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Book Excerpt: The Future of Feminist Film

Book Excerpt: The Future of Feminist Film

The following is excerpted from Sophie Mayer’s “Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema,” published in December 2015.

Just over a year ago, the 2014 European Film Awards might have thought they were paying obeisance to an
adorable grandmother when handing a lifetime achievement award to Agnès Varda.
But Varda gleaned the opportunity to raging feminist purpose, stating:

“What I have noticed is that it is very sweet to
receive this award but when I see the nominees here, I feel there are not
enough women. I think more women should be included. I know a lot of very good
female directors and women editors and I would like them be more represented
and helped by the European film academy.”

Her speech echoes the 2012 open
more female presence penned by the feminist collective La Barbe to Thierry
Frémaux, the director of the Cannes Film Festival.

So far it’s
had little material result bar Jane Campion’s appointment as jury president in
2014, a lack that emphasises its truth. It ended: “Women, mind your spools of
thread! And men, as the Lumière Brothers did before you, mind your film reels!
And let the Cannes film festival competition forever be a man’s world!” What’s
open about this letter is not just its public address — published in Le Monde and The Guardian — but its exposure of that which heteropatriarchy keeps
hidden, the persistence of insidious misogyny cloaked in claims of aesthetics
or commerce.

Alexander broke the silence surrounding the operations of Hollywood cinema by
going public about her industry experiences via her blog and on Women and Hollywood,
 offering evidence for her statement that:

discrimination in Hollywood goes far beyond women simply not getting the gig.
It is reflected in movie budgets, P&A budgets, the size of distribution
deals (if a female director’s movie is lucky enough to score one), official and
unofficial internship or mentorship opportunities, union eligibility, etc. Women
in Hollywood have no male allies.”

Editor Melissa Silverstein
introduces Alexander’s post with a note that: “This is a woman director standing
up for herself and other women directors. She does this at great peril.” Alexander’s courage in coming forward, Silverstein’s support, the huge
supportive response to her post, the negative experiences she describes, and
the lack of any concrete change so far, all speak to the current media
landscape in which sexism and feminist responses thereto are both
hyper-visible. The open letter continues to open our eyes.

Feminist film is an “open letter”: not only in the sense of Varda’s short film ‘Women
Reply’ but as a mode of practice. Onscreen and off, it’s communitist, inclusive
and concerned with address (who is speaking, who is listening). It’s at once
chaotically futurological and passionately historical, offering Utopian visions
that draw its audience into action. There is a rage for and towards, located
in the oppression we may have experienced individually and collectively because
of our R-A-G-E: race/religion,
age/ability, gender and sexuality and/or economic class. That intersectional
oppression and the rage it inspires can become — as Belle says in “Belle” (Amma Asante) — our source of
intellectual and personal freedom.

there is a hunger for evidence that another way is possible — and feminist
cinema is addressing it, through a flourishing of feminist cinemas engaged with
local specificities that speak to a global audience. Looking back on the first 20
years of feminist film culture in “Chick
Flicks,” B. Ruby Rich hoped for the moment “when the cinematic/videographic
telling of history catches up finally with my moment of living it and arrives
on the doorstep of feminist film.” That moment has arrived. If “Political Animals” demonstrates anything,
it’s that there’s more than enough powerful, original, engaging films to go
around, both contemporary and historical. And there will be more.

But the future of feminist cinema lies in
your hands. One of the great truths told by non-dominant art is that it’s the
audience who have the power. But you — we — need to know what films are on
release and being made, because we are the first, foremost and final curators. In
an open letter calling out
lack of media support for her film “Beyond
the Lights,” Gina Prince-Bythewood animates the social, cultural and
political argument that Astra Taylor sums up in the phrase “the people’s

I want us to look up on screen and see a black woman
fighting to find her voice, find her authentic self and be brave enough to live
an authentic life. I want us to look up on screen and be inspired to want more
for ourselves, to want to love, and to love ourselves.

Our choice
of what ticket to buy or link to click on (re)shapes the media, not simply as
an economic tick that flickers on an executive’s spreadsheet, but because it
changes us, psychically and
affectively, and thus changes our
community. Choosing a feminist film can be an act of love, for the film and for
ourselves. The films we see enter our imaginations, our intimate and political
fantasies; they shape our interactions, our conversations, possibly even our
revolutions. They become part of our
story, our open letter to the future.

Sophie Mayer is the author of “Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema” and “The Cinema of Sally Potter: A Politics of Love.” She is a member of queer feminist film curators Club des Femmes and of industry campaigners Raising Films. She is a regular contributor to Sight & Sound, The F-Word, Open Democracy and Literal Magazine, and blogs about feminist film at She tweets @tr0ublemayer.

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