Feminists: What Were They Thinking?

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Feminists: What Were They Thinking?
Directed byJohanna Demetrakas
Produced byLisa Remington
StarringLaurie Anderson
Phyllis Chesler
Judy Chicago
CinematographyKristy Tully
Edited byKate Amend
Music byLili Haydn
Distributed byNetflix
Release dates
  • February 9, 2018 (2018-02-09) (Big Sky Documentary Film Festival)
  • October 12, 2018 (2018-10-12)
Running time
86 minutes
CountryUnited States

Feminists: What Were They Thinking? is a 2018 documentary film directed by Johanna Demetrakas and starring Laurie Anderson, Phyllis Chesler and Judy Chicago among others.[1] Women of different ages and backgrounds are interviewed by Demetrakas and a team of assistants on the subject of feminism, anchored in the book 'Emergence' with portraits by the photographer Cynthia MacAdams published in 1977.[2][3] The film was partly funded by the International Documentary Association and also by a crowd funding campaign that raised over $75,000.[4][5] It was released by Netflix on October 12, 2018.[6]


In 1977 a book with portraits was released called 'Emergence' by photographer Cynthia MacAdams which captured women embracing feminism by shedding cultural restrictions.[7][8] The documentary revisits those photos and those women, and contains interviews with women such as Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Judy Chicago, and at the same time tackling topics such as identity, abortion, race, childhood and motherhood.[9][10]

The film discusses the contribution of films like "9 to 5" and the emergence of feminist artworks like The Dinner Party with some of the people involved. The film does include the significant contribution of Lesbian women to feminism, but it is noted that it missed an opportunity to include trans women.[1] Erika Voeller of Mpls MadWomen notes that the women of color in the documentary express frustration with balancing their multiple identities within the movement but that the documentary misses an opportunity to delve more deeply into intersectional feminism.[11]



Paige Munshell of The Diamondback rated the film 3.5 out of 4 and wrote, "Ironically, this documentary is subject to a common critique of women’s art the film itself works to challenge: the brush-away claim that it is too sentimental, too emotional and not a serious work of art. The film is sentimental and emotional, but that doesn’t make it unimportant or unworthy of attention... The documentary perfectly balances the old and the new, the ways feminism has grown and the way forward it must continue to march. It fearlessly shows us beauty and ugliness, women who painstakingly created something in a world of men, not to be accepted by them but in defiance of them."[2]


It was released on February 9, 2018 on Netflix streaming.[12]


  1. ^ a b Robinson, Chauncey K. (17 October 2018). "Netflix feminists: Film on 1970s women's movement shows work still to do". www.peoplesworld.org. Retrieved 15 July 2019.
  2. ^ a b Munshell, Paige (16 October 2018). "Review: 'Feminists: What were they thinking?' paves the path forward for feminism". The Diamond Back. Archived from the original on 7 July 2019. Retrieved July 10, 2019.
  3. ^ Montgomery, Sarah Jasmine (26 March 2019). "Netflix doc 'Feminists: What Were They Thinking?' barely scratches the surface on feminism". www.dailydot.com. Retrieved 15 July 2019.
  4. ^ "FEMINISTS: What Were They Thinking?". International Documentary Association. Retrieved July 15, 2019.
  5. ^ "FEMINISTS: What Were They Thinking?". Kickstarter. Retrieved July 15, 2019.
  6. ^ "FEMINISTS: What Were They Thinking?". Ida - International Documentary Association. Retrieved July 7, 2019.
  7. ^ Stukin, Stacie (26 May 2017). "The Prescient Photographer Who Shot Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, Patti Smith and Other Famous Young Feminists of the 70's". W Magazine. Retrieved 15 July 2019.
  8. ^ O, Desiree (October 5, 2018). "Netflix's New Documentary Revisits 'Feminists: What Were They Thinking?'". www.brit.co. Retrieved 15 July 2019.
  9. ^ "Feminists: What Were They Thinking?". Lightbox Film Center. Retrieved July 7, 2019.
  10. ^ Stromberg, Matt (February 19, 2019). "A New Documentary Looks Back on the Legacy of Second-Wave Feminism". hyperallergic.com. Retrieved 15 July 2019.
  11. ^ "FEMINISTS: What Were They Thinking?". mplsmadwomen.com. Retrieved July 15, 2019.
  12. ^ Feminists: What Were They Thinking?. Netflix.

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