“They really did use that competition as a springboard in the media to get their message out. Back then, there wasn’t the internet, there was no Instagram, so how do you get your message out? The best way was sort of hijack a media spectacle like that. It was very, very savvy of them,” explained Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
Based on real events, Misbehaviour is a British comedy-drama film about members of the Women’s Liberation Movement disrupting the 1970 Miss World beauty competition in London.
“I didn’t grow up watching Miss World, so the first time I’d actually seen the competition was watching the archived footage of this pageant in 1970. That was really shocking to me. Just the misogynistic language of both hosts and how creepily the women were objectified and compared to cattle was bad,” she exclaimed. “It’s a very different world to the one we’re in now in my respects, although there is still room for improvement. What I love about the film is that it shows the different perspectives on the pageants, even generationally with Keira Knightley’s character’s daughter in the movie emulating it while she is taking a stand against it.”
Mbatha-Raw plays Jennifer Hosten, Miss Grenada, the first black woman to be crowned Miss World.
“Jennifer is in her 70s now. She’s very wise and has had a lot of time to think all of this over. Jennifer didn’t take the actual competition too seriously, but for the women taking part, it was a scary moment when the flour bombs hit the stage,” she explained. “They always understood that the women were not against the other women; they were against the patriarchy; they were against the system; it certainly wasn’t personal towards the women themselves. I think it was more about trying to dismantle and challenge the concept of the competition and how it portrayed women in a certain light.”
“One of my favorite scenes in Misbehaviour is where Jennifer and Keira Knightley’s character cross paths in the lady’s powder room. These are two women fighting different fights from different points of view. It depends on where you are starting from. It doesn’t make it any less of a progression in some respects for Jennifer to win that competition. It is a tightrope.”
Misbehaviour receives a VOD release in the US on Friday, September 25, 2020. The film landed in UK theaters months earlier, in March, just ahead of a national shut down due to the pandemic. That had a significant impact on the inspirational tale’s box office, grossing only $426,765 – a figure that doesn’t fairly reflect the film’s quality.
“It was unfortunate timing for the film, but we all realize that there were greater issues at hand in the world,” she mused. “What is nice about the film is it still having a life on VOD, and it’s now here in the US. It does have a wonderful escapist element to it as well as the historical element. There is so much uncertainty and volatility happening on the planet right now on so many levels. Misbehaviour is a period piece, and although it deals with issues of feminism and progress for women of color in that world, it has been done with a light touch.”
“Hopefully, it’s something that people can watch at home and reflect or watch it with their father or their daughter and have certain conversations while still being an escapist and fun watch.”
Life is starting to return to somewhere near normal for Mbatha-Raw, who is now back at work filming the upcoming Marvel TV series, Loki, for Disney+ in Atlanta, Georgia.
“I was in the middle of filming when the pandemic happened, so I had a real break, I’ve been painting and reading. Like so many others, I was at home for a long time,” she said. “Not to make light of the suffering going on, but in some ways, it has been an opportunity for me to get a fresh perspective on things. It is downtime that perhaps I might not have had, and now I’m thankful to be back to work. It’s been a journey for everyone, but it’s all for a greater reason and the greater good.”
Did Mbatha-Raw use the downtime to rebinge the multibillion-dollar Marvel movie back catalog?
She laughed, “I’d already watched a lot of them. I got Disney+ when I got the job, so I binged a lot of it then.”
“I’m obviously sworn to secrecy about everything to do with Loki, but it feels great to be back. Everyone is trying to do it as safely as possible under the circumstances, and it feels good. I’m excited. It’s a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to see it.”
Misbehaviour arrives on VOD on Friday, September 25, 2020.