By Mia Bays, Birds Eye View – the event host, a charity whose mission is to bring ever greater audiences to films by women, and celebrates its 15th anniversary in 2018
SUFFRAGETTE is a significant film in the history of British cinema, as well as that of our charity. It was the obvious choice as the film to be our centrepiece for the Women And The Hall season, marking this centenary of suffrage. It was the first film we promoted, back in 2015, under our new guise, and it helped breathe new life into our mission. Birds Eye View started life as a film festival, showing solely films by women to UK audiences, but lost its public funding in 2014, and was struggling to reinvent itself or cease to exist. SUFFRAGETTE was just being released in this period, and it was a major shining light in the darkness of the films out that year – a film created by women, getting a big release, with big stars – as rare as hen’s teeth at the time, and let’s face it, still is.
We are thrilled that Sarah Gavron the director, Abi Morgan the writer, producers Faye Ward and Alison Owen will join us, along with Catherine Mayer, writer and co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party are joining us for this in event, and will be in conversation with us afterwards.
We asked them how they were feeling about screening the film now, this year, here’s their replies:
Sarah Gavron, director:
It is exciting to show the film now that we have reached this centenary and particularly because of recent events.
When we first released the film, it felt that it resonated with the contemporary world and now 2 years later, I feel that even more so. The #MeToo and Times up movements have shone a light on continuing abuses against women. We have been reminded how fragile progress is, particularly when hard won and how important it is to keep putting in checks and balances. How vital it is to make sure we continue the work that the Suffragette’s started. So it feels useful to revisit their struggle.
Alison Owen, producer:
When we screened SUFFRAGETTE at Women of the World (WOW) a couple of years ago, Tina Brown asked myself and Meryl what we thought Emmeline Pankhurst would have thought of the progress made for women…I answered that I thought she’d have been disappointed. Still so few women MP’s, gender pay gap, terrible stats on rape prosecution etc. But I think the last few months would have cheered her up! It feels like we can really achieve some proper, tangible change – wider, cultural change as well as systemic. That’s tremendously exciting, and I’m looking forward to seeing our film imbued with all that.
As the UK prepares to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act and, later this year, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act permitting women to run for Westminster, it’s important to acknowledge not only the huge significance of these laws but also what they did not mean. In 2018 women in the UK still own less and earn less than men, frequently occupy the worst and worst regulated jobs, undertake the lioness’s share of caregiving and unpaid domestic labour, are subject to discrimination, harassment and sexual violence, and may be doubly or triply disadvantaged by the intersections of race, age, sexuality, gender identity, disability and poverty. Not only that, but rights and protections we thought secure are endangered by the rush to write into UK statutes employment and equality directives from Europe.
The real lesson of history is that equality laws are essential to female progress, but cannot, of themselves, create equality. Sometimes the legislation is itself deficient. The Representation of the People Act granted the vote only to the 40% of the female population over the age of 30 who owned property or met other criteria designed to exclude the majority of women from eligibility. These new voters got to flex their newfound influence at an election in December 1918 in which just 17 female candidates participated and only one, Constance Markievicz, triumphed. Along with her colleagues in Sinn Fein, Markievicz never took her seat. Women are still seriously underrepresented in politics—and that underrepresentation heralds more deficient legislation.
See you on March 26th for a cracking conversation!