by Marina Brafa
It’s winter time again: the scent of cinnamon wafting through the air, the decorating of gingerbread houses and Christmas movies hitting theaters in a jingle-bell-like staccato. Ready for some nauseatingly kitschy Christmas staples? Or something new?
For the second installment of our Cringe series, we are featuring the film Carol.
Most viewers would not think of Carol as a Christmas movie, despite the title. Its unconventional love story breaks the mould of genre conventions. Instead of a girl-meets-boy plot with a happy ending on Christmas Eve, we see two women, Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) and Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), falling in love with each other. Christmas, the loveliest time of the year and family fest par excellence, makes their special relationship and the problems that come with it abundantly apparent. A woman is supposed to be with her family on Christmas, but what happens when the family is falling apart? Carol is divorcing her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) and fighting for the custody of her daughter; Therese has a boyfriend with whom she is not in love. However, both Carol’s husband and Therese’s boyfriend ignore the reality of the situation, grinning and bearing it. For them, Christmas is still the time to be together as a family. Haunted by Christmas conventions and traditions, Carol and Therese escape on a road trip to explore their feelings for each other. The two of them manage to get away from their families, but they cannot flee the times in which they live. It’s 1950s America and love between women is not only a taboo but unheard of (at least to those who won’t listen). Carol and Therese take a break from society’s expectations but they will be waiting for them at home.
The two very different female characters uphold the adage that opposites attract. As the title states, we get to know Carol in depth, an ethereal woman with bright blond bombshell hair and garishly red shiny lips. She is in her 40s, married to a sleek businessman, yet she loves women. It’s a secret that everyone knows but no one dares talk about. On a December day, Carol ends up in a department store to find a Christmas gift for her daughter. That’s where she meets Therese. She is younger than Carol, with short brown hair and coy pink lip gloss. Her big innocent eyes follow Carol through the department store, not knowing what to make of this woman who had stared and smiled at her. It’s the beginning of a seductive love – and an unequal relationship between Carol and Therese.
Cate Blanchett plays Carol as a woman who took all steps on the path that 1950s society considered normal for women. Now, she is going against “normalcy,” which makes her both vulnerable and strong. In contrast, Rooney Mara gives Therese the aspect of an insecure woman at the very beginning of her social life. She is unsure about marrying her boyfriend and hates her job at the department store, wishing to be a photographer for The New York Times instead. Carol approaches her, Carol invites her for dinner, Carol takes her on a road trip. The whole story is primarily showing how Carol “helps” Therese discover her homosexuality. At one point, Carol leaves Therese. A turning point in their relation? No. Therese does start a new job but her thoughts are with Carol. While staring at the pictures she took of her, she mourns her loss. In the end, Carol reconnects with Therese, confesses her love and - after a short moment of withdrawal - Therese happily returns. In the last scene, we see Therese staring at Carol, the camera moves from Therese’s point of view toward Carol, capturing her half-closed eyes. Just like at the beginning at the department store.
The film’s plot line is not really intricate. However, the feelings it tries to convey are, and they need time to develop. Director Todd Haynes (who is known for transcending and questioning conventional gender roles and racial stereotypes in his films) turns the movie’s screenplay by Phyllis Nagy into a two-hour epic. The slow-paced cinematography and reduced dialogue reflect the slow and cautious unfolding of emotions. Gestures and facial expressions – their eyes, their hands, their lips! – are more important than what the characters say. In one scene, Therese is at the cinema with some friends. One of them is “charting the correlation between what the characters say and how they really feel.” That’s Carol in a nutshell.
The film should be applauded because it shows lesbian love (and the fight for its acknowledgement) on the big screen. The situation of homosexual women is still complicated in many societies worldwide but awareness is rising. Films such as Carol are part of this development. It is both the result of the mere fact that it could be made and fuel for a rising acceptance of female homosexuality. Because let’s face the truth: Cinemagoers are more used to seeing two men kissing each other than two women. Carol not only shows female friendship (one might think of Thelma and Louise) or subtly hints at something more than friendship, but rather presents female love explicitly. Don’t get me wrong: In 2018, a plethora of films exist about it, but how many of them have found their way into cineplex programs, thus reaching a larger audience beyond queer cinema?
Reading suggestion: Carol’s screenplay is based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel The Price of Salt.
by Marina Brafa
It’s winter time again: the scent of cinnamon wafting through the air, the decorating of gingerbread houses and Christmas movies hitting theaters in a jingle-bell-like staccato. Ready for some nauseating kitschy Christmas staples? Each Sunday we will post a review with that special FemFilmFans twist for your unholy delight.
Today's featured film is Love, Actually.
Love, Actually (2003)
On a gray and lonely Sunday at the end of the November, I suddenly feel a deep desire that is tucked away in my brain for most of the year. I go on Youtube and type “All I Want for Christmas + Love Actually” and listen to the song at least three times in a row. The video is the perfect Christmas overkill: a poisonous combination of Mariah Carey’s evergreen hit belted out by 10-year-old Joanna (played by Olivia Olsen) during the Christmas concert scene from director Richard Curtis’s Christmas classic. Since its release in 2003, Love, Actually has quickly made its way into our hearts and into the Christmas movie canon. This year the movie celebrates its 15th anniversary. We take this opportunity to re-watch it with more critical eyes.
The film was written and directed by Richard Curtis (the man behind British romcoms such as Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’s Diary) and stars many famous actresses and actors like Keira Knightly, Emma Thompson, the late Alan Rickman and Liam Neeson. The movie title bluntly states what the film is all about: love - the universal value that everyone can agree on, right? Wrong. Especially not after watching Love, Actually. Curtis transforms love into a heteronormative, misogynist ideology. Ten (!) intersected plotlines deal with specific romantic issues, presenting his ideas of love. The outcome is a love potpourri that draws on questionable gender roles. Let’s take a closer look at the movie’s representation of women.
Applies to all: Curtis seems like he has never heard of the Bechdel test before. Most of the time women talk about men and/or romantic encounters and related problems. In the end, we are always presented with any of the three options for what I would call a male-positive ending:  the man gets the woman he loves or  he has learned a “life lesson” (on the back of a woman) that makes him stronger or  a woman is suffering because of a man.
Juliet, Peter and Mark or The Classic Love Triangle: Man loves his best friend’s wife, or rather is creepily obsessed with her (during their wedding, he only films her so he can re-watch this footage at home alone). Mark finally confesses his love to Juliet on Christmas Eve, to which she responds with giggles and even bestows him with a kiss (since he has been soooo brave). She then returns to her husband leaving Mark with his unfulfilled desire that he can easily continue to project on her.
