These days, cinematically-speaking, there is much emphasis on the unfair exploitation and much-overdue liberation of women. Quite a few such films were screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. Some were set in centuries past. MARY SHELLEY, for example, emphasizes the title character’s resolve to latch onto her individuality in a male-dominated society. Some were set in more recent times. BATTLE OF THE SEXES centers on the 1970s tennis match between Billie Jean King and super-chauvinistic Bobby Riggs.
While watching them, I thought to myself: They and so many other current films seem to have been made for audiences in 1969 or 1975, or during the very early years of the modern-era feminist movement. For after all, we now have women serving on the U.S. Supreme Court, women running corporations, women elected to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Isn’t this an accepted part of the contemporary landscape? Aren’t these films dealing with issues that, supposedly, have long-been out of the limelight? Aren’t they dealing with problems that have long-been solved? So why is it necessary for these films to have been produced, and for the Toronto festival to have announced its endeavor to “celebrate the quality of female-directed films” and make “a five-year commitment to championing female storytellers”?
While pondering the content of MARY SHELLEY and BATTLE OF THE SEXES, I eventually was able to answer these queries. And certainly, this goes way beyond Harvey Weinstein. This focus on women’s issues may be attributed to Donald Trump and his retrograde view of America. In the world of Donald Trump, the men-- or, more specifically, the men who are Caucasian-- hold the power, run the corporations, run the government. They are in charge. The women, meanwhile, should stay at home, support their mates, and nod approvingly at everything they do or say.
Beyond their quality, films like MARY SHELLEY and BATTLE OF THE SEXES serve a very important function within our Trumpian culture. They put forth the notion that women and minorities are not going to meekly accept this old-world scrutiny. They are going to speak out. They are going to fight back.
And with this in mind, I recently stumbled upon a film that was for me an immediate must-see. It is not much artistically, but it easily reflects our world in 2017. A brief plotline is offered on the Internet Movie Database: “Believing they can make a ton of money, a gang of opportunists uses the country’s racial and ethnic tensions to start a Ku Klux Klan-type organization.” The key here is that this film is not a new one. It was not screened in Toronto, but it is available on DVD. Its title is NATION AFLAME. It is based on a story by Thomas Dixon, of BIRTH OF A NATION infamy. It was released in 1937-- or, 80 years ago!
Rob Edelman has authored or edited several dozen books on film, television, and baseball. He has taught film history courses at several universities and his writing has appeared in many newspapers, magazines, and journals. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.
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