women’s liberation movement focused on, from abortion to birth control to equal pay to employment opportunities to self-defense and rape, and locates the beginning of the movement in the political energy of the Civil Rights, antiwar, and Black Power movements of the 1960s. The film also emphasizes the huge number of everyday, ordinary women who worked together to begin the movement, underscoring the role of consciousness-raising groups and collective organization rather than focusing on just a few women.

Formally, the film cuts often between interviews — always brief, interesting and relevant — and footage of past protests, speeches, and events, usually featuring the women interviewed. This effort to weave together interviews and past footage makes the film much more engaging than lengthy interviews or tape might be. SBWSA‘s interviews also lend a pleasing affective texture to the film, emphasizing the sense of women involved in the movement that it was long overdue as well as the catharsis and necessary support of consciousness-raising groups and a new (for white women, at least) understanding of the personal as political.

The film touches briefly on certain schisms within the women’s movement and towards the end focuses on the rollback of certain feminist gains such as abortion rights, but overall emphasizes the movement’s unity and triumphs — at the cost, perhaps, of truly delving into the painful and bitter exclusion of and alienation felt by Black women, for instance, from the feminist movement (the issue of lesbianism is given more time, but the Combahee River Collective’s statement and movement, though it emerges a few years past the film’s purview, would be an invaluable addition to the film — along with a few more minutes’ analysis of lesbian separatism, rather than what the documentary does, which is conclude that lesbianism was added and treated as important almost immediately by feminism after the Lavender Menace raised the issue). An unfortunate perpetuation of the universalism of the term “women” pervades the documentary, which, with a few notable exceptions in Fran Beal and Linda Burnham, focuses its interviews mostly on white women (a striking contrast with the footage and images from the past, which clearly show many Black women and other women of color involved in the organizing and activism taking place). The film could have made interesting connections between the ways in which certain spaces within the women’s movement would not permit the entrance of male infant children and modern day trans exclusion, or touched upon any number of issues which are brought up in the film but remain salient for the women’s movement (antifeminism from women, rape culture, etc.) but instead strikes a joyful and positive tone throughout. This is certainly in service of a noble goal of emphasizing the power of collective organizing, but misses the force which acknowledging difference and difficulty can generate.

Suggested uses: There is nothing new here — in fact, there is a lot missing — for those who have taken even an introductory Gender & Sexuality Studies class or studied the rise of feminism. Its most appropriate use might therefore be in high-school US history or possibly health classrooms, or as an engaging way in which to begin to study feminism’s development, though obviously much more research should still be done.

Bibliographic items: “The Woman-Identified Woman.” Written by the group of lesbian radical feminists calling themselves the Lavender Menace and responding to the exclusion of lesbians and lesbian issues from the feminist movement. The manifesto was passed out as part of a demonstration at the Second Congress to Unite Women in New York City in 1970 (which did not feature any openly lesbian women). Often cited as a major moment and text in second-wave feminism, perhaps the foundational document for lesbian feminism. The next year, delegates at the 1971 National Organization of Women’s national conference declared lesbian rights a key concern for feminism.

The Combahee River Collective Statement and the anthology Words of Fire, ed. Beverly Guy-Sheftall, both of which provide more nuanced looks than the documentary at Black women’s role in women’s liberation.

The Kickstarter campaign for the film contains interesting information about the filmmaking process and creators’ purposes.

Miss Representation

Year:
Country of Origin:
Format:
Running Time: 85 min

Miss Representation, directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, is a documentary that focuses on the media representation of women and the effect this has on women in society. The main points of the documentary comment on the lack of authentic representation of women in films, TV shows, political offices, news outlets, and other aspects of popular culture mass media consumption that lead to harmful psychological issues for young girls, sustaining this system of oppression. The documentary looks at historical events as well as current events of the disenfranchisement of women in America. It uses interviews with various women of power or those who have been affected by the media misrepresentation, statistic facts about the skewed society we live in, and direct examples from various media sources of harmful and misogynistic portrayals of women or men talking about women. The documentary ends with ways in which we as a society can deny the influences of huge media conglomerates, such as through the political power of  voting and purchasing power that we as consumers have.

