NOW and then
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