Review: The Punk Singer


The Punk Singer – BFI London Film Festival 19/10/2013

Kathleen Hanna is a name that had been thrown about my entire queer existence, and yet I never perceived the importance of the name or the woman behind it. I knew she was the lead singer of Bikini Kill, The Julie Ruin and Le Tigre, also was a co-founder of the Riot Grrrl feminist punk movement of the 90s, but that was sort of where it ended. So when I was invited to go and see the UK screening of the independent movie about her life, I thought why not, at the very least I’d be clued up.


Kathleen Hanna circa. 1992

Crowd-funded through Kickstarter – The Punk Singer follows Hanna from aggressively outspoken teenager, through the formation, ideologies, and years with Bikini Kill, the first Riot Grrrl zines & the creation of the still popularised ‘Riot Grrrl Manifesto’, Hanna’s friendship with Kurt Cobain, right up to the creation & hiatus of Le Tigre and why in 2005 Kathleen Hanna stopped performing.

What the film successfully highlights is Kathleen’s ability to inspire – and my goodness, do we need more Kathleen Hanna’s in this world. Bikini Kill’s music was as punk as it gets, it is the very definition of punk; borderline noise held together by Hanna’s enraged and hypnotising lyrics spanning politically controversial topics of rape culture, abuse and sexuality. The subsequent Riot Grrrl Manifesto written by Hanna is still an integral part of third-wave feminism and inspired generation of young women to stand and say “hey, fuck you, here is what I have to say!” Hanna wanted to be heard, she had something to say, and so Bikini Kill was born. However, being a part of the feminist punk scene in the early 90s wasn’t easy, for bands or their fans. Especially for like minded young women, who were often likely to be left bruised and bloody from the male dominated moshpits. Hanna’s mantra of GIRLS TO THE FRONT at gigs was more than just the act of protecting women from physical harm, GIRLS TO THE FRONT is ultimately what Hanna’s years making music were all about. 

From start to finish the movie is inspiring, educational and uplifting. I would recommend it to anyone; music fan or not (although the soundtrack is too badass not to appreciate) and I dare anyone not to leave with a refreshed sense of appreciation and respect for everything Kathleen Hanna experienced throughout her years in music and as an integral part of the development of feminist discourse.

“BECAUSE I believe with my wholeheartmindbody that girls constitute a revolutionary soul force that can, and will change the world for real.”



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