By Noelle Nicolls
Tribune Features Editor
THERE was “an overwhelmingly positive response” to the debut screening of the new documentary on the women’s suffrage movement in the Bahamas.
Producer/Director Marion Bethel presented the film, “Womanish Ways: Freedom, Human Rights and Democracy”, during a closed screening at Government House, Friday. The public launch of the film is Friday, December 7, at 1:30pm during the Bahamas International Film Festival (BIFF).
“I am really pleased now that it is finished. I am feeling in the spirit of the gift. The documentary is meant to be a gift from the team who produced it to the Bahamian community celebrating the lives of the women of the suffrage movement,” said Ms Bethel.
The 73-minute documentary chronicles the journey of Bahamian women from the 1940s to November 26, 1962, when they voted for the first time. The narrative is rooted in early resistance efforts of enslaved African women, who led freedom fighting efforts against slavery and colonisation. The documentary is dedicated to the heroic struggle of Kate Moss and Mary Prince, two enslaved women who fought for their freedom in the 19th century in the Bahamas. They became symbols of resistance within the anti-slavery abolitionist movement.
Speaking at the event, Prime Minister Perry Christie confirmed his government’s pledge to hold a constitutional referendum by July 2013, during which he said the citizenship question concerning the rights of Bahamian women would be put to the people again. He commended Ms Bethel and her team, Director Maria Govan, Editor Kareem Mortimer and Researcher Natalie Bethel and Producer’s Assistant/Researcher Gabrielle Misiewicz for their hard work and commitment.
Mr Christie also reiterated the extent to which women played central roles in national development efforts, always working in the background and foreground of every major political effort.
“I think there was an overwhelmingly positive response to the documentary. It was something that was long time coming. In terms of recording our history; it was a first class documentary. It was a true and living representation of the struggle of the right to vote by our women. We were blessed to have among our grouping some of the women who actually participated not only in the struggle, but those who voted for the first time in 1962,” said Ruth Bowe-Darville, president of the Bahamas Bar Council, who attended the screening.
“I think now we have to carry it beyond 1962. The struggle, as you know, continues and the story still has to continue,” said Ms Bowe-Darville, who wrote a seminal essay on the women’s suffrage movement during the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Burma Road Riot.
Her work was one of several pieces that inspired Ms Bethel to pursue the documentary project. It took her over ten years to bring the project to fruition. In the final work Ms Bethel draws some of the same connections between the women’s suffrage movement, the revolutionary culture sparked by the Burma Road Riots and the emergence of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) that were made by Ms Bowe-Darville in her original piece.
Ms Bethel also drew inspiration from Kim Outten Stubbs’ essay, “A Chronology of the Women’s Suffrage Movement”. From these documents she was moved to represent stories of Bahamian women in “our national narratives.”
“I had not seen that before. In reading these essays, I was inspired to pursue further women’s roles in our national narrative,” said Ms Bethel.
The documentary weaves together a narrative of women’s suffrage and Bahamian political history and brings the hidden voices of Bahamian women to the fore. An interview with Effie Walkes, for example, sheds light on Black Tuesday, when Sir Lynden Pindling is famously known for throwing the mace out of the window of the House of Assembly. A viewing of the documentary reveals details of a private planning meeting for the demonstration at which Ms Walkes was the only woman present.
An extensive cast of men and women with intimate knowledge of the movement are featured in the documentary, including Rubyann Cooper-Darling, Lionel Carey, Sir Clement T. Maynard, Sir Arthur Foulkes, Juliette J. Barnwell, Janet Bostwick, Justice Maxwell Thompson, Godfrey Kelly, Alice Ingraham-Rolle, Justice Jeanne Thompson, Theresa Moxey-Ingraham, Dame Marguerite Pindling and more than 40 other interviewees and actors.
The four women who founded and led the movement, Mary Ingraham, Mabel Walker, Eugenia Lockhart, and Georgiana Symonette are all profiled in the documentary, as is Dr Doris Johnson who joined the movement later. The voices of women who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the leaders, and the men who supported the right to vote in the halls of Parliament are also featured.
Ms Bethel said copies of the documentary will be available for purchase before the Christmas holiday. She encouraged Bahamians to attend the public screenings at BIFF for $3.
For more information, visit womansuffragebahamas.com.