Rogue One: If this is the face of feminism, we have a long way to go

Whilst sitting at home last week, surreptitiously scrolling tumblr with a cup of tea in hand, I stumbled across a set of title-cards for the new Star Wars film, Rogue One. They had been inspired by a YouTube comments section on one of the many trailers of the film, and they really tickled me. One of them proclaimed the film to be ‘feminist propaganda’, another that it was ‘liberal PC nonsense in space’. Another one read, ‘women should be in the kitchen, not in the galaxy’. I hoped that someone, somewhere would have the patience to explain to the author of the last review that kitchens are indeed within the galaxy, so the point is null and void.

It was actually these brief, yet pointed reviews that made me quite excited to see Rogue One. I am not, and have never really been, a fan of the Star Wars franchise. I sat through Episode 4, positively enjoyed Episode 5, can’t remember a single thing about Episode 5 and slept solidly through all of the prequels. However, I have seen Everything Wrong With for the prequels, so I feel like I’ve caught up with them okay. Despite not being a Star Wars fan (trekkie through and through), I absolutely loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens. There was a fantastic combination of action and humour, of old and new, of fan-service and a completely new look at the franchise. I laughed, I cried and I felt that this was my Star Wars. It spoke to me, it was made for me unlike the previous films. Rey was confident, clever and complicated. Finn was lost in the world, but his strength and loyalty made him a wonderful character.

The Force Awakens seemed to open itself up for a whole new generation of Star Wars fans. Instead of saying, ‘you can’t watch this unless you are a true fan’, it welcomed old and new fans with open arms. Yes, the narrative is almost a repeat of Episode 4. No, it’s not the most unique film that’s ever been made. Despite it’s flaws, The Force Awakens is self assured, cool and a whole lot of fun. It is completely accessible to never-before Star Wars fans, and I genuinely think that is why it satisfied so many viewers.

So then we come onto Rogue One. It was always going to have completely different tone, style and feel to The Force Awakens, but it’s sadly very difficult not to compare them – purely because they are the two latest installments of the franchise. They are, obviously very different films. The Force Awakens is (mostly) lighthearted. Physically, the colour scheme is bright with vibrant colours, beautiful set builds and an array of visually exciting scenes. The film depicts a new era, and though the main characters are fighting against forces of evil – there is a lot of optimism.

Rogue One plummets us into a war before we have even left the title credits. A young girl watches her mother die in front of her, her father drafted into enemy hands. The whole film follows this set-up – it’s dark, dank and depressing. The lighting is low, the characters dress in dark colours and there is a sense of desperation throughout. Rogue One depicts a war, rather than using the pre-film crawl to do so – as the other films in the franchise do. It’s darker than any other Star Wars film. It’s also kind of bland.

The main issue with Rogue One is that there is no narrative arch to speak of. We are introduced to the world, the main character (Jyn Erso, Felicity Jones), and then introduced to her mission. Go with the alliance, find the pilot who has her father’s message, decipher it and along the way, help bring down the Empire. She’s a reluctant hero (who isn’t, am I right?), but the story then plays out pretty much exactly how it is supposed to. There’s no third act plot twist, nothing appears to advance the plot and apart from Jyn’s very sudden change of heart about ‘hope’, everything goes along as expected. They all die, the end. The deaths themselves are inconsequential too, because we have barely got to know any of the characters before they get fatally killed in battle. It’s hard to care about someone when they’ve had less than 10 lines or any character development, and especially when people are dying on-screen left, right and centre.

I could go on, but what I actually want to talk about is the supposed ‘feminism’ of Rogue One. Let’s be clear, Rogue One is not a feminist film and Jyn Erso is not a feminist character.

Let’s begin with Jyn. Despite appearing to be in control of her own narrative, everything that Jyn does in Rogue One is governed by men around her. Nothing is of her own doing. She is only picked up by the alliance due to her relationship with two men; her father (Galen Erso, Mads Mikkelson) and her surrogate father, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whittaker). Other than taking ‘daddy issues’ to a whole new level (a horrible trope in itself), it also means that Jyn has no actual reason for entering into this story. She is merely being used to get to the men in her life. Her father is a scientist, Saw Gererra is an accomplished (and psychotic) rebel, but Jyn herself is only useful to get to them. Sure, there is a scene where Cassian watches Jyn fight off several stormtroopers at once – realising suddenly that she doesn’t need his help. Not only is this a complete carbon copy of a certain scene in The Force Awakens, it isn’t followed up with any character development or context. The most development Jyn has is the very sudden change of heart about defeating the Empire. 

