In 1995, at the age of 21, Miranda July started an underground movie-sharing network for women filmmakers. Joanie 4 Jackie (formerly Big Miss Moviola) thrived for more than a decade and connected hundreds of women, including Sarah Gertrude Shapiro (creator of Unreal), artist K8 Hardy, and Essence advice columnist/empowerment coach Abiola Abrams. In January, the Getty Research Institute acquired the Joanie 4 Jackie archive. You can see everything at joanie4jackie.com, a complete digital record of the project.
In honor of this historic preservation of feminist history, Miranda is here to reminisce about being young, punk, and on fire.
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I remember exactly where I was when I typed up the first pamphlet. It was freezing cold in our all-girl Portland punk house, and I was crouched on the floor over a shared computer.
"A CHALLENGE AND PROMISE," I tapped out. "Lady, you send me your movie + $5, and I'll send you the latest Big Miss Moviola Chainletter Tape. That's ten lady-made movies, including yours."
I had just dropped out of UC Santa Cruz and moved to Portland to live with a girl who was currently in the basement playing guitar and being uncommunicative and problematically sexy. I was all revved up by Bikini Kill, Kill Rock Stars, K Records, Heavens 2 Betsy, and the do-it-yourself Riot Grrl revolution. But I often found myself crying; I was filled with feeling but generally paralyzed. I wanted to make movies, but this seemed like an impossible challenge. So I challenged other girls instead. I typed with a pounding heart:
"Mainstream movies are sometimes moving or scary, but on the whole they, in my opinion, do not inspire women to inspire women to go: I can do that. That is because the movies are usually womenhating … they have nothing to do with the kinds of things women talk to each other about."
I wanted a revolution. I wanted girls and women to make movies that were only for each other; Hollywood was not allowed to see them. I didn't care about "talent" — I promised to include every single movie sent to my P.O. box. Who was I to say what was good? The arbiters of excellence had always been men, so maybe "excellence" was irrelevant here. Maybe you made it bad on purpose. Maybe bad is good.
I put stacks of the pamphlets all over town, the library, the grocery story, the high school. I walked to the post office every day; no tapes. By now I had broken up with the uncommunicative/sexy girlfriend. I was the most alone I'd ever been. I gave boxes of pamphlets to friends in Bikini Kill and Team Dresch, hoping they would get handed out on tour. I relentlessly wrote Sassy and Seventeen , letting them know about the uprising. This world had to exist; I really needed it. My day jobs were getting progressively worse — from waitressing, to stripping, to wearing a cow costume while carrying a sign for Halloween Warehouse. I was placing all bets on my own voice, my ability to send a cry into the night that other women would respond to