I watched Suffragette the other night.
It happened quite by chance; I was flipping through channels and something made me stop. I had had no real interest in seeing this film, no real interest in not seeing this film either – I guess I was rather meh on it. Given that I am unapologetically feminist and curious about history, this meh-ness regarding a film with this subject matter was unusual for me. But there it was.
The film came out in late 2015, smack dab in the middle of conversations around Oscars so White and I suspect my meh-ness on Suffragette might have had to do in part with the failure of Hollywood and feminism and America to be more intersectional, to pull the people on the margins in to the grand narrative, and to recognize the alternative stories when they that are told (Fruitvale Station, anyone?). Plus there was Suffragette’s marquee star (she’s really very little in the film but it felt like she was all over the promotion) Meryl Streep’s “we are all Africans” comment when asked specifically about diversity (in Hollywood, in the boardroom and on set, above and below the line, in front of the camera and behind the scenes, and on these international film juries and selection panels) that felt breezy and dismissive to me relative to the specific concerns driving the campaign.
It felt to some degree like worthy black films were being overlooked and that some of the white films being praised were mediocre at best; like to be considered as a black anything you couldn’t just be good you had to be superlative and even then… meh. So maybe I was giving meh back. I don’t know. I just know that I wasn’t stoked and it was uncharacteristic, especially since I am a Streep stan (she’s one of my all time favourite actresses though of late, and through no fault of her own, nominated ahead of more deserving performances on the strength of her standing). For me her last really Oscar nomination worthy performances have been Doubt and Julie and Julia (and in those cases I think I was rooting just as hard, harder maybe, for Viola Davis and Amy Adams). So, yeah, I was meh on Suffragette. Where was the intersectionality? Yes, I know that was a specific story about the movement in England, but where was the other story in the hundreds of films Hollywood rolls out every year, where, for instance, was the Ida B. Wells story. These things were at the corner of my mind.
But watching the film the other night, and I’m glad I did, I was reminded of a few things, one of them is I low key really dig Carey Mulligan. I mean she’s kind of unassuming (and maybe blends in to the back of my mind when I think of favourite actresses) but I’ve liked quite a few things she’s been in (a number of them because of or in part because of her) without really thinking about it: the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice (okay, she was barely in that), An Education (sorta, kinda, maybe), Never Let me Go (such an interesting film), Shame (just saw this the other night as well and wow), and…okay I didn’t like the new Great Gatsby but that’s not her fault and my interest in Mudbound is growing (in part because of Mary J. Blige, through whom I even became aware of the film). But I don’t think I’ve seen a bad Carey Mulligan performance and I feel fairly certain that there’s Oscar in her future. Her performance in Suffragette was so subtle and interesting to me. Don’t mistake subtle for muted. Okay, watch this scene.
Doesn’t she just rip your heart out.
I’m glad I watched this movie for that reason as well that we need to be reminded that this (life) has never been easy for women (and yes, when I read at the end the years of voting rights to women in countries across the world, the unspoken footnote by those years is/should be white women because whether talking pay gaps or electoral maps, women of colour have rarely gotten the same share at the same time). It’s something I was saying to one of my young uns the other day when she was speaking with that none of it matters tone we, too, mastered when we were teens, about how the system is rigged and voting changes nothing. And I couldn’t tell her it wasn’t but I emphatically insisted that we needed to still show up and fight…because the women before us and the black people before us had to fight so that we could be here (taking for granted certain things like the right to vote that they had to fight for) to have this debate. Opting out solves nothing. And that’s essentially what this movie is about, the sacrifices women, like the woman Mulligan plays, made so that they could have agency over their lives, custody rights over their children, and so on in the face of male arrogance and privilege. I mean one of the more bruising things was how her husband, a decent seeming man, effectively punished her for fighting for better for herself and other women by denying her access to her child even knowing that he couldn’t take care of the child alone and then giving the child away all together – I mean I know there are class issues involved (sidebar: speaking of class issues, I’m reminded here of another gripping British find, the series Peaky Blinders) and different time and socialization and all that but also a helluva a lot of male privilege (a gauntlet today’s headlines remind us we haven’t cleared not when it comes to presumption of ownership over women’s bodies and choices).
Granted at the time when the war (yes war, these women were blowing sh*t up and burning sh*t down with a single-mindedness that has me wondering – not really – what people are really upset about when they complain about black people taking a knee at American football games not protesting against social injustice in the right way) …but, yeah, when the war chronicled in Suffragette was being waged in England my country was still a colony of same and laws like the contract act still bound my people in pseudo slavery, as this was pre-the labour movement which ushered in an era of battles for workers rights, universal adult suffrage, and grassroots leadership. So their wins (milestone though they were) did not affect me either directly or immediately but every ripple disturbs the water, right?
Anyway, I liked the movie. I’m glad I watched it. One book I would recommend for folks interested in the intersections of race and gender is Angela Davis’ Women, Race, and Class (granted, it’s been a while since I read it but I remember it being quite the thorough and thought-provoking read).
So these musings are the sum total of my Sunday Post – a meme hosted by the Caffeinated Book Reviewer (which reminds me, time for coffee!). Happy Sunday.