Rogue One makes the most use of the absent father trope, and the idea of a motherless daughter. Fridging Jyn’s mother to enable her to ‘believe in the force’ (via a necklace) is at best lazy writing but at worst it’s a sexist trope which is far too regularly deployed – even just within the Star Wars universe itself. Remember Padme? Yeah…me too.

The real disappointment with Rogue One, however, is the distinct lack of female characters other than Jyn. We can count them on one hand; Jyn, her mother, Mon Mothma and the other female council member. We see two other female pilots towards the end of the film. Six if you count the CGI Princess Leia before the credits roll. To be fair, six female characters is more than you get in most action/sci-fi flicks these days, but what truly stumped me was just how male the Alliance was. All of those who volunteer to help Jyn retrieve the plans, are male. There is not one single woman among them. Just having a female lead character is simply not enough – diversity does not begin and end in one white woman. Despite this obvious lack of female characters, and complete disregard for intersectional feminism – a great many publications are calling Rogue One and Jyn feminist heroes (here, here or here). 

 

Perhaps the MRA reviews were right, and a woman’s place simply is not in the galaxy as there seemed to be a completely disproportionate amount of men to women in every single scene. Disproportiate is perhaps the wrong word… invisible seems to be more relevant for Rogue One. It’s interesting that the screenwriters and producers, who are fond of claiming just how diverse they want to make the Star Wars franchise, think that having a female lead is enough. I suppose there is a small consolation in that the Empire is still a old, white man’s game, and who better than old white men to represent the equivalent of space nazis, eh?

LFF Round-up: The Levelling

In 2014, intense rainfall flooded the farmlands of Somerset, UK. Land became waterlogged, crops were destroyed – buildings, bridges and homes were washed away in the flooding. In true British form, we ‘kept calm and carried on’, but the effects of the floods can still be seen in the landscape today. Hope Dickson Leach’s first feature film The Levelling sets its narrative around this disastrous period – and investigates the connection between nature and humanity, with breathtaking results.

Clover (Game of Thrones‘s Ellie Kendrick) returns home to the family farm after the sudden death of her brother, Harry. As she re-connects with her father, it is clear that there is a huge fracture within their family – bought to light by Harry’s suicide. Both Clover and her father, Aubrey (David Troughton) battle with their grief, and inability to communicate with each other. It becomes clear to Clover that life on the farm for her brother was not what it seemed and although Aubrey insists that Harry’s death was an accident, Clover starts to realise the issues run deeper than she could have imagined. Both father and daughter, inept at dealing with their own emotions, struggle through the aftermath of his death – eventually learning that they both must accept their own feelings of guilt before they can move on.

The Levelling is a film of little dialogue. What is said between Clover and Aubrey holds great meaning and is deliberate. There is little room for small talk or chatter, there are no wasted words or ‘filler’. It is also within the silences between dialogue (of which there are many) that The Levelling is at it’s most captivating. From the very outset, the lead-up to Harry’s death, we are engaged by images. The stark contrast between the lucid party sequence (colourful fire, costume and frantic camera movements) and the following scene as Clover arrives at the farm, explains everything we need to know without words. As Clover arrives, the farm is dull, grey and washed out. There is something wrong here. The interluding shots between scenes of animals swimming in water remind us of the flooding, and consequently of Clover’s feelings of guilt.

The vast majority of the shots are handheld, following Clover around the farm, watching her as a bystander as she tries to make sense of her brothers death. The Levelling is shot simply but with great conviction. The lighting and set design makes the most of what is already there, giving the film a sense of absolute realism, as is so often the style with British indie films. It undermines the hard work of director Hope Dickson Leach and the crew to say that it’s ‘no frills’ filmmaking, but the style is uncomplicated and modest, and all the better to immerse us into the narrative. Dickson Leach has talked about the films tight budget and shooting schedule, and whilst that might have produced a lesser film for some – in this case it has made the film pretty remarkable. Working with what was already available, shooting in natural light, using pre-existing farm buildings yet focusing on the two main characters relationships to each other sincerely pays off.

Ellie Kendrick’s performance is also a real highlight of the film. We watch her unravel in  front of our eyes, and Kendrick is superb at portraying the emotions pulling Clover in two different directions. She wants to be angry at Aubrey for kicking her out, angry at Harry for killing himself but she is too preoccupied with her own sense of guilt for not returning during the floods, that she can’t make sense of anything. Kendrick delivers an incredible performance throughout.

