Going Off Script with Grace Lee, Director of MAKERS: Women in Politics

Grace Lee spoke with senators and representatives, journalists and community leaders for MAKERS: Women in Politics, the final film in our six-part series rewriting women into history. We caught up with her to hear about her most inspiring moments, and what she hopes people will take away from her documentary. Lee directed and produced Women in Politics along with producer Rory Kennedy.

Why do you think this is an important film?

The program provides a window into some of the obstacles women in elective office have faced during this long, slow march towards equality, and hopefully inspires others to figure out how we can get there faster. Women make up more than 50 percent of the population yet our elected leaders, our visible leaders, are still less than 20 percent.   

What is one thing you learned in the process of making this? 

I loved meeting the current generation of younger women in politics like Rashida Tlaib and Raquel Castaneda-Lopez from Detroit who see it as an extension of the work they were already doing as community members. But they are only entering after being asked an average of five times. It was striking to learn how many women serving in the Senate and House for years also had to be asked multiple times to run, and convince themselves that they were up for the task. The lesson I take away from this is we need to keep asking highly qualified women to run and represent us, and then back them up with support--financial and otherwise.   

What’s your favorite takeaway from this film? 

I loved digging deeper into the impact the Clarence Thomas/Anital Hill sexual harassment hearings had on galvanizing a new generation of women to run for office in 1992. 

Senator Barbara Mikulski's quote, "Don't get mad, get elected," says it all. It was also a time when people actively campaigned as women, showing the public that a more diverse perspective was crucial to a democracy.    

How can viewers follow up with this film? Are there websites or other films you would recommend to further the inspiring, informative track?

The Center for American Women in Politics  is a non-partisan research center based at Rutgers University.  It's a great starting point for anyone wanting to get the hard facts about women in American politics. 

The House of Representatives' own website also has a great overview of  the history of women in Congress.

The documentary "Chisholm '72: Unbought and Unbossed" by Shola Lynch shows Shirley Chisholm's historic run for the Democratic nomination for president in 1972.  

If you made another film on the same subject in a year, how would your focus change?

I would focus on women getting involved at the state and local level.  As we see Congress plagued by partisanship and gridlock, state and local government are arenas where women can have a more direct and immediate impact on their constituents.  I would also look at politics more broadly and include people who aren't necessarily in office, but working as community organizers, lobbyists and activists to see how they can help move the dialogue and put the pressure on our elected officials to create change.