“The Girls in the Band”

The AFM and Local 802 partner with the DECIBAL Collective and the Workers United Film Festival for an unforgettable screening

Volume 123, No. 11December, 2023

John Pietaro and Martha Hyde

A few months ago, while standing in solidarity on a WGA and SAG-AFTRA picket line, Andrew Tilson approached Local 802 about a collaborative project. His Workers United Film Festival was just about to kick off its 12th season and we were excited to welcome it back into our Club Room for the first time in some years. And what better way than through “The Girls in the Band,” the gripping 2011 documentary chronicling women in jazz from the 1920s through the 2000s. The festival, which largely consisted of screenings at the esteemed Cinema Village, also brought its progressive message to the headquarters of several labor unions. The messaging was perhaps stronger than in any past year, with the major victory scored by the writers, as well as the actors’ and UAW strikes still raging on (both of which have ended in historic wins).

With so much activity about, and as the still new DECIBAL Collective was already helping our union realize its potential as a force for diversity, the event became one of accord, shared by all four organizations and financially supported by Local 802 and the AFM, who both co-sponsored the festival.

Its success was clearly displayed in the audience response. The stories of such legends as Mary Lou Williams and Marian McPartland are told in the film along with the struggle of the all-female, mixed race/nationality big band, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm.

Judy Chakin’s moving, beautifully crafted film lauds the female musicians whose struggles were — and often still are — relentless. The rampant sexism, particularly in earlier times, was all the more egregious for women of color, but most of the pioneers seen were just as relentless, making history in the process.

802 member, Jami Dauber, a trumpet player with the big band Diva offered a Q&A after the film and gave her perspective on what it is like to be a member of an all-female big band in 2023.

One could only hope that Chakin considers a follow-up film to continue this vital discussion, offering new faces and names as well as offering a level of closure for the women in the film who have passed away in the interim.

See below for photos from the event, taken by Martha Hyde and John Pietaro.