Jamie and Aurélia or Love Transcends Borders: A sensitive author, Jamie, is left by his bitchy partner because he is too nice (note: men have to be “strong” to be desirable). He withdraws to a French cottage. Luckily, his good-looking Portuguese household help, Aurélia, understands his delicate soul without even being able to talk to him since she cannot speak English. But who cares? Returning to Britain for Christmas Eve, Jamie understands that he loves Aurélia (obviously). He flies to Portugal and publicly proposes to her in broken Portuguese (cute, right?). She accepts, because any other answer would have been mean and injurious to his ego.
Harry, Karen and Mia or Save The Nuclear Family: Man is “threatened” at work by a femme fatale - his sexy young employee. Eventually, he gives in because, well, she’s sexy and his wife at home will understand if she finds out. Of course she does find out and of course she takes him back because family is so important. At least she is a bit mad at him.
David and Natalie or The Power of Love: We see a variation of the motive “workplace-relationship”. In contrast to the above mentioned Harry, Karen, Mia-story this time the relationship is a totally innocent one though. Natalie falls in love with a man who is her superior. But just being hierarchically higher is not enough: David is prime minister(!) of the UK and Natalie is his intern (any associations to real politicians and interns are naturally unintended…). Government officials are blamed to be cold and unromantic - not so David. He is depicted as heartwarmingly insecure when speaking to Natalie. Oh, so maybe that’s the reason he constantly body-shames her (as do others), turning the focus away from his insecurity onto Natalie’s “chubby body shape”. Merry Christmas…
Daniel, Sam, Joanna and Carol or Only Dead Women Are Good Women: A boy has lost his mother. Yet he cries because he is unhappily in love with a girl from his school. How can he make her notice him? Talking to her is no option for the shy guy. His grieving father tries to help him through this manhood-shaping life lesson. And because the father is so nice, his Christmas gift is a hot blonde model (Claudia Fischer in one of her rare roles).
Sarah, Karl and Michael or The Ugly Duckling: A shy woman pines away for a coworker’s love. Finally, the office Christmas party provides an opportunity to mingle. The man, who has not expressed a meaningful sentence to this point, readily goes home with her. His name is Karl and even his nerdy glasses cannot make him bad-looking. You might think: Sure, the lead up might have been strange but finally she is getting her fair share of the Christmas pudding! Nope. Another man, her mentally disturbed brother, calls her. Doing the right(?) thing,she leaves and spends Christmas with him. Family, as seen above, is so important. And she continues pining away for Karl. That’s what women are best at anyway.
John and Judy or There’s No Sex Without Love: What do we learn while watching two porn actors falling at love on set? That the work place is love spot no. 1! An incredible five out of ten plots are centered on or around work and power relations in the office! Oh, and even commodified sex needs love, at least on Christmas.
Colin, Tony and the American girls or Ok, Maybe There’s Sex Without Love As Long As I am a Horny Brit. That’s the whole plotline, actually.
Bill and Joe or Maybe Gay: Finally, a quirky relation between two men. But don’t get too excited. They are just friends, although attentive viewers might sense a homosexual subtext. If you dislike the idea you are welcome to stick with friendship. It never becomes explicit, so it is open to interpretation and everyone is happy. Sure enough, we see no female homosexuality.
It’s hard to give up habits. I used to like Love, Actually. Maybe I will continue to do so. Meanwhile I am looking for more complex movies. If you have any suggestions comment below or contact us on IG!
If you are interested in a more comprehensive (feminist) review of Love, Actually you should check out this article on The Independent.
By Marina Brafa
Do you need some energy, some inspiration or simply a musical track that kicks in and makes you feel empowered? Then you should watch MATANGI/MAYA/M.I.A., the biopic about singer M.I.A. (best known for her hugely successful hit Paper Planes). We see her as a young girl, Matangi, her hair in braids, wearing a prissy white blouse and skirt, dancing at home with her family. We then see Maya, a flashily dressed young woman dancing in music videos. We finally see a grown woman, M.I.A., dressed as a cheerleader, dancing and singing along with Madonna and Nicki Minaj during the Super Bowl halftime show. She causes a scandal by flipping off the camera for a few seconds. That’s Matangi’s/Maya’s/M.I.A.’s life in a nutshell.
Director Steve Loveridge’s documentary MATANGI/MAYA/M.I.A. cracks open that nutshell, however, to showcase the life and work of an artist that now goes by the name of M.I.A. Personally, I only know the 43-year-old artist by that name. As I am writing this, I can hear her catchy lyrics in my head:
“All I wanna do is [bang] [bang] [bang]
And [click] [ka-ching]
And take your money…”
That would be the song Paper Planes, of course; her most successful hit to date and a perfect example of M.I.A.’s work. She combines various musical genres - rap, hip hop, electronic music - with her in your face style to get her political message across, which is that of equality and freedom. Sure those are two BIG words, but M.I.A. lives up to them through her art. How? Because she is telling her story the way she wants.
Mathangi Arulpragasam, Maya to her friends, was born in London on July 17, 1975 and is of Tamil origin. At the age of six months, she and her family moved to Jaffna in Northern Sri Lanka. Tamils are an oppressed minority in the island country and have been facing violence for decades, which has gone mostly unnoticed by international media (sidenote: the civil war came to an “official” end in 2009 when state forces defeated the Tamil militia). Maya’s father was one of the founders of a revolutionary Tamil force that fought for independence. In 1986, after her father left and her family’s situation worsened due to the Sri Lankan civil war, Maya moved back to Britain. She lived in a poor neighborhood in West London where she would listen to mainstream radio and her neighbor’s hip hop music collection through the walls of their apartment.
Even though M.I.A. readily embraced British culture, life as a Tamil refugee in 1980s Britain proved difficult. M.I.A. had left the violence in Sri Lanka, only to face discrimination and to be confronted with her Tamil roots. She was supposed to remain in the shadows, to silently accept her marginalization. This is when she decided to raise her voice and create political art.
As a 21-year-old, M.I.A. went back to Sri Lanka to visit her family and to meet other 21-year-old women there. It was a way to regain and tell a story that could have been hers had she stayed in Sri Lanka. In Britain she worked with the British band Elastica and featured her graffiti art in exhibitions. In 2004 she started producing music and clips as means of political activist art. Throughout these years she was filming. Herself. Her family. Tamil relatives. Strangers.
