Suffragette Press Conference

Suffragette - BFI London Film Festival

The BFI London Film Festival opens this evening with Suffragette. Director Sarah Gavron, screenwriter Abi Morgan, and stars Carey Mulligan and Meryl Streep were in London to talk about the film, gender equality, and the film industry…

On bringing the Suffragette movement to the big screen…

Abi Morgan: Film does take time. However, I think when a film is fronted not by one, but by an ensemble of women, and they are not being funny, it’s hard. And it’s not romantic, it’s hard. I think that became a huge obstacle, but we have an incredible group of producers and I think of them all as feminists. It has taken both men and women to bring this project to the screen.

On Suffragette‘s protagonist…

Sarah Gavron: What we were interested in was the story of ordinary women. No platform, no entitlement – working class women who were so often at the vanguard of change but rarely get talked about. There were these extraordinary accounts, so contemporary feeling. We thought to follow that woman would make it connect with audiences all over the world today.

Meryl Streep: I think the great achievement of this film is that it is not about women of a certain class, like Emmeline Pankhurst who worked as an abolitionist, as a pro-labour supporter for the rights of working people – men and women. It’s about a working girl. That’s part of why we can enter the film so easily and so empathetically. Carey plays this young laundress who looks like us.

On the contemporary resonance of Suffragette…

Carey Mulligan: What I always loved about this film is that it didn’t feel like a documentary about a time, it felt like a film about today. I always felt its resonance of where we are. It’s a film to mark the achievement of what these women did, what they gave to us, but also to mark where we are in the world. We still live in a society that is sexist, and that goes throughout our history.

Meryl Streep: There is no such thing as ‘women’s history’, there’s history that women have been shut out of. I knew a great deal about the suffragette movement in the United States, but I didn’t know about it here. And I also didn’t know the condition of women here in 1913. I didn’t know that the marriage age was twelve – that was shocking to me. I didn’t know that once a woman was married, she had no further claim to not only here name, but any property she brought to the marriage. Her own children were not hers; she had no say, really, in how they were raised or where they were educated, if they were educated. Or if the twelve year-old was basically sold to be married off. I didn’t know those things. To be it’s recent history because my grandmother was alive then, had a couple of children, and was not deemed capable of voting. I’m passionate about it – it feels recent.

Suffragette Press Conference

On women in film criticism…

Meryl Streep: In our business, part of it is driven by buzz. I was always thinking ‘what makes buzz? What controls that?’. So I went deep, deep, deep into Rotten Tomatoes and I counted how the contributors – critics and bloggers, and there is a very strict criteria that allows you to be a blogger, critic or something [on the site]. Of those people who are allowed to rate on the ‘Tomato-meter’, there are 168 women. And I thought ‘that’s absolutely fantastic’. If there were 168 men, it would be balanced. If there were 268 men it would be unfair but I would be used to it. Actually there are 760 men who weigh in on the Tomato-meter. I submit to you that men and women are not the same. They like different things. Sometimes they like the same thing, but sometimes their tastes diverge.

If the Tomato-meter is slighted so completely to one set of tastes, that drives box office in the United States. Absolutely. So who are these critics and bloggers? I went on the site of the New York Film Critics. They have 37 men and two women. Then I went on all of the sites of the different critics circles. The word isn’t disheartening, it’s infuriating because people accept this as received wisdom – ‘this is just the way it is’. You can take every single issue of female rights in the world and examine it under the same rubric because it isn’t fair. We need inclusion Rotten Tomatoes, this year it needs to be equal. Half and half.

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