The Punk Singer starts with singer Kathleen Hanna performing at a spoken word event in 1991 — she says, then shouts, "I am your worst nightmare come to life / I'm a girl you can't shut up." It ends with Hanna saying she's fine with people who aren't feminists or who don't believe that her illness — late-stage Lyme disease — exists, but as she states, in the final sentence of the film, "They should have to stay out of my way." Out Nov. 29 in select theaters and on VOD, the film is a portrait of the grrrl who wrote the Riot Grrrl Manifesto.
"It's important to me to tell the stories of especially feminist artists while they're still making work," said the film's director, Sini Anderson, in a phone interview. "Female portraits of female artists mid-career."
Hanna herself saw it a different way: She explained that she agreed to do the documentary because "I thought I was going to die." After years of sickness, she was diagnosed during filming. "I was preparing to be a statue and be gone," she said.
Watching the movie, there are some highly questionable links drawn between first- and third-wave feminism and the struggle for racial equality; there are also, notably, few brown faces, which Hanna linked to a problem with Riot Grrrl itself.
"There were a lot of non-productive discussions of race and class as Riot Grrrl was winding down," she said, describing rooms full of "white girls pointing fingers."
"That was sort of its demise."
Still, it's arresting to see Hanna and the grrrls do all the talking.
"I hope it inspires people, like, even if they totally dislike it, to make something," Hanna said.