New Zealand film, Heavenly Creatures(1994), directed by Peter Jackson is about two teenage girls Pauline and Juliet who murder one of their mothers. The tale of the best friends turned lovers and murders is based on events that happened in 1950’s New Zealand. The screenwriters Frans Walsh and Peter Jackson based the film on the diary of Pauline Parker. In the film, Pauline and Juliet are driven to murder by conservative society. The two girls are unable to properly communicate their love so they must find other ways to do so by delving into their own imaginary world outside of the heteronormative world.
Heavenly Creatures have different modes of communication that allows them to exist in a queer space. Pauline and Juliet’s alternative language is their story about the magical kingdom. In the scene after Pauline learns that Juliet has tuberculosis and will be isolated, this new mode of communication emerges. The two girls write to each other as the King and Queen of their make believe kingdom of Borovina. Through these letters, they act as a heterosexual married couple; the girls finally can express their same sex romantic attraction. The murdering son that they create in Borovina is an expression of Juliet’s desire to free her self from heteronormative society. Pauline uses the love letters to voice that normative family life no longer fulfills her.
I would recommend the early Peter Jackson film to my readers who are interested in alternative modes of communication, lesbian romance, subversive heteronormative society, New Zealand Cinema, horror stories, and films about constricted women exploding in the 1950’s.
Please check out Heavenly Creatures! If you have seen the film please tell me what you think about what I wrote.
The Senegalese film Xala directed by the father of African Cinema Ousumane Sembene centers around a government official named El Hadji who marries a third wife after the French Colonial government officials leave Senegal. Every one of El Hadji’s wives represent a woman in Post-Colonial Senegal. Xala critiques both colonialism and polygamy.
The first wife represents the traditional woman who does whatever her husband orders and wears conservative African garb. The second wife represents the westernized woman who buys into consumer culture. The third wife is the symbol for the objectified women who are literally silenced. She does not speak a word for the entire film. El Hadji’s third wife is treated like a sex object. She is sold to him by her mother in exchange for a car. The mother I believe has internalized sexism.
El Hadji’s daughter Rama represents the liberated educated African young woman. She even goes to college.Throughout Xala everybody speaks French expect for Rama who speaks the native Wolof language. Rama rejects her father’s patriarchal role of dominance over his daughters and wives. She refuses to go to the third wife’s marriage because she believes polygamy is wrong. Rama stands up for her mother who’s the first wife by telling El Hadji that her mother should divorce him. El Hadji slaps his daughter, but that does not stop her from being a symbol for a liberated mix of the West and Africa.
I recommended Xala to my followers who are interested in dramas that critique colonialism, sexism, polygamy and consumer culture. The great thing about this African drama is that the film reveals how polygamy creates problems for both men and women. Please check out African Cinema.
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I know that The Piano(1993) directed by Jane Campion is a film about New Zealand while it was a colony. Jane Campion is an famous New Zealand director who won a award at the Cannes Film Festival for her first short film. The Piano is about Ada and her daughter Flora who are sent to live in imperial New Zealand. Ada is mute and is married off to a Land Owner Alisdair Stewart who tries to control her. Ada plays the piano and communicates through the instrument as well as sign language, which empowers her. The Piano‘s a feminist film because Ada uses alternative modes of communication like in the film The Question Of Silence. Here are some of my new ideas. I want to warn you that there are some spoilers in this post. I think you should watch The Piano because Ada is a feminist hero in many ways:
In her essay “The return of the repressed? Whiteness, femininity, and colonialism in The Piano“, Lynda Dyson writes that the “piano” in the film represent the male dominated imperial world. Dyson argues that when Ada agrees to throw her piano into the ocean she is “severing her connection with the imperial” world.
As I see it, Ada doesn’t belong with the imperial world. Rather she is struck silent very much like Christiana is in The Question of Silence (see my blog entry The Question of Silence Recommendation). Men have taken away Ada’s power. She does not speak because nobody will listen to her. Ada’s father married her off to Stewart who refuses to listen to the pianist’s desire to bring the piano from the beach to her new home. Ada uses her daughter Flora to voice her desire to bring her piano to her new home. Stewart first refuses. Not only that, but Stewart locks her in his home because she doesn’t love him and loves another man, Baines. Ada chooses not to be a part of the imperial power because in that world all choices are made by men.
Ada’s piano playing represents a subversive female way of communicating. As Stewart’s Aunt states, Ada does not play the piano like a ordinary musicians instead she uses it to communicate feeling. The music resonates deeply beyond “normal” playing. She never truly communicates with other people who buy into imperial ways. Ada uses the piano to express a piece of her soul. She takes out a key to express her feelings toward Baine. Since Ada does not use her voice to express her feelings, the piano which truly expresses her emotions are used to tell Baines that she loves him .
