Inspirational and long overdue, Mary Dore’s new independent documentary She’s beautiful when she’s angry toghtly depicts an important piece of U.S. history, the women’s liberation movement that emanated from the momentum brought about by the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
It took Dore twenty-two years to complete since she the moment she realized that even though the civil rights and anti-war movements have deserved plenty of attention from documentary producers, surprisingly no one had done anything thorough about the women’s liberation movement.
Starting with the establishment of the National Organization of Women in 1966, the documentary covers five years of feminist struggle “to fight for the equality of women,” as Jacqui Michot Ceballos, one the women interviewed in the documentary, says.
It is hard to imagine in 2015 what it was like to be a woman before the accomplishments of these champions of women’s rights —a woman’s life would consist on just finding a husband, staying home, cleaning the house, cooking and bearing children.
In 1968, New York Radical Women protested at Miss America Pageant under the slogan ‘All women are beautiful’ by unfolding a banner that read ‘Women’s liberation.’ It was a breakthrough at the time. In 1970, Congress held a hearing on the side effects of birth control pills, ‘Why don’t men take them instead?’ yelled a woman during the hearing. The FDA mandated a warning message on the package from then on. That same year, 20,000 women marched in New York City in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment, when women got the right to vote in the U.S. In 1971, a book about women’s health and sexuality, “Our Bodies Ourselves,” was published the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective.
“Two emancipators of women were the vote and birth control”, says Virginia Whitehill, another of the many interviewees.
The documentary is structured by topics such as reproductive rights, abortion, sexual harassment, job equality, rape, sexuality, motherhood, sexual orientation, question marriage as a power structure. It covers feminist activism between 1966 and 1971 in cities like Chicago, New York, Boston, Washington DC and the Bay Area by using plenty of archival footage, photographs, and interviewing more than 20 women activists at the time. You can see them in present time at their houses and back then in the archival footage.
“We created a revolution that we are still debating in our society, we’re still arguing over many issues that women raised 40 years ago, like abortion, like childcare,” says Ruth Rosen.
The Outsider got a chance to speak with Mary Dore during her visit to the Bay Area. Dore grew up in Maine and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two sons. She has produced documentaries for television for many years.
You began your career in a Boston film collective in the 70s.
Yes. We were all in collectives in those days. If you wanted to make political films, you had to do it that way. You did everything for free and we did everything poor. We made our own films from scratch. We had an Eclair camera to shoot, we cut it, we even processed our own film with a giant machine that processed 16mm black & white footage in our basement. We mostly made labor history movies. We made a movie about Finnish-Americans who started the coop movement, a lot of them were communists.
In 1984 you produced and co-directed a documentary about Americans who went to Spain to fight for the Second Republic, The Good Fight: The Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War.
That was another epic journey. We interviewed about a hundred of the veterans. It was a long process, like this She’s beautiful when she’s angry. It took five years full time, nothing but doing the film. Really hard. One of the great things about that film was that we got funded by the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH). It was almost 3,000 Americans out an army of some 60,000 international fighters from all over the world that went to Spain. We thought it was the most amazing story of international solidarity, and it was completely hidden. In other countries those men were celebrated but in the United States, with the ‘red scare,’ it was completely buried, nobody knew this history. You’d ask people ‘Do you know about the Spanish Civil War?’ and they’d answer ‘Ah, the Spanish American War?’ Americans are not very good on history since it is not really encouraged.
She’s beautiful when she’s angry, who did you make this film for?
I wanted to reach a broad audience. Of course I wanted feminists to like it, but I didn’t really make it for them. I actually made it for your younger people, because I felt like this is history that is really valuable and that it could help them in their organizing efforts. It is good to know what happened in previous generations so that you can do things your own way and make your own mistakes. It was really meant for the younger generations.
What was the significance of the Bay Area in the women’s liberation movement?
