Pariah (2011): Finally Some Accuracy in Lesbian Film

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I am not kidding when I say this movie made me sob like a child. I stayed strong they entire film until the end scene when lead character, Alike, played by Adepero Oduye, is reading an incredibly deep poem to her english teacher. The water works would not stop.

In my opinion, Pariah (2011) is extraordinary. I had not heard of it until it became an assignment for my film class. Having little knowledge of the film, all I knew what the movie was about an African-American teenager coming to terms with her sexuality. I’m going to be real honest with you guys. I thought Pariah was the name of the lead character. I had never heard the word before and I didn’t know that it meant “being an outcast” of some sort. When I started watching the film, the characters kept calling the lead girl Alike or Lee for short. I was so confused and did some research. I could not stop laughing once I found out what pariah really meant because got my two best friends to watch the film with me and I told them it was about a girl name Pariah. Lesson learned folks, know your vocabulary.

Well, like I said before, this film is about a 17-year-old girl, Alike who is incredibly intelligent. She is a fantastic writer and has a strong relationship with her english teacher. She is seen as an “outcast” because she doesn’t have many friends and the one friend she does have, Laura, is a high school drop out and is promiscuous with the ladies. Her own parents abandoned her because she is a Lesbian.

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Alike’s story is a little different. Her family is fairly well off and she lives with both of her parents and sister in a nice home in Brooklyn. Her parents have a horrible relationship and they fight often. Alike is pretty close with her dad but not close enough to be open about her sexuality. Alike is not close with her mother at all. Her mother is an extremely conservative christian and she can tell that Alike is hiding something from them. She forbids her to hang out with her best friend and claims she is “turning into a boy.” She even forces a new friend on her which seems to be a beautiful relationship but the friend ends up taking advantage of Alike which makes you want to scream at the T.V. I mean seriously, Alike cannot catch a break. Her mother even beats Alike when she finally tells them she is a lesbian and kicks her out of the house. Alike’s father knows the mother is nuts and tries to apologize and reach out to Alike but she shuts him down and you are just like “YES GIRL! YOU TELL HIM!”

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Alike’s finally has a saving grace at the end of the film which is amazing but I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen the film.

Like I said before, this film is absolutely extraordinary. Not just because the story line is amazing but because it is giving a voice to all the young, African-American women out there who have no room in their lives to be their honest selves. “Because of its presence in theaters across the country, has been able to open up conversations about the tensions between blackness and sexuality on a much wider scale” (Keeling et al., 2015, p. 424). Homophobia is rampant in the African American community and you see some of that in the film. Young women already are the under dogs as it is and when you add the intersectionality of being, young, black, and gay, the odds of you being accepted by your community and family, and being able to live the life you want, become very slim. Sure there are plenty of lesbian films out there that bring LGBT+ visibility but 99% of them are from the white experience when the white experience is FAR from being the only experience. Director, Dee Rees, is amazing because she is giving an accurate portrayal of what it is like to be black and a lesbian because she too have that experience. She is an incredibly talented writer and director and she MUST come out with more films.

Rees made Alike complex to give an even deeper meaning to the film and gives more opportunity for women out their the ability to connect with the film. Alike’s gender expression is more on the masculine side which her mother fights the entire film. There is nothing wrong with the way Alike likes to dress but her mother is fighting it because she can’t fathom her daughter not being a girly girl. The way Alike dresses is what she is comfortable in and it feels right for her. “Regardless of sexual preference, everyone has a presentation of self she uses to convey messages to others” (Moore, 2006, p. 114). The way Alike likes to dress is part of her identity and self-expression.

This film is amazing and I hope everyday that it is reaching the audience it needs to.

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References:

Keeling, K., DeClue, J., Welbon, Y., Stewart, J., & Rastegar, R. (2015). Pariah and black independent cinema today: A roundtable discussion. p. 423-439. Duke University Press.