Maquilapolis

Title: Maquilapolis

Year:

Directors: Vicky Funari and Sergio De La Torre

Released in 2006, Maquilapolis details the struggles of women working for $11 per day in factories on the US-Mexico border. The film employs participatory techniques to give its subjects, the women working in the factories, their own voice in the film; Funari and De La Torre taught the workers how to use video cameras and gave them camcorder to record their experiences in the factories and in their neighborhoods. The film exposes the insidious aspects of globalization and shows how these factories exploit their workers and destroy the environment. In particular it shows how the factories disrupt the ecology of the neighborhoods they move into; examples include the stream becoming too polluted to swim in and poor installation of electrical wires leading to children being electrocuted. The film also acts in the performative mode, using choreographed scenes and audio layering to show how

Despite these awful conditions, Maquilapolis details these women organizing to attempt to limit the power of the factories in their communities and achieve fairer wages. The participatory mode of the film situates the filmmakers with the factory workers in the struggle against the corporations, and in this way the film itself acts as both a document of the struggle and an ethical engagement with exploitative economic conditions.

against a trans narrative (Dir: Jules Rosskam, 2008)

Filmmaker:
Year:
Country of Origin:
Format:
Running Time: 61 min

Still featuring Jules Rosskam (filmmaker) and his girlfriend in a confessional-style scene

Synopsis:

Through reenactments, interviews, and both informal and structured conversations, filmmaker and subject Jules Rosskam deconstructs the idea of a singular trans narrative. His reflexive film acts more as an intersectional conversation and discussion instigator than as a traditional story-telling documentary. The scenes in the film, which vary in type from confessionals to individual/group interviews to reenactments to dinner table conversations to “behind the scenes” footage, not only respectively contain challenging and controversial conversation, but also engage in conversation with each other, working cohesively to deconstruct the idea of one cohesive trans experience.

Rosskam, often using his own experiences, aptly addresses some of the most pressing, yet coded and hidden topics of FTM trans experiences both through reenactments and his own narrative. These topics include navigating the healthcare system as a transperson, transitioning while in a relationship, evolution from one part of the queer community to another, personal physical comfort in contrast with social perceptions, and constructions of both feminism and masculinity. While representing several experiences of FTM folks and those who surround them, the film also seeks express the importance of individual experiences and the multifaceted and varying aspects of physical and social gender transition.

The film also captures sociopolitical stances of a time around 2008 through its subject’s statements. This was timestamp was particularly noticeable in a conversation about feminism; a group of men are prompted to discuss feminism, and one states, “I wouldn’t go out and say I’m a feminist… I identify as a feminist but I don’t know if that’s a thing I should say.” Rosskam, who certainly engages with more current ideas about feminism and gender, introduces ideas that are just now (in 2015) starting to enter more mainstream vocabulary. Most prevalently are the concepts of passing and an idealized narrative; “the idealized narrative of what it means to be trans has become so pervasive that ultimately we’re all in process to get to a certain endpoint, and that endpoint is to be passable and read as a man or a woman in a world. And then if you’re not passable and read as a man or woman in this world, then clearly you haven’t finished yet.” Rosskam further challenges the binary that sits at the core of the idealized narrative, using footage of himself talking to his girlfriend about his social transition: “I’m afraid you’re going to lump me in with men – and I don’t see myself that way, I don’t identify myself that way.” Furthermore, Rosskam directly confronts the intersectionality that is too often ignored when discussing trans issues and narratives by asking his subjects “how do you think that your race and class impact your transition?” and related questions.