The documentary is mostly based on this video footage that M.I.A. gave Loveridge in 2011, which he cut together with M.I.A.’s music videos and interviews. Viewers are thrown back and forth in time, crossing the borders between Britain, Sri Lanka and the U.S. and hear almost exclusively M.I.A.’s voice. There’s no voice-over commentary and new material shot by Loveridge. The finished product therefore shows young Maya’s transformation to M.I.A, which provides viewers with an immediate close-up of her life but is limited to her points of view. We witness her struggling with fame: Can an artist be politically relevant and commercially successful at the same time? Or is she just staging herself in a radical-chic manner (as NYT’s reporter Lynn Hirschberg claims in her 2010 profile of the artist)? Let’s review the Super Bowl scandal to answer that question.
During the Halftime Show it comes to a head. We see M.I.A. conflicted backstage. She followed her manager’s advice of teaming up with a more famous artist so she can gain exposure for her art. That’s how the music biz works, baby. Now she is about to perform in one of the most commercial events ever alongside her idol Madonna. As if that isn’t enough, M.I.A. shows her middle finger to the camera. Fox News cries. NFL sues her. M.I.A. (kind of) managed to stick to her activist principles. However, the following debates were about the act itself rather than its political impetus. Maybe at a certain point the question is no longer if a commercially successful artist can be politically relevant but how s/he can turn public attention away from the person to its message again.
M.I.A. has since done a 180°. She has returned to producing her own music and videos, such as the self-directed music clip Borders that thematizes the “refugee crisis.” Additionally, she is now engaging in activism outside the art sphere. She is active on social media using it as a channel to explain her opinions about what is going wrong in society. In a 2013 video statement responding to the NFL suit, she points out that she was only the scapegoat in a larger context: “What is offensive in America: Is my finger offensive or an underaged black girl with her legs wide open?” The scandalous “thing” was not her middle finger but that the NFL had a group of black under-16-year-old girls in tight dresses dance provocatively in the background. “Basically, the NFL want me to say that it's OK for me to promote being sexually exploited as a female, than to display empowerment, female empowerment, through being punk rock. That's what it boils down to, and I'm being sued for it.”
I’d meet ‘em, once you read ‘em
This one needs a brand new rhythm
We done the key.”
Compared to her former success she is not reaching as many people as she used to. But Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. has something to say and to advocate for. She is a refugee, a member of a jeopardized minority, a woman of color as well as an outspoken, talented and intelligent artist. The 97-minute full on M.I.A immersion is the ultimate tribute to her life so far. The biopic is also a huge middle finger to all of her critics and a way to say: Look where I came from and where I am now. You can do the same. Just focus what matters to you and stay true to it.
The film was shown at the Sundance Film Festival 2018 and at the Berlinale International Film Festival 2018.
A Review of Seasons One and Two of GLOW
By Marina Brafa
The moment I realized I had fallen in love with GLOW happened at the end of season one: the wrestling match between Liberty Belle and Zoya The Destroya. Usually all the moves are precisely choreographed and rehearsed, but this time Liberty Belle went off script and broke Zoya’s ankle. That terrible popping sound of her bone jolted me - not only could I feel her pain personally, I realized that I had not only followed the whole fight or even the episode, but rather the complete season enthusiastically. It turns out that from the very beginning, slowly but surely, the “Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling” (or GLOW for short) had put me under their spell. Here’s why.
Imagine Los Angeles in the 1980s. Women wear perms and shoulder pads; businessmen use clumsy mobile phones to negotiate their next deal on Wall Street. AIDS is a minor disease, unknown to most of the world and a wind of change is breezing through the Soviet Bloc. That’s the one side of reality. The other sits in a run-down Los Angeles gym waiting for an audition for an unspecified TV show on an insignificant local network. But hey, it’s a job and how else are you going to pay your rent?
A cast of about 15 women end up making the cut for the show - which to their surprise turns out to be a wrestling program - that is supposed to be different from all the others, mainly because the wrestlers are women. What sounds like women boldly evening out the playing field in a male-dominated sport is fake, however – much like the wrestling itself. The TV show’s concept is the brainchild of two men, producer Sebastian “Bash” Howard (Chris Lowell) and director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron). The target audience is officially families but we know it’s really more for men.
At this point I was irritated: What’s going on Netflix? The women are good-looking (*surprise*), the director is obviously a selfish, misogynist idiot, the producer a wannabe big shot living off his mother’s fortune. And yes, there is a certain appeal to making a TV show about a TV show (meta level, you get it…) that, again, presents a completely scripted sports and entertainment show (namely wrestling; meta-meta level, it’s getting complicated…). But is this enough? GLOW appeared to be lacking plot and interesting characters. I was close to switching it off when things started to develop (and Zoya’s ankle popped). For example, as the ladies start developing their characters, and by that I mean the roles they would play in the wrestling ring.
Even though the wrestling personas are totally cliché caricatures, the roles the female cast members had created for their work would soon start taking over in real life. And as the lines between truth and fiction blurred, GLOW became more like a reality TV show. Tammé Dawson (Kia Stevens) becomes “The Welfare Queen,” a “bad” character because she is taking advantage of the welfare system (which still seems to be a deeply rooted fear in U.S. society). In “real” life, Tammé is indeed not rich but she is an honest and hard-working mother who’s proud of her son attending Stanford. The wrestling ring therefore is a small reflection of society, which is why the exaggerated characters set up for the show reflect the audience’s/society’s ugly face and the clichés with which they are familiar. Under the surface, however, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling have individual, far more complex lives.
These personal stories are revealed one after another, which include heated political and societal issues. While GLOW is in the 80s, the problems addressed do not - adding to the show a layer of critical comment on racism and sexism in 21st century-U.S. and societies worldwide. The diversity of U.S. society has not always been reflected in TV and cinema, fortunately the (nearly) all-female GLOW cast does a good job of cover all their bases. Let’s take a closer look at the characters. We have…
I could go on with this list (because GLOW also tells us something about friendships, about body images and female confidence, and so on...) and I am sure after watching GLOW some of you might agree or disagree with some of the points above. In that case: Let us know via IG or FB, or comment below!
