Ruth and Margaret explores the little-known romance of groundbreaking anthropologists Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, showing how their intimate relationship shaped their work on sexuality, gender and race. The two were lovers, soul mates and close intellectual companions in the 1920s and 30s, a period of rising racism, anti-immigrant sentiment, and creeping fascism astonishingly similar to the current political climate. Their intimate friendship and the support it provided led them to new thinking about “otherness” that greatly impacted American life and the field of anthropology.
After Benedict’s death, Mead destroyed most of the evidence of the relationship, fearing she would lose her job if anyone found out. As a result there is scant archival material with which to tell this story. Ruth and Margaret solves this problem by combining documentary and archival material, with narrative scenes to tell the story of their personal relationship.
Together, Mead and Benedict transformed anthropology. Mead became famous in the 1920s by writing about adolescent sexuality; in the ‘30s, Benedict wrote the innovative book Patterns of Culture, which argued that homosexuality and attitudes toward it were culturally constructed. Benedict also wrote an important book on the subject of race, popularizing the term “racism.” Mead became the most famous anthropologist of the twentieth century, receiving a presidential Medal of Freedom after her death in 1978. She is best remembered for going to Samoa to conduct field work as a young woman, and her later role as a respected public intellectual. Her words have inspired many in the United States and abroad, particularly her much-quoted plea for activism and civic engagement: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Why We Need Your Support Now:
Director Nancy Kates began work on Ruth and Margaret in early 2016. Since then, we have assembled a team of collaborators, raised seed money, filmed sample dramatic scenes, conducted primary research, and begun work on a script for the film. We need your help to support preproduction, including the cost of extensive archival research, script development, and filming a fundraising trailer.
Nancy D. Kates produced and directed the feature-length documentary Regarding Susan Sontag, which premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, where it received a Special Jury Mention. It has since screened at over 130 film festivals in 35 countries, and received several additional honors, including a FOCAL International award for innovative use of archival footage.
Regarding Susan Sontag received major funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, The Foundation for Jewish Culture, Chicken & Egg Pictures, and the Sundance Documentary Fund. The film had its broadcast premiere in December 2014 on HBO, to significant critical acclaim. Ms. Magazine named it one of 2014’s top ten feminist films, while critics called it “compelling” and “perceptive” (The New York Times); “a stunning portrait” (International Documentary Festival Amsterdam); and “mesmerizing,thoughtful, provocative” (Times Herald Record). The San Francisco Chronicle praised its “boldly evocative impressionist strokes that mirror the complexity of Sontag’s life and career.”
Previously, Kates produced and directed Brother Outsider: the Life of Bayard Rustin, with filmmaker Bennett Singer. Rustin, an openly gay man, is best remembered as the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, and his role as a civil rights pioneer and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The film premiered in competition at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and as a special of the PBS series “POV.” It has been screened at the Kennedy Center, the United Nations, the US Department of Justice and throughout the world, including countries with
nascent or nonexistent LGBT rights movements. It went on to win more than 25 awards worldwide, including the 2004 GLAAD Media Award. Brother Outsider received significant attention in the national press: critics described it as “a potent piece of historical rediscovery” (LA Times); “beautifully crafted” (The Boston Globe); “powerful and startling” (The Advocate); “poignant” (TIME); and “alive with ideas and rich in humanity” (africana.com). The film seems to have influenced President Obama’s decision to award Rustin a posthumous Medal of Freedom in 2013.
Kates received her M.A. from Stanford’s documentary film program. Her master’s thesis, Their Own Vietnam, received the 1995 Student Academy Award in documentary, and was exhibited at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival and other festivals. Kates has worked on a number of documentary projects as a writer, producer, and story consultant, and writes occasionally for The San Francisco Chronicle. In 2014, she was honored to be included in the OUT 100, the magazine’s annual list of intriguing LGBT Americans.