Under the surface, The Levelling also explores the relationship between humans and nature. Life and death are constant themes throughout the film. The catalyst for the film’s events is the death of Harry, and Clover constantly encounters death throughout the film. She discovers the badgers, which have been killed, and in one traumatic scene, Aubrey orders her to shoot a baby calf. Despite desperately not wanting to, Clover obliges – shooting the calf with a shotgun (similar to the one which Harry killed himself with). Clover’s job (a trainee vet) means that she is constantly in contact with the circle of life – bringing new life into the world, and watching animals die. It’s cyclical – much like Aubrey and Clover’s relationship in the film. As soon as it seems that the two of them see eye to eye, their relationship deteriorates again.

The idea of nature going on regardless of whether or not we are here to see it is very prevalent within The Levelling. The farm must carry on, the work will never stop and if the rain is going to come, it will. Nature doesn’t care for Clover and Aubrey’s grief or guilt. As Aubrey says, ‘we move on…’ The cows still have to be milked, nature will not stop for the death of one human.

This message, though seemingly very distressing, becomes one of hope by the very end of the film. It is only as the heavens open and it finally begins to rain, that Aubrey allows himself to grieve. He breaks down crying in Clover’s arms – reiterating that cyclical bond with nature yet again. The rain mimics Aubrey’s tears whilst Aubrey and Clover’s roles are reversed – Clover is comforting her father.

The Levelling is a small film, with a lot of heart, and a lot to say about grief, humanity and nature.

 

Abortion in America: Dawn Porter’s ‘Trapped’

This article was first posted at Bitch Flicks and is cross posted with permission. 

After watching Trapped, I felt incredibly lucky. I felt incredibly lucky that I live in the U.K., a country in which abortion is free, legal, and unrestricted. If I need to have an abortion, I can make an appointment at my local doctor’s surgery or go to a walk-in clinic and (by law) I have to be provided with the procedure within two weeks of my initial appointment. I do not have to undergo an ultrasound. My doctor is not legally obligated to give me any literature on how “unsafe” the abortion procedure is. I almost certainly will not have to walk past hordes of religious protesters outside of the clinic.

It bothers me a lot that I would consider this to be lucky. This should be the norm. Though I thought I understood the struggle between right-wing governors and politicians in states like Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi, watching Trapped made me realize I knew very little at all. It also made me realize just how much I take for granted in my own country — and how the things I take for granted should be the standard for women across the globe.

There is no shortage of documentaries about the constant fight to restrict abortion laws in the U.S., nor is there a lack of reporting around the subject. After Tiller, No Woman No Cry, 12th and Delaware, are just a few documentaries that have been produced on the subject in the last few years. Abortion is a hot topic issue, dividing political parties and voters alike. Every politician is expected to have an opinion on it; so indeed, are the electorate. There are only two sides of the coin in the issue of abortion: pro-choice or pro-life (or more accurately anti-choice). At least, that’s what the media would have us believe. Trapped not only explores the battle between the left and the right — reproductive justice and anti-abortion — but it gives another perspective on the fight. It speaks directly to, and platforms, those who work in the abortion clinics. It tells their stories — from doctors and nurses to clinic owners and administrative staff — the people who are affected daily by the constantly changing laws surrounding abortion.

This is a perspective I had never really given much thought to.

Many of us are familiar with the narrative of abortion clinics being closed down, and consequently people being physically unable to get an abortion, due to the distance needed to travel to the closest clinic, the inability to take time off work for repeat appointments, the expensive costs (which rise due to the further along a person is in their pregnancy), etc. The perspectives many of us are unfamiliar with are the brave abortion providers, lawyers, and clinic workers who fight every single day to try and give (and protect) medical care to the people who need abortions, and the people most often impacted by lack of abortion access: women of color and poor women. This is the narrative that Dawn Porter provides as the backbone to Trapped, and it’s astonishing.

By weaving these different stories together, Porter gives us an image of abortion legislation that we may previously not have seen. Restricting a person’s right to have an abortion by closing the nearest clinic, or insisting on four appointments before the procedure can occur are vicious attacks on all people who need abortions: women, trans men, genderqueer, and non-binary individuals. These are calculated moves designed not just to ensure that women have no power or choice regarding their own bodies and lives, but also to ensure that women explicitly know that they have no power or choice. Abortion restrictions (laws such as HB2) are quite simply modern misogyny in action, masquerading as “medical legislation.”

