July: Trainwreck

Posts, The Other Movie Project

Welcome! This is The Other Movie Project, a blog series where I watch movies released near me that are not about white men. I’ve been doing this since January 2015, and movie review website A Good Movie To Watch published my summary of my experience so far (you can read it here). Now, let’s see what movies were released in July that were about anyone, literally anyone other than a white guy.

1. Trainwreck

When my partner and I bumbled into our local cinema looking for Trainwreck tickets, we were annoyed/thrilled to find the session completely sold out and a line out the door. This was a great day for women in comedy! And an irritating 20-minute drive for us to a different cinema! But the fact that a rom-com written by a woman based on her own life was selling out theatres couldn’t take the sting out of the poster we saw that had no mention of Amy Schumer’s name. The poster said, instead, “TRAINWRECK: FROM THE GUY WHO BROUGHT YOU BRIDESMAIDS”. Fuck you, poster. You might as well have said, “TRAINWRECK: REMEMBER THAT OTHER COMEDY ABOUT WOMEN YOU ACTUALLY LIKED? DON’T WORRY A MAN IS BEHIND THIS!” They didn’t even say “Judd Apatow”, which would have capitalised on his name recognition. Just, “the guy”.

Okay, so, infuriating advertisement of a comedy by one of the most popular comedians of the moment aside, how was Amy Schumer’s debut feature film? It was good. Flashes of brilliance in an unremarkable setting, like a diamond set in tin. If you’re expecting Trainwreck to subvert the rom-com genre (based on Schumer’s genius skewering of tropes on her Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer), you might be disappointed. Trainwreck is less of a subversion and more of a disruption; it’s the rom-com we could have been having all these years if rom-coms weren’t so awful.

you-just-lost-a-guy-in-10-days

Yes, please, go away.

Meg Watson at Junkee wrote a great article called Trainwreck May Not Be A Feminist Masterpiece – But In A Rom-Com This Good, Does That Matter?’ and you know what, it’s so good, I think you should go read it now. Like, actually click out of this blog and go read Meg’s article. I’ll wait.

Welcome back!

I do disagree with Meg on one point: Schumer’s love interest (Bill Hader) does tell her that he cares about how many guys she has slept with. I think he explicitly says to her face, “I am bothered by how many guys you have slept with.” He tells her that he doesn’t “feel safe”, but that is never expanded on. Is he worried about STDs? That she’ll cheat on him? They never have that conversation and it seemed like a disappointing slide into slut-shaming by a writer who is supposedly sex-positive.

But Schumer brings so much heart to this film – and lacerating wit – that it lands well. Her relationship with Bill Hader’s character is refreshingly sweet and based on them actually getting along. I enjoyed this take on the rom-com format where the couple gets together because they like each other, and not in spite of mutual antagonism. The conflict comes when their relationship is tested by circumstance: Amy suffers a personal loss, she is worried she’s about to lose her job, and Hader’s sports doctor is under pressure from his mounting profile. It’s so much more enjoyable than the usual “they are secretly working for each other’s enemies” or whatever trope usually props up the romantic tension, because the stakes feel more real. There you can sense the hand of Apatow – a belief that stories about regular (albeit white and privileged) people can be interesting, too.

Trainwreck is a lot of fun and surprisingly sweet. I hope more romantic comedies turn out like this one.

Oh, and LeBron James is so fucking fantastic in this film. It isn’t even fair. He’s the best at basketball and can do comedy acting? Stahp.

Other movies released near me in July that were NOT about white men:

(The ones I didn’t have time to watch)

2. Madam Bovary

3. Amy

 

Number of movies released near me in July that WERE about white men:

Seven.

That’s more than twice the number of films about women.

Aaaand not one film about a person of colour.

 

A note about the film Stonewall

In February, we saw Selma hit cinemasthe first theatrical movie to feature Martin Luther King Jr as a main character, and a film about “the political and emotional peak of the modern civil rights movement“. This year we are also getting a theatrical film about the Stonewall Riots, “the pivotal LGBT+ equal rights event”. Stonewall is about the activists who started the riots and are credited with kicking off the Pride movement. According to history, key figures in these riots were two transgender women of colour, Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. God, I would love to see a movie about this story. But I can’t watch Stonewall for The Other Movie Project. Why? Stonewall is about a white man.

Diogo, a reader of The Other Movie Project, brought to my attention American transwomyn of colour Pat Cordova-Goff, who is calling for a boycott of Stonewall. The petition says:

History classes throughout our nation have built a reputation of instructing young generations that white, straight, cis folks are the saviors and founders of this land. Wrong.

 

Do not support a film that erases our history. Do not watch Stonewall.

Erasure matters, and can have violent consequences. When we only or mainly see white people/men/cisgender people playing significant roles in our historical narratives, it justifies the further marginalising of people of colour, women and transgender people. It reinforces the idea that non-white-men don’t matter, or don’t matter as much.

I’m disappointed that Stonewall doesn’t qualify for The Other Movie Project. I’m disappointed that we could have had a big-budget film about two real-life incredible trans women of colour and instead got another offering about a fictional white cis male. This seems especially dopey considering we are living at a time when the transgender community is becoming more visible than ever, particularly thanks to two real-life incredible trans women of colour, Laverne Cox and Janet Mock.

Okay, I’ve had my say about it, but since I am a cisgender white woman I suggest you don’t listen to me about this but go and click on all the links in this section. 🙂

 

 

 

 

The view from six months in

Posts, The Other Movie Project

It has been six months since I started The Other Movie Project. On New Year’s Day, 2015, I vowed that I would watch every movie released near me that did not revolve around a white guy. Most movies we see here in Australia are about a white male character; I was interested in the stories about everyone else – the other movies. At first, it was an easy gig; January was quiet. There was only one movie that really qualified for the project: Reese Witherspoon’s Wild. Slim pickings for women and people of colour who wanted to see stories about them (and this one movie was about a white woman, so, really not great for people of colour). But Wild was so vibrant, so different to the storytelling I was used to seeing at the cinema, that I couldn’t wait for the rest of the year.

