Apr 2, 2015

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry: A Crash Course Documentary in the Women’s Movement

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry: A Crash Course Documentary in the Women’s Movement 
at The Coolidge Corner Theater

Christine Gwillim

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry is a 2014 feature-length documentary by Mary Dore with a runtime of one hour and thirty-two minutes. The documentary revisits the beginning of the U.S. women’s liberation movement from 1966 to1971 using archival footage, interviews, and staged readings. She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry was released theatrically on December 5, 2014 after a festival run in 2014. The Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, Massachusetts screened the documentary February 27 through March 12, 2015.[1] The run was originally scheduled for one week, but was twice extended due to the popularity of scheduled screenings.  I attended a matinee screening on Saturday February 28 at 2:00pm in the renovated 180-seat theater.
Mary Dore is a documentary filmmaker and activist based in Brooklyn, best known for The Good Fight: The Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War (1984) and as a producer for the TV documentary series Science Times (2001-2002).  Dore spent several years researching and collecting footage from the women’s movement to create She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry. Dore partnered with Nancy Kennedy as co-producer and head editor in 2000, crediting the choice to leave out voiceover narration to Kennedy’s expertise. Kennedy is best known for Why We Fight (2005), For The Bible Tells Me So (2007), and Einstein’s Letter (2006). Kate Taverna, known for her work on PBS, A&E, and BBC also edited.[2]
She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry is part of the “Limited Engagement” series programmed by Coolidge Corner Foundation film programmer and booker, Connie White. The screenings on February 27, 28 and March 1 were also part of the “Special Screening” series with director Mary Dore and members of various women’s rights groups present for moderated Q&A’s after the screenings. The Coolidge Corner Theater is an art house cinema founded in 1933.  Originally the building was a church that was repurposed as an Art Deco Movie Palace in 1933 that evolved over time into the art house theater it is today.  
Figure 1. Coolidge Corner Theater, exterior. (Author's Collection)
Since 1989 the theater has run as a non-profit foundation with a mission to “entertain, inform and engage - building a vital community through film culture.”[3]  The foundation has a membership of 2,800 and claims 200,000 average attendees per year. The current board and staff have worked to transform it from a run-down experimental cinema to a thriving arts organization with programming intended to engage the community and plans to renovate selected screening rooms. The theater hosts over twenty different special series annually in addition to regularly scheduled screenings. Programs such as “Box Office Babies” and  “Artists for Alzheimer’s” exemplify the intention to include options for a variety of viewerships not normally associated with art house cinema.
Mary Dore worked with Mark Anastansio, Coolidge program manager and Beth Gillian, the director of developing and marketing, to arrange the special events around the screenings for She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry. For the screening on Friday February 27, Mary Doe attended a question and answer session moderated by Katherine Tallman, executive director of The Coolidge Corner Theater Foundation. Tallman previously served on the board of directors for The Coolidge and has been associated with the organization since 1993.[4]  

The moderator for the Saturday matinee was Jill Ashton, the co-president of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW).  Founded in 1966, the year the documentary starts its investigation, NOW is one of the organizations central to the third wave women’s rights movement and plays a lead role in the narrative of She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry. NOW was founded by Betty Freidan (The Feminine Mystique), Pauli Murray, a Yale law professor, and other women after the Third National Conference of State Commissions on the Status of Women in 1966.  Freidan is one of the main interviewees. She is intercuts with footage of her work in the early movement and a dramatic reading from The Feminine Mystique. Jill Ashton was a fitting choice as the moderator. She is not only the director of NOW, but also the president of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, an independent state agency that is tasked with reporting on the status of women in the Commonwealth and making recommendations regarding policy that would facilitate their advancement and access to equality.[5]

Figure 2. Filmmaker Mary Dore (left) with moderator Jill Ashton (right) (Author’s Collection)
The February 28 evening moderator was Our Bodies Ourselves executive director and co-author Judy Norsigian,[6] who also appeared in the documentary. The Sunday panel discussion included Norsigian and several other authors from the original 1971 Our Bodies Ourselves publication team. This session can be viewed online here.
The choices for the question and answer sessions reflect the emphasis on community making that was underscored in the film. All of the women invited to speak or moderate are actively involved in organizations that were started in the sixties, highlighted in the film, and active today. Additionally, there was an emphasis on the local, with only activists from the Boston area were invited. Dore addressed this in the session, claiming that Boston was one of the cornerstones of the women’s liberation in the late 1960s. Our Bodies Ourselves, a Boston collective and publication, had a large role in the documentary and in Dore’s personal experience entering the movement.  The Coolidge, with its emphasis on community building and engagement, was a natural fit for the Boston area screenings of the film.
The lobby of the Coolidge holds its “down-at-heel but beloved arts venue” [7]vibe, with grungy floors, stale popcorn odor, a crowded, out-of-date concessions stand and bathrooms in the basement. The remodeled screening room for She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry was a stark contrast to the dingy lobby and understated exterior of the Coolidge. It is a vast space with a proscenium arch, a stage area, tiered seating, and comfortable plush seats. My seat in the back corner had an unobscured view despite the crowded theater and attendees’ bulky winter wear.
The documentary itself was, as my title suggests, a crash course in the American women’s rights movement. The film briefly touches on suffrage and the civil rights movement at-large before diving into its specific historical moment. The press release for the film summarizes its trajectory:

