Barnard’s Athena Sheds Light on American Heroines

Taylor Stout
Barnard College hosted their eighth annual Athena Film Festival at Morningside Heights on Feb. 22-25.

Barnard College’s eighth annual Athena Film Festival took place this past weekend in Morningside Heights to represent and honor women in the film industry.

Film is a notoriously male-dominated industry, and women often experience a lack of respect and support as they struggle to find a platform to share their work. Athena aims to change that. Through a variety of screenings, panels, workshops and award ceremonies, the Athena Film Festival highlights the influence and importance of strong female leaders in film and beyond.

As part of its vital mission, the festival screened director Valerie Red-Horse Mohl’s invigorating and essential documentary “Mankiller” as its centerpiece film. A panel with Mohl, “Mankiller” executive producer Gale Anne Hurd, activist and journalist Gloria Steinem and the Washington Post’s chief film critic Ann Hornaday followed the screening.

“Mankiller” tells the story of the Cherokee Nation’s first female chief, Wilma Mankiller. Through a combination of interviews and archival footage, the film portrays Mankiller as a fierce and unstoppable force and, beyond that, an American hero who gave everything she had to help and empower those around her. Even Steinem believed Mankiller could have been the United States’ Commander in Chief.

“She was president of her nation,” Steinem said to an audience member.

During the panel, Steinem explored an important tenet of Mankiller’s politics: excellent leaders focus not on having power over people, but giving power to people. Under the United States’ current callous and narrow-minded administration, she said leaders like Mankiller can serve as positive role models for the younger generation to create a future where, as Steinem said, people are linked, not ranked. It is because of this message that those who call themselves Americans must watch “Mankiller.”

Much like “Mankiller,” the festival’s closing film — “The Post” — illuminated the life of an influential woman who defended the American people in the face of adversity and sexism.

Steven Spielberg’s latest feature tells the story of Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep), the first female publisher of the Washington Post. Graham was faced with making the decision to publish the Pentagon Papers in spite of governmental threats and the potential loss of the paper that had been in her family for years.

In a digital age, “The Post” is a stirring homage to print media. The camera fixates ardently on the sturdy and mechanical printing press, the dark ink of words and the smooth tactility of the paper. And while it is set in the ‘60s and ‘70s, its message feels more pertinent than ever. When journalism exposes the truth and holds those in power accountable, every letter has an impact and every story has a consequence. In the case of “The Post,” a strong woman is behind it all.

[Graham] was delivered into this moment in history,” Streep told WSN in December, “and made a pivotal decision that would affect the entire country and the progress of the government’s attempt to control the press.”

However, history regularly silences female voices and belittle their efforts. Whether it’s Graham, Mankiller or the other inspiring women featured at the festival –– ranging from iconic superhero Wonder Woman to the imperfect, teenage Lady Bird –– the films showcased at Athena Film Festival shed light on stories and voices that have too often been silenced. Athena showed that women are not footnotes in history but rather they are essential and empowering chapters.

Email Taylor Stout at [email protected]

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