No, Vanessa Cicarelli and Jason Greer’s She is not another adaptation of the H. Rider Haggard adventure tale from the late 1800s. Instead, the first-time directors explore poetry. To be more precise, they dive into Aimée Baker’s Doe, which is a book of poems all about missing women. With their documentary, Cicarelli and Greer don’t just want to gain more exposure for the work and glean insight into each poem’s backstory. No, they hope to highlight how many women go missing every year and the inaction law enforcement takes, especially when it concerns minorities and people of color.
The filmmakers intersperse Baker’s interview with two notable elements: 1) the poems themselves read by Coco Jones and Raven Goodwin; 2) news articles and the like about the cases that inspired the poet, narrated by a soft-spoken and emotional Kate Mulgrew. This allows viewers who are uninitiated with Baker’s output to get a good sense of her style and how the missing women are represented.
She has a lot going for it, chiefly Aimée Baker herself. Her love for the art of poetry and how it can move people remains clear throughout. More importantly, Baker’s passion for helping uncover the truth behind the disappearances of these women burns bright, especially as she’s forced to confront her own bias in choosing cases at a certain point. If nothing else, the film is a glorious portrait of its subject and her very important poetry.
“…a book of poems all about missing women.”
Happily, Cicarelli and Greer go beyond Baker and use the visual medium quite well. Archival photos and abstract imagery are used to bring the poems and cases to life. A highlight here is when police crime scene pictures and Jackie Lee McLean’s haunting score bring to life the case and poem The Abduction Narrative. It gets a little trippy but is hypnotic in all the best ways. Baker and Jaramy Conners’ script for the narration really works here, placing audiences directly in the victim’s shoes.
However, the structure of She is a little off. After the opening title sequence (over which a terrible song plays), one of Baker’s poems is read. It’s great, but there’s no introduction or set up for it like there is for the others. As such, it is a little more difficult to get into, and since this is the beginning, it prevents the film from grabbing one’s attention as soon as possible. Is the order of the poems presented in the film how they show up in Doe? It seems so, but it is never stated explicitly. Since the cases aren’t chronological, the back and forth between time, the poems, and Baker’s interview feels a little jumbled at first. Admittedly, this smooths over some 20 or so minutes in, but it can cause some confusion for a spell.
However, there’s no doubting the intentions of the directors or the writer. In that light, as a plea to help raise awareness, She is an absolute triumph. As a film, despite a few flaws, it is engaging and intense, though the heavy material might prove a little too much for some. Now, excuse me while I order a copy of Doe.
"…gets a little trippy but is hypnotic in all the best ways."