If you have been aching to travel, to get on the road and forget about the new normal of life during the coronavirus pandemic, The Gloriasmight be the film for you. Julie Taymor, known for her spectacular mise-en-scene in the Broadway musical The Lion King, has teamed with MacArthur Fellow, playwright Sarah Ruhl to produce a screenplay based on My Life on the Road, an autobiography by American feminist Gloria Steinem.
The nonlinear story flips between different stages of Steinem’s life and is threaded by a constant stream of travel. Four different actors of different ages play Steinem and, often as the story progresses, the different aged Glorias talk to and question each other, trying to understand what is going on in her tumultuous life. The real adult Gloria Steinem, founding publisher of Ms. magazine, also appears in the film.
A favorite scene includes the opening as Stein dressed in black—boots, jeans, long-sleeved jersey—gets off a long distance bus into a crowd of bikers. Two hefty bikers aggressively approach her as she sits at a diner’s counter. The woman points her finger at Steinem (Julianne Moore). The tension mounts. The biker woman (no biker chick) in an accusing tone of voice says, “You’re Gloria Steinem.” Cool as a cuke, Steinem answers, “I am” and the couple break into grins. The scene ends with the man sitting behind the woman on a big bike with license plate reading Ms.
The film portrays Steinem as not only as intrepid but also resourceful and exceptionally flexible. As a young woman (Alicia Vikander), she travels alone to India where, unbeknownst to her, her destination is undergoing civil unrest. The ashram where she had planned to work is closing down as she arrives. The woman who heads the ashram invites her to go immediately by cart (she must abandon her suitcase) to various villages to interview women who have suffered horrible violations in the wake of tremendous turmoil.
Later in the film, we learn her father (Timothy Hutton) has missed her momentous graduation from Smith College, that she has broken off her engagement to be married which her father had just assured her he would be there to walk her down the aisle, that she was going to India on a fellowship, and that during her India stopover in London she had an illegal abortion. It seems Gloria Steinem always lived in the fast lane.
Her relationship with each parent is fraught. Her father, who has taught her to keep moving, is undependable. Her mother (Enid Graham), a former journalist who had to hide behind a male name, has lost her identity and purpose in the world deteriorates mentally throughout the film.
Flamboyant women such as Flo Kennedy (Lorraine Toussaint), Bella Abzug (Bette Midler), and Wilma Mankiller (Kimberly Guerrero) play counterpoint to Steinem’s quiet and modest demeanor. The scene where Gloria (Alicia Vikander) is told by her boss to mail a set of letters which he hands to her and then to meet him in a hotel room is answered only by Gloria leaving the letters on a credenza as she exits his office. Soon thereafter, she is being zipped into a Playboy Bunny bathing suit where she independently goes underground to collect data for an expose.
After she founds Ms. magazine, she is interviewed many times and asked when she is getting married. Taymor uses Gloria’s pause for animation such that a witch is seen flying on a broom out of the conversation.
The film is an important documentary of American women’s struggle for equal rights and control over their own bodies. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is mentioned in the film in the context of Black women being sterilized without their permission. RBG’s Women’s Rights Project sponsored by the ACLU sent Steinem, who was working for New York magazine, to interview Fannie Lou Hamer who was a victim of unauthorized sterilization. The looming prospect of Senate Republicans pushing through the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative woman who is likely to repeal Roe v Wade as well do away with the Affordable Care Act, makes The Glorias an important and timely film for all Americans. A takeaway from the film is the real Gloria Steinem at the 2016 Women’s March addressing the huge crowd to say to Donald Trump that the United States constitution does not say I, the president but we, the people.
Find this film on: Amazon Prime, LD Entertainment, Roadside Attractions and many other non-US distributors
Karren LaLonde Alenier, Washington, DC