WASHINGTON – As Lauryn Hill's lyrics,“Everything is everything / what is meant to be will be,” play in the background,more than 5,000 women march through the nation's capital for what means everything to them: the women's suffrage movement.
This is just one of many powerful scenes in the HBO film “Iron Jawed Angels” that stays with the viewer long after the 123-minute film is over. The film showcases the struggles women faced in winning the right to vote.
“It's so unfair that anyone should have to die in a fight that shouldn't even be a fight,” said a tearful Alice Paul in the film,played by Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank.
Swank spoke at a National Press Club luncheon Wednesday to promote the film and to urge women to exercise the right won by Paul and the other suffragists.
These women were trampled,thrown to the ground,insulted,laughed at and hauled off to jail for standing behind their beliefs. As they protested on public property outside the White House,they were forced into police trucks and found guilty for obstructing traffic.
When they refused to pay the court fines,because they didn't want to admit guilt,they were jailed and subjected to poor treatment. They went on a hunger strike,earning them the name “Iron Jawed Angels” for their resistance to being force-fed.
One scene in the film shows Swank being strapped to a chair and force-fed raw eggs through a tube that is shoved farther and farther down her throat. Although the force-feeding was simulated in the film,Swank said it was a tough scene.
“It's hard to separate knowing that it happened in real life,because you're thinking about it while actually doing it,” Swank said.
Frances O'Connor,Patrick Dempsey,Julia Ormond,Angelica Huston and Molly Parker also star in the film directed by Katja von Garnier.
Inspired after making a film about suffrage,Swank said Garnier's vision was to show the compelling personalities of the women characters. To help the film transcend time,they decided to use contemporary music,including Hill,Vertical Horizon and Sarah McLachlan.
To prepare for her role as Alice Paul,Swank,who admitted she knew little about the subject before agreeing to do the movie,said she did a lot of research.
“Once I got over not knowing who Alice Paul was,I started diligently researching,” Swank said. “I was blown away by her tenacity and drive.”
While making the film,most of it shot in Richmond,Va.,Swank said the women on the set were a sisterhood.
“During the filming,we would often ask,‘Come on,this is unbelievable – did this really happen?'” Swank said. “And every time the answer from our historians and consultants was,‘YES,this and more.'”
One of the things Swank said she realized is that the women portrayed in the film were no different than the women today.
“You think they all had really good posture,were really,really articulate and wore their corsets really tight,” Swank said. “It has nothing to do with posture. They were your everyday women who wanted to see things happen for other women.”
It took women from 1848 to 1920 – nearly three generations – to win the right to vote. Swank just exercised that right recently.
“As of a week ago,I had not yet registered to vote,” Swank said. “I have a busy schedule and have a lot going on in my life,but I found a way to register to vote.”
In the 2000 election,22 million unmarried women in the United States who were eligible to vote did not,Swank said. And 16 million of them were not even registered.
She said if women want change,they need to vote and remember what women went through to get that vote. She said she hopes the film can help those who don't know much about the subject.
“Tell them to watch it in groups and in viewing parties,so that everyone will remember that in the 2004 elections,when women go into the voting booth for their candidates,they can do it because these other women devoted their lives to equality,” Swank said.
“Can I also tell you – can this be off the record?” Swank joked to the room full of reporters and other guests. “This movie has a happy ending. Yes. The president finally decides it's time to join the 20th century,and he comes out for suffrage.”
“Iron Jawed Angels,” happy ending and all,will debut on HBO at 9:30 p.m. Sunday and will be replayed several times through March.