While far from the first instance, Pratibha Pramar’s latest documentary My Name Is Andrea is one of the more high profile reclamations that radfem writer/orator Andrea Dworkin has yet attempted. The work feels like an inevitability in this ongoing, decade-plus moment where feminist sentiment has been mainstreamed, divorced from ideological specificities, reducing the eclectic, nuanced bodies of work of a good number of activists and philosophers down to bookstore souvenirs and Etsy trinkets. Dworkin’s writing and persona have thus far managed to resist this type of crass commodification (on a mass scale anyway) mostly thanks to the fact that it’s all founded on a rigid, unyielding belief that the power systems dictating society are propped up by rape, and in turn actively promote and encourage it through pornography and the sex work industry. Dworkin has never wavered from this stance, despite the fact that it alienated her from large swaths of the feminist and queer activist communities and placed her in uneasy alliance with the far-right she was otherwise assailing. A figure still too radical for the Western liberal, but also only further removed from dominant feminist ideology with each passing year, it seems a silly errand to try and repackage Dworkin for 2022 audiences, yet that is precisely Pramar’s project with My Name Is Andrea.
Regardless of the shortcomings and patronizing qualities of her philosophy, Andrea Dworkin is obviously an iconoclast worthy of cinematic depiction, nonfiction or otherwise. An evocative writer with a proportionately fiery speaking style that she’s used to tell the stories behind the statistics, Dworkin is able to describe the pain and traumas associated with sexual and domestic violence with an appropriate ferocity that cuts through our collective numbness. Truly, it’s a remarkable accomplishment that My Name Is Andrea naturally frontloads via a choice selection of rousing archival clips, but the more fraught, contentious elements of the Dworkin ethos are breezed on over, Pramar opting for a more sanitized summation. It also surely doesn’t help that friend and CIA opp Gloria Steinem is on hand as a producer, here to help steer her deceased peer’s legacy, recasting her as a sort of misunderstood everywoman. To get this notion across, Hollywood actresses like Ashley Judd, Amandla Stenberg, and Andrea Riseborough appear in hazy reenactments that have each woman sort of playing Dworkin, but also sort of playing themselves and the women she wrote about. A trite gimmick of recent nonfiction filmmaking, it’s also entirely antithetical to the writer’s proudly unchic personal style and loud rejection of the patriarchal expectations concerning femininity. But My Name Is Andrea is a generally glossy affair, and its authors are invested in delivering a clean product above all else, even when it means forgoing an honest depiction of their subject, who it’s hard to imagine would have cared much for this tribute. Though, of course, it will hardly win over detractors either, as the film’s narrative slyly skates over Dworkin’s objectionable, irresponsible anti-porn work in neutral tone in the closing minutes, while also ignoring her anti-sex work campaigning and criticisms from queer peers altogether. Unlikely to please anyone outside of the committed film festival circuiters, who it’s performed quite well with, My Name Is Andrea fails to transcend the worst cliches of nonfiction, biography filmmaking, only managing a misleading depiction of its subject in exchange.
Published as part of Tribeca Film Festival 2022 — Dispatch 5.