One of the most iconic figures of modern history has her life story told by director Julie Taymor in “The Glorias,” a complex biopic about the one and only Gloria Steinem. Taymor crafts a thorough history lesson about the fighter, feminist, and journalist who wore many hats (and her signature sunglasses) as she shaped the course of activism that spanned decades.
Steinem’s story begins with her childhood in 1940s Ohio, retraces her eye-opening journey to India as a young college woman, and covers life-changing events like the founding of Ms. magazine in the 1970s, her infamous undercover work at the Playboy Club (which resulted in her two-part series “A Bunny’s Tale”), and her role in the feminist movement (in which she, at 86 years old, still actively participates to this day). Four actors play Gloria at different points in her life (Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Lulu Wilson, Alicia Vikander, and Julianne Moore), with Vikander and Moore getting the most screen time.
The screenplay is based on Steinem’s memoir My Life on the Road, and the film follows the same non-linear structure. The story jumps around to different defining moments in her life, from running low-level scams with her salesman father (Timothy Hutton) to her unwavering fight for the rights of minorities, to her close friendships with a who’s-who of feminist champions (Wilma Mankiller (Kimberly Guerrero), Dorothy Pittman Hughes (Janelle Monáe), Bella Abzug (Bette Midler), Flo Kennedy (Lorraine Toussaint), and Dolores Huerta (Monica Sanchez)) to giving rousing speeches in front of crowds at the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C.
Taymor cleverly ties it all together by placing the different Glorias on a bus and, making good use of black and white cinematography, creates an imaginary dream world where the woman can talk to herself at different stages of her life while still feeling as if she’s constantly on the move. It’s creative and effective as each Gloria asks questions about her life and comes to terms with past regret. Taymor is no stranger to surreal storytelling (see her previous films “Frida” and “Across the Universe”), and while not all of the moments in this film work (the “Wizard of Oz” style fantasy scene is really awkward), she manages to pack in a thorough history through an excellent selection of Steinem’s personal stories.
There is so much ground covered, yet the film barely scratches the surface of the incredible life this woman has led and the lasting impact her advocacy has left on generations past and present. All women should see this movie, especially given the uncertainty of today’s political climate when it comes to gender. All little girls should grow up knowing more about these historical figures in the women’s movement, and the film is a wonderful way to spark curiosity for them to dive even deeper.
It’s shocking that there’s still more work to do 45 years later, as freedoms are threatened and some of the progress towards female equality is in danger of being left to weaken by the wayside or worse, tumbling backward. The feminist movement has been going around in circles for decades, and “The Glorias” is a proud, strong, inspirational film that should ignite a spark by energizing women to continue the push for equal opportunities.
As Huerta herself so famously put it, “every minute is a chance to change the world.” So let’s stop wasting time.