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The Glorias (A Movie Review)

Updated: May 21, 2023


Starring Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Bette Midler, Janelle Monáe, Lorraine Toussaint, Lulu Wilson, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Kimberly Guerrero, Timothy Hutton, Enid Graham, Mónica Sánchez, Leah Renee-K, David Shae, Margo Moorer, Mo Brings Plenty, Victor Slezak, Annika Pampel, Myles Evans, Allie McCulloch, Tom Nowicki, Michael Lowry and Gloria Steinem.

Screenplay by Julie Taymor and Sarah Ruhl.

Directed by Julie Taymor.

Distributed by Roadside Attractions. 147 minutes. Rated R.

It’s a sad coincidence that The Glorias – a biofilm about feminist icon Gloria Steinem – is coming out just over a week after the tragic passing of a good friend and colleague of Steinem’s, beloved Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (The character of RBG does not appear in this film, but she is namechecked.)

It’s even sadder because Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham and their cohorts are trying to bum rush in a replacement for the Justice, whose life was devoted to women’s rights, with a woman who appears to be the modern-day equivalent of Phyllis Schlafly. This flies directly in the face of what McConnell and Graham and many others stated in 2016 when they refused to even consider Merrick Garland as a Justice when was nominated under the Obama administration.

They are trying to steal yet another justice against the will of the great majority of the country (a recent Ipsos poll said that over 60% of Americans feel it should wait until after the new President is decided). Not only that, they even tried to steal Ginsburg’s pop-culture nickname “The Notorious RBG” for their nominee; tastelessly selling “The Notorious ACB” t-shirts while Ginsburg’s body was still lying in state at the US Capital – both the first woman and the first Jew to get that honor.

Many women’s issues – including equal rights, health care, birth control, equal pay for equal work, Roe v. Wade, union representation, etc. – are suddenly in a very precarious position.

The fight that Steinem has been waging her entire adult life is in danger. However, it’s not the first time, nor will it be the last. Late in the film, there is a highly symbolic shot where the street Steinem is walking on turns into a treadmill, and in many ways that summarizes her life. She keeps going, keeps trying, no matter how many barriers life throws at her. She refuses to give in to hatred and bigotry. She always kept going forward, no matter how fruitless it can seem.

The film of her life – covering her from childhood to the current day – is a little overstuffed occasionally, sometimes a bit too surreal in its symbolism, but mostly a fascinating overview on the battle for women’s equality over the last century.

The film is called The Glorias because it flips back and forth between four periods in Steinem’s life – as an adult (Julianne Moore), as young woman (Alicia Vikander), as a young teen (Lulu Wilson) and as a little girl (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). Often the different Glorias interact with each other, in black and white in an apparently never-ending bus ride, discussing their hopes and dreams and experiences. The real Steinem appears as herself in the end, ending up with a good chunk of her speech at the 2017 Women’s March.

The Glorias bops back and forth through different parts of her life – from childhood, to struggling writer, to Ms. Magazine editor and feminist icon. She rubs elbows with a who’s who of movement including Bella Abzug (Bette Midler), lawyer Flo Kennedy (Lorraine Toussaint), Dorothy Pitman Hughes (Janelle Monáe), Wilma Mankiller (Kimberly Guerrero) and Dolores Huerta (Monica Sanchez).

She came to this from very modest beginnings. Steinem’s father (Timothy Hutton) was a good-hearted but ultimately hapless dreamer, floating from one get rich quick scam – and home – to another, always just a few steps ahead of the creditors. Her mother (Enid Graham) was a mentally fragile woman who was at the very least a severe depressive, probably even bipolar. She tried to care for the girls, but she couldn’t even care for herself.

The Glorias show how she went from such modest means to become a major player in changes in the last century. She survived condescension (there are many scenes where men ask her why she doesn’t just get married), sexism (Steinem was a very beautiful woman and more than one man suggested that she should be considered a sex object), workplace bias (despite the fact that she was an equal level writer in her early jobs, she still was expected to fix the coffee) and sexual harassment (she quit her first writing job when her editor tried to lure her into his hotel room).

“Our victory is not a one-person marathon, but a relay race,” Steinem wrote on the night of the 2016 election. And she has been taking and passing the baton for decades now.

The Glorias is not a perfect film, but it is a wonderful tribute to a woman who has spent her life making the world a better place.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2020 All rights reserved. Posted: September 30, 2020.


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