Suffrage and the Challenges Ahead

Bruno C. Becker’s Her First Flame (1920) predicted a future where the fight for equality had advanced far beyond the present. Gender is flipped upside-down throughout the silent film, with women depicted as romantic aggressors, breadwinners and gutsy heroes while men are seen cooking and cleaning at home. The sociopolitical landscape in this fictional 1950 is even one in which two women—Lizzie Hap (Gale Henry) and Minnie Fish (Milburn Morante)—are competing at the ballot box to be elected Chief of an all-woman Fire Department. 

Although women have certainly made strides toward equality since then, the obstacles still facing voters of all genders at the polls are much less slapstick than all that.

Capturing the Flag (2018) chronicles the experiences of three voter protection workers in North Carolina leading into the 2016 election. The film illustrates just how challenging it has become to realize the simple motto guiding the trio: “one person, one vote.” In the wake of a voter suppression law in the state, passed after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, Laverne Berry, Steven Miller and Claire Wright do all they can to help residents forge a path to the ballot box on election day. Throughout the day, they meet would-be voters who have been turned away by multiple polling stations; rejected because the DMV lost their paperwork; and even illegally purged from the voter rolls.

Together, these films force us to confront the lopsided nature of our democracy in the U.S.—and challenge us to dream wildly of what could come from finally leveling the political playing field. 


Carmen Rios is a feminist media-maker and movement-builder. She's currently a consulting editor at Ms. and the host of Bitch Media's Popaganda podcast, and was previously the managing digital editor at Ms. and the feminism editor, community director and social media co-director at Autostraddle. Her work has also been published by outlets like the Atlantic's CityLab, BuzzFeed, ElixHER, Feministing, Girlboss, Mic, MEL and Everyday Feminism; and she is additionally a co-founder of Webby-nominated Argot Magazine. You can find her on Twitter @carmenriosss.