What is the point in having a film about the Suffragette Movement in 2015 if it is not going to address the position of women today? Most of us will have studied the suffragettes in history class and already know the story of Emily Davidson heroically jumping in front of the king’s horse, we know about the hunger strikes, and we know about Emmeline Pankhurst.
The acting in Suffragette was fantastic. The film was emotional; the moment when Maud’s (Carey Mulligan) son was taken away nearly made me cry, and it was difficult to watch her being force-fed in prison. However, I worry that a film like this may make us complacent. I came out of the cinema this evening feeling really angry.
Suffragette ends with a list of dates when different countries around the world gave women the right to vote. The final image on the screen is a comment stating that in 2015, it is starting to look hopeful that women in Saudi Arabia will have the right to vote. As it states in the film, women should not stop at the right to vote. We need more women in parliament. We need more women making laws. Why has Suffragette said that women should not stop at the right to vote when the film ends by only talking about women’s right to vote in different countries? They had the perfect opportunity to talk about how women in this country are still unequal. Selma did it! At the end of Selma, Common and John Legend’s song Glory played. These are some of the lyrics from Glory:
That’s why Rosa sat on the bus
That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up
When it go down we woman and man up
They say, “Stay down”, and we stand up…
Selma is now for every man, woman and child
Even Jesus got his crown in front of a crowd…
Saw the face of Jim Crow under a bald eagle
This song directly relates the racism around the Civil Rights Movement to the racism now in Ferguson, America, and across the world. It related the film Selma to the present day. This is what Suffragette needed. Why does the Suffragette poster say ‘The Time Is Now’ when the film really only discusses the past?
Another major problem I had with Suffragette is its lack of people of colour in the film. Hanna Flint notes that ‘many Indian women campaigned at the turn of the century for the vote, but they were noticeably absent from the film. An interesting historical omission, considering that Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh, was a prominent suffragette and member of the Women’s Social and Political Union and marched alongside Emmeline Pankhurst on November 18, 1910, in a 400-strong demonstration since known as Black Friday.’
Sarah Gavron, who directed Suffragette, said that she didn’t include India suffragettes in the film because ‘the census records of the early 1900s do not record ethnic diversity, but judging by names, the photographic evidence and written accounts, it appears there were just two women of colour who joined the UK movement.’ Even by looking at photographs we can see that this is not true. Hanna Flint comments that ‘there is less evidence of ethnic minorities campaigning and such at that time, because the country was still dismissive and less willing to include non-white people within society.’
If Suffragette really did ‘revolve(s) around one working class woman’s story’ then it would be more acceptable not to have women of colour as central characters. However, the film does focus on a larger picture of the Suffragette Movement. Although we may not have heard much about the launderette in Bethnal Green, all the major events in the film are ones we are very familiar with as key points in the Suffragette Movement. This also does justify why there were no extras played by people of colour when there would have been a community of ethnic minorities living in East London at the time.
The actors in Suffragette posed for publicity photos for Time Out wearing t-shirts with the slogan ‘I’d rather be a rebel than a slave’ (a quote from Emmeline Pankhurst). These t-shirts have received a lot of bad press, as they highlight the ignorance of white feminism.
Time Out later defended the photoshoot saying ‘the original quote was intended to rouse women to stand up against oppression – it is a rallying cry, and absolutely not intended to criticise those who have no choice but to submit to oppression, or to reference the Confederacy, as some people who saw the quote and photo out of context have surmised.’
I don’t think women are being roused to stand up against oppression at all. Suffragette encourages complacency. The film ends by saying, well look what a good place we are in now compared to countries like Saudi Arabia, look how far we’ve come. Thank God those women did what they did so we could have the vote today. This is not good enough.
Female actors are not getting paid as much as male actors. This is the same in pretty much every profession. Women of colour are getting paid even less. Women around the world are being raped and sexually assaulted in horrifically high numbers. This issue was highlighted in Suffragette but again, it was not brought back to the present day. We cannot get complacent – ‘The Time Is Now.’