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‘Never just about white women’: A new Makers film explores modern feminism

Interviews with activists, actors, lawmakers, and other leading female voices highlight the role of intersectionality in the American women’s movement.

‘Never just about white women’: A new Makers film explores modern feminism
Women attend a protest in support of workers rights. [Photo: courtesy of Courtesy of Victoria Pickering]
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When PBS in February 2013 first aired Makers: Women Who Make America, a three-part documentary, the women’s movement seemed to have much to celebrate: Earlier that year, the U.S. military agreed to let female service members serve in combat roles. Hillary Clinton had just stepped down from a five-year run as Secretary of State and was poised to become the country’s first female presidential nominee from a major party. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, was about to publish Lean In, a book that encouraged women to be professionally ambitious.

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In the past seven years, though, and especially since the 2016 election of President Donald Trump and the rise of the #MeToo, #TimesUp, and Black Lives Matter movements, female activists have found renewed purpose, say filmmakers Dyllan McGee and Sara Wolitzky. Their new documentary, Not Done: Women Remaking America, captures the voices of this new wave of organizers. It features interviews with a mix of leading female voices, including actresses America Ferrara and Natalie Portman, organizers Mónica Ramírez, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Tarana Burke, and journalists such as Rebecca Traister, Kara Swisher, Jodi Kantor, and Megan Twohey.

The new film, which originally had been slated for broadcast in June but was delayed by factors related to the spread of COVID-19, will now air on PBS on Oct. 27.

McGee, who serves as executive producer, says Not Done is, in many ways, a coda to the original Makers series, which she also produced. McGee and Wolitzky, who directed the film, spoke with Stephanie Mehta, Fast Company’s editor-in-chief, about why the women’s movement is  “not done,” and their efforts as filmmakers to highlight the interconnectedness of the fights for gender and racial equality. This interview has been edited and condensed.

Fast Company: What prompted this latest film?

Sara Wolitzky: You really couldn’t help but notice how much the landscape and the conversation around feminism [and] our country had shifted just from 2013, when the original films were launched. It felt like we really started living through this rebirth of serious feminist energy and organizing and awakening that maybe hadn’t happened since the 1960s and 1970s. It felt like to me [like] we were living through another chapter of history in the making. It felt like the history we had told [in the original documentary] clearly wasn’t finished.

FC: When you started planning for this documentary, the #TimesUp, #MeToo, and Black Lives Matter movements had all launched, but many of your interviews predated this summer’s racial justice marches. How did you evolve the film to incorporate those themes?

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SW: Intersectionality was always a primary theme. And in fact, our very first interview for the whole film was [civil rights activist] Kimberlé Crenshaw. Once we started trying to look at these major milestones of the movement that’s going on now, it was obvious that this new wave was more intentionally intersectional than ever before. The origin of Black Lives Matter was always going to be [part of the film] and founders Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza were also some of our earliest interviews.

Shooting on location with Patrisse Cullors, activist and co-founder, Black Lives Matter. [Photo: Courtesy of Verizon Media/McGee Media]
The election was part of this wake up call: “Oh, right. You know, this is not just about white women.” There are plenty of people who would remind us that the women’s movement was never just about white women, but in this time women of color—and women of color from other intersecting movements—have led the way, from Black Lives Matter to [MeToo movement founder] Tarana Burke to [LatinX House cofounder] Mónica Ramírez and farm workers and national domestic workers and janitors. They continued to lead in what loosely could be considered a modern feminist movement.

FC: How do you feel about the delayed date being so close to the 2020 election date?

Dyllan McGee: I think the idea was really to look at women and the power of women’s organizing, a hundred years after white women got the right to vote. I’m hopeful that it will inspire people to vote, but quite honestly it was never created as political in any way.

FC: How did you go about thinking about the voices you wanted to contribute to this story?

DM: We will never do a documentary without [New York firefighter] Regina Wilson. She will have a cameo in every film we do.

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SW: There are many more voices that we would have loved to include; it’s a 54-minute film and we have 28 interviewees who have at least one line. We wanted to be able to represent shift in culture and the shift in public sentiment through women from different industries who are [working to] make change. [New York Times journalists] Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey are just journalists doing their job, facing down Harvey Weinstein. Or Shonda Rhimes, becoming the highest paid showrunner in Hollywood.

The big shift for us, was, if you watch past Makers films, we’ve had these amazing female narrators, but it felt like this was a story that was so recent that we wanted it to be women in their own words.

DM: We replaced the narrator with some of today’s most brilliant minds: Brittney Cooper, Rebecca Traister, Kimberlé Crenshaw. Because we are still processing what this history means. We needed those minds, both the people who lived it, who were pushing things forward.

Activist and writer Gloria Steinem on location for NOT DONE. [Photo: Courtesy of Verizon Media/McGee Media]
FC: How has Makers, which is also a multimedia platform, evolved since 2013?

DM: Makers started because Gloria Steinem said “no” to a film I wanted to do on her life for HBO. She said, “we have to tell the stories of all women.” So early Makers was all about telling the stories of individual women and preserving that history. If I fast-forward to today, as we slowly inch toward our 10th anniversary, we’ve moved from a filmmaking archival project, [to] a diversity, equity, and inclusion brand. But the Makers still at their core are the same. They are people who are making change in this world through their actions.

FC: Who or what do you hope to inspire with Not Done?

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SW: I hope to inspire everyone, of course. As many times as I’ve seen it, I do walk away from the film feeling very hopeful and feeling determined. There are all of these incredible women who are out there fighting together to make this world a better place.

DM: I hope that people realize that we are not even close to done. But [I] also hope it inspires people [about] the power of the individual.

SW: And the power of the collective. Gloria Steinem says she’s never seen as much organizing in her life, and she looks at the 16-year-olds and 21-years-olds, and as she likes to say: “I just had to wait for some of my friends to be born.”