Society Through the Lenses of Film | The American Word

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Society Through the Lenses of Film

Caroline Dowden | 11/2/15 8:23pm
| Updated 11/2/15 8:27pm

Jaclyn Merica /
American Word Magazine

From the production of short features to documentaries to full-length feature films- there is no stopping Sarah Gavron, director of Focus Features’ Suffragette, which is currently in theatres. American University invited Gavron to be a guest in a Q&A panel with one of the university’s very own history professors. The historical fiction film, starring Cary Mulligan and Meryl Streep, tells the story of the 1912 campaign for Women’s Suffrage in England. It depicts the movement for women’s rights to vote through the eyes of a young working-class woman, Mulligan, as she joins and fights with the Women’s Social and Political Union. With a female film director like Gavron, Suffragette takes a unique approach by discussing past societal issues while tying in reminders that these issues still play a large role in the world today.

Gavron says that her filmmaking journey was like “stepping stones.” Gavron has come a long way since the days of her short feature productions from 2000 to 2007. It was only after her ninth film that she made her big break in 2007. Based on the novel by British writer Monica Ali, the British drama, Brick Lane, tells the story of a young Bangladeshi woman who is in an arranged marriage, but copes with life through letters written to and from her carefree sister. “It went on to festivals and won some awards, and then I started conversations with production companies about longer-formed films, so that was really my calling card: the short film.” Gavron has also earned a BAFTA award for her film This Little Life, in which she won for Best New Director.

Developing Suffragette was “time-consuming,” said Gavron. “The research process on this was enormous because it wasn’t based on any single book or novel.” The film had a unique, fictional twist, so Gavron and her team had to read into accounts of young women during this time and learn about the final stories that resonated. Once the research was done, a script was provided by screenwriter Abi Morgan to truly tell the story. The entire process took six years.

Directing a historical and fictional film can be pretty tricky, explained Gavron. “We decided that it would be more engaging to tell a story of a working class woman…that was our way in and that was a way that we found through the research.” The team focused on one key moment, the story of Mulligan’s character, Maude, rather than the entire history of Women’s Suffrage.

Many issues regarding women’s rights are still depicted as current events in several areas of the world. Gavron makes it a point that Suffragette strongly relates to some of these issues. She said, “There were women, then, who were discussing equal pay which is still an issue (today).” Other than the right for equal pay, the film also presented issues regarding sexual abuse in the workplace and the right to initiate women’s privileges to earn more money in the workplace. “They are still ongoing issues in parts of the world, so the film provides themes that are beyond women’s issues like surveillance,” said Gavron.

To make the idea of the film into a reality, Gavron teamed up with Morgan, whom she has worked with in previous projects like Brick Lane. Behind the scenes of Suffragette, the two collaborated quite a lot. “…We both did research. I would feed her a bit of research, and she would write a draft. And we talked about which characters were the most interesting… so, it was a lot of back and forth,” said Gavron.

With a film like Suffragette that pinpoints discussions, like voters’ rights and women’s issues, previously unexplored by other movie directors, Gavron definitely sets the record straight. She proves that it is possible to complete a project that raises awareness about historical movements hinting that some of these issues are still existent in today’s society. Who knows? With women like Gavron, it is likely that societal changes regarding women’s rights can be made through the mass media. All it needs is a little effort, time commitment, and, as quoted in the film, a reminder to “never give up the fight.”