Pop Culture

Thoughts on 9 1/2 Weeks

9.5 weeksWow, so I watched 9 1/2 Weeks (1986) yesterday after this friend suggested it. Sometimes I question this person’s sense of normal, so I was hesitant to watch the movie at first. The description on Google contains some hints of kink and that alone puts me on edge. But I found the movie easily enough on Netflix and I had nothing to do on a Tuesday night, so I figured why not?

The movie stars Mickey Rourke as John, a Wall Street trader, and Kim Basinger as Elizabeth, an art gallery assistant. It is set in the 80’s. Admittedly, I kinda both hate and love the 80’s. I hate that nearly every male protag of that era is a white Wall Street guy. I also hate that it is around the time when being worryingly skinny becomes quite stylish for women. In all the scenes where Elizabeth is in her underwear, you can totally see her hip bones. Basinger wears preteen-sized panties in which my South Asian thighs would probably tear a hole. But also, it’s a great decade for fashion. Basinger is often dressed to the nines in lacy tops, translucent camis, flowy skirts, garter straps, high heels, lipstick, heavy gray eye shadow, and heavy dark eye liner. Then on top of that, she’ll wear a giant shaggy man-sized coat, or something with shoulder pads the size of the Empire State Building. It’s fantastic. In one scene, she’s literally in men’s clothes. I love the androgyny, and also the extreme dissonance of masculine and feminine aesthetic in the same outfit.

I also love the music choices in this crazy movie. The brilliance of using a Eurythmics song, a band that conjures images of disillusionment about love, to a scene where Elizabeth is masturbating. I think the opening song is “I do What I Do” by John Taylor–another great choice. Those haunting questions–“Do I touch the way you want to be touched? Have you heard the words you wanted to hear?” And I think “Bread and Butter” for a kinky food scene was really funny.

I love the gorgeous long scenes that focus on the female lead. The masturbation scene comes to mind (holy shit, the fact that they put a masturbation scene in this movie. A person with a female body giving herself pleasure in major motion picture?! Even by 2019 standards, that is groundbreaking). I really liked the dance scene, too.  Basinger is fantastic in this sexy dance number. She isn’t touching Rourke at all–in fact, while you can tell she’s doing this for him, she also seems to be enjoying herself, doing something that she thinks is funny. It’s as much about her. In fact, if we pretend he isn’t watching, Basinger almost just looks like she’s had slightly too much to drink and is letting loose for a bit. It’s so much less contrived than music videos of this decade, and the focus is not on women giving pleasure to men. To me, it’s more about how a woman chooses what she wants to do with her body–if she wants a man to enjoy it, that’s her choice. If she wants to show it to the whole world, that’s also her choice. But this other human doesn’t have a say in what she does with her body. In fact, John seems to derive enjoyment because Elizabeth is doing what she wants.

I actually thought the scene where Basinger is dressed as a man is very radical. John buys Elizabeth men’s clothes and “suits” her up so she can see what it’s like to be a man for a night. He also kisses her openly while she is still wearing a fake mustache. John doesn’t seem to give a fuck about the fact that Elizabeth passes for a man in this moment. In addition, when they are walking home, two men attack them because they believe they are “faggots”. In the fight scene that ensues, Elizabeth gets them to back off by picking up one of the attackers knives and, I kid you not, poking the other attacker in the ass with it. They run off screaming. In my experience, women rarely get to have a proper fight in an action movie, let alone a romance movie. This one was humorous, but effective.

I would argue the movie does not focus solely on sex, either, though it is a romantic drama. There are no sex scenes. There are intensely sensual moments. Rourke portrays a man who enjoys deeply physical experiences. There is a scene where John asks Elizabeth to stay in his house, and when he comes home to find she has been snooping in his things, he says he is going to spank her. She becomes enraged, and they have sex. I know in this decade, people would argue about whether or not that scene was a rape scene. My theory is that John is trying to get Elizabeth mad on purpose. He wants that heightened state because the sex is more intense that way. I’m not sure I’d say the ends justify means in this case–how do you consent to being made to feel angry for sex? Is John showing that he cares for Elizabeth in that moment, or is it a selfish act? I actually really appreciate older movies for including scenes like that. It shows that the rules for consent are not as black and white as contemporary academics want them to be, and that there is way more to discuss than the modern thinkpiece might suggest.

There are moments in which John still comes off as a little creepy–like that moment when they first meet and he’s just staring at Elizabeth while he’s right next to her. But I also think it is radical that he usually names what he is going to do before he does it. This allows Elizabeth to express when she is uncomfortable and she can leave the situation. For example, when he brings her to his apartment for the first time, John makes a comment about how she is taking a risk because she doesn’t know what he will do. Elizabeth realizes her discomfort and says she wants to go home. In another scene, he blindfolds her before rubbing a cube of ice on her body. Elizabeth gets kind of a “warning” of what’s to come–he shakes the glass filled with ice before he begins. I haven’t seen many other movies about kink (I’ve heard a little too much about how 50 Shades of Gray is an insult to human intelligence to want to see it), so I don’t have much to compare this to. But I will say, this is more communication than I see happening in the average post-2000s rom-com. Those sex scenes usually go like this: lots of kissing, suddenly the protags are having sex. There is no build-up to the moment. I like that Adrian Lyne really took a lot of time to lead up to a sex-related moment. It is as if foreplay is the climax of the movie.

The second John fails to provide adequate information, Elizabeth decides to end the relationship. The scene where John attempts to add a prostitute to their sexual encounters sends Elizabeth into a jealous rage. She leaves John a few days later, claiming they both knew neither of them would stop seeing the other unless one of them explicitly said to do so. I think that’s a profound thing to propose. It is a reference to something Elizabeth tells her friend, Molly, earlier in the movie. She says that usually, you can tell what will end a relationship, and you store it in the back of your mind until it resurfaces one day, and you cannot pretend you are happy any more. She says she cannot figure out how her relationship with John will end. Molly suggests that perhaps it is true love in this case.