Finally, the only two main male characters, Sam and Bash, are not as flat as they might seem. Sam treats women in a sexist way, no doubt. Often enough he reduces them to their appearance and sexual attraction and he is very opposed to Debbie becoming part of the production team. However, he supports women whom he considers talented and edgy. Well yes, this could be defined as a patriarchal way of female empowerment and I won’t argue against this objection. He does not take Debbie seriously as a producer and he is annoyed by Ruth’s suggestions to his script. Initially. When he finally realizes in Season Two that their ideas are innovative, we see Sam more open to collaborate with women (other than sexually...) and to fully include them in the production process of GLOW. Hence, Debbie and Ruth enter the male-dominated economic circle and can change the system from within because – let’s be honest – in the end, the question of female empowerment is also a question of money!
Bash, on the other hand, seems to feel attracted to men, especially his butler, but does not want to acknowledge or cope with his feelings. Basically, he is nice to everyone and tries to fulfill his dream of getting GLOW on TV. Women are part of his concept and as such he is trading them as goods. At the beginning he seems more concerned with crazy outfits and over-the-top wrestling stories rather than the women’s health. But Bash too gets more mature and realizes his responsibilities (he’s paying the cast’s salaries, after all).
According to Netflix’s official GLOW website the show is “a comedy by the team behind ‘Orange is the New Black.’” Yes, it is – but its comedy is funny to a point that it actually hurts watching. You have to get into the mood of GLOW but once you are in this universe of 80s synth-pop, glittery costumes and over-the-top makeup you can fully engage with and enjoy the two selling points of the Netflix series: GLOW’s witty revelation of a conservative world where women are struggling with emancipation and traditional roles of motherhood, and with stepping up while being pushed back by patriarchal structures and sexism; and its ingenious way to lay bare the ridiculousness of stereotypes and people who fall for them too easily (and not only back in the 80s).
Find trailer, episode lists and season recaps on the official GLOW website. So far, there are two seasons and GLOW got renewed for a third one in August 2018!
The creators behind GLOW are Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch. You can listen to them in the insightful podcast WTF with Marc Maron #827 - who plays Sam Sylvia, you remember? - where the three chit-chat about writing and creating GLOW.
The Power of Female Resilience
An entrancing tour de force, Vox Lux grips the viewer/listener from start to finish. From emerging director/writer, Brady Corbet (The Childhood of a Leader), this film captures the power of female resilience in the form of a seemingly delicate young woman, Celeste, portrayed by the captivating Raffey Cassidy (young Celeste), and the ingenious Natalie Portman (adult Celeste). The illusion of delicacy doesn't last long, as Corbet takes us through each chapter of her journey, repeatedly using lingering, close-range shots to highlight the strength and resilience of both Celeste and the women around her.
As the protagonist begins her transformation from mundane teenager to striking pop star, the viewer/listener is consistently left with a feeling of disquiet--verging on discomfort--with the monstrous aspects of our society that she must endure, aided in no small part by the poignant score (Scott Walker and Sia). Yet at every juncture--whether dealing with violence, invasion of privacy, deception, or manipulation--Celeste carries herself with unapologetic hope and magnanimity. Her monologues (delivered with biting self-assurance by both Cassidy and Portman) serve to bring a voice to women who often feel victimized by male violence, dominance, and presumption. Even Celeste's manager, deftly portrayed by Jude Law, seems more easily derailed than his client. That's not to say that Celeste suppresses her emotions; there are several pivotal moments where she unleashes her fury and despair with the selfish, mean-spirited nature of our society. These reactions are shown to be justified, as they are in response to those who detract from her ultimate goal: to provide her audience and the world with a positive atmosphere, where pain is effortlessly eliminated, and all they have to do is focus on her voice.
From the Latin, meaning "light voice," Corbet's Vox Lux provides exactly that: a gritty, yet seamless look at the hope and triumph that arise when the dark underbelly of our society is struck with a beam of light in the shape of a woman's voice.
13 of Witchcraft Horror’s Most Iconic Heroines
Female occultism, in particular the concept of ‘witches’ appears to be having a bit of a resurgence in pop culture at the moment. From American Horror Story to I Am Not a Witch (click to read Christina's review) to Witches Of East End to Jenji Kohan’s series about the Salem Witch Trials, the magical woman is undergoing a renaissance cultural moment — and also gaining new respect as an enduring feminist symbol.
“Young women in particular are looking for an archetype outside the tired virgin/whore binary that we’re offered, and the witch can do just that,” Kristen Korvette, who created a new course at The New School called "The Legacy of the Witch."
Occultist women portrayed in films are inherently connected to the irrational fear of females and their biological bonds to the natural world. They can also be explicit critiques of the modern world — and a much needed form of assertion. Bearing this in mind, get ready to enrich your scary movie diet with some progressive feminism.
But first, get on with reading Natalie's list and watching these scenes of bad ass witchcraft feminism!
1. Thomasin, The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2015)
This already cult status film takes us back to New England in the 1630s, a few decades before the Salem witch trials, unfolding the story of a teenage girl trapped somewhere between the ambiguity of religious fervor, the eventual relinquishment of religious shame, and eventual sexual abandonment… and above all else the certainty of true evil.
2. Carrie, Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976)
‘’Carrie is largely about how women find their own channels of power, but also what men fear about women and women’s sexuality. Writing the book in 1973 and only three years out of college, I was fully aware of what Women’s Liberation implied for me and others of my sex. Carrie is woman feeling her powers for the first time and, like Samson, pulling down the temple on everyone in sight at the end of the book.’’
Stephen King’s Carrie focuses mainly on the male fear of powerful women that inspired the film, with the anti-Carrie camp signifying her death as the defeat of the “monstrous feminine” and therefore a triumph of sexism. But Stephen King’s states that the inspiration for his 1973 book, is as much a realization of a feminist nightmare as it is a patriarchal one, with neither party winning.
The rise of Second Wave feminism in the seventies posed serious threats to the patriarchal order certainly, but even for those who think change is not only necessary but good, change can be pretty scary. This, also disconcertingly taps into the shared universal fear of being victimized, something most of us can relate to at one point in our lives, and is one of the reasons Carrie still scares everyone.
3. Nancy, The Craft (Andrew Fleming, 1996)
The Craft is a teenage tale of witchcraft in the American high school. Sarah (Robin Tunney) is a troubled girl who just moved to Los Angeles. She meets three school outcasts rumored to dabble in witchcraft – Bonnie (Neve Campbell), Nancy (Fairuza Balk) and Rochelle (Rachel True). Sarah joins their coven and, as a result, four teenagers gain access to dark powers, and after Nancy is struck by lightening in the initiation, she lacks empathy and becomes power obsessed.
