One of the most highly anticipated films to be released this year is Suffragette, an historical drama about the British women’s suffrage movement of the late 19th century. Boasting an all-star cast of Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep, Suffragette is already gaining a positive reputation on the film festival circuit. This film is notable not only because of its cast, but also because it was written, directed and produced by women- a rarity for a wide-release, even today.
Greenwich is proud to be the home of Coline Jenkins, the great-great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the co-founder of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton trust, a non-profit organization advocating for the preservation of the history of women’s suffrage. Stanton was a prominent figure of the American women’s suffrage movement. She was the president of the National Woman Suffrage Association of the United States and the primary author of the Declaration of Sentiments, which demanded equal rights for women. At the Seneca Falls convention of 1848, the first women’s rights convention to be organized by women, one hundred people signed the document.
The Greenwich International Film Festival recently had the privilege of speaking with Coline Jenkins, who shares the same drive as her great-great-grandmother and the long line of strong women she comes from. Her grandmother, an engineer, was regarded as a member of distinction of the American Society of Civil Engineers only a week ago despite having applied when she was 32, 100 years ago when she was rejected on the basis of her gender. Slowly but surely, women are gaining recognition in fields dominated primarily by men, and Jenkins hopes to contribute to the progress and continue to advocate for her foremothers’ ideals. “I’m very appreciative. They’re inspiring to me, they’re role models, and their words are empowering,” Jenkins said.
It was Jenkins who advocated for the construction of new bronze statues in Central Park, honoring Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, the first non-fictional statues of women in Central Park, http://www.centralparkwherearethewomen.org. The goal is to have them erected by 2017, on the one hundredth anniversary of women gaining suffrage in New York state.
Jenkins is a co-founder of Third Wave Television, a production company intended to create documentaries about issues that matter to women, such as “Women Call the Shots” about gun control in Connecticut, and “Smart About Money, Women Count” about financial literacy. Third Wave Television was founded on the basis that women’s voices are severely underrepresented in the media. And it’s still true, media representation both behind the scenes and in front of the camera is incredibly important for women, yet only a small percentage of recognized directors are women. “It means a lot of voices are missing,” said Jenkins on the matter. “We need to have more women directors telling stories.” Suffragette is a necessary film, and Coline Jenkins supports its success. “It’s fast paced, historical without being dry…it’s not just a women’s story. It’s the story of a nation.”
Any woman in the film industry knows she has to work twice as hard in order to be recognized in the mainstream, and even then she is rarely given enough credit. So it’s encouraging, for myself or any other woman who wants to be part of such a male-dominated industry, that a film primarily made by women has the potential to be a commercial success as a wide-release. We have a long way to go, but this film could open a lot of doors for women in the film industry that has been closed for so many years.