Hedwig and the Angry Inch: Breaking Gender Barriers Since 2001

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I can’t even describe what this film did to my brain. All I know is this film was absolutely amazing and a must see. It’s complexity and ambiguity rattle the brain but in a gratifying and satisfying way.

Since I was only eight years old when this film came out and grew up in a fairly conservative home , I had no idea this movie even existed until over a week ago and that is a total shame. This is a cult classic film that should be know about and viewed by all generations because it is that mind blowing. What I mean when I say this film breaks gender barriers, I mean it does just that. Completely breaks barriers. You are almost forced to critically think about the complexities and social constructs of gender during this film other wise you don’t get the full effect on what this film is trying to accomplish. I believe the director wants your brain to hurt while you watch the film so you are inclined to rethink gender and sexuality.

A little background:

The story of Hedwig is so complex and there is so much crammed into this film that if I had to give a overview of the film I would be writing a novel so I’ll give you the shortened version to save my time, your time, and so I don’t spoil all of the film. Long story short, Hedwig is born male and is socialized as such in Berlin during the time when the Berlin wall was causing strife within Germany. Hedwigs name is Hanzel growing up and he identifies as a gay man. He falls in love with a man who’s intentions are to basically use Hedwig for a green card marriage. In order for the marriage to be “legit” he convinces Hedwig to get a sex change which is botch by the doctor creating the “angry inch.” Hedwig now actually becomes Hedwig and starts to identify as a woman and moves to the United States. The green card marriage is just the beginning to Hedwig’s shit luck with people and life. Hedwig is an amazing singer/song writer and shares her talents with a young man, Tommy, whom she met on a babysitting gig. They eventually fall in love and you guessed it, the young man breaks her heart, steals her songs, and becomes a major pop star leaving Hedwig in the dust where she only books gigs at sea food restaurants. Hedwig starts a law suit against Tommy which seems like she’ll never win. Hedwig cannot catch a break, her career is failing, her heart is broken, and her identity as Hedwig does not feel right. She takes her stress out on her band members which one of them is married to Hedwig and is portraying a man. These two are battling identities that don’t feel right to them and in the end they are not able to fight how they are anymore whom ever that may be. The ending of the film is really interesting. It shows Hedwig completely nude walking down a dark ally way.
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What does this film mean:

I think this movie is completely legendary. People are allowed to interpret the film through their perspective and they can decide for themselves the the film means to them. This aspect of the film might seem frustrating to most since the messages and meanings of the film are loud and clear. To quote Hart “being ambiguous becomes its greatest strength” (2009). I think being ambiguous is absolutely genius because it forces you to think and you can conclude what ever feels right to you. For me, I thought the film was over all saying BE WHO YOU WANT TO BE. If you are portraying something you are not, you will be completely unhappy and life will be unsatisfying. I also think another major take away from this film are that labels are bull shit is gross. I remember in my queer film class discussion we were trying to decipher Hedwig’s labels like what were their pronouns, identity, and sexuality is. The answer, who effing cares? Honestly why can’t Hedwig just be Hedwig? Not being able to put labels on Hedwig is what helps break down the barriers of gender and sexuality. “Having to look at the film through a unique cultural lens creates a more profound message of sexuality and gender” (Hart, 2009). Since Hedwig’s story is so complex you are steered to empathize and identify with Hedwig which in turn leads people to be pro queer (Hsu, 2011).

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All in all, this profound film makes the soul happy and you must watch it because 1) it advocates for queer lives, 2) it forces individuals to critically think about their own identity and what label mean, and 3) it’s revolutionary. Oh, and did I mention it’s a musical?

References:

Hart, K. 2009. The incredibly queer adventures of hedwig and the angry inch. Print. p. 57-64.

Hsu, W. 2011. Reading and queering plato in hedwig and the angry inch. Print. p. 103- 117.

Mitchell, J. C. 2001. Hedwig and the angry inch. United States: Killer Films.

