Two weeks out from International Women’s Day and the same day Harvey Weinstein was sentenced, the film “Be a Lady They Said” was given a low-key “we’ll just leave it here and see what happens” release on social media.
A week later and it has been seen by more than 20 million people, including Madonna, my mum, four of my WhatsApp groups and my three-year-old son who loves the soundtrack.
Photographer Claire Rothstein is behind the film. She is also the founder of Girls. Girls. Girls – a glossy high-fashion magazine which aims to “bring back a time when women in fashion were all about the polish, the luxury and the total fantasy.”
The magazine has form when it comes to provoking extreme reactions.
The December 2018 front cover featured Rachel McAdams resplendent and unflinching draped in Bulgari diamonds, Versace and a double breast pump (possibly by Medela) – an image many women thanked them for (though few would risk a milk leak on their Versace bra).
With ‘Be A Lady’ Girls. Girls. Girls goes one skyscraper stiletto further.
The Big Idea
The film puts the powerful and profound essay by 22 year-old Camille Rainville AKA ‘Writings of a Furious Woman’ into the mouth of actress and activist Cynthia Nixon.
Her words are dramatized by and juxtaposed against a fast-paced montage of hyper glamorous women – including Georgia May Jagger and Rachel McAdams – and spliced with news footage to a pumped-up soundtrack by Louis Souyave.
'Your skirt is too short. Your shirt is too low. Don’t show so much skin. Cover up. Leave something to the imagination. Don’t be a temptress. Men can’t control themselves. Men have needs.”
The film shines a real light on the litany of conflicting messages that bombard women every single day – consciously and subconsciously.
Messages that are deeply embedded in society, promoted through media and reinforced by men, and by women to women. Messages that ultimately cause women to die – as the line ‘Be a double zero, be nothing, be less than nothing’ – depicted with a flatlining heartbeat chillingly reminds us.
The film is high energy, hyper-glam and oozingly aspirational.
Think David La Chappelle meets Robert Palmer meets LOVE magazine. A highly stylised aesthetic that captures the zeitgeist and makes it meme gold. And meme gold it is.
The film has been shared by everyone from Dua Lipa to Cara Delevingne and received praise across national media from The Guardian to feminist favourite The Daily Mail.
Cynthia Nixon is an excellent choice of narrator.
Her standing as a political activist gives the words depth and urgency. Her steely blue eyes and monochrome suit contrasting starkly with the saturated candy colours of the models. Nixon is 53 reading the words of a 22-year-old as if it is her own experience too – a sad reflection of how systemic the pressure to ‘Be a Lady’ is.
The film has made me, and many of my friends, angry.
Angry at the magazines that sell us unattainable ideals of beauty, angry at past boyfriends who wanted us to lose weight but enjoy our food, and angry at ourselves for getting sucked into such a pernicious narrative.
But, for me, there’s an irony in the fact that the film is created to promote a magazine that wants to “bring back a time when women in fashion were all about the polish”.
Is this progress?
Can an attractive photographer working in the fashion industry really know what it’s like to feel the same pressures as everyday women who can just about afford high street fashion let alone high fashion?
And isn’t there a dichotomy in the fact that Girls. Girls. Girls is pushing the very same beauty myth the film seeks to dismantle?
As a stand-alone piece of creative, the film is extremely powerful and I love it but I can’t overlook the fact that it is produced by a high-profile team whose business model is to make money out of the so-called beauty myth.
That said, the film has brought feminism to the fore ahead of IWD and expressed a serious message in a provocative way that has given it cultural currency.
We now need to channel the anger shared on our WhatsApp groups and Instagram feeds to galvanize and do something for IWD.
Because it’s only then that ‘being a lady’ will really change for the better for us all.