We covered a really wide array of subjects and we wanted to make sure that it was across the country. And I knew that there was a lot happening in San Francisco. So we interviewed people here and we found out that a lot of them had interesting links to writing. I had always intended to talk about the writing in the women’s movement. It was really remarkable in terms of re-imagining what kind of world we could live in on every level, not just gender, but how families are, how people live, jobs… I always thought the writing, which I sometimes call manifestos, was a really important part of that. And it is so hard to imagine it before the internet—it just flew around the country, they mimeographed them, the old fashioned way, and mail them out.
So I met with Alta, who started the Shameless Hussy Press, it is so great what she did. Women’s papers grew out in a lot of places, but we chose this one in particular because it’s the cultural life of San Francisco. They had this very early women’s press, they had probably the first women’s newspaper. So we thought that was really important. There is these different facets of how you organize, and this is one.
You structure the documentary around issues…
Issues and places, but mostly issues. I knew that I wanted to cover certain issues and then I chose people. I knew that I wanted something about writing, I knew that I wanted something about “Our Bodies Ourselves,” reproductive rights comes in and out a lot, because it was an incredibly important theme of the movement…
Do you think that gender is more bonding than class?
I don’t know. I come from a working class family. I think they are both important, I do not think you have to chose. What’s unique about the women’s movement is that before, women were not encouraged to be friends with each other. A lot of women were told that all that matters is you having a boyfriend, getting married… So for the women’s movement, it was a revelation that they could have these close relationships with other women and work with other women. Do I think that if people come from different races or different classes that they are not gonna have differences? No, of course they are, and they did. And we tried to show some of that.
You wanted to interview women from all races in your film…
I felt the race issue was very important. The women’s movement has always been stereotyped as the white middle class movement, and that is not accurate. There were all different blends. It had women of color from the very beginning. People were coming into post civil rights and more into black rights kind of movements. What were black women supposed to do? Chose between their race and their gender? It makes perfect sense that there would be groups of just African-American women, and they intersected, and they worked together. And then, of course, if you look at the film you’ll see that there were women of color in all the marches but they also had their own groups. It was amazing to find out that Fran Beal had started the Black Women’s Liberation Committee in 1968. That’s early for the women’s movement! They were having the same issues but they wanted to talk about them amongst themselves.
It was the suffrage movement in 1910s that was more white middle class…
It was, but this came 50 years later. A lot of the women who appear in the film were the first person in their family to go to college. They may have come from lower middle class or working class families but they did go to college. Including the ones that were sexually harassed by their professors. They were scholarship students, they were not somebody who’s been set out for life. Like Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, when she says ‘I quit my grad school’. She was a scholarship student, she grew up in total poverty. That was not an easy decision but she knew she had no options, because the professors, particularly in grad school, they have all the power.
How long did it take you to make this film? What was the budget?
A long time. I started writing grant proposals 22 years ago and I could not raise any money. I got total rejection from progressive foundations you’d have thought liked it. But they were like ‘no one is interested, it’s been done.’ I could not believe it, because no one had ever made this kind of film about that movement, ever. In 2000, I got a new producing partner, Nancy Kennedy, and we decided to make a trailer that would convince people that this would be a really good film. We made a fantastic trailer, everyone thought that it was fantastic. Luckily, we got the interview with Ellen Willis, because she passed away just a few years later. We got our first grant in 2010. So I’ve been working on it full time ever since january 2010.
Great title by the way!
At the time of making the trailer we found the title of our film. It comes from a newsreel documentary. It works at a hundred levels, and anger is what forces people to protest and to change the world. It does not come out of happiness. I love that it is a play on words for that.
How was the editing?
It was hard. There were four editors in total, but Nancy Kennedy and Kate Taverna were the main two, first and last. Finding the structure was difficult. I did not wanna go chronologically, because too many things happen at the same time. It wouldn’t have been logical nor interesting. What I wanted to show was the breath of the movement and how there were so many different ways that people did the movement and I thought that’d be really inspiring because people only know these negative stereotypes — they hate men, they’re ugly, they hate sex, they hate children… None of that is true.
