Tuesday, October 6, 2015

"Suffragette" Photo Shoot Goes Horribly Wrong With 'Slave' Shirt

Carey Mulligan in Suffragette
It wasn't too long ago that many were considering director Sarah Gavron's Suffragette to be a strong Oscar contender. While the film still remains in the race, there's a certain backlash that came this past week when a photo shoot for Time Out London saw various actresses wear a t-shirt with a controversial slogan claiming that "I'd rather be a rebel than a slave." While it has been defended as being more descriptive of the oppressive nature of women in 1912, there's no denying that those words nowadays don't have the same connotation. But is it all justified? The magazine thinks so, but nobody else does. 

With the film scheduled to be released on October 23, Suffragette has been receiving quite the strange attraction. The film about the liberation for women's rights to vote seemed like a very simple and powerful story. Based on the reviews coming out of Telluride and Toronto International Film Festival, it's arguably too simple. However, the trajectory has yet to be seen and the success of the film will be determined by this time next month. With an all-star cast and prospects of another Oscar nomination for Carey Mulligan, it will likely be talked about for awhile. But for now, there's the shirts that sparked controversy:

If this seems insensitive, you're not the only one. Most of the internet has chimed in with their complaints. The quote comes from Emmeline Pankhurst, whom Meryl Streep plays in the film. Considering the progressive views of modern society, "Slave" is seen not as an oppressive word for women, but how a certain sector of people were treated. If you don't understand, just watch 12 Years a Slave in which the term is used by its modern interpretation. It isn't pleasant, but it's also a dark mark on American, as well as British, history. Considering that later reports have come out that Pankhurst was in fact only wanting women's voting rights for white women, this adds a new wrinkle to the equation. 

The question going forward will be how this new information impacts its overall public appeal. With last year's complaints of the Oscars being too white, it does seem like a bad call to support a film with such problematic subtext. If this seems irrational, just consider that last year's Boyhood was met with controversy due to many who believed that its protagonist was a racist and that Patricia Arquette's character helped a Mexican day laborer turn his life around. In cases like that, it feels like people nitpicking for the sake of nitpicking. However, it's still in many people's subconscious, and this photo shoot didn't necessarily help.

Does it seem foolish? A little bit. Even if it raised attention, it feels like it could have been thought out more. Considering that the idea of the shirt is admirable, preaching a certain empowerment message, it's a shame that the wording is just so poorly selected. Yes, it is a historical quote, but one from an already questionable figure. While I understand it, I come down on the side of disappointment, wishing that the people behind the idea had more of a thought out way to depict Suffragette's themes without relying on using the word "slave." Maybe it works in the film, but it doesn't so much on the bodies of white women who were more likely to own slaves than be slaves. Whatever the case may be, it's interesting to see how this impacts the film's overall appeal.

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