While Rosskam’s film is not a comprehensive view of trans lives, it offers a glance at many pivotal (and often silenced) issues. His involvement in the film (which ranges from confessional footage of himself, to vlogs with his girlfriend, to him appearing on screen to sync sound with audio) gives a humble tone of reflexivity and determination for self growth within an ever-expanding, intersectional, and complicated community that exists within a world designed to work against exactly the identities fostered in his community.

Related Subjects: Gender Studies, Feminist Studies, Queer Studies, Health Studies, Identity Politics

Critic Responses:

“Employing roundtable discussions, confessional on-camera monologues, acted-out skits, rehearsals of the acted-out skits, and rather fine rap poetry, the film can be applauded as an important tool for classroom use, but as a finished product for mass appreciation, Against is too haphazard, too unstructured, too insular. It’s a slightly amateurish paean to academic solipsism broken up by numerous episodes of power.”

Brandon Judell, CultureCatch

“It is inarguable that documentary is meant to create a motion, but “Against a Trans Narrative” does more than this. It creates a conversation, which is the first step towards understanding. Watching films such as these will encourage people to push for an open dialogue about how to make not only Colgate, but society more accepting.”

Reyna LaRiccia, Colgate Maroon-News

Bibliographic items:

Raun, Tobias. “Out Online: Trans Representation and community building on YouTube.” Roskilde University. http://rucforsk.ruc.dk/site/files/40335798/Tobias_final_with_front_page_pfd.pdf

Rosskam, Jules. “The ties that bind are fragile and often imaginary: Community, identity politics, and the limits of representation.” Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0740770X.2010.529256

William, Gabe. “How I knew I was Trans: My Story and the Trans Narrative.” Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jo3Qav6cLtY

 

Vessel (2014)

Vessel (2014), directed by Diana Whitten, follows Dutch physician and former Greenpeace ship’s doctor Rebecca Gomperts and her organization Women on Waves as they sail from country to country with the hope of providing access to and information about safe medical abortions for women. The film unfolds in chronological order with after-the-fact interviews from Women on Waves volunteers interspersed throughout. The camera centers on Gomperts for the duration of the film but also captures conversations amongst the other volunteers. Whitten includes real-time interviews with the volunteers, as well as supplementary footage filmed by other documentarians and news outlets which gives an account of how citizens on land saw the ship. Whitten is careful to protect the identities of the women who board the ship to get an abortion, as the camera only ever shows their hands or blurs their faces.

The film, which premiered at South by Southwest Film Festival in 2014, consists of almost a decade’s worth of footage and begins with Women on Waves’ first voyage to Ireland. Gomperts’ original plan involved travelling to countries like Ireland where abortion is illegal, helping pregnant women to board the ship, and administering medical (pill-based) abortions in medical in international waters where they would be legally allowed to perform abortions under Dutch jurisdiction. Their approach evolves, however, as they are met with opposition from aggressive anti-abortion activists and national governments. Gomperts eventually decides to change their strategy, knowing that if they cannot get women to board the ship then they will have to help women gain access to the necessary pills on land. She begins by going on a talk show in Portugal and on live television she gives instructions for women to buy and use Misoprostol, a drug which induces abortion about eighty percent of the time. Emily Bazelon describes the shift in Gomperts’ technique in a companion piece written in the New York Times, “The Dawn of the Post-Clinic Abortion”:

As word of Gomperts’ TV appearance spread, activists in other countries saw it as a breakthrough. Gomperts had communicated directly to women what was still, in many places, a well-kept secret: There were pills on the market with the power to end a pregnancy. Emails from women all over the world poured into Women on Waves, asking about the medication and how to get it. Gomperts wanted to help women “give themselves permission” to take the pills, as she puts it, with as little involvement by the government, or the medical profession, as possible. She realized that there was an easier way to do this than showing up in a port. She didn’t need a ship. She just needed the Internet. (Bazelon)

The film captures Women on Waves’ transition to an internet base, Women on Web, as they try to increase their global reach. Text of women’s emails overlays footage of the volunteers responding while still aboard the ship. Women from on Ireland, Philippines, and the U.S. military email Women on Web desperate for information about abortion, and the volunteers reply with explanations of how to access and use Misoprostol. Women can also fill out a consultation on the website and the organization package sends a package with the pills by mail.

