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Women Behind 'Suffragette' Offer Powerful Advice to Moms

Add "Suffragette" to the growing list of meaningful films to watch with the kids (and be sure to have a box of tissues nearby, too). In a welcome year of more female-driven narratives ("Inside Out," "Spy"), the movie opens up much-needed conversation on the long journey toward gender equality. There's a lot to talk about as a family—whether it's about issues of the early 1900s, when the film is set, or those of today that surround the making of the film.

"Suffragette" follows a critical moment in the British suffragist movement when demonstrators turned to more violent actions to be heard. The film, which opened in limited release on Friday and expands nationwide by Thanksgiving, stars Oscar nominees Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter, as well as three-time Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the British suffragette movement who was named one of Time's 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century.

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"It's a great reminder of how hard-fought-for the vote was, how recently we achieved it, how precarious those rights are, and how important it is to use that vote, especially here in the U.S. where elections are coming up," director Sarah Gavron told mom.me.

And that reminder is loud—and unforgettable. It's hard not to be moved when the film lives up to the suffragettes' motto, "Deeds Not Words," in the shattering of windows, the blowing up of mailboxes and the self-sacrificing acts of individual women.

For moms who are experiencing sexism at home or at work, the filmmakers gave advice that's in line with the message of the movie: You have to see it and be it. It's especially critical during a time when so many U.S. women are kept out of the work force because of high child care costs and the lack of maternity leave policies, when married moms do more than three times more cooking, cleaning and laundry than married fathers, when moms still feel guilty for working and when women looking for jobs are discriminated against for being pregnant.

"Speak out, have courage. Now that there's this new kind of activism and there's the Internet, you've got a place to speak out. I think it's really, really worth feeling empowered and challenging it," said Gavron.

Producer Alison Owen ("Shaun of the Dead," "Saving Mr. Banks") added as a reminder, "You are just as good as anyone else. Shout out until your voice is heard."

There are so many things all coming together that it gives us hope that things may actually change.

When asked about why she thinks it's so important for "Suffragette" to be released now, Owen said, "I think this film is important at any time, but I think we're very lucky that we've landed in a feminist moment. We're very lucky that so many things seem to be coming together, with Hillary running, with Jennifer Lawrence speaking out about equality in wages, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission looking into Hollywood, Geena Davis and her institute. There are so many things all coming together that it gives us hope that things may actually change."

Inequality in the entertainment industry has been an increasingly pressing hot topic, revived by the recent letter by "The Hunger Games" actress that Owen mentioned.

Women directed only 7 percent of the 250 top-grossing films in 2014, and it's even rarer to see a film written, directed, produced and starring women, which "Suffragette" can claim. And when you consider the nation's work force as a whole, female full-time workers made only 79 cents for every dollar earned by men in the same year—a gender wage gap of 21 percent (contributing factors including career gaps, abbreviated work experiences for women and other "non-measurables") that is much worse for women of color. It's no surprise then, that the six-year-long making of "Suffragette" met major obstacles.

I have had to shout louder than anyone else to get my voice to be heard. But I think you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other until you get what you want. You have to be suffragette about it.

"It was a challenge to raise the finances for a film made by women all about women," Gavron said about the movie's modest $14 million budget.

One of the major costs was shooting in the U.K.'s Houses of Parliament. "Suffragette" became the first film to ever shoot in that location; they staged an anti-government riot in a space that had denied women rights for so long.

"You realize you are actually making a piece of history because the British government and Parliament didn't even allow women to vote at that time. They kind of wanted to send their apologies for the mistakes of the past," said director of cinematography Edu Grau. "It was very exciting and a big challenge to portray what's honest, what's real, what's moving as well."

As the making of the film proves, women have to push harder for what they want. "You have to be incredibly tenacious," said Owen, who is also a mom of three (singer Lily Allen, actor Alfie Allen and business owner Sarah Owen). "I have been in the industry for a long time. I have definitely met with discrimination. I have had to shout louder than anyone else to get my voice to be heard. But I think you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other until you get what you want. You have to be suffragette about it."

How "Suffragette" performs can impact how much more money will back similar films again. For producer Faye Ward ("Jane Eyre," "The Other Boleyn Girl"), "the film and television world needs to really work hard and show real women doing real things, and hopefully that will evoke on the other side where real girls will want to be great women."

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"Keep on going and never take no for an answer," Ward said. "For us, it's incredibly important that we hopefully inspire, empower and get the new generation to understand what the past has sacrificed and what they still need to do."

Photographs by Eric Charbonneau / Le Studio Photography / Ruby Films/ Pathe

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