Why lesbian and bisexual women should see “Suffragette”


History books often leave out the struggles of minorities who are fighting for equality, so when films like Stonewall or Suffragette are released to the masses, it’s bound to have those same underserved groups desperate for them to get it right. While Stonewall disappointed in its fictionalized retooling of the early LGBT riots, Sarah Gavron‘s Suffragette is much more successful in serving as an entry point in the push for women’s right to vote in Great Britain.


In Suffragette, Carey Mulligan stars as Maud, a young wife and mother who works tirelessly at the laundry where she’s been employed since she was a girl. Her boss thinks nothing of his sexual advances toward her and other younger girls, threatening to fire anyone who should disobey him. Maud, like her coworkers, desperately needs her job to keep her family afloat. Her husband, Sonny, works there, too, but has less hours and makes more money.

Maud feels stuck and sad is the misogynistic society and marriage she’s part of, and when she encounters a public protest put on by a group of suffragettes, her interest is piqued. The rest of the film follows Maud through the many things she must part with in exchange for joining the cause, including her young son. But what she gains is a newfound self-confidence and political interest in the personal, working alongside Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter), Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff) and Emily Davison (Natalie Press) to press the parliament to change the laws so that women can have the right to vote. And while Maud is a fictional character, both Edith and Emily are based on real women, as was Meryl Streep’s character, Emmeline Pankhurst. Although she’s more of a mythical figure with only a brief cameo in the film, Emmeline is known as one of the largest players of the women’s suffrage movement in the UK, and also had relationships with women.


“What we thought was if we told Emmeline Pankhurst’s story—she’s an exceptional woman, relatively privileged, and it would have been an examination of power in a way, the way you manage a movement,” Sarah said. But she and writer Abi Morgan “wanted to make something that felt contemporary and really resonated with the audiences across the globe now, women fighting inequality,” and that was through the eyes of someone less privileged, such as Maud.


“What we wanted to do was show a really ordinary woman with no platform, no entitlement, what drove her, a woman whose dealing with issues that are still 21st century—abuse in the workplace, working conditions, rights over her own children—things that, around the globe, women are still tackling—education, all those things,” Sarah said. “That felt like the way to access it and make it more contemporary and relevant.”

In her six years of research, Sarah said it was clear that there was “a whole range of incredible characters who got involved in the movement,” and that included gay and bisexual women.

“What you didn’t have in the UK was many women of color because we didn’t have immigrants at that point,” Sarah said. “We had tiny pockets. So that was the one, apart from two Asian aristocrats and one photograph of one Indian woman, you don’t have any women of color in it but only because of the ethnic make-up of the UK. But otherwise it was a very inclusive movement.”

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