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Suffragette

October 22, 2015

After watching Suffragette, I was struck by two questions: one, why is this film being released now, and immediately after, why has it taken so long to release this film? For it is the only cinematic film about the suffragettes that I know of – thus at the very least there must not be many famous ones. The face that existing ones are not famous may be testament to their quality, or may indicate lack of interest.

The first question is partly answered by the second It’s being made now because it hasn’t been made before. The question of why it hasn’t is more curious. It is a major part of British history, and one of the greatest stories of civil disobedience ever told. It’s tempting to lurch like a zombie straight for the conclusion that this is proof of continuing prevalent sexism – that in some ways it is more prevalent than racism and xenophobia; Gandhi came out a long time ago, and that was about an Indian man, and his exploits in India.

Or, you could say it’s part of the Zeitgeist Selma came out just before the turn of this year. It is by no means the first film about the civil rights movement, nor about Martin Luther King Jr, but its recent release may be indicating a change in interest; perhaps, this year, we feel ready to learn about human rights abuses, and we want to do it via fictionalised accounts of history.

In their own ways, Suffragette and Selma are pertinent to today’s issues. The recurring hunger strikes in Guantanamo Bay, leading to deaths in 2013, involved allegations of force-feeding, considered by the World Medical Association to be a form of torture. Sure enough, in Suffragette we were treated to a graphic representation of force-feeding, allowed to see the injustice of it, and the extent to which it was a violation that is very difficult to justify, given the historical context.

The other reason why I think Suffragette is being released now is because feminism is in revival; but more than that, feminism has been under such intense scrutiny lately, Suffragette serves as an acute reminder as to what started it in the first place. Despite the fact that we learn about the suffragettes in schools, I think people forget what was really at stake. We focus on the political side, the equality element; women should be allowed to vote because men can vote.

But Suffragette shows you more than that. It shows you what the vote meant – freedom from destitution and servitude, from unreasonable expectations, from illness and injury, from abuse. It’s easy to forget, amongst petty arguments about whether feminism is exclusive, or intolerant, that these are still issues worldwide. These arguments are just means by which we analyse inequality. The bottom line is that inequality causes suffering that is unimaginable to people who have never had to live through it.

A film like suffragettes help re-familiarise us with those concerns, and highlight that people still live in societies where equality is not the priority – because for everyone, violence and poverty take preference to equality issues. Equality issues appear to be mere quibbles over details. Suffragettes shows that feminism was never about mere details; and nor is any other push for equality.

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From → Media Analysis

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