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Carol (2015): Cate Blanchett Can Make Any Movie Amazing

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I don’t really know how I feel about the film Carol. Being a pan sexual women, I thought I would have had this deep connection with the film but sadly, I found myself having little emotional reaction to it. What I do know is that I am boarder-line obsessed with Cate Blanchett and she was could not have been more stunning or have done a better job acting in this film. She is absolutely breath taking.

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A little background of the film:

This film is set in New York in the 1950s around Christmas time. Carol Aird (played by Blanchett) is a wealthy, divorced mother of a beautiful little girl, Rindy. Carol is divorced from her husband because she is a lesbian and could no long live a lie with her ex. Since it is Christmas, of course Carol must buy the best gift for her daughter. She is at a high end toy store when they catch eyes. Therese Belivet (played by Ronney Mara) is a young woman lost within the world. This moment where they first see each other is beautiful. You can tell they are greatly attracted to one another. From this point on, they create a close friendship which eventually turns into love. Carol’s ex is determined to come after her because she refuses to be with him so he fights for full custody due to a “morality clause” meaning “I’m pissed at my wife for not choosing me so I’m going to hit her where it hurts.” Throughout this battle, Carol does everything she can to get her daughter back but eventually realizes that she shouldn’t have to live a lie and gives this jaw dropping monologue to her husband. By favorite part is when she says “this is going to get ugly, and we are not ugly people.” You are right Blanchett, you most definitely are not ugly.

Having this epiphany of wanting to live a life being her true self, she pursues  Therese one last time because their love is undeniable. The ending of the film is the two simply looking at each other but the moment is absolute fire.

Lesbian Film:

Reflecting on the film, I am asking the questions: What is this film saying about queer lives and how is it saying it?

In reading New queer cinema and lesbian films, by Pick it is stated “what is at stake for lesbians is not just heterosexuality but the ‘hegemony of the male narrative’, heterosexual and homosexual alike” (p. 105). Guess who directed Carol. That’s right, a man. Is he able to accurately portray lesbian experience and do it justice? I’m not so sure. I think Director Haynes should have dove deeper into the emotions of what it would be really like to be an American lesbian in the 1950s because this could just be my perception but I feel like that Haynes did not go far enough. Another male writer stated in The object of desire: Todd Haynes discusses Carol and the satisfactions of telling women’s stories, “elegant but thorny, Carol is the work of a director who had thought through every angle of his material” (2015). The only thing I agree with that statement was how the film was described elegant but thorny. I do not think Haynes thought through every angle of the film. Yes there is raw emotional moments but inaccuracies with be prevalent when a director is telling a story that they do not identify with.

More comments about the film from men included calling the film a love story that can be universally connected to (White, 2015). The point of the movie was not to give a universal connection. The point was to tall a mid-century lesbian experience and calling the film universal takes away from that experience and the films purpose.

Final thoughts:

Bottom line, there is not denying that the film is incredibly beautiful with amazing acting. What fell short for me what the fact that the story was being told by a male which lead me to think that the story was not being told accurately. The lesbian and queer story is not honored and can become lost when the stories are being told be people who do not own those stories. Thank god Blanchett was there to save the day.

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References:

Haynes, T. (Director). 2015. Carol. United States: Weinstein Company.

Davis, N. 2015. The object of desire: Todd Haynes discusses Carol and the satisfactions of telling women’s stories. Web. Film Comment.

Pick, A. 2004. New queer cinema: New queer cinema and lesbian films. p. 103-118. Edinburgh University Press.

White, P. 2015. A lesbian “Carol” for Christmas. Web. Public Books.

 

 

The Danish Girl (2015)

Everyone perceives film so differently. While I so desperately wanted to loath the film due to its problematic areas, as I watched it, I found myself almost falling in love with it. Here I am, days after watching the film, and I still feel as if I watched it only a few moments ago.