We meet several abortion providers and clinic workers, including Doctor Dalton Johnson, who has moved to the south to use his skills where they are needed most. He owns the (now) only abortion clinic in Northern Alabama, and works daily to provide treatment to people across the state. He talks at length about the various hoops he and his staff have to jump through every week to ensure that they comply with the barrage of legislation continually being passed, all with the goal of closing clinics.

Marva Sadler, director of clinical services at Whole Women’s Health, discusses the unreasonable requirements for clinics and how they impede abortion access: “Because of these laws, many clinics have a two to three week waiting list for a procedure where time is of the essence.”

Dr. Willie Parker flies from Chicago to Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi to provide abortions; he’s one of only two doctors who perform abortions in Mississippi. He said that he travels because “nobody else would go.” Dr. Parker talks about the danger that abortion providers continually face: “People have been killed doing this work.”

June Ayers, owner of a clinic in Montgomery, Alabama, provides a little (much needed) comedy within the film. Ayers introduces us to the religious preachers who protest her clinic relentlessly, and her tactic of switching the sprinklers on if she feels “the grass is getting a bit too dry out there.” In a film with such a devastating subject, Ayers and her staff provide us with humanity and humor — and remind us all that these are the people at the heart of this legal battleground.

It would have been very easy to focus the documentary solely on the horror stories from the people who live in these states and have little to no access to reproductive health clinics. Their stories are emotive and relatable, and an easy way to make a shocking documentary. Instead of focusing solely on right wing Republicans and repeating well-known narratives, Porter incorporates messages of hope into Trapped. She includes Senator Wendy Davis’ 11-hour filibuster to try and prevent the passage of SB5, an oppressive “omnibus anti-abortion access bill.” Sadly, she succeeded in only delaying it by a few days but nevertheless, Porter champions Davis’ valiant actions and for a few moments, we can feel hopeful for the future.

Ayers, Dalton, Parker, and the other clinic workers, as well as lawyers like Nancy Northup (President and CEO of The Center for Reproductive Rights) are a part of this hopeful narrative that Porter subtly constructs. Of course there is often little to be optimistic about, as we see very clearly, but everyone pushes onward. There is a small glimmer of light in knowing that there are people out there fighting this legislation and advocating for reproductive rights. As Ayers says, “The function of the bill is not to regulate us. It is to regulate us out of business. It is a trap.” That’s why these abortion restrictions are called TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws; they are not created with the intent of making abortion safer (as it is already a safe, routine medical procedure), but to eradicate abortion altogether. The attitudes of the (mostly) male (mostly) Republicans are entrenched in misogyny under the guise of religious scripture. It’s disturbing and scary to listen to them talk about who has the right to a woman’s body (hint: it’s never the woman herself). Porter takes great care to ensure that Trapped doesn’t just show fear-mongering and hate, but reminds us that there are people out there fighting for basic human rights.

Though a difficult subject, Porter’s documentary is strangely uplifting. We have a long way to go, but it’s clear from watching Trapped, that we’ve also come a very, very long way.

Black Mirror: Season 3 Review

Watching the new series of Black Mirror in one weekend is one really effective way of leaving your psyche in tatters by Sunday evening. However, it is also something really worth doing, even though series three was a bit hit and miss. As a huge fan of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror since the days of pig-fucking bonanzas (and who knew how that would turn out eh!), I had been waiting patiently for series three to drop on Netflix, and then promptly devoured it over last weekend.

Continue reading “Black Mirror: Season 3 Review”

LFF Round-up: Sieranevada

Cristi Puiu’s Romanian family comedy-come-drama, Sieranevada, is the directors latest epic. Clocking in at 173 mins (just shy of three hours) it could be described more as an experience, than a film. Don’t think too deeply about the title – Puiu himself states that it means nothing at all. A little foreshadowing perhaps, as that notion is pretty reflective of the film itself.  There is a real sense of having ‘lived’ Sieranevada rather than simply watched it. Whilst it’s incredibly long (in Puiu’s usual style), don’t let that put you off. Sieranevada is a hidden gem of 2016, and everyone should watch it.

