March is Women’s History Month, and, like a lot of people, of course, I feel like women should be honored and celebrated every day of the year, but the idea behind an official month is to, as stated on the Library of Congress site, “more officially pay tribute to the generations of women whose commitment to nature and the planet have proved invaluable to society.” You can read more about the month here. [International Women’s Day, by the way, is this Sunday, March 8.] To celebrate women, we’ve compiled a list of just a few documentary films (both Independent Lens films and others) about important and fascinating women, including a few available to watch online via PBS. You can find more films about women and girls here.
Former president Nasheed arrested in Male, Maldives
On Sunday (February 22), former president Mohamed Nasheed was arrested in the Maldives, refused bail by the court, and faces 10-15 years in prison. Since his arrest he was reportedly injured by the police and denied legal representation. He was brought into custody under an anti-terror law, accused of using the military to arrest a senior judge during his time in office. The first democratically elected president of the Maldives, President Nasheed was the subject of the Independent Lens documentary The Island President (PBS, 2013), which won a Toronto International Film Festival People’s Choice Award and the International Documentary Association Pare Lorentz Award.
“We are concerned at recent developments in the Maldives, including the arrest and manhandling of former president Nasheed,” the Indian foreign ministry said in a statement issued in New Delhi.
More from Kaufman: “Officials from the U.S., United Nations, India and Canada have condemned the arrest. But as The Island President showed so effectively and amusingly, it’s hard to get noticed when you’re a small and slowly disappearing island nation of some 350,000 people. But what made Nasheed such a great film character and a great individual is that he managed to make waves that went beyond his country’s borders.”
Gunnar Myrdal with Ralph Bunche in Washington D.C., 1942
American Denial tells the the story of Swedish researcher Gunnar Myrdal, whose landmark 1944 study, An American Dilemma, probed deep into the United States’ racial psyche. The documentary weaves a narrative that exposes some of the potential underlying causes of racial biases still rooted in America’s systems and institutions today. The thoughtful and provocative film was quite a few years in the making, and a team effort between filmmakers Llewellyn Smith, Christine Herbes-Sommers, and Kelly Thomson. American Denial premieres tonight on PBS at 10 pm [check local listings].
Herbes-Sommers spoke with us about how this timely project came about and what she hopes viewers will take away from it. You can also listen to WBGO radio interview director Llew Smith about the film.
Created by Project Implicit, a research collaboration between scientists at Harvard, the University of Virginia, and the University of Washington, this Implicit Association Test (IAT) aims to “[measure] the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., black people, gay people) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic, clumsy)” that remain “outside of conscious awareness and control.” The test, which has been taken by more than two million people, reveals that even the most consciously tolerant of us may hold prejudices, and while you may be surprised by the results, you’ll be in good company.
The fast-moving test only takes about five minutes to complete, but regardless of your results, you’ll be thinking about your implicit associations for some time. The test is featured prominently in the new documentary American Denial, which premieres on Independent Lens Monday, February 23 at 10pm [check local listings]. Read on for more.
Although they say a picture is worth a thousand words, rather than write another thousand words about this idea, here is a small collection of some wonderful historic images of African American people and families, both from the Digital Diaspora Family Reunion collection as well as a from other sources (where noted).
Scan through the photographs and then watch Through a Lens Darkly Monday night on PBS [check local listings].
The first documentary to explore the role of photography in shaping the identity, aspirations, and social emergence of African Americans from slavery to the present, Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People probes the recesses of American history through images that have been suppressed, forgotten, and lost. Thomas Allen Harris’s film visits the past through the lens of the present by visiting the works of current and historical African American photographers as well as archival images dating back to the Civil War era. In tandem with Black History Month, Through a Lens Darkly premieres on Independent Lens on PBS this Monday, February 16 at 10 pm [check local listings].
Harris — whose films and installations have been featured at prestigious film festivals as well as museums and galleries including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Biennial, the Corcoran Gallery, Reina Sophia, and the London Institute of the Arts — talked to us about his own relationship with photography and what he hopes viewers will gain from seeing the film.
Our programming aims to celebrate black history more than just during the month February, but Black History Month is certainly a great time to pause and reflect on African American history both distant and recent. We’ve collected some of our favorite Independent Lens films that delve into different aspects of black history and culture through the years.
Seek out these films, and then watch two brand new documentaries airing this month, starting with Monday’s premiere of Thomas Allen Harris’s film Through a Lens Darkly, and continuing the following week with American Denial, which will surely start conversations in living rooms across the nation.
Marilaine, rescued from life as a “restavek” in Haiti
The three-part series A Path Appears may have just concluded its run on PBS [and for a limited time you can watch all three episodes online if you missed it], but the work we see in the series is obviously far from done. The fine folks at A Path Appears have been posting updates on their blog from some of the people featured in the series, and we wanted to share with you highlights from those reports.
Jessica Posner Odede, at work in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya
In the final episode of A Path Appears (part three airs tonight on PBS; check local listings), Jessica Posner Odede and her husband Kennedy Odede bring us into the incredible work they are doing with their program Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), which provides education and social services for girls in one of the world’s largest slums, Kibera, in Nairobi, Kenya. The New York-raised Jessica’s story of going from a study abroad student to one of the first outsiders to live inside the slum, where she met and eventually married community organizer Kennedy, is a remarkable one in itself. (Some of it is told in the film, and you can read more here.)
Jessica took time out from her busy life in Kibera to tell us more about the work she’s doing and give us a few updates along the way on some of the girls we meet in the film. (Note: You can also chat with Jessica and other remarkable folks alongside a live online screening of part three of A Path Appears, Tuesday, 2/10, at 11 a.m. PT/2 p.m. ET.)
Esta Soler, an expert on violence against women and children, founded Futures Without Violence over 30 years ago and transformed it into one of the world’s leading violence prevention agencies. Soler’s work to prevent violence against women has been featured on MAKERS, an innovative video and documentary project co-presented by PBS to showcase stories from trailblazing women. Recently, Soler delivered a TEDTalk charting 30 years of tactics and technologies — from the Polaroid camera to social media — that have shaped the movement to end domestic violence. Her insight is timely this week as we present the third episode of A Path Appears [Monday night February 9; check local listings], which focuses in part on domestic violence in the United States (look for an appearance by Soler at the top of the show). Violence against women has been a frequent theme in the news lately following domestic abuse incidents involving NFL players [see FiveThirtyEight piece, “The Rate of Domestic Violence Cases Among NFL Players“].
Soler spoke with us about the issue, both within the sports community and far beyond.