“The Passionate Pursuits of Angela Bowen” honors a black lesbian feminist artist & activist

on

Dancer, teacher, activist, scholar–all roles held by powerhouse out lesbian Angela Bowen. Such a life undoubtedly deserves documenting, and that’s exactly what filmmaker Jennifer Abod did with her new documentary, The Passionate Pursuits of Angela Bowen. The film details Angela’s incredible journey in her own words.

What Angela Bowen has accomplished in 60 years in various fields most won’t accomplish even after a lifetime of dedication to one particular area. She’s a woman of many loves and each has left its mark on society at large.

10579988_1086595138039060_4634742095780591339_n

Angela’s first love was dance. She got into ballet somewhat late, starting at 14, but soon emerged as a natural leader. Two years after she started, she performed as the Black Swan at Boston’s Hancock Hall. Angela was an assistant at the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts in Boston, where she grew up, and would eventually drop out of college to pursue dancing full-time. She headed to New York City with a dance partner during the era of ”No Blacks on Broadway.” She went to audition after audition, this despite knowing she’d continually be rejected. Her passion for activism was already clearly showing.

The only dance opportunities for Angela were in Europe. She successfully tried out for the “Jazz Train” and toured in Germany and Italy. While the working conditions were often poor, she loved the dancing. But off stage, she found she could rarely engage in the political conversations she had back home. It ultimately wasn’t a good fit, and she moved back to Boston.

When she returned from Europe, she married a drummer named Ken Peters. Together they formed the Bowen-Peters School of Dance in New Haven, Connecticut in 1963. Many of her students came from low-income households, and her school was invaluable to them, as made evident in several interviews with former students.

Black Swan DFA

Angela would only really discover feminism after she became a mother. Once she did, however, she got into it full force. She dedicated herself to the black feminist cause, deeply inspired by the work of Audre Lorde. In the early ‘80s, she made what she considers the hardest decision in her life: she closed the Bowen-Peters School of Dance to join the feminist movement. And then she came out.

It’s at this point that the subject’s ease with the filmmaker makes a lot of sense. Angela and Jennifer have been together for over 34 years, having met through their mutual interest in the feminist cause. Through interviews with Jennifer and with Angela’s children, we learn that adapting to this new family dynamic (i.e. mom’s white lesbian partner) was tough on everyone.

bowen_hires1

Once she was out, Angela embraced the role of black lesbian feminist activist with a vengeance. Perhaps most notably, she served as co-chair of the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays. Angela appeared on various radio and television shows defending the rights of gays and lesbians, being especially vocal when she spoke out against a Massachusetts state ruling that prohibited gay and lesbian couples from adopting foster children.

Having spoken at a lot of colleges and universities, it seems fitting that Angela eventually returned to school to complete her Bachelor’s degree. Although she initially had no plans to, she eventually applied for the Ph.D. Women’s Studies Program at Clark University after some encouragement from mentors. She was the program’s first Ph.D. graduate.

bowen_hires5

Angela began working at Cal State Long Beach in the mid-90s, where her mission was to create courses about the experiences of women of color. She taught there for 13 years and saw over two dozen of her students pursue higher degrees. Some of these individuals appear in the documentary, hammering home the fact that she really has inspired so many.

Angela Bowen is a fascinating woman. So much so that despite the documentary’s limitations (for instance, the occasional use of cheesy transitions, poor quality graphics and too much of the same kind of footage shown), she still shines. There are definitely, however, strong elements in this film. There are tons of great music choices, interviews, photos and archival footage shots. But most importantly, you’ll feel like you truly know a brilliant woman that should be on everyone’s radar.

The Passionate Pursuits of Angela Bowen is playing at California State University, Dominguez Hills, Loker Student Union on March 8 at 7pm and at the City Of West Hollywood Lesbian Speakers Series on March 19 at 5pm. You can purchase the film through Women Make Movies. Check out the movie’s Facebook page to find out when it’ll be playing near you.

More you may like