Feminists: What Were They Thinking? (2018)

Feminists: What Were They Thinking?
Director: Johanna Demetrakas
Seen on: 14.10.2022

In 1977, Cynthia MacAdams published Emergence, a photography book that captured prominent feminist activists of the time. 40 years later, this documentary tracks down Cynthia MacAdams and some of the women featured in the book to ask them about that time.

Feminists: What Were They Thinking? is a nice introductory documentary on the topic of Second Wave Feminism, though it sometimes felt a little too basic and shallow to me.

The film poster showing the colorful silhouette of a woman with other silhouettes, faces, symbols and text inside of it.

Since I’m a feminist myself and very much interested in the topic, I am probably more informed about feminist history than the average person. So it’s probably no surprise that a lot of the information covered here felt like ground well-covered to me. The struggles of the time, the questions feminists pondered, the fights they had – the documentary didn’t really uncover new things for me there, but it’s probably a nice introduction for people who haven’t yet had much to do with Second Wave Feminism.

At the same time, it was assumed that I knew who all of the women were who appeared in the documentary. And while that is true for some – like Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin or Michelle Phillips – with others I would have liked a bit more contextualization. And I assume that I’m not the only one, especially if you want to reach people who haven’t lived through the 70s.

Jane Fonda giving an interview.
Jane Fonda

The film does touch on feminist issues today and how they are continuations of Second Wave Feminism. It also acknowledges that the successful parts of Second Wave Feminism was mostly white, with Women of Color and racism often sacrificed in the name of the bigger picture. It touches very little on queer history though, outside of lesbian history – and this feels like a missed chance. Ultimately, feminism, and the fights against racism and queermisia, as well as ableism, are one struggle that always need to be thought together.

That being said, the documentary is a good starting point for people who want to learn a bit about the history of feminism. Taking the photobook as a structuring element makes the history told here very personal – and that is definitely engaging, even if I hoped for maybe a little more than that.

A hand holding a copy of Cynthia MacAdams’ photography book, Emergence
Cynthia MacAdams’ Emergence

Summarizing: worth seeing, but not great.

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