“Suffragette”, the upcoming film focused on the early feminist movement in America and Britain, has become a hot topic of conversation, especially in the Twittersphere. The stars of the movie, including Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan, Romola Garai and Anne-Marie Duff, put on a somewhat controversial photo shoot. They were photographed wearing shirts that said, “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” in reference to a quote from famous suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst in 1913. You don’t need to look closely to see the irony of rich, white women wearing shirts with this out-of-context quote. Even before this photo shoot took place, there were many criticisms that the film completely disregarded non-white feminists. The film, scheduled for release on Oct. 23, has already received significant backlash from those who believe it focuses on “white feminism.” This photo shoot only furthers that notion.
Of course the whole point of the film is to empower women and promote the positive ideals that came from the early feminist movement. That being said, it isn’t okay to gloss over the fact that this early feminist movement tended to exclude those who weren’t white. The photo shoot confirms this “white feminism” ideal, while simultaneously suggesting that sexism and racism are the same thing, which they clearly are not.
Some may argue the photo shoot did nothing wrong, as the quote was taken from a famous suffragist of the time. However, 1913 was drastically different from 2015, and that needs to be addressed. Aside from the fact that it was unclear the shirts were quoting Pankhurst in the first place, the photo shoot also begs the question: why does the film ignore the racism that was part of the early feminist movement? If the point of the film is to promote equality, it fails to do so in this film promotion. To blend together sexism and racism is incredibly ignorant.
As a result of these photographs, the film has received a ton of backlash, most commonly in the form of tweets. One tweet that particularly stood out was from Miz Jenkins, which read, “‘I’d rather exaggerate my oppression than acknowledge yours’ #whitefeminism #suffragette.” While this clearly was not the aim of the creators of this photo shoot, they have inadvertently cast the movie in a negative light, pointing out how it solely focuses on white feminists. They have brought one of the major flaws of this film to the attention of social media before it has even premiered. The movie seeks to bring feminists together, fight for equality and eliminate oppression. However, this photo shoot has managed to negate all of that. Instead, it captures the underlying racism of it all. Suffragette has pitted feminists against each other, destroying something that could have been so powerful and transformative.
In light of this failure, London Time Out, the ones behind the photo shoot, issued a statement trying to justify the company’s actions by saying that the quote was taken out of its original context. To battle this controversy, London Time Out should have issued an apology, and taken Suffragette out of this social justice uproar. Regardless, this photo shoot did not have the intended effect on its audience. Instead of bringing people together to fight inequality, it has managed to create more inequality and dissent. With the upcoming release of the movie, it will be interesting to see how it fares in the midst of this heavy scrutiny.