See Suffragette Before It Leaves Theaters!

suffragette

{This is a review from Katie Christensen.}

Suffragette follows the story of Maud Watts (played by Carey Mulligan) as she wrestles with the idea of joining the suffragettes of 1912 England in their fight for their right to vote. Watts encounters famous suffragettes from history, women like Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) and Emily Wilding Davidson (Natalie Press), as well as the fictional Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter). Ellyn was supposedly modeled after Edith Garrud, the suffragette jiu-jitsu instructor, but I’m disappointed to report that no jiu jitsu ended up in the final cut.

If there is one thing I can say about this movie with absolute certainty, it’s that it passes the Bechdel Test.

It was refreshing to see a woman-centered and woman-produced movie actually center around women, but the men were so one-dimensional it was almost painful. The one man who showed some personality development was Maud’s husband, Sonny (Ben Whishaw), but his transition wasn’t flushed out enough to be believable.

I must confess that, as a Doctor Who fanatic, I’ve always loved Carey Mulligan. (I even almost enjoyed the terrible modernized version of The Great Gatsby simply because she was in it.) That being said, her performance as Maud Watts was fantastic. Her acting was superb, and I found myself empathizing with her. Watt’s reluctance to get involved in the suffrage movement was relatable and frustrating at the same time. It took me back to the days when I refused to admit I was a feminist simply because of the stigma attached to the word.

This film’s relationship to the male gaze is intriguing. While the video work felt nothing like the average movie (the camera never lingered on the women’s bodies) the male gaze was present within the film itself through the use of the newly invented “discreet” portable camera. (Note: I didn’t expect any moments of combined audience laughter, but when a police officer declared that the giant camera of the early 1910s was sneaky enough for surveillance, the audience couldn’t suppress a giggle.) The images created by these giant cameras demonstrated to the audience how the men viewed the suffragettes: pretty and nothing more than a nuisance.

The parallels between Maud Watt’s struggle to accept the suffragette movement, and women today resisting feminism, are glaring to say the least. There were several speeches in the film that, with a few words swapped out, could be heard at any feminist rally or gender studies course in the U.S. right now. As was true in reality, there were many women shown in the film who are actively against gaining the right to vote, their internalized sexism excruciating to see. Even the tactics used by the men fighting against the suffragettes were eerily familiar to me. Not only were women beaten and imprisoned, but words like “crazy” were used to discredit them and take focus away from the cause they were fighting for.

I was really excited when this film was announced, but the PR nightmare that was the “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” t-shirt photo shoot made me reluctant to see the film. I didn’t expect a lot of diversity in a story so focused on white women but it was shocking to not see a single person of color in the entire film. The lack of PoC felt deliberate—almost forced. Even when natural opportunities arose for the mere mention of WoC, those opportunities were ignored. It felt as though the creators got so much backlash over the t-shirts that they set out to prove that it wasn’t about race by eliminating all mentions of it. An unsuccessful tactic, to be sure.

I could write an entire review solely about trigger warnings for this film. Sexual violence, police brutality, and violence against women were all major parts of the plot. The images can only be described as jarring. However, the violence was not gratuitous, nor was it used to merely advance the plot. Each instance of violence exposed a truth about what the suffragettes went through. Excluding these scenes would have erased a crucial part of history. Also, as the violence is shown the emphasis is placed on the way it impacted the characters rather than being voyeuristic.

This wasn’t a film I’d watch just for fun but it has value as an educational tool for those of us who often take the right to vote for granted. The credo of this film is “Deeds not words.” For all of its flaws, it succeeded in instilling a sense of urgency in its viewers. The passion and conviction of the suffragettes was contagious. I felt myself wanting to run out immediately after the film ended (even though it was 9:00 PM and around 45 degrees outside) and demand equal rights for women everywhere. So, if you’re looking for some extra motivation in your fight for equality, I recommend you watch Suffragette.

Suffragette is still playing! See it before it leaves theaters! 

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