Why Film is Necessary For Feminist Activism

This week we have a guest post from the brilliant Chandra Kavanagh, the Feminist-in-Residence for the St. John's Status of Women Council (SJSWC). Chandra is an ethicist and a PhD candidate in the philosophy department at McMaster University, where she studies biomedical ethics and feminist philosophy. She's an international speaker and has been published in more than 20 academic and popular culture publications. 

A big part of activist work is about self-expression, and making space for other people to express themselves. In my work as Feminist-in-Residence for the St. John’s Status of Women Council (SJSWC) I spend a lot of time making sure my voice is heard. I express my views to the students in my workshops, the audiences of my talks, and the readers of my journal articles and blog posts. I open the floor for my students to speak, engage in conversations with my audience, and respond to comments on my articles.

Activism often depends on the power of words and arguments to communicate ideas, illuminate injustice, and make change, but sometimes words fall short.

This past weekend in St. John’s, NL at the Eastern Edge Gallery I was lucky enough to participate in FemFest 2.0, Newfoundland’s first ever feminist festival and the brain-child of the SJSWC. One of the subjects discussed during my presentation was the social and political challenges faced by people with intersectional identities.

So, what is intersectionality anyway? In her report for the Institute for Intersectionality Research and Policy titled “Intersectionality 101” Olena Hankivsky writes, “according to an intersectionality perspective, inequities are never the result of single, distinct factors. Rather, they are the outcome…of different social locations, power relations and experiences.” During my presentation we explored social locations like gender, race, class, sexual orientation, age and ability. Together the audience and I shared our thoughts about how some or all of these identities can come together to inform the kinds of prejudices we face in or lives, and the kind of social and political obstacles that we come up against.

Here’s the problem. When I describe gender, race, class and ability that description takes the form of a list. A list of nice, neat categories like this sometimes let’s us fool ourselves into believing that these identities are easily separable. Even worse, when some people see a nice, neat list like this they can’t help but apply a hierarchy. “Who has it worse,” they ask, “women or people of colour?” “What is more important to address, the injustices of class oppression, or the exclusion of the disabled?”

This is where the power of film comes in. While the spoken and printed word break us up into all of these component identities, film is a medium capable of portraying how inseparable our identities really are. The St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival screened Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s stunning and agitating masterpiece Angry Inuk on the last night of FemFest 2.0. In that film the intersections of indigeneity, working class identity, age and gender are demonstrated clearly and viscerally.

While words can sometimes fail to capture all of the ways that different parts of ourselves come together to inform the challenges we face, film is capable of showing us how all of those aspects work together to make us the people we are.   



Candice Walsh