I would disagree with Molly. I think the fact that women will so frequently put up with people who they know they don’t want is because society sets them up to think this is the only way they will be happy. The world gives women messages about how they must accept whatever man floats their way because apparently, a woman is most valuable when she is kind to men, regardless of how horrible and selfish the man is. Having men look at you is the pinnacle of being a woman. But perhaps if you can truly say no, if you can walk away and not encounter some kind of social backlash, this indicates you are actually on equal terms with the other person. Maybe that is why it is a strange feeling to Elizabeth–she feels she is on equal terms with John. She is not choosing to be with him out of pity or fear or boredom. She genuinely wants to be with him. Thus when she leaves, it is not because she has been pretending to be happy the whole time. She was happy, and he crossed her boundaries too many times. It was an honest end to a relationship.

Thoughts on Crazy Rich Asians

My apologies to y’all for being on hiatus for so long. I am actually undergoing some major changes in my life, specifically a career change. I am going back to school to become a civil engineer. I start school again in September. It’s gonna be an adventure.

craAnyway, a good friend and I recently watched Crazy Rich Asians (2018). Neither of us had read the book beforehand, but I thought, listen, we’re getting a movie with an entirely Asian cast. Clearly we cannot miss this.

There is a lot about Crazy Rich Asians that makes it really different from other romantic movies. The friend I saw it with is Korean and is familiar with Korean soap operas, and she says the movie is “basically a Korean soap opera, but in a 2-hour movie instead of a 20-hour television series”. I understand what she means; the film does a much better job of character development than the average romantic comedy.

First of all, I think both Constance Wu and Henry Golding deserve better than the roles they were put in. Wu is such a badass. She could easily play a lead role in a Marvel movie. In this film, she plays kind of a sappy, second-wave Asian girl who somehow doesn’t know who the richest family in Singapore is even though she’s an economics professor at NYU. Is anyone else not a little bothered by this? Isn’t it supposed to be harder to fool a woman of her caliber? Purportedly, the novel is based on some truth, but I feel like there was a way to portray Rachel Chu that makes her look less silly.

My friend and I also had problems with Nick Young (Golding) as a character. In my friend’s words, “He seems dumb. He has no empathy for Rachel. When she’s being destroyed, he offers her sushi.” I do see her point. My critique comes from how Nick doesn’t seem like a real character. The story focuses so much on Rachel and her experience of the family. Nick barely does anything, which makes him look like a mama’s boy who gets whatever he wants. Maybe that was the point. I was just hoping for someone more complicated. Hasn’t Golding played Oscar-nominated roles before, or am I getting my Asians mixed up?

My other problem with the film is that the supporting characters are FAR more interesting than the two leads. My god, where do I begin. First, I’m in love with Astrid Young (Gemma Chan). According to my friend, there is a character like this in every Korean soap opera: a beautiful model-girl/lawyer/CEO who is modest and kind to everyone. She reminds me a little of Raina Amin (Yasmin Al Massri) from Quantico. I love that moment when she tells her husband, Michael (Pierre Png), that she can’t give him something he has never had, and walks away. Seriously, the supporting women in this film carry the entire movie.

Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh) is also such a fierce bitch. I love all of her outfits. When I’m an old Asian woman, I want to be that gorgeous. Honestly, I was a little bored with the fact that the future-mother-in-law is the antagonist because if you observe what she says, Eleanor is not actually working against Rachel. She is just brutally honest. When she says Rachel could never measure up to the family’s expectations, she speaks from experience. As a first generation child of immigrants, I can relate to that sentiment. I try to be honest with my white partner about what my family will expect from them. If anything, Eleanor is doing Rachel a favor.

On a tangent, I thought the story would have been more interesting if Rachel and Nick did not end up together, but perhaps were brought together by circumstance later on in their lives, perhaps after a child or two and a divorce or two. I think that would have been a more realistic story. But I guess the movie had to appeal to an American audience, and Americans are hardly realistic.

In addition, Goh Peik Lin (Awkwafina) is fantastic. Her family is fantastic, too. She and Oliver T’sien (Nico Santos) are the gay best friends that everybody needs to have. I love how she shows up to the Young’s estate in dog-print pajamas and changes in their house like it’s no big deal. She is also a fucking good friend to Rachel (women, take note: this is how to be there for one another in the most feminist way). She gives her the outfits she needs to fit in with these crazy rich people. She gives her a place to stay when she’s bummed and has no will to do anything (because she thinks she’s not going to end up with Nick. Women, take note: this is a stupid way to be. Being with a man is not everything. They should have gone to the mall and been fabulous.) She knows how to have a good time and not take herself seriously. Best character.

I do enjoy the cast of goofy men in this film, too. Ronnie Chieng as Eddie Young is perfect. Ronnie does a great dickbag impression. I also very much enjoyed Jimmy O. Yang as Bernard. In the words of my friend, “there’s always that one guy who wears ridiculous things and is a huge asshole.”

While the plot is a bit contrived, I do enjoy the absolutely beautiful shots of Singapore. My mother has been to that country and I greatly envy her for it. I love the implication that Asian countries can and do compete with the U.S. as beautiful places. I have always contended with the idea of a “first world” and the rest of the world, and while this movie perhaps does not contradict that (it is about rich Asians, after all), it does challenge the notion that all Asian immigrants were escaping communist dictators or abject poverty. Now someone just make a movie about crazy rich Arabs, and I shall be satisfied.

All in all, I would say Crazy Rich Asians is a visually stunning piece with some notable supporting female characters. Though I wish the same could be said of the main characters, I am impressed by the level of detail that was given to the supporting characters. There were so many, but I did feel as if each one was a whole person. A work in progress, I hope to see more in this vein, but bigger, more fireworks!

