She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry is a little documentary with a big, important message. It chronicles the second wave of feminism in the United States from 1966-1971. It was a tumultuous time that saw some radical changes. This film is an illuminating one that tackles one key part of a complex social movement.
This documentary marks the directorial debut of Mary Dore. It is very well-edited and draws together clips and recent interviews with the women who were an integral part of the movement (it does not necessarily feature the most famous feminist voices but it still uses ones that were instrumental in affecting change). There is also newsreel footage and snippets from programs showing misogynistic men spurting bile. It’s also eye-opening to learn that decades ago it was normal to have job advertisements segregated by gender, the executive jobs were for the lads while the secretarial duties were left for the girls.
This documentary starts off by looking at the publication of The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. This acted as a catalyst that brought together a number of disenfranchised and determined women. The film talks about the establishment of NOW (the National Organisation for Women) and Jane- a group that were performing underground abortions when it was illegal to do so. Lesbian feminists like Rita Mae Brown and Karla Jay are interviewed and they talk about their part in forming the Lavender Menace. There are also women from different cultural backgrounds representing the African-American and Hispanic communities. Alta, a lady that founded the Shameless Hussy magazine is also interviewed but Ms. magazine’s Gloria Steinem is noticeably absent.
This film gives airtime to a lot of different voices and sub-segments of the greater group. Sadly, some of these expressions are reduced to some awkward and poor re-enactments which dilutes the message a little bit (a better alternative would have been to go back to the actual source themselves or at least choose some better actresses). Thankfully, these brief parts are outweighed by better moments in the film (like seeing the members of WITCH- Women’s International Conspiracy from Hell using very original theatrics to convey their message).
She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry is a documentary that remains timely and important. It sees a neglected subject discussed in detail and it shows the great achievements as well as the shortcomings of feminism. In all, this is an excellent, must-see film, especially when issues like the gender pay gap, reproductive rights, access to childcare and oppression and subjugation remain significant and fundamental problems.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OT FIVE)
She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry recently premiered at Melbourne International Film Festival and plays again on August 16. For more information and tickets please visit: http://miff.com.au/program/film/shes-beautiful-when-shes-angry