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A Conversation with the ‘Suffragette’ Team

A Conversation with the ‘Suffragette’ Team

At a private screening at the Director Guild of America Theatre in New York City on October 10, Academy Award nominee Alison Owen (producer), Golden Globe
Award nominee Faye Ward (producer), BAFTA Award winning director Sarah Gavron and Emmy-Award winner screenwriter Abi Morgan spoke, following the screening
of their new film “Suffragette.” 

The four women met when working together on the 2007 film “Brick Lane,” and soon after began discussing making a film on the suffragette movement
and the women’s fight to win the right to vote in Britain a century ago.

“Suffragette” centers on Maud, a working wife and mother, who is secretly recruited to join the U.K.’s growing Suffragette movement. Galvanized by the outlaw fugitive
Emmeline Pankhurst, Maud becomes an activist for the cause alongside women from all walks of life. When increasingly aggressive police action forces Maud
and her dedicated fellow Suffragettes underground, they engage in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with the authorities, who are shocked as the women’s
civil disobedience escalates and sparks debate across the nation.

I had done a number of biopics before and it’s so hard to squeeze in a whole life –it’s so difficult; you’re trying to find a prism.”

“Maud, a fictional character, played by Carey Mulligan, was a composite character based on three women we read accounts on.”

“We wanted to capture the moment when the suffragettes move from pacifism to activism and as a result there were four of five amazing historical events,
such as the Night of Broken Panes. Then we started reading about the testimonies of the working women and that’s when it profoundly changed for me.”

“The subject of the film was less fashionable when we started out with the project six years ago. It’s a sexy subject now. As we were preparing during the
past year for the release of “Suffragette,” suddenly Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Emma Watson and others were and saying, ‘I’m a feminist’ and they were
making it a sexy subject — which is great.”

Family Connections

Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith, a key target for the suffragettes, was the great-grandfather of star Helena Bonham Carter. The team commented on
Bonham Carter’s serious yet light-hearted remarking on having posthumous arguments with him about his negative stance on the suffragette movement.

The Look of the Film

“We felt the film should feel visceral and connected to today. We talked with the production designer to create a 360 set and we had two cameras rolling
all the time. The clothes were actual stock; we used clothes of the time. That was the aesthetic of the piece. We shot in 16mm in the daytime to give it
that gritty grain. We developed a reel of film from the archives and saw the close-ups of those women in the funeral; the faces at the end of our film.”

One Message of the Film

“At the core of this film: Hoping to empower all women to fight for equality and to use our vote. In the UK we have a very complacent and very ambivalent
voting public and we have a dwindling youth vote. We want this film to encourage people to please use your vote.”

The Team Addresses the Suffragette Protests and How Media Attention Can Make Or Break a Movement

“We found in the archives the police surveillance operation and the police violence as well. Sexual abuse in the workplace. Issues that echoed today. It
seemed very relevant.”

“After 50 years of peaceful protests, the media ridiculed the women in the press for being ignored — erased. One of the things that was very poignant, was
that the suffragettes were all about getting attention; their emphasis was non loss of life. When Emily Wilding Davison throws herself in front of horse,
she did so in front of Pathé newsreels and cameras. It was a strategic move.”

(Davison stepped in front of King George V’s horse Anmer at the Epsom Derby in June of 1913, suffering fatal injuries. Her funeral, organized by the
Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was attended by thousands of suffragettes and thousands of others, marking a turning point for the Suffragette

Media Attention Today

For their cover, Time Out London invited the film’s stars Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep and Anne Marie-Duff to wear t-shirts with the slogan: ‘I’d
rather be a rebel than a slave’ – a partial quote taken from a 1913 speech given by Emmeline Pankhurst. This quote has sparked outrage in the U.S.

Pankhurst’s entire quote was: ‘I know that women, once convinced that they are doing what is right, that their rebellion is just, will go on, no matter
what the difficulties, no matter what the dangers, so long as there is a woman alive to hold up the flag of rebellion. I would rather be a rebel than a

“The original quote was intended to rouse women to stand up against oppression — it is a rallying cry, and absolutely not intended to criticize those who
have no choice but to submit to oppression or to reference the Confederacy, as some people who saw the quote and photo out of context have surmised.”

“We all acknowledge and are aware of how acutely sensitive that slogan was in the U.S. We need to keep having the conversation. I hope it’s about diversity
in front of and behind the camera. If it becomes a narrative about a film that is so sincerely meant to promote all women all over the world, then it’s a
misstep and unfortunate.”

We need more diversity in every respect in filmmaking. We need an industry that’s going to want to make that work.”

“Meryl Streep recently said at a press conference about the film, how female voices are hard to be heard: ‘People read ‘Rotten Tomatoes’ and less than a
fifth who rate the movies are women.’ The quartet of women chuckle: “We thought about doing ‘Equal Tomatoes.” Their tone more serious now: “Something that
reflects the diversity of our society equally and properly.”

“Suffragette” opens in the U.S. 23 October.

Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, Susan Kouguell teaches
screenwriting at Purchase College SUNY, and presents international seminars on screenwriting and film. Author of SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! and THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER, she is chairperson
of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a consulting company founded in 1990
where she works with writers, filmmakers, and executives

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