Tag Archives: feminism

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
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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.

The American Nurse (Dir: Carolyn Jones, 2014)

Filmmaker:
Year:
Country of Origin:
Format: ,
Running Time: 79 min

The American Nurse

The American Nurse: Healing America is an American documentary directed by Carolyn Jones as part of a larger project covering American nurses. The American Nurse project, started in 2011, is a collection of photographs, short video interviews, and this film. The purpose of the project is to “meet nurses all across the country and hear their stories and give them a voice”, according to Jones. The collection of short interviews (most are about 1 minute long) and the book were both published in 2012, with the film the final chapter of the project.

The film looks into the day to day activities of 5 American nurses: Jason Short, Sister Stephen, Brian McMillion, Tonia Faust, and Naomi Cross. The nurses all work in very different environments ranging from the middle of nowhere in the Appalachians to a hospital in Baltimore, MD. Jones shows us the private and public lives of these nurses in an effort to give them more of a voice when a lot of the times these nurses come in and out of patients room without sharing much of their lives. Jones, who begins the film explaining that at first she thought nurses were just nurses until she had breast cancer, isn’t a main character in the documentary, choosing instead to focus the attention of the film onto the nurses. It’s rare to hear her voice at all. The documentary takes us through the joys and pains of being a nurse, and is a great look into a world that many of us are not aware of. Instead of being simply medical professionals who do their job robotically with no emotion, The American Nurse shows us that nurses are humans like everyone else, and that they feel for their patients as anyone else.

American Nurses is a great tribute to the men and women who work hard everyday to help their patients through difficult times. Jones’ film is a must watch for anyone interested in hearing about nurses in the United States.

NYT Review: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/16/movies/the-american-nurse-documentary-focuses-on-five.html

Hollywood Reporter Review: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/american-nurse-film-review-701975

 

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.

Conjure Women

“The work is about life. It’s about experience. It’s not about academics and it’s not about theory. And it’s not about processing out who you are. It’s very much about personal experience. And so if I want to talk about personal experience and I have to talk to those people who are interested in that and who live it. Not people who are interested in it, but those who live their experience. You know, those who don’t use theory as a sort of chart  or gauge by which to monitor their lives.”             -Carrie Mae Weems

Conjure Women highlights the work and careers of four African-American female artists: choreographer Anita Gonzalez, performance artist Robbie McCauley, photographer Carrie Mae Weems, and singer Cassandra Wilson. The film explores the complex identity of African-Americans and the positionality of women within this identity. Each woman portrays African American culture in arenas it which is hasn’t typically been acknowledged. Their work is a way to teach, but also to find their place within and connection to the community from which they originate. For example, Anita Gonzalez performs a piece about handling African-American’s hai, emphasizing attempts to suppress kinky curls in favor of straight hair or braids. The performance not only becomes a look at black hair, but also at what African-American women do in order to feel beautiful, no matter how damaging the process.

Each artist uses her work to explore the African diaspora on a global level. African-American women’s experiences are connected to men’s, but the distinctions are often not tackled. These four women are striving to tell the narrative surrounding African-American women by reclaiming their history and the stories of their families. They are keeping African-American history and traditions alive, while modernizing them to inform the current generation. Conjure Women is a beautiful documentary exploring the experience of not just African-American women, but all women. Unfortunately, the documentary hasn’t received the attention it deserves, but each artist featured is well established and easy to explore individually.

Resources:

Between Women: Trauma, Witnessing, and the Legacy of Interracial Rape in Robbie McCauley’s Sally’s Rape

Cassandra Wilson on NPR

Anita Gonzalez’s Website

Carrie Mae Weems’ Photography Website

Healthcaring: From Our End of the Speculum

Directed by Denise Bostrom and Jane Warrenbrand

1976

United States of America

32 minutes

Lolly Hirsch and her daughter Jean discuss self-examinations

Lolly Hirsch and her daughter Jean discuss self-examinations.

Healthcaring is a short documentary that focuses on the historical and contemporary abuses women have suffered at the hands of mostly male practitioners, and depicts solutions women find to lack of access to comprehensive health care in the 1970s.

The film includes many talking heads of women relating their stories of mishaps with mainstream gynecologists and obstetricians, including victim-blaming following a rape, mistreatment during labor, and general misinformation and disrespect. The women’s anecdotes are often short and intense with no interference from an interviewer. This gives the viewer a sense of the popular attitude of women towards mainstream healthcare, especially because there is a wide range of women speaking to the issue in terms of race and age. Interestingly, there is no discussion of abortion rights in the film at all, which may be due to the politics or morals of the filmmakers, or the fact that the Roe v. Wade decision had recently been made by the Supreme Court and there was uncertainty about the effects of the decision in favor of the child-bearer’s right to terminate their pregnancy.

There is also historical context for the systemic mistreatment of women by practitioners that is shown through archival images and acted narration. There is distinct romanticization of eras past when women would care for each other and there was little interference from men in natural female processes such as menstruation and birth. There is little mention of the benefits that modern medicine provided many patients will including antibiotics and effective birth control. But this ties into the main critique of the film that women have been denied genuine access to knowledge about how their bodies work and how to take care of themselves.

The crux of the film’s message rests in the spaces that women have created to nurture self-knowledge concerning preventative care. Though the women who speak about the clinics that they have created with fondness, they directly express their belief that the health care they had to seek out ought to be provided free of charge to every woman in the United States. There is a great sense of the value in maintaining a space for women that includes lively discussion about relevant health issues, promotion of preventative care procedures, and outreach to the communities that the clinics exist.

