|AL SUTTON – WRITER, ACTOR, DIRECTOR, RETIRED PHYSICIAN,
FILM MAKER OF THE AUGUST 26, 1970 MARCH FOR EQUALITY DOWN FIFTH AVENUE IN NEW YORK
It is difficult to imagine that the
year I was born - in 1933 - was only 13 years after women in the United States had the right to vote. I was raised
in a Middle Eastern, predominantly patriarchal community, in Brooklyn, New York, that imposed limitations on my
two sisters and my mother. After I chose medicine as a career, I found a similar patriarchy: there was only one
woman in my medical school class of one hundred.
As a physician, I practiced Pathology at State University of New York but maintained an active interest in the
arts. I trained as a filmmaker under cinematographer, Arnold Eagle at the New School in New York; and as an actor
at the Warren Robertson Theatre Workshop, New York. My medical documentary, “Fraternal Twins: The First Year of
Life,” was widely distributed to universities in the 1980s. Later, I produced and performed the title role in the
award winning film, “The Poet Englestrom”; and I wrote, produced and played the lead role in, “Five Valid Reasons
for Murdering Lisa,” a satirical film exploring the roots of misogyny.
My stage work includes the lead role in “Sing, America: Norman Mailer in His Own Words” at the Actors Studio; “Bringing
the Fishermen Home” by Deb Margolin, at Dixon Place. As co-founder of the Perfectly Frank Cabaret Theatre, we produced
over 40 new plays, mostly in downtown New York venues, including Dixon Place, Here, Home for Contemporary Theatre,
and Le Poeme. Currently, a feature film, “Caballo,” is in development.
Since retiring from medicine I have found other interests, which, like the medical ethic, fall under the rubric
of “Do No Harm.” Most recently, I have explored the proclivity of our species for killing our fellow members. This
interest was stimulated by a book entitled, “The Most Dangerous Animal" by David Livingstone Smith, with whom
I’m collaborating on a mixed media project. The project deplores our culture of violence, citing the killing of
200 million people over the last 100 years, through war and acts of genocide. The project’s goal is to create a
movement towards a saner society.
This project feels like a natural sequel to a documentary I completed in 2010, entitled "Equality, I am Woman"
based on footage I shot of the Woman's March for Equality in New York City in August 1970, a march that celebrated
the 50th anniversary of women's right to vote. Equality is an ideal I’ve actively pursued throughout the years:
the Civil Rights march with Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1970 from Macon to Atlanta protesting police
brutality in Augusta; the first Gay Liberation march in June, 1970, which was a reaction to the police action at
Stonewall Bar in 1969; a protest against the proposed neo-Nazi march in Skokie, Illinois, in the 1970s. (upper
right corner of photo: Emily Friedan, Al Sutton, Jacqui Ceballos)
Women’s equality should be a natural right, yet it has been politicized, by tying it to religion, economy and birthing
rights, rendering the issue almost unrecognizable. For a woman, though, the issue of equality is complex: she must
maintain her own personal emotional and psychological stability, so that her belief in her right to equality is
not mitigated. Often, she must also defend herself against personal attacks that she receives along the way. Thus,
she must take care of herself while moving the world forward.
I dedicated "Equality, I Am Woman" to my mother, Luna Sutton, who was born in 1910 and passed away in
the waning hours of 2010. My mother’s life spanned an eventful century, where she observed the evolution of the
rights of women and minorities. She was my greatest inspiration.
The women’s movement has always been confronted with a male-controlled society that is threatened by its claims
for equality. In 1970, the media did its best to ridicule the Women’s March for Equality in New York City as being
comprised of a handful of misguided women, using the worst pejoratives. In its coverage of that event, The New
York Times underestimated the numbers of the marchers by a factor of 10.
With men, there seems to be a disconnect in our behavior that disables our empathy, and allows us to pursue our
own personal entitlement to the detriment of women. One could also describe this male quality as a cocktail of
expedience, ambition, self-centeredness, arrogance, blindness or a kind of stupidity. After all, what could be
more basic to our lives in this world than the notion of equality? Our society has been able to make wonderful
advances because we have cooperated with one another. We need our neighbors. We need our mates, our partners, not
as slaves, but as equals, because it is the right thing to do and because, as a society, we are no stronger than
our weakest links.
Misogyny, in my belief, is the hostile, emotional underbelly of man's resistance to accepting women’s equality.
A man may vote correctly, share in the household chores, and maintain a tokenism of being a fair mate; but if he
does not examine his deepest feelings, he will not be free of the hostility that fuels gender inequality. The male
perspective is formed from infancy. His mother appears omniscient and omnipotent, creating life and nurturing it.
As he matures, he develops awe in the face of her natural gifts, her gracefulness, often leading to a lifelong
obsession with women’s sensuality. So it is not unusual that some men are resentful and jealous of her. Someone
said, “ The measure of a society is the level of intelligence and maturity of the majority of its members.” We
still have a long way to go to achieve an equal society, but we are on the way.
PS from Jacqui:
In early 2010 Jeanne McGill, publicist representing Al Sutton, discovered the film he’d taken of the 1970 march,
and then somehow found me. As head of New York NOW’s Strike Committee I’d planned many of the August 26th events
and remember that march as the joyous culmination of the most exciting day in the early feminist movement. Thus
began several months reaching out to many who had taken part in the march. As the memories poured in, Jeanne was
inspired to put them into a book, soon to be published. Meanwhile Al edited the film, adding Helen Reddy singing
“I Am Woman” and Gloria Steinem and me sharing our memories and Betty Friedan‘s speech at the rally after the march.
All this culminated in our celebration of Betty on June 17th. We are grateful to Jeanne for her major role in this
little drama, and to Al for the film and his gift of over 200 copies to share with you.
Check out Al Sutton at the Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.me/alsutton
Comments to Jacqui Ceballos: email@example.com
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