Documentary Film Analysis

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Name:______________________________________   Class:  Civil War & Reconstruction   Date:_____________________

Documentary Film Analysis (must be typed) Film Title:   Amendment 19: Women’s Right to Vote

Documentary category

____(3)  1.  Select which category [in parentheses] this documentary fits into and explain why you think it best fits into that classification. (awareness/social concerns, biography,    research/informative, investigative)


This documentary is both an informative & an awareness film.  It makes viewers aware of U.S. Constitution issues & further amendments that needed to be passed to ensure rights of citizens, especially the addition of the 19th Amendment, granting the vote to women.  The film makes viewers aware of how rights for women were lacking prior to  passage of the 19th Amend.

Themes within this documentary

____(3)  2.  Discuss at least three major themes within this documentary, using examples from             the film to support your choice.  Your discussion should consist of a paragraph for each           theme & its examples. [examples of themes might be: rebellion, loyalty, oppression,    fear,  freedom, heroism, reform, hatred, discrimination, conflict].


One major theme of this film is suppression of citizens’ rights in America.  Discussion focuses on the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. The first ten amendments to the Constitution were passed by Congress in 1791 & their intent was to limit the federal government from restricting the rights of its citizens in democratic America.

There was suppression of women’s voices in both legal and political matters.  The film clearly showed how women were stopped at the voting booths.  One brave woman who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, Susan B. Anthony, was put in jail because she dared to attempt to vote.


Because the federal government did limit rights, irony is also a theme of this film.  Although the Bill of Rights was supposed to allow for rights of its citizens, many people were denied a voice, their freedom, and their rights such as African Americans, Native Americans, & women.  Mention is also made that earlier groups in America gained rights long before half of its population did (women).  Ironically, the framers and interpreters of the Constitution were all white wealthy males.


Because of the long & difficult struggle for women’s suffrage,  perseverance and determination were also critical themes of the film.  Women did not get the right to vote for 75 years.  Nonetheless, suffragists never gave up their long enduring battle to gain the vote, despite all of the roadblocks that were laid before them to thwart their efforts.  Visuals showed women working tirelessly to obtain rights that should have been theirs from the beginning of America as an independent nation.

title relevance

____(3)  3.   How is the title relevant to one or all of the theme(s) you mentioned in #2?


The title is relevant in that it is the final accomplishment of all that the women (& men) sought to achieve to gain the vote.  It reflects the perseverance and determination in their fight to achieve the vote.

documentary response

____(3)   4.  What kind of response do you think  the filmmaker hopes to evoke from his/her     viewing audience?  Discuss what you believe the filmmaker’s purpose is; how does            he/she hope to reach his viewing audience?


The filmmaker wants to evoke awareness & possibly some anger that it took so long for women to gain the vote in democratic America.  The Bill of Rights guaranteed rights & freedoms, but the filmmaker makes it clear that it wasn’t to every U.S. citizen. She/he wants to reach her/his viewing audience through shock and awareness, showing what women endured just because they wanted to obtain what was rightfully theirs – the vote.

filmmaker’s position in the development of the film

____(3)  5.   How would you describe the filmmaker’s particular position in the development of            this film?  Does he/she intentionally take a strong stance (choose sides) or remain       impartial?  Why do you think he/she takes the stance he/she does?  How do you feel            about his/her stance?


This film clearly favors all citizens having rights in America, particularly the right to vote. The filmmaker wants the audience to know what people, especially women, went through, despite the U.S. Constitution & its Bill of Rights, to gain freedom and the right to vote.  The film discusses some of the key women who helped make it happen such as Susan B. Anthony.  It becomes

clear that she and her sisters in suffrage embarked on an uphill battle in order to secure the franchise for women. The filmmaker would not have had an effective documentary if she/he had indicated women should not have gotten the vote.  I think she/he wanted viewers to see how painful the whole process was & how long it took for the 19th Amendment to come about.  I think her/his stance (position) was the only one that could be taken given the subject matter.

Impact the filmmaker is trying to achieve

____(3)  6.  What impact is the filmmaker trying to achieve with his/her audience through the visuals employed in the film?  Describe in detail at least three visuals  (images; scenes;    segments, etc.) that strongly impacted you.

The film begins in color with a shot of American Revolution soldiers showing their fight for independence.  Although the film has nothing to do with the Revolutionary War, it connects to the theme of independence and freedom.  Although America gained its freedom, all Americans were not granted it.

