The late feminist scholar Andrea Dworkin, subject of a film that the Maine Jewish Film Festival is screening now. Photo by Jerry Bauer

The Maine Jewish Film Festival will celebrate its landmark 25th year in November. To celebrate that momentous occasion, and to continue its mission of bringing thought-provoking films to us here in Maine as a general concern, the festival is expanding its already ambitious cinematic mission year-round with a series of live and virtual screenings presented all over the state in the months leading up to the big day(s) this fall.

The current offering is “My Name Is Andrea,” and I’m just the wrong person to write about it. Let me explain.

An examination of the life and work of groundbreaking Jewish feminist scholar Andrea Dworkin, “My Name Is Andrea” is a brisk, 90-minute portrait of the late writer (Dworkin died in 2005 at the age of 58) that yet bristles with the fiery passions that drove Dworkin to call out institutional sexism, rape culture and the pornography industry in her writings and controversial speaking engagements.

Filmmaker Pratibha Parmar, who also directed the documentary “Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth,” presents Dworkin in all of her righteous anger and articulate pain, with flashback sequences featuring actresses Andrea Riseborough, Ashley Judd, Amandla Stenberg, Christine Lahti and Soko feelingly dramatizing the traumatic and all too common abuses by the men in Dworkin’s life that informed her philosophy.

And that philosophy still stings today, while at the time, Dworkin’s broadsides against the oppression, abuse and institutional exploitation of women were truly incendiary. Again, I was born a male, and am culturally and constitutionally ill-equipped to truly explain Andrea Dworkin’s painfully lived-in philosophy, as much as I claim to be sympathetic, at least as far as I can be. That’s because Dworkin’s prose lacerates the patriarchy for setting itself and its often rapacious and sexist needs and desires as the immutable truth of human existence and interaction. Men have fixed the game so that our self-penned rules are broadly accepted, not just by us men, but by women conditioned to view themselves as lesser.

But a mere description isn’t adequate to describe the ire that greeted Dworkin’s works like “Woman Hating: A Radical Look at Sexuality,” “Pornography: Men Possessing Women” and the widely (mis)quoted “Intercourse,” where Dworkin argued that the traditional, time-honored way in which people think of the heterosexual sex act is inherently demeaning toward the female partner and is itself an extension of the patriarchal drive to subjugate.


It was this last book, published in 1987, that saw Dworkin’s name most vociferously slandered, mocked and vilified, with an illuminating sequence in “My Name is Andrea” seeing the patiently defiant Dworkin appearing on the supposedly “feminist” and left-leaning “Donahue” show. With Dworkin repeatedly correcting host Phil Donahue’s reductive misrepresentations of her thesis, the writer is constantly berated by female audience members as well, with one questioning in faux concern, “What tragic thing happened in your life that made you feel this way?”

Amandla Stenberg is among the actors who portray Dworkin in “My Name is Andrea.” Photo courtesy of Kali Films

Well, a lot, actually, as Parmar’s film employs its cast of recognizable actors to dramatize the painfully pivotal events that Dworkin herself wrote about during her life. The tween Dworkin being sexually assaulted during her first-ever solo trip to the movies. The anti-Vietnam protester Dworkin being arrested and subjected to a brutally invasive “medical exam” in jail that caused her family physician to break down in tears upon examining her later. Her marriage to, and shattering abuse by, her young husband, a supposed fellow radical whose brutality led to Dworkin spending years on the run from his obsessive cruelty.

And yet, “My Name Is Andrea” never adopts the condescending conclusions of the critics that dogged Dworkin through her career – that she’s “bitter,” or that her experiences “soured her” on men, or sex. Instead, Parmar’s film does what all good documentaries of controversial figures do. It shows the subtleties of meaning underlying the blaring mockery utilized by those critics whose self-serving patriarchal tenets she was attacking at their roots. Indeed, Parmar might go too far the other way, largely ignoring how even feminists (then and now) decried Dworkin’s uneasy association with right-wing anti-pornography and anti-sex worker crusaders during her life. Writing about Dworkin’s death, sex-positive feminist Susie Bright noted her one-sided admiration for Dworkin’s courage and insight, even as “(Dworkin’s) loaded warped pistol was neatly picked up by right wing creeps who took all the femme bullets out of it and never looked back.”

For all that, Andrea Dworkin, in Parmar’s film, is presented as a revolutionary figure at a time when American women desperately needed a revolution. While (mostly male) critics labeled Dworkin a “man-hater,” she extolled the virtues of writers on universal civil rights like James Baldwin and Huey Newton. (She also spent the last 30 years of her life in a platonic but loving relationship with gay feminist writer John Stoltenberg, whom she married in 1998.) Dworkin’s position on heterosexual sex, mislabeled as “all hetero sex is rape” by those desperate to discredit her, is, in the film, unpacked to mean, as Dworkin herself clarified, “Sex must not put women in a subordinate position. It must be reciprocal and not an act of aggression from a man looking only to satisfy himself. That’s my point.”

What “My Name Is Andrea” does so compellingly and necessarily is help viewers see her points unhampered by the misrepresentations, deliberate and otherwise, by a cultural hegemony obviously invested in making Dworkin seem “unreasonable” (always a dead giveaway when men criticize women). Because, while Andrea Dworkin was a problematic figure in some ways, her actual positions are what should be examined, debated and evaluated – not the stereotyped, slandered and “hysterical” caricature her critics sweatily proclaim her to have been.

In today’s America, where right-wing politicians feel emboldened to double down on their long-held, caveman beliefs on the inferiority of women with attacks on reproductive care and calls for a more “traditional” (meaning male-dominated) view of sexuality and identity, “My Name Is Andrea” presents Andrea Dworkin as both ahead of her time and presciently timeless. Even if I’m not the person to truly say so.

“My Name Is Andrea” is showing in the Visual Arts Center at Bowdoin College at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 29. Thanks to the Maine Jewish Film Festival, the screening is free and open to the public. For more information about the screening, go to To learn more about the film, check out the “My Name Is Andrea” website.

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