The fight for women’s right to the ballot comes alive this weekend with the opening of “Suffragette,” starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Romola Garai, Anne-Marie Duff and Meryl Streep in a brief cameo as Emmeline Pankhurst. Director Sarah Gavron and screenwriter Abi Morgan’s inspirational drama focuses on the steep sacrifices the foot soldiers of the movement were forced to make, especially after many of them decide resort to violence after half a century of futile peaceful protest.
In an interview with Women and Hollywood, Gavron said, “There has never been a cinematic rendition of this story. I had not been taught any of the history of the movement at school, and the version I had gleaned had been the Mary Poppins story of women in large hats, petitioning. There was another version, and it was that [one] that the team and I wanted to tell. We discussed endlessly how to get inside the hearts and minds of these women who broke every taboo in order to be heard, who committed arson, endured police violence, imprisonment, went on hunger strikes and were repeatedly force-fed. They were women who were prepared to risk so much; many lost jobs, homes, families and children in the battle.”
“Suffragette” is powerful, heartrending and inspirational as hell, and Mulligan is excellent as the working-class woman who finds herself increasingly pulled into a movement she’s convinced is right despite the personal costs her activism brings. But if you need more motivation to catch this extraordinary and unabashedly feminist film in theaters this weekend, here are five more reasons to see “Suffragette”:
1. It’s full of bad-ass role models. And they’re over 18! Sure, having YA heroines is necessary, but we so rarely get to see grown-ass women changing the world. “Suffragette” is the embodiment of the saying “well-behaved women seldom make history.” These women made history and then some through rebellion, subversion and strategic aggression — qualities women are unjustly seldom celebrated for on screen.
2. It boasts the only female director in awards conversations this year. Gavron is a BAFTA-nominated filmmaker and a true talent. “Suffragette” is her second narrative feature; “Brick Lane” was her directorial debut.
3. It’s got (almost) all the other feminist bona fides on its side. The film is led not only by a woman helmer and writer, but has been guided by two female producers (Alison Owen and Faye Ward). It passes the Bechdel test with flying colors and has at its emotional core a political speech by Emmeline Pankhurst. Yes, the “whitewashing” concerns are real and the film’s promotional t-shirt campaign was poorly conceived, but Gavron isn’t blind to intersectionality. In an upcoming podcast with Women and Hollywood, she’ll discuss how most of the suffragettes of color she found in her historical research were of noble birth, and they unfortunately had to be waylaid because her intent was to focus on the working-class women who were the unknown soldiers of the movement. (There are well-to-do but no aristocratic women in the film.) We hope another film in the future will give suffragettes of color their due.
4. It’s the rare movie about the female struggle for enfranchisement. There’s so much dramatic potential in the women’s fight for the ballot that it’s bewildering how rarely the movement’s been depicted on the big screen. And it’s important to remember, as Gavron says,
“how hard-fought the battle for the vote was, [as well as] the debt we owe to women who paved the way for this more egalitarian society we live in [and] how critical it is to use our vote and to be counted.”
5. It’s a crucial reminder that the fight isn’t over. “We have come far,” continued Gavron, “but there is an ongoing battle to be fought. Many of the issues the suffragettes were dealing with are still issues today across the globe: equal pay, parental rights, sexual abuse, etc.” The credits also reveal that even the battle for enfranchisement continues in the 21st century. Let “Suffragette” educate, motivate and inspire you this weekend.