At first, they use them in a most teenage way possible, from unleashing revenge to attracting school hunk Chris (Skeet Ulrich). But things take a darker turn as people start dying, spells backfire and the coven’s leader, Nancy, becomes more and more of an unhinged bad girl as the film progresses.
4. Jay, It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, 2014)
Forgetting the whole “teenagers who have sex die” exhausted tradition of the horror film for a second. In this film, the characters have to have sex in order to survive a deadly curse. Annie is a new kind of final girl, who has to break the rules of the genre and the adult world to stay alive. This is a refreshingly powerful depiction of adolescence, which culminates in an uplifting (literally) scene of personal fulfillment and ecstasy.
5. Rosemary, Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968)
This is one of those cases in which you want to separate the director from his work—I would never call Roman Polanski a feminist, but I would argue that this film is. Rosemary’s Baby is a surprisingly honest and intimate portrayal of the expectations, disappointments, and even horrors that can accompany pregnancy. And the lullaby that begins and ends the film will haunt you for a long time (it’s my ringtone).
6. 'The Girl,' A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour, 2014)
A mysterious female vampire stalks an Iranian town and, in the process, exposes its secrets. This dreamy, beautifully filmed Persian-American flick draws from both the horror and Spaghetti Western traditions, and immediately became an inspiration for independent horror filmmakers.
7. Countess Marya Zaleska, Dracula's Daughter (Lambert Hillyer, 1936)
Dracula’s Daughter is an all too often overlooked Universal Studios monster gem. Gloria Holden stars as Countess Marya Zaleska, a hypnotic vampire who is forced to bear her father’s legacy. She also demonstrates a strong attraction to women, thereby initiating the cinematic trend of the lesbian vampire.
8. Asa Vajda, Black Sunday (Mario Bava, 1960)
Black Sunday, also known as The Mask of Satan and Revenge of the Vampire, is a 1960 Italian gothic horror film directed by Mario Bava. Burned at the stake, a vampire witch princess (Barbara Steele) wakes up centuries later with her undead henchman.
To this Bava now added a direct approach to historical misogyny and warped religious concepts of femininity and virtue, subjects rarely tackled before except by Carl Dreyer, one of intelligent horror’s strongest influences, in films like The Passion of Joan of Arc (1927) and Day of Wrath (1943).
9. Amelia, The Babadook (Jennifer Dent, 2014)
Six years after the violent death of her husband, Amelia (Essie Davis) is at a loss. The Babadook (2014) punctures this myth of the new feminized laborer — a perky, independent professional, free from housewifery and inequality. Instead, we are faced with Amelia, a clearly intelligent, capable woman, who lives in a careworn haze of fatigue and depletion, only emerging periodically to rally herself to tenderness or descend into demonic fury. An amazing depiction of the burdens of being a single mother, and a terrifying watch.
10. Willow, The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973)
When fervently Christian detective Sergeant Howie visits a remote island in the Hebrides to investigate a young girl’s disappearance, he finds a community celebrating May Day with pagan rituals. Whilst visiting, he stays at the local inn where he meets Willow, the innkeeper’s daughter, who attempts to sway him from his Christian path. Willow’s responsibility for demonstrating the loose morals of the Summerisle heathens (and testing Howie’s purity) is exhibited with a bizarre bawdiness – but Britt Ekland’s Bond-girl, pouting sexuality marked her (and her role as Willow) as an iconic figure of seduction within horror
11. Elaine, Love Witch (Anna Biller, 2016)
Witches have been portrayed onscreen as evil, hideous hags (Hocus Pocus), as eccentric but kind neighbors (Practical Magic), as rebellious teens in Hot Topic clothing (The Craft). In The Love Witch, Elaine (Samantha Robinson) – despite being a homage to all these vintage vixens, is a different archetype from the ones we’re used to seeing — she’s a seductive woman whose primary goal in life is to find a man who adores her, which she attempts using methods of seduction and spellwork
12. Gwen, The Witches (Cyril Frankell, 1966)
Following a deeply disturbing experience with the occult in Africa, a schoolteacher moves to a small English village, only to discover that black magic resides there as well.
This film was a pet project of Joan Fontaine, based on a novel by Peter Curtis. It was her last feature film. Fontaine stars as the fearlessly strong teacher Gwen Mayfield, who is in charge of a missionary school in Africa. A witch doctor puts a curse on her, causing a nervous breakdown.
Returning to England, she takes a job running a small rural school. In the village, there is an active voodoo cult. They have targeted a young woman named Linda (Ingrid Brett), whom they plan to offer as a virgin sacrifice. The cult members are led by journalist Stephanie Bax (Kay Walsh), whom Mayfield discovers is the head witch. So much female sass for one movie, decades ahead!
13. Suzy, Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)
Dario Argento’s avant-garde and beautifully shot giallo movie follows the journey of an American dancer, as she enrolls in a prestigious German dance school, only to find it’s run by masochistic witches. Argento’s technical stylings are always a wonder to behold and Suspiria, with its use of mind blowing colors, and a spectacular score by prog-rock band Goblin. Not to mention a bizarre mystery at the heart of it all, is one of his, and Italian cinema’s, most thrilling works. It is definitely a film critic’s film, and remains as influential as it does unnerving.
So what do you think about Natalie's list? Have you seen any of the films she included? Let us know in the comments!
You can follow Natalie on Instagram (@nataliemariawardle) and be sure to check out her site tarredandfeatheredofficial.com, where you can find the original version of the above list. It was slightly edited for Femfilmfans.
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By Lissy Granzow
SPOILER ALERT - If you haven’t watched the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale and do not want it to be spoiled, stop reading!
“The Word,” the last episode of the second season of Hulu’s critically acclaimed dystopian drama The Handmaid’s Tale, left many viewers and TV critics baffled. After numerous escape attempts, protagonist June (Elisabeth Moss) finally has her best chance yet to escape the tyranny of Gilead with her newborn daughter Holly (or is it Nicole now?) and reunite with her husband in Canada. However, in the last scene she hands off her baby to Emily (Alexis Bledel), another handmaid on the run, and decides to stay in Gilead. This ending, which sets up a third season of June remaining in Gilead, came as a big surprise and shock to many viewers seeing her decision as incomprehensible or straight out nonsensical (The New York Times provides a great summary of the different reactions from critics). While I generally liked the second season, the last episode also left me quite confused about the future of the series and whether creator Bruce Miller has a clear plan for how the series will coherently continue and eventually conclude.
