The British director of the new film “Suffragette” finds it astonishing that hers is the very first film to focus on the century-old fight to get women the vote.
“I think it took a team like ours of female producer, female writer, female director who could see the potential, to get it off the ground,” Sarah Gavron explains.
She says it was a period of history not taught in school. These mostly nameless women deserve to have their story told.
“These were women who were prepared to break every taboo, who went out, who went to prison … who held hunger strikes and were force-fed,” she says. “Ultimately, they sacrificed huge amounts to get to where we are today.”
“Suffragette,” which stars Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, and Meryl Streep, focuses on the campaign in Great Britain which was much more militant than it was in the United States.
The film doesn’t shy away from the violent strain within the movement, with suffragettes smashing windows, planting bombs and blowing up government property. But Gavron objects to the idea that they’re turn-of-the-century terrorists.
“I think terrorism today has very specific connotations,” she says. “What we have to remember with the Suffragettes, under the leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst, they never intended to harm human life and not one single person was harmed during the whole struggle except the Suffragettes themselves. They only attacked property and they only attacked it when people weren’t around.”
Also revolutionary was the make-up of the suffragette movement, which crossed all class lines.
“What was so interesting is … they invited women of any race and any class and that was so unusual,” Gavron says. “You’ve got aristocratic women along side working-class women. Irish immigrants, Eastern European immigrants working together.”
“Suffragette” is obviously a female-centric movie, so I asked Gavron if she thought there was something that she and her team brought to the film that a male sensibility might not have.
“It’s such an interesting question,” Gavron says. “I don’t know. It’s so in my DNA. I think that perhaps the fact that we held on steadfastly to the idea that women were going to lead this film. That we weren’t going to divert onto making the men more than supporting parts. That we were going to focus it on those women and let them be at the forefront of this story. Our determination to do that, perhaps, was because we were a female team.”
“Suffragette” opens in theaters Friday.