If there were a way to take a film and bottle it so it could be sipped quietly in moments of frustration, fatigue, failure or fear for a little dose of courage, calmness or confidence, I would want the elixir to be The Women’s List, which premieres on Friday, Sept. 25 on PBS’ American Masters (check local listings).
Who couldn’t get a jolt of encouragement from the voices of accomplished women sharing their challenges, struggles and even failures? In this case, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, a self-de- scribed feminist, interviews 15 women, including actress Edie Falco, designer Betsey Johnson, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and TV producer and writer Shonda Rhimes, letting them talk about their lives in a textured and even emotional fashion.
The tone of the documentary is not “I am woman hear me roar.” Instead, it is a collection of re- vealing mini-memoirs in which the pain of rejection, longing and loss, and the stress of complex lives are expressed in fifteen singular ways. It’s not always pretty, but it is real.
The effect, decidely feminist, is that if these fifteen women can overcome their obstacles, then surely I can overcome mine.
Although the film doesn’t shout, there are moments that are raw. Clearly the actress Rosie Perez still feels the pain of being left by her mother to be raised in a convent, where she says the nuns firmly believed “spare the rod, spoil the child.” Talk show host Wendy Williams still has a sense of loss from her multiple miscarriages.
But even the negative experiences revealed by the women created a wholeness, a perspective, a sense of sisterhood.
And Rhimes speaks out for the sisterhood when she says: ““I’m disturbed by the fact that people think ‘feminist’ is a bad word. I’m disturbed by the fact that young women thing ‘feminism’ is a bad word. It’s as if they want guys to think they’re cute. They’d rather be cute than equal.”
And former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright encourages respect across all generations when she says: “One of the most important messages to young women is that it’s a wonderful time of opportunity, but basically young women can’t forget how hard it’s been. We need to re- spect each other and we need to help each other.”
But there is no question that women have achieved across the spectrum. As author Toni Morri- son says in the introduction of the film:
“To realize that we’re no longer pioneers, the startling exception, the first to fly, or swim or sail prodigious distances in bad weather. No longer the first to be elected, the first to discover cures in medicine or the first to untangle problems in science, math or physics.
“No. We are multitudes, and society is clearly the better for our peaceful invasion.
“There is no modernity and no justice without the talent, the passion and the steely intelligence of women.”
Even though this film is not available in bottle form, it is also available on DVD via Perfect Day Films Inc.
Carla Baranauckas is an editor and writer who has worked for The Record, The New York Times, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, a former adjunct professor at the Columbia University Grad- uate School of Journalism and a director of Round Earth Media. Follow her on Twitter: @cabara