Documentary filmmaker Jennifer Fox, who has directed such films as "An American Family", about the ups and downs of a relationship between a black man and a white woman in New York City.  Her latest documentary, "Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman", will play theatrically in Austin, Boston and Seattle in April before airing on cable in May on The Sundance Channel in three parts on the first three successive Mondays of the month.  (Photo: Omar P.L. Moore/

A Political Fox Opines on Obama and Clinton, "Flying" By The Seat of Her Non-Political Pants

"It's still better to be a man, whatever color, than it is to be a woman running for president," filmmaker Jennifer Fox declares

By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel

March 20, 2008

Part 3 of 3


Once an apolitical or politically neutral person, documentary filmmaker Jennifer Fox says that her current documentary "Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman" has made her a political individual.  She reveals that the systemic violence and abuse perpetrated by men against women has made her so angry at the opposite sex.  She plans to explore a documentary on sexual abuse (including her own as a teenager) and the exploitation and objectification of women, but admits that it will be a monumental task to construct, address and navigate the myriad issues and aspects of the topic.

It's also worth noting that Jennifer Fox can be self-deprecating and not all serious.

"I mean, "Flying" is complex because it's also quite pop and funny and you know, you have me as this kind of stupid, naive character bouncing around the world.  And that's okay, but now I would probably make a really serious film about some of the heavier issues," she declares.

While she readily admits that "Flying" is entertainment, she also declares that the film is somewhat incomplete.

To remedy that she is turning to members of the general public.  Ms. Fox mentions that she is organizing a contest called "The Seventh Episode", inviting women (and men) to make a five-to-fifteen minute video of their own personal stories about being a woman or a man and their own crises in relationships.  The winner, Ms. Fox says, will have their episode posted on her website and will be the recipient of $500.  The idea for the contest was sparked by a lesbian viewer of the film whom Ms. Fox met in Croatia, who said that the film didn't really explore what is was like to be a gay woman.  "'Where's the seventh episode?'", Ms. Fox recalled the woman saying.  The filmmaker gives credit to her for the idea.  The contest will end on April 30.

For a few minutes Ms. Fox left the cinematic lenses on the table and spoke about the current Democratic presidential political campaigns in the United States that reveal two very hot-button variables of race and gender, which made for a lively discussion.  In this final installment of the interview (which took place at the beginning of this month), the filmmaker turns her thoughts on the two contenders for the nomination on the Democratic side.

As a caveat it bears repeating, as Jennifer Fox did several times during the discussion -- that she is a political neophyte.

"I'm not a political expert at all.  I'm more of an emotional observer," she said, underlying a "huge disclaimer".

There are still many in America who believe that a filmmaker or a celebrity should stick to entertaining and informing through their work, and refrain from providing political opinions.  But in a primary season in politics that has been contentious to say the least in the last few weeks, the opportunity to talk, given the subject matter of "Flying", was a natural progression and outgrowth.

So what's really got Jennifer Fox's political juices flowing in 2008? 

"Whoever gets the Democratic nomination, I'm there . . . there's just no choice about it," she laughs.  "I think both candidates are really smart and strangely almost have the same platform.  But I do really feel that experience counts in the world, and Clinton has experience.  And I have seen the kind of cracks and attacks that she's gotten in the press.  And all of them are related to gender," Ms. Fox opined, echoing a feeling shared by numerous Clinton supporters. 

[Since this interview however, supporters of Senator Hilary Clinton's opponent Senator Barack Obama are likely to say that the American mainstream media is beginning to focus its lens more sharply on him, in light of recent events regarding his former pastor the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who made explosive, offensive and sharply critical comments about America during a sermon last December.]

"And it seems like in my, as I say, very limited vision, that it's better to be a black man.  Now granted, he's not a dark black man."  This last statement brings mild laughter from her interviewer, which Ms. Fox readily picks up on.

"No, I mean, let's be real.  He's a guy who looks half-white."  (Mr. Obama was born to a white American mother and a father from Kenya.)  "So let's be real.  He's a nice Anglo-Saxon looking black man, you know.  So elegant . . . charismatic.   But it's still better to be a man, whatever color, than it is to be a woman running for president.  That's how I see it.  And I'm a little shocked at that 'cause I really think in every other way, black men are at the bottom of the American totem pole.  But do we really want a woman for president?  And I think the answer is 'no'.  So that's my feeling."  Ms. Fox's earlier sentiment in this story about it being better to be a black man than a woman when running for president, awkwardly echo perhaps either subconsciously or unintentionally the racially offensive comments regarding Obama uttered by Geraldine Ferraro, a former Clinton campaign finance committee chair two weeks ago (comments which saw the light of day after the interview with Jennifer Fox, as well as Ms. Ferraro's comments made 20 years ago -- "if Jesse Jackson were not black, he wouldn't be in the race.")  Ms. Ferraro, who herself was a vice-presidential candidate in 1984, stepped down from Senator Clinton's campaign. 

Before some readers are tempted to jump to conclusions about this story's comparisons of statements of Ms. Ferraro and Ms. Fox, it goes without saying that Ms. Fox does not have a history of making such statements.  If given the chance to speak to her again it would likely be assumed that she would disagree with Ms. Ferraro's characterizations.  And when talking about race in particular, and gender in general the risk that something is uttered inappropriately or controversially, or even in a racist way that explodes like dynamite, but even so, the explosion presents an opportunity to further explore, and earnestly and sensibly dig deeper into more of the volatile elements of race and racism in America.

Huey Lewis and The News, the San Francisco Bay Area-based pop group whose zenith in the 1980's and early 1990's was reached with such songs as "Stuck With You" and "The Power of Love", also had the hit song "I Want A New Drug", which could fit perfectly into what Ms. Fox will say next.  "I also think Obama's catching on to our endless American obsession with, 'whoever offers the new drug, we'll take it'?  And that's how Bush was elected eight years ago."  At this moment, for whatever reason, the filmmaker, either self-consciously or otherwise, feels the need to apologize, whether rhetorically, reflexively or to her interviewer.  "And I'm sorry, but Obama's playing on the same game, which is, 'I'm new, I'm fresh, I will give you change.'  And I feel like we're obsessed with the feel good.  And I'm afraid that he has no experience."

[For further context, it is worth adding that U.S. president F.D.R., who served three terms in the Oval Office, had about six years of experience as a governor and state senator before becoming president; Teddy Roosevelt had four and a half years political experience, Woodrow Wilson had just over two years; Richard Nixon had barely 14 weeks experience in political office as a U.S. senator before becoming president, Calvin Coolidge had 25 weeks in political office and Abraham Lincoln was a political novice at the time he became president.  Senator Obama has about six years in office as a U.S. senator, while Senator Clinton has about eight years in the same post.]

Jennifer Fox adds that whomever the Democratic presidential nominee is this summer, she will support that person in November.

"Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman" will air on cable on The Sundance Channel as part of Doc Day, on May 5 (Chapters 1 and 2), May 12 (Chapters 3 and 4) and May 19 (Chapters 5 and 6.)  In addition, the six-hour documentary film will be playing theatrically in Boston, Seattle and Austin, Texas in April.

Visit Jennifer Fox's "Flying" website, including details on entering "The Seventh Episode" contest, which ends on April 30.

Prior interviews with and features on Jennifer Fox:

"The Power of She", January 2007

"Fox Q&A" - transcript, July 2007

Jennifer Fox on "Flying" and politics -- part one and part two, March 2008

"Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman" original Movie Review -- June 21, 2007

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