Moore, M. (2006). Lipstick or timberlands? Meanings of gender presentation in black lesbian communities. p. 113-139. The University of Chicago.

Weekend (2011), Finally a Gay Movie That’s Accurate

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I could go on and on and on about how much I loved the film Weekend (2011) directed by Andrew Haigh. Finally a movie has been made that is a simply a love story of two people who happen to be gay. Since I had to watch this film for my queer film class, I have to compare this beautiful film to the tragic Brokeback Mountain (2005) directed by Ang Lee.

To start, Brokeback Mountain is a film about two gay lovers based on the short story written by Anne Proulx. Long story short, the main characters played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, are so scared to come out of the closet due to family and societal stigma that they marry women and have children. Each year they go on a fishing trip for years that consists of them just having sex. They are horrible husbands and horrible fathers and the film ends in tragedy when one of them is killed which is why they never came out in the first place.

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Many say Brokeback Mountain didn’t win the best film of the year due to homophobia but when we discussed this in class, one of my classmates said it didn’t win because it is just a really shitty movie. Writer K. Hart (2013) put it perfectly “just how ‘groundbreaking’ is [Brokeback Mountain] really?” (p.129). I would agree with that to some extent because I do think this film had some strengths even though it was just executed really poorly.

L. Arellano (2007) stated “Brokeback Mountain constructs gay characters as powerless and tragic victims of forces beyond their control; simultaneously, the film preserves heterosexual privilege by obscuring the ways that heteronormativity produces an abjected other through erasure and exclusion” (p. 59).  I don’t like the way this film portrayed gay men and I hate even more that one of them ends up dead which is how most queer films end when they are done by directors that are not part of the queer community and when they are done to make money and not tell an accurate story.

Another writer, C. Casey (2012), wrote “the ‘magic’ of Brokeback Mountain represents simultaneously the compelling passion of same-sex and the intensity of the closet that represses, condenses, and regulates queer subjectivity” (p.109). This film does have a lot of passion to the point that it over sexualizes the relationship between the main characters. The who relationship is based on hypersexualization instead of showing what a real relationship would be like.

What I do like about this film is that it gave exposure to a crowd that would not have otherwise seen a gay film. I also like that it has helped set the tone of how queer film should be, the exact opposite of Brokeback Mountain which is what happened in the film, Weekend. 

Weekend was directed and filmed in such a way that it is just telling a story of two people connecting. The main characters Russel and Glen are played by Tom Cullen and Chris New. They meet at a night club and proceed to go home together. After that night, they know they have a connection. They are pretty opposite but it just works for them. They then of course spend the weekend together because their time is limited because Glen has to leave to study in the states. I love they way they are around each other. Their conversations have meaning and there is a scene where they are sitting on the couch just looking at eachother and at the viewer, you can feel the energy between them. It made me grin ear to ear.

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This movie is so realistic. The only thing that may have seemed off for some viewers was the heavy drug use of marijuana and cocaine but the director could have made drugs a factor for numerous reasons. I love that the characters are so different. Glen is an outspoken, proud, gay man while Russel is meek, reserved, and not very “out” about his sexuality though his close friends know.

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This film is the perfect example of how gay film should be. Brokeback Mountain is a sorry excuse of a film compared to Weekend. 

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References:

Arellano, L. (2007). The gay film that wasn’t: The heterosexual suppliment in Brokeback Mountain. p. 59-70. 

Casey, C. (2012). “The imagined power:” The specter of hate crime in Brokeback Mountain. p. 105-126.

Haigh, A. (Director). 2011. Weekend. United Kingdom: Glendale Picture Company.

Hart. K. (2013). Retrograde story telling or queer cinematic triumph? The (not so) groundbreaking qualitites of the film Brokeback Moutain. p. 129-137.

 

Brandon Teena, was his life honored with Boys Don’t Cry?

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The film Boys Don’t Cry (1999), directed by Kimberly Peirce, depicts the story of Nebraska trans man, Brandon Teena, trying to understand his identity in the early 90s. Brandon’s story is not a happy one his life was cut way too short when he was murdered by two individuals who had no understanding of identities other than their own.