Wonder Woman: A Review

wonder womanDisclaimer: Contains spoilers.

So last week, Wonder Woman was released, and I watched it alone on Monday because my family is too annoying to take with me (which is material enough to fill another entire post). Quite frankly, I’m a little disappointed at the discourse surrounding this movie, which seems to boil down to women squabbling over whether or not Gal Gadot is a woman of color (in my opinion, she is not. She is a racially ambiguous white woman. Racial ambiguity is something that should receive more attention among racial justice advocates. Sadly, I think they have moved in a rather nonsensical direction *cough*monoracism?*cough*, but again, that is for another post).

There are so many more controversial and important things going on in this movie than whether or not Gal Gadot is a woman of color.

I’m going to say my first critique of the movie is that it definitely has pacing problems. I’ve never seen anything else that Patty Jenkins has directed, so I feel like I’m kind of missing a point of comparison, but it’s definitely something she could work on. I found the most interesting parts of the movie to be the beginning, when Diana (Gadot) lives among the Amazonians, and the end, when Diana faces Ares (David Thewlis). But then, there’s this strange and heteronormative middle section in which Diana is sort of coerced to behave like a “normal” woman, and it feels like that part drags on and on. I just didn’t give enough fucks. The beginning and end were far more interesting.

I do love that the beginning contains abundant shots of the Amazonians fighting. They’re, like, badass fight scenes, too. These women train like pros. The one thing I’m a little disappointed by is how skinny most of them are. There is literally one black woman among these Amazonians who actually looks like a healthy human being. The rest, if they actually trained that hard while being that skinny, would probably have premature osteoporosis.

I’m a little disappointed that, with the exception of the ice cream scene, there isn’t a single shot of Diana eating actual food. Wouldn’t that have been a powerful scene to add about a movie about a woman superhero? Think about it, right? She’s a badass warrior. She can swim hundreds of miles. Is really good at hand-to-hand combat. Is a skilled archer. Could run for days. Wouldn’t a person burning that many calories also EAT A TON?? How the hell did the director forget such an obvious part of being a human being?? Realistically, this woman probably ate, like, 10,000 calories a day to keep up her energy! How the hell did they not put a food shot in this movie? (Consider other action movies in which men portray gods/demigods are portrayed, e.g.: Thor (2011)).

Then we’ve got…*sigh*…the middle portion of the movie *cue Leonie’s most judgmental eye roll*. So Diana meets (through some pretty violent interference) Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and agrees to go with him to his world. Not gonna lie, that scene where Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) tells her the world doesn’t deserve her almost made me cry. In some ways, Diana reminds me a lot of myself. Her overprotective mother reminds me of my own; regardless of what she says, Diana will not believe her until she experiences life on her own terms.

But then we run into this weird, heternormative narrative. I don’t get it. If Diana purportedly has only known the female form all her life, and went through puberty on the island with the Amazons, why in the whole fuck would she have sexual feelings for a man?? Would that not be similar to meeting an alien from outer space for the first time and then developing sexual feelings for it? What are the chances of a human being falling for a form with which they are not already intimately familiar? I’m just going to leave it at that.

I’m also a little miffed at this narrative around Maru (Elena Anaya). I feel like making her a villain was a little too ableist and easy. First of all, if she was smart enough to be messing around with chemicals of that caliber in the 1940’s, she was probably a highly educated woman, which was a huge accomplishment for a woman living in the 1940s. Second, it just seemed a little lazy to make her a visibly disabled person. Like, I am pretty sure anybody who worked as a scientist at the time sustained injuries from their craft. It was just a fact of working in that field at the time. For example, Marie Curie sustained some kind of cancer or radiation sickness from her work with radioactive material. Furthermore, what was referred to as “madness” or “hysteria” at the time would today probably be called “depression” or “anxiety,” which are actually highly co-related with genius (can’t find a citation, but there are studies out there). So it seems to me that Dr. Maru is a very intelligent, strategic woman who is just doing a job that will keep her alive during the war (instead of trying to escape from Nazi forces, which was tantamount to treason and would probably get her killed). The “madness” bit seems to be a sad character oversight on the part of the writers.

Furthermore, one of my friends has pointed out (and I agree) that this movie had a decidedly Western exceptionalist sort of feel to it. The best example I can think of is the scene where The Chief and Diana are conversing at night around the fire. Throughout the movie, I felt that Gadot did a great job of portraying a character with very high emotional intelligence. Later in the movie, she feels deeply for a woman and child whom she comes across at the front. However, (and I feel this is more a weakness of the script than a weakness in Gadot’s acting) when The Chief explains that his people have basically undergone genocide at the hands of Trevor’s people, there is not nearly a visceral enough reaction for a character that believes so deeply in justice. Furthermore, why would Diana then sustain sexual feelings for Trevor, a descendant of colonizers? I feel like if the script was true to Diana’s character, that point would have been significantly elaborated upon. It was a good opportunity to start a dialogue around indigenous narratives, and of course, it was tossed to the wayside.

Ugh, I’m going to get shot one day for saying this, but I also thought it was a bit on the nose to cast an Israeli actress in this role and then center the plot entirely on World War II. Like, really DC? You needed the tables to turn so literally? It couldn’t just have been a plot about good and evil like all the other DC superheroes? I can’t.

What I do appreciate about this movie, and I’m not even gonna sugarcoat it y’all, is that the white guy dies. I think that was a wise decision because of the message it sends about real-life activism. I was talking to a friend (another woman of color) who recounted that seeing this in a movie reflects what white allies should be willing to put on the line in order for marginalized people’s lives to get better. The truth sucks, but there it is. Fighting for justice is just that–a fight. Sometimes with very physical violence. Sometimes people die in the violence. Considering the number of black, Asian, Native, and Latinx lives that have been taken needlessly and/or senselessly over the course of history, this is the asking price of being a white ally. Know what it takes. Furthermore, it’s a powerful moment of cinematic justice as well. Consider the hundreds of movies in which Black, Asian, Native, and Latinx people die in movies to further plot points. The cinematic deaths of people of color has happened across so many genres–drama, action, horror, comedy even. I’m impressed to see a white death in a major action film–and not just that of a minor character, but the male lead.

