Nota Bene

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Dec 1, 2014

Women Getting Angry: This Year's Best Documentary

This is just one of the many emotionally-charged archival photos that appear in the new documentary, She's Beautiful When She's Angry, opening on Friday, December 5th. To find screenings in your area, go to the official website: http://www.shesbeautifulwhenshesangry.com/.
Mary Dore’s She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry is a homage to the women whose intelligence and persistence led to most radical social reforms of the 20th century. And it all started here, in the United States. Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex” (1949) notwithstanding, it was American women who first took to the streets for women’s rights, who shut down Congress, forced the Supreme Court to decide on a woman’s right to choose, compelled law enforcement to view rape as a violent crime, and burned their college degrees to protest the dearth of women’s history and literature in college curricula. The burning of bras and girdles followed, a symbolic relinquishment of standard concepts of beauty: The cry went out in 1970 that all women were beautiful and, as Dore suggests in this excellent documentary, even more so when they channel their anger.

Dore’s title is a twist on the condescending line used by men to minimize the effect of women’s anger. The filmmaker opens on a contemporary protest in front of the Texas state house in Austin. A speaker shouts, “Don’t mess with Texas women,” a play on that state’s unofficial slogan. Texas is “messing” with a woman’s right to choose, in defiance of federal law. Next, Virginia Whitehall, the founder of the first woman’s shelter in Dallas, and the daughter of a charter member of the League of Women Voters, delivers the documentary’s call to action: “You are not allowed to retire from women’s issues.”

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry then moves to its lively, deftly edited mélange (accomplished by co-producer Nancy Kennedy) of archival film and photos, and interviews of its female subjects, all to the accompaniment of an expertly mixed score of women’s voices (by supervising sound editor Deborah Wallach and re-recording mixer Sean Garnhart) that highlights a variety of protest songs from the 1970s.

Among the women who appear in the documentary are iconic feminist leaders, such as author and educator Kate Millet (“Sexual Politics,” 1969), journalist and author Susan Brownmiller (“Against Our Will,” 1975), the founder of NOW, Jacqui Ceballos, and celebrated District of Columbia Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who in 1970 became the most prominent feminist in New York City after being appointed by Mayor John Lindsay to head the Human Rights Commission. Lesser-known but equally influential women also appear in the film, including Fran Beal, co-founder of the Black Women’s Liberation Committee who in 1969 wrote what came to be known as the Black women’s feminist manifesto, “Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female.”