Gloria Steinem is a figure who unquestionably deserves to have her story told. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, however, The Glorias could’ve been another by the numbers biopic. Thankfully, this life story has an ace up its sleeve: director Julie Taymor. While best known for her work in Broadway productions like The Lion King, Taymor has also left her mark on cinema with Titus and Across the Universe, not to mention the 2002 biopic Frida. Just as she did for Frida Kahlo, Taymor brings her signature visual flair and passion to Steinem’s life story. Steinem has dedicated her life to achieving equal rights for women. The Glorias not only reminds us why Steinem is such an extraordinary figure, but also why we need more female directors like Taymor.
The film is called The Glorias rather than simply Gloria for a couple of reasons. For starters, four different actresses portray Steinem. Ryan Kiera Armstrong plays a young Steinem, who travels across the country with her family. When her father sets off on his own to find work, Steinem is left to take care of her mentally ill mother. Lulu Wilson from The Haunting of Hill House portrays teenage Steinem, who must grow up fast due to her mother’s deteriorating health and father’s absence. Fast-forward to the late-50s when Steinem is a young woman played by Alicia Vikander. Following an extended stay in India, Steinem returns to the States where she finds work as a journalist, eventually landing her big break thanks to a Playboy Bunny exposé.
The Glorias primarily belongs to Julianne Moore, who picks up with Steinem during the 70s when she co-founded Ms., a feminist magazine. Taymor’s screenplay, based on Steinem’s memoir, tells parts of the story out of order. This could’ve resulted in another disjointed, pretentious mess like The Goldfinch. Like Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women, though, the nonlinear narrative is put to effective use. It demonstrates how much Steinem changes over time, occasionally having the four actresses portraying her engage in a conversation. While all four have their differences, each faces challenges that they ultimately overcome. It makes for a fascinating exploration behind the aviator glasses.
Steinem was previously played by Rose Byrne in the miniseries Mrs. America. The Emmys sadly overlooked Byrne’s firecracker take on Steinem, but hopefully Vikander and Moore can ignite some Oscar buzz for their performances here. The Glorias alludes to a few other figures from Mrs. America, including Phyllis Schlafly. This film keeps the spotlight on Steinem, however, providing a deeper dive into her life. Even if you’ve seen Mrs. America, you’ll walk away from The Glorias with a fresh perspective on Steinem. You’ll also be encouraged to do more research on Dorothy Pitman Hughes (Janelle Monáe) and Bella Abzug (Bette Midler), two other key players in the Women’s Movement.
It’s something of a tragic irony that The Glorias is releasing shortly after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is briefly mentioned. With Ginsburg’s Supreme Court justice seat up for grabs, the right for equality is bound to become even fiercer. Even at 86-year-old, Steinem is still fighting and enlisting others to join here. In that sense, the film’s title doesn’t just refer to the various stages in Gloria’s life. It applies to everyone who’s been inspired by Steinem’s actions to make the world a more accepting place.
THE GLORIAS is available for purchase on Digital and Streaming exclusively on Prime Video starting September 30th.