I think by far my favorite scene in the whole film is when Diana refuses to listen to Trevor and crosses the battlefield to the village. I swear, I cried. I felt like this scene could be interpreted in different ways, depending on the viewer. I think the danger is if we consider Diana to be representative of white women. If that is how we interpret her character, that sets a dangerous precedent of saviorism that white women are all too eager to follow. In addition, it was also a rather impulsive thing that Diana did, and white women already do enough impulsive things which frequently endanger the lives of people of color. White women should not be encouraged to be reckless. If we interpret Diana as racially ambiguous, however, this entire narrative changes. It becomes this beautiful act of feminine power. It takes a woman (of color) to empathize with the position of women and children in a war (Which country of the global majority has not experienced prolonged wars?), and to furthermore give so few fucks about what men want her to do that she walks into crossfire alone to solve a problem that hundreds of men couldn’t solve. I think that is the kind of world we could look forward to if more women were in positions of power and didn’t keep getting assassinated, undermined, or overthrown. (No, I am not talking about Hillary Clinton. Fuck off, ye meagre Beckies).

In short, Wonder Woman was a fascinating movie. I think, as always, the premise far exceeds the execution. I do think that for her first major role in a film, Gal Gadot did a spectacular job of portraying a stranger to the world, who is both more naive and more knowledgeable than anyone can reasonably guess. I relate to her so much, as a person who was raised around immigrants my whole life and had no idea what The Real America was actually like until I left home. I think that is the mark of a good actress, being able to make familiar the unfamiliar.

Thoughts on Arrival (2016)

arrivalI have been on a bit of a sci-fi kick these days. I think my escapism is acting up because work is so unfulfilling. Hopefully, that will change soon. I actually plan on moving back to Massachusetts in August, though if I am lucky, that process might happen sooner! I never thought I would be happy about going back north, but I miss my friends there, and in my life these days, friends are few and far between.

This week, in addition to Passengers (2016), I also watched Arrival (2016). The latter is rather conflicting. On the one hand, I think there is a lot, A LOT, of racism, colonialism, and xenophobia going on in this film. It was very distracting. On the other hand, there is this beautiful message somewhat nestled in with all the racism and xenophobia, and the fact of the matter is, I do think it would have been a more believable message if it had been two people of color playing the lead. But with two white leads, it just seemed like an appropriation (yet again) of Eastern religions.

First, it was incredibly frustrating to watch so much colonialist propaganda come out of a black man’s mouth. My best example is at 40:36, Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) literally says, “And remember what happened to the Aborigines [of Australia]. A more advanced race nearly wiped them out.”

I don’t know about y’all, but internally, I was screaming when I heard this line. Bravo, white supremacy. Your strategy is truly formidable. Whichever asshole put this line into the script made sure to hide the white colonizer behind the black man in a military uniform. If we dissect this scene, we’ll see the truth of it, no? First off, this movie was directed by some white Canadian liberal (Denis Villeneuve), so the military in this movie is a projection of what white liberals think they are doing (I’m not pro-military when I say these things, but I do believe white liberals frequently blame the military for problems that they themselves cause). You can tell by the over-the-top chauvinism, sexism and, well, militarism of these men who represent “military”. It reminded me somewhat of the military in Avatar (2009), and also the honest trailer of Avatar created by Screen Junkies on Youtube, where you will recall the iconic line “military bad…trees good”.

Personally, I have no connections to the military, besides a very small number of acquaintances, so I have neither the knowledge nor experience to comment directly on their operations. However, in this particular case, I do kind of chafe for more nuance. Just a little bit.

Furthermore, I think the fact that this specific line is said by a black character is an indicator of how frequently black men are used to uphold white supremacy. (If you want more examples of how the hell this happens, read Ain’t I A Woman by bell hooks). Frankly, I think it’s really unfair that Colonel Weber is portrayed as a sort of brainwashed simpleton. As though black men, or men in the army, aren’t capable of independent thought? (I know that’s probably a much more complicated concept than what I just wrote there) I probably don’t need to mention how harmful it is that this is now one of the representatives of black men in film. I don’t, right? Okay, well I mentioned it, so now y’all know.

Sadly, this is not the only example of racism in the film. I think one of the ironies of this movie is that China is portrayed exactly the way America actually is. Let me list the ways: hairpin trigger militarism, stark aggression toward the unknown and/or alien life forms (symbol for immigrants much?), distrust of every other political entity in existence, refusal to listen to reason, unreasonable masculine leadership, somehow more powerful than every other country on earth (for some reason when they militarize, all other countries do as well?). Does this seem a little inaccurate to you? Don’t we know a country that seems kinda like that? Hm, I wonder where it is…

Furthermore, (UGH) I’m frustrated by the paternalism of Louise Banks (Amy Adams) when discussing how the Chinese communicate with the aliens. (I also think it’s really interesting that this line was planned for a character who, in many other scenes, is interrupted or talked down to. She is the only woman working on this operation and was the person designated to say this line. I’m very confused sometimes by the scripting of this movie). At some point, one of the characters reports that General Shang (Tzi Ma) has been using a mahjong set to communicate with the aliens. Dr. Banks implies that the Chinese will only view the aliens as competitors because they are using a game to communicate with them.

Let’s dissect the myriad assumptions made in this scene. (That too, I feel like it’s somewhat disloyal to the character to have given her this line.) First, I think it can be reasonably said that mahjong tiles can have more than one purpose. There are 136 tiles to a set (usually), and they are a bit like Western playing cards. There are 4 “suits” so to speak and 9 numbers in each suit. You can represent a lot with a game that has 36 possible symbols.

