I’d had “Born In Flames”, a Lizzie Borden film from 1983, in my Netflix Instant Queue for a while now and I just managed to watch it today. Set in the not-too-distant future, it takes place 10 years after the U.S. has gone through a second (bloodless) revolution and become the world’s first socialist democracy. Unsurprisingly and quite realistically, not much has changed for PoC, women, WoC, the poor, queers, or pretty much any other traditionally oppressed group of people. The film follows 4 groups of women activists: the Women’s Army, a grassroots organization that fights for labor equality, organizes feminist protests, and performs vigilante actions against would-be rapists and street harassers, led by Adelaide Norris; Phoenix Radio, a black women’s underground station fronted by Honey, who espouses kind of a spiritual/mental fight against oppression; Radio Regazza, a white women’s underground station with more of a punk rock sensibility; and the Socialist Youth Review, a mainstream Party newspaper spearheaded by upper class “intellectual” white women (one of whom is played by Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow) that mainly exists to reinforce the Party line regarding women’s rights.
I won’t go into great detail, as I urge you to watch the movie if you’re interested. It’s kind of disjointed and better seen than explained.
The movie starts out going back and forth between the 3 counter-revolutionary women’s groups as they discuss the current state of civil rights for all people, especially women. It’s pretty much agreed that the situation is dismal, but they disagree on what needs to be done to change it and how involved they want to get. The first part of the film focuses on Adelaide Norris, the leader of the Women’s Army, the organization that seems to be doing most of the organizing and heavy lifting. After several demonstrations and vigilante actions, the situation is not any better, so Adelaide feels armed resistance may be the course the Women’s Army will have to take. She takes a trip to the Western Sahara, where women and men are fighting against colonial forces trying to recapture that territory. On her way back home she is arrested for attempting to smuggle arms into the country. She is jailed and assassinated by the government while incarcerated.
This spurs the other feminist groups into action, including the Party group of women who run the Socialist Youth Review, who had previously refused to endorse any revolutionary feminist group because it would “hurt the overall goals of the Party”, which sounds so much like Democrats today asking you to vote for their shitty candidate because if they’re not elected, the REALLY bad guys will win. The paper begins to print stories decrying the government assassination of Adelaide Norris, which eventually gets them fired. The radical women’s groups send out a team to hold television station managers hostage so they can get a tape of one of their leaders played telling about the assassination. They’re arrested and the two feminist radio stations, Radio Regazza and Phoenix Radio, are firebombed. The two stations emerge again as one, and the now united feminist groups decide that violence is their only viable option in the face of tyranny. Interestingly, they end the movie with a woman planting a bomb at the World Trade Center and it exploding as a newscaster broadcasts in front of the buildings.
Apparently the movie was filmed over the course of 5 years, so that might explain why it meanders in some ways. For the first half of the film I wasn’t really digging it, although I thought it was awesome that there were so many black women feminists in it and that the main character was a black lesbian. But other than that it seemed kind of cliche and honestly not very enjoyable. But as it progressed and more action was taken it gained momentum and I became more interested in it. By the end I felt almost empowered. I even polished my ankh necklace and busted out some Egyptian Musk incense.
The way the “establishment” women were portrayed really mirrored how white women in positions of power act towards WoC, poor women, women with disabilities, etc., basically telling them that they must put their own best interests aside for the good of the overall cause. I could definitely see this situation happening in our overly complacent society. The majority of the women in this film were of color, which was refreshing. Overall, I was glad I had watched it.
So go put this movie in your Netflix queue and get all the details I missed.