My viewing experience of the thirteen episodes of the second season was very different from watching the first season. While the series remains thrilling and captivating, it was often almost too much for me to take in and I truly needed the full week in between each episode to recover. One main reason why it was harder to watch for me lies in the fact that season two goes beyond the source material. The first season closely resembled Margaret Atwood’s novel, which I read for the first time right before Hulu aired the first episode. As a result, I was already familiar with the horrific world of Gilead and June’s experiences, although it was still very chilling to see it come to life on the screen. At the end of the first season, as in the novel, June’s fate is left open after she is hauled into a van without knowing where it will take her. The second season picks up where the novel ends and from then on every viewer is as much in the dark about what’s happening as June herself.
The second season depicts June’s three escape attempts, which are juxtaposed with scenes of her return to the Waterfords. Throughout the whole season, June is continuously in danger: with her rebellious behavior against Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) and Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes); her secret love affair with Nick (Max Minghella); and as she tries to escape, of course. The only thing protecting June from life-threatening harm is the fact that she is pregnant since fertile women are even more in demand after a number of handmaids are killed in a bomb attack. Not knowing the fate of June in the second season and the horrendous things that happen to her and the other characters makes this show increasingly difficult to watch. My anxiety is further amplified by real life events in the U.S. and the Trump administration’s and conservative politicians’ policies and viewpoints aiming to control women’s bodies, which sometimes makes me wonder if a real-life version of Gilead is not that far off.
And here lies my main criticism and my confusion about the ending of the second season. After June’s unsuccessful escape attempts and Eden’s execution following her own escape attempt, I was hoping that the show runners were setting up the storyline of June reuniting with her husband in Canada and fighting the Gilead regime from the outside. Instead, June gives up her newborn baby Holly, which makes me wonder who will take care of her. Will it be deeply traumatized Emily who will probably be reunited with her wife and son? Or will June’s husband Luke (O.T. Fagbenle) take care of the love child between his wife and another man (although Luke will probably think the baby is a product of rape).
And what will happen to June? After “stealing” the child of one of the most powerful people of the regime, all of Gilead will probably be searching for her. Where will she go? And how is she supposed to get to her other daughter and bring her to safety? Saving Hannah is probably the only reason why she decided to stay behind. But would her chances to get her daughter back not be better with an organized mission from the outside? I’m not sure if her decision to leave her infant daughter so she can go on a suicide mission to rescue her older daughter seems like the sensible thing to do, as this will very likely leave both her children without a mother. Of course, I don’t believe June will die, but considering the numerous dangers she will face remaining in Gilead, it is hard for me to imagine a believable scenario that leaves her coming out unharmed.
Another major event in the last episode that I could not comprehend was Serena’s major turn of character. Serena’s flashbacks depict her as an educated, highly conservative and religious working woman who wrote books and gave public speeches about her viewpoints on the woman’s place in the domestic sphere. Her ideas helped shape Gilead’s regime of terror. Before Gilead existed, Serena was better known and yielded more power than her husband. But when the men of Gilead, including her husband, overthrew the American government, she lost this power and her husband became one of the most important figures in the new regime.
The paradox of her old-fashioned values compared to her life before Gilead puts Serena in a tricky position in this season. She is clearly bored with her life as the dutiful housewife, just waiting to be a mother while knitting, gardening and tormenting June every day. When her husband is injured after the bomb attack, she seems thrilled to assume some political power again, acting in secret on her husband’s behalf, which results in her husband spanking her as punishment.
During a diplomatic visit in Canada with her husband, she experiences contempt from other women for her more-or-less voluntary lifestyle as a housewife. In Canada, she is also approached by a diplomat and secretly offered asylum. The diplomat points out that with asylum, she has the chance to bear her own children, since her husband is probably the person who is infertile. She refuses the offer, however, although I had the impression that she briefly considered it.
It seems like her highest priority is to have children and be a mother. In her life before Gilead, her viewpoints blame the whole infertility crisis on the loss of core family values and conservative Christian beliefs. She cannot conceive children with her husband and in the first and second season her whole life revolves around her desire to become a mother via her handmaid June. With June about to give birth, she is closer than ever to finally having a child. This is probably one of the reasons she does not take up the offer of asylum and, of course, the fact that her whole life is built upon her vision of Gilead and the oppression of women. Even though she seems to become more disillusioned with her role as the wife and her place in Gilead, her main hope is to have a child of her own.
This is why I struggled with her decision to let June flee with “her” baby in the last season finale. In the episode, June points out to Serena that baby Nicole will not be safe in Gilead as a girl, since even pious Eden (Sydney Sweeney) had been executed for defying Gilead’s rules. Serena was clearly shaken by Eden’s brutal death and tries to slightly change the laws by addressing her husband and the council of Gilead’s powerful men and propose that women should be allowed to read the Bible (women are not allowed to read at all in Gilead). She even reads a passage from the Bible in front of the council. But her husband and the council refuse to consider her proposal and instead her husband orders for her finger to be cut off, which is the punishment for women reading in Gilead. After this shocking event, Serena realizes that neither she nor other pious women are safe in Gilead. When she catches June fleeing with “her” baby, she first tries to stop her, but June convinces her to let the baby go.
To me, this decision still seems very out of character. As mentioned above, both seasons highlight how Serena’s whole life goal is to be a mother. Throughout the series it seems that her finally being a mother makes all the torture, violence and rape worth it for her. But when she loses a finger and the violence is directed against her and another wife in her household, she finally realizes how dangerous this regime is for her and has a change of heart? And now, after she let June go and sacrificed being a mother, has she redeemed herself and are the viewers supposed to sympathize with her?
While I find her character fascinating, especially because women like Serena who advocate for their own oppression exist, I do not think we should let her off the hook for the one decent decision she has made. She helped shape Gilead’s violent laws and is implicated in the rape and torture of June and other women. This is also why I find it incomprehensible that she would give up her daughter since her being a mother was the one thing she always wanted and one of the main purposes of Gilead.
So in the end, both mothers decide to leave their daughters behind. But for what? Will Serena be alone with her abusive husband and continue to garden and knit? Or will she try to escape Gilead as well and be hated by everyone inside and outside of Gilead for her hypocrisy?
After all the violence, torture and abuse, I think this show is in desperate need of hope. The viewer understands the horror of Gilead now. I think the series needs to wrap up by showing the fall of Gilead instead of more seasons of torture porn and violence against women that is so prevalent on television already. There needs to be some narrative purpose for violent depictions and shocking decisions besides shock value.
