There’s a new movie called Suffragette, and it was released in the United States on October 23rd. It was briefly mentioned in my Intro to GWSS class a few weeks ago, and then I ended up talking about it just the other day with some of my friends from the discussion section for that class – like me, they were thinking about maybe watching it. So, I thought… why not talk about Suffragette here, too?! Because I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about this movie, and I’m still trying to sort them out.
Things I Like
There obviously are movies about feminism (and suffrage, specifically – Iron Jawed Angels, for example) but there aren’t a lot and it’s really quite disappointing. Like, let’s take some money away from the budget of all those average, interchangeable action-type movies and use it to make awesome feminist films!
2. It’s about British suffrage
Well, DUH. It’s a British film. Buuuuut I am extraordinarily happy that it’s being released in the US, too! There are definitely…. issues with the portrayal of feminism in this movie – which I’ll discuss in just a sec – but I do think modern feminism is incredibly American-centric. UGH WHY. I don’t even know of many British suffragists (except for Emmeline Pankhurst) because A) women’s history isn’t taught in school and B) history classes in the US kind of… forget that other countries even exist.
3. I think the context of this movie shows just how recently women had the right to vote
I mean, I haven’t seen it yet, obviously, but just think about it: It’s 2015. In the US, women couldn’t vote until 1920. In the UK, women couldn’t vote until… 1918? 1928? Professor Wikipedia indicates that the 1918 vote act was still quite limiting, so yeah. ANYWAY. I can’t believe that in these two countries alone, women haven’t had the vote for even one hundred years yet! It really puts this movement in perspective; in the grand scheme of history, it happened quite recently.
Things I Don’t Like
1. Suffragette is practically the definition of White Feminism
(If you don’t know what this is, here is an explanation from the amazing website Everyday Feminism!)
So first of all, there was a publicity stunt involving the lead actresses wearing shirts with the words “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave.” That’s actually a quote from Pankhurst in 1913 – I’ll give them that – but this movie isn’t being released in the early 20th century. This movie is being released now. Like, I’m sitting here trying to figure out how or why someone thought this was an A+ marketing idea, and I just CAN’T.
Also! This movie ignores the contributions from women of color. I’m so tired of movies – all movies, TBH, not just historical ones – that are like, “LOL EVERYONE IS WHITE. SO WHITE. IF A CHARACTER IS WRITTEN AS ANYTHING ELSE, WE’LL JUST CAST A WHITE PERSON WITH A TAN.” There were Indian feminists in the UK, peoples!
And FYI, Ida B. Wells traveled to the UK in the 1890s to talk about suffrage, and was basically rebuffed since she was black. Since the movie has already been released, we know what is and is not in it – and the answer is a whole bunch of white feminists.
Including women of color would not be “rewriting history” – in fact, the filmmakers are rewriting history by not including them! Show me what the REAL suffrage movement was like, because it wasn’t pretty in either the US or the UK. Show me the dirty little secrets, the racism these women had even as they fought for civil rights. SHOW ME a scene where Ida B. Wells is told that she’s not wanted there. I’m not interested in a movie that glosses over the real issues of intersectionality within feminism, and I’m not interested in a movie that makes history out to be perfect. Because it’s not. It never is.
2. This movie seems afraid to call itself feminist
Suffragette is about, well, freaking SUFFRAGE, but then there was that whole “I’m a humanist” nonsense?! PLEASE STOP. WHYYYY.
I was really excited for Suffragette when I first heard about it, but now… now I’m not so sure. I’m glad that it focuses on British suffrage, but not all of the suffragettes were white! I’m glad that it shows women fighting for their rights, but disappointed that the publicity campaign seems determined to shoot itself in the foot by insisting it’s a “humanist” film.
I DON’T KNOW. Basically, I wish the irritating aspects of this movie/its publicity could be erased from existence, but that’s not gonna happen. ALSO, I just realized that I wrote a nearly-800-word post about a movie that I would not be able to see anyway, at least not until I figure out how the bus system to Coralville works, because that’s the next town over and it has a big theater with all the latest movies but it’s too far away to walk there. UM.
So. I’m still curious enough about Suffragette that I probably WILL end up seeing it eventually, if only to analyze it, but at that point I’ll probably borrow the DVD from the library or something.
P.S. I NEED HELP. Does anyone know of any good feminist films? Preferably recent/upcoming ones?! Because, like… I’ve blogged before about how many LGBTQ+ films are being released this fall, and how some of them seem absolutely awful, but then I’m HELLA EXCITED for the other ones, so they balance each other out. I just realized I don’t really know of anything to balance out Suffragette. Bleh.