Brandon Teena’s story is one that needs to be told because it brings visibility to the trans community and it is important for Nebraskans to know what is happening in their communities, however, I’m not really sure Boys Don’t Cry got the job done. There were a few things that were good about this movie and Hillary Swank is an amazing actress (she plays Teena), but there was also a lot of aspects of this film that I found to be extremely problematic.

To give a little background on the film, Brandon Teena is a trans man that thinks he’s in a “sexual identity crisis” because trans language was something unknown to him. He was hiding from the law because he had gotten caught with auto theft. He couch surfs and the movie alludes to him not having good ties with his family and his mother having institutionalized him earlier in his life. His drunken nights land him in a bar where he meets a group of rambunctious individuals and then he sees her. Lana Tisdel (played by Chloe Sevigny), the woman who would steal Brandon’s heart. All is going well until his secret slowly starts to come out by one of the friends he was staying with. Lana’s mother and her two guy friends are completely shook by the news because they had no exposure to trans identities and one of the guys, John Lotter, is in love with Lana and can’t handle not having her. The two men then rape Brandon and horribly beat him. Brandon keeps going though and he and Lana decide to run away together but before Brandon leaves town, John Lotter gets to him and shots him. The film ends with Lana laying with Brandon’s body all night.

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Now, this is a very short review of the movie and it doesn’t even remotely get into the nitty gritty of the film. If this was just a made up story, maybe I would have viewed the film differently, but since it’s supposed to be showing the last moments of Brandon Teena’s life, I feel like this movie should have made some major improvements. I was verry emotionally connected to this film and I thougtht he acting was great. I also think that for a movie made in the late 90s, it help opened the door to other trans films and gave some viewers their first exposer to trans identities and different sexualities. Cooper (2002), stated “Boys Don’t Cry not only privileges gender diversity, but also exposes the inherent sexual bigotry of heteroideology and the brutal and deadly consequences of society’s failure to eradicate such prejudice,” (p. 44).  This statement is extremely bold and does not beat around the bush. I agree in that this movie did a really good job of showing what can happen when people fear what they don’t understand. Brandon was viciously murdered because his murders couldn’t fathom the fact that he was different and they couldn’t bear him “tainting” their friend with his “sickness.”

Halberstam (2005) also brings up the point that the film does a good job of putting the viewer in Brandon’s point of view, “Boys Don’t Cry estabilishes the ligitimacy and the durability of Brandon’s gender no simply by telling the tragic tale of his death by murder, but by forcing spectators to adopt, if only provisionally, Brandon’s gaze, a transgender look” (p. 87). This is a good point to bring up and director, Peirce, does this well for most of the film until the ending. Their is a scene at the end of the film where Lana and Brandon are laying in a barn after Brandons rape were Lana changes her language and is talking to her as if Brandon was a woman. This changes the gaze of the viewers which leads them to see Brandon as a female lesbian which is not who Brandon was (p. 89). This is extremely problematic because this change of view discredits Brandon’s indentity and gender which leads me to my next point. Since Brandon is now just seen as a mascline female, it is important to bring up the societal views of female masculinity. Halberstam (1998) stated “female masculinities are framed as the rejected scraps of dominant masculinity in order that male masculinity may appear to be the real thing” (p.1). Brandon’s murders couldn’t handle his masculinity and murdered him to prove their “true” male dominance. Societal views on female masculinity, male masculinity, and trans identities have been so skewed for years and in 2017, this identities are finally being given the visability they deserve but there is still a very, very long way to go.

One final thing that I hated about the film was the fact that it was white washed. The real story of the murder included the murder of a African American man (Halberstam, 2005, p. 91). The fact that Peirce completely left an entire person out of the film is, quite frankly, sickening. How is this tragic story being honored when the accurate story is not being told?

Get it together, Peirce.