I’m interested in representation. For two years, I spent every Sunday co-hosting a feminist radio show on community radio. I’ve been writing intermittently about women in film for some time. But I wanted to challenge myself to see more films, gather more intel on what is available to movie-goers. And then I read this article on Colorlines: ‘Study Finds White People Don’t Watch Black Movies. Who’s To Blame?’

Dear White People (2014)

(Hint: it’s white people.)

The article notes that people of color are underrepresented across all aspects of the film industry. It’s notoriously hard for non-white actors to find roles, let alone good roles, let alone the kind of starring roles that kickstart a successful career. Studio executives get nervous that casting non-white people in important roles will put audiences off – because, y’know, the white experience is universal and everything else is niche. Right? Well, it turns out this bias may not be (just) a top-down cultural conspiracy, but the market responding to consumers. The study featured in the Colorlines article found that “‘minority cast members’ do in fact lead white audiences to be less interested in seeing certain films.”

Like, holy shit. That’s pretty damning. The industry exec’s are shovelling whitewash down our throats because we are kind of asking for it. And when I say “we” I do mean white people.

I realised that I was guilty of this bias, too. How often did I seek out movies about characters who were Black, Asian, Middle-Eastern? Yet how often could you find me searching “Anne Hathaway movie” on YouTube late at night, yelling “take my moneyyy”? I am a white person, comfortable in an entertainment culture that is insanely whitewashed. (I don’t even want to talk about The Last Airbender.) OK, so maybe I’m not that comfortable with it anymore. Some things can’t be unseen. I dearly hope that means I’m growing.

Geena Davis, whose Institute on Gender and Media is collecting critical data on the disappearance of women on screen and behind the camera, has said:

[M]edia images exert a powerful influence in creating and perpetuating our unconscious biases. However, media images can also have a very positive impact on our perceptions.

Before this project, I’ve self-imposed filters on the stuff I watch before, to great positive effect. There was the year I cut out all romance narratives from my life. Movies, books – if they were in any way classified as ‘romance’, I was out. It drove one friend of mine crazy (sorry Tiff), as she tried to introduce me to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. But LBD is a Pride & Prejudice adaptation, which is kind of romance, so I refused. (As soon as the year was up I binge-watched that puppy, all 100 episodes, and hooo it is good. I was pleasantly surprised to find it is mostly about the relationships between Lizzie Bennet and the women in her life, and has a bunch of non-white actors who are just there, no big deal, just acting, just not being white.) Cutting out romance was just what I needed to purge some toxic gender-role bullshit about relationships from my mind and soul. After 12 months without any exposure to Matthew McConaughey shushing women, I felt better able to engage with romantic narratives without letting their sinister voices get inside my head.

At the end of last year, I realised – with the help of people smarter than me explaining it to me on the internet – that I would need to actively seek out movies with better gender and race representation. Movies like Jurassic World and Ted 2 (good god) would be thrown in front of my eyes on buses and billboards all the time, but I’d need to work a little harder to filter out the white-dude bias.

Which brings me to The Other Movie Project. I wanted to have a regular film writing project, while challenging some internalised bias and hopefully making my feminism more intersectional. So I thought I’d try filtering out the white guys for a while. Of course you can’t get rid of them completely, because they’re everywhere (again, The Last Airbender), but I decided to avoid narratives where the point-of-view character was a white man. I’ll talk about the practical difficulties in doing this in a moment. The Other Movie Project was designed to road-test industry statistics about film, in my little pocket of suburban Brisbane, Australia. Would the line-up at my local cinema be a vanilla sausagefest?

It’s the beginning of July and results are mixed. January saw just one movie that was actually about a woman, 14 movies about white men, and zero about people of colour. February, the ratio was about even (that is, “white men” to “everyone else in the world”). In March, things got bad again, with only five films qualifying for the project, and 19 films about white dudes going unwatched by me.

Since then, though, the number of films about (white) (usually blonde) women has been skyrocketing. I have not been able to keep up with my viewing quotas. And unfortunately, foreign-language films and movies about anyone who isn’t a white man or woman don’t seem to get many sessions at the cinemas, so if I miss a couple of days, I miss the film. A lot of what I watched during busy months ended up depending on what was showing on the days I did feel well enough to go to the cinema. (I live with a chronic medical condition, more on that over here if you’re interested.) Since movies like Pitch Perfect 2 were given plenty of sessions, I was more likely to see them. Movies like Salut D’Amour, however – a South Korean romance-dramedy about two older people re-learning how to date – seemed like they flitted through the cinema on a breeze and were gone.

Salut D'Amour, 2015

The worst, the very worst thing about doing The Other Movie Project – that has been researching people’s ethnicities to find out if they are “white”. Or, “how white they are”. Oh, it is awful and I regret this parameter. On one hand, people have been helpful in alerting me to actors whose non-white ethnicity is often erased in pop media (case-in-point, Vin Diesel, who identifies as a person of colour, which I did not know until Twitter told me). This has given me a better understanding of how racial identity is constructed (and, tangentially, a better appreciation for the Fast franchise, which I plan to watch asap). On the other hand, nothing makes you feel like a gross person so much as typing “What is Carl Barron’s ethnicity?” into Google. (The only results were from white power forums.) All I can say is that my reading for this project (along with the zillion think-pieces I’ve read on Rachel Dolezal, because internet) have helped my thinking become much less … no I’m not going to say “black and white”. But, that.

When I set the terms for this movie filter six months ago, I knew that I might not be able to meet all of them. And I haven’t. April is completely missing from the project as I was directing/co-producing a play and everything else kind of fell by the wayside. June is gone too, as I spent half of that month being too ill and the other half staying somewhere with no cinema. And there have been movies I thought qualified that, upon watching them, turned out to be about white guys, as well as movies that probably qualified but promoted their white male lead like it was going out of fashion (it is, heh).

