NOW and then

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images -

She’s Beau­ti­ful When She’s Angry, doc­u­men­tary, not rated, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3 chiles On the night of June 25, 2013, the most riv­et­ing cov­er­age on tele­vi­sion was of Texas State Se­na­tor Wendy Davis as she con­cluded the fi­nal min­utes of a nearly 13-hour fil­i­buster at­tempt­ing to block Se­nate Bill 5. The fil­i­buster worked, though the bill later passed and se­verely re­stricted ac­cess to abor­tion in Texas. Davis’ ef­forts were ul­ti­mately un­suc­cess­ful, but it was pow­er­ful to watch her on the Se­nate floor, hold­ing her ground in her now-in­fa­mous pink sneak­ers. As mid­night neared, the crowds inside the Capi­tol cheered loudly and con­stantly. Even through a screen, the ex­cite­ment of the mo­ment was pal­pa­ble as voices ral­lied be­hind Davis in support of re­pro­duc­tive jus­tice.

A new doc­u­men­tary, She’s Beau­ti­ful When She’s Angry, seeks to cap­ture the same sense of pos­si­bil­ity and revo­lu­tion by por­tray­ing the women’s move­ment that took place be­tween 1966 and 1971. The film de­picts the changes that be­gan dur­ing that era while also mak­ing the point that women’s lib­er­a­tion is an on­go­ing process and that main­tain­ing women’s rights is cru­cial.

The fem­i­nism that grew out of the so­cial move­ments of the late ’ 60s posited that the per­sonal is po­lit­i­cal: that is­sues like birth con­trol, abor­tion, equal pay, and ac­cess to day care are not con­cerns con­fined to in­di­vid­u­als, but should be ad­dressed by so­ci­ety. In that spirit, She’s Beau­ti­ful When She’s Angry is told through rec­ol­lec­tions and anec­dotes of fem­i­nists like rock critic Ellen Wil­lis, Jac­qui Ceballos, a for­mer pres­i­dent of the New York chap­ter of the Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Women, and es­say­ist and ac­tivist Kate Mil­lett, among other nota­bles. The film also ad­dresses the re­cur­rent cri­tique that fem­i­nism is largely a straight, col­lege-ed­u­cated, mid­dle-class white-woman’s move­ment and fea­tures a few in­ter­views with ac­tivists who speak from the per­spec­tive of be­ing poor, a per­son of color, or a les­bian. There’s plenty of in­ter­est­ing archival footage of marches on Wash­ing­ton and bras burn­ing, of po­etry read­ings in Berke­ley and protests at the foot of the Statue of Lib­erty. (Less suc­cess­ful are a cou­ple of cheesy re-en­acted scenes, but they’re brief.)

See­ing She’s Beau­ti­ful When She’s Angry may feel like eat­ing your vegetables — im­por­tant but not par­tic­u­larly thrilling. But be­cause of the film’s easy, in­ti­mate con­ver­sa­tions with its sub­jects, it man­ages to be poignant and funny. For those who lived through the late ’60s, the film may func­tion as a re­minder of just how much hard-won po­lit­i­cal and so­cial ground women have gained in the last 40 years. But the doc­u­men­tary is per­haps more im­por­tant for young fem­i­nists, male and fe­male, who are aware that Lena Dun­ham and Bey­oncé are fem­i­nists, and who may iden­tify as fem­i­nists them­selves, but who have yet to de­fine the move­ment in per­sonal terms. We’re still wait­ing for univer­sal ac­cess to day care, abor­tion rights that aren’t con­stantly un­der siege, and earn­ing the same wages as men. Be­ing a fem­i­nist is still rad­i­cal, and it’s in­deed beau­ti­ful.

— Adele Oliveira

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