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References:

Cooper, B. 2002. Boys don’t cry and female masculinity: reclaiming a life and dismantling the politics of normative heterosexuality. Print. p. 44-63. National Communication Association: Critical Studies in Media Communication.

Halberstam, J. 1998. Female masculinity: An introduction to female masculinity. Print. p. 1-22. Duke University Press.

Halberstam, J. 2005. In a queer time and place: Transgender bodies, subcultural lives. Print. p. 76-97. New York University Press.

Peirce, K. (Director). 1999. Boys Don’t Cry. United States: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Remembering Harvey Milk: A Blog about 2008’s Milk

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Until watching this film, I had little knowledge about how Harvey Milk was. I knew he was an gay activist, he had a cool last name, and that was about it. I had no idea how complex his life was and his journey to activism. Milk (2008) shows Harvey Milk’s adult life and his career path to becoming a City Supervisor of San Francisco. The film depicts his few ups and many downs as a gay man trying to make a difference for his community in the 1970s. His determination and the support of his peers are what eventually lead him to a successful win of City Supervisor after running multiple times in a row. Even though Milk is a very kind, personable individual, he managed to piss off the wrong person, fellow city supervisor, Dan white who ends up killing Milk and his ally Mayor Moscone.

I thought the film started off a little odd and I did not really understand what was happening but as I got further in the film, I started to fall in love with it. Sean Penn plays Milk and the physical resemblance between the two is uncanny. James Franco play his long time partner, Scott Smith. When I first saw who was playing these roles, I felt a little weird because I thought they would lack chemistry but I actually really liked the two acting together.

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Though I found myself being very emotionally invested in this film and I loved it, that does not mean the movie is not without its faults. It’s important to critically think through this film and analyze it deeply because it is portraying the life of an extremely important public figure and it needs to accurately honor his life.

One aspect of the film I found to be problematic was the fact that I was forgetting that I was watching a Hollywood film and not a documentary. I see this as problematic because the film could lead the audience to believe that everything it is showing is 100% accurate. Memory can be a tricky thing and biopic films have a way of almost creating false memory for the audience. The incorporation of real film from the 1970s makes it even more difficult to decipher between accurate history and man’s portrayal of what they think happened in history.

One major part of the film was the showing of real clips of Anita Bryant. Bryant was a religious radical determined to promote anti-gay ideals and state government policies towards gay individuals in the 1970s. She used her christian beliefs to promote hate which appealed to a lot of voting individuals back then. She made Milk’s job of activism and political policy making even harder because a lot of individuals were scared of what they didn’t understand. In the film, one of Milk’s goal was to prove that everyone knows and loves someone who is gay making different sexuality not so scary. He was trying to the prove the point that people are just people. This part of the film seemed amazing to me and seems extremely real but I have no way of knowing how accurate this part of the film was.

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Movies have an interesting effect on memory, especially when it comes to biopics. Literature backs up the idea that films can cause a strain between the audience in the film by combining history and Hollywood. These ideas about memory are stated by Rich, 2013 and Erhart, 2o11. Films can create memories that can be inaccurate and people who haven’t even lived the experience.

I feel like this film has created false memories for me personally. I liked the film and I feel like I know part of Milk’s story but is what I know about Milk from this film doing him justice?

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References:

Erhart, J. 2011. The naked community organizer: Politics and reflexivity in Gus Van Sant’s Milk, a/b: Auto/Biography Studies, 26:1, 156-170

Rich, B. 2013. Got Milk? Gus Van Sant’s encounter with history. p. 236-260. Duke University Press.

Van Sant, G. (Director). 2008. Milk. United States: Focus Features.

 

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.

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.

 

 

Dallas Buyers Club (2013): Why it’s important to analyze Hollywood Films

Dallas Buys Club (2013) was an attempt to bring people back into that 1980s AIDS epidemic and underground medication traid. When I say attempt, I mean the individuals who created this film did not take into account what this movie says about queer lives, how they protray it, and its impacts.