After the death of his father, Lary pays a visit to his mother’s house (along with the rest of his family) to pay his respects and commemorate his late father. Whilst waiting for the priest to arrive, the family members each deal with their grief in different ways. Drama, tears, fights and reconciliations commence – the four main ingredients of any successful family gathering, especially one under such emotional duress. A story of a man trying to deal with his own grief, Sieranevada, allows us to engage with all of these sensations- all at once.

That said, Sieranevada is also one of the funniest films I have seen in recent years. What makes it so genuinely amusing is that it feels like Puiu barely intended for it to be amusing. The humour comes from the completely natural and inane actions of the families members, the circular conversations and the way the interactions we see are instantly relatable to anyone who’s ever been to a family gathering. From the intergenerational arguing about politics, to the constant closing of kitchen doors, to watching food being laid out that no-one is allowed to eat just yet, Sieranevada perfectly captures the montages of extended family life.

A constant stream of events occur which prevents the family from gathering around the table to eat – the very reason why they are all there in the first place. The lateness of the priest, the appearance of Lary’s cousin’s drunk friend, the arrival of Uncle Tony and the ensuing melodrama that follows, are all things to keep the family from commemorating their deceased father. Yet, in a way, all of these interruptions are commemorative of family life – nothing ever goes to plan, even at a wake. The food is moved around, taken out of ovens, put back in again, and constantly just out of reach of the characters – who are drinking more to compensate. A recipe for disaster.

It truly does feel like an experience, rather than watching a film. Puiu’s handheld camera sometimes follows characters around the space, stepping into rooms and then leaving them again. Just as often, the camera is left in the hallway, or just behind a door. We can barely see what is happening and are left staring at the back of people’s heads, yet the dialogue is so engaging that it hardly matters. It feels as if we are the camera; we walk the same steps as the characters, constantly moving and not always seeing the bigger picture. By not allowing us to ever see the entire space, Puiu succeeds in shrinking the flat even smaller than it is. The whole film feels claustrophobic (deliberately, of course).There are too many people in such a small space. Family members sit in separate rooms, gathering in groups too large for the space they are in. It feels chaotic and utterly mesmerising.

At certain points, it could be mistaken for a documentary. It is unclear if there was a script, or whether Puiu just put a real family in a flat and switched the camera on. Either way, the results are phenomenal. The cast are superb, and whilst it’s hard to pick a standout performance, Sandra (Judith State) and Lary (Mimi Branescu) are certainly ones to mention. Brother and sister, children of the deceased, the two of them rarely interact yet are both clearly struggling to deal with the death of their father – in very different ways. They seem to move in opposing circles (physically, around the flat and emotionally too), with Sandra alluding to her husband’s infidelities, whilst Lary practically admitting his to his own wife. Again, in both scenes – Puiu is confident with the camera, keeping the same shot for several minutes while we watch these excruciating conversations.

It’s the astonishing command of the camera, and the authenticity of the characters, which makes Sieranevada  a truly immersive experience. I haven’t watched a film that felt so real  in a very long time (if ever). The attention to the smallest details (each and every character is fully developed, regardless of how long they are onscreen for), really drives home the naturalist feel of the film. It’s rich in colour, design and in content – all elements supporting the naturalist style that makes the film so unique.

A film that can not only hold my attention for that amount of time, but can also make it feel like it was no time at all, is a film that deserves to be seen. Sieranevada does both.

As I Open My Eyes: Not Your ‘Average’ Coming of Age Film

Farah, a curious and bright eyed eighteen year old on the cliff edge of adulthood, wants to be a singer. Her mother, worldweary Hayett, wants her to study and become a doctor. Whilst the two of them battle it out in an age old story between mother and daughter, the country they love is being ripped apart around them. As I Open My Eyes paints a portrait of Tunisia, months before the Arab Spring, and Farah’s love of singing could lead her into places that she doesn’t want to go…

 

Read my full review of Leyla Bouzid’s fantastic film here at Film Inquiry.

 

Zero Dark Thirty: An Imaginative Piece of US Propaganda

The story of the capture and assassination of Osama Bin Laden was bound to make it’s way into the cinematic world sooner or later. It is, naturally, the event that the American government may be most proud of during the Obama administration. They ‘defeated’ the enemy. They chucked his body into the ocean, without trial. They are so very proud of this.