So many women in the filming crew…
All the interviews were shot by women Directors of Photography (DP), that was my rule, and I made it hard. I was really stubborn. Because we all know how much discrimination there is in Hollywood and that women do not get to direct or to be DPs. There are so few. It’s actually gone downhill since when I started as a filmmaker. There’s a lot of women documentary filmmakers, a lot of verité women filmmakers, but we needed people who could light, who had other talents… And luckily we got Svetlana Cvetko, she was fantastic. She did most of the interviews. It’s very hard to find women DPs who can light, because they are pushed out of that.
How’s the distribution of the film coming along?
We are just beginning. We opened in New York City in Dec. 5 and we played for five weeks, which for a documentary is good, particularly for a documentary with no funding and no fame and glory attached. Then we opened in Los Angeles and we started opening in theaters again after Christmas. We saved some of the bigger cities for this month of February, because we wanted to be in synch with a lot of college campus schedules. We’ve sold out in a lot of places. After here, next week I’m going to DC, and then, after that, I go to Atlanta, and Boston, and every place else.
You don’t make any references to the women’s liberation movement abroad…
I could have gone everywhere. But you know what? I’ve seen excellent documentaries made in France, England, made in other countries… That’s what made me so crazy. Nothing here in the US. I think women’s rights in some places are better respected than they are here. It is shocking. The inspiration for my film was that nobody had done this, I could not believe it. I’d see these 1960s histories on television that go like… ten hours to look at the 1960s, and they would give the women’s movement 2 minutes! And then I would look at the documentaries that were big and epic on important issues like the civil rights movement or the anti-war movement. And there was no equivalent. I just could not believe it. And then when I could not get any funding, it was sort of like ‘ok, now it all makes sense to me, nobody thinks this is important, it’s just completely disregarded.’ So that’s why I became obsessed.
Where are we as a society in regards to women’s right nowadays versus in the 1970s?
It’s changed enormously. In the film we show a lot of things going backwards. Obviously roles for women have changed enormously. Women are expected to work now even though they are not paid as much as men. So things are much better than they were. But there is this right wing backlash on reproductive rights issues that is insane. I do not understand why people do not stand up more, why in a country that is embracing gay rights and gay marriage more and more, why reproductive rights would be going completely backwards. Just as I do not understand why we do not have childcare. It makes no sense to me.
Maybe we need more radicals like the ones back then…
Susan Brownmiller says in the film that people in America don’t want you to know your history because they don’t want you to accept that radicals brought about change. After that Carol Giardina mentions how a lot of people think that it was the Supreme Court that gave us Roe vs. Wade about abortion, but that it was actually ordinary women, ordinary mothers, ordinary students who did that, that’s what brought it about, because when the social pressure increased, the Supreme Court paid attention.
So that radicalism is not around any more nowadays…
I think it is but it’s in a different place. I’ve talked to a lot of younger feminists. There is a lot of excellent activism going on. But because it is online, sometimes it is a bit alienating. Young women have repeatedly said to me ‘I wish I could be in a consciousness raising group’ or “I loved the idea that they had this face ons.’ There is a human need for interaction with other people. And online does great things but it does not do that.
So what’s next for you as an independent filmmaker?
I still have to raise money to pay off the debts. The documentary world is not too glamorous, but we have been very lucky. We’ve gotten a lot of support, but we also live in a country that does not believe in funding independent filmmakers. And I did not even try to reach out to PBS. I’ve had grants before, like the one from the NEH, but I knew that with all this stuff about abortion there was no way they would ever fund it, and that I was going to be censored. I had been wanting to make this film for a million years and no one was gonna tell me that I cannot mention abortion 20 minutes into the film. Having worked in TV a lot, that’s the kind of stuff you run into, they are so scared of offending people! And I wanted to make this film, to tell a really gritty one so… But I hope it will be on TV!
She’s Beautiful when She’s Angry opens Feb. 6 at Landmark’s Opera Plaza in San Francisco, Shattuck in Berkeley and Rafael Film Center in San Rafael. There will be special Q&A presentations with the director and film participants during the opening weekend. For info please visit: http://www.shesbeautifulwhenshesangry.com/findascreening/
(Iñaki Fdez. de Retana, originally published by theoutsidernews.com)