Roma

Roma

Roma is a beautiful film that covers issues of gender, race, class and violence in Mexico. Dedicated to, and based on, writer/ director Alfonso Cuarón’s childhood nanny and housekeeper “Libo” (Liboria Rodríguez), the film follows Cleo (the sublime Yalitza Aparicio), a young Mixtec woman employed by an affulent Mexican family. She has lived with them since the children’s birth, herself perhaps still in her 20s. She is beloved by the children, but is still treated like a servant.

Her woman employer, Sofia, also tells Cleo she loves her at a pivotal point in the film, even as we see how she flies into rage, diminishes Cleo and blames her for insignificant details. Sofia’s mother also lives in the household, mostly indifferent to Cleo, until tragedy strikes. At one stage, having been on her feet all day working, Cleo sits on the ground, holding the children’s hands, as the rest of the family sits comfortably on the couch watching TV. Sofia then directs Cleo to get her husband a drink after Cleo is settled.

These are women separated by race and class, but who are bound together by the men in their lives who neglect and mistreat them. The men are a wreck. Everyone, including Sofia, call the philandering husband ‘The Doctor,’ his status, vanity and whims disrupting everything around him.

Cleo is a stoic, patient but complex woman, who witnesses inequality and hardship largely silently, but when she speaks, particularly of her hometown, she is resplendant. Her final monologue shows she’s reflexive, more aware about her motives and mixed emotions than all the other characters. She is tough, making a long journey to find her listless lover. When others struggle to follow the instructions of a martial artist, Cleo quietly completes the move, at the back of the crowd.

The role that Indigenous people play in the economy, and their challenge to political life, are the backdrop of this slowburning masterpiece. While cinema continues to write women as caricatures, and erase Indigenous women in particular, this film has created a thoughtful Indigenous woman character whose language and struggles take centre stage. Her friendship with the beautiful and jovial Adela, the second houseworker, is a joy, as they joke, whisper and support one another in both Mixtec and Spanish. Go see it at the cinemas if you can, but it’s also now also streaming on Netflix.

bell hooks on Critical Thinking

“I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.” ― bell hooks

Black American cultural theorist bell hooks’ distinguished contribution to sociology has been to unearth the intersecting issues of cultural difference, race and knowledge within feminism. Starting out as a literature professor, hooks would go on to challenge cultural studies in the early 1980s with books such as Ain’t I A Woman?: Black Women and Feminism and Feminist Theory: From Margin to Centre. Her work shows how women of colour have been marginalised by power structures in society as well as by White feminists who purport to speak about the universal struggle of all women. hooks argued that mainstream feminism silences experiences of race, ethnicity and class.

For the past three decades, hooks has explored the representation of race in popular culture, and how this affects social relations and public education. In the seminal Cultural Transformation video series, from 1997, bell hooks explains the importance of critical thinking for women in general, as well as for racial justice. Her work has been adopted by feminists and cultural theorists around the world. Let’s take a look back at this work and its prevailing resonance two decades later.

Gif of bell hooks talking. Quote reads: 'Critical thinking is at the heart of anybody transforming their life.'

Continue reading bell hooks on Critical Thinking

I have a rule of faith when it comes to film festivals – I don’t watch trailers or read reviews. I read the program and decide to see movies based on the blurb. I make an effort to see movies written or directed by women first and foremost (documentaries or dramas especially), or about minority groups and women in general in the second instance. Third, I try my hardest to see horrors because they’re rarely released in Australian cinemas. ‘What Keeps You Alive’ hits two of three: a movie about two (White) women and a horror flick. Directed by Colin Minihan (of Grave Encounters, which I disliked) was not what I expected. What I knew about the plot: Jules and Jackie are celebrating their one year anniversary in an isolated cabin in the woods. It is a horror. That’s it! The leap of faith paid off. It was so strong! Great characters. Lots of bad decisions but cleverness too. I won’t say more. Slick 7/10

Source: The Other Sociologist.