Whichever way your opinions fall on the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the (arguably incredibly fictionalised) version of events, Kathryn Bigalow’s ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, has been praised almost unanimously by critics and audiences alike. Visually, it is creative and interesting. It also appeals to the patriotism that is so often seen in American war films, as ultimately ‘the good guys win’. Having watched Zero Dark Thirty only very recently, and having the benefits of a) being able to question the US Government’s version of events and b) having watched a number of interviews which directly contradict the events in Zero Dark Thirty – I have to say, I have a lot of questions.

I am very aware that cinema is fiction. Even documentaries, though claiming to present fact, are works of fiction in many ways. Zero Dark Thirty is a fictional film, but presents a very real event – possibly one of the most important events of the 21st century. The film presents its narrative as fact and purposefully leaves no room to question its message. Jessica Chastain’s character, Maya, is not real but was based on a CIA researcher who was heavily involved in the hunt for Bin Laden.

Let’s start with the positives. Chastain does an excellent job with a very poorly written character. It’s never clear what Maya’s motives are (other than undying patriotism to avenger her country), but Chastain manages to hold interest throughout the film. Visually, it is well shot and though it’s over two hours long, the pacing is impeccable. Zero Dark Thirty doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, and feels tight and polished. The third act is tense, the lack of any music or score ensuring that we are kept of the edge of our seats. If you can engage with it, that is.

Similarly to The Hurt Locker, Bigalow demonstrates just how adept she is at controlling the visuals, sound and landscape of her films. Everything feels very deliberate, strong and there is no room for error. It mirrors the military/CIA narrative. Sadly, though, I just found Zero Dark Thirty far too war-masturbatory to enjoy it at all. The unequivocal patriotism and unwavering loyalty to destroying America’s ‘enemies’ just did not sit right with me at all.

One part that I found incredibly disturbing was the use of real life news footage from the London bombings in 2005. At best, distasteful and at worst incredibly offensive, the footage was used to merely propel the narrative on within the film – more ammunition as to why they need to find Osama Bin Laden. To use the deaths of real people as a catalyst within the narrative (complete with actual footage from the bombings), I found highly, highly insensitive.

I had the privilege (and I say privilege because it was a fantastic film) of watching ‘Eye in the Sky’ a few months ago. It’s a tense, tight hour and a half thriller which takes us through the chain of command that is activated when considering a drone strike. The subject matter is pretty similar to Zero Dark Thirty, in that a group of white people in Western country get to sit in a room and decide the fate of a group of people they have decided are terrorists. There are definite differences in the films (Zero Dark Thirty is dealing with Al Qaeda, Eye in the Sky is dealing with terrorist activity in Libya). The major difference however is that, although they are technically both fictional films, Eye in the Sky presents us with a situation that we are completely aware is fictional, but implies that this might happen. Zero Dark Thirty presents its narrative as fact.

Not only this, but Eye in the Sky leaves the audience with an uncomfortable taste as it refuses to condone the actions of the British and American governments. Far from triumphing the drone strike as heroic or even necessary action, Eye in the Sky uses the situation to investigate the morality of the strikes. It holds a mirror up to the incompetent UK government, the aggressive US military and the innocent people in faraway countries which get caught up in the conflict.

Compare this to the actions of the SEALS in Zero Dark Thirty, in particular the scene where they discover the children in Bin Laden’s house. The SEALS have just massacred the parents of these children, and their reaction is to tell the children ‘It’s okay now, everything is going to be okay now”. In other words, everything will be fine, the white man has arrived to save the day. It could be that Bigalow is criticizing the white saviour mentality by inserting such an insensitive piece of dialogue, but I doubt it. The entire last part of the film ramps up the tension – we are really supposed to want Maya and the seals to succeed. We understand how much is riding on this (actually, just mostly Maya’s credibility as a CIA agent) and the entire sequence feels like patriotism on speed. Are we supposed to enjoy watching Pakistani’s being murdered in cold blood? Are they guilty by association? Are we supposed to applaud them?

It’s also telling that, throughout the entire film, we only see the effects of terrorists attacks in Pakistan from a white American perspective. Never mind that Al Qaeda and the Pakistani government had been waging war on it’s own people for years. The first terrorist attack we see targets a restaurant where Maya and her friend are eating dinner, the second is a calculated attack on the military base. In both instances, the only victims discussed are the Americans. Particularly evident in the restaurant attack, we watch Maya and Jessica escape through the kitchen but there is no sense of the Pakistani victims. In fact, Zero Dark Thirty pretty much equates all ‘brown people’ as terrorists, similarly to another US war film in the last few years – American Sniper.

