Daily Camera (Boulder)
‘Still Working 9 to 5’ a rebel yell for females
Film will screen today as part of BIFF'S closing night
While stumping for women’s rights in Virginia, in footage appearing in the new documentary “Still Working 9 to 5,” Lily Tomlin said at a 1977 rally, “The Equal Rights Amendment will put women where they’ve never been before, in the United States Constitution.”
We’re still waiting. It’s been 100 years since it was introduced by Alice Paul. And the clock doesn’t just tick from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the worldwide female workforce. It ticks for 24 hours.
“I swear sometimes that man is out to get me” sings Dolly Parton in her 1980 Grammy Awardwinning song “9 to 5,” a women’s rights anthem that was inspired by the 1980 film of the same name starring Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.
“Sing it, sister,” nearly every woman who has worked in the past 100 years screams in harmony with the country music icon.
It’s akin to what my circles of female comrades do. My varied group of badass female boss bitches and friends have been at the near top of their jobs for years, some, decades.
But they’ve never quite reached the top. I hear gripes about many of their less-experienced male counterparts who take home more cash for doing the exact same job. (“You’re just a step on the bossman’s ladder,” Parton croons.)
Concurring with the majority of the world of women workers are filmmakers Camille Hardman and Gary Lane, whose 2022 feature documentary “Still Working 9 to 5” is a rally cry for all females. The film is screening as part of the Boulder International Film Festival’s closing night film and awards ceremony on today at the Boulder Theater. Tickets are $25.
While viewing the screener, I was caught red-handed yelling at the screen, after awakening my child. There was fistpumping, tears, anger and confusion toward the patriarchy (or politics, in general) — but also laughter. It’s a powerful documentary that emboldened me to flip my script of being annoyed that I was working double-overtime on a Friday night, then subsequently triple-overtime on Saturday to pen this review.
But I feel this film. I hear this film. I’ve lived this film.
In 1980, the farcical dark comedy “9 to 5” — the ultimate rebel yell for equal treatment of women clerical workers, the largest job category in America at the time — soared to No. 2 at the box office, just behind Star Wars’ “The Empire Strikes Back.”
Equal wage-hungry women workers flocked to theaters in hoards to watch a film where its subjects — Fonda, Tomlin and Parton — bewitch diabolical fantasies about how to off their misogynistic boss, Dabney Coleman. (I may have imagined mounting a couple of my past boss’ heads on my walls, like Fonda’s character Judy in the classic film.)
In 1973 in Boston, Karen Nussbaum and a crew of equality hungry women launched 9to5, the National Association of Working Women, an organization that aimed to improve working conditions and equal rights for women in the workplace. The 1980s film, with dark comedy intertwined via brilliant screenwriters Colin Higgins and Patricia Resnick, is based on the efforts of this group.
“In the 1970s, there were 20 million women office workers in the country,” says Nussbaum in the documentary. “But we were totally invisible. We didn’t exist in the popular culture.”
The film offered a larger platform for women to soar their voices in unison.
“Still Working 9 to 5,” which reunited the stars from the original film (and then some), tails the evolution of Nussbaum’s real-life movement to making its big-screen spotlight — but that’s hardly it. The documentary also barks at women’s lack of equality, highlighting cultural movements like the Equal Rights Amendment (still waiting), Me
Too, Nasty Women, Time’s Up and more.
But in reality, as Ellen Cassedy, a founder of 9to5, says in the documentary, “These are new slogans, but they’re not new issues.” (Sing it, sister.)
“Still Working” is a straightup boss bitch anthem (a term of endearment, don’t fret). It inspires females to smash through glass ceilings and call out inequitable and inappropriate behavior.
Sure, modern times have seen staunch changes in the workplace, but much of the force has yet to catch up.
In the documentary, Nussbaum talks about the era of “the office wife,” a time when women were tasked with taking over the daily duties of their male bosses.
“The things that bosses felt free to ask their secretaries was just jaw-dropping,” Nussbaum said in “Still Working.”
From sewing a seam in the boss’ pants — while he still had them on — to cleaning his dentures and many, many indecent proposals, Nussbaum said she’s heard it all.
I encountered a woman in the workforce who, in the ‘90s, was transferred out of state after complaining about sexual harassment to appease her male boss’ ego. An acquaintance once told me that, as a boss at one of the world’s largest national oil and gas companies in the ‘80s, she was literally almost murdered by her male counterparts for climbing the ladder faster as a female. The stories are rampant. They’ll always span beyond the scope of any documentary.
“Still Working 9 to 5” also shines a light on very powerful females, from sports to politics — like tennis pros the Williams sisters, Vice President Kamala Harris’ historic achievement, politician Alexandria Ocasiocortez’s fiery activism, Anita Hill’s landmark case and more.
It also examines the oft-overlooked struggles that women faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, a brutal era when a huge population of the female workforce left jobs to homeschool their kids as day cares temporarily shuttered. Or they wore both hats in order to keep food on the table.
Through this myriad of widespanning eras and subject matters, filmmakers Hardman and Lane tie together a seamless story in 90 minutes. From vintage footage to modern protests (including powerful international clips), the film sails smoothly across the different facets of women’s equal rights. It’s different eras, just the… Same. Damn. Problem.
“Don’t put up with shit. Demand respect. That’s a great message,” said Academy Awardwinning actress Allison Janney, in the 2022 documentary. Janney played the role of Violet (Tomlin’s movie character) for the Broadway reboot of the film in 2009.
Activist, member of National Organization for Women and author Zoe Nicholson appears in “Still Working” and talks about how a group of them fasted for 22 days when ERA didn’t pass.
She, like the lot of us, is still waiting.
“If you ask eighth graders across the country, are you in the Constitution?” Nicholson says in the documentary. “They would all say yes. And then I have to tell the girls, ‘I have some very bad news for you: No, you’re not.’”
We’ll keep waiting. At least powerful films like “Still Working 9 to 5” aid heft to what seems like a never-ending fight. And the documentary’s muse, the classic “9 to 5,” retains its poignancy more than ever.
“It’s not hard. Like, just don’t be a jerk. Keep your hands to yourself. No one else is your property,” Amaya Smith, founder of Washington, D.c.-based Brown Beauty Co-op, says in the documentary. “A lot of it is just being an adult. Right?”
Damn right. Women’s rights.