Meeting Andrea Dworkin
considering the aesthetics of anger and violence at the Portland Museum of Art
The Maine Jewish Film Festival hosted a screening of My Name is Andrea, a new documentary film about Andrea Dworkin, last weekend at the Portland Museum of Art. When I read the description, I put it in my calendar right away and invited some friends I’ve been wanting to catch up with. I’ve always liked MJFF’s programming and I don’t go to stuff at the PMA enough. But I didn’t know anything about Dworkin’s work going into it, and I wonder if I still would have gone to see the film if I had.
Dworkin was a second wave feminist in the United States who wrote primarily about gendered violence and, perhaps most famously, pornography. She was fiercely vocal about the ways that women are abused in mainstream culture. She wrote from a place of rage, and watching the film, I was very interested in the aesthetic that she uses. Lately I have been reading a lot of graphic novels, which always evoke this really embodied, participatory emotion within me - so entering Dworkin’s space was really interesting in juxtaposition. Her aim is to bring readers to a very different place.
My Name is Andrea mostly focuses on her life story, without diving super, duper deeply into the nuances of what she was writing - it justifies some of her more controversial opinions by revealing her history. The film uses reenactments and dramatic readings of her work, in marriage with extensive home videos and other archival footage, to introduce us to Andrea.
Watching the film allowed me some space to consider why documentary biopocs of individual political thinkers are useful at all. Because the film did not address some of the biggest questions that I had, and continue to have, about Dworkin’s positions. Nor did the film suggest counter arguments to her stances, especially about pornography and the industry around it (see: Revolting Prostitutes). What it did seem particularly sympathetic to was Andrea’s position as someone who was willing to say stuff that made other people uncomfortable. Throughout the film, we see clips of her reapplying nuance to her arguments, which male public figures are eager to reduce down to manhating.
Several actors embody different experiences in Dworkin’s life, throughout her ages and circumstances. These performers bring life to Dworkin’s words and evoke an everywoman sentiment. But towards the end of the film, the casting of these performers becomes quite distracting and even insulting - as Dworkin aged, she became fat, and all of the performers playing her towards the end of her life were thin. Fatphobia is real and I wish that the film had cast a fat actress to bring life to Dworkin’s later words - it would have been more respectful.
After the film, there was a talkback facilitated by MJFF executive director Carolyn Schwatrz and Rebecca Hobbs, executive director of Through These Doors, a Cumberland County based domestic violence advocacy organization. Responses from the audience were incredibly interesting - folks shared candid experiences with the sex industry, especially as it pertained to their relationships with their adult children. One woman in her eighties shared her experience of surviving and escaping domestic violence and following her marriage to a bisexual man - the love of Dworkin’s life was also a gay man with whom she had an open marriage. Hobbs intervened a few times to provide very approachable and (in my words) abolitionist additions to the conversation, and I really appreciated everything that she brought to the conversation. This kind of community-impact style talkback was very interesting and I would definitely recommend Portlanders check out MJFF programming at the PMA in the future, and keep your eyes peeled for their November festival.
I would love to hear your take on Andrea Dworkin! Please leave a comment if you have an opinion about her work.