Thank you for (still!) reading this. We’re at the halfway mark now, so I will regroup, gather my cinema coupons (one wonderful Twitter friend sent me cinema coupons! How great are people), and hit the cinemas for July. Wish me luck. I’ll see you for next month’s blog post, when we will be back to our regularly scheduled program of non-white-guy movie reviews.

 

 

May: A Pitch Royal Tomorrowland 2

Posts, The Other Movie Project

Welcome to The Other Movie Project! (Please click on the link if you are not sure what the Project is.)

I am back and tireder than ever. If you follow my podcast Just A Spoonful you may know that I have Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, a condition as painful to live with as it is to spell. Since my movie load has bumped up to around 12 films a month – TWELVE, which is of course AWESOME – I have not been able to keep up with my viewing for this project. Between illness, other projects and my regular work, I hope you can understand why I might not get to every movie each month. Oh, and we’re calling April ‘the Gas Leak Month’.

Since my brain is in a state of constant brown-out I’ll just be updating this blog whenever I can get to it. I hope you don’t mind, and I really appreciate all the support you’ve been giving this project on Twitter. You all are the best. OK, let’s see what the non-white-guys were up to in cinemas near me this May. 1. A Royal Night Out

A promising set-up – two cloistered princesses, granted a rare night of revelry on the night the whole country is celebrating – unfortunately goes nowhere.

I guess it couldn’t go anywhere, really, since the subjects are real-life Queen Elizabeth II and her sister Princess Margaret. And since their family owns most of the British Isles it must be hard to take any great risks when portraying their story. (Although I’m sure 14 year-old Princess Margaret getting drunk in a ‘knocking shop’ will be risky enough for most senior audiences.) It’s charming to see the nineteen year-old Princess Elizabeth imagined as she might have been before the dour sovereign we’re all familiar with.

The film is based on true events – apparently the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret did in fact slip out of Buckingham Palace on 8 May 1945 (the formal end of World War II in Europe) to go party with the rest of London. But A Royal Night Out makes the mistake of splitting up the princesses early in the movie (whose chemistry is the most interesting of the film), and chasing a dull romantic subplot instead. In the film’s imagining, Princess Elizabeth gets separated from her sister and enlists the help of a random Naval Officer, who plays the role of cranky commoner/love interest.

He is handsome and hates the King, she is pretty and the King’s daughter but it’s a SECRET, will they won’t they oh no class divides blah blah blah. Sorry, but it was pretty boring. Sarah Gadon as Elizabeth is great, but the invented Naval Officer ‘Jack’ is an embarrassing sketch of a working class Londoner. And even though Jack has a pretty sympathetic back story and a reasonably bleak future ahead of him, somehow we end up being positioned to feel sorry for the Royal Family? Sitting down for breakfast in their dining room the size of the war veteran’s house? And oh thank goodness Jack’s realised the King is actually a pretty good guy? Republicans will hate this.

I didn’t hate it, but I did realise very early into the film that I was not its target audience. My presence in the cinema must have brought the median age down to about 56. I’d thought, seeing as it was a film about two young women, I might be about to watch the pacey adventure of two bright, powerful and independently wealthy young women having their first exciting taste of freedom. That’s in there a bit – Princess Margaret steals most of the best scenes – but mostly it’s an unfocussed and slightly turgid love letter to the monarchy.

2. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

Twenty-nine year-old Kumiko is dissatisfied with her dead-end Tokyo job and shows no particular interest in her friends or family. At night she sits alone in her cramped apartment, fast-forwarding and rewinding an old VHS tape of the American film Fargo. And Kumiko is taking detailed notes.

She is convinced that Fargo was a true story, and that there is still treasure buried out there somewhere under the Minnesota snow. This premise is a little heavily laid-on, with what I thought were excessive cuts to Kumiko taking out her Fargo maps and staring at them. We get it, she wants to go to Fargo. We know it so well that, although I loved the film’s characterisation of middle-class life in Tokyo, it seems like a long time before Kumiko actually sets off on her quest. In fact, it’s about 45 minutes before the film gets to Minnesota. I began to get impatient during the first half of the film, wanting to set off on the journey already, thinking “Why are we still here??”. Afterwards I realised, hey, that was probably exactly how Kumiko felt. And I was empathising with her. Well played, Zellner Brothers.

The thing is, Kumiko is kind of a jerk. She is surly, she lies, and she seems to have no compunction about stealing – even from charity shops and visually impaired taxi drivers. She is rude and unfriendly and ungrateful for the kindness of anyone who helps her. And that doesn’t change, all the way through the movie. She definitely doesn’t learn the error of her ways. But I found myself wanting her to succeed. Kumiko clearly has difficulty connecting with other people. Her only friend is Bunzo, her pet rabbit (who is actually called Bunzo in real life and I want to break all of Queensland’s laws to adopt it). Kumiko is fed up with banality.

She styles herself as a Spanish conquistador and sets off for The New World to claim the treasure she has ‘discovered’. And that’s the thing about conquistadors – I don’t remember them having much compunction about taking other people’s stuff. Looking at it from Kumiko’s view, her mission makes perfect sense. This treasure is her destiny, why would she lose focus on it for even a moment?

Rinko Kikuchi, as Kumiko, is simply perfect. Using little more than facial expression, she brings complexity to a character that could easily have been under-served by the spare script. Her physicality is impressive, almost clowning – but a tragic clown.

Knowing a little about the real events this film is based on, I wondered how the Zellner Brothers would bring this sad tale to a satisfying close. I was wondering that even up to the final minutes of the film. But, they actually nailed it. And the film never smashes the prism of enchantment that hangs around it. It probably helps to be a fan of Fargo (the movie), but I didn’t find that tripping me up in any way. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is a beautiful film.

cynthia-rose-bellas3. Pitch Perfect 2

Full disclosure here: Pitch Perfect is easily one of my favourite recent comedies. I have watched it more times than I would like to disclose. I knew I was probably not going to be satisfied with the sequel, no matter what they did, because the original was so precious to me.

