Saturday, July 4, 2015

Documenting Gloria Steinem

Tonight at 9 pm HBO airs "Gloria Steinem: In Her Own Words," an hourlong documentary as sage and sprightly as its subject. Steinem, now 77, reflects on 50-plus years surfing feminism's second wave. And looks forward to future outrageous acts and everyday rebellions. As she joked after the preview of the film last Thursday at the HBO screening room in New York, "For many of you in this room, it's a home movie."

Documenting Gloria Steinem

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Gloria Steinem, subject of a new documentary
Gloria Steinem, subject of a new documentary

Tonight at 9 pm HBO airs Gloria Steinem: In Her Own Words, an hourlong documentary as sage and sprightly as its subject. In the film, Steinem, now 77, reflects on her 50-plus years surfing feminism's second wave. And looks forward to future outrageous acts and everyday rebellions. As she joked last Thursday after the preview of the film at the HBO screening room in New York, "For many of you, this is a home movie."

Peter Kunhardt's portrait is both an engaging introduction to an extraordinary figure and a memorable odometer clocking the miles women have marched from the 1960s to the present-day.

Steinem comments on the snapshots of herself as the long-stemmed "career gal" in 1960s Manhattan. She  highlighted her hair because she wanted to look like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's). She went undercover as a Playboy bunny to expose the physical and emotional abuse of The Playboy Club. In the Mad Men era, she was one of many prominent "Mad Women." Steinem was (and is) plainspoken, persuasive and as powerful as she is pretty.

She is moving on the subject of her political awakening in the late 1960s around the issue of reproductive rights. Over the next four decades she led rallies for choice and marches for the Equal Rights Amendment. She co-founded Ms. magazine and co-fought for equal pay for women. She confounded the patronizing attitudes of news anchors like Chet Huntley and Harry Reasoner who made fun of feminism and then ate crow.

Wished the film was longer. Wish it had connected the dots between the activism of of women like Steinem and Fannie Lou Hamer to the incremental transformation of the Congress from a men's-only club to a more representative body of the American electorate. But nobody -- and no movie -- is perfect.

In all the 1960s footage of Steinem, the beauty with the sexy footwear, the oversized glasses and understated beehive, I could not help but notice that the feminist leader has had an enormous influence on Sarah Palin's style, though not her political agenda.

On this subject, Steinem gave a great quote to Newsweek's Nancy Hass: "You know what you're saying is important when the power structure brings in people who look like you and think like them."

To celebrate the release of the documentary, The Women's Media Center -- which Steinem co-founded with Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan -- is hosting a visioning chat on its Facebook site asking, in 140 characters or less, what you want the future of feminism to look like.

This is mine: That the percentage of women filmmakers (7 %) be triple the percentage of women in Congress (17 %)

Yours? Has Steinem influenced you?

 

Film Critic
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Carrie Rickey Film Critic
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