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A little background:

The film, The Danish Girl (2015), directed by Tom Hooper depicts the the relationship between painters Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener while Lili goes through her transition from male to female. Lili’s name prior to her transition was Einar Wengener. Gerda and Einar were married for a handful of years before Lili transitioned. This happened during the 1920s in Europe when being trans was practically unheard of and their was no knowledge or language for what Lili was experiencing and feeling. Many people and doctors thought Lili was clinically “insane.” Having dressed up like a women as a joke, Einar has this epiphany were she realizes that she is a women and must transition. Gerda has no idea how to take this and the emotional turmoil she goes through is heavily shown in this film. Gerda and Lili slowly adjust to their new life and continue to still live together but more on a friendship level. Since the social construct of gender was unknown at this point in time, Lili thought that in order to be a complete women, she needed to go through a bottom surgery meaning her penis was removed and a vagina was constructed. Medical advances were still behind and complications of Lili’s surgery ended up causing her death. After Lili’s death, the end of the film shows Gerda finally moving on from losing her husband and setting Lili free.

Now that is a very simplistic way of describing the film. The film was raw, emotional, and beautiful to look at. Just because the movie was visually beautiful and I really enjoyed it for personal reasons, does not mean the film is without its flaws. In fact the movie is heavily flawed.

 Flaws:

To start, the story line is completely inaccurate. What actually happened between Gerda and Lili was taken from Lili’s personal diaries which was made into a book. The film then takes bits and pieces from that book and we get a different end result. The film is two translations of Lili’s life through different eyes the creator of the book about Lili’s life and the director of the film. Giving an inaccurate story of Lili’s life does not honor her and what she went through. It’s Hollywood appropriating her and Gerda’s experience.

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Secondly, the actor that plays Lili is Eddie Redmayne, a cis gender white man from Europe. This is problematic because trans lives should be portrayed by trans actors. It is their story to portray and trans writer, C. Grant put it well by saying, “even though he’ll [Redmayne] be able to shed off the experience after a probable Oscar win, all the while having it be a matter-of-fact point of life for me and millions other transwomen like me” (2015). Transwomen cannot shed off the emotional experiences they have gone through and will continue to have to go through and Redmayne couldn’t possible understand that yet, he was chosen to play this role. The fact that the director is a cis man as well creates problems because we are seeing what he wants to see and he too would never understand what it is really like to be trans leading to an inaccurate portrayal.

Thirdly, it is unclear who the movie is really about. Is it Lili’s or Gerda’s story. It is unclear because we vividly see Gerda’s emotions and Lili’s character is more surface level. If it was truly Lili’s story, we would be brought into her mind more by really seeing her emotions. Finally, Gerda is referred to as a Danish girl in the film leading me to believe the movie was about her.  Needless to say, the movie failed to really dive into the lives of these women to give a true understanding of what was going in their lives and their relationship causing ambiguity.

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Gerda Wegener

What I liked:

Though this film has problematic areas and can be seen a major problem to the LGBTQ+ community, their were still parts of the film that I thought were positive. Lets think about who the audience is here. I do not think it is directed towards the queer community. I think its purpose was to reach those who are outside of the community and who might be new to the topic of trans identities. This movie showed that it is perfectly ok to be trans. You are not insane, you are not wrong, what you are going though is valid. This film was marketing to a community with little knowledge to introduce trans life in a way that is understandable.

I also liked that it allows meaningful discussions to come to the for front. It brings even more visibility to the trans community by allowing them to say what they thought about the film, why they thought it was problematic, and what should happen moving forward. To me, having the opportunity to speak on why a film is problematic is more impactful than having no movie and no visibility at all.  Now I am a cis person so I can only speak on my behave and how I perceived the film.

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All in all, the film brings visibility to the trans community but still has problem areas that need to be addressed and discussed.

