‘Suffragette’ Director Sarah Gavron On Making A Feminist Film Without the Word Feminist: BUST Interview

by Madeline Raynor

This Saturday, the film Suffragette received the Athena Film Festival’s inaugural Ensemble Award. Director Sarah Gavron appeared to accept the award and gave a post-screening talkback about the real life suffrage movement, women in film, and more.

Suffragette is a hugely important movie for feminism. It’s about time that we got a movie about the women’s suffrage movement. Despite being a feminist movie, the word “feminism” doesn’t actually appear in the script—the term was just starting to come into existence. Suffragette, which stars Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, and Meryl Streep, is set in 1912 and focuses on British working class women fighting for the right to vote. At the screening, it was clear that the audience connected with the film: There was applause when Carey Mulligan’s character defended herself from her boss’s sexual harassment by slamming a hot iron down onto his hand, as well as murmurs of surprise when a scroll at the end of the film revealing how late women attained the vote in some countries. More than a few audience members teared up at least once during the film.

BUST got a chance to speak to Sarah Gavron before the event about feminism and the film. Gavron told BUST that although the characters don’t use the word feminist to articulate their arguments, “They were feminists.” Suffragette is still immensely relatable for contemporary feminists. Gavron said, “I think what we were trying to do was connect a modern-day audience with a group of women who were experiencing inequality in a way that we can relate to. And I think that although it was 100 years ago and…it was very different, that the issues that they were dealing with: unequal pay, sexual violence in the workplace, lack of representation, are issues that in certain parts of the world, we’re still battling with. Feminism has happened in waves and different ways and it’s also at different stages in many of the countries in the world, so it feels like an issue that is not just a piece of history.”

Gavron wanted to priotize the personal stories of the characters over making a political film. “What we were trying to do was connect the audience to a human story and not intellectualize it, not go for abstract ideas, but to just experience what it was like, very viscerally, to be a woman living in 1912 who was unequal, and to walk through the world that she was walking through in her shoes.”

Image Via Athena Film Festival/Facebook

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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