Ultimately, this film is very frustrating to watch in the beginning of the 21st century because so many of the problems discussed are still endemic in society today. There is still ineffective education about sexual health throughout the United States and shame surrounding feminine sexuality and the bodies of those with vaginas. There are still political attacks on organizations such as Planned Parenthood that provide much needed educational resources, as well as prenatal and STI medical care. It brings to mind the fact that there needs to be more visibility for women’s health clinics, staffed by community members or medical practitioners, as well as the continuing struggle for comprehensively available healthcare overall, with special attention to the needs of women.

 “Women and Mental Health: A Feminist Review”

“Rejecting the Center: Radical Grassroots Politics in the 1970s — Second-Wave Feminism as a Case Study”

Jasad & The Queen of Contradictions

Filmmaker: Amanda Homsi-Ottosson
Year: 2011
Country of Origin: UK, Lebanon
Format: Color, DVD
Running Time: 40 minutes
Languages: English, Arabic (subtitled)

This documentary from Lebanese director Amanda Homsi-Ottosson explores the controversy surrounding Jumanah Sallum Haddad’s magazine Jasad. Published quarterly, Jasad is an erotic cultural magazine that aims to educate and provide and outlet for Arab sexuality.  Haddad, a writer herself, decided to create an outlet for other Arab men and women to read, write, and discuss arts and literature surrounding ideas of the body.

Contradiction mostly focuses on the debate that has sprung up around Jasad, both between those who view the magazine as beneficial and those who find it to be inappropriate and shameful and between those who believe that it is not serving women in the way it should be. The documentary focuses mainly on interviews with Haddad herself, those who read (or wish to ban) her magazine, and various professionals whose lives are touched by the issues in covered in Jasad, such as a sexual health counselor.

Contradictions paints an interesting portrait of Haddad and her magazine.  The documentary begins with Haddad explaining why she was motivated to create Jasad and continues with street interviews about perceptions of the magazine. Reactions are predictably polarized, ranging from religious denunciations of the magazine to endorsements of the work by young men and women hoping to spread awareness and acceptance of sexuality.

The most interesting part of Contradiction comes when various Jasad readers explain the importance of having such a publication in the Arab world.  It is explained that it is common for Arab men and women to use French or English words for genitalia and sex acts, because the most common equivalent words in Arabic are either offensive or nonexistent. Jasad is portrayed as bringing back ownership of not only the body but the language surrounding the body to Arabic speakers.  The narrative of Jasad can be written as one of decolonization and reclamation.

Contradictions, although unconditionally supportive of Haddad and Jasad, does allow alternative opinions to be expressed through interviews. One in particular offered a valid and interesting critique of the magazine. Two Muslim feminists – one veiled and one not – argue that Jasad is pushing a certain kind of liberation on society. The women explain that there should be no shame in wearing a veil, and that they are “not represented in this ‘revolutionary magazine'”.

Related readings:
I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman, by Jumanah Sallum Haddad, creator of Jasad

Born in Flames

Filmmaker:
Country of Origin:
Running Time: 90 min

Born in Flames cover

Born in Flames takes place in a slightly different version of New York City than we know today. The movie takes place in a New York City supposedly under a new socialist government, where all the problems that a diverse population usually faces have supposedly been eradicated. The government says that racism is gone, sexism is gone, and inequality is gone… or (when government officials are pressed on the subject) at least much better than they were before the socialist revolution.

However, as one would expect, the truth is a different matter. And as women, (more so in the cases of women of color and alternative sexuality) are harassed in the street, lose their jobs, and are denied promotions that they justly deserve, two women found a revolutionary woman’s organization called the Woman’s Army. These women are Adelaide Norris and her older mentor, Flo Kennedy.

Born in Flames is a movie about the Woman’s Army told through the voices of women who were observers at first, and later, participants in the organization. It is interesting to note that the more the movie progresses, the less the viewer sees of Norris and Kennedy. Born in Flames concentrates more on the discussions and landslide of repercussions induced by these two women, as opposed to the two women themselves. Throughout the movie, the most prominent camera shots involve two pirate radio stations, “Radio Ragazza” and “Phoenix Radio”, as their leaders speak out about the Women’s Army. Also featured in semi important roles are four women magazine editors/journalists, as well as two FBI agents who monitor and later take action against the Women’s Army.

The climax of the movie occurs when Norris returns from Africa where she was attempting to procure arms for the Women’s Army. She is arrested at the airport by the FBI, and imprisoned. In a highly suspicious set of circumstances, Norris is discovered the following morning to have committed suicide. The public is enraged. Besides high jacking a number of local and national television broadcast stations, the Women’s Army places a bomb on the top of the World Trade Center. The movie closes first by showing a reel of Kennedy proclaiming that the Army will not rest until equality is established, and finally with the bomb detonating.

In my opinion, Born in Flames is a classic feminist film, not just because it is about women fighting for equality, but because it does an amazing job simply filming those women. The women the viewer sees on screen are from many different races, economic classes, and various political beliefs, yet none of them are filmed in a more favorable light than the others. The camera is almost perfectly neutral in its gaze, with no special close ups or fragmented shots to alert the audience to certain physical features of a character.

Instead of this neutrality making the movie emotionally or visually dull, it gives the film a striking sense of authenticity. I believe that this authenticity is what leads some to call Born in Flames a mocumentary, for this fictitious film somehow makes itself feels like documented reality. Thus, though the ending of the film is ambiguous and inconclusive, the film’s characters are real, and in the end the viewer can leave the theater believing in their tenacity and hope.

For more information:
New York Times Review
http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/6744/Born-in-Flames/overview

New York Times Biography of Lizzie Borden
http://movies.nytimes.com/person/82463/Lizzie-Borden/biography

An all around Lizzie Borden reference site, complete with details about various articles written by Borden, and the titles of various books/articles about Borden. http://www.filmreference.com/Directors-Be-Bu/Borden-Lizzie.html

Born in Flames movie cover