The statement seems to reek of American ethnocentrism. By that I mean, the ubiquitous my-way-is-better-than-yours mentality that a lot of people in America have. But here’s the catch–Dr. Banks is a professor of linguistics, a person purportedly capable of deciphering complex messages in languages like Farsi and Mandarin Chinese. Why would a person with that kind of depth say something so shallow? I swear, Eric Heisserer. From one writer to another, GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER.

If we want to extend the metaphor of the movie to beings here on earth, I feel like this is Hollywood’s idealized version of how Americans interact with foreigners. Except in real life, it goes nothing like this. Immigrants are not greeted with kind, understanding linguistics and physics professors who want to understand how they communicate. They’re usually greeted with hostility, ignorance, and frequently, military force. So while I feel like maybe the military part is not wrong, I also feel like it’s highly implausible and unrealistic to act as though Americans would treat unknown entities as anything other than creatures in a zoo.

In addition, there is a very interesting commentary being made in the film about the relationship between military and the academy. I noted that the reason why Banks is involved in this whole scheme is because of her past work with the military. Is this the role people want academics to play in society?

I do think Adams is fitting in her role. Unlike Jennifer Lawrence in Passengers (2016), I felt like Adams’ personality works to her advantage in this role. She is frequently cast as a soft-spoken person, and it seems to work as, in this movie, she is frequently the voice of reason amidst a gang of unqualified hotheads. I’m also glad she didn’t turn into Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) from King Kong (2005), though she did at times seem to suffer from the same special snowflake syndrome as Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) in Twilight (2008) or Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in Hunger Games (2012). By that, I mean that I’m glad she didn’t turn into Dr. Louise Banks, Brave White Woman and Protector of Aliens. She played a realistic role in which life continued on earth after her encounter with the heptapods. I suppose I’m still not convinced about why she was “chosen” by the heptapods. Yes, she was the only person who made a realistic effort to communicate with them (and all the men including Donnelly were too pig-headed to be capable of this). Still though. White woman. Fantasy/sci-fi movie. “Chosen One” role. Seems like a trope.

Lastly, I do think there is actually this lovely, subtle point being made in the movie about language. Banks is able to see the future by learning the language of the heptapods. I also like that the future and the past are not entirely clear in the movie. I know it probably infuriates people who need a more obvious plot, but I like the open-endedness and the possibilities of interpretation. I also like the implications of knowing the future. It seems as though it brings people a sort of serenity, as opposed to the anxiety of needing to change what will happen. It seems as though clairvoyance brings Louise implacable tranquility. She does not care about competing, changing herself, avoiding what is to come, being something else–experiences that I think American capitalism necessitates. It doesn’t matter what she does because the future is unyielding in its certainty.

I don’t think I have done this movie much justice in this review, but then again, I think this movie grapples with a lot of complex things (and also does not grapple with some things it really should have). I haven’t even touched the linguistics piece (these coffee-mug-stain sentences that the heptapods write–I do wonder where those came from), or how language affects memory (huge implications). I will say, though, I appreciate how provocative it was, in spite of its shortcomings.


Thoughts on Passengers (2016)

passengersPassengers (2016) was released about four months ago and was marketed as a sci-fi adventure. Upon watching it, I think the marketing was wildly inaccurate; it should have been labeled as a sort of romantic drama kind of thing. It focused much more on human relationships than it did on the fact that the humans were in space. Space seemed to have been a background in this movie for the things going on between characters. In spite of the contradiction, and the really bad Rotten Tomatoes review (31 percent. Folks have gotten rather harsh these days with sci-fi things, no?), I actually enjoyed it. I’m hoping that’s not my mushier, more romantic side talking, but I actually think it has a few strengths, even though there also some obvious weaknesses.

The screenwriter, Jon Spaihts (is that like, the stylish way to spell the name “John” these days? People seem to have done away with the “h”. Apologies, I’m distracting) is also known for Prometheus (2012) and Doctor Strange (2016). I have not seen Doctor Strange yet, but Prometheus left quite the impression on me (that horrifying scene where the female lead does a C-section on herself–the thought still makes me cringe and want to vomit). To me, Prometheus seemed to be a cautionary tale about how not to be an idiot in space. If I remember correctly, I thought all the characters in that movie were incredibly stupid, though I can’t recall why. Though, it does seem as though Spaihts has a pattern of laying human relationships bare against the barrenness of outer space.

What I like about Passengers is that Spaihts seems to tell a prosaic story in an original way. By that, I do not mean that it is a particularly deep story. Two people fall in love. Then they fight. Then they get back together. The typical rom-com. But I like that Spaihts doesn’t try to imply that the story is more than that. (Maybe he does, but that’s all I got from it in its totality). It’s not like Christopher Nolan’s try-hard attempt at being deep in Interstellar. God, could Nolan have gone for lower hanging fruit? “Our memories make time meaningful” or whatever that shit was. I feel like there’s a point at which a movie is great, and Nolan always goes just a smidge beyond that point and ruins a good thing (see Inception).

In terms of cinematography, this spaceship design is definitely in my top 5, but I kind of resent it as well. Whoever designed the interior of this vessel is quite the architect. I loved the very Zaha-Hadid inspired atrium, the wings-resembling-flippers that rotate around this gargantuan energy source (also more elegant than the one in Interstellar, might I add), the curved hallways, the way the control room is located in this sort of gravitated ring thing…It’s a beautiful ship, somewhat like a giant, lovely space fish. I resent it because the vessel, named Avalon (to inspire bourgeois sensitivities), is actually a sort of luxury space cruise in which passengers are supposed have a good old cock-sucking time in their last four months of a 120-year journey (they’re in hypersleep until then). The flaw in this plan is–you guessed it, if you wake up too early, it’s terrifying.

