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    Bay Area Filmmaker Debuts New Documentary on Andrea Dworkin

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    Andrea Dworkin was an outspoken writer and radical feminist who was outraged by how women are treated in society. Bay Area filmmaker Pratibha Parmar’s documentary My Name Is Andrea showcases Dworkin’s words and ideas about women’s rights and gender equality using archival footage, personal letters, and the author’s published writings. Many scenes feature actors, including Andrea Riseborough and Christine Lahti, reading Dworkin’s text, or portraying scenes from her life.

    The film shows how the impassioned Dworkin, who is full of righteous anger, was ahead of her time—especially in her thinking about women speaking out about violence and rape, issues of racial discrimination, and the way pornography exploits and hurts women.

    With My Name Is Andrea, Parmar reminds viewers of Dworkin’s legacy and how ahead of her time she was. Parmar, who identifies as a lesbian, recently spoke with me for the San Francisco Bay Times about her new documentary.

    Gary M. Kramer: How did you first discover Andrea Dworkin and what sparked you to start this project?

    Pratibha Parmar: A producer in London said they were interested in making a doc on Andrea Dworkin and asked if I would consider directing it. I’d heard of her, but I didn’t know much about her except the anti-pornography phase of her life. I read her books, Heartbreak, the memoir, and Mercy, and honestly, the two books and the words on the page and their tone of her words and what she was saying was poetry. It was passionate and powerful. I just thought, I didn’t know this Andrea Dworkin!

    Gary M. Kramer: How did you decide on the approach you took with the film?

    Pratibha Parmar: I wasn’t interested in the traditional biography. I’d seen Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There, but this was different because it is not pure fiction; it has Andrea throughout. Given that Dworkin is no longer alive, I had a certain freedom. I had her books, TV appearances, and archival radio interviews. I thought I’d have other voices and audio interviews with other people. And then I decided I didn’t even want that. I just wanted audiences to find a visceral connection to Andrea’s words and experiences and see the foundational moments in this writer’s life. Both in terms of her personal experiences of sexual assaults, but also her political, cultural, and social formation as an intellectual. She was in touch with Huey Newton, and they had a correspondence. This was one of the surprising things I learned about this radical feminist that people had monsterized. Why was she monsterized?

    Gary M. Kramer: Can you talk about incorporating actors reading Dworkin’s work, or recreating episodes from her life?

    Pratibha Parmar: I wanted the episodes to be dramatizations rather than recreations. Dramatizations were about the here and now to make you feel when Andrea (Andrea Riseborough) is being hit by her husband. I wanted the dramatization to be the interiority of experience. I wanted it to speak to women’s experiences now about domestic violence, and rape and protest and anger and rage—things that women feel. I wanted it to be contemporized, so that Andrea’s life is not fixed in some kind of historical cement. She is so prescient in so much of what she’s saying. Her book Right-Wing Women predicted Republican women being responsible for Roe v. Wade being overturned. There is also a way in which she was me too before the #MeToo movement. When she was writing about domestic violence, it was taboo—no one spoke about it at that time. For me, she is this woman whom awful things happened to, she picked herself up, and came back fighting. She allowed all of that to inform her writing and speaking.

    Gary M. Kramer: Can you talk about Dworkin having the courage of her convictions to address difficult topics, and inspiring folks to pay attention to inequality?

    Pratibha Parmar: Her anti-pornography civil ordinance was seen as a lightning rod for the feminist movement at the time. She was characterized as being anti-sex. She was not anti-sex; she was anti-pornography for women who were forced into it, and she was against the corporate structures that profited off women’s bodies. I deliberately put in the scene with Andrea Riseborough [as Dworkin] writing about her pain and pleasure threshold with her husband in Amsterdam. It was erotic, sexual writing. She was a sensual woman and into sex. And she lived with John Stoltenberg, an openly gay man, and they had a sexual life, according to him. This mischaracterization of her being anti-sex didn’t resonate when I read her work or looked at her life.

    The other major thing was her size, her obesity. She was characterized as this ugly, fat lesbian—even though she was not a lesbian—and a loudmouth, Jewish woman with unkept hair. All the stereotypes. Dworkin was saying, “Accept me. Read my books, my work, engage with my ideas. Don’t talk about how I look, or if I washed my hair. You don’t do that with male writers, so why are you doing that with me?”

    Gary M. Kramer: Dworkin spoke out about being raped (and drugged and raped) as well as being battered by her first husband. She also said those episodes caused her to “lose her voice.” Can you discuss that?

    Pratibha Parmar: Andrea talked about being silenced or being mute when certain things happened. I wanted to show how she came to speech and found words to speak about what happened to her and give that to other women. That was important to me. I was thinking about the whole circus of misogyny around Amber Heard and her trial. [Heard] wrote something about abuse without mentioning Johnny Depp, and she was penalized for just speaking out. It’s sending a message to women: do not speak about abuse, because they saw what happened to Amber Heard. It’s a continuing war on women and women’s agency.

    Gary M. Kramer: There are discussions seen in the film that suggest Dworkin was misguided at times. She was a rather controversial figure. She really only always wanted respect, but that was often elusive for her. Why do you think that was?

    Pratibha Parmar: Part of it was her refusal to capitulate to cultural norms in terms of femininity. One of the things Andrea said was that every movement needs someone who looks right, speaks right, dresses right, and walks into a room to speak to people in the right way. But the movement also needs the bottom line because it pushes the center. She saw herself as the bottom line. Her radical ideas were pushed to shift the center and demand equality. She wanted women to be seen as equal. Men are seen as fully human and women are not. Andrea did not come in an acceptable package. Yet, the poetry of her words and the incisiveness of her voice and intellect were unparalleled.

    My Name Is Andrea will screen at 5:25 pm on July 23 at the Castro Theater as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. The filmmaker will participate in a post-screening Q&A.

    For more information and to purchase tickets:

    © 2022 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer

    Published on July 14, 2022