In her feature length documentary debut, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, Mary Dore tells the inspiring story of the birth of the Women’s Liberation Movement from 1966 to 1971, presenting an interesting historical overview of this period of time while also reminding us that feminists continue to fight for many of the same rights even fifty years later.
Through the use of archival footage, photographs and rare interviews with a number of the women who shaped second wave feminism, viewers are introduced to the major issues that key players began to organise themselves around in the mid-‘60s. We hear from the likes of Kate Millet, Betty Friedan, Susan Brownmiller, Frances Beal, Ellen Willis, and a number of other feminist activists from the time who discuss – among other things – child care, rape, equal pay, street harassment, victim blaming, the right to safe abortions, birth control, and the right to choose to not get married and start a family. These problems are then discussed in relation to the feminist struggle that is still occurring today, as footage of current activists who organize around these same issues is juxtaposed with Dore’s interview footage.
It would be concerning if She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry focused solely on the white, middle class, ‘one size fits all’ feminism of the 60s and 70s – the radical protests and the bra burning – all the while patting white activists on the back. Thankfully, this is not entirely the case in Dore’s documentary; while the whitewashed face of second wave feminism and their contributions to Women’s Liberation Movement are mentioned, the film also introduces the viewers to the problems that emerged from within the feminist movement. We see the fracturing of the multifaceted movement, and the negative radicalism (racism, classism and homophobia) from some of its members; the Women’s Liberation and feminist movement is not flawless and She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry doesn’t pretend it is or ever was. The fracturing ideology of early feminism gave way to the organisation of specialized feminist groups, like those of queer women and women of colour, who realised that their struggle is different to that of white, middle class feminists. While Dore addresses and explores the groups that formed around these ideas in She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, unfortunately the film doesn’t get very specific when it comes to these parallel movements, and the Black and Puerto Rican female activists have very little screen time comparable to their white counterparts.
As a result, the film ends up being more of a history lesson on the broad issues of the second wave feminist movement and an introduction to intersectional feminism than a deeper exploration of either. The broadness of the documentary seems daunting at times, with so many divergent voices and nuanced points of view that it becomes difficult to keep track of who represents which group, what they did and what was key about their position in the wider feminist movement. Formally, Dore brings nothing new to the genre with She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry but through her use of traditional documentary techniques, mostly in her use of talking heads and archival footage, she gives us an important historical lesson. While the inclusion of some more experimental techniques, like poetry readings and event re-enactments, is poorly executed here, and feels forced and tacky, these are (fortunately) used sparingly throughout.
Overall, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry is a well-researched, well-edited documentary that effectively shows just far how feminism has come and how far it still has to go. While some issues are not given the amount of attention they deserve, and others are given no time at all – the movement’s fraught relationship with transgender women is unfortunately absent – Dore still manages to put together a satisfactory history of the Women’s Liberation Movement. The documentary serves a good starting point for anyone that is new to intersectional feminism and the history of Women’s Liberation, but further digging will be required if one seeks a comprehensive understanding of either topic. Fortunately, this documentary has the ability to foster a meaningful dialogue around many issues that still prevail and, judging by the amount of discussion occurring after the screening I attended, it works.