There’s definitely a commentary being made in this film about automated technology and capitalism. I can’t decide personally if it is a technophobic commentary or not. My reason for saying so is that I didn’t object to it, and I usually object to technophobia, though I’m also not the authority on the matter. When Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), a mechanic from Colorado, is woken up by a number of meteorites hitting the ship, the recorded, automated responses are so seamless that it actually takes him a while to realize he is not supposed to be awake (that, and the hibernation sickness). He discovers that in addition to being alone 90 years from his destination, his ID card only gives him access to very basic foods, and a very basic cabin, because he purchased a pretty cheap ticket. A year goes by, and in that time, he discovers he cannot enter the command rooms because his ID does not allow him access. He finds out a message to Earth would take 30 years to get there, and it would take 55 years to receive a response. He enjoys everything his miniature paradise has to offer, but he is utterly alone. Thus he wakes up Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), sentencing them both to life on house arrest in a spaceship. Aurora, a writer from New York, has clearly purchased a better ticket, and she promptly treats Jim to all the food he’s been missing out on.

It was at that point that I began to question, why is this construct a familiar one? I’ll explain what I mean. A lot of recent movies about heterosexual couples start off with the masculine protagonist at some sort of disadvantage. In movies that are not about space, we see this to be true in Beauty and the Beast (2017) and Me Before You (2016). In the former, the masculine protagonist is kind of an animal thing, and in the latter, the masculine protagonist is quadriplegic. In Passengers, the masculine protagonist is clearly a social human who is suffering from loneliness and wants company.

Now if we flipped the script, would the movie even have been made? If Belle had actually been the ugly one under a curse, would the prince even look at her, let alone fall in love? If it had been Louisa and not Will who was quadriplegic, would anyone have been sympathetic to her? And if Aurora was the one who was woken up by a meteorite, would people have had sympathy for her for waking up another human on board? Why are stories constructed this way? Why is it assumed that a woman will always give her emotional and physical labor for a man’s well-being, but the same is never expected of men? Why are movies perpetuating this narrative? I felt like it’s a pattern I’ve seen a lot recently, and the role it casts women in viscerally bothers me.

There was symbolism that was done rather nicely, if not somewhat simply, in the film. For example, Jim and Aurora pass by a rather bright, warm star just as they begin to fall in love. In addition, the ship begins to fall apart right after Aurora finds out Jim lied to her about how she woke up. Admittedly, while I don’t mind Jennifer Lawrence, I do think she basically plays herself in this movie, a trait that I think Lawrence suffers from as an actress in general. I think it worked very well in American Hustle (2013), where she plays a neglected New York housewife. Her over-the-top style worked for her in that film. It also worked in Joy (2015), when she was this larger-than-life inventor who cares a lot about her family. In Passengers, I’m not sure that I buy her romantic interest in Pratt’s character. Though, I’m also not sure how to sell romance as the only two people arguably alive on a ship, either.

As far as Chris Pratt’s acting, I actually prefer him in a comedy. His style works better in kicky funny things like Guardians of the Galaxy and Parks and Rec. In this role, he doesn’t particularly stand out. It felt as though he and Lawrence’s character were really friends moreso than romantic partners; whereas I felt like this film called for epic, dramatic romance. Like, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher in Star Wars tier romance. Omar Shariff and Julie Christie in Doctor Zhivago. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic. You get my point. They weren’t selling it. It wasn’t hot enough for me.

By far my favorite moment in this film is when Gus (Laurence Fishburn) wakes up, finds out what Jim has done (at that point, Aurora already knows) and gives us one of the most savage scenes of all time. After realizing Jim woke up Aurora, he asks Jim how long he was alone. Jim admits it was a year. At this point, Gus says, “still…damn.”

The man has a point, though. Didn’t Mark Watney (Matt Damon) in The Martian spend something like 5 fucking years alone on Mars before his crew rescued him?? Then again, I guess he wasn’t supposed to be asleep for 120 years on a ship that assured him he would stay asleep. I am a little miffed, though, that the One Black Character dies within days of waking up because of some silly excuse about how his sleep pod was fucked up and left most of his internal organs necrotic. It seemed like he was literally used as a plot device just so the two protagonists could finally have access to the command room and the inner workings of the ship. Do better, directors.

I think the film does a great job of forcing us to contend with the “should be”s and “could have”s. There is a lot in this film about time, especially since the two protagonists are going to be dead before they reach their final destination. It makes for very interesting time references. They frequently say things like “I would have built a house” or “I would have written a book”. In fact, they will never see the generation they leave behind again (because time moves forward 120 years), and the people on the colony planet may be from a different generation (because they took 120 years to get there). The protagonists’ lives become one huge in-between. It really fucks with the social construct of time. Like, what if in the future, there are human beings whose purpose it is to literally just keep a ship running from one end of a galaxy to another? What if that takes longer than a lifetime? What if there are routine tasks like traveling that last longer than a human life?

I wonder if they ever forget that they are on a ship (you learn that they find ways to change the ship to fit their needs). I also wonder what kind of nasty co-dependencies develop between two straight people who know they are alone together.

I did also think it was a little sinister that the planet they are headed to, Homestead II, is referred to as a “colony”. I don’t know if y’all remember when America was a bunch of colonies, but it really didn’t bode well for Native people. I picture this future in which a bunch of rich white people launch themselves off to various planet-colonies. Then they realize how much work it is living in outer space, and they either bribe or kidnap all the poor people of color left on earth to do all the dirty work for them in outer space, just like Americans did to slaves from Africa, Asia, and in the modern world, South America.

In short, this film was kinda weird, and it also kinda worked. Maybe I just have weird taste, who knows. At the end of the day, I think I have always been a sucker for great ideas, even if they aren’t fleshed out so well. I think the idea for Passengers can carry stories even larger and more provocative than this one. I’d be interested to see a writer take on that challenge.