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A little Background:

To give a quick summary of the film, the main character played by Matthew McConaughey, is a rough and tough cowboy from Texas who is diagnosed with HIV which later turns into full-blown AIDS. McConaughey’s character is named Ron Woodroof and he is desperate to cure his AIDS or at least find medications to manage his disease. Finding no help from the hospital and frustrated at the FDA’s lack of treatments, Ron decides to start an underground buyers club to help himself with non-approved medications and to make money off a community that is desperate and will pay whatever it takes to get their hands on some helpful medications.

What is this film portraying about queer lives:

This film is lacking in so many ways. For starters Ron is a homophobic ass hole who is taking advantage of an AIDS ridden community mostly made up of queer individuals. His buyers club partner is a trans woman played by Jared Leto (a cis man) whom he is disrespectful to they entire film. Leto’s character is named Rayon and she is a junkie, prostitute with low self-worth. One thing to point out about Rayon is none of th characters in the film get her pronouns right always referring to her as he, him, his.

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When Ron finds out about his diagnosis, the doctors ask him if he has hadsexual relations with other men and Rons response is “don’t call me a faggot!” When he tells his friend about his diagnosis, his friend responds with “only queers get it [AIDS]” making fun of Ron saying that he is “queer.”

In the beginning of the film, Ron turns to drug use and even considers suicide as a way out from his diagnosis. After going to Mexico for treatment and partnering with a doctor to smuggle drugs over the border, Ron finally finds some hope and he turns into a white, hetero saver to the suffering queers who can’t help themselves.

This movie is saying that queer individuals were hopeless, disease ridden, junkie, hyper sexual, lesser people who were helpless without a hetero man. It is important to analyze what this movie is saying about queer lives because as stated by Hooks, movies create culture (p. 9). Individuals watching this film see that it is ok to be disrespectful to queer individuals and to see them as lesser people than those that fall under the “norm.”

One might say that analyzing movies and looking into what they are actually saying would take the joy out of them but I disagree. Actually looking into movies gives one a better understanding of the film which can cause greater enjoyment. Writer, G. M. Smith wrote in an article about how one can simultaneously enjoy movies while analysing them and it often times will increase the complexity of enjoyment (2001, p.70).

How is this film portraying queer lives:

To continue, queer people are viewed as the underdogs in this film in need of saving. One quote that really stuck out to me was when Ron and Rayon are having a conversation about Rayon’s drug use and Ron states “Why can’t you be a better friend to yourself?” This struck me because it concretes the fact that the film is saying queer people need to be saved by hetero people. Queer people are just people, they don’t need to be “saved.” Another huge moment that struck me was when Rayon tell her dad that she has AIDS.

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As seen in the gif above, Rayon’s conversation with her dad portrays AIDS as being a cure to queerness. As stated in E. F. Nye’s article “Other’s challenge the idea that AIDS is a punishment for sin,” (p. 240). This film does not challange that idea but reinforces it.

It is important to be aware of what and how this movie is portraying queer individuals because film plays a huge role in our lives whether we realize it or not. Author H. A. Giroux attests to this by writing in one of his pieces that “I had no idea that [film] played an active role in shaping my sense of agency and offered me a moral and political education that largely went unnoticed and uncontested,” (2001, p. 595).

Dallas Buyers Club is by no means a poorly done film in the aspects of creation, acting, and directing. What was poorly done was the lack of thought on what this film would be portraying about queer lives.

References:

Giroux, H.A.2001. Breaking into the movies: Pedagogy and the politics of film. p. 583-598. Print.

Hooks, B. Making movie magic. p. 1-9. Print.

Nye, E. F. The rhetoric of AIDS: A new taxonomy. p. 229-243. Print.

Smith, G. M. 2001. “It’s just a movie”: A teaching essay for introductory classes. Cinema Journal. p. 64-71. Print.

Valee, J.M. (Director). 2013. Dallas buyers club [Film]. United States: Truth Entertainment (II).

