★★★★☆

MILWAUKEE FILM "She's Beautiful When She's Angry" is a historical documentary that tracks the progress of the feminist movement wonderfully.
MILWAUKEE FILM
“She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” is a historical documentary that tracks the progress of the feminist movement wonderfully.

As the opening credits flicked by, the screen suddenly went black and moments later white words appear: “There are still states that restrict a woman’s right to choose. A right that women won over 40 years ago.”  The very first scene of the documentary “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” hooked the audience as it began with a present-day scene of a rally in Austin, Texas and then plunged into the past, starting in the 1960s with the women’s liberation movement.

“She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” (SBWSA) chronicles the rise, success, failure, in-fighting and most of all, the continuation of women’s liberation through the 1960s and 1970s. During that time frame (unbelievably enough only about 50 years ago today), women across the United States and across the globe were struggling with an unidentifiable dilemma. They were not allowed or afforded the opportunities to pursue a career. Their place, as dictated by society, was in the home. They cooked. They cleaned. They raised children. They listened and obeyed the men in their lives and in society, who exercised total control over them. SBWSA looks at and analyzes the fundamental societal changes brought forth by the brave women of this time who were fed up with not having equal rights. And to kick off that movement was none other than author Betty Friedan with the release of her book, “The Feminine Mystique” in 1963.

Articulating the problems of a woman at that time was even more difficult for women than bearing the weight of the problems themselves. Friedan’s book allowed women everywhere to reach a common understanding with one another for the first time: they were not alone in their thoughts, feelings, fears, and wishes. Women everywhere were experiencing some kind of societal repression and the time to change had come.

The documentary intersperses interviews with the major leaders, movers and shakers of the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s and 1970s, in the present day with news clips, photos, speeches and videos of the various stages of the movement. It is the presentation of these women, at one time so vital to a growing campaign to change the world, who are still alive to talk about their experience that make “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” so compelling. As a documentary, it is certainly important that the film chronicles and observes the events of the past, however the juxtaposition of the past with the present, and the present with the immediate future they speak of, is what creates a tone in the film that simply cannot be ignored. The format and style of this documentary leaves you hungry for more, unlike the stereotypical history film where one would sooner fall asleep.

The other poignant aspect of the film resides in its unfailing approach to regaling the truth of the movement: it certainly was not perfect. As women’s liberation and organizations like NOW (National Organization for Women) gained attention, more and more issues began to arise within the movement itself. What about black women? What about lesbian women? What was the women’s liberation movement’s stance on those controversial issues and how did they play into the overall goal of the campaign, a goal that many criticized as being nonexistent? What was it exactly that these women wanted? To many, their loud and angry cries sounded like white noise.

But despite the major setbacks like Nixon’s veto of an important childcare bill, the women pushed on and continued to receive more support each day. They combated issues such as rape and battery — blazing the trail for the continuing fight to ameliorate them today. The movement even set up a system to perform safe, hygienic abortions, calling those who performed them “Janes.” From 1967 until 1973 these Janes performed over 11,000 abortions — none of which were legal at the time. Just as importantly, a group of women collected information about women’s health issues and compiled the bestselling “Women and Their Bodies” in 1970. The movement’s highly criticized goal was simple: raise awareness, gain traction, and change the world.

From small victories like bra-burning rallies and dramatic skits to satirize the way men treat women, to large scale feats like the march of 50,000 in New York City, the story of women’s liberation begs to be told. “She Beautiful When She’s Angry” manages to not only tell the story of these brave women, but to do so in a way that will make people stop and listen, and hopefully inspire similar patterns of change in the future.

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