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Working Girls Director: Lizzie Borden
Premiere: Sundance Film Festival 1987, Dramatic Competition
Award: Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize, Dramatic

From the 1987 Sundance Film Festival Catalog

Working Girls is a frank, poignant, powerful and often humorous look at women working in a high-class brothel in midtown Manhattan. The women in the film are, for the most part, in control of their lives and their work. Their decision to work as prostitutes is shown as an economic alternative, in many ways an extension and exaggeration of “normal” heterosexual codes and rituals. Following the group of women as they make their way through the course of a day and a night in the claustrophobic apartment, we see them less as stereotypes and more as people, caring people with feelings, concerns, goals and dreams.

We also see them in a typical labor-management dispute with the Betty Crocker-like businesswoman/madame, an incessant shopper who pushes “her girls” to the limit. What emerges is a non-exploitative film, told from a woman’s point of view, full of insight, compassion and honesty. Disturbing and straight-forward, Working Girls never winces from the truth.

Why She Matters

From militant feminism in her 1983 micro-budget sci-fi Born in Flames to an unsentimental exploration of prostitution in Working Girls that would ruffle Catharine MacKinnon’s feathers, Borden is known for her controversial and provocative films asserting the female gaze and upending received notions of female sexuality. Not to be confused with the 19th century axe-murderer of the same name, Borden made four feature films (Regrouping, Born in Flames, Working Girls, and Love Crimes) before directing television for Red Shoe Diaries, Silk Stalking, and more.

“Like her namesake, the filmmaker Lizzie Borden took an ax…to cinema conventions and tidy political resolutions in her 1983 landmark Born in Flames. This unruly, unclassifiable film — perhaps the sole entry in the hybrid genre of radical-lesbian-feminist sci-fi vérité — premiered two years into the Reagan regime, but its fury proves as bracing today as it was back when this country began its inexorable shift to the right.”

—Melissa Anderson, The Village Voice, 2016

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