Mills students fill the small blackened screening room of the Piedmont Theatre. The energy bounces off the walls as Mills students and faculty chatter in excitement about the opportunity to watch a pre-screening of the film. The screen is filled with bright text; the title is accentuated with hot pink coloring, followed by white text which reads: “The film you are about to watch is based on actual events. The brave women it depicts fought for equality 100 years ago. Take action. Share your voice.”
“Suffragette” covers the influence of Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) who pushes the women of Britain in 1912 to engage in civil disobedience to gain the right to vote. Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) joins the cause after suffering dangerous working conditions under which the women of laundry houses worked for long hours while being exposed to poisonous chemicals that their male counterparts were not exposed to.
The film tackles more than the political movement of the suffragettes. It also describes the lack of custodial rights for women, childhood victimization of girls working in factories, the physical violation of women’s rights by the state and innate violence that people resort to when backed into a corner by an oppressor.
After viewing the movie, Mills student Julia Wilmers said, ” The way it is advertised is about their voting rights, but it’s about women’s rights in general.”
However, Mills students Blue Anderson, Jillian Haines, Alida Humphrey and Wilmers all expressed frustration with the lack of inclusiveness and diversity. All of the characters are white in the film. The entire cast was white-washed, despite the fact that England had a substantial Indian and Chinese population due to the colonization of India and China during this period.
Sarah Gavron, director of “Suffragette,” was quoted at the Tribeca Film Festival luncheon where she was asked about the this issue of diversity within the film.
“We interrogated the writ and photographic evidence, and the truth is, it’s a very, very different picture from the U.S. The U.S. had a lot of women of color involved in the movement, some who were excluded, some who weren’t excluded. But in the UK, it wasn’t like that, because we had pockets of immigration…it was later, around the war, around the fifties, that really the UK shifted and changed in a really wonderful way to produce what we have today,” Gavron said, as reported by IndieWire.com.
At a discussion for the pre-screening the following day, Director of Engagement and Inclusion and Division of Student Life Sabrina Kwist countered this quote by reminding everyone that history books and documents are often altered to discard events about those who are marginalized. It is important for the audience to consider these historical errors.
The film itself is beautiful. The imagery is powerful, and transports the audience to another space and time. The cinematography is vivid and the script is well written. The score is beautiful and interweaves with the tale, and the characters grow and burst, making you feel things — especially Mulligan.