This Is Personal review – can women’s activism survive the Trump era? | Sundance 2019

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One consequence of the Trump-era outrage onslaught – and the current morass of government shutdown and malaise – is that footage from his 2016 campaign already feels dated. The transgressions, both terrifying and ridiculous, and reactions that pile up in the clips opening this documentary from Amy Berg feel mild in retrospect. But anti-Trump momentum was clear when millions of women took to the streets for the first Women’s March in January 2017. This is Personal is about what happens to the movement afterwards.

It documents the continued activism of some of the march’s leaders, particularly women of colour. It’s the “my” in “not my president” – the personal in the political – that interests Berg; her film is less about the organisation of the largest mass political demonstration in American history than about how a personal moment of protest ricocheted through the lives of two activists in the years since pink “pussy hats” stormed Washington.

This Is Personal opens with Tamika Mallory, one of the Women’s March’s four national co-chairs, on her way to Washington that January. Mallory, who has a history of gun reform and Black Lives Matter activism, was instrumental in ensuring the march was more than just a parade of suburban white women. Berg intertwines scenes from Mallory’s career as an activist with footage of Erika Andiola, an immigrant-rights activist. Andiola, a resident of Arizona since she arrived from Mexico at age 11, is a so-called “Dreamer”, one of the nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to America as children and protected under Obama’s Daca act, which Trump rescinded in 2017.

We follow Andiola and Mallory – down a street in Virginia, into the Senate building, to Andiola’s mother’s asylum interview, to Mallory’s parents’ balcony – as they react and respond to the litany of affronts by the Trump administration. The shots, stitched together with footage of phone calls and time with family members, illustrates the effort and personal costs of their activism. Mallory changes from heels to sneakers as she leaves a gala for the Women’s March in New York to lead a sit-in near Trump Tower; she is detained, but gets in a phone call to tell her teenage son she won’t be home for a while. Andiola’s mother, with her in the back of a car, says she’s proud but worried; to spell out why, Berg accrues a series of truly disturbing smartphone videos of Ice arrests and racist chants.

But despite its clear illustration of the stakes of the Trump presidency, the film is most concerned with practicalities of intersectional feminism. Since the first Women’s March, the organisation has fractured, most notably around Mallory’s association with Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam who has a long history of antisemitic rhetoric. Mallory has refused, under increasing pressure, to denounce Farrakhan, citing his positive influence in the black communities where she works. The Democratic National Committee ended its partnership with the event this year amid concerns of antisemitism within the march’s leadership. To its credit, This Is Personal provides ample space to consider this criticism of one of its central stars. It is telling, and central to the film’s message, that one of its most poignant scenes simply dwells for several minutes on a conversation between Mallory and a Brooklyn rabbi as the two seek mutual understanding.

The two discuss the dispute – the pain of Farrakhan’s words for Jews, the pain of the black community, what is fair and unfair to ask in response – with a raw honesty and good faith that is rarely allowed to bloom on camera. Berg wisely leaves out the question of whether or not Mallory’s response to the criticism proves sufficient. Instead, viewers ponder Mallory and Timoner’s larger question: can we find a way to work together? This Is Personal does not provide definitive answers, but offers a template for how to listen better – and where to start.

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Source: The Guardian
Keyword: This Is Personal review – can women’s activism survive the Trump era? | Sundance 2019

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