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August 3, 2014 | by  | in Arts Film |
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Broadening Broads Borders With B-Grades

Even if they pass the Bechdel test, movieland has a lot to answer for in terms of women’s expression and representation in film. Like, isn’t it awesome when a female character’s motivation isn’t her rape, or when all of her narrative arcs aren’t in reference to men, or when she looks and acts counter to society’s narrow construction of her gender? Here are some films that will satiate the feminist spirit while entertaining the senses and stimulating the brain.

The Color Purple (1985) Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey.
Nominated for 11 Oscars and given 4 stars by Roger Ebert, the film is an emotional epic that covers off class, race, gender and sexuality. Phew! Based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, it was never a film that was going to match the complex and breath-taking source material, but Celie Harris’s powerful narrative is deserving of whatever attention a platform is willing to give it. Admittedly, the blockbuster Hollywood shine did the private and personal journey of the characters more harm than good, and the desperate silver-lining complex and happy-ever-after mythology is in full swing here. Still, Oprah Winfrey’s rare on-screen moments are raw and incredible; her resilience and strength make it all the more harrowing to watch her graceless and cruel descent. The film reminds you that you don’t have fucking problems, and if women survived these conditions, you can make it through the day without your trim soy latte.
Honourable mentions: Boys Don’t Cry (1999).

Alien: Resurrection (1997) Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Starring Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder.
Its sci-fi, it’s postmodern. Postmodernism and feminism don’t typically mix, but it can be refreshing when gender is neutralised by survival conditions. I love the Alien franchise, and this instalment was a standout in terms of wrestling Hollywood’s women complex into submission. The allegory is all too obvious: Ripley’s body is exploited by the oppressive cooperation, the body is a host for the abuse and profit for others, commandeered for its function as life-giving vessel (extracting people of their bodily autonomy). Eventually, the Alien queen adversary (now laden with womb – how expository) must be confronted by Ripley (who embodies the disembodied and rejects the confines of her gender) and the latter is forced to defeat her proverbial alien-hybrid child, aborting it through a vacuum in space. CRISIS OF CONSCIENCE AVERTED! Woah! That’s a lot to process. And so much action and suspense and thrills!
Honourable mentions: G I Jane (1997) Trigger Warning: questionable treatment of sexuality.

The Heat (2013) Directed by Paul Feig. Starring Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy.
Hey, wouldn’t it be great if someone made a buddy cop movie where instead of men making jokes about their demanding family life, that they’re getting too old for this shit, and how everyone happens to be a motherfucker, there were ladies making jokes about their demanding families, that they’re getting too old for this shit, and how everyone happens to be a motherfucker. Well, someone did! And believe it or not, this exclusive comedy duo, without precedent, manage to pull it off. Sure, the storyline was uninspired and you may find the buddy cop genre a painful exercise in tedium. But let me put it this way: it’s probably because all the genre jokes to be made have been made, AND all of the jokes also just happen to have been made by men. Give in to mediocrity! This one flew under the radar during New Zealand syndication, but the extras material alone (on the DVD release) is worth digging out your old Video Ezy account number.
Honorable Mentions: Sister Act 2 (1993), Some Like It Hot (1955)—this film is as transgressive today as it was back then, even though it doesn’t quite fit the bill, it is hilarious!

The Punk Singer (2013) Directed by Sini Anderson. Starring Kathleen Hanna, Adam Horovitz.
What happened to the third wave? Are we the fourth wave? This excellent documentary gives the viewer a mere snapshot, on speed, into the infamous phenomenon that was and is Kathleen Hanna. If you don’t know anything about riot grrrl, Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, The Julie Ruin etc, you will come out of this film desperately googling for more. She’s fierce, accessible, opinionated, and honest: a real girl. Lots of tender intimate moments, lots of fan-girl moments (sadly, Joan Jett’s scene where she praises Kathleen is understated), lots of nostalgia and angst. Don’t put her on a pedestal; she asks you not to. Don’t create a martyr out of her; she’s not dead yet. That sort of thing. The archival footage alone is worth the watch, but of course it’s a healthy reminder of the personal as the political. And feminist punk is badass.
Honorable Mentions: Miss Representation (2012), I Shot Andy Warhol (1996).

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014) Directed by David Zellner. Starring Rinko Kikuchi, Bunzo.
A modern fairytale adventure where a Japanese woman escapes her pedestrian existence in search of treasure that is all too real in her mind (even if it fudges with others’ expectations and sense of reality). Kumiko is a wonderful character that embodies a woman’s need to escape, particularly in the face of blatant patriarchy and society’s expectations of and for her. She is a bag of contradictions that is refreshing among the contemporary plethora of one-dimensional and equally boring ‘anti-hero’ representations of women. Beautifully shot and directed, there is something magical in the film’s use of realism: there are no princes, fairy godmothers or anthropomorphic animals, but you’ll get over that quickly. Of note: plot holes are filled efficiently and with little regard for the audience’s expectations – this movie requires that the viewer dispense with logic and simply enjoy a happy ending.
Honourable mentions: Frozen (2014) – jokes, that storyline was terrible, but Brave (2012) was excellent. Spirited Away (2001) also deserves a nod.

And, to top it off, a film to remind you why you are a feminist and that your ideology is still relevant:
Pain & Gain (2013) Directed by Michael Bay. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Where to begin. This film epitomises modern misogyny in such a stark and obvious way it should probably have been named “Virulent male – the superior gender”. Male sexual impotence is lampooned and mocked. It is seen as a painful process of recovery – cloaked in shame, because there is nothing more demoralising than the loss of male sexual potency amiright? I mean, what else are we all doing here? Women only feature as sexual background material (Rebel Wilson, I expected better from you). At one point, cock-jock The Rock snorts coke off a woman’s derrière: after all, a woman is only as good as the prop you make of her. Women asked to “show them your tits” jiggle delightedly. Clearly, there can be nothing more gratifying than being complicit in your own objectification (especially given that your male counterpart – owner – has benevolently financed your physical improvement). In one scene, a group of men are desperately enthusiastic to play the ‘rapist’ in a safety skit with an attractive woman. The idea, that “but rape and sex are the same thing when we’re playing pretend”, made my hymen grow over. Of course, there are some classic homophobic ‘jokes’ – a man who shows emotion by crying is called a queer, and a priest is beaten to death for what is perceived as a sexual advance. Hilarious! The setting in a sex-toy warehouse paves the way for obsessive penetration complexes of such an extent that Freud would be rolling over in his grave to revise his castration-anxiety thesis. Regrettably, this movie isn’t satire. It’s not even comedy. Forgive me if I don’t trust Michael Bay’s good filmmaking intentions. This movie is a gross, morbid, car wreck of a spectacle. Its dedication to finding entertainment in said spectacle sees it traverse the boundary between entertainment and endorsement of completely insane regressive bullshit. This movie won’t just piss you off, it will make you want go full militant.

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