Work Samples

'Makers: Women Who Make America' chronicles women's movement of last 50 years


It has been 50 years since Betty Friedan's groundbreaking, culture-changing book "The Feminine Mystique" was published. A new documentary looks at that half-century of women's history in America, the revolution Friedan and others started and the successes and failures of the women's movement.

Meryl Streep narrates "Makers: Women Who Make America," a nearly three-hour film airing tonight on PBS that includes interviews with Judy Blume, Gloria Steinem, Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Phyllis Schlafly, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Ellen DeGeneres, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and many others less well-known — such as the first woman to run the Boston Marathon and the first female coal miner.

The timing of the project, though, didn't hinge on the "Feminine Mystique" anniversary. "There are a lot of anniversaries [but] it just seemed like if we waited too much longer we were going to lose a lot of the voices that needed to be a part of this story," said Dyllan McGee, founder and executive producer of "Makers."

The documentary details the sexual revolution, abortion, violence against women, the Anita Hill hearings, sexual harassment, the media, pop culture (including the great "Murphy Brown" baby controversy) and equality in professional opportunity and pay. It is just one piece of the project that includes the website, which contains a video archive of more than 100 interviews.

The documentary will be streamed at tonight and re-aired on PBS in the future in one-hour segments.

The film was born out of interviews with a diverse group of women, some famous, some not, for From there, McGee and Betsy West put together the documentary.

"Usually we pick a narrative, then go and find interviews to fill that narrative," said McGee. "We instead took the best material and had the narrative shaped out of that."

The project really began eight years ago when McGee asked Steinem if she could do a documentary on Steinem's life.

"She said, 'You can't tell the story of the women's movement through the story of one person, we have to tell this collective story,' " McGee recalled.

McGee brought on West as an executive producer. They both learned a lot about women's history in America and now hope to share those stories, particularly with the younger generation of women.

"It's really important to know your history, to know what happened before," said West. "To me, that is the most important part of this project, is to tell the story of what these courageous women did and to make sure the younger generation understands it."

Some of the most interesting moments in the film come in discussions with black women who found themselves uncomfortable with the movement, as well as in interviews with members of the generation that benefited from the trailblazers' battles.

Abigail Pogrebin was a television journalist whose career took her around the world. She also happens to be the daughter of feminist Letty Cottin Pogrebin, co-founder of Ms. magazine. After having her first child, Abigail struggled as a working mother, eventually leaving TV and becoming a part-time writer.

"The reality of adulthood as a woman, and a woman who wants to have a family, is not that simple," she says in the film. "I'm free to be a mother and I'm free to have a career, but how do I reconcile both? I don't think I was prepared for the ambivalence of motherhood and career. I don't think my mother ever laid out how complicated that could be or was to become. So when I hit it — and pretty much every friend in my life did — I felt a little bit like I was hit by a truck and I hadn't been given the tools to respond."

The "Makers" project doesn't end with the finished film. McGee and West will continue doing interviews for the website. They have been able to work with a large group of influential women, but there is one "No" that still bothers them.

"Tina Fey," said McGee. "[She] was really a trailblazer on 'Saturday Night Live' and she is a self-proclaimed feminist. We're not done trying [to get her]."