Documentary films tend to fly under the radar, finding few viewers outside of the rather small group of people who, like myself, make a point of watching documentary films. Many of us work, or have worked, in the field and want to support the continued efforts of documentarians as storytellers, activists, historians, and intellectuals. Some truly outstanding documentaries have been produced just in the past five years - my favorites include Stories We Tell, Blackfish, Amy, and Meet the Patels - and I am eagerly awaiting the opportunity to see new and upcoming films such as A Suitable Girl, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan, and The Farthest. Hoping that the genre continues to flourish, here are eight subjects that I would love to see a documentary about:
Continued Disenfranchisement of Native Americans:
The systematic genocide, enslavement, forced migration, and segregation of Native Americans has resulted in their making up less than 1% of the current United States population. Their total marginalization from American cultural and civic life has been even more egregiously compounded by continued attempts to disenfranchise them and those attempts should be both documented and made better known.
Duels, the practice of two men attempting to bloody each other in order to restore their honor, are really very bizarre and I have yet to encounter any explanation, historical or otherwise, that helps me to understand how the practice flourished for centuries in Europe. What does this practice say about western ideas of masculinity?
Henry James's Sexuality:
Though most scholars at this point are agreed that Henry James was almost certainly gay and a virgin, his literary output was remarkably shrewd about sexuality. A project that combines an exploration of James's sexuality with literary analysis and a historical grounding in the history of queer sexuality in the nineteenth century would be especially welcome for Pride Month.
The doomsday prediction that brick-and-mortar stores would disappear forever have proven false, but the people who found and operate bookstores have to be unusually resilient and passionately literary people. This is the stuff of which delightfully quirky documentaries are made.
Irish Women Nationalists in Northern Ireland:
The fascinating history of women's efforts to resist British hegemony has yet to be told. A documentary that builds on the brilliant feminist ethnographic study, Shattering Silence, by the Basque anthropologist Begoña Aretxaga, would be a welcome addition to the fraught cultural discussions around gender, political agency, postcolonialism, and nationalism.
Joan of Arc:
The patron saint of France has been the subject of numerous narrative films, including what I believe to be the greatest of all time, Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, but I would love to see a documentary project on this country girl that rode into battle and died a martyr to her faith, and it must be added, her gender.
In the western world, sewing is all but a lost art, something that the craftier-minded of us might take up for a hobby, but that few rely on for a living. And yet, in many parts of the world and for many centuries, sewing is and was one of the few ways women could earn a living. Though feminist academics have begun the work of understanding the meaning of handiwork in women's lives, a documentary could make that story legible for those outside of the academy.
Women Directors Under the Hollywood Studio System:
Though they were certainly a tiny minority, women did direct films under the Hollywood studio system and their lives and filmographies are a crucial, and often ignored, part of film history. From Dorothy Arzner to Ida Lupino, Frances Marion to Lois Weber, these women made careers in a man's world and they have not yet been celebrated enough.
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