Amazingly, it has taken 50 years for an honest and fairly comprehensive documentary about the beginnings of the modern women’s movement to be produced, entitled “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry.”
Director and co-producer Mary Dore with co-producer Nancy Kennedy have put together a straightforward account of the early years, 1966 – 1971, of the Women’s Liberation Movement. They cite as one example the angry responses of women anti-war activists in the Vietnam War era demeaned by their male colleagues as a motivating factor for these feminists to begin organizing for women’s rights. Of course, there were many other grassroots groups that were spurred to protest after reading Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique”, which lifted the veil on the limitations and frustrations of women’s domesticity.
The 92-minute film covers early conscious-raising sessions which broke down the isolation of women as mothers and homemakers, group-training sessions suggested by the book “Our Bodies, Ourselves” that encouraged women to take control of their reproductive health; countless rallies and demonstrations to demand equal pay, day care, safer contraceptives, access to abortion, freedom from violence and sexual harassment and to protest the many instances of sex-based discrimination that women suffer. As many of us remember, the National Organization for Women was born out of this great uprising of angry, enthusiastic and even joyful feminist activism.
NOW Founders Featured – “She’s Beautiful” is replete with early film footage, interviews with leaders and activists, including several of the women who founded the National Organization for Women, such as Betty Friedan, Mary Jean Collins, Muriel Fox and Aileen Hernandez. Other leaders and thinkers such as Alix Kates Shulman, Rita Mae Brown, Kate Millet, Ellen Willis, and Jo Freeman are featured as are Bella Abzug, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Shirley Chisholm who became members of Congress. Some 30 women who figured in the movement’s birth are noted.
One of the focuses in the film is Jane (or the Jane Collective), the Chicago-based group of feminists who trained themselves in safe and effective abortion procedures and covertly provided help to more than 11,000 women in Chicago from 1969 to 1973 when Roe v. Wade was decided. A founder of Jane is Heather Booth, a well-known progressive activist in Washington, D.C., who was at the D.C. premiere to answer questions and talk about those early days. NOW Foundation honored Booth several years ago with the Victoria J. Mastrobuono Award for Women’s Health.
The fun moments of protest are not ignored in the film by including footage of the First National Ogle-In where activists emulated the hoots and hollers of street harassment commonly encountered by women and the occasional burning of bras and girdles, not to forget to mention the parodies of beauty contests.
Film is Faithful to the Facts – As a historical account that is faithful to the facts, “She’s Beautiful” meets the test. I say this as a feminist activist and organizer since 1968 and critical reviewer of this period.
There have been numerous other positive reviews of the film, such as this Huffington Post article titled “‘She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry’ Tells the Feminist History Left Out of Your School Textbook”, which includes an insightful interview with Dore.
San Francisco-based writer Dr. Renate Stendahl notes in another HuffPost piece,
This is not a critical review, it’s a spontaneous reaction of sheer astonishment and delight. I am sure that I am not the only one who has waited forever to see a documentary of the beginning feminist movement that hits the target, letting you relive the beginning era by thrilling moment. I have been there, although in Paris, not in the States, conscious that much of the great impulses came from American women, firing up the rest of the world.
One purposeful omission, however, is coverage of the ratification effort for the Equal Rights Amendment. As Dore said, that could be the subject of a separate feature-length film. Dore initially sought funding for the film through a Kickstarter campaign, but she still needs to pay for rights to the music that was used in the film. The difficulty in raising funds for this effort, Dore said, reinforced her opinion that people do not believe the women’s liberation movement mattered. (If that’s true, it’s up to us to change that view.)
Women’s Rights Most Important Movement – Certainly, the relentless pushback against women’s bid for equality and especially against abortion rights has taken a toll. So has the effort to make “feminist” a dirty word. But those who have a deeper understanding of women’s history know that the women’s rights movement which began in the United States in the mid-1800s and which has spread around the globe is the most important effort yet to attain a full actualization of democracy by empowering equally half the world’s population.
“She’s Beautiful” premiered in New York City last December, followed by screenings in Los Angeles and is running through February 23 at Landmark E Street Cinema in Washington, D.C. where several of the leaders featured in the film participated in a Q & A panel following the screenings. NOW Action Vice President Bonnie Grabenhofer with Jane founder Heather Booth will be participating in a Q & A session about the film on Saturday, Feb. 21, at the 7:15 p.m. showing.
Request Your Local Theater to Screen ‘She’s Beautiful’ – Be sure to watch the trailer for this incredible film, and check out the listing of other cities showing the film. You can also request your local theater to schedule screenings of “She’s Beautiful”.