>> Who Does She Think She Is? (2009)

Title: Who Does She Think She Is?

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Angela Williams, Janis Wunderlich, Mayumi Oda, Camille Musser, Maya Torres, Layne Redmond

Director: Pamela Tanner Boll, Nancy Kennedy (co-director)

Studio: Emerging Pictures

Runtime: 82 minutes

Release Date: November 10, 2009

Format: DVD

Discs: 1

MPAA Rating: NR

Rating: 2.85 (out of 4.00)

Grade: B-

Official Site

Who Does She Think She Is?, a documentary directed by Pamela Tanner Boll, focuses on the struggle faced by women who are both artists and mothers and how society adds to that struggle.  It is a fascinating and important topic, but the film’s message is diluted by its scattered focus and uneven tone.

Much of Who Does She Think She Is? is driven by the stories of five artists: singer/actress Angela Williams, sculptor Janis Wunderlich, and painters Mayumi Oda, Camille Musser, and Maya Torres.  Their stories are compelling, touching, and relatable.  You will be hard-pressed to not root for these five very different women who share both motherhood and a common dream: to have their art be seen and be taken seriously.  They are at different stages of their careers with varying levels of success and familial support, but none have found the path to be an easy one and it was both telling and sad to hear each one justify the time she spends on her craft and admit that she, at least at some point, felt she was being selfish in pursuing her craft.  Worse was hearing how each had been told by others she was being selfish.  There are huge issues raised in these segments:  it is expected that women be children’s primary caregivers, a woman’s career or ambition is somehow selfish while a man’s is laudable, and women must sacrifice their own needs and desires for family without complaint.  Obviously these are issues outside the artistic world, as well, but they are exacerbated by the fact that artistry is undervalued in our society.

I wish Who Does She Think She Is? kept its focus on the profiled artists, expanding their interviews and showing more of both their struggles and their successes.  Unfortunately, it drops other segments in, breaking the flow and weakening the impact, which is not to say the other segments aren’t important in their own right.  Noted percussionist Layne Redmond gives an excellent history lesson the role of the female in ancient cultures and the importance of goddesses.  Horrifying statistics (98% of the works in the National Gallery of Art were done by men, only 4% of the artists featured in MoMa post-renovation were female) are announced, and experts discuss societal role in the marginalization of female artists.  It’s all interesting, but it also belongs in a separate film so the points can be expanded upon.  Here there is more of a hit and run effect with no extrapolation.  I thought two segments particularly detracted from the film.  First was the “man on the street” scene where people couldn’t name five (or even one) female artist.  The tone was too overbearingly gotcha, turning a serious societal failing into a Jay Leno segment.   Second, though the Guerilla Girls raised serious and valid feminist arguments, their gorilla masks looked ridiculous and seriously undermined them.  In retrospect, I think that had all these more theoretical segments about societal sexism been better woven into the film or comprised an introductory first half followed by the real-world experiences of the profiled artists, this film would have had much more impact, both as a celebration of female artistry and motherhood and as a treatise on sexism and the damage it does to society. 

For extras there is a short interview with Boll discussing the film which gives little insight, a theatrical trailer, and two segments of unaired artist interview footage.  The extra time with Oda adds little, but I’m mystified as to why the Wunderlich footage wasn’t highlighted in the actual film.  She discusses the derision she faced from other artists when she brought her daughter to a pottery seminar and this brief scene perfectly encapsulates many issues discussed in Who Does She Think She Is?.  It’s definitely worth a viewing.  Overall, Who Does She Think She Is? is a valuable but frustrating mash-up of what should be two films.  I absolutely think the documentary is important viewing because the issues raised are central to society and humanity, but it raises those issues in a haphazard fashion and frustratingly seems to only tell bits and pieces of the story.  Unfortunately, the film only seems to be sold through the official site, so I don't know how many people will even be exposed to it.  There are limited theatrical showings, so if you hear of one near you and are at all interested in art or supporting female artists, check it out.

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Who Does She Think She Is? YouTube channel


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