I was correct. Pitch Perfect 2 suffers from too many locations, unnecessary exposition, and too many new characters added to an already beefy cast. This was too bad because I adore Elizabeth Banks, producer on Pitch Perfect and first-time director on Pitch Perfect 2, and hoped her directing debut would be as excellent as she is. However I couldn’t help noticing the awkward edits undercutting scenes where the comedic talent was so good that all you needed to do was get out of their way.

But again, my expectations were set high for this film based on how quick and funny I found the first one. There are moments of brilliance and genuine heart-feelings. There are some fun developments in the sequel, like old a capella rival Bumper having graduated and joined the team of sad toolies who haunt campus parties insisting they’re still relevant. And a particular scene involving a canoe makes full use of Rebel Wilson as a comedy actor and singer. This movie is a feel-good spectacle and I enjoyed the ride, minus several cringes at fat shaming, American flag-waving, and bafflingly frequent jokes about Guatemala. Guatemala? What did they ever do to you??

Full credit to Elizabeth Banks for continuing a franchise helmed by a team of funny women whose motivations have nothing to do with men. Even in heralded ‘female comedy’ Bridesmaids, the plot centered around a hetero wedding. And Kristen Wiig had to show her emotional development by getting together with the Irish policeman. In Pitch Perfect 2, the women’s focus is on community, self-fulfillment, and the legacy they will leave behind. Relationships with dudes are secondary.

All that being said, the movie’s main conflict is kicked off by the world getting furious about seeing Rebel Wilson’s vagina. A subtle critique of misogyny and cultural anxiety about the female body? Or just a way to be edgy and show people screaming at a vagina? I don’t know, I’m tired. I liked this movie okay?

Final comments: more Ester Dean, always and forever. Look at how much Ester Dean you’ve put into your film, then double it.

Athena quietly wishes they had come up with a better name than Tomorrowland.

4. Tomorrowland

This tweet sums up my exact reaction to seeing this film:

I loved it? This was one of those films where you feel good during the ending, but as you walk away from the cinema you’re like, “Wait, why did they? And where was the? And they killed all those people??”

Tomorrowland was not what I expected at all. The trailer did not do it any favours. It was intense, well-paced, and juuuust this side of tacky. The movie is about a sort of parallel dimension called Tomorrowland where everyone rides monorails and wears jumpsuits and anything is possible. It’s basically Disneyland in the 90s. I was a kid in the 90s, and for me the gleaming monorails and curving concrete structures immediately evoke the dream of the future that Disneyland was selling: clean, shiny, the happiest place on Earth.

And like Disneyland in the 90s, Tomorrowland is in decline. The world is losing hope. They need heroes to change the direction of the tide, to move the world back from the brink of destruction. This can only be done by ‘special’ people, like the cringingly named protagonist, Casey – sigh – Newton. Oh guess what she loves science! And she is apparently still in school even though she looks 25 and drives a motorbike around? I found this a genuine impediment to believability in the film, although this may be a cultural divide between America and Australia. Or maybe I’m just a city girl who wishes she was allowed to have her own motorbike in high school.

Even though the world must be saved by people with ‘special abilities’, I didn’t find this exclusionary or, the gods help us, Randian, because their special ability is optimism and it is infectious. The heroes are people who ‘haven’t given up’, who do the work that needs to be done and pull everyone else up with them. Eventually we could all be heroes. It is a beautiful sentiment and I found the ending quite moving despite its potential to be cloying.

How was this movie not cloying? Well, it has some pretty kick-ass fight scenes involving a 12-year-old girl named Athena who can drive a truck like it’s stolen (it is; she stole it). There are fun cameos from Keegan Michael Key and Kathryn Hahn. George Clooney has a great face. But the reason I really liked it was because it slow-walks the viewer through the actual threat facing the world and how the heroes prevent it.

This is a movie for young people. Like many contemporary young adult narratives, it is weighted down with the horror of the broken world we must inherit. Failing economies; inaction on climate change; society-wide distrust and violence. It’s sad. But Tomorrowland offers realistic hope: don’t give up on the world. Despair only causes more despair, but hope encourages more hope. Hugh Laurie delivers a magnificent speech towards the film’s climax about humanity’s choice to let the world burn if it meant they didn’t have to do anything. A Disneyfied riff on the kind of movie I was watching when I was in high school, when Hugo Weaving was telling Keanu Reeves “human beings are a disease”.

Tomorrowland has the classic Disney race problem. Oh sure, there are plenty of diverse ethnicities represented in the background and bit parts, but funnily enough all of the lead roles (and nearly all of the dialogue) goes to white people. It becomes more obvious when you see plenty of Asian, black and Indian people walking around Casey and co. but only hear white people speaking.

Oh and George Clooney is just trolling us now, with his biggest age gap yet: his love interest in this film is 12 years old. He is 54. Nothing really happens, but more happens that it should, you know? It’s borderline is what I’m saying.

But still, I liked Tomorrowland. I think I liked it? So much happened. Wait, why did they kick George Clooney out of Tomorrowland in the first place? And why didn’t he have a relationship with anyone other than a 12-year-old cyborg since he was 18? Oh damn, I don’t think this film made sense at all. Never mind.

Other movies released near me in May that were NOT about white men:

(The ones I didn’t have time to watch!)

5. PIKU (India)

6. Unfriended (US)

7. Testament of Youth (UK)

8. Bombay Velvet (India)

9. Salut d’Amour (South Korea)

10. Spy (US)

11. Woman In Gold (US)

12. San Andreas (US)

Number of movies released near me in May that WERE about white men:

SIX! Holy shit, well done film industry!

mad-max-fury-road-mask

*Rages incoherently*

A word (or 200) about Mad Max: Fury Road

A few people have asked me if I was going to review Mad Max: Fury Road for The Other Movie Project. Now, I freaking LOVED this film, but it doesn’t qualify for this project and here’s why:

a. It is about Mad Max.

b. Mad Max is a white man.

