“[Born in Flames] came out of the contradictions I saw in the feminist movement where white women, black women, Asian women, lesbians, prostitutes, and others were just not working together. Many of them didn’t even consider themselves feminists, although they were all engaged in separate but similar struggles. The whole point of Born in Flames was to create a microcosm in which they all worked together.”
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Lizzie Borden’s cult feminist film Born in Flames (1983). What would it mean to re-situate Borden’s work in the context of our contemporary political landscape? A recent special issue of the journal Feminism & Performance dedicated to Born in Flames explores this question, bringing together practitioners, activists, and academics to consider how Borden’s film can continue to inspire conversation surrounding the possibility of intersectional feminist movement and resistance. In their introduction, editors Craig Willse and Dean Spade call the film “a powerful reminder of the existence and tenuousness of political struggle, especially anti-racist/queer/feminist struggle, in the twenty-ﬁrst century.”**
Inspired by Willse’s and Spade’s efforts, Magic Lantern presents Born in Flames as part of a double-bill that also includes Borden’s celebrated follow-up feature, Working Girls (1986). Both films at the moment of their inception crossed over into the feminist debates and actions they grapple with. Set in the aftermath of a socialist revolution in the United States, Born in Flames explores fractures both within feminist and women’s movements and within the broader framework of class-based struggle. The film incorporates real activists from contemporaneous feminist struggles, many of whom scripted their own dialogue, in order to generate a space in which these disparate and often opposed figures could work together collectively. Working Girls, meanwhile, was borne out of Borden’s own extensive research into prostitution from interviewing and hanging out with johns and sex workers. Drawing on this material, Working Girls explores a day in the life of a fictional middle-class sex worker named Molly. Borden’s aim was to problematize feminist debates surrounding pornography and to situate the myriad real-life experiences of sex workers at the center of her narrative.
7:00 PM: Working Girls (1983, 90 min)
“Molly is a lesbian with an Ivy League degree. Gina plans on opening her own beauty salon. Dawn is a law student. Mary answered an ad to be a “hostess” and decided to try it. Welcome to a typical day in the life of a group of New York City prostitutes. Plying their trade in an expensive, immaculately maintained Manhattan bordello, they deal with everything from the mundane to the profane while servicing men of all shapes, sizes, and odd fetishes. For these working girls, every job may have its price, but every day has its cost. Award-winning feminist director Lizzie Borden (Born in Flames) spent six months interviewing real prostitutes for this acclaimed 1986 drama, delivering an unflinching look at “The World’s Oldest Profession” filled with rare humor, insight, and honesty.” – First Run Features
9:00 PM: Born in Flames (1986, 94 min)
“The movie that rocked the foundations of the early Indie film world, this provocative, thrilling and still-relevant classic is a comic fantasy of female rebellion set in America ten years after the Second American Revolution. When Adelaide Norris, the black radical founder of the Women’s Army, is mysteriously killed, a diverse coalition of women – across all lines of race, class, and sexual preference – emerges to blow the System apart.” – First Run Features
*Lizzie Borden interview, The Cineaste Interviews 2: Filmmakers on the Art and Politics of Cinema, eds. Gary Crowdus and Dan Georgakas (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009): 29.
**Craig Willse and Dean Spade, “We are Born in Flames” in Women & Performance 23.1 (March 2013): 1.