It is summer, which means big movies that will try to frighten you on some unconscious level. In the current political climate, with all the secrets of security surveillance on most people’s mind, I suggest that if you do find yourself at one, you look closely at the subtext of these larger than life films. For example Superman: Man of Steel which shows on the surface a hunk for everyone with a heart of gold and humility bordering on low self esteem. However look deeper and see a film made in collaboration with the Department of Defense that projects Clark Kent as a prime example of American exceptionalism. Superman (superpower) knows what is best for everyone; he will rescue the world in the same way that the US continues to try to control all nations using its military might and wealth. “Oh please!” You may be muttering as you read this. Yet let me remind you of what Frantz Fanon, a French-Algerian psychiatrist and a critical political thinker wrote in 1964 in The Wretched of the Earth, “Before you can have a fascist political movement, you must first have a fascist popular culture.” Think about this the next time you see a disaster film and see how ordinary people need a superhero to rescue them and the world.
There are smaller films that actually matter more that are out this month.
Let’s go to the movies!
The Attack dir: Ziad Doueiri
Have you ever discovered that someone you love and from who you have no secrets has committed an act so out of character that it leaves you questioning at the deepest level if you ever knew this person? This is the mystery that threads throughout this must-see political thriller. It is written and directed by Ziad Doueiri, a Palestinian brought up in Lebanon and now living in L.A. As a child, Doueiri was brought up to hate all Jews. This is with which, like so many others in the Middle East, he was indoctrinated. As a teenager he had experienced the Israeli military policing of the occupied territories and lived through the war in Lebanon. Only when he went to college in the US was he presented with ideas and people who challenged his ideological thinking. He, like his Israeli youth counterparts, began to ask how things can be different.
The Attack is based on Yasmina Khadra’s international bestseller of the same name. It centers on a successful doctor in Tel Aviv who had been groomed by the Jewish medical establishment to be a symbol of how Israel assimilates Israeli Arabs, Christians, and Palestinians. His wife is an artist and a secular Christian. We see him take her to a bus so she can visit her grandfather in another city on the very day he is to receive the highest award ever given a non-Jew by the Israeli medical establishment. Later, the police come to tell him they suspect his wife had become a suicide bomber and how she blew herself up and killed 17 people including six children at a birthday celebration.
The film’s focus is not on known politics but the inner struggle to understand the un-understandable. The Attack shows how sometimes reality must transcend personal relationships grounded in mutual affection for change to happen. The lead actors, led by Ali Suliman and Reymond Amsalem, create complicated human beings that mirror the world in which we live. The subtle score by composer Eric Neveux helps navigate the narrative away from merely melodrama.
No simple answers are given and the audience, like the husband, is left having to ask themselves some very hard questions about reality, love and change.
The Aggressives dir: Daniel peddle
Now available free on hulu vod.
Daniel Peddle’s The Aggressives is a deep look at bodies born female who choose to express their gender in a very masculine representation.
It is the only film picked up at the SXSW, a mini Sundance of sorts, in Austin, Texas. It turned away crowds at queer venues everywhere, including SRO at New York’s New Fest, San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay film festival and Outfest in L.A. Programmers apparently misjudged the potential audience for this provocative peek inside the black, lesbian, butch-identified culture invisible to most of the white world.
The intense interest in gender expression, particularly in the academic world where there has been a shift from a focus on gay and lesbian identity to one on queer and trans-identity, makes the film particularly timely.
The Aggressives documents the lives of six very different women, each of whom identifies herself with the concept of aggressives. The street word “Ag” is a term popular among women of color to describe females very much in touch with their masculinity. Historically, the words used to describe such women have been butch, passing woman, bulldagger, bull dyke, and stud. “Ag” has joined this corner of the language of gender expression as a positive word that these women use to communicate both empowerment and community.
The portraits presented in this film break down the media stereotypes about the women these words are used to describe. The world they inhabit received a fair amount of above-ground coverage in the wake of the media reporting of the murder of 15 year old Sakia Gunn in Newark, New Jersey in May 2003. Gunn, who friends described as an “Ag,” was murdered after she went to the defense of her girlfriend who was being hassled by two black men cruising the city’s downtown streets in the early morning hours.
Gunn and her girlfriend had just returned from a night of socializing on the Hudson River waterfront in the West Village, a gathering place frequented at night predominantly by black gay, lesbian, and trans-teens. The turnout of more than a thousand black teenage lesbians in butch/ femme pairings, sporting rainbow doo-rags, necklaces, and hair braids, at Gunn’s funeral in Newark was an eloquent testimony to these women’s willingness to be out and visible.
Daniel Peddle is an NYU film graduate and also holds a degree in anthropology in addition to being a children’s book author. Since he came upon the late night scene at the end of Christopher Street while scouting for talent (Peddle has also been much sought after as a casting director for “real people” models by a fashion industry fascinated by the culture he discovered) he knew he had stumbled upon a world he did not know. A slim, fashionable street-attired, white man, raised in the south, Peddle spent five years gaining the trust and confidence of the multi-racial community he found at the river.
The film’s representation is principally black, though he sensitively includes Asian and Latina aggressives and their femme girlfriends. Audiences everywhere can see a world of gender expression that is almost Genet-like, with heightened femme and butch identities. Significantly, the “Ags” identify as female despite their amazing expression of masculine gender in hair, clothes, names, and role-playing.
Peddle takes his camera inside a Newark contest hall where the best “Ag” is to be chosen. The gender presentation would confuse even those most sensitive to varieties of masculine and feminine expression. These “men” are stunning in their strutting of female masculinity, with the swagger and self-confidence of seductive Olympians. The film offers a clear perspective on butch women who express their female masculinity gender while remaining identified as lesbians, rather than living a male identity in presentation or through medical intervention.
Men, in particular, will also learn much from how these aggressives treat the women they love. Peddle realistically shows expression of male braggadocio, but there is none of the dismissive and sometimes violent behavior some men express towards women they desire. It is important for these images to be seen on the screen, and not only by those who identify with femme/butch gender expression. It would be a loss if this film were simply placed in a niche.
The film does not exploit its subjects. Instead, like Jennie Livingston’s 1991 Paris is Burning, and David LaChapelle’s more recent Rize, it humanizes people who are either invisible or stigmatized and marginalized in the media. Not only is Peddle’s film provocative with its revelations about gender expression, it is also full of humor and warmth with which any sensitive individual can identify.
For more expanded reviews: http://jimfourattsreeldeal.blogspot.com .