She’s Beautiful takes us from the founding of NOW, with ladies in hats and gloves, to the emergence of more radical factions of women’s liberation; from intellectuals like Kate Millett to the street theatrics of W.I.T.C.H. (Women’s International Conspiracy from Hell!). Artfully combining dramatizations, performance and archival imagery, the film recounts the stories of women who fought for their own equality, and in the process created a world-wide revolution. She’s Beautiful does not try to romanticize the early movement, but dramatizes it in its exhilarating, quarrelsome, sometimes heart-wrenching glory. The film does not shy away from the controversies over race, sexual preference and leadership that arose in the women’s movement.[8]

Though it certainly valorizes the movement, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry makes clear its allegiance with women’s rights, however, does not paint a simple, uplifting story. Starting with middle-class, straight white women who remain the face of feminism and making its way through racial and sexual difference gracefully, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry was representative of the variety within the movement. This intuitive editing technique draws out the tendency towards hegemonic normativity that persists across movements. The backlash against “White Feminism” in feminist circles speaks to the urgency for inclusive dialogues that began with many of the organizations in She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry. The Black Power Movement is the most recognizably conflicted of the organizational splits represented, but She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry also includes the Lavender Menace group that organized to voice Lesbian needs at the Second Congress to Unite Women in 1970.
            Oddly, the documentary did not include any male or transgender interviewees, nor did the panel discussions. With approximately thirty interviews throughout the film, the only male voices came from archival “man-on-the-street” interviews. Given the attention to racial and sexual difference the choice to not include male retrospective interviews was strongly felt. The unapologetic feminism is underscored by this omission. Without saying it directly She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry implies that the movement was created for, by and about women and that its success was dependent on the community making of female collectives.  It is hard to imagine a man fitting into the narrative structure of the documentary, but the absence was felt during the discussion afterwards. Though many men were in attendance, only women asked questions during the question and answer session and the responses were directed at women and girls. Dore made clear that the film is intended as an educational tool, and she sees it as helping young women and girls to better know the history of modern American feminism and as a starting point for future political action. The DVD release on May 1, 2015 will be for strictly educational distribution.
The first and final scenes of She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry are of Texas activists, pointing to the urgency of women’s rights both in the early movement and now. This inclusion may come to date the film in future years, but as a soon to be released educational tool, the ending footage makes clear that many of the issues fought for by activists in the 1960s and 1970s are still contested legally in the United States. As a woman personally invested in Texas reproductive rights activism, this tie-in was inspirational and disheartening at once. The audience moderators and filmmaker presented more uplifting reactions with the recent material representing the need for both the documentary and its ensuing dialogues. There was a palpable desire to maintain a positive perspective and communal conversation. Women shared their relationship to the archival footage, the organizations represented in it, and asked questions about sharing the work and feminist ideology with younger generations. Even in the room after the screening, audience members were attempting to build on and take to heart the consciousness raising that Dore claims is key to the movement’s persistence.  
A female usher ended the event by announcing, “We have another crowd of anxious, wait, ambitious women waiting to get in.” This politically incorrect slip of tongue represents the Coolidge screening concisely. It was light hearted with a loaded history, female centric, and unpolished. The documentary, the venue, and its audience reflected one another subtly. The Coolidge Corner Theater, on a cold Saturday afternoon in Boston, drew a giving, enthusiastic audience to see She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry. A community within a community was momentarily created, producing the outcome Dore suggested being the goal for She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry.

[1] The documentary is screening as a Digital Cinema Package (flat 2k, 1998x1080 pixels, six-channel audio, 24 frames per second). Nick Lazzaro, Coolidge Corner Theater Projectionist, email to the author, March 9, 2015.
[2] The Filmmakers: She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry Website, 2015. www.shesbeautifulwhenshesangry.com/thefilmmakers.
[3] Mission: The Coolidge Corner Theater Website, 2015.  www.coolidge.org/about/mission
[4] Goldstein, Meredith  and Shanahan, Mark, “Coolidge Foundation Names New Director” Boston Globe, December 18, 2013. www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/names/2013/12/18/katherine-tallman-takes-director-role-for-coolidge-corner-theatre-foundation/AoTxRgIGwnoAqJxIErOcWJ/story.html
[5] Commonwealth of Massachusetts Website “Commission on The Status of Women, Jill Ashton, Director” 2015. www.mass.gov/women/biowelcome-mcsw.html
[6] Our Team: Our Bodies Ourselves Website, 2015. www.ourbodiesourselves.org/about/our-team/judy-norsigian/
[7] Mission: The Coolidge Corner Theater Website, 2015.  www.coolidge.org/about/mission
[8] The Film: She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry Website, 2015. www.shesbeautifulwhenshesangry.com/the-film

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