“Speaking your mind will get you in a lot of trouble.” ~ ‘The Glorias’
There was a time when I thought that 9/11 would be my generation’s Kennedy Assassination. The “where were you when…?” moment that would irrevocably change you and the world in which you lived, the moment you could never forget, no matter how hard you tried.
As the years press on, a different moment has been playing in my mind on repeat, like a bad record you can’t turn off, like an embarrassing memory that still makes you cringe. I can’t tell you the exact time, but it was at some point during the night of November 8, 2016, when it became increasingly clear that the 45th President of the United States would not be Hillary Clinton, as expected, but instead be Donald Trump, the completely unexpected.
The unconsidered outcome. The unwelcome outcome. The outcome that wasn’t supposed to happen.
It’s the outcome that most of us have been coming to terms with for four years.
There are days when I don’t think about it as much. When the image of the President, then a prospective candidate, mocking a disabled person in front of his supporters at a rally doesn’t make my blood boil. But at some point, it all comes back and I’m ruined again.
In times like these, I often turn to inspiration. The day after Trump’s inauguration, the Women’s March happened, and is still the largest single-day protest in American history. I think of Gloria Steinem’s speech, in which she said that the size of the crowd was the “upside to the downside,” that Trump’s presidency, as unfortunate as it is, had brought with it an unprecedented level of activism.
The Glorias (2020) is a new film directed by Julie Taymor that deals directly with this outcome, despite chronicling Steinem’s legacy as a writer and women’s rights activist.
This is not your standard cradle-to-the-grave biopic, in which all the main points of a person’s life are covered in a cliched way. Taymor takes significant artistic chances and the result is the most ambitious film about a famous person since Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There (2007).
For a start, four different actresses (Ryan Kira Armstrong, Lulu Wilson, Alicia Vikander, Julianne Moore) play Steinem at different points in her life. The purpose has less to do with aging and more to do with assertiveness. As Steinem becomes more comfortable in her skin and more willing to speak her mind, the older actresses subtly take over the role. For example, Moore’s characterization is more confrontational than Vikander’s, because Vikander plays Steinem at a time when she was just finding her footing as an activist.
Taymor trusts us to follow along, even if in the moment we’re unsure of where it’s all headed. There are flights of fancy, including surreal animation sequences, as well as a symbolic centerpiece in which all the different aged Glorias sit together on a bus headed toward an unknown destination. On the bus ride, there’s an extended internal monologue in which the younger Gloria commiserates to the older Gloria about not standing up for herself against misogynistic men. “You will,” assures the older Gloria.
All of this is to remind us that Steinem wasn’t born a feminist icon, she became one. Right place, right time, a lot of hard work and many sleepless nights.
Taymor shows us the people and experiences that influenced Steinem along the way, like her gypsy father Leo (Timothy Hutton) who encouraged her to postpone marriage and live in India for two years in her twenties, and Cherokee activist Wilma Mankiller (Kimberly Guerrero) who opened up her perspective to the Western colonialism of original cultures. We see the establishment of Ms. Magazine and the fight to ratify the ERA. Anyone who watched the brilliant Mrs. America will notice some of the same figures, and The Glorias is a great companion piece to that more in-depth portrait of a turbulent time.
The bus ride reaches its inevitable destination. All the different Glorias are on their way to the Women’s March with their pink pussyhats, alongside Steinem herself. Taymor breaks the fourth wall by bringing in the real Steinem to show that the same issues Steinem fought for in the 1970s are still on the ballot today.
The final seconds are glorious, as Taymor cuts away from the film to play footage of Steinem’s Women’s March speech. Four years later, it’s still incredibly inspiring to see the standard-bearer pass the baton to a new generation of activists. It’s at once a celebration of an icon who was there from the beginning, and a continued rallying cry that the work is not finished, the work is never finished.