TW VAW: ‘A Vigilante’ at the Sydney Film Festival is an affecting film about a woman who has survived intimate partner violence and now rescues women and children from violence. Written and directed by an Australian woman, Sarah Daggar-Nickson, it is a bleak but visually arresting story. Sadie (excellent Olivia Munn) lives a solitary existence and accepts little payment for her services. Most of the violence occurs offscreen or it is retold by survivors – the latter is devastating. The group counseling scenes where women share their stories of leaving violence are painful to watch, but told with great love, respect and care. These are common tales but society turns away from this reality. It was heartening that financial abuse was part of the story, as this is one of the many complex reasons women cannot simply leave. The scenes of violence showing Sadie’s husband are harrowing and triggering because the dialogue and cruelty are vivid. As a story of empowerment, it is difficult to reconcile: most women cannot turn to violence to escape violence. In a superhero origin story perhaps the narrative might be seen as an origin story. But the film is not that. It is presented as a hyper real revenge tale. As a feminist statement, however, this ultimately feeds into the cultural expectation that women need to save themselves or be saved, when the fact is that violence against women and children is a structural issue requiring massive social changes. Regardless, the story treats survivors with compassion. I’m ambivalent about its aim and resolution. I’m glad I saw this and you should also watch it. Then read up on the tireless work of survivors, case workers, shelters, and advocates for whom violence and its aftermath is a daily reality. 7/10

Source: The Other Sociologist.

Another Cine Latino film: Woodpeckers (Carpinteros). Unsettling but excellent Dominican film entirely focused on Afro-Latino characters. Julián (Jean Jean) is awaiting sentencing when he’s put into one of the “less hellish” prisons in Najayo. That is to say, an overcrowded, filthy and violent place where many prisoners sleep on the concrete floor. Julián is second generation Haitian-Dominican. In a terse exchange with his brother, we learn he is an entrepreneurial “low level” criminal who doesn’t want to be locked into a low-paid menial job.

Julián quickly earns a job communicating with Yanelly (Judith Rodriguez), the girlfriend of another high-profile inmate who is banned from an open area. Men and women communicate across prison using invented sign language which changes often to stop guards from learning conversations. Julián is soon captivated by straight-talking Yanelly.

The guards and inmates are all Black, and while it’s not ideal to have yet another film focus on crime, it is a story with complex characters. The film is highly violent and it deals with sex, anger and high octane emotions in a compelling way. The film is billed as partially depicting true events and the extras are all prisoners. The film makes for a searing sociological study on social norms and institutional functions. One long, continuous take as Julián walks tautly across the prison is utterly breathtaking.

All the actors are tremendous, but Rodriguez as Yanelly will linger in your memory.

Photo: The Other Sociologist. [Entrance to a cinema with the word “Palace” over the doorway. A man looks at his phone in front of the door.]

At CineLatino, the Latin American film festival, I watched, You’re Killing Me Susana, starring Gael Garcia Bernal. As always, his performance is charming and the movie has lots of affable comedy. But his character and the story is not endearing. He is an unfaithful and selfish husband who does not take any interest in his wife and her writing. He is disparaging of her teaching, which supplements her writing aspirations. He has repeatedly talked his wife out of going away on writing trips because he is suspicious and jealous.

We learn he has previously followed her on a writing retreat and made it impossible for her to get work done. We see this behaviour play out in the movie. He has been cheating on her and is angry when she leaves suddenly without warning. He stalks her from Mexico until he tracks her down in the USA. She had been awarded a scholarship for a writing workshop. He shows up unannounced and causes a scene at every opportunity.

She repeatedly tries to leave him. He physically restrains her at one stage; he yells and swears at her; he sits in all her classes; he cheats on her again and follows her across the country once again when she leaves. He is a controlling and therefore abusive partner. But we are encouraged to empathise with him – he “loves” her.

