MANSFIELD – “When you want good work, invite the men. But when you want things to get done, bring the women.”
These words from Madonna Thunder Hawk, one of the main characters in Dr. Elizabeth (Beth) Castle's documentary "Warrior Women," set the tone for a movement that Castle hopes her film inspires after its debut in her hometown of Mansfield.
On Saturday, Sept. 21, The Ohio State University at Mansfield will host a screening of the film with a Warrior Women Hometown Gala at the Founder's Theatre. The event is organized and sponsored by Shelby High School's GOLD (Girls Owning Lives of Dissent) group, the newly-formed VOCAL (Voices for Change, Activism and Leadership) group, and the North End Community Improvement Collaborative.
The gala was set in motion with the first Mansfield screening of "Warrior Women" this spring. After previewing an 8-minute segment of the film at a women’s leadership conference in March, Castle was invited to show the entire film and continue the conversation about women’s empowerment two months later.
The conference was led by Donna Hight, assistant dean of student life and student success, who was struck by how the film taught viewers how to be part of a community. Hight later worked with local community organizations to bring the gala to The Ohio State University at Mansfield.
"A lot of people were struck by Beth's talk about Warrior Women and women's leadership, and the matriarchy as a basis for leadership. A number of young women went up to talk to her at the conference, and it created a lot of interest," Hight said. "We've been seeing women of all ages interested in seeing a change in the community."
The "Warrior Women" film follows the journey of Madonna Thunder Hawk and her 50-plus years of social activism within the American Indian Movement and beyond. Her daughter, Marcy Gilbert, who also stars in the film, has followed in her mother's footsteps. Both women continue fighting for the rights of all Indigenous people.
"It's about a woman fighting for the survival and health and world of her children, and is badass and vulnerable, and none of the journey is easy," said filmmaker Beth Castle. "Not everybody has to change the world, but most all of us want to step into it and make some difference for our being here. The idea that indigenous, native women could lead a whole revolution...that's literally the story."
Saturday's gala will consist of the screening of the film, followed by a Q&A session with Castle, Madonna Thunder Hawk, and Marcy Gilbert.
Castle said bringing the film to Mansfield has been an honor, to show it to the people who both shaped her in wonderful ways but also inspired her to go out and actually do this work.
"The more I've spent time reconnecting to things I grew up with, I've been here my whole life in terms of my family being here and coming back, being able to see the things that have changed and hearing in the voices of young women something I could've said 25 years ago," Castle said.
One particularly moving anecdote comes from Makenna Finnegan, a junior at Shelby High School and a member of the GOLD group. When Finnegan first saw the "Warrior Women" film and heard Castle speak, it felt like "the beginning of a storm."
"Powerful women spoke, and each word had glory spilling out of each syllable," Finnegan wrote. "I watched as Madonna Thunder Hawk strengthened me, by just the sound of her voice. I felt thunder rumble in my soul as each second passed.
"I took away something important from this film," she continued. "I discovered that I had an important job to do. I could not ignore injustices anymore. I had to be an activist for those that struggled because of implemented sexism and racism within our society."
Castle said Finnegan's reaction to the film reminded her of her younger self. She also hopes viewers will understand the power of the matriarchy - a system of society ruled by women.
"You don't have to be a swaggering, bravado, empty model of leadership," Castle said. "There's actually incredible power in the matriarchy. The secret is everyone knows women run the world and hold the world together, let's do more to make that something we all can live by."
As part of this event, seven Mansfield Warrior Women will also be honored. These women are community organizers, teachers, parents, and above all, warriors: women who have lifted up others in their communities, and have made Mansfield and Richland County better places as a result of their contributions to others. These seven women are Inez Shepard, Loretta Hilliard, Carol Payton, Sallie Sylvester, Melodye James, Lydia Reid and Liz Castle - Beth's mother.
"Madonna could be the grandmother next to you in the grocery store and you wouldn't know," Castle explained. "We want to flip the script of people valuing things women do for survival, success, resistance. There's always more women out there, and we want to begin by bringing the elders and youth together and lift up this idea that we matter."
The Warrior Women Hometown Gala is free to attend, but tickets are required. Donations are strongly encouraged and provide funding to support the ongoing activism and grassroots organizing of the film team.
"I hope people will be moved by the film in a way where they will want to go do something meaningful to make the world a better place," Hight said. "I hope it lights a fire under them and they want to make the communities they're part of a better place. And for men that are present, if they haven't thought about the value of women and women in leadership, it will make them rethink some of the perspective they have."
For Castle, she hopes the film will inspire the recognition and empowerment of women.
"When I say matriarchy, they think about it as 'power over,' but we're evoking it in a fundamental sense of life-givers, maintainers, to make things a better place," she said. "And there are already things going on in Mansfield that we have to support as much as we support these other ideas for change. We could all get together and have another meeting about it, but I wanted to have an experience where everything about that night is why women are important."