How to Survive a Plague, 2012

When I think about the word plague, I immediately think about the black plague that happened in the mid-evil times. I don’t think about recent history, I don’t think about the generation before me, and I sure as hell do not think about AIDS.

The documentary, How to Survive a Plague, made me completely rethink the word plague. Now I think about recent history, I think about the generation before me, and I more certainly think about AIDS.

I always thought that if I could travel back in time I would go to the 80s because everything was so extra. The music was amazing, the rom-com films were amazing (and yes, I’m talking about every movie with Molly Ringwald in it), and hair and makeup was done to the max. Now when I think about the 80s, I think about death, pain, and gay rights.

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A little Background:

“Act up, Fight AIDS, Fight back.” 

This beautifully done documentary depicts the fight ACT UP (AIDS activists group dedicated to ending the AIDS crisis)  had to endure during the 80s and 90s. Many individuals who identified as gay started being infected with AIDS and HIV due to large amounts of unprotected sex. AIDS was also passed on through unclean needle use. At the time, the federal government was conservative and was turning a bling eye to the epidemic. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) was not coming out with effective drugs to help individuals remain stable and maintain their diagnosis. People were dying by the thousands and many from the gay community and allies knew they could not keep silent.

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Vito Russo was a known AIDS activist and he said in an interview shown in the documentary Vito (2011), “It’s only fa

gs and junkies and nobody gives a shit” meaning most people did not care to advocate for people who identified as gay or people who were addicted to drugs.

Act Up decided that it was their lives, their community, and they were going to get loud and give a shit.

The documentary showed numerous clips of public protests where thousands of activists screamed for change. Drugs needed to be developed and government officials needed to acknowledge what was happening to thousands of Americans.

Why:

This documentary was created to bring light to a topic that most people, specifically the people from my generation, do not know about or understand because we were born in the mid 90s. It most definitely is pro LGBTQ+ and it’s main goal is to educate on what was happening to large amounts of people. History classes only give students a small taste of what has happened in history and it is usually written through the point of view from a old, educated, white man so documentaries such as this one, are so extremely important. The history if the AIDS crisis needs to be know. The individuals who dedicated their lives to this cause need to be recognized. All history needs to be brought to light, not just what a select few of men think is worth knowing.

I, am by no means, a historian but I was moved by this documentary. I now how the privilege of knowing what happened to the people who came before me and the amazing accomplishments they made.

Fighting the AIDS epidemic was no small task and Act Up spent years fighting for acknowledgement and effective medication. People need to understand how AIDS was fought. In the end, Act Up was able to help save the lives of many through advocating, protesting, and demanding medication. The FDA was forced to help and they eventually came out with three medications that helped maintain health while living with AIDS.

How:

The documentary used main tools to educated viewers on the AIDS movement. Like I mentioned before, the creators showed many clips of protests. When you watch these clips, it’s as if you were at the protest too hand in hand with advocates and fighters. You feel a personal connection because the clips are so raw and the individuals in them are being completely vulnerable.

Another tool used was personal testimonies and interviews. Though many activists died due to AIDS before the film was created, you still felt as if you knew them through past clips. For those who were able to maintain their health had current interviews and they would look back on the movement and what they accomplished.  by the end of the film, I felt like I personally knew every person who talked about being a part of the movement. Feeling like you know the people in the documentary, brings the information being told even closer to your heart. Not only do you take away the knowledge of history, but you have an emotional connection to it as well. Using this method in film is so important because the audience is captured by what’s on the screen giving honor to the stories being told.

I would highly recommend this documentary to anyone my age so they are aware of what happened just years before we were born. And, I would also recommend it to those much older so they never forget the lives lost and the accomplishments gained.

References:

France, D. (Director). 2012. How to survive a plague [Documentary]. United States:

Shwarz, J. (Producer), & Shwarz, J. (Director). 2011. Vito [Documentary]. United States: Automat Pictures.