At the beginning of the segment on the 19th Amendment, the film in black and white displays the words of the 19th Amendment read by a woman.  It is a simple statement but packed with a great deal of meaning for women of America. Alice Paul, the hero of passage of the Amendment is shown in black and white.  She sacrificed so much so that women could vote.  Also displayed is one of the many parades where women marched to obtain the vote.

The visuals move from black and white (of older images) to color shots (representing modern day).  The filmmaker uses many old black and white images/sketches of some of the earliest women’s rights leaders to allow viewers to put names to faces.  Images were of men and women who sought rights for the women of America.  There were also some black and white cartoon images regarding the suffrage issue.  Maps help to locate some of the earliest places in America where regional suffrage was initially granted.

Audio devices the filmmaker utilizes

____(3)   7.  Offer at least three kinds of audio devices the filmmaker utilizes in the film (ex:      voice, music, narration, background sounds).  How do you think such devices impact the             viewing audience? 


Narration is important to this film for it provides a historical account of how women forged ahead through time to gain the right to vote.  Gene Shay, the narrator, discusses the long road to suffrage for many citizens in America, but clearly women had the longest struggle.  Music plays in the background.  It is not the same throughout the film.  At times it is softly playing while at other moments of “excitement” the music becomes much more upbeat.

There are also shouts that can be heard against women suffragists as they marched in parades to bring their message to the public.  Those shouts from men and women indicate what the suffragists had to endure since many were against them getting the vote.  It’s interesting that, although this is a film about women gaining the right to vote, there is a male narrator telling their story!

Expert testimonies or primary sources

____ (3)  8.  Describe at least three expert testimonies or primary sources (eye witnesses/        archival  footage and documents such as diaries/journals/maps/charts) that the        filmmaker employs.  How do such sources lend credibility to the documentary and   convince the audience of its authenticity?


Dr. Nadine Strossen, President of the ACLU, discusses how the 14th Amendment should have allowed women to vote, but the U.S. government did not interpret it as such. She also spoke about the Equal Rights Amendment & its uphill efforts. Dr. David Trevaskis, from Temple University School of Law, discusses the immediate reaction of some U.S. states who claimed the 19th Amendment was an attack on their sovereignty.

There are black & white pictures & “movies” of early days of the suffrage fight that help viewers understand what suffragists faced with a hostile environment pushing back against them every day. These primary sources as well as the “expert” witnesses who have done much research on the issue help viewers to believe more of what the film is saying.  They are credible witnesses and the older pictures confirm what they are telling regarding the suffragists’ experiences in the long battle for the vote.

Historical significance (importance) of this film

____(3)   9.  Discuss the historical significance (importance) of this film for the time period it                               covers in U. S. history.


This film discusses how, since gaining independence from Britain, Americans have fought for their freedom and their right to vote.  The film explains how, initially, religious qualifications were abolished and then property qualifications, in order to vote.  It took a horrid Civil War in America for Black males to gain enfranchisement which they only held onto for a short time due to severe racism against them.

It was not until the 1960s with passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that they again could begin to vote without fear and intimidation.  Finally came the women who fought a 75-year battle for suffrage.  Women like Susan B. Anthony were powerful leaders in the struggle for the vote.

When the 19th Amendment was passed, it was named the Susan B. Anthony Amendment to honor a woman who gave her life for the cause.  She had said, “Failure is impossible”  and this film showed the truth of her words. The significance clearly demonstrates how many groups in America had to fight for their rights & right to vote despite America claiming to be a democracy.

Film’s key messages (themes)

____(3)  10.  Discuss whether the film’s key messages (themes) are portrayed realistically          and/or accurately? Does the filmmaker get his/her message(s) across well?  If not, what do you feel needs to be changed?


This film is powerful in that it helps to educate viewers about the long, enduring struggle that women (and some men) went through to gain the right for women to vote in America.  Within the film, the words to the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution are cited: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

These words were  added to the U.S. Constitution, granting suffrage rights to U.S. women, and making them feel like participating citizens of the democracy in which they lived. It is too bad there was a need for a 19th Amendment to grant women what they should have been granted from the beginning.

This film was quite effective in that it helped me to realize just how difficult it was to achieve rights and freedoms for many citizens in this country despite the fact that there was a U.S. Constitution whose first ten Amendments (Bill of Rights) were supposed to guarantee rights & freedoms to all of America’s citizens.  It makes me realize how restricted those rights and freedoms were to most groups in the United States of America, a supposed “democracy for all.”  Nothing in the film needs to be changed – only America’s history!



_____ Total Points (out of 30)


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