Fannie’s Film

Fannie’s Film is a documentary short focusing on Fannie, an elderly African-American woman who works as a cleaner in a gym in the 1980s. She talks about her life and her work, as the film shows her picking up towels, wiping down mirrors, and dusting the blinds.

The visuals are only of the gym, the skinny white New Yorkers at the height of the fitness fad contrast with Fannie’s older firmer-set black figure. The underlying power dynamics are obvious. But the vocals are of Fannie describing an entire life beyond this one. She talks about her childhood, which she sees as a time of abundance. Despite not having many modern-day conveniences, she says her father was a real family man, and spent whatever he made on giving his kids anything they wanted. When she grew up and married, it was also to a very loving man, and she had a happy marriage. She always worked so she could maintain her independence, but they were comfortable enough that it wasn’t a necessity. She talks about her spiritual life, seeing herself as blessed by God, having been given a very easy life, and breaks into hymns from time to time.

The film has an awareness of the power structures in which we find Fannie, a woman doing women’s work which is given low status and pay, which is deliberately made invisible to those who rely on it. It speaks so much to race, to gender, to class. Yet it is equally important to show how resistance within those power structures can be as simple as refusing to be defined by them.