Sometimes, the problem of TV shows, in comparison to a novel for example, is that many showrunners do not have a clear, coherent plan of how a show is supposed to end, but rather go with it as long as they are successful, providing a rushed, unsatisfying ending when the show is canceled. I truly hope this will not be the case with The Handmaid’s Tale. Why not end on a high note and go into history as a coherent piece of quality television acclaimed by critics?
The unconvincing decisions in the final episode, however, make me worry that we will have another season of Serena deluding herself while being disillusioned by her abusive husband and June experiencing the full terror of Gilead with no end of violence in sight. Atwood’s novel and its visualization in the first season already gave us enough of the horrors of uncontrolled oppression of women. The purpose of a TV show that goes beyond this source material should be to give the viewer some hope and satisfaction. There is nothing wrong with a - more-or-less - happy ending in dystopian fiction.
(Note: Our editor Christina translated the text from German into English.
The original German version can be found here --> Time is Up for Irony: Notes on Hannah Gadsbys Nanette)
Cynicism is easy. It it a way to get involved in something without getting involved in something. In male-dominated stand up comedy, punchlines and ironic distance to the subject have become essential genre conventions. Actress and comedian Hannah Gadsby, known for her lesbian “gender not-normal” perspective in the Australian television dramedy Please Like Me, completely does away with these conventions in her show Nanette and in doing so, criticizes central mechanisms of the culture industry and the patriarchy.
Hannah Gadsby recalls how she was confronted with homophobic and sexist violence at a bus stop at the age of 17, however; a man assumed that she was a man - albeit a “faggot” - and was hitting on his girlfriend. She mentions this at first just for the punchline: the man apologizes to her when he realizes she is a woman - he doesn’t hit women. The audience laughs. She then delivers several other punchlines that have to do with her past: with her coming out; with the omnipresent and until 1997 legally backed homophobia she faced growing up in her small hometown in Tasmania; with her deep-seated dissatisfaction, her depression, her isolation and her shame. It appears to be a self-deprecating coming to terms with the past. But Gadsby has had enough of not telling her story and her memories to the end. She has had enough of jokes about women and lesbians, even if they are ironic. In the middle of her show, she radically questions all of this and her profession itself: “I have built a career out of self-deprecating humor and I don’t want to do that anymore. Do you understand what self-deprecation means when it come from somebody who already exists in the margins? It’s not humility, it’s humiliation. I put myself down in order to speak, in order to seek permission to speak, and I simply will not do that anymore, not to myself or anybody who identifies with me. If that means that my comedy career is over, then, so be it.”
Gadsby is through with self-deprecation, cynicism and humiliating and retraumatizing punchlines. She thus tells one memory vividly to the end. The man who let her have it at the bus stop returns, “he beat the shit out of me and nobody stopped him,” precisely because she is a lesbian woman and does correspond to the dominant gender norms. And because of these dominant gender norms, she did not turn to the law enforcement authorities: “I thought that was all I was worth. And I didn’t take myself to hospital. And I should have. But I didn’t, because that’s all I thought I was worth. I am ‘incorrect’ and that is a punishable offense.”
Like a successful drag performance, Gadsby’s show is mimetic. Mimesis involves imitating, deconstructing and reassembling someone different from us (but this process can also apply to societal practices) with aesthetic intention so that the individual pieces no longer belong to a whole in a hierarchical relationship. In Hannah Gadsby’s case, this applies to narrative modes and gender norms that are de- and reconstructed. They are placed in new relations to stand up comedy as a genre and to the masculine as an idealized norm. In comedy, life stories and societal shortcomings are commodities; what counts are the punchlines that pay off, ones with a high short-term rate of return. Aesthetics and ethics only have a functional significance. Stories are then told to the end if it pays off. But “we tell ourselves stories in order to live” (Joan Didion); to tell our stories first gives history and meaning to our lives and makes it possible to orient ourselves morally in the world.
The time is up for irony.
Great news: Hannah Gadsby says she's no longer quitting comedy (click to read full article by Broede Carmody)
Deconstructing the Stigma of Witchery
By Christina Schultz
Zambian-Welsh director Rungano Nyoni’s award-winning debut film I Am Not a Witch poignantly thematizes the stigma of being a witch in her home country Zambia, a place steeped in tradition. However, the traditions might appear more like odd superstitions comically amplified to viewers from the Western World.
This absurd contrast between reality and possible fiction comes to life as the patriarchal society firmly in place in Zambia and the general authority of men are undermined and even threatened by a tight-knit matriarchal community of “witches,” who are kept like animals in the zoo by the government. Once accused and confirmed as witches, the women are bound to servitude in both the literal and metaphorical sense: the witches must wear white ribbons attached to mounted spools, allowing them to go only so far. When moved, the large spools and the mounts allude to a penetrating phallus, which seems to be no coincidence on the part of the director. The symbolism makes us think the women are beholden to their male keepers but relatively early on in the film, we, the feminist-minded viewers, realize the witches have the power to (figuratively) screw the men and not vice versa.
The male government official, Mr. Banda (Henry B.J. Phiri), wants to exploit the witches for his own benefit but depends on their cooperation. They are, among other things, an integral part of the justice system as they determine whether someone is guilty of committing a crime. They also perform manual labor, mainly fieldwork, which turns into profit. They are even put on display for tourists, resulting in one of the film’s funniest scenes. Without the witches’ cooperation, Zambia would certainly be worse off, so the film suggests.
The star of the film, an incredibly terse but bright eight-year-old orphan named Shula - played by Maggie Mulubwa with a poignancy seldom seen in children on screen - causes enough trouble to lead the townspeople to suspect she is a witch. All it takes to be accused is to be at the wrong place at the wrong time or to make people uncomfortable by doing the unexpected, which is not actual witchcraft, as far as am I concerned. Shula, whose name appropriately means “to be uprooted,” appears ungendered or unidentified when we first meet her. The prepubescent child wears neutral clothes (although one tragicomical camera shot reveals her in a shirt brandishing the phrase #bootycall) and has not yet found, or chooses not to use her voice. Her presence unsettles the townspeople and quickly she is coaxed into joining the witch community because otherwise she will become a goat, so she is warned.
