WITH THE magnetic Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan, and Helena Bonham Carter at the helm, Suffragette is set to start the Savannah Film Festival with a bang.
Inspired by true events surrounding the women’s suffrage movement in England in the early 20th century, the buzzed-about feature is a hard stare into the violent fight for equality and the women who risked everything for the right to vote.
After the screening, SCAD will hold a discussion with director Sarah Gavron and producer Alison Owen as a part of the Savannah Film Festival Conversation Series. We chatted with Owen about unearthing history and the issues that are just as relevant now as they were then.
Congratulations on a strong opening in London! It seems there’s already been a lot of social response, like with Sisters Uncut hitting the red carpet to protest cuts to domestic violence services and identifying as suffragettes while doing so. Did you expect this kind of call-to-action response from the film?
We loved that, actually. We thought it was fantastic, having modern suffragettes, and it’s a great cause. We support the protest of the cuts in domestic violence—that’s something we all stand behind. It was great to see them on the red carpet making a good impression.
I think we’ve been really lucky; when we first started development six years ago, it was quite a hard, because feminism was not nearly such a sexy subject at that point. People were still saying, ‘I’m not a feminist, I like men!,’ so it was more of a difficult time.
We’re fortunate that our movie has landed at a very zeitgeist time and in a very feminist movement. It’s helped with provoking conversation and discourse on social media.
With feminism becoming—for lack of a better word—nearly mainstream, what can we learn from the roots laid down in Suffragette?
We were when we started doing research on subject after we got the commission to write the movie, we really looked in archives and museums, old memories and diaries at the time, and we were amazed how many issues were still so relevant today. The issues were about equal pay, they were about sexual abuse at work; it was amazing how many of the issues are sadly still with us—there's a lot of stuff. They did amazing job, and 100 years later, there's a long way and a lot of fight to come.
In the trailer, I was really struck by Carey Mulligan's line: "War is the only language men listen to." It seems particularly timely with Baltimore and Ferguson, and people saying that destruction prevents true progress. How do we see that come into play in Suffragette?
With the suffragettes, they tried for 50 years to get the vote through peaceful protest and peaceful discourse to no avail, which is why they then turned to violence. Against property, not against people—they were certainly not in favor of harming a human life at all.
That’s why we decided to focus on that period of suffragettes, from peaceful protest to violence, and we talked about Black Lives Matter, and Gandhi, and different ways of protesting globally.
It’s hard; we all believe in a democracy and using peaceful protest, but if people have no part in that democracy, it’s hard to see if there’s any other way they can affect change.
What a stellar cast. What was the energy like on set?
It was amazing, especially since a large amount of the crew were female. It was so satisfying, having made a lot of movies in my time, sat by the monitor and watched movies being filmed, and seeing it being filled by four or five amazing actresses and dealing with really female subjects. It’s not just talking about a love affair, it’s not a romantic comedy; it’s just women giving amazing performances.
On the production end, you have an incredible team of women working on this film. Does it often happen in the industry that you get to work with such a woman-heavy team?
Not usually, but it wasn't necessarily our intent to use discrimination on the crew; we simply chose the best people for the job. But it's unsurprising with such a female subject that there were a lot of women who felt incredibly intensely and passionately...we knew they were the people who were going to bring every ounce of energy and passion to the job and to the screen.
Is there anything you'd like audiences to know before they see Suffragette?
I think they should stay open-minded and know that it's important to tell the stories of these women. We're standing on their shoulders, and it's important to know them.