“Bad Reputation,” a documentary about Joan Jett’s rise to stardom as a female punk rocker in a man’s world, explains the struggles of her first group, an all-female punk rock band The Runaways, and the formation of her current band the Blackhearts. The film features live footage of concerts with both The Runaways and afterwards with the Blackhearts, as well as clips of music videos.

As a Joan Jett fan, who saw her in concert back in 2003, two things surprised me about her life. She didn’t want to sing lead and she was so shy that getting on stage was hard for her; something she has overcome now. That was shocking because of the tough persona she portrays.

She took a lot of abuse as a female punk rocker in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Women as hard rockers were not acceptable then. Even air time on the radio and on MTV, which began in 1981, was minimal for female artists. Jett talks about how people threw all kinds of things at her all-female punk rock band, even large batteries. She said she was hit in the head numerous times by people throwing objects at her and she even cracked a rib once.

Director Kevin Kerslake and producers Peter Afterman and Carianne Brinkman detail the journey and the rough path Jett had to go down to rise to the rock icon she is known to all now. Jett was only 14 years old when she received her first guitar from her parents. She said she quit the lessons though because they wanted her to learn how to play folk music and of course that was not the genre for punk rocker Jett.

Kerslake said in making the documentary, he discovered how supportive Jett’s family has been throughout her career.

Despite hostile press that often focused on everything negative about the band’s behavior such as drinking, smoking and swearing, Jett persevered, and paved the way for many female rockers today.

“It was no surprise that a woman is going to encounter resistance and deal with that on a daily basis. It’s not dissimilar to resistance that women in other industries face. She is a feminist manifesto in the flesh. Her composure within that struggle is pretty inspiring,” he said.

Believing an all-female band would not be accepted, Jett formed the Blackhearts, in 1981, an all-male band, with Jett as the lead singer.

The documentary interviews other artists such as Blondie’s Debbie Harry, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, Miley Cyrus, Michael J. Fox and KROQ radio DJ Rodney Bingenheimer.

“The love of Joan moved mountains. A lot of people were eager to step up that she touched with her talents and her place in the universe,” Kerslake said. According to Kerslake, the artists wanted to tell their Joan stories. He wanted to do this documentary because equality and parody are always part of daily life.“A lot of issues that popped up with the last election put these topics to the forefront. She is a hero with those issues; to human rights, animal rights; to being compassionate to all things on the planet. She is the real deal,”  he said.

The film title “Bad Reputation” was Jett’s debut solo single in 1980 and it only ranked 48 on the Billboard music charts. It’s still the highest ranked song by a female rocker.

Kerslake said it was an honor for him to film “Bad Reputation,” to tell her story. “It’s a story the world needs to know,” he said. Jett recorded a new song for the documentary which is played during the ending credits called “Fresh Start.” According to Kerslake, Jett can still go toe to toe with any rocker. He said, “She still hits all the notes and rips it on stage.”

Bad Reputation
Saturday, May 5, 7:45 p.m.
Clairidge 2, 486 Bloomfield Ave.
Sunday, May 6, 1:30 p.m.
Clairidge 1, 486 Bloomfield Ave.