Thoughts on Me Before You

me before youY’all remember the movie Me Before You (2016), right? It came out the summer of 2016 and every women’s fashion magazine was talking about it. I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing it at that point. It was later critiqued by the #StarringJohnCho campaign for being a super-white film (a valid critique, if you ask me). I then became somewhat more interested, but I guess the thought slipped my mind until recent days.

Well I finally watched it over the weekend. I remember the main controversy surrounding the movie had to do with the commentary on disability, and how the movie seemed to imply that it’s better to die than to live with a disability. I feel like that critique is also valid; while watching, it did feel as though this rich white boy was whining about missing things about his “old life” that, on average, almost no one gets to experience anyway (water skiing? Working a job that manages companies?? Being engaged to a manic pixie dream girl??? Living in an apartment of that size in fucking London????).

I think what bothered me the most about the film actually had to do with the emotional labor of the feminine protagonist, Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke). In the movie, she is hired by Will Traynor’s (Sam Claflin) mother, presumably to be a sort of day nurse for her son, who is quadriplegic after an accident. It should be noted, Louisa just lost her job at the cafe where she used to work, and she lives with her family in her home town. She was basically desperate for a job, and this one happened to come along (a feeling I relate to a little too well). The family that hires her, the Traynors, are unimaginably wealthy people who own a castle. Yes, a castle.

Louisa, who goes by Lou, finds out Will is planning to go through with physician-assisted suicide and believes it is her responsibility to keep him from doing so. At this point, I was like…wait, what? Why would you take on that responsibility?? Literally no one asks her to do this. Mr. Traynor alludes briefly to the fact that Mrs. Traynor may have hired Lou to fulfill some of Will’s emotional needs, which Mrs. Traynor does not deny, but at no point do either of the parents explicitly say that Lou is expected to keep their son from killing himself. (I felt it was also problematic that they hire Lou to fulfill emotional needs, but I can’t put my finger on why. At least she was getting paid for the labor, but it is labor that I feel like the family specifically hired a woman to do. Why wasn’t Nathan (Stephen Peacocke) enough to keep Will happy?). In this sense, I feel like Louisa is fulfilling some sort of weird white-savior complex/feminine gender role in which she believes it is her duty to interfere where, in reality, she doesn’t have to. In some ways, I felt like this was tied to class as well. As a poor, young woman, she had little control over other factors of her life, so she projects her own worth onto whether or not she can keep this man alive. If she was a smart employee, she wouldn’t. And if her employers weren’t manipulative assholes, they would maybe make the distinction between their expectations of her and their hopes for their son clear to her from the beginning. I felt like portraying her this way is egregious because of the kind of unrealistic expectations it puts on feminine labor. (Is it not a well-known abuse tactic for men to say they will kill themselves if a woman leaves?)

I felt like the movie also suffers from a general category that I refer to as “pacing problems”. I find that a lot of romantic comedies suffer from this problem; I just wish movies in general were more realistic about human communication (or maybe I’m just picky and I like people to be direct with me?). I don’t remember either character explicitly say anything about their feelings to each other. It is just assumed at some point (After Will attends Louisa’s birthday party? After they go to Will’s ex’s wedding?) that the two like each other. Maybe. Kinda. And that Louisa is doing all this fancy stuff for someone she is romantically interested in (taking him to horse races! Concert! Fancy vacation!), and no longer just because she is employed to do this. Like, sure, Will and Lou say some romantic shit to each other, and maybe I’m just being hella asexual, but they could just be saying these things as friends? I know people who say very intimate, romantic things to each other as friends? It is a possibility?

Because of this lack of directness and super-heterosexual assumption-projection, it felt to me as though most of the action doesn’t happen until the movie is nearly over. That’s when Lou and Will kiss for the first time (I guess confirming what has still never actually been said–that they have feelings for each other?), they kiss for the second time, they kind of break up, and then right before Will dies, they make up, all within about 30 minutes in a movie that’s 110 minutes long. It was strangely noncommittal. Instead of talking about their purported raging boners for each other and not doing anything about it (the way they do in the Twilight series), Will and Lou were more inclined to wax philosophical about life before and after Will’s accident. Rather one-sided, considering Lou probably has a lot to worry about as a 26-year-old who has only worked one job before she started working for the Traynors.

I digress. I do think Emilia Clarke deserves some recognition for being a moderately talented actress. In Game of Thrones, she’s a terrifying Daenerys Targaryen, and for this role, she becomes a slightly anxious, chirpy, naive woman in her mid-twenties whose entire closet seems to come from Modcloth. It’s quite the about-face, and I think Clarke pulls it off gracefully, despite the shortcomings of the role itself, which I blame the writers for more than the actors. I wish I could see Sam Claflin in a more fleshed out role. I’ve only seen him in The Hunger Games, in which he plays a small role as Finnick Odair, and now Me Before You, in which I still think he doesn’t have much of a role. He’s a grumpy dude, and then he’s an in-love dude. With the exception of the disability, this is basically how dudes always are and in no way showcases acting. I feel like I can’t comment on Claflin’s potential because I haven’t actually seen it yet.


In short, Me Before You is somewhat entertaining as a collection of scenic shots of small-town England. To me, an accurate description of the plot would be “Two people have a fling while doing rather indulgent things together, and then one dies and the other has to move on.” The film did not convey anything deep or even particularly romantic in my opinion. I’m even somewhat let down by this film poster. Emilia’s character is supposed to wear this gorgeous, low-cut sleeveless red dress. In the film, this dress never appears; Lou wears a knee-length red dress with sleeves to the concert and a low-cut, sleeveless blue floral print dress to the wedding. Perhaps I’m petty, but it was such a let down! I was so waiting for that sexy red dress and it never showed, not unlike the spunk in this movie.

Rant on “IndoWestern” Fashion

I usually don’t like categorizing things as a rant. However, today’s post is going to be exactly that: a rant.

