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"We Are The Radical Monarchs" is The Film We Need Right Now: A Conversation With Director, Linda Goldstein Knowlton

"No surprise, it's inspiring, but it's also a much-needed reminder of the resilience and brilliance that can be instilled in young women when they are given opportunities guided by awareness and activism, and rooted in love."
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The DNC begins tonight. We will be watching, listening and supporting, but please allow us to offer some affirming, empowering, and reassuring content to balance what could be a tenuous week: We Are The Radical Monarchs

The documentary, which is streaming for free through Wednesday, August 19th on PBS, tells the story of the impetus and creation of the first Radical Monarchs troop. The Monarchs, as stated by one of its founders, Marilyn, focuses "specifically on issues that affect young women of color." 

The film shares the journey of the group and two women who were an integral part of its inception, and follows the Radical Monarchs as they learn about various social justice issues and become budding activists, earning badges like Black Lives Matter, Radical Pride, and Pachamama Justice. No surprise, the film is inspiring, but it's also a much-needed reminder of the resilience and brilliance that can be instilled in young women when they are given opportunities guided by awareness and activism, and rooted in love. Or, as our Executive Editor's ten-year-old told a friend after watching the film: "It's a movie about girls who instead of selling cookies, are selling justice." 

The documentary was directed by feature film producer and documentary director, Linda Goldstein Knowlton, and we spoke with Knowlton a few days after watching the film ourselves. We wanted to know about her experience creating We Are The Radical Monarchs, what guides her project choices, and what she learned from the radical young women she featured. 

You initially produced feature films but then pivoted to documentaries. Tell us the reason behind that shift.

I'd always love documentaries. I mean, I love watching them. I guess I love real people. I think it's as a filmmaker in general, I'm drawn to certain kinds of stories that are harder to get made and that deal with emotions and real people. I'm not calculated. It's more about what strikes my interest at that time—where have I grown? What have I learned from making one film to be like, oh, that makes me better equipped to tell this other story?

What was your favorite part of filming and what you're most proud of about the film?

I feel like what I'm most proud of—and I feel like I can also answer this on behalf of my producing partner and editor Katie Flynt—is that we developed a relationship of trust and collaboration with Anayvette and Marilyn...and the kids and the families, of course, too. But, it was it was much more of us being in each other's lives with them [Anayvette and Marilyn]. I mean, the fact that we could create a relationship of of such trust and collaboration is what I'm really proud of. That, and and that they like the movie.

Of course they liked the movie! 

And it's not like we made a movie for them to like, but it's great they liked it. They appreciated it in the way that it accurately portrayed their story and that they felt comfortable with us. I mean, part of my part of my conversations with them was, you know, I understand that some movies, it's ok for an outsider to tell (the story) and sometimes it's not...and so let me tell you why I want to tell your story. 

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I'm a middle aged white woman. I feel like what I have to offer in trying to tell your story is that I can use my privilege of being in the film industry to amplify your story. I feel like that's what I can bring to the table, and the fact that I have worked with children before, and have shared vulnerable stories and that I'm not about gotcha journalism—I'm about collaboration. 

And what Marilyn said was, "You know, most often the work of women of color is invisible. So you can document our work, and that's an act of allyship." So that's what I'm most proud of, is that we that we went on this journey together and that we could create a film about them, collaborating with them in a way that they feel accurately portrayed the experience. I feel good we told their story in a way that they feel good about. 

I learned that for me, being an ally, I mean, I'm glad I've been an ally in my life, but that what I need, what I am striving for now, is to be an accomplice—which means I need to always use my voice to be anti-racist. Allies are needed and people who are stepping into these ideas, people are going to start as allies, I hope. But for me, I learned a lot about what being an accomplice means and what I want to hold myself to. I've got a ton to learn. I mean, I had to unlearn and relearn, and I am of course still learning. 

Is there an experience or moment that sticks out most prominently to you? 

I would say my favorite experience with them was being in Sacramento and watching these girls, young women now, having seen how much they've grown, but then also just being present for where they were standing. Witnessing them just being themselves and presenting themselves to these legislators, it was remarkable. And then just seeing the Radical Monarchs say their vision statement, and to watch them to step into their brilliance. It's like Anayvette and Marilyn say they're already brilliant, but it's giving them the space and the tools to step into their bodies and step into themselves and be themselves. So that was something that stood out specific with Sacramento.

And then at the end of filming we did a little on-the-fly interviews, asking the girls, "What did you take from this experience?" or "What did you think about that?" And there was one girl who had been very, very shy. During filming she very much reminded me of my daughter, she would never look me in the eye when I was interviewing her, and I totally felt her. But, I was asking her these questions at the end of the project and she just looked at me in the eye and said, "I'm going to be governor of California." It felt like it was like this incredible blossoming that we all got to experience at the same time. And at the time she was finishing eighth grade, so when she started high school, she ran for school government and won, then she ran for class president and won. 

That's amazing, the transformation you were able to witness over those three and a half years must have been incredible. 

Yes! Actually, several months later, we were doing our film festival jaunt and there was one weekend where we had three festivals all at the same time. And the same girl and her mom attended the Seattle International Film Festival on the film's behalf, and she did all the Q&As herself! We actually won best documentary at SIFF! We also won my other favorite award, which is best film for families. It is an award that is given based on kid's opinions, almost a tween/teen type of jury. 

Congratulations, Linda! View the trailer for Radical Monarchs below and view the film in its entirety here

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