Many movies have this plot – he’s supposed to be read as “romantic.” And although in his late 30s or early 40s, the film is about how she should forgive him. He just needs to “lose” her (wife are the property of husbands after all) and she will be change her mind written he grows up by the end of the film. Not romantic in the least. These are scary patterns familiar to women in abusive relationships. I’d seen the director in an interview say the film explores masculinity. It doesn’t. It merely reinforces a tired and dangerous film trope, that abuse is love. Very disappointing that it ends the way it does, without really getting to the heart of toxic men.

Photo: The Other Sociologist. [Photo of the banner for the film, with the two leads looking at one another; she is smiling; he is positioned close behind her with a faint, weary smile.

Film Review: 29 + 1 

Yes women-centred films! 29 + 1, written and directed by a woman, Kearen Pang is a wonderful film about two women who’ve never officially met but who share a birthday, and eventually “form a deep and invisible bond.“  The film is set in 2005 and it plays with memory and time. Christy has a hectic but glamorous job, a long term boyfriend and supportive friends. Christy doesn’t want to get married and is proud of her independence. Her life is full of light colours, bodily discipline and stifling routine. 

Wong has been working at the same record shop for ten years. She’s never had a boyfriend and the only two people in her life are her boss and her best friend whom she’s known since they were seven. Her life is ful of bright, clashing colours and a whimsical sense of never-ending happiness. 

Everyone lectures them about what they should do now they are facing 30, when life apparently goes down hill For women. For their own reasons, they come to a point in their lives when they reassess the future. Beautiful and affecting, it’s based on the play by writer/ director Kearen Pang, who helms this adaption. Go see it. 

Gender, Race, Power and The Beguiled

How do White women perpetuate gender and racial inequality in film? A new adaption of the 1966 novel and 1971 film, “The Beguiled,” is hitting the silver screen. The original story opens with a limping, dirtied White man, John (also nicknamed “Mr B”), played with relish by Clint Eastwood. The audience knows the violence and lies he’s capable of, as we see flashbacks that contradict his charm. He is an Unionist soldier injured in battle towards the end of the American Civil War. He staggers his way to a secluded boarding school for girls and young women, where he is nursed back to health by the older women, a mixed group of begrudging and bemused ladies who are stifled by their secret desires. The 2017 version has already built up high praise, with director Sofia Coppola being awarded Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. This is the first time the prestigious award has been given to a woman. Coppola explains why she chose to erase the character of Hallie, a slave woman who features prominently in the original. I emphasise Whiteness in her language below. Whiteness is a concept describing how White people don’t acknowledge how their race is central to their worldviews and contributes to racial oppression:

“I really thought it was interesting because it was a group of women all living together, all different ages with different stages of maturity, and how they interact. It’s a group of women kind of isolated in the world… I’m definitely attracted to stories about female characters, and characters that I can relate to. I’m interested in stories of groups of women together…  At the heart of the story, it’s really about the power dynamics between men and women that are universal, but that are sort of heightened in this kind of premise.”

Copolla makes two points in this interview:

  1. She loves women’s stories (read: White women’s stories).
  2. By saying she chooses stories that she relates to, and having omitted the only Black woman from her script, she is saying she only relates to White women.

This may seem “natural” to White people: why would a White woman relate to a Black woman character? This logic is how Whiteness works: by taking for granted the power dynamics of race. Continue reading Gender, Race, Power and The Beguiled

gael-garcia:

video

The term “colour blind,” it kind of baffles me because I think, “Well, what’s so wrong about my colour that you don’t want to see it? It just – it doesn’t make sense. We need to be more mindful of how we use words, because they are quite powerful things. I think that when you say "colour blind,” you’re attaching a negative connotation to colour. And I don’t really see how that helps the conversation. – Ruth Negga.


[Images: Negga is dressed in a t-shirt. She is filmed from the waist up, sitting in front of a wall-length background image of the film “Loving,” in which she stars.]