The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has left another icon of gender equality, Gloria Steinem, thinking about the big picture of the 2020 presidential race.
“It’s yet another reason to win the next election and to vote,” says Steinem, the public face of the feminist movement for the last 50 years. “It’s just one more reason that this is the most important election in my lifetime ever.”
But the passing of Notorious RBG also leaves Steinem feeling, like so many other women, as if she’s lost a hero and a guide.
“Day by day, I want to say to myself, ‘What would Ruth do?'” Steinem says. “If I do that, if I ask myself that question, and do my best to do it, then Ruth will still be here. And I hope a lot of us can do that, everyone who knew or saw or honored her.”
At 86, Gloria Steinem has been on a remarkable journey, which she covered in her 2015 memoir “My Life on the Road.” Now that book has been adapted into “The Glorias,” a timely and emotionally resonant film by director Julie Taymor that’s now available Amazon Prime Video.
As a journalist and activist, Steinem has carved out a huge legacy of achievement that extends from helping launch Ms. Magazine to co-founding the National Women’s Political Caucus to fighting for the still-unrealized Equal Rights Amendment and beyond. In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
But “The Glorias” isn’t a career retrospective of a great woman. As interpreted by Taymor, who’s best known for audacious creative leaps like Broadway’s “The Lion King” and the Beatles soundtrack movie musical “Across the Universe,” it presents Steinem’s story as the bus ride of a lifetime.
The biopic stars four different actors as Steinem at various ages, with a twist. The Glorias don’t just portray her at different periods of her life; they’re able to see each other and, at times, interact during scenes set on a bus. The destination of the trip isn’t revealed until the end, but it provides an absolutely fitting conclusion.
There’s the little girl (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) whose charming father values adventure over his family’s stability; the lonely teen (Lulu Wilson) who cares for her mentally fragile mother; the young woman (Alicia Vikander) who struggles to be taken seriously as a writer and emerges as a voice for women’s rights; and the mature leader (Julianne Moore) with the aviator glasses and unflappable cool who takes on the political power structure in her war for equal treatment and respect for her sisters.
The credit for the movie’s insightful approach goes to Taymor, says Steinem, who put her trust in the director (and co-screenwriter) and wasn’t disappointed.
“It seems to me she’s a genius filmmaker of our time. I had faith she would tell the emotional truth. I wasn’t present (during the filming). I didn’t have any conditions. I just had faith in who she is as a filmmaker.”
Steinem calls Taymor’s use of “the Greyhound bus through time” a genius approach for the bio-pic. “I could not imagine how she could do a book that covers eight decades and two continents. But she invented a way to do it.”
Fittingly, Steinem’s story shares the screen with snapshots of key feminist titans who were her friends and allies, including Dorothy Pitman Hughes (Janelle Monae), Flo Kennedy (Lorraine Toussaint), Bella Abzug (Bette Midler) and Wilma Mankiller (Kimberly Guerrero).
But it’s the bond the Glorias have with each other — a comforting hug here, a validating comment there — that gives the movie a surprising tenderness.
Asked what she would share with the Glorias in the film at this point in her life, Steinem says, “I think what I would say to my childhood and teenage self and 20s self is it’s going to be all right.”
As depicted in the film, Steinem defied expectations for young women of her generation.
“I was supposed to lead a certain kind of life, have a regular job, get married and have children. In the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s, there was much more of a formula for women’s lives, which I was not doing. I was rebelling. I was just hoping no one would notice,” she say with a laugh. “I wish I had had more faith in rebelling as an act of will and uniqueness.”
Steinem’s importance as a political and cultural figure has led recently to other fictional portrayals of her. In June, Christine Lahti played Steinem in “Great Performances — Gloria: A Life,” a PBS airing of the 2018-19 off-Broadway play. In the TV version, Lahti was joined onstage in the second act by her friend Steinem.
Also this year, Rose Byrne played Steinem in the FX on Hulu miniseries “Mrs. America.” Steinem wasn’t involved in the project and says it was “false in its basis” for portraying Phyllis Schlafly and her homemaker allies, not corporate foes, as the prime forces behind the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment.
“I clearly wanted to have nothing to do with it, but once you’re a public figure, there’s nothing you can do about it,” says Steinem.
Nearly half a century since battling to ratify the ERA, Steinem is still going strong in her mission to reach gender equality and to preserve rights that are protected by law, like reproductive rights.
“Reproductive freedom and reproductive rights are very important, because if we don’t have the rights to decide the fates of our own bodies, then we can’t really have much power over the rest of our lives,” Steinem says.
As someone who helped pave the way for current gains like the #MeToo movement, Steinem is heartened by its global spread. “You see a change in consciousness becoming a change in law, becoming a change in people’s lives and a change in the number of people having access to new rights.”