“Over 2 billion people live under dictatorships around the world today. We dedicate this movie to their fight for freedom. Truth shall prevail.”
As we begin 2018, the Netflix film that everyone must watch is “Milada”, the story of Milada Horáková (Ayelet Zurer), who was a politician and human rights campaigner in Czechoslovakia while the country was under Communist rule.
Horáková’s story was overlooked in my history courses, likely justified for no reason other than it was not perceived to directly influence the United States. However, until I started to take history elective courses in college, my courses promoted the accomplishments of men, yet rarely focused on those of equal or greater significance involving women.
One of the first aspects of “Milada” that instantly engages the viewer is the relevant timing of its release. Released on Nov. 2, 2017, it precedes the Time’s Up movement by less than two months, and if there is one thing to know about Horáková, it is that she was a fierce advocate for gender equality and knew that a woman’s opinion should be held at equal value to a man’s.
“Is every woman with an opinion hysterical to you?”
“Milada” largely focused on the titular character’s role as an activist and speaker in the 1940s. The film began during World War II when she and her husband, Bohuslav Horák (Robert Gant), were arrested and she was sent to the concentration camp at Terezín. Then, the rest of the film followed her after the war, as she continued to fight on behalf of democracy and freedom.
It is crucial even today — and some would argue, especially today — to discuss the legacy of Horáková, as democracy and equality remain threatened in countries, particularly those that boast their desire to uphold these values. The passionate and heart wrenching, performances of Zurer and Gant enable those watching to get a closer look at Horáková, who fought on behalf of human rights, and Horák, who supported his wife in her endeavors at a time when men and women insisted that she acquiesce and be a better mother and wife.
It will be easy for many people to dismiss “Milada” as a film that politiciticizes gender relations at a time when gender equality was overshadowed by global issues. However, doing so would be a disservice to the film and historically inaccurate when we recognize that gender inequality — even if it is eclipsed by a larger struggle — has direct bearing on most major events.
Horáková repeatedly insisted that Adolf Hitler be taken as a serious threat as he ascended throughout the mid to late 1930s and early 40’s, yet many men that she appealed to dismissed her as “hysterical.” Horáková’s encounter is an archetype of the experience that women and many minority groups live through even today.
Men often insist that those who speak in opposition of men are merely trying to stir unnecessary rebellion and take power from those who "deserve it." Nonetheless, Horáková offers an extremely relevant explanation as to why that persists:
“Many politicians oppose what you call ‘equal protection.’ They say it is but a simple, feminist ideology; a sort of special privilege.”
“That is because most politicians are men governing only for other men.”
“Milada” illustrates strength and determination in an effort for truth to be heard, and is made more powerful by the leading actors who brought the remarkable figures to the screen. Zurer and Gant deserve recognition for the passion that they bring to their respective roles. More so, their development of an on-screen partnership echoes one of legitimate support and respect.
As we approach 70 years since Horáková’s execution in 1950 due to her defiance against a communist Czechoslovakia, we should remember her core values and implement them in our daily actions. Otherwise, those who refuse to speak on account of fear of retribution for divergent opinions risk the same 20th century reality of the Czechoslovakians, and the reality that many countries still experience today.
“When I was a little girl, I had a brother and a sister who died from Scarlet Fever. I had no power to help. As a member of parliament, I can help all my brothers and sisters.”