Ovarian Psycos (2016)



I previously complained that the recent documentary Check It stumbled somewhat in its oral history of a disenfranchised “gang” of queer kids, undercutting its celebration of their self-made, survivalist culture by glorifying attempts to “reform” & normalize them through outsider gang counselor influences. A more honest & less self-conflicted version of the story might’ve focused more on the way the kids had already saved their own lives through (admittedly violent) solidarity long before the cameras even showed up. The documentary Ovarian Psycos seems to be that exact idealized version of Check It I was hoping for, just one that covers a wildly different topic from the opposite end of the US.

Instead of documenting a queer gang in Washington DC like Check It, Ovarian Psycos profiles an all women of color bicycle brigade from Los Angeles. Comprised mostly of abuse survivors & DIY punks and inspired by the Chicano social justice movement of the 1970s, Ovarian Psycos attempt to claim public space for women of color by organizing mass bike rides & community fundraising in a self-actualized, unapologetically feminist act of revolution in action. This documentary allows them to tell their own story without influence or judgement, only stepping in to provide historical context when necessary. In a lot of ways it’s the ideally calibrated document of small, marginalized groups like this. It finds a fascinating subject, allows them to talk, and then backs the fuck up, giving them space to be their already wonderful selves. The film will occasionally allow gatekeeping, masculine voices of dissent to enter the conversation as context for how the bicycle collective’s accomplishments are often trivialized, but these moments mostly serve as contrast to a powerful strength in numbers that’s too potent & too obvious to refute. In scenes like when a group of women previously anxious about being in public at night join in a militaristic chant of “Whose streets? Our streets!” on a monthly “Luna Ride,” the impact the Ovarian Psycos crew has made on their community doesn’t need to be explained; it just needs to be broadcast to inspire similar change elsewhere.

Besides allowing the impact of its subject speak for itself, one thing Ovarian Psycos truly excels at is intersectionality. The brand of feminism promoted here takes into account issues of race, poverty, gender identity, social justice history, and every other concern that can often be overlooked in more narrow-minded wings of feminism. There’s a fun, playful aesthetic to the crew’s branding is familiar to a lot of flashier feminist forms of protest: ovary & fallopian tube graphics printed on bandanas, calling their recruiters “clit rubbers,” organizing their rides around the phases of the moon, etc. As lighthearted as some of these details can seem, the crew’s need to create a safe space is never downplayed or trivialized. They were raised to believe they lived in a literal warzone where women weren’t safe alone at night without a man’s protection. Biking with Ovarian Psycos is not only exciting for them because it allows them to be surrounded solely by other women; it also empowers them to proudly exist in a space where they were taught to cower. Although they are mostly made of cisgender Latina women from specific neighborhoods in L.A., you can feel them reaching across all cultural, class, race, geographical, and gender identity lines to include more women in that sense of empowerment and the movie does its best to promote that ideology openly & without apology.

There’s an incredible specificity to Ovarian Psycos’s titular subject that helps its political messages ring true & genuine on a more universal scale. There’s even a sort of novelty to the basic concept of a documentary on an all-female bicycle brigade on a fundamental level. The group’s founder is a single mother Latina rapper with a devastatingly dark past & an infectious air of fierce confidence. The young women she’s inspiring to take her reigns are an exciting reminder that D.I.Y. culture will never die as long as there’s another wave of youth waiting on deck. There’s a lesson to be learned in the way Ovarian Psycos broadcasts its profile of the titular feminist biking crew without pushing for disingenuous story beats. It may open itself to accusations of being narratively slight or thematically thin, but the truth is witnessing this group of women simply existing out there in the world is more than enough to justify the film’s existence. Anything more would be dishonest.

-Brandon Ledet