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Review: Who Does She Think She Is?
Photo courtesy Mystic Artists
In 2004 the documentary buzz was all about Born Into Brothels, a stark look at the Calcutta prostitution ghettos that are a part of daily life for eight unassuming and wonderful children. The level of humanity, depth, and sorrow found in the crowded streets and scenes inside Born Into Brothels earned it the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in the year’s awards, not to mention global notoriety. Well, as one might imagine the producers of such a groundbreaking and charitable film weren’t content to sit around and shine their accolades, so they went out and worked on a project that hits much closer to home: misogyny in the art world.
Who Does She Think She Is? is a documentary that follows the lives of several working female artists, with starkly different backgrounds and circumstances, who all share in the trials that women must overcome in trying to balance an art career with motherhood. To be sure, the themes found in this film are allegories for larger issues that plague women of all ages, races and professions, with or without children. And while this film at times feels like it’s overreaching, the clear moments that it does hold solid ground are enlightening and embarrassing as a male, and as an American.
The film follows, sometimes clumsily, the path of several American women as they attempt to juggle their demanding personal lives with their creative desires. At some point, all of the women begin to realize that American society is still deeply entrenched in the idea that a mother cannot be anything else. As the women attempt to struggle past this stereotype and into artistic relevance, they often find themselves ostracized from family members and friends, who very traditionally believe in the places a woman should and shouldn’t be in society. As they continue to test their familial and creative limits, many of these women are forced to take their personal relationships to the breaking point and beyond, with only the blind faith that what they are doing fulfills them personally and does not negatively affect their children, so it must be possible...and right.
The most effective parts of the film are in fact the most extroverted, when the questions are literally and figuratively posed to the audience. Scores of patrons leaving famous museums and art galleries are asked to name several female artists, and almost without fail they cannot even come up with a first. Statistics showing the sale value of artwork that is from a known female vs. the same item attributed to a male are simply staggering, and these moments really make Who Does She Think She Is? heartbreaking and honest, capable of touching the viewer no matter where they are. However, these items are not sustained long enough in the film. Instead, it is heavily reliant on trying to make guys feel like shit, basically, and there are few recipes better suited to turn off large portions of an audience than a stern lecture to someone who probably doesn’t feel any close relationship to the subject being discussed. And, to be fair, a good amount of the problems that plague women in any workplace exist because of a large amount of apathetic women AND men, so attempting to show all but one or two men in the film as woman-and-art hating shadow figures for keeping women down, gets old really fast.
Who Does She Think She Is? is an interesting look into the art world and the many trappings it (like any other occupation) can have towards fair agreements with women. There are revelatory moments that can make the audience truly understand the depths of the issue being discussed, but far too much time and energy is devoted to what can often amount to a smear campaign that is sure to bear little or no fruit. By relying more on the startling facts and heartbreaking losses that are a part of this daily life, Who Does She Think She Is? could really succeed. Unfortunately, many parts are so saturated by unhelpful rhetoric and appeals that make it easy to tune out, and even easier to avoid the problem altogether, which should not happen, and would indeed be antithetical to the film itself.
Who Does She Think She Is? is currently playing at Laemmle's Music Hall 3 on Wilshire Blvd.