All Women are Andrea
One of the most outstanding hybrid documentaries coming out of the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival is Pratibha Parmar’s lyrical profile of a controversial visionary feminist. My Name is Andrea explores the writings, speeches, influence and life of one of the US’s foremost champions of women’s rights. In her film Parmar reveals poet Andrea Dworkin’s gradual understanding of the importance of voicing outrage against the sexual institutionalization of female oppression.
Presciently, Dworkin called out rape culture, pornography, and all forms of violence against women, whether through words or deeds. She described a male supremacist political ideology that soft-pedaled rape, battery, prostitution, and pornography. Contradicting adversaries, she asserted that neither prostitution nor pornography empowered women, as some feminists claimed. Defying labels, including that of feminism, Dworkin’s work analyzed women’s daily life struggles against an inchoate, inaccurately described patriarchy. Dworkin claimed paternalism surreptitiously allowed women to take forward steps. However, shoved on a rat wheel, women’s progress remained circular. She vociferously advocated for women’s rights in the home, the workplace, entertainment culture, everywhere.
The film creatively makes Dworkin’s ideas understandable. To do this Parmar characterizes Dworkin with personas portrayed by five actresses. The film begins as the actresses state, “My name is Andrea.” Amandla Stenberg represents Andrea as Wild Child. Soko represents Andrea as Poet. Andrea Riseborough represents Andrea as Lover. Ashley Judd represents Andrea as Rolling Thunder. Christine Lahti represents Andrea as Pariah.
Rare Archival Footage
The film fuses rare archival footage of Andrea Dworkin with the actors’ striking performances. Included are Dworkin’s most salient speeches at conferences. Also, Parmar includes black-and-white photos from Dworkin’s childhood, college years and travel. Crafting the material into a biographical, visual/aural tone poem, the film memorializes Dworkin’s life with beauty and power.
The women read from Dworkin’s writings accompanied by related visuals. The actors also recreate impactful scenes from Dworkin’s life. For example, Riseborough portrays Dworkin in her love relationship with husband Cornelius (Iwan) Dirk de Bruin, who battered and abused her until she left him. Dworkin’s writings about the abuse are poetically expressed, dynamic, horrifying. In another incident when Dworkin was nine years old, Parmar shows a scene in a movie theater when a stranger molests Dworkin. Thus, we follow the patterns of abuse Dworkin experienced that she later analyzed in her writings.
Dworkin’s observations and experiences largely informed her analysis of the culture of male supremacy. But Parmar also reveals that Dworkin learned the values of justice and equality from the civil rights movement as well as from her upbringing. These values shaped her activism as she protested the Viet Nam War and was arrested by the New York City policy during a demonstration in 1965, leading to her greater understanding of cultural female oppression.
Writing from Experience
During her intake in the Women’s House of Detention, doctors mutilated her vaginally with instruments under the guise of examining her. She bled for 15 days. She filed a complaint and testified before a grand jury. This experience established another foundation for her beliefs about institutional sexual abuse of women. Though her testimony didn’t result in an indictment, it helped record the sexual violence and corruption that shuttered the Women’s House of Detention seven years later.
With precise editing the filmmaker melds black-and-white archival footage with color recreations enacted in the present. Thus, she depicts Dworkin’s friendship with Allen Ginsburg, whom she adored as a teenager. Also, employing Andrea’s words from her writing, the actors express in voiceover events that clarify her fear and powerlessness surrounding the sexual domination and violence she experienced throughout her life. In one incident she describes the use of a date rape drug dropped in her drink as a humiliation. Dworkin anticipated today’s online rape culture humiliations of women as young men upload videos of teen girls drugged, drunk, then abused.
Vitally, Parmar’s film reveals Dworkin learned from experience. She remained a grounded intellectual who wrote with clear-eyed truthfulness. In some of her finest work, Dworkin used irony and humor to express her extraordinarily iconoclastic perspectives. Her stances created controversy even among leftists. Indeed, feminists misunderstood her when she bravely stood up to the porn industry’s abuse and objectification of women. Sadly, the industry has burgeoned into a multi-billion dollar industry that includes sex trafficking of men, women and children. Dworkin anticipated the worsening of abuse given the lack of government regulation. Too many individuals benefit for it to be stopped or curtailed.
Throughout, we note in the footage and readings that Dworkin demanded women be treated as equals. Thus, she excoriated the “new Right” that focused on preserving male authority in the family with violence or coercion. The right-wing movement that she “outed” then blew up into the conservative extremism we see today. It manifests in religious orthodoxy that tramples women’s right to control their bodies and have access to affordable care, including abortion care.
Importantly, Dworkin noted how the right wing got women to go after women. While claiming to be acting in women’s best interests, these women did the opposite, supporting male authority over women. They acted on behalf of the male hierarchy to make women subservient to men, to be their property. To do this, right wing women used religion as an expression of transcendent male supremacy. Indeed, Dworkin accurately predicted what would happen if these women weren’t understood. Dworkin asked questions we ask today: “Why do right-wing women agitate for their own subordination? How do the political male supremacists get their participation and loyalty? And why do right-wing women hate the feminist struggle for equality?”
This wonderful documentary must be seen because of its currency. Much of what Dworkin advocated stands against the right-wing extremism that brought about the January 6th insurrection, the overthrow of Roe and the attempt to overthrow the human rights inherent in our Constitution. Indeed, Parmar’s revelation of Dworkin’s urgency should spur our urgency. For updates on film screenings visit the film’s website.