References:

Grant, C. 2015. A trans woman’s take on the danish girl.  Link: http://www.indiewire.com/2015/12/regressive-reductive-and-harmful-a-trans-womans-take-on-tom-hoopers-embarrassing-danish-girl-213499/

Hooper, T. (Director). 2015. The Danish Girl [Film]. United Kingdom: Working Title Films.

Paris is Burning (1990): The Positives and Negatives of this Film

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A little Background:

Paris is Burning is a documentary style film that shows the 1980s queer social scene. It shows clips of major social events, personal interviews, and describes the local dialogue at the time. When I say main social events, I am talking about the Balls the queer community use to put on. These balls included fashion shows, singing, dancing, acting, and all other things that are wild, energetic, and over the top. People came to these balls to feel a sense of belonging while displaying their uniqueness. They also participated in these balls to earn trophies and to get notoriety from the queer community. The individuals in this film compared the balls to the fame of Hollywood which is what most of the people aspired to in their personal interviews. They wanted to be famous and live a lavish, rich life style. The main people involved in this film are African American and is told from their point of view. Just reading my description of the film, one might think that this film shows queer history from the African American perspective. Amazing right? It wasn’t until I actually watched the film that I noticed that there are some serious flaws with this film. Like every film, there are positives and negatives.

The Positives:

The main thing that I LOVED about this film was the education on queer language. The film would display a word on the screen and then multiple people would give their definition of the word, what is means to them and examples of how the word is relevant to them. To give an example, the stars of the film described what “realness” meant. In the queer community in the 1980s, “realness” would be used to describe a trans person that could pass as the gender they were identifying with without people wondering if they are trans. I saw this as historical. I didn’t know what half of those words meant and I loved learning about what was relevant to the queer generation before me because it is cool to see how much language can change and how communities can have their own way of communicating.

The second aspect I loved about this film was how the queer community would create their own families. Family is a huge part of American culture and it is not unusual for a queer person to have difficulties with their biological family after “coming out.” Since education and visibility has grown for the queer community today it is less likely for this to happen but in the 1980s it was prominent. Lack of family support caused queer individuals to create their own families which was huge in the ball scene. The mother and father of the family would be older individuals who were well know within the community due to their ball performances. They would be supportive and help their “children” compete and win at the balls. They would all identify with the same last name and certain families would be know for certain talents. For example, the Ninja family was know for voguing and the head of the family was Willi Ninja. I loved how the film showed how strong the queer community is and how they would take care of one another.

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Willi Ninja, Voguing, Paris is Burning (1990)

Though I loved two aspects of this film which I found to be educational and historical, there was some serious negatives about this film, how it was made, and what it was saying about the African American queer community.

The Negatives:

To start, the Director of the film was a cis white woman. For those unfamiliar with the term cis-gender, it means you identify with the gender you were biologically assigned at birth. Now some might think, why does it matter who directed the film? Well let me tell you. It matters who directed the film because what the audience is seeing is through the perspective of the director. We are only seeing what the director wants us to see. We are only thinking what the director wants us to think. Since the movie is mainly about queer African Americans, the film should not be through the perspective of a cis, white woman because the perspective is inaccurate. Author B. Hooks accurately describes this in Black looks: Race and representation. 

Lastly, the film shows how society has made individuals strive for a white ideal. The lighter the color your skin is, the more revered you were. Many of the transwomen did not even feel like a complete “woman” with out a sex change surgery. They also wanted the money and fame that skinny white women in the magazines had. People having these ideals make it seem like being African American and being queer are not good enough. This film should be empowering but it showed that people did not like who they were because of social standards.

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Venus Xtravaganza, A transwoman who was murdered trying to achieve the white woman ideal. Paris is Burning (1990).

I would recommend this movie for the education it gives on how queer culture was in the 1980s. I also would advise the importance of analyzing this film while watching and to be aware of its flaws.

References:

Hooks, B. Black looks: Race and representation. Print. (p. 145- 156).

Livingston, J. (Director). 1990. Paris is burning. Documentary. United States: Arts Matter Inc.