Shula, while at first unhappy, quickly adjusts to her new life as a witch and lives happily among her matriarchal society. And even though being a witch is a decidedly female occupation, if you could call it that, she maintains her gender neutrality and much of her freedom. She becomes part of a family, gains respect and has opportunities she otherwise would not have had. Mr. Banda’s wife (Nancy Murilo), however, shows how deeply ingrained the hatred of witches, i.e. strong, emancipated kweens, and traditional gender roles are in society. She tells Shula that she herself was once a witch but she gained “respectability” through marriage, which set her free, allowing her to live a relatively lavish lifestyle with her husband. In other words, if witches change their “evil” ways and do as they are told, they can be released from their ribbons and their lifelong servitude. But aren’t they just exchanging one type of servitude for another? Is not the ribbon merely a physical limitation, a trifling nuisance, and the bonds of marriage and societal shackles placed on women a much worse kind of servitude?
It would seem that the answer is the stuff of Kindergarten because even eight-year-old Shula could not be hoodwinked by the glamor or the promise of “freedom.” Sure the witches might be persecuted or ridiculed, as witches have been throughout history in just about every part of the world, but they are free in a different way. Their independence is their strength. They are not repentant for their “non-conformist” behavior, they are not adherent to traditional female roles, they are not seeking out “respectability.” Shula is clearly happiest with her family, the people who embrace her for who she is. And that family, that group of people are all women. Women who care deeply for one another, who stick together through thick and thin, who embrace new members with open arms and would (more or less) prefer to live by different rules than the ones society expects of women. I would say the film’s message couldn’t get much more feminist. Yet the feminism on display here is not blatant; it is incredibly subtle, albeit undeniably present. It’s the kind of feminism that causes you to think about what is worth fighting for and what “freedom” really means. And in this aesthetically beautiful, narratively creative, emotionally moving film, it is quite freeing to be a “witch.”
The Phantom Menace
Han Solo, accurately recreated by Alden Ehrenreich, and Lando Calrissian, expertly portrayed by Donald Glover, have never been feminist icons, nor should they be. They are chauvinistic, self-absorbed scoundrels, the lovable, but flawed products of the seedy underbelly of the Star Wars universe. Yet behind the women, weapons, and card games, the viewer is always aware of their hidden loyalty and compassion. Han and Lando’s bravado undoubtedly makes up part of their identities, but it can still be easily punctured by the wit and gaze of the late great, and hopefully still around in Jedi-ghost form, Carrie Fisher. “I love you,” says the princess. “I know,” answers the smuggler, while allowing himself to be frozen in carbonite. An act of compassion, which displays what his words cannot. Overall, the characters Han and Lando don’t exude aggressive masculinity, but perform it rather obviously. This performance was made legible through their actions, failures to perform, and most importantly, the strength (physically, mentally, and politically) of Princess Leia as a balance in the force.
The Princess Strikes Back
Leia is of course imperfect. Subordinate to Han and Luke, she only succeeds in (accurately) criticizing their plans, not changing them. But it was the 70’s and one had to start somewhere. Unfortunately, years and years in the future in a film not really that far away, the balance she provided back then, however imperfect, is wholly missing from the new Han Solo story. Unlike Leia, Khaleesi the…wait, I mean, Qi’ra the love interest and presumed counterweight to Han’s hubris in Solo, portrayed by the talented Emilia Clarke, is complicit in, rather than skeptical of the arrogant criminal that young Han wants to perform.
Where Leia calls Han’s bluff with cutting sarcasm and political rank, Qi’ra lacks power and cunning. She is not a senator, but the assistant to mob boss, Dryden Vos. Rather than rejecting Han’s attempted outlaw routine, she is wooed by his antics and can’t talk with L3 about anything other than love. Although she does have some pretty awesome sword moves in her brief fight with Vos and ultimately assumes his powerful role in Crimson Dawn next to robot-legs Darth Maul, her action-hero abilities are never explored. Even her decision to abandon Han for a promising career in crime comes across not as agency involving forethought, planning and execution, but rather as betrayal and opportunism, both old tropes about strong women. Ultimately, Qi’ra serves to reinforce rather than resist Han’s machismo, creating the mess that Princess Leia will have to clean up later.
A New Hope?
One could ask: Maybe the balance in the gender side of the force doesn’t come from a human at all, but a robot!? One could ask, but one would be wrong. L3, Lando’s droid co-pilot, voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is a noticeably activist figure, so much so that it comes across as parody and farce. When confronted with the injustice of robot-fighting at Lando’s hideout, L3 attempts to incite the droids to rise up and resist their oppression. Her powerlessness to affect the situation is obvious and allows the scene to function as comic relief, rather than having an empowering edge. The moment is awkward enough that Lando, embarrassed by his droid/partner/crush?, guides her away like a child. Thus, the fight for equal rights, equal representation and equal voice for droids, Banthans, workers, women, POC, LGBTQ and many more, becomes nothing more than a silly distraction and one that ultimately costs L3 not only her voice, but her life. While leading a failed revolt, she is hit by a laser blast. Her hard drive is then integrated into the Falcon and permanently made part of the ship’s system, never to be heard again. With L3’s assimilation, Qi’ra’s weaker character, Val’s early death, and the narrative unimportance and limited screen time of Enfys, Solo falls short in leveling out Han and Lando’s bravado. Without this counterbalance, there is little artifice to their arrogance and even less reason for introspection in the viewer.
An Actual New Hope
It feels like it’s time for something more positive. There’s always a lot one can find wrong and too seldom suggestions for what can be done better. To the credit of director Ron Howard and the film team of Solo, the film is very Star Wars and there are interesting, subtle moments that challenge the observations above. Also to their credit, it would have only taken one simple suggestion to return balance to the force of the movie: to have Val (Thandie Newton), super smuggler villainess (she, I assume, would also then be entitled to a last name), keep Han in check. In many ways, it is Tobias Beckett (played by Woody Harrelson), Val’s lover, who takes on role of Han's mentor and counterpoint. He is strong, but self-serving, wise, but untrustworthy. Had Val taken on Beckett's role, the story remains the same, except she would provide the strong, clever, complex, influential and indeed longer living character that would have given Solo all the Leia-esque female counterweight it needed to check Han’s brash bravado exterior. But in Yoda’s words “Do or do not. There is no try.”
Solo provides all the camp, action, intrigue, and adventure one loves in a Star Wars story. Han and Lando are their scoundrel selves, and the viewer is sucked along to seedy depths of the galaxy and the enticing debauchery of the smuggler lifestyle. Solo captures much of what there is to love about a Star Wars film from the 70’s. Unfortunately, it brought with it the many problems of representation in a space western from the 70’s.