If you heard that David Bowie told Rolling Stone in 1999 that a group popular in the 1970s was “one of the finest f–ing rock bands of their time,” who would you guess he was talking about? Led Zepplin? The Who? Deep Purple? Wrong, wrong, and wrong. He was heaping praise on Fanny, the groundbreaking all-female band formed by Filipina sisters Jean and June Millington, whose story is told in Bobbi Jo Hart’s rousing documentary Fanny: The Right to Rock.
If the film serves as your introduction to the hard-rocking Millington sisters — and bandmates Alice de Buhr, Nickey Barclay, Patti Quatro, Brie Brandt, and Cam Davis — rest assured that you’re not the only one. After making a big splash in the early ’70s with songs like Charity Ball, Fanny hit some of the Behind the Music-style bumps we’ve all come to expect from stories about rock bands — internal conflict, creative frustration, etc. — and faded out of the public eye. But they left behind some pretty passionate fans, including Bonnie Raitt, Kate Pierson, and Ziggy Stardust himself.
Hart tells the story of the women’s early life, hard work, and commercial success, as well as their plans for a comeback with a new album and tour in 2018. The vintage footage and photos from the ’60s and ’70s are fascinating, especially when the Millingtons, Brandt, and de Buhr talk about the house they all lived in, which they dubbed Fanny Hill. They describe it as “a sorority with electrical guitars,” and it sounds like a femme dream come true — sisterhood, freedom, art, passion, and round-the-clock jamming. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, though; the Millingtons and Brandt faced racism, de Buhr didn’t feel safe publicly revealing her identity as a lesbian, and all of the band members felt like they hit a massive glass ceiling in the music business.
But they never stopped loving each other — or the music. Their reunion is both poignant and joyful: It’s impossible to watch the original Fanny line-up play together for the first time in 40+ years without a smile on your face. And Hart makes it very clear that the legacy they left for subsequent generations of female rockers and musicians of color is undeniable. To finish out Bowie’s Rolling Stone quote, “They’re as important as anybody else who’s ever been, ever; it just wasn’t their time.” — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Leslie Combemale I know Fanny and have loved them most of my life. I saw them perform Young and Dumb on French TV in 1972. As a girl who was already aware that I was being judged by my looks, it wasn’t lost on me that the cover of their first album had them facing backwards. The founding members were either Filipina, gay, or both, which means they had to deal with an extra layer of racism and bigotry on top of the misogyny all female rock musicians still face to this day. I love that documentarian Bobbi Jo Hart is bringing attention to this historic band, but of course she would, given her elucidating, femme-centric filmography. Hart centers on the shifting ebbs and flows of a sisterhood of likeminded women, and the changing challenges these musicians have faced over the decades. She gets the subjects to be their blunt, fearless and, sometimes, vulnerable selves. The film also considers ageism, and the invisibility older women routinely experience, so basically this film has the potential to inspire females from ages five to ninety-five.
Marilyn Ferdinand Long before Ginger Rogers was touted for doing everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in heels, women have been out there working twice as hard in every field of endeavor to be seen as half as good as men. So it goes in the hypermasculine field of rock ‘n’ roll, where a Filipina American, all-female rock band called Fanny ignored the condescension and unicorn treatment by the industry and just went about making some of the best and most influential music of the 1970s. Bobbi Jo Hart’s documentary, Fanny: The Right to Rock, traces the formation and evolution of Fanny, their acceptance and promotion by some of the biggest names in the business, and their failure to break through to wider popularity for reasons obvious and obscure. It is a pleasure to learn about these unsung women of rock, hear some of their stunningly good music, and watch them as they attempt to shatter one more barrier—ageism—with the release of a new album more than 40 years after the band broke up. Rock on, Fanny!
Jennifer Merin Fanny: The Right to Rock is filmmaker Bobbi Jo Hart’s completely captivating documentary about the first all-girl rock band, Fanny, and how this sisterhood of talented and tenacious Filipina women musicians almost became the female equivalent of The Beatles — but didn’t. But hopefully this lively film will bring them the recognition — read that as adoration — they deserve. Read full review.