There is this horrible disease going around, mostly among Indians, but also sometimes among hippie-bohemian people of the white variety who like to appropriate things. It is called “IndoWestern” fashion.

I don’t know which idiot thought these two things could be combined to still look beautiful. I think Indian fashion on its own has an elegance that is rarely paralleled. Western fashion can be cryptic, but it also has its perks as it is usually more utilitarian. But why, WHY would you put these two things together??

Examples of how bad Indowestern fashion sucks: fusion outfits. First off, I feel like fusion has always been the bottom of the barrel in terms of Indian dance teams, though perhaps that’s not their fault. Bhangra, garba, and raas teams showcase dances and outfits that are specific to a region and are usually narrowly defined. Fusion, on the other hand, can be everything and anything–usually confined to Hindi pop (though I’d love to see teams challenge that norm).

The first mistake they usually make is to take 8 songs and turn them into one mix like it’s cute (hint: it’s not. Stick to like 2 songs per mix, okay, y’all?). Also, instead of trying to find folks who have the potential for leadership and organization, fusion teams usually just attract people who are already friends of people on the team, leading to a clusterfuck that loosely resembles a sorority (except sororities actually have a point sometimes). I will spare these folks the embarrassment of being sourced.


Scarves tied around butts are always so attractive.


This one is called the Victoria’s Secret-wannabe-sportswear look.


Can’t be an Indian fusion team unless you’re wearing over-the-top, fluffy pink pants, a belly dancing belt, and a top that doesn’t cover your midriff.

(The exception to this rule is Gator Adaa from the years of 2011-2013. That team had everything: leadership, organization, and class. Shoutout to you women. Y’all were fierce.)

adaa height

Source: Gator Adaa: Fusion Dance Team Facebook Page

To be self-critical, I understand that on first glance, it might seem like I’m slut-shaming. Look, maybe I am, but here’s the thing, right? I’ve seen classy hoes, okay? Remember Rani Mukherjee in Saawariya (2007)?

rani saawariya

Source: India-forums.com

I’d love to see a fusion team showcase a look that is about having fun as a woman in whatever role she is performing, not the “WE HAVE TO LOOK BROWN AND EXOTIC BECAUSE WE ARE DANCERS” look. Other examples of truly heinous Indowestern things:

truly heinous

Source: utsavfashion.com, Clockwise from top left: a green that even your visually impaired grandmother would not wear, royal blue mummu with pink trim for when you want to look like a fish??, a thing trying to be both a dress and a top, WHY WOULD YOU PUT LIME GREEN AND CORAL TOGETHER IN THE SAME OUTFIT THEY ARE SO BEAUTIFUL SEPARATELY, what is this cut, what is this print.


Source: utsavfashion.com, Clockwise from top left: Dafuq is this print, actually kinda cute but I could get from Forever21 for 6 bucks, assflap?, what is THIS print?, for the 7-year-old in you, mushroom-high-psychedelic print.

Right. So what did we learn today, y’all? Indowestern “fashion” is NOT FASHION. Brown women, I suppose you are the ultimate arbiter of what you put on your body. But I do feel like the amount of grace I find (at least in ready-to-wear shit) in the mixing of these styles is little and far between.


YES! Source: utsavfashion.com. 


YES! Source: utsavfashion.com

western 1

YES! Source: Target.com

western 2

YES! Source: pinterest search “pants”


Thoughts on Rogue One

Many thanks to Maritere Gomez for making this post possible.

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t watched Rogue One yet and you care about spoilers, you might want to save this post for later.


Source: IMDb

As far as I am concerned, none of the Star Wars movies had ever been noteworthy from a critical perspective, (which did nothing to deter me from avid fanhood). Sure, they were either lovably campy or laughably trying too hard, but I think the closest we ever got to critical was the comparison some could make between the Galactic Republic and the Roman Empire in the prequel trilogy (if I’m remembering things correctly).

That all changes with the release of Rogue One.

It should be noted, the timing of this movie’s release is miraculous. I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting much, and this movie far exceeded even the expectations I could have had. I don’t know how Gareth Edwards knew that radicals of the world would need a message like this after the election we just went through, but if you need an antidote for your cynicism (like I always do), then this movie is for you.

Rogue One was so different from any of the Star Wars storylines we have seen so far. For one, it is not concerned with the Big People at the top. The film shows us the nitty-gritty ugliness of war among middle management and the poor. In fact, the images evoked in this movie bear a remarkable resemblance to wars throughout the twentieth century, especially World War II. From the very start, we are taken to Jyn Erso’s (Felicity Jones) home in Lah’mu, a mountainous, evocative, green place that vaguely resembles Switzerland or Germany (with the exception of the planet’s rings in the background). This scene, where Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) puts up a futile last stand against Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) even hearkens to The Sound of Music, when German soldiers attempt to coerce Captain Von Trapp into joining the army because they “need” his military prowess. I have mixed feelings about this scene. On one hand, I think it was practical of the screenplay folks to portray the mother’s death at the hands of empire. Lyra (Valene Kane) pleads with Krennic to leave her family alone, and he kills her. The Empire gives no fucks about families (kind of like empires in real life). On the other hand, it bothers me on some deeper level that this is still a scene that is only possible with white people. Let’s be real, even smart people of color are not spared by empires. They become labor forces or casualties of war.


Lah’mu. Source: Star Wars/Lucas Films

The casting of Felicity Jones was curious to me at first, but made sense after watching the caliber of acting this film calls for. I notice that with the trilogy movies, the actors being recruited are rather new to Hollywood–which I’m guessing is strategic because it adds to the campiness of the film, since there is no “image” attached to the actors yet. (This is not to say that Daisy Ridley and John Boyega don’t have talent or do the roles justice). But Felicity Jones is relatively established–we are familiar with her in The Theory of Everything and Inferno, two films that seem somewhat dramatic compared to the Star Wars films. I wondered what the significance of that could be.


Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso. Source: Wookiepedia

The answer came