Movies

‘Still Working 9 to 5’ Highlights the Ongoing Fight for Equal Rights

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By Naomi Elias · Published on July fifteenth, 2022

9 to 5 was launched on Dec. 19, 1980. As a Christmas launch that wasn’t a Christmas film and featured three feminine leads — sardonic humorist Lily Tomlin, controversial activist/actor Jane Fonda, and a rising nation singer and beginner actress named Dolly Parton — the odds appeared stacked towards it. But, the really feel good film grew to become a shock field office hit that year second solely to The Empire Strikes Back. Still Working 9 to 5, a brand new documentary directed by Camille Hardman and Gary Lane, examines the comedy’s lasting cultural impression over forty years later. 

The documentary kicks off with a chilly open. Archival footage exhibits Fonda, considered one of the unique movie’s primary producers, on a chat present describing 9 to 5 as “a movie about secretaries fantasizing about murdering their boss.” The host sitting reverse her blankly follows up with “so, it’s not a political statement is it?” Fonda’s face doesn’t give a lot away in the second however this documentary — partly expository and partly reflective “making-of” — solutions the question in the affirmative. Yes, 9 to 5 was supposed to be a political assertion, and as the documentary proves, an enduring one. 

Using a mix of archival footage, speaking heads, and clips from the unique film, the documentary brings us into the behind the scenes battle to get this now beloved basic made. Though it’s arduous to perceive now, we see that it was no small miracle that Fonda and her producing partner Bruce Gilbert managed to convey this film to fruition as the trade at the time noticed it as a danger on each degree. The twosome had a transparent agenda in constructing a film round an thought; a mission to educate about the considerations of American working girls. Gilbert — who like Fonda, is absolutely conscious of the energy of films and media in influencing public notion — cites the social commentary movies of Preston Sturges and Fonda’s personal nuclear warning thriller, The China Syndrome, as references for the type of concern movie they set out to make. The documentary is a showcase for their profitable technique. 

Fonda’s connection to the then-raging second wave feminist motion helped give her a direct line to the girls 9 to 5 is about — the documentary notes that as many as 1 in 3 girls had been clerical employees in the Seventies —and ensured their considerations about equal pay, entry to childcare, sexual harassment, and wage theft had been each heard and included into the movie’s message. She was impressed by talks she had with activists Ellen Cassedy and Karen Nussbaum who co-founded the 9 to 5 National Association of Working Women and function speaking heads in the documentary. Other interviewees in the documentary embrace the unique cast, Fatima Goss Graves, CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, and Lilly Ledbetter, namesake of the Lilly Ledbetter Pay Act of 2009. 

Per Nussbaum, the picture in the common American’s thoughts after they considered work and employees in that period was “men in hard hats,” and this film provided a chance to change that. The movie’s costume designer, Ann Roth, underscores how 9 to 5 set out to present “the kind of women in Life magazine not Vogue.” The documentary dietary supplements their statements by weaving collectively footage of the core three actors’ off-screen connections to the girls’s motion with film clips. Alongside footage of Tomlin at a 1977 rally in help of the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in Virginia (which the state wouldn’t ratify till 2020), or on-the-street interviews with clerical employees explaining why they suppose they’re being shortchanged by the present pay system, are scenes from the movie like Tomlin’s character rightfully declaring the inequity of being handed over for promotions due to her gender whereas the males she helped practice leap up the company ladder or a scene through which considered one of the girls’s coworkers is fired for discussing her wage with one other coworker — a basic tactic meant to hold employees from asking for their price and/or unionizing.

While the finish results of the unique film was extra of a comedy, the documentary delineates how Fonda and Gilbert managed to efficiently conceal the medication in sweet because it had been and inform a really humorous however empowering story about the plight of feminine laborers that featured gags like a fantasy sequence displaying Tomlin as a deranged Snow White poisoning her boss. That scene, we be taught, was one which Tomlin virtually stop the film over for worry it was an excessive amount of. Surprising revelations like this give the documentary a enjoyable director’s commentary (take a look at our hear to 9 to 5‘s actual commentary track) feel as they are spliced with scenes from the movie while the actors reflect on them. Tomlin’s repeated threats to stop over things like not understanding director Colin Higgins’ novel mixing of live motion and animation, or how humorous she was delivering her character’s strains, assist us perceive how huge a danger the film was. “It wasn’t talked about then,” Fonda says of sexual harassment, “now it seems like ‘duh’.” Now, a film that includes Tomlin, Parton, and Fonda speaking about sexual harassment or something in any respect looks like duh. 

The documentary efficiently argues that 9 to 5’s legacy shouldn’t be the spin-offs it impressed in the type of an eponymous tv sequence, or two theater productions (one on Broadway in 2009 and the different in London’s West End in 2019), however moderately the undeniable fact that these spin-offs exhibit the unique movie’s enduring relevance. Concerns that the film and its spin-off media would really feel dated in the years following the unique theatrical run — voiced by cast members from offshoot productions like Allison Janney — rapidly dissipated thanks to actual life occasions like the Anita Hill trial, and the Me Too motion conserving the matters in the movie culturally related. The documentary folds these occasions into the narrative naturally establishing 9 to 5 as a key a part of an never-ending nationwide dialog. 

Though Parton claimed at the time that she was not a political particular person — she even remarks she was nervous about how her followers would obtain her appearing reverse a “radical” like Fonda  — she penned and sang the film’s title tune which grew to become a rallying cry for the feminist motion. The advantage of a look-back like Still Working 9 to 5 is twofold: for followers of the unique film, it’s an opportunity to see the primary cast come collectively and unlock heat recollections and behind the scenes tales like the notorious one about how Parton got here up with the melody for “9 to 5” whereas enjoying along with her nails. But, it additionally serves as a chaser to 9 to 5’s shot. The unique film was a Trojan horse using comedy to spotlight the points working girls wanted addressed; the documentary about the film is devoted to highlighting how far we’ve got left to go to handle them. 

When Fonda initially started organizing the thought for the movie it was in response to a cultural tipping level for girls’s points. Now, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, successfully ending federal abortion safety, a pandemic laying naked the gross gender burden of girls being pressured to exit the workforce at startlingly greater charges than males, and nationwide curiosity in workplace organizing hitting new highs, we’ve reached one other tipping level. As ERA activist Zoe Nicholson summarizes, “we advance and we go back and we advance and we go back.”

The phrase “still” in the documentary’s title is pointed. It reminds us that the objects on the feminist agenda that it helped convey to life visually and which can be nonetheless largely unchecked off practically fifty years later, are the motive why the unique movie was made, why it stays a basic, and why Still Working 9 to 5 exists. An up to date model of “9 to 5” that includes a Dolly Parton duet with Kelly Clarkson — who was born two years after the unique film’s launch —  hammers house the level additional. Years change however the tune stays the identical. 

Related Topics: 9 to 5, Still Working 9 to 5

Naomi Elias is a contributor at Film School Rejects. Her work has additionally appeared on IGN, Pajiba, Nylon, and Syfy Wire. You can observe her on Twitter right here: @naomi_elias (she/her)

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