The piano clearly is not a imperial force it’s the opposite. That’s why Stewart who is the ultimate land owner and imperialist tries to destroy the piano with an axe. He believes that he must destroy the piano because male imperialists must put their mark on “objects” they owned. In Stewart’s mind he owns Ada. The piano and Ada are one so he must get rid of the piano to show he owns her. Stewart wants to destroy the piano because the instrument empowers Ada and allows her to express herself or communicate in a non-normative way and he does not want her to have any power.
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beDevil(1993) directed by Tracey Moffat is an experimental feminist film. Tracey Moffat is an Australian Aboriginal raised by white parents so her films are often about being a person of color and a woman in Australia. beDevil is her one and only feature work, but she has made several short films. Moffat’s feature film is told through a couple of stories that weave in and out of each other.
The first story is told in a documentary like style combined with a standard scripted movie approach.
An Aboriginal man in jail tells the story of a mysterious white U.S. soldier who haunts a lake near where he lived as a child. The lake used to swallow people up. His stories are interwoven with images of him as a child living in an abusive home and dealing with white Australians treating him like a pariah along with an interview with an older white Australian woman in a beautiful colorful house talking about how she used to let the Aboriginal boy steal candy. It seems she knew about the abuse. The old woman talked about wanting to adopt the Aboriginal boy several times.
This story brings up the history of how the Australians used to steal Aboriginal children and bring them up in the white western world. The film questions of what is the right thing to do when you’re a White Australian having to deal with Aboriginal children.
The second story is most experimental of the lot. It is about a blind girl ghosts who haunts the train tracks near this multi-generational Aboriginal family’s home. At the start of the story a Chinese Australian man tells the tale of the haunted train in this Australian History Museum. Moffat tries to express the multi-ethnic reality of all Australians. This story ends with a middle age Aboriginal woman and her friends re-visting the site of the house that was haunted.
The last story within the film is about an Italian Australian family who are landlords with Aboriginal tenants. The father kicks them all out so he can sell the building to a Gambling house. One of the tenants is thought to be a mystic woman whose son died with his lover in an apartment fire years ago. The son sees the spirits of the Aboriginal son and the young woman. There is this cool magical sense to this story as the son skates around during the night watching the ghosts dance.
I would recommend beDevil to my readers who enjoy discussion of Post Colonial politics, feminist texts, Australian films, experimental films, experimental dramas by Aboriginal women, films dealing with Aboriginal history and the mixed ethnic population of Australia.
Stacey Moffat does her best not to demonize anybody, but brings up discussions of what its means to be a woman and a Aboriginal raised in a white universe.
Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives (1992) directed by Lynne Fernie and Aerlyn Weissman is a Canadian Feminist documentary about the lives of Lesbians during the 1940’s and 1950’s. For those who do not know, during the 1940’s to at least the 1960’s being a Lesbian or Gay was illegal and coming out could land a person in a mental institution or jail. Through interviews and footage the filmmakers tell the story of how these women were forced to lived double lives. At work they pretended to be “normal” heterosexual women, then at secret Lesbian clubs they could finally be themselves. The majority of the Lesbians in the documentary are white, but one of the women is Native Canadian. She talks about how she was actually more comfortable in the Black bars.
The documentary has a second layer involving the Lesbian Pulp Fiction novels of the 1940’s and 1950’s. The women in Forbidden Love talk about how there were many Lesbian Pulp Fiction novels, but by the end of these stories, the Lesbians always died or were separated forever. The now older Lesbians discuss how they wished for a story where the women like them had a happy ending. The filmmakers Fernie and Weissman directed a short film that subverted the tragic end of Lesbiana in these Pulp Fiction novels. This is the only fictional part of the piece, but is equally as important as the interviews.
I recommend Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives to fellow Lesbians (though this is recommend to anybody no matter gender or sexuality) who want to see the invisible history of these secret bars — as well as any readers who is interested in Canadian Cinema, indie documentaries, historical documentaries, subversive queer films, documentaries by Lesbians about Lesbians, and loves films that mix genres.
This clip is the short film that re-writes the sad Lesbian Pulp Fiction novel that punished these women for loving other women. Instead these Lesbians get a happy ending after meeting at a bar.
Go Fish (1994) directed by Rose Troche is a indie lesbian romance/buddy film. The main character Max is a young lesbian college student looking for a girlfriend. Her roommate/college professor Kia sets her up with Ely a plain long haired woman. At first Max is not impressed, but after their first date she realizes how much Ely and her have in common. They really connect. Then the fact that Ely has a long distance girlfriend named Kate is revealed. (Though don’t worry there is a romantic ending.)
The lesbian buddy part of the film is expressed in the form of a group of Lesbian friends who come together to discuss all sorts of issues throughout the film. Kia, Ely, Max, Daria, and other friends discuss their relationships, what being a lesbian means and issues with being out to conservative family. My favorite part of Go Fish is this day-dream/magic realism moment when one of the Lesbians is put on trial for sleeping with a single man. The group debate if she still is a Lesbian.
