When Suffragette opened in London, a woman I know was there, waving her banner and fighting with fervour for the rights to safety of women everywhere. When it came here to Australia, I waited three days and joined perhaps eight people to see the film that is part of revolution in cinema: films that gather and mobilise women in their production, their distribution and their attention. Eight wasn’t enough, but it was better than one, and better than none.
The film is wonderful, I suppose that’s why you’re here, to see if based on my opinion that the film is worth forking out a fair cop of money to see. And it is worth it, not because of my opinion, but because if you do spend the money, you’re telling conglomerates and industries that this is a good thing: telling these stories, hiring these women on merit and demonstrating what equal rights look like in the artistic domain.
The term ‘suffragette’ has been somewhat archived, though there are still suffragettes now, rightly so. The term refers to a movement of women (and some men) seeking the right to influence law and political leadership of the countries they work, produce children, and contribute to the sustainable environment of. In the film, we see the movement through the perspective of Maud Watts, excellently portrayed by zephyr Carey Mulligan. Suppressed actively by her boss and passively by her husband, Maud is haphazardly brought into the inner sanctum of the suffragette movement thanks to local insider Edith – yes Helena Bonham Carter can absolutely still act – and the encouragement of suffragette icon Emmeline Pankhurst, played by Meryl Streep. You could say she loses everything, but then having it was a fragile façade built with brick and paper by the men who thought nothing of her strength and importance.
Maud Watts isn’t everywoman, nor everyman; someone who sees the iniquities around them and for all their pain and pity, can’t muster the strength to stand up to those with more power, more influence. But with friendship, resilience, and a sense of integrity unable to be ignored, finds themselves doing the work in this life that will change lives beyond them. Maud Watts isn’t a reflection of each of us, for all that she should be.
The movie does not end happily, but you knew that already because we are living the ending: each day, where 1 in 3 women will be killed by her partner or ex-partner. The story of this film is true, and ongoing. There is bred in us a gentle apathy, cleverly painted with compassion and naiveté to fool our mirrors into throwing a picture of benevolence in our faces that we wear with pride, not knowing what Emperor’s New Feminism some of us parade the streets with.
Don’t mistake Suffragette for a period piece, nor a skewed biopic. It is a film to remind us how history repeats, and snowballs as it does. It is a film to enlighten us to the battles that bore a fruitfulness we greedily feast on, with the skirmish forgotten behind us in the newspapers, in our Facebook feeds. It is not a film to be heartened by, but one to be awakened by. One to walk away from calling our mothers, and sisters and friends to make sure they’re alright, to tell them they’re not alone in whatever struggle they face now. A film to go home from and start showing people our bruises, holding people accountable for their prejudices. We are ten times more fortunate than we can comprehend or be taught, and infinitely more than we deserve.
Many points are to be made about the rise of films that are led by female heroes, host female-dominant casts, and are made by female-dominant crews and financers. Much of the representation has balanced, but the inequity exists still in the shadows. I say the same thing to people talking about how much has improved for the gay community: it’s not better, it’s just quieter. The diseases of prejudice and discrimination aren’t dormant, they’ve merely become immune to the floodlights of social media and mainstream television. Violence against women, political and domestic, has only finessed into certain hours, certain rhetoric, certain communities and become slipperier to grasp at and tear apart than ever before. Injustice against women hasn’t reduced, it’s simply adapted, become better at hiding itself. Applauding our successes in doing whatever part we have, passively or actively, to create the environments for female-focused films is crucial to the continual pursuit of complete parity, not a laurel to rest on. Know the difference. Please.
Let it last be said that I am a man, with a privilege that may be ingrained, but not impotent. I don’t intend to use what gifts I’ve innocently been born to against a cause that truly must be run by those it will provide equality to. But as someone who will benefit from feminism, my stance is in firm, active support. And if yours isn’t, whoever you are, and whatever disillusion you live under, then go see the film. Wake up.
Here are some places to learn about and contribute to the safety, agency and equality of women globally:
Here is another review of the film I enjoyed reading:
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