Susan Wloszczyna: There was a time when girl groups like the Ronettes, the Crystals and the Supremes would simply sing, prance and dance while providing eye candy on stage. But everything changed in 1969, when two sisters of Filipina descent, ended up living in Los Angeles and forming a backyard rock band. Lead guitarist June Millington and her bass-playing sibling, Jean, decided to upset the norm, as they strapped on their axes and beat male rock bands at their own game. Read full review.
Pam Grady: This entertaining, if pro forma, documentary profiles Fanny, one of the first all-women rock bands and the first to sign to a major record label. Founded in the late ’60s and fronted by two Filipina sisters, the band might have been treated as a novelty act because of its gender makeup but their hard-charging sound delivered the goods. Richard Perry and Todd Rundgren produced them; various Rolling Stones, David Bowie, and the like hung out with them. But despite putting out five critically acclaimed albums, Fanny never broke through, breaking up in the late ’70s. Filmmaker Bobbi Jo Hart talks not just to the band and their contemporaries but to musicians that came later like The Go-Gos’ Kathy Valentine and Kate Pierson of The B-52s who speak to Fanny’s influence. And just when you think there is nothing left to say, a new dramatic chapter unfolds as the women, now in their 70s, reform the group, record an album, and pick up where they left off for another shot at that metal ring.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Fanny: The Right to Rock is a revelatory documentary about one of Rock’s most pioneering but underrated all-women bands, Fanny – a mostly queer, half-White, half-Filipino group out of California. The band, June Millington Jean Millington, Alice de Buhr, Nickey Barclay, Patti Quatro, Brie Brandt and Cam Davis, was almost too ahead of its time, and despite initial success, a well-reviewed album, and connections with Hall of Fame-level musicians — David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Def Leppard, Bonnie Raitt, and more — they never became household names like Heart, The Go-Gos, or the Runaways. Musician’s musicians, the band navigated personal family dramas, romantic entanglements, and the difficulties of sexism, to say nothing of homophobia, in the male-dominated music industry. Director Bobbi Jo Hart’s documentary will create more fans for the band, which reunited a few years ago and released a new album in 2018. Hail to these early queens of rock.
Loren King Not only is Bobbi Jo Hart’s documentary Fanny: The Right to Rock an entertaining eye opener about the seminal, ceiling-cracking all-women band, it’s up-to-the-moment contemporary history about how these rock and roll women are still setting a living example and influencing new generations of women musicians. Read full review.
Liz Whittemore Sexism, racism, and rock & roll, Fanny: The Right To Rock is the story of how two Filipina American sisters started Fanny, the legendary rock group you may have never heard of until now. Jean and June Millington used to gather a crowd in their California backyard. After they decided to put together a band comprised of extraordinarily fearless and talented female musicians, the road to Fanny began. Read full review.
Cate Marquis Bonnie Raitt and David Bowie were fans, and director Bobbi Jo Hart’s documentary Fanny: The Right to Rock opens with a Bowie quote, where he rails against the fact that they never broke through to mainstream stardom and might be forgotten. Raitt, Todd Rundgren, and other members of big name rock groups appear in this documentary that tells the incredible untold story about an all-women California rock band of the ’60s and ’70s, led by two Filipina-American sisters who were just demons on guitar. The band skipped the short skirts and revealing outfits, impressing instead with their musicianship in an era when “girls on guitars” were unheard of. Fanny: The Right to Rock is the latest in a series of documentaries on overlooked bands, like the Sparks Brothers, who are famous among the famous but this was clearly a case of sexism short-circuiting their rise to fame, and of them being ahead of their time culturally more than musically. Fanny opened for countless big names and came close to stardom several times, but they faced continual outrage at the idea of women playing guitars and not pandering to the expectations of patriarchal and chauvinistic music critics. While they paved the way for other “girl bands” like the Go Gos, Fanny never made it to big fame and disbanded by the mid ’70s. Amazingly, the past band members are still with us and most have reunited to release a new album. Maybe this time they’ll hit big, as they deserve.
Title: Fanny: The Right to Rock
Directors: Bobbi Jo Hart
Release Date: May 27, 2022
Running Time: 96 minutes
Screenwriter: Bobbi Jo Hart, Documentary
Distribution Company: Film Movement
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin