The documentary ‘Fanny: The Right to Rock” is a big middle finger to sexism, racism, homophobia, and ageism

The documentary is not just a historical review of the band’s beginnings and struggles to be taken seriously, it also examines their talents and their impact in the industry.

The band Fanny is marketed as “one of the most important rock bands you’ve never heard of,” and the hour-and-a-half documentary ‘Fanny: The Right to Rock’ by Bobbi Jo Hart manages to trace the all-women rock band’s rise and unfortunate fall into obscurity during the rock music scene of America during the early 70s. Needless to say, in the 60s and 70s, rock music was the territory of men. There were women who fronted bands but there were no rock music groups where all the members were women, playing instruments, and proving they were just as good with their instruments as any man. But Fanny did not just have to come head-to-head with sexism, they had to go against racism and homophobia as well as two members were Filipina Americans and some were lesbians. 

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But the documentary is not just a historical review of the band’s beginnings and struggles to be taken seriously, it also examines their talents and their impact in the industry – Fanny paved the way for women in rock – through interviews with rock luminaries to contextualise what it was they were able to accomplish amidst all the criticisms and pushback against an all-women rock band.

But writer and director Bobbi Jo Hart doesn’t stop there. The power of this documentary is how the historical review of their struggles to change the industry is used to frame the present-day narrative of how three of the original members have reunited to try and pick up where they left off as women in their 60s.

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In a way, the documentary is operating within two timelines – the past and the present – and how both are interacting to underscore that their story as a band has not yet ended. There is still a future that is hinted at through this documentary and it makes for a riveting watch.

For a documentary to really stand out, one needs access; access to the subject of the documentary and the people around them. Hart has this in droves. All the members, past and present, are available for interviews except for one. Industry insiders include musical legends Todd Rundgren, Bonnie Raitt, The B-52s Kate Pierson, The Go Go’s Kathy Valentine, Def Leppard’s Joe Elliot, and David Bowie’s guitarist and bassist, Earl Slick and Gail Ann Dorsey. In fact, though he had passed away already, David Bowie’s presence is strongly felt as he was a champion for Fanny and constantly rallied for their recognition for their artistry. The documentary has various accounts of their beginnings, home footage of their performances in gigs and television shows, and photographs of their lives in LA when they just signed their record deal. Very little is left to the imagination and what is built is an image of a band that could have been, who paved the way for women in an industry that was not forgiving, who were not recognised for their talents and creativity, and how they eventually vanished and erased until recently.

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Filled with songs from the five albums they released before they disbanded, it really highlights how good they were and with footage of them aging beautifully and still as sharp and as skilled as ever, it creates an energy and an excitement with this whole idea of them coming back together, recording an album, and adding ageism to the many barriers they’ve taken down in their journey to reclaim what could very well be their destiny.

The documentary manages to highlight how Fanny, and their resurgence in popularity is a testament to this need to battle and fight all forms of erasure, whether it’s sexist, homophobic, racist, or ageist. These women have stood against it and almost overcame it over 40 years ago but just missed out on success as they were on the brink. But this documentary chronicles their second chance and lays the foundation for a new future for the band.

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It’s eye-opening and inspiring. It’s funny and daring and touching. It’s a great, good-ol’ rock and roll story and I do hope people get to see it.

My Rating:

5 stars - Don't Look Up review

Fanny: The Right to Rock is now showing in cinemas nationwide. Buy your tickets here.

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