Gloria Steinem is a monumental figure in modern feminism. Her tenacity, allyship, activism, and independence created the person she is now, and the one that millions of women over decades looked to for support and guidance in a patriarchal society. Director Julie Taymor maps out moments of her life in The Glorias.
The Glorias revolves around Gloria Steinem at different times in her life – as a girl (Ryan Kiera Armstrong and Lulu Wilson), a young woman finding her voice (Alicia Vikander), and the woman she is now (Julianne Moore) on the bus ride that is her life. The film is based on her 2015 best-selling book, My Life on the Road. The adaptation is a theatrical piece on the modern mother of feminism, following her rise in the movement with crucial intersectional feminism figures.
I’m torn on The Glorias. On the one hand, it’s inspiring to see a film about someone who has devoted her life to the empowerment of all women, and on the other, it’s one person’s odd interpretation of a real-life figure, even if Steinem was involved.
With one foot planted in the actual events of Steinem’s life and the other firmly in fantasy, some may find that difficult to grasp, especially since Steinem is still alive. The film takes unnecessary liberties with Steinem’s life. Taymor’s tendency to incorporate visual and narrative embellishments may have worked in her previous films like Across the Universe, but not here, and ultimately loses some of the story’s power. An example of this arrives when she turns commentary about the way Steinem dresses into a sort of acid trip. The narrative also moves around chronologically, which isn’t all that effective, using the bus and the versions of Steinem to transition to different timelines.
The all-star cast is great despite the uneven and, at times, disappointing material. The cast also includes Bette Midler as lawyer and activist Bella Abzug, a noticeably darker Janelle Monae as advocate and activist Dorothy Pittman-Hughes (I love Monae, but just get a darker-skinned actress, people), Lorraine Toussaint as the incredible black feminist and lawyer Flo Kennedy, and Kimberly Guerrero as Wilma Mankiller, the first female Chief of the Cherokee Nation. They find each activist’s essence, particularly Midler and Toussaint, who inject vitality into their roles. Vikander was engaging as the young Gloria with a genuine spark in her eye, and Moore was a decent mimic of the feminist icon.
Hollywood tends to latch on the idea of a person, and even though I suspect Taymor tried to avoid that sentiment, it still comes through. Even so, the most uninformed person can see that Steinem is a historical figure in American feminism, and Taymor has enough sense to make the most of the film’s final heart-swelling moments, leaving viewers with hope, which at the end of the day, is all we can ask.