End of list.

I know many people have been arguing that the film is actually about Imperator Furiosa (the wonderful, WONDERFUL Charlize Theron), but for the purposes of this movie blog, it is not. The movie, titled MAD MAX, follows the story of MAD MAX while he comes to terms with his identity as MAD MAX. We hear his inner monologue, see most of the film from his point of view, and he has the biggest arc. (He goes from angry guy only worried about himself, to angry guy helping a group of women and one cute warboy.) Yes, Imperator Furiosa is the more interesting protagonist and I would follow her into the gaping maw of Death itself. But we only find out her internal workings through what she tells Max and what Max sees when she finds her old tribe. However, I hear rumours that the next Mad Max film will be officially and unreservedly about Furiosa, and WOULDN’T THAT BE FUCKING COOL. If I’m mistaken and the rumour isn’t true, let’s all find George Miller’s email address and make it true.

Now, please excuse me while I start building a pretend prosthetic arm in time to cosplay as Furiosa for Halloween.

My hero.

March: Insurging Through My Top Five Cinderellas

Posts, The Other Movie Project

This installment in The Other Movie Project blog is a bit late and I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, but let’s kick on and insurge through the new movies showing in March that were not about white men!

1. Chappie

I don’t know what to make of this movie. Its sentimentality is at times sickening, but its handling of serious themes is also weirdly flippant. And the ending does not feel earned at all.

Dev Patel is wonderful as always, and I look forward to telling him so during our inevitable courtship. Hugh Jackman is one of my favourite movie villains of the past few years. With his tough guy mullet and biology teacher shorts, he is a very believable toxic macho Australian bully boy. Imagine a guy like that getting in charge of military operations. Terrifying.

Where did that come from

Imagine.

There are two female characters (who do not speak to each other): Sigourney Weaver and Yolandi from Die Antwoord. They portray, respectively, Sigourney Weaver and Yolandi from Die Antwoord. Weaver appears infrequently to yell “NOPE” at a male character, and Yolandi becomes “Mummy” to Chappie, then eventually dies so that Chappie can feel sad and motivated about it. That’s not a spoiler because what else did you think could happen?

Back to Chappie himself – why did I never doubt that he was a ‘him’? All of the characters assume his maleness from the get-go. But he’s a robot? He doesn’t have biology? On looking back, this movie may not actually qualify for The Other Movie Project. Chappie is voiced by a man of the whitest order, but I’d thought the movie was mainly about Dev Patel. Nope. It turned out to be about a white man dressed as a robot. Tricked again.

2. Top Five

This is the first really funny movie I’ve seen this year. And I. Loved. It. The storytelling is tight and the performances are great. Chris Rock can say a lot with an eye-squint. And he has created an actual woman role for the wonderful Rosario Dawson, who reads like an  Actual Real Woman.

The movie’s attitude towards women is surprisingly positive (I say ‘surprisingly’ because I’ve seen Chris Rock’s stand-up), other than some eye-rolly moments of mansplaining on Chris Rock’s part. For example: “You know you’re beautiful, right?” SHE KNOWS, CHRIS. PRETTY SURE ROSARIO DAWSON OWNS A MIRROR.

There are undertones of homophobia (Dawson becomes disgusted with her boyfriend when he shows enjoyment of butt play, and instead of talking to him about it violates his body because of course), which I found frankly disturbing. Other people say it better than I can.

Also troubling is the main character’s anecdote about his “rock-bottom moment”, in which he watches two women with whom he was having a threesome, have a threesome with another man. They turn from “angels” to “disgusting” in his eyes, and he appears traumatised. Something something, gate-keeping of female sexuality, something.

Oh and later, when the women are annoyed about something, they immediately yell “rape”. Awesome.

3. Focus

This should have been much more interesting. Like, we know Will Smith is charming, right? We know he’s charismatic? So how come it barely came through in this movie? Instead, I guess the FRESH Prince comes off … a little STALE.

I"m proud of myself.

I”m proud of myself.

Focus has never heard of the Bechdel Test. Margot Robbie has the only female speaking role in the movie. Oh, I’m sorry, there is another female speaking part – one woman says “OK” to Will Smith when he asks her for money. Good hustle, team!

Margot Robbie – or, to use her proper name, Donna from Neighbours – is the best thing in this movie. She is funny, engaging and cool. She is also insanely beautiful. Which is another thing about Focus – for having two such charming leads, it is surprisingly sexless. It’s mostly too preoccupied with grinding through complicated plot set-ups. I got a bit lost in the details. Or maybe I just needed to … FOCUS.

Hooo, TWO of them! What!

Hooo, TWO of them! What!

Points to Focus for having a twist ending that actually surprised me – and I think it played on the audience’s expectations of race in a pretty smart way. Well played, Focus.

4. Insurgent

I have already forgotten this movie.

Still, it was pretty cool to see a scene in which the female villain (Kate Winslet) taunts the female hero (Shailene Woodley) that her mother (Ashley Judd) was not all that she seemed. Bechdel Test: exploded into a million pieces of glittering CGI.

Octavia Spencer shows up for a minute at the beginning of the film to dole out life advice to the little white girl and then disappears forever. Guys, this is not okay. There’s a name for this trope, but I’ll let Octavia explain it.

5. Cinderella

I spent most of this clunkasaurus looking at Twitter (dropping my phone only when Our Lady of Perfection Cate Blanchett was in frame).

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.59.29 pmThe little kids in the cinema seemed pretty content, but even they were watching in silence.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.59.15 pmAt this point I started wriggling in my seat and pining for a juicebox.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.59.06 pmTurns out I wasn’t being paranoid, I was just noticing the actual physical distress that her body was in.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.59.37 pmHow do you fit your crown over that massive fedora, prince.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 1.00.07 pm“Women just love shoes lol!!”

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.58.49 pmGame of Thrones is probably closer to the original Brothers Grimm tales anyway.

6. A Little Chaos

More Kate Winslet! As a landscape-gardener in 17th century France! But unlike in Insurgent, she has non-ridiculous dialogue to say. However, this is kind of a strange film. The direction (by Alan Rickman) is … odd. Scene transitions are awkward. And the central romance between Winslet and a plank of wood Matthias Schoenaerts is so unconvincing that supporting characters have to keep remarking upon how convincing the couple’s romance is. In case we forgot that they were in love. Because I did.

My favourite thing about this film is that we have a protagonist who is clearly living with post-traumatic stress syndrome, but the main conflict does not arise from her mental health issues. Rather, the cause of her trauma is revealed in well-paced flashbacks and serves to provide greater depth to the character. The main narrative conflicts have to do with class, social structures, and the ol’ struggle of progress versus tradition.

It was pleasant to watch a period drama with a female protagonist who is trying to get her job done despite many obstacles, both internal and external. Some scenes are quite moving, and if Rickman had cut out or reworked the awkward romantic storyline this would have been a much better film.

Number of movies released near me in March that were about white men:

Nineteen.

FYI (French Your Information):

There was also the French Film Festival on during March, which I haven’t counted in my project, because I just couldn’t afford to see that many movies during one month. However, I counted up the FFF films:

French movies about white men: 31.

French movies about anyone who wasn’t a white man: 15.

Some of the films are getting a post-festival release in my local cinemas so I will get to see some French films, don’t you worry. (And not ‘A Little Chaos’ French, where everyone is British.)

And, just for fun:

Of all movies released so far this year that were about a female protagonist, the character was a white blonde woman in 57 per cent of them.

February: The Second Best Jupiter Ascending Over Selma And Alice

Posts, The Other Movie Project

Whoa! February actually achieved parity in white-dude and non-white-dude movies released near me! I didn’t even manage to watch all of the films that qualified for my project, for reasons I will explain further on. What is my project? I have challenged myself to watch every movie released at a cinema near me that is not The Story of A White Guy. I am interested in how intersectionality affects my movie-going choices, so I am watching every movie available that is about a woman and/or a person of colour.

Still Alice Twitter screen shot

1. Still Alice

I put on my pinkest pants and my most mentally healthy head and made sure I was exposed to plenty of sunshine and put chocolate in my purse and then I went to see Still Alice.

I needed every self-care strategy I had.

Still Alice is the story of Alice (Julianne Moore), a linguistics professor who finds out she has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. We watch her deteriorate on-screen. It is brutal. Thank goodness the cinema was nearly empty and I was sitting up the back because I wept from credits to credits. Yet the film is gentle, elegant. Not only is Julianne Moore the queen of everything, but the film direction makes sure the story is told from her character’s perspective. I didn’t notice until the end of the film that none of the action takes place out of Alice’s presence; it is entirely her experience of the disease. So often, stories about devastating illness focus on the experience of the people who must care for the ill person, but Still Alice never stops being about Alice.

Kristen Stewart is wonderful as Alice’s youngest daughter, who steps up to play a major role in her mother’s care. “Thank you for asking,” Alice says to her daughter when asked what Alzheimer’s feels like. Still Alice shows us the creativity with which Alice manages her condition, and her determination not to lose herself. It asks, What is it like to live with this? As someone with a debilitating and poorly understood disease, I was grateful to this movie for asking.

2. Selma

The first movie released near me this year to be about a person of colour, and, unbelievably, the first theatrical movie ever to feature Martin Luther King Jr as a main character. No, really. The first. And it took Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay to push it through.

I knew this movie was about Martin Luther King Jr, but I’m going to have to step up right now and admit that I thought Selma was the name of a female character. My US Civil Rights’ Movement history is sorely lacking. But you don’t need much prior knowledge to be affected by the significance of the film’s events. It is narratively tight; the movie opens in the town of Selma, at a time when King is already an influential civil rights leader and African-American people have won the legal right to vote. But legal rights haven’t translated into equal rights, with black people still being blocked from voting by systemic racism. King fights to raise support for the Voting Rights Act through a historic march from Selma to Alabama’s capital. The opposition to something as simple as the equal right to vote is violent, ugly and all too familiar, with scenes reminiscent of Ferguson.

Let’s go back to the thing about Selma being the first MLK film. I found out while researching this post that most films about the American Civil Rights era have accessed the events through a white character (for example, The Help). David Oyelowo, who plays King in Selma, has said:

“There was a study done around the police in a certain state in this country, and they admitted that there is an inherent fear of the black male … So subconsciously or consciously, to have black powerful men driving the narrative as protagonists is frightening for America. And frightening for Hollywood. Subconsciously there is an allergy to it.”

It is indicative of my blind spot as a white person that, although I’ve always admired MLK, I had no idea that he’d never been the main character in a movie about him.

Selma contains breathtaking moments of violence, all the more shocking because they jump out between talky scenes of bureaucracy and strategy meetings. The movie also features a particular moment during which I punched the air and shout-whispered “WINFREY!” Oprah is so, so good in this, and she also co-produces. Selma cements its feminist cred by being directed by the first African-American woman to be nominated for a best director Golden Globe, and by passing the Bechdel Test with flying colours (thanks to one of my favourite scenes, in which one African-American woman speaks at length to another African-American woman on why she is proud of her ancestry).

If this is still showing near you, go out and see it.

3. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Alternate tag lines I suggested to no one:
‘The Sequel That’s Keeping It Dench’
‘The Dames Are Back In Town’
‘Downton Abbey Lost Its Money And Moved To India’

the-best-exotic-marigold-hotelI was charmed by the first Best Exotic Marigold movie, and the sequel did not disappoint. This is sweet comfort viewing, dripping with fairy lights and even a couple of dance breaks. The sequel builds on the first movie’s already large ensemble cast, adding Richard Gere, Black Books‘ Tamsin Greig, and a bigger part for the formidable Lilette Dubey. Sonny (Dev ‘I’ve Been In Love With Him Since Skins‘ Patel) wants to open a second hotel before his wedding, with the help of reformed racist Muriel Donnelly (Maggie ‘Dame By Name, Dame By Nature’ Smith), but his myopic ambition is threatening his relationships. Will he learn his wedding dance in time to save his marriage? Will they find out who is the mysterious spy sent to appraise their hotel? Will Bill Nighy make it through a complete sentence? It’s all adorable and I love it.

There were quite a few moments in the movie where I balked at what seemed like blithe colonialism: white gentry moving in and taking Indian jobs (leading regional tours even though they have to have a local child feed them information). But I thought there was poetic justice in the way Sonny gets his second hotel in the end (spoiler!), and the property he takes over is the Viceroy Club – a leftover of British colonialism. The last we see of the ‘White People’ Club’s romanesque columns, they are being decked out for an Indian wedding reception. It seemed right.

I enjoyed watching a movie that represented younger and older generations without resorting to ageist stereotypes or confected intergenerational warfare. It just avoids progressivism, however, by falling into the sequel trap of attempting to tie up all their stories with neat (hetero-normative, monogamous) bows. I note with interest that the franchise’s only gay character (played by Tom Wilkinson) died in the first movie after a lifetime of unrequited love. But look, the straight people are dancing!

Look, the main thing for me was that The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel begins and ends with the Dowager Countess Maggie ‘McGonagall’ Smith, and you can’t go wrong with that. I found it genuinely uplifting, and frankly I needed that after Still Alice and Selma.

4. Fifty Shades of Grey

The movie adaptation of the book that reportedly romanticises an abusive relationship. I wondered if Fifty Shades would even qualify for this project, since the title refers to its white male protagonist (antagonist?), Christian Grey. But a quick skim of the internet showed that the story is about Anastacia Steele’s emotional journey/’erotic awakening’. I don’t know how true that is, because I have not seen the movie. I am not going to see this movie. At least, not at this time. I am sorry – to the people who said they were looking forward to my review, and to consistency for breaking it – but I just cannot. Not for political reasons, although I have those; I’m avoiding Fifty Shades of Grey for personal reasons. At the top of this post I talked about self-care, and this is me doing that. However I would like to note that this is not a stance against BDSM or erotica or romance – or even Twilight fan-fiction – in any way. I just don’t have the spoons to watch something that potentially dresses up abuse as romance.

5. The Wedding Ringer

I also missed this Kevin Hart comedy, not for any reason other than I was travelling and did not have time to catch it. I will try to watch it soon and include it in a later post.

6. Jupiter Ascending

Fuck, this was bonkers. Channing Tatum was a dog person? Mila Kunis nearly married her grown-up son? Eddie Redmayne was trying to be Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element crossed with Richard Roxburgh in Moulin Rouge if both of them had had lip implants?

I almost didn’t watch Jupiter Ascending for this project because, based on the trailers, I’d thought it was about Channing ‘White Guy’ Tatum, with Mila Kunis as his romantic interest/trophy to save. In fact, most of the marketing made it seem this way. I didn’t even realise until I was watching the movie that Jupiter is the name of Mila Kunis’s character. The movie is all about her: she is the title character; she has the main arc; she is in nearly every scene; she even narrates the introduction! Channing Tatum is her helper friend. And yet, this is how the billing was listed wherever I looked:

From Wikipedia

From Wikipedia

From IMDB

From IMDB

From the trailer's YouTube description

From the trailer’s YouTube description

From the poster

From the poster

… And please don’t tell me Tatum is the ‘bigger name’. Mila Kunis was in Black Swan, people. BLACK. SWAN.

Anyway, I didn’t hate this film. It was fun. They went BIG. Mila Kunis is endlessly watchable and got a few good laughs from the audience. (Eddie Redmayne got the only other laugh, unintentionally. Sorry Eddie.) The cast was diverse, for Hollywood, and it was exciting to see Gugu Mbatha-Raw (from the seriously underrated 2013 film Belle) pop up. In fact, instead of watching Jupiter Ascending, maybe you should go find a copy of Belle. Belle is great. Watch Belle.

If you’re still not sure whether you are someone who would enjoy Jupiter Ascending, it is easy to find out: does the following phrase appeal to you? ‘AMERICAN-AUSTRALIAN SPACE OPERA.’

My answer was yes.

Number of movies released near me during February that were about white men:

Five! Not bad, world.

January: Into The Woods, Wild

Posts, The Other Movie Project

This is the first post for my 2015 blog project, The Other Movie Project. I am challenging myself to watch every single movie showing near me that is not about a white guy. For the month of January, I found two movies that qualified. Two. Find out more about The Other Movie Project here.

Into The Woods

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 10.21.43 pm
Tricked by posters and IMDB and cinema listing citing the lead actor as Meryl Streep, I thought Into The Woods would be a movie about a kick-ass witch who is unexpectedly complex and sings touching songs and has long chats with other complex female characters. Or, Into The Woods was about Emily Blunt, or Anna Kendrick. So many rad ladies in this ensemble cast, it had to qualify! So I went to see it, and discovered that it was actually a story about a whiny baker man.

Though there is a large cast of characters, all of their stories somehow center around The Baker (played by white guy James Corden). Emily Blunt The Baker’s Wife is also there, who is named The Baker’s Wife even though we are introduced to both of them in the bakery at once, both very definitely and very equally baking. Like bakers. Although I suppose technically what Emily Blunt is doing is baker’s-wifing. She is a prominent character but I’ll get to why the story isn’t about her in a minute. The action really begins with the witch (The Indomitable Streep) bursting into the bakery and telling The Baker that she put a curse on his family over beans or something. She gives James Corden and Emily Blunt a series of tasks to complete and a clear deadline and disappears to go advance the plot somewhere else. Then begins a tediously recurring conversation in which James Corden tells Emily Blunt to stay home while he goes on adventures because he is The Baker and she is only The Baker’s Wife.

The rest of the movie is James Corden learning lessons and growing as a man and realising that his wife may actually be more competent than him, while his wife runs around doing most of the work and then dies so that The Baker can feel sad about it. The finale of the movie is all the remaining woman and children (those not killed in the giant attacks caused by Beanstalk Jack’s reckless disregard for other people’s property) gathering around James Corden and asking if they can go home with him. There you have it. James Corden learned to sort of respect his wife. James Corden learned not to abandon his baby. James Corden learned to be a leader. James Corden is rewarded with a family and Cinderella The New Baker’s Wife. The emotional arc is James Corden’s. James Corden narrates the whole damn film. Into The Woods is about James Corden. So tricked.

This movie had so many holes, and most of them were fallen into by female characters. The greatest threat to life in this movie was Falling Over. Jack’s mother (unnamed) is killed by being pushed over. The powerful, terrifying giant (“a female giant!!”) perishes by lying down unexpectedly. Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt fall out of frame and presumably die, without warning or fanfare. I was sure they were fake-outs, and kept waiting for them to spring back into frame, the witch cackling and Emily Blunt saying “Surprise Baker, I’m back, now get your cow eyes off Anna Kendrick”. I was gobsmacked because I naively thought the whole “helpless women sprain their ankles at inopportune moments” trope had died with the 70s.

And feminism dies with the last words spoken by a female character in this film: “Yes [indicates male character], I will come live at your house. There are times when I actually like cleaning!”

FUUUUUCK.*

(All that said, I really loved the scene where the two campy princes sing a campy song about their man-feelings atop a waterfall. Would like to see re-released as a Cracked short film titled Princes Have Feelings.)

*I have been told that Into The Woods is not a great film adaptation of the original Broadway musical, which I haven’t seen, so please know that I am only critiquing the movie as a stand-alone text. I hold out hope that the stage musical makes a tonne more sense.

Wild

Out of the woods and into the wild. All the promotion I’d seen for this Reese Witherspoon vehicle made it look, frankly, super boring. Promoted clips were mostly of her walking, looking tired, or fiddling with her shoes. The general impression I got from reviews and people’s comments was that the central character, Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), was unlikeable and had “made a lot of really bad life choices”. I’d seen Sean Penn’s Into The Wild (2007) a few years ago and thought, OK, I guess I’m about to see the girl version of that.

Nope, nope, nope.

Wild was so much better.

Wild is glorious. I recommend that you go see this if you can. I did not find it boring for a second, and I don’t know why I had that impression. I hope it’s down to poor marketing, and not too much to internalised sexism.

I don’t want to make too many direct comparisons to Into The Wild, but it’s so easy. Where in Into The Wild Emile Hirsch’s McCandless felt inscrutable and self-satisfied, Witherspoon’s Cheryl Strayed is someone I could relate to. We are invited into her inner monologue, her motivations, her meditations on her own flaws. I felt wholly invested in this character. When I saw Into The WIld, I couldn’t help thinking that the film idealised McCandless’s abandonment of his family. Wherever he went, he always seemed so pleased with himself. Yet Wild doesn’t rely on sweeping vistas to insert poignancy into the narrative. Strayed’s backstory is revealed in well-paced flashbacks, and the scenes between her and her mother (Laura Dern) are so painful it’s perfect.

One criticism would be that too much is made of Strayed’s promiscuous past when the narrative calls for examples of her “bad life choices”. However, just when it looks like slut-shaming, Strayed has a one-night stand that has nothing to do with self-destruction and everything to do with her own pleasure. She is complex and has agency. Thank the Lady Witherspoon (who optioned Strayed’s book and got this movie off the ground with her own money).

It is a rare movie that shows a variety of male micro-aggressions against women from a woman’s perspective, and futhermore presents them as incidental to the story. Male entitlement is part of Wild‘s landscape, no more or less than rattlesnakes and empty water tanks. And, blessedly, we don’t have to witness any graphic violence. Casual sexism aimed at Strayed isn’t a ‘primer’ for some awful act; it is the act in itself. I don’t think I’ve seen a film that captured this particular social phenomenon so accurately. And it was done with wit and compassion. Good stuff.

Number of movies showing near me during January that were about white men:

Thirteen.

Also notable:

Out of the two movies I saw (Into The Woods and Wild), I recall only one speaking role occupied by a person of colour. So, yep. Not great.

The Other Movie Project: Here we go!

The Other Movie Project

For 2015, I have challenged myself to watch every single movie released in a cinema near me that is not a story about a white guy. Is the movie about a woman, or a man who is not white? I must watch it. Is the movie about someone who does not identify within the gender binary? Heaven help me, I must watch it, because it would be wonderful to see.

I’ve noticed how many movies (and TV shows and books and articles and narratives in general) centre around a white guy. If a woman or a man of colour does occupy a leading role in a film, they are almost always an offsider or partner to a white guy. They’re the love interest, the villain, or the best friend. They’re the other character. I am pushing myself to challenge this internalised bias, that stories about white men are inherently more valuable. I feel like I’ve watched plenty of movies that follow the emotional journeys of white men. I want to watch the other movies.

So I’m putting my money where my mouth is. If a film is released in a cinema near me, and the narrative centres around a woman and/or a person of colour, I will go buy a ticket and watch it. Movies about women of colour? Bonus points!

By seeking out movies about non-white-guys, I’ll have to actively notice how many movies are about white guys. At this point, I’m not sure what the stats are. I might end up watching hardly any movies for this project. I might end up spending heaps on movie tickets (I kind of hope so). How do industry statistics translate into session times at Australian cinemas? I’m going to find out, at least for Brisbane.

After each month is over, I’ll blog about the movies I saw (and the ones I didn’t). First post coming soon. Here we go!