Photos from Emergence by Cynthia MacAdams. l to r: Cynthia MacAdams, Lily Tomlin, Meredith Monk, Gloria Steinem (image courtesy Skirball Cultural Center)

In 1977, photographer and actress Cynthia MacAdams published Emergence, a book of black-and-white photographs of female activists, artists, and actresses including Judy Chicago, Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas. “I looked for women who could say, ‘Fuck off,’ if they didn’t agree with you,” MacAdams wrote in an artist statement accompanying the book’s release, “for women who had strength and softness in their eyes and a directness in the way they dealt with their life.” Although some critics of the time dismissed the book as simply a “celebrity album,” as did the New York Times, and its overwhelming focus on white women is no doubt problematic, it still stands as a meaningful document of second-wave feminism, warts and all.

The new documentary Feminists: What Were They Thinking? looks back at the book’s legacy, catching up with some of its subjects, as well as new feminist voices, to see how things have changed and what has frustratingly remained the same. Next Tuesday’s screening at the Skirball Cultural Center will be followed by a discussion with the director Johanna Demetrakas — whose previous films focused on feminist installation Womanhouse and Judy Chicago — composer, singer, and choreographer Meredith Monk; and Funmilola Fagbamila, professor of Pan African Studies at Cal State LA, and one of the founders of Black Lives Matter.

When: Tuesday, February 26, 7:30pm ($15 general / $10 members)
Where: Skirball Cultural Center (2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Brentwood, Los Angeles)

More info at Skirball Cultural Center.

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Matt Stromberg

Matt Stromberg is a freelance visual arts writer based in Los Angeles. In addition to Hyperallergic, he has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, CARLA, Apollo, ARTNews, and other publications.

2 replies on “A New Documentary Looks Back on the Legacy of Second-Wave Feminism”

  1. So why write an article about a book that erases a larger portion of second wave feminist. Second Wave Feminism, was driven by a strong input by US activist and intellectuals from the Hispanic, Native, African American, Global South activist and intellectuals. Inclusive of work done by Caribbean, Africa, India, South American, European activist and intellectuals.

    Celebrating a book as flawed only highlights, privelidge, racism, class, capitalism….the book is conceptually weak, historically incorrect; this is important in the US, where erasure happens. It sad…

  2. In 1977 the market for this book was more than likely white, female and middle class? A fascinating time piece. Checking in today with, say, Lily Tomlin, now pushing 80, can tell us how far we’ve come, or not. A book written in 2019 would of course be more inclusive.

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