Be warned that Go Fish is in black and white, but don’t let that scare you off. The film is great. I recommend the Lesbian Romance film to my readers who are fellow Lesbians (though I think people of all sexualities and genders will love it), who love indie black and white films, are interested in romances that are also buddy films, want to discuss sexuality, and finally who want to see a great feminist film.
By the way Rose Troche has directed the television program The L Word(2004-2009) and other major television shows. I actually met the director once and she was super cool.
Secret Sunshine (2007) directed by Lee Chang- Dong (famous male South Korean Director who was also the former Minister of Culture) is a South Korean feminist drama. The main character is a woman named Lee Shin-ae who just lost her husband. Lee moves with her son from a large city to a small conservative town where her husband grew up. Lee’s son is abducted, which causes her to fall into a deep well of despair. With the loss of Lee’s son the mother is no longer a mother. She struggles with who she is without the role of “mother” or “wife”. Lee turns to the Christian faith, but that road also fails her. Secret Sunshine is all about dealing with many levels of grief from the loss of the child to loss of “motherhood” as a identity– a way to fit into the world.
I would recommend this South Korean film to my readers who are interested in gender roles,edgy murder mysteries, questioning identity, women battling dominating “stalker-like” men, disillusionment with the Christian faith, South Korean dramas, and what happens when someone acts outside the norm.
He’s a Woman, She’s a Man (1994) is a Chinese film directed by Peter Chan Ho Sun. The Chinese drama is about a young woman named Wing who is a really big fan of pop star Rose. She ships* Rose with her boyfriend/ music manager/ and songwriter Sam. The music manager decides that he wants to find a man to transform into a pop idol. Wing hears about this and decides to masquerade as a man so she can meet her idols. Sam picks Wing (masquerading as a man) as his protege. Wing becomes close with both Sam and Rose. The music manager starts having romantic feelings toward “male” Wing, which makes him question his sexuality. He’s a Woman, She’s a Man “straightens” out the queer possibilities of Sam/”male” Wing, but the romantic storyline leaves an opening for viewers to explore.
i would recommend my readers to watch the Chinese film if they love Chinese cinema, are interested in gender masquerading, want to explore queer subtext, are fans of Chinese Pop Star culture, and/or want to peek into fan culture in China. I don’t know if I would label He’s a Woman, She’s a Man a feminist film, but Chan Ho Sun explores interesting themes of womanhood and reveals how the notion of gender is just a construct.
*Ship meaning a romantic couple that a fan really loves.
The Day I Became A Woman (2000) directed by Marzieh Makhmalbaf a female Iranian director is a powerful feminist Iranian film. The film is made up of three stories.
Story one is about a nine year old girl named Hava who under Islamic law has become a woman, but throughout the day tries to subvert womanhood so she can see her best friend Hassan one more time. In Iran after a girl becomes a woman she has to wear a veil and can no longer talk to boys or men that are not related to her. Story Two is about a married woman named Ahoo who is trying escape the confines of being an Iranian woman by competing in a bicycling race. Ahoo uses the modern bicycle to subvert the static nature of womanhood while her male relations use horses (the old fashioned methods of travel) to try to contain her.
The third story is of an elderly single woman named Hoora who now has all the money that she could want. Hoora uses that money to purchase household consumer items that in earlier years she was deprived of to express her freedom; though all Hoora really wants is companionship (a child) something that consumer culture cannot buy.
This foreign feminist film is so compelling that after watching it for a while you forget that you have to read subtitles. I recommend The Day I Became A Woman to my readers who want to know more about what being an Iranian woman means.
You’ll want to see this film if you are interested in, seeing how the veil can be used to both express freedom and enslavement, questioning consumer culture, seeing feminist Iranian films or finally just interested in seeing an Iranian film directed by a woman There are so many talented artists of both genders that live or are from Iran and different parts of the Middle East and they deserve our viewership. Please check them out.
The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter (1980) directed by Connie Field is a feminist U.S. documentary about the stories of real “Rosie the Riveters” who helped build weapons, airplanes, war boats, and other military equipment during World War Two. The documentary is told through interviews with the women juxtaposed with propaganda films made by the U.S. military and government. The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter reveals the hidden history of these working class women who were trained to perform skilled laborer jobs, paid good wages, then forced out of these jobs after the male soldiers came home from war. The documentary also demonstrates how the U.S. male hegemonic military drew a picture through the propaganda films inferring that these “Rosie the Riveters” were middle class mothers, daughters, and wives of soldiers who were just doing their patriotic duty instead of the reality. The reality being that these women just needed to help support their families. Only one of the real “Rosie the Riveters” had a husband in the army. I recommend The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter to my readers who are interested in the history of racism, hidden histories, World War Two, propaganda films, sexism in the workplace, and 1980’s feminist documentaries.