Directed by Mary Dore (“The Good Fight: The Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War”), the film serves as an honor roll of norm-busting women and as a blast of feminist history. Activists, authors and dynamos Judith Arcana, Fran Beal, Heather Booth, Susan Brownmiller, Rita Mae Brown, Kate Millett and Alix Kates Shulman are among some 30 notable figures whose recollections fuel the film.
Dore begins and ends with footage featuring recent Texas abortion-related battles, a reminder that the struggle goes on. In between, she considers the gold mine of progress that “women’s lib” achieved from 1966 to 1971.
Organized by theme, the film covers issues that spurred unprecedented discussion: employment equality, reproductive rights, rape, female sexuality, child care.
Events detailed in the colorful patchwork include the formation in 1966 of the National Organization for Women. Betty Friedan, whose 1963 book “The Feminine Mystique” is regarded as the spark of the movement, became NOW’s first president.
Elsewhere, members of Chicago’s underground Jane Collective recall how they helped women get abortions before Roe v. Wade.
In 1968, activists attacking standards of female beauty snuck into the balcony at the Miss America pageant and displayed a “Women’s Liberation” banner.
Additional topics include the publication of “Our Bodies, Ourselves”; spirited street-theater protests, such as a Wall Street “ogle-in” (women turning the tables on obnoxious, leering men); talk-show appearances (“Why are you so sensitive?” says David Frost to his feminist guests); San Francisco poetry readings; and the Women’s Strike for Equality.
The film acknowledges the movement’s inadequacies. Beal and Brown discuss how leadership didn’t recognize black women and lesbians (Friedan was especially criticized for her attitude toward the latter). To address this, these groups formed their own action organizations.
Combining talking heads and archival footage, Dore does nothing extraordinary as a documentarian. Though infrequent, her use of re-creations is problematic (generally the case with the device), and her segment on today’s younger feminists is skimpy.
But she wonderfully captures the remarkable blend of constructively channeled anger, impassioned purpose, collective organizing, historical import and sometimes downright silliness that characterized the movement.
Interviewees are informative, insightful and engaging. Pictured then-and-now, they seem as vibrant today as they did decades ago. Were there an award for best documentary ensemble, they’d own it.
Dore made the movie to counter the lack of films about the women’s movement – a fine idea, nicely realized.
She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry
Starring: Judith Arcana, Fran Beal, Rita Mae Brown, Susan Brownmiller
Directed by: Mary Dore
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes