REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER
For Digital First Media
The hard work of Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, and their fellow suffragettes paved the way for passing the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution back in 1920. It finally provided women with the right to vote.
However, gender discrimination against women remained rampant. They were still second class citizens.
“She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” focuses on so-called Second Wave Feminism, which emerged during the tumultuous ‘60s. The movement challenged the prevailing notion that women weren’t entitled to the same status and rights that men in our Society enjoyed.
As the film reminds us, back then, the notion that women deserved equal pay for equal work was treated dismissively. It was a routine practice for businesses to advertise for secretaries, specifying that they must be attractive. Access to abortion was fraught with obstacles.
The film’s director/ co-producer, Mary Dore, has won Emmys, Cine Golden Eagles, and Cable Ace Awards for her television documentaries. Her prior feature, “The Good Fight: The Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War” played at the Sundance Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, and the London Film Festival. A self-described activist, Dore’s enthusiasm for the subject matter is undisguised. Dore and her team have done an excellent job of ferreting out archival material.
This footage is complemented by current-day interviews of more than two dozen veterans of the feminist movement. This includes theorist, Kate Millett, who wrote the landmark work, “Sexual Politics;” Eleanor Holmes Norton, the congressman for Washington, D.C.; and Virginia Whitehill, who successfully argued Roe V. Wade before the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite the multiplicity of talking heads, the flow of the film is seamless, courtesy of adroit editing by Kate Taverna.
Many of the interviewees are now in their seventies. Dore deserves kudos for timely collecting their first-hand perspectives, while they are still alive and well. With an obvious sense of nostalgia, these women articulately reflect on a bygone era.
The publication of Betty Freidan’s “The Feminine Mystique” in 1963 is cited as a seminal event. It promulgated the then radical notion that women were more than mere wives, mothers, and objects of the male gaze. They were full-fledged human beings, who were capable of agency. The book and the ideas that the author espoused gained traction on progressive college campuses across the country.
The film captures the feeling of empowerment that some women derived from the advent of nascent organizations like N.O.W. It also celebrates the sense of shared sisterhood and camaraderie that informal support groups provided.
The feminist movement was dominated by white, well-educated women, who hailed from privileged class backgrounds. The film acknowledges that some women felt that their own agendas were inadequately represented. This led to the formation of splinter groups like Black Sisters United for African-Americans and the Lavender Threat for lesbians.
One of the things that enriches “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” and distinguishes it from stodgier documentaries is its disarming sense of humor. There is hilarious footage of some of the publicity stunts orchestrated by theatrically minded feminists. In one of them, women turn the tables on men. They march on Wall Street, where they hoot catcalls and direct lewd remarks at male pedestrians. Street theater from a group called W.I.T.C.H. is also a hoot. As jocular retrospective remarks from novelist, Rita Mae Brown, and labor organizer, Heather Booth, makes clear, the passage of years has not dimmed their incisive wits.
Some documentaries focus on marshalling all the facts. Others are more concerned with entertaining the viewer. “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” is outstanding in both regards.
“She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” is a gem of a film with enormous value as a historical document.
**** 92 minutes No MPAA rating (adult themes, sexuality, profanity, some nudity)
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.