‘Strong Female Lead’ an Athena Film Festival Review
One in three Australian women experience discrimination in the workplace. Julia Gillard, Australia’s first and last female Prime Minister ran the gauntlet of misogyny, discrimination, chauvinism and sexism from her own party members, members of the opposition and the media. What she endured, no woman should have to suffer in the workplace. Sadly, not much has changed since she served for three years as the 27th Prime Minister of Australia. Filmmaker Tosca Looby’s Strong Female Lead sets the record straight chronicling Gillard’s war years bravely standing up to men assiduously devoted to destroying her career and her resolve.
The documentary that screened at Athena Film Festival makes a leap in the right direction of supporting and denouncing the attacks and vilification of Gillard, a representative of women in political leadership. The film reveals that their brilliance and personal power frightened men unable to deal with their own personal issues with women. Clips of these craven, which Looby culls from mounds of archived film, TV and radio clips disgrace and humiliate themselves. They slander and excoriate Gillard instead of supporting her governance and properly upholding the rule of law with the integrity and grace due the offices they hold for the sake of Australians.
In her superb, difficult to watch film Looby cobbles together a record of film and TV clips, statements, film clips of protests, radio commentary and quotes in her exhaustive documentary. What she unfortunately reveals is the egregious, childish behavior of the males in their smear campaign to oust Julia Gillard almost from the moment she takes office in 2010. Indeed, she reveals how they worked prodigiously day and night to divide her party so she would be ousted in 2013. That Gillard’s brave leadership as PM got many programs accomplished despite the attacks is to her credit. One wonders how much more she would have accomplished if she had more support from the media.
Unbelievably, the opposition under the leadership of Tony Abbot at the time preferred to abuse her daily, mentoring hatred for the daughters and wives of Australian ministers and citizens. Abbott, a conservative (think anti LGBTQ, same-sex marriage, anti women’s rights) had no problem slamming Gillard’s personal life. Bloodletting was his purpose, not governance. His shameful acts and comments in parliament are recorded historically in Looby’s documentary, for all time, behaviors and comments seen cumulatively in Looby’s film provide a visceral and raw record of behavior antithetical to human decency required of a member of parliament and possibly a future Prime Minister.
Thus, Lobby’s film Strong Female Lead enumerates the level and extent of hatred and insult Gillard withstood in parliament and the media. Brave is not the word to describe her. Anointed, Godly, spirited is more the behavior she demonstrated. If anyone deserved to be PM, it was she. Sadly, the citizens have cretins and blowhards to govern them, a complete joke which rivals the United States insurrectionist blowhards in the Republican Party, one whose own brother and family denounced him, stating he belonged in a mental institution and should be removed from office.
However, the parliament and Abbott were not implying Gillard was a witch alone. They were helped by right wing conservative media who whipped up crowds and protests that Tony Abbott self-righteously appeared before as the savior of Australia, while milking the empaths with statements about helping Indigenous populations in various parts of the country. When there was a spotlight shining on Abbott, he puffed up like a red rooster.
In her commentary before the film Looby apologizes for including the misogyny and hate-filled clips. However, she mentions that out of the resources at her disposal, all archived on television and radio, she selected the ones that were the least offensive. That is amazing. So the signs flashed on TV that Abbott stood next to that read, “Ditch the Witch” and “Bob Brown’s Bitch” were tame. Ironically, this leaves us wondering, what didn’t she include? Additionally, Looby’s extensive coverage of vile Alan Jones of 2GB radio, now, a former host whose contract has not been renewed by Sky News and who has been repeatedly sued for defamation, is particularly loathsome.
For direct hate-filled sexism and misogyny, Jones rivals the most monstrous. During Gillard’s tenure as PM, her father died. Jones takes a salt mine of vitriol rubs it in Gillard’s grieving wounds claiming her father “died of shame” because of her behavior. Mind you, what horrific things did she do? Disagree with his right-wing, conservative politics? Later, Looby includes his apology which of course rings so insincerely the next time he launches out and spews more venom at her. Indeed, he was Tony Abbott’s good little puppy. That was a deal made in the abyss.
However, one of the most uplifting clips Looby makes sure to include is Gillard’s queenly speech, filled with integrity and grace that answers all of what Abbott attempts to smear her party member (sexism and misogyny). The speech went viral and Gillard will forever be remembered for the power and brilliance with which she spoke.
Looby makes an incredible case for Gillard’s abuse at the hands of the opposition, Abbott, the right-wing media and other’s sexism. She seamlessly edits the pre-existing materials, visual and audio, sourced predominantly from television and radio. Interestingly, the indictment falls not only on these guilty of their bravado of sexism. She makes a clear, defining statement about the inappropriate misogynistic media.
Since Gillard retired from politics and her party lost, Abbott became Prime Minister for two years and then was also ousted from the opposition party. Critics and experts agree that he is one of the worst Prime Ministers in Australia’s history. Meanwhile, Gillard has gone on to remain active. In April 2021, Gillard was appointed chair of the board of Governors at Wellcome Trust, a charitable trust which supports research and innovation in medicine, public health, mental health and climate change. Additionally, Gillard was recently honored by the award of the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun from the Government of Japan. This was formally presented to her by the Ambassador of Japan to Australia. Gillard is the 8th Australian prime minister to receive the award.
Looby uplifts Gillard’s courage to be who she chooses to be. If it rocks the status quo in conservative circles, so be it. She once stated that she could never run for a political position in the U.S. with her lifestyle. She is an atheist, childless and has lived with her partner Tim Mathieson since 2006. They are not married. During her tenure as PM, Looby includes clips by the media during which she receives incredible pressure about her lifestyle and her relationship with Tim and his career. Gillard’s responses were humorous and clever. Of course Jones and Abbott piled on the heat and abused her with her unhousewifely behaviors, choice of partner, not having children and having a career in politics. In her speech credited and included above, she answers Abbott’s sexism.
This is a film to see if you need the courage of convictions in presenting your choices. Gillard’s strength in being proud and standing up for herself by calling out misogyny is an imperative all should follow. Look for Strong Female Lead on VOD and updates on IMBD.