Every year, films come around that generate conversation and debate between the critics and public alike. I appreciate films that have the ability create topics of discussion and allow us to analyze the world around us, as well as the current events of our time. I go to the movies for a source of information as well as entertainment, and the research I do after the movie ends oftentimes proves to be just as interesting as the film itself. A film that I definitely think brings up great topics for discussion and debate is the newly released film Suffragette, directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan (who also wrote and created the amazing BBC series The Hour—which you should all seek out and watch, by the way).
Suffragette follows a group of white lower working-class women in 1912, during the turning point of the British suffragette movement. Under the influence of leader Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep, who despite being featured prominently in advertisements for the film is only in it for a few minutes), laundress Maud (Carey Mulligan) finds herself swept up in the cause after becoming acquainted with a coworker involved in the riots (Anne-Marie Duff) and the local pharmacist (Helena Bonham Carter), both helping to organize militant tactics (including smashing windows and bombing mailboxes) in order to call attention to their fight.
Despite the film being set in the early twentieth century, the fight for equality between men and women is still a relevant topic of discussion in 2015. It’s also notable that a film written, directed, and produced by mostly women has received as wide of a release as this one (222 theatres in the US alone, with plans to expand to even more in the coming weeks). Star Mulligan herself said that she thought Suffragette “would not have been made by a group of men. I think it was always going to take this group of really tenacious women to get it made.” I think that it’s great that a group of women can come together and make a movie, and have it be a financial success. I admire the passion these women had, and you can see it in the film. Every actress’s performance is brimming with anger and determination.
However, it simply cannot be ignored that the cast is almost exclusively white (it has been reported that some extras are played by people of color, but I failed to notice any). In my later research, I was surprised to find that there were several groups of Indian women working alongside the suffragettes, including an Indian princess named Sophia Duleep Singh. I was fascinated by these different stories of the different suffragette groups, and I’m positive that even more perspectives existed beyond my own research. Gavron and those involved with Suffragette maintain that the film is primarily a tale of one woman’s experience within the movement. It’s great that there are movies to highlight the struggles of women within history, and to help educate audiences while simultaneously providing entertainment. Now that we’ve proven time and time again that films by women and films with women sell, let’s go out and tell even more stories. I want to see more movies about amazing women like Sophia Duleep Singh.
It’s 2015. We cannot keep erasing these diverse voices.
Suffragette is currently playing at the Downer Theatre.
The women’s fight for agency in Suffragette reminded me of another film released this year, the incredible science-fiction film Advantageous, written and directed by Jennifer Phang. The film had its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, to critical acclaim. Jacqueline Kim (who co-wrote alongside Phang) stars as Gwen, the face of a center promoting advanced health and living in a time not too far off from our own. Everything changes when she is let go from her job due to her age. A single mother concerned with providing for her daughter Jules’s education and future, Gwen must decide whether or not to undergo a new treatment allowing her consciousness to transfer into a younger (and more racially ambiguous) body, which would allow her to keep her old position.
Advantageous hits on the experiences and struggles that older women face, both in the film industry and outside of it. We live in a culture that emphasizes the beauty of youth, and when women hit a certain age, they are no longer seen as desirable and “put out to pasture,” so to speak. This film also brings up the conversation of race. That Gwen (played by a Korean actress) would have to transfer her mind into the body of a more ethnically ambiguous woman is indicative of the way our society views women of color in terms of desirability and relatability, especially older women of color.
Another strength of this film (of many) is the way the relationship between mother and daughter is represented. Gwen and Jules are both complicated people, and their hopes for both the future and each other might cause friction from time to time, but ultimately they have a strong bond of love, which Kim and newcomer Samantha King (no relation) are able to display through their interactions. Despite not being related, it’s almost as if the actresses are really mother and daughter; every moment between them feels so genuine and beautiful. While technology is often associated with being cold and without heart, Phang uses it to tell a moving love story between a parent and child.
Advantageous is currently available to stream on Netflix.
More films by women opening this weekend:
Love the Coopers (dir. Jessie Nelson, opening at Bayshore iPic, Mayfair AMC 18, and the Marcus theatres starting Thursday 11/12)
The 33 (dir. Patricia Riggen, opening at Bayshore iPic, Mayfair AMC 18, and the Marcus theatres starting Friday 11/13)
Everyday I Love You (dir. Mae Czarina Cruz, playing at the Mayfair AMC 18 through Thursday 11/12)