If your idea of the early days of the women’s movement is limited to NOW and the ERA then Mary Dore’s eye-opening “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” has got another acronym or two for you. (Ever heard of WITCH – the Women’s International Conspiracy from Hell!? Didn’t think so.) An exhaustively researched portrait of feminism circa ’66-’71, Dore’s doc will both enlighten (delving deeply into the movement’s internal rifts related to race and sexual identity) and surprise (Hollaback!-style tactics ain’t nothing new).
Global Comment spoke with award-winning producer/director Dore prior to the film’s NYC opening on December 5th and its LA debut on December 12th.
Lauren Wissot: As someone raised by a feminist (I even went on that first national march via stroller) I thought I knew all that I needed to know – or cared to know – about the women’s movement. But your doc delves into a lot of aspects, most notably the various factions often at odds with each other over such issues as race and sexual identity, that I don’t recall ever hearing about. For you, what were some of the biggest revelations uncovered through the course of your research?
Mary Dore: I was in the women’s movement a little later than the period the film covers, so had read a lot of feminist books and histories before I started the film. But there were still many things I didn’t know about: Fran Beal and others founding the SNCC Black Women’s Liberation Committee in 1968; how radical NOW was in terms of early support for abortion rights, childcare, and divorce reform; the Lavender Menace action; and the story about Jane, the underground abortion service in Chicago, to name a few.
If there was a revelation, it was that the movement was much more diverse and active nationwide than I had realized. The other revelation was that this was going to be very, very difficult to find funding for!
LW: The group dynamics – especially the offshoots that rebelled against the more “acceptable” mainstream segment of the coalition – greatly reminded me of the gay rights movement. But what do you consider the biggest differences between the women’s movement and its activist contemporaries?
MD: All movements have splits and disagreements about tactics, that’s the norm. What made the women’s movement so challenging is that it brought up issues that had not been discussed before, or even thought about. In the early 1960’s, the march down the wedding aisle had been long established as a fairytale ending for women. The women’s movement challenged many sacrosanct issues, and took many risks. And in their idealism and enthusiasm, some couldn’t see the differences between women, on race and class and gender issues, including that there was no one answer for all women. That idealism also created schisms around leadership, because if all women are “equal” why should one person’s name go on a book, paper, or article? Revolutions are messy, always.
LW: I noticed that your editor (and producer) Nancy Kennedy worked on such stellar docs as Eugene Jarecki’s “Why We Fight,” Ben Shapiro’s “Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters,” and Pamela Tanner Boll’s “Who Does She Think She Is?” (which I reviewed way back in 2008 when it came out). She seems to have a real knack for thankfully keeping the talking heads to a minimum, and instead providing necessary context through powerful archival footage. So what was your collaboration like? Had you worked together before?
MD: Nancy is a very talented and experienced editor, and had a big impact on the film. She was also my producing partner beginning in 2000 (it was a long project!) and influenced the choice of not using narration, and letting the material and interviewees speak for themselves. She was great at making segues in themes, and was instrumental in helping us shape the film. Two other editors, Ana Crenovich and Michelle Chang, worked on the film more briefly, and all helped make the film what it is today. The final editor was Kate Taverna, who did a terrific job with both structure and particularly the animations and graphics, along with our terrific animator Anita Yu. It takes a village!
LW: Regarding talking heads, were there any interview subjects you would have liked to include but couldn’t for one reason or another?
MD: There are literally thousands of women who could/should have been in the film, because they too were part of the early movement. So it wasn’t a problem of getting people, it was more of a problem of figuring out what themes and issues I wanted to cover, and then deciding who would be best on those topics.
LW: Finally, there seem to be quite a few feminist centric docs being released this year. Cynthia Hill’s Gloria Steinem executive produced “Private Violence,” which tackles domestic violence, and Nancy Kates’s HBO doc “Regarding Susan Sontag” come to mind. I saw in your bio that you’ve been involved with activist docs since the 70s, even began your career with a Boston film collective focused on historical projects. So any theories as to why this focus on women is happening now?
MD: After trying to make this film for decades, and getting lots of rejection from funders and foundations, I realized how the women’s movement was often disparaged and minimized in popular discourse. That doesn’t mean it disappeared, but there’s no question that the 1960’s women’s movement is less respected than the other crucial movements of that time: civil rights, gay rights, or the environmental movement. Why is that? If you want to do an unofficial survey on this, try looking up how many films have been made on those subjects.
I think that the backlash against women’s rights over the past few years, particularly around abortion and reproductive rights, has prompted pushback and more interest in feminist issues. Recent reporting on rape on college campuses, battered women, street harassment, etc. has fired up a lot of interest. But as you probably know, it takes ages to make a documentary, particularly a heavily archival one like “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry.” So we can’t take any credit for prescience. We just felt that this was an important story that hadn’t been told in this way.
Our timing is fortunate, for a mixture of reasons, and we’re very glad that the film is coming out now.