20th Century Women: Film series celebrates female activists of all ages

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"These girls aren't selling cookies or learning to sew," quips a FOX News broadcaster during a trailer for "We Are the Radical Monarchs."

"Wouldn't it be better for them to learn friendship skills?," another FOX commentator asks. An image of a group of young girls, dressed in brown berets and vests, marching with signs emblazoned with #BlackLivesMatter, is frozen on the screen next to her. The image is from the first Black Lives Matter march in California and the group of girls, between the ages of 8 and 12, is the Radical Monarchs (then called the Radical Brownies), started in Oakland, Calif., in 2014. The berets, the founders write, "pay homage to the spirits of the Brown Berets and Black Panther movements of the past." The badges earned focus on topics such as "Radical Beauty," "Food Justice" and "Radical Self-Love." But more importantly, the group is about "creating a space centered on the development of young girls of color."

Documentarian Linda Goldstein Knowlton first learned of the group in 2015, when she read an article in The Guardian that referred to the troop as a "social justice-oriented version of the Girl Scouts." Soon after, she began her 3 1/2 year journey filming the group's evolution.

"We Are The Radical Monarchs" which premiered at SXSW last March and has been shown at film festivals around the country since then, will kick off the 20th Century Women film series at Images Cinema in Williamstown. Knowlton will participate in a discussion about the documentary, via Skype, following the film, on Monday, Jan. 13.

"What you see in the film, the arch follows the trajectory of starting the group," Knowlton said in a phone interview with The Eagle. "It started with 10 girls. One of the founders, Anayvette Martinez, her daughter wanted to join the Girl Scouts. Anayvette said to her, 'I don't know if that experience is going to speak to you as a young girl of color.'"

Martinez reached out to her friend, Marilyn Hollinquest, whom she met at graduate school at San Fransisco State University, and asked her if she was interested in founding a group that created a non-conforming inclusive space for young girls of color. (Both women have over 15 years of youth development and programming experience with LGBTQ and youth of color.) The result was a group that celebrates girls of color, the Radical Monarchs.

"When they first started, their first badge was going to be 'Radical Beauty,' but then Ferguson happened. It became a 'Black Lives Matter' badge. They went and marched in the first Black Lives Matter march. They received a ton of press," Knowlton said. "When people found out about them, they had requests from all over to start chapters — 200 cities in the U.S. and 18 countries. This is what happens when everyone taps you on the shoulder and says, 'You have to start a movement.' This is the response to being tapped on the shoulder in that way."

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"We Are the Radical Monarchs" is the first of eight films in the 20th Century Women series, running Mondays at 7 p.m. through May 11. Each film in the series, which celebrates women's activism and advocacy from 1920 to 2020, is paired with a woman activist guest speaker or speakers.

Janet Curran, managing director of Image Cinema, said she chose to open the film series with "We Are the Radical Monarchs" as a way to celebrate women activists, both current and future.

"What's exciting in this film is that it's about the next generation and really looking to the future," she said. "We have not yet achieved complete equity even after 100 years. It's really exciting to see the next generation is already out there at this young age, so by the time they can vote it can mark a big shift in our country."

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The film series, as a whole, she said, was inspired by not only the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and women's suffrage movement, but also by the activism, that is happening in the present — movements like March For Our Lives and Sunrise, among others.

"A customer had asked about showing some movies about women activists in the 1970s and 1980s. I started thinking about a series in that context and then in the context of the [women's suffrage] anniversary," Curran said. "I ended up programming only one of the movies the customer brought up, 'Norma Rae," but we're bringing the series from the anniversary to the present day, through the 2018 election and taking a wider look at the last 100 years. It's good timing for a series like this."

She said she had a hard time limiting the series to eight movies.

"Part of the requirement was that I wanted each film to be paired with someone who could talk about the issues raised by the film. It was about finding the right film and then finding the right person to speak about it. We've been really lucky getting the guest speakers we have lined up; we really wanted to tie the story and the message of the films to our community. Not all of them are local, but a lot of them are," Curran said.

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Other films in the series include "One Woman, One Vote," "Erin Brockovich," "Chishom '72: Unbought and Unbossed," "Time for Ilhan," "Salt of the Earth," "Norma Rae," and "Hidden Figures."

"Time for Ilhan," a documentary about Ilhan Omar, the first Somali Muslim woman elected to a state office in America, will be followed by a talk on local voter engagement with guest speakers Tracy Baker White of Greylock Together, a political action group that supports progressive candidates and policies, and Maddy Art of Mount Greylock REV (Register, Educate, Vote), a student club at Mount Greylock Regional School that fosters participation in democracy through voter registration, voter education, and election enthusiasm.

"I'm really excited for Maddy Art to speak. Last year, following another movie, part of the conversation was about the work she's been involved with at Mount Greylock," Curran said. "It really feels like these 15-, 16-, 17-year-old kids are willing to speak the truth. These are the people we need engaged in our political systems."

Some of the films, Curran said, are connected to the greater community on a more philosophical level.

"When I saw 'Hidden Figures' for the first time, I saw it in a theater, I was just very moved. I'm not black, but I am a woman of color, and it was just really inspiring to see a group of women march down the hall and save the day; to be the superhero," she said. "Representation in film is really important ... It's something I can't emphasize enough. Even though I'm about to turn 40, I'm still learning these things [like the need for representation] ... having that connection to reality is really important."

But the thing that most excites her about the series is giving individuals the opportunity to watch these films with an audience.

"I think it is a powerful experience see these movies as a group and reflect on the last 100 years," Curran said.


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