Just as UK and the US had (and still have) no second thought for the people who inhabit the countries that we strike daily with bombs and drones, Zero Dark Thirty doesn’t want to think about the people in Pakistan, those who were equally and more so affected by the rise of the Taliban.  Zero Dark Thirty has nothing interesting or new to say about the conflict. It merely reiterates imperialist propaganda which has been preached by the media and governments alike, in favour of ‘freedom’ and ‘liberation’. But much like the story told in Zero Dark Thirty, it’s all a pack of lies.

 

 

Raised by Wolves: on the cancellation of one of the greatest shows ever

Channel 4 has announced a few weeks ago that they won’t be renewing the utterly hilarious Raised by Wolves and I am mad as hell.

Fortunately, it’s not just me who is mad as hell – the show has a beloved following – and Caitlin Moran (the show’s writer and creator) has already drummed up a lot of noise online to try and save it. Raised by Wolves is Caitlin Moran’s , along with her sister Caroline Moran, TV comedy of their childhood lives. More specifically, their teenage years living in a run down in house in Wolverhampton, being home schooled by their mother. Both Caroline and Caitlin have admitted that aspects of their lives have been embellished (as is the nature of television) but if you’ve read Caitlin’s ‘How to Be a Woman’ or ‘How to Raise a Girl’, you’ll know that despite the differences, a lot of Raised by Wolves is true in essence to Caitlin’s memoirs. The biggest alteration is the present day setting (Caroline and Caitlin grew up in the 1970s), but it’s hard to imagine bringing in audiences if Raised by Wolves hadn’t been modernised slightly.

Caitlin and Caroline also adopt different names for their onscreen characters – Caitlin’s likeness is Germaine (played by the incredible Helen Monks) and Caroline’s is Aretha (the equally incredible Alexa Davies). In the fictional world of Raised by Wolves, matriarch of the family,Della (Rebekah Staton), has named all of her daughters after influential women. We have Germaine, Aretha, Yoko, Mariah and baby Cher. Della is a hard working, DIY, do-not-cross-me mum who single handedly does absolutely everything for her six children (she also has a son named Wyatt). She’s a beer drinking, cigarette smoking whirlwind who has complete and utter control over her kingdom. In short, she is almost definitely the best mother I have ever seen on a television show. We’ll delve into just why a bit later on. Also in the Garry household, on most occasions, is Grampy – unsurprisingly, the kid’s grandfather. 

Raised by Wolves is a perfect mix of feminist rhetoric, conversations about masturbation and sibling wonderfulness that we so desperately need in the UK comedy scene. It’s a complete travesty that it has been cancelled, but it isn’t that hard to see why. It’s about powerful young women striking out in the world, taking control of their situations and expressing their deepest desires outwardly. Well, for Germaine anyway. If this is the last hurrah, let us delve into the things we love best about those Garrys. #upthewolves

 

Sex Positive

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Though our Germaine is named after a Germaine who was very prominent in second wave feminism, her values and ideas about femininity and sex are very, very different. In fact, it’s probably better that we don’t talk too much about the car crash that is Germaine Greer, and focus more on the wonderful young woman whom Germaine. She’s confident, sexual, curious and maybe a tiny bit batshit crazy, but she always has her heart in the right place. The greatest thing about Germaine is that she knows she is something special, and doesn’t let anyone forget it.

To see such confidence in a young teenager is comic, yes, and also slightly unnerving. We are so used to seeing teenage girls upset and horrified by their bodies and sexuality, but our Germaine bucks this trend with style. Self confident, sexual and ready for some action of the male variety – Germaine doesn’t care what anyone else thinks of her. It’s super refreshing.

In ‘The Dorchester’, we get to witness Germaine’s first throes of passion – making out with any boy available in the nightclub. Germaine’s realisation that she has something they want, and she can get what she wants by giving it to them (kissing) leads her to snog her way around the club, pretty much. In a subversion of the very typical image of a horny teenage boy working his way round all of the girls – it is Germaine who uses the boys to satisfy her newly discovered sexual desires.

It is unsurprising that Germaine has such a sex positive attitude when she has Della as her mother. Della, whilst balancing both the roles of mother, father, DIY maestro, life-coach and  teacher to all of her children, also has a very healthy and liberating sex life. In season 1, Della meets and dates a breakdown vehicle driver, and she isn’t afraid to tell him what she really wants. Layered in innuendo, the two of them eat scotch eggs in Tesco car park and spin doughnuts in the middle of the street. Della knows what she wants and isn’t at all afraid to get it. Despite their extreme difference, you can see where Germaine gets it from.

