In the late 1970s, Cynthia MacAdams was roaming the streets of Los Angeles and New York, photographing women. She did it, she said, because something new was happening in women and she wanted to see if it would show up in photographs. Indeed, her landmark book Emergence, published in 1977, shows something more complex than political fervor, more basic than sexual identity. It captures the freedom for these women to be completely who they are.
During this complex moment in our nation’s history, after a recent shocking and misogynistic presidential campaign, Feminists –What Were They Thinking? revisits those photos, those women and those times – and takes aim at a culture that shows all too vividly the urgent need for continued change. Featuring new interviews with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Laurie Anderson, Judy Chicago, Michelle Phillips, Meredith Monk, Sally Kirkland and others, the film captures that “aha moment” when each person shed the cultural restrictions of her childhood and awoke to her full humanity. Lily Tomlin speaks of the day she felt the “embryonic kicking of feminism.” Jane Fonda reveals having to “stuff anger” and “be a good girl,” only to reclaim the feisty girl she once was.
More than a look back at the past, Feminists –What Were They Thinking? catapults the conversation into the present by contrasting the women’s personal stories with a sweeping range of historical and contemporary footage. News clips, beauty commercials, Internet memes, movies, TV shows and YouTube videos play off the women’s stories to create a dialogue with current culture. No subject is off-limits, including the women’s movement itself, which is examined through the lens of intersectionality. In this way Feminists –What Were They Thinking? departs from traditional linear storytelling and becomes an immersive, organic experience that pushes, provokes and prods.
What does it take to truly change? Is our culture finally ready to accept the full humanity of women? Feminists –What Were They Thinking? ignites the dialogue past, present and into the future through the powerful medium of film.