Real life activist and lawyer Florynce Kennedy in "Born In Flames"
There’s so much I love about Born In Flames , a film written, directed, and edited by Lizzie Borden. It’s a landmark film about some of the different stripes of feminism and how they might work together to overthrow a fictional US socialist democracy established after a bloodless revolution of (presumably) the 1960s. It’s a what-if experiment that has fun with editing and film art. It’s very low budget and homegrown but a fun and inspiring watch.
It’s a good film to watch now in the middle of the Occupy Wall Street Movement taking off because of the way it shows activism happening. Motion and action are the recurring visual themes of the movie as montages of women working, in casual settings, and engaging in activism play constantly. A condom rolls onto a penis in one shot, a woman wraps raw chicken in cellophane for a supermarket, people type, do construction, wheat paste fliers, and on and on.
In one of the most commented upon scenes in the film, the camera focuses on a woman being pestered by two men in a situation that escalates to assault. When it starts to become violently triggering the camera pulls back to an overhead shot of the street filling with women on bicycles who come to the rescue. They fend off the would-be rapists and comfort the victim. They activism begins with community work and street based outreach, one-on-one’s and pamphletting. The verite style of the daily real work of activism mixed with protest footage makes the bicycle action seem plausible even in an age without twitter.
Watching the film with the lens of activism today, it’s easy to dream of what we’re capable of accomplishing for equality. The film asks an important question: what would happen if women’s rights activists picked up arms to defend themselves? One of the protagonists, Honey, recites a Malcom X Speech in a powerful closeup changing the language to refer to women’s issues. Florynce “Flo” Kennedy makes an appearance in the film as a mentor and godmother of the revolutionary action of the film’s army of women.
Flo Kennedy was a brilliant hell stallion of an activist and lawyer. Her work remains very inspiring to me. In the film, her character takes the name “Zella” which also happens to be the name of her mother. Her autobiography is a really interesting take on “radicalism’s rudest mouth” and outrageous pioneer. One of her famous actions was a response to Harvard University’s absence of women’s restrooms. (Because how many women could be expected to be at Hahhh-varrrddddd?) She organized a mass urination to protest. That’s some provocative and effective activism right there. One of the film’s protagonists is talking to Zella about her fears and doubts as a leader and activist and the process of coming to her realization that it is time for her movement to pick up arms. It’s clear she’s worried about acceptance but Zella responds with a dead pan, “What took you so long?”
The characters do not represent psychologies so much as they represent politics. The trio of female journalists represent the academic feminism which is very often moderate and centrist in nature. There is a brief commentary on this fact as they turn their attention and support to the women’s army. Punk anarchism, black liberation, African feminism, and queer politics are also represented in the film in a fictional harmony of working alongside one another and ultimately together.
The grittiness of the film makes it a very realistic watch. It was also good to see quick moments of eros and a principal character wearing a pro-marijuana shirt during a scene without too much time or attention spent on the backdrop of sex and drugs in the background of the revolution. Flo Kennedy understood the importance of laughter and good times and it’s important to show that radicals aren’t all 24/7 wired for the revolution and do take time to listen to some tunes, crack open a beer, spark up a joint, and enjoy some sexy times. What kind of a revolution could exist without that?
Setting the film in a socialist democratic America after a “bloodless” revolution also hearkened to the way that seemingly progressive agencies use words without action while acting as oppressors. Enemies of the women’s army frequently comment that there can’t really be discrimination against women because they’re an equal socialist democracy. Sure, sure, sure, there are rapes but there aren’t that many rapes. Women’s interests are selfish interests because they don’t have everyone in mind. There is a lot examined in the relatively short run time of the movie.
If you’re interested in feminism or activism or radicalism in general this film is a must see. Great film for discussion nights after a day of filming indie queer porn.
It’s worth checking out at Amazon or instantly on Netflix.