There are also several animations throughout the film that contain statistics and information about abortions. One animation shows a map of the world with descriptions about international abortion laws. Accompanying the text are white figures representing women from around the world; they fall and turn black under a statistic claiming that every ten minutes a woman dies due to unsafe abortion is on-screen. Another animation includes directions for how to use Misoprostol. This segment is highly informative, explaining the side effects of the pills, when it becomes necessary to see a doctor, what to say to a doctor, and even recommends having a friend close by or reaching out to Women on Web for emotional support.

Vessel is as much an instructive film as it is an arresting close-up look at the evolution of Gomperts’ grassroots organization. The film does an excellent job of capturing the challenges that confront both Women on Waves and women across the world in regards to choosing to terminate a pregnancy. Through depictions of Gomperts’ and Women on Waves’ creative solutions, Vessel also captures the resilience of women and their collective power that transcends racial, cultural, class, and religious divides.

 

 

Sermons of Sister Jane: Believing the Unbelievable, The (2007)

Filmmakers: Allie Light, Irving Saraf, and Carol Monpere
Year: 2007
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 53 min
View in Tripod
Visit the Official Site

Sister Jane receiving the Eucharist
Sister Jane receiving the Eucharist
© Women Make Movies 2007

The Sermons of Sister Jane: Believing the Unbelievable presents the story of one nun’s struggle against the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Her activism begins with her attempts to stop sexual abuse and corruption within her local diocese. The film chronicles her quest in battling the abuses rampant in her church, as she first contacts the bishop, who ignores the evidence she presents, and later a representative of the Vatican, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI). When her attempts to deal with Church officials fail, she contacts the press, stirring controversy. Her struggle with the Church hierarchy is not limited to the lack of recognition of the sexual abuse occurring in her parish, but it also includes disagreement with the Church’s teachings on issues such as birth control, homosexuality, the ordination of women, and even the Virgin Birth.

Through its presentation of the story of a single woman, The Sermons of Sister Jane demonstrates the conflicts of faith the wider Catholic Church is experiencing. The documentary juxtaposes images of lay Catholics practicing their faith with interviews with Sister Jane, connecting her discontent with the Catholic leadership and the unmet needs of the people of the Church. With a membership that is more supportive of same-sex marriage than the general population and whose women overwhelmingly utilize contraception, the Church suffers from a large disconnect between the beliefs and practices of the laity of the Church and the official teachings of the Church. Sister Jane is part of a larger movement of Catholics hoping to move away from condemning sexuality and to shift focus to helping the most marginalized populations in society. The Sermons of Sister Jane shows her courage to speak against the Church hierarchy and support social justice through her work with the community dining room at Plowshares, presenting a narrative of Catholic faith that is a much-needed break from the usual coverage of conservative Catholic leaders spouting words of condemnation.

Sister Jane states that “Jesus walked among the poor, the outcasts, the lepers, not the high priests,” spurring her audience to reject the Church hierarchy and instead pay attention to those in need. The format of structuring the documentary around interviews with Sister Jane gives her authority and shifts from the patriarchal Church’s exclusion of women to an alternative model in which women are leading and given a voice. The Sermons of Sister Jane is a powerful documentary exploring the potential for progressive activism in faith communities, women in the Catholic Church, feminist theology, and gender studies in religion.

Ashley Vogel 2013.

Further Reading:

[1] Feminism and Theology, Ed. Janet Soskice & Diana Lipton, 2003

[2] “Pope Francis and the American Sisters,” Mary E. Hunt, Religion Dispatches

[3] “What Should The Vatican Say to the (Last Generation of) Nuns?” Peter Manseau, Religion Dispatches

[4] Catholic and Feminist: The Surprising History of the American Catholic Feminist Movement, Mary J. Henold, 2008