 

Working Class Women

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Where are the working class women on British TV? I’ve tried looking, but there’s a distinct lack nowadays. We had Shameless, and we had the Royale Family, and Raised by Wolves filled the gap in the market for a short time (at least for being as wonderfully rude as the other two contenders). One of the saddest things about the cancellation of Raised by Wolves is the loss of a television show which is made by and is about working class women. Not just that, but regional working class women. The Garry’s are proud of their midlands identity (“we’re not southern twats, we’re not northern twats, we’re midlands twats”), and there is very little else on British television that even comes close.

 

Body Image

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Another wonderful moment from ‘The Dorch’ will, if you’ve ever been a teenage girl, l have you in stitches about your first time underage clubbing.  If you haven’t been an underage teenage girl, you’ll still probably laugh a lot, so it is totally worth watching. To get ready for their Big Night Out, Germaine decides to hack away at Yoko’s full length skirt, turning into a new and improved (and very short) miniskirt. Germaine tells Yoko to embrace her legs – because it turns out she does have incredible pins. The three girls enter the club, Yoko with her legs out, Germaine in her faux Victorian lace garb and Aretha in her oversized jumper and they have the time of their lives.

Though the three Garry girls are of very different sizes, and have very different interests and ideas about fashion – there is an overwhelmingly positive message about body image in Raised by Wolves. Germaine, not what we would typically view as ‘model material’ (thanks internalised misogyny) is an uber confident teenager – a rarity on television.

As confident as Germaine is, Aretha is quite the opposite. However, her own sense of style and her reservations about her own body (“I haven’t even seen myself naked”) are respected. There is an understanding that, although Aretha may not be entirely comfortable in her own skin, this is perfectly normal and many teenagers go through it.

 

The rituals of growing up female

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The entire show is rooted in feminine milestones. Yoko’s first period, a first bra fitting, first kisses and first crushes. Events that are (in society’s patriarchal brain) life changing and life defining for women. I mean, everyone knows that your first time changes you forever, right? (wrong. So wrong, incase anyone didn’t get the sarcasm).

Raised by Wolves takes these seemingly important milestones and makes them seem not quite as traumatic. The trauma comes from having Germaine as your sister (if you are Aretha) or your mum making you go out and forage for food. Or, god forbid, having to work in the pound shop to earn your keep. It’s true that Yoko starting her periods is terrifying for her, and not everything goes to plan, but ultimately the realisation is that every woman goes through this. That it is going to be okay and there’s nothing to be worried about. As Germaine says about tampons, ‘I just put it in my lady mouse hole’.

There’s also the exploration of first loves and first heartbreaks. In the final episode of the second season (and potentially ever, sob), both Aretha and Germaine are dealing with their first heartbreaks… in two very different ways. Though the two sisters are unlike in many, many ways, they reconcile at the end of the episode and help each other get through the pain of being dumped, and that of unrequited love. It’s touching and sweet, and just another reason why this show is just so damn good.

 

 

The cancellation of Raised by Wolves is a fucking tragedy. It’s funny, feminist and unique in every way. Still, Caitlyn Moran has launched a facebook page to save the show, so if you are still grieving like me – so go on, join the rebel alliance, bab. 
Also – both seasons are still available to view on 4OD at the moment…

 

 

Parched (Leena Yadav, 2016): Feminism, Friendship & Freedom

In the beautiful desert landscape of Gujarat, India, director Leena Yadav introduces us to a world of friendship, suffering and heartbreak within a story of four women, trying their best to overcome their individual struggles.

Parched explores the ideas of tradition, culture and misogyny in the heart of rural India but with a compelling characters and strong friendships that feel universal to us all.

 

Read my full review of Yadav’s masterpiece at Film Inquiry.

The Women of ‘Stranger Things’: Tired Tropes or Progressive Heroes?

Netflix’s new series Stranger Things is the hot topic of discussion this week. You’ve probably heard the comparisons – a mix of E.T./Stand By Me/Alien and with music by John Carpenter and/or Daft Punk, Stranger Things is so nostalgic that it feels as if you’ve been watching it your entire life. Which, in a way, we have.

Continue reading “The Women of ‘Stranger Things’: Tired Tropes or Progressive Heroes?”