This film is intended to be a wake-up call for all women; for women of colour to unapologetically speak out about their experiences and for mainstream feminism to listen up.
I’ve had so many conversations about racism within the context of 'feminism' where I think I’m totally in sync with the other person and then they make a statement that sends me crashing back down to earth.
Rather than hitting my head repeatedly against a wall, I thought I’d take a more meaningful approach and make a film, with the hope that people would 'get it' – or at least try to.
In order for feminism to work for all women, we need to have some frank and honest conversations. We need to talk about race.
Although there are many distinct groups within feminism, I choose to concentrate on race because everybody in the feminist movement belongs to one; race impacts on all of our experiences as women.
As leading scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw so eloquently put it in a 2014 interview with New Statesman: "The same kind of openness and fluidity and willingness to interrogate power that we as feminists expect from men… should also be the expectation that women of colour can rely upon with our white feminist allies."
About a year ago, a female acquaintance said to me: "If feminism was truly established, world problems like war, poverty and racism would go away." I wanted to shake her – not violently but hard enough for her brain to shift and common sense to be restored. Instead, I just did what I always do in predominantly white spaces: smiled through quivering lips and excused myself to go to the toilet and do some breathing exercises.
What my colleague hadn’t realised, and I think this is still true for many, is that race is a fundamental consideration in the fight for female empowerment. The sexist remarks and attitudes that WOC face are often loaded with racial connotations and stereotypes. It’s challenging for WOC to introduce the topic of racial stereotyping when it’s perceived as being completely at odds with mainstream (white) feminism.
In 1989, Crenshaw coined the term 'intersectionality', used to describe the layers of oppression that can affect any one woman. It is "the view that women experience oppression in… varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together… Examples of this include race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity."
I hate generalisations but something I have personally encountered from quite a few white feminists is their visible awkwardness when the topic of race comes up. Feminism is a safe topic but as soon as the R-word is mentioned, their need to distract themselves becomes apparent.
For those I managed to crack, it transpired that their awkwardness related to the fact that they don’t feel like they have a 'right' to say anything or that they’ve been taught that we’re 'all the same'.
Unfortunately, this approach – which the author of Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, Reni Eddo-Lodge, describes as "childish" – is counterproductive in our political landscape. As well-meaning as these parents or teachers were in advocating the ideology that it doesn’t matter whether someone is white, black, green or blue, it is nevertheless problematic; especially when institutional and structural racism is alive and kicking. As Eddo-Lodge says: "There are people who consider themselves left, progressive and very critical, who’ve convinced themselves that the only way to get beyond race is to stop talking about it."
To avoid speaking about and tackling a construct that was founded by the very culture or race to which you belong is a damaging stance to take. A lack of acknowledgement, combined with an absence of action, causes more harm than good. If I ignore it and don’t talk about it, maybe racism will go away and I can resume the life I had with my green and blue friends...
As well as having an open discussion, mainstream feminism needs to healthily address white privilege and no, I don’t mean assuming white guilt or apologising profusely for colonisation. Addressing privilege should be about acknowledging the different experiences that WOC face, starting with being present and willing to have a conversation, accepting the complexities that arise as a result of not being white and supporting WOC by speaking up or taking action.
At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Oscar winner Octavia Spencer recounted how she told her co-star Jessica Chastain about the pay gap that existed between WOC and white actresses. Chastain acknowledged Octavia’s experience, accepted that the system was unfair and in a show of solidarity, leveraged her white privilege by bundling her salary with Spencer's, to ensure they both received higher offers.
In the case of Nia Wilson, a young black woman killed by a white man with a criminal record in an unprovoked attack in California earlier this year, Anne Hathaway took action by speaking out publicly. Due to racial tensions between the police and the black community, along with the police’s slow response – even in publishing surveillance photos of Nia’s murderer – people questioned whether justice would be done. Social media led to an international campaign, with Hathaway calling out white privilege on Instagram, saying: "We must ask our (white) selves – how 'decent' are we really? Not in our intent, but in our … lack of action?"
Most recently, in the middle of a round table set up by Porter magazine for its "Women in Television" issue, Ellen Pompeo directly called out the lack of diversity among the publication's production staff, saying: "I think it’s up to all productions to make sure that your crew looks like the world we see... as Caucasian people, it’s our job, it’s our task, it’s our responsibility to make sure we speak up in every single room we walk into… because we created the problem."
As highlighted in this film, WOC do have a voice, and we're starting to dictate our own narratives. However, as minorities, our stories are still largely underrepresented in mainstream feminism, and we need support and understanding from the white female majority in order to amplify our messages.
In the immortal words of Maya Angelou: "Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women."