Julie Taymor directs an intricate biopic that delves into the several stage of Gloria Steinem’s life that shaped her as a human. The writer, activist and organizer for women’s rights worldwide is explored in a humane way that focuses on childhood and into a women’s experience in a heavily male dominated landscape.
The constant in the film is the greyhound bus, on which several versions of Gloria at various ages can be seen interacting with one another. This plot device is what elevates the film from being a one dimensional biopic to a multi-layered poetic examination of a woman’s life.
The film captures the infamous piece of first person reporting in ‘A bunny’s tale’ (in which Gloria went undercover as a playboy bunny in 1963 to expose the not-so-glamorous reality of working for Hugh Hefner) as well as the co-founding of the liberal feminist- Ms magazine with Dorothy Pitman Hughes, who is played brilliantly by Janelle Monáe.
I love the way that the film doesn’t prolong the focus on these two accomplishments -however incredible they are. It treats them as stages of Gloria’s life, not detaching her as an icon but approaching it simply as events in someone’s life. The reaction to ‘A bunny’s tale’ is captured from both her male peers as well as other women who viewed what Gloria did as undermining the institution of marriage and family.
An older Gloria is played by Julianne Moore exquisitely and can often be seen comforting the mid 20s Gloria, played by Alicia Vikander in various scenario’s looking back on her life. They greyhound bus scenes scenes are shot in a sepia tone that captures the nostalgic reflection. In one scene, the bus is empty, apart from all of Glorias. A moment of stillness is taken, accompanied by white noise as the bus drives through a tunnel. These transitional edits symbolize entries into a transformative moment for Gloria, like stepping off the bus and straight into the women’s march in which she tries her hand at public speaking for the first time.
The below image is of a 1972 issue of Ms, magazine. This is an illustration by Miriam Wosk which depicts a modern version of the Hindu goddess, Kali who can be seen with eights arms, juggling domestic and professional items all with a foetus growing inside of her. It’s a beautiful mixed media piece that is brought to life in a surrealistic scene in the biopic. It almost reminds me of Frida Kahlo’s work, which often depicts the woman’s experience – especially depicting child bearing, which is a point of contention in The Glorias. She is asked multiple times why she isn’t married or have any children. The beautiful moment comes where Julianne Moore as Gloria reflects with Alicia’s mid 20s Gloria on how she always thought she would have kids but the older and wiser Gloria has a perfect metaphor;
‘Not everyone with lungs is an opera singer and not everyone with a womb is a mother’
I wonder if director Julie Taymor is a fan of the artistic movement of surrealism, for she really knows how to incorporate the elements in order to tell a story. Taymor’s filmic eye never lets the viewer rest or predict the next move. One scene in particular utilizes a surrealist but somehow also, Hitchcockian device whereby distorted perspective is used to overwhelm the screen with movement, whilst multiple aged Gloria’s discuss sexual objectification when an interviewer declares Gloria a sex object.
Standout performances also come from Enid Graham as Gloria’s mother; Ruth Steinem as well as Timothy Hutton as her father; Leo Steinem in their sweet but troubles existence and struggle to navigate stability in their lives. Bette Midler also plays Bella Abzug, the American lawyer, activist and leader in the Women’s Movement of 1971.
Walking away from the film, one has a sense of overwhelmed emotion (I shed some tears). I was thankful for the solidarity of these women in a landscape where equal rights was such divisive force, even between the female sex. I appreciated the nostalgia of family and how early childhood experiences shape you, as well as the importance shed on the relationship between racism and sexism. Lorraine Toussaint plays the activist Flo Kennedy with such charm and charisma, her dialogue has immense depth and in one scene she declares, ‘
‘racism and sexism are intertwined’
With Interspersed archival footage of the women’s liberation march’s of the 1960’s and 70’s as well as touching women’s meetings, in India when Gloria travelled there on her fellowship as well in the US with different minorities taking space to converse together about their experiences and cultures. It was so enlightening to see how all of these different minorities came together in the name of women’s liberation.
One may also come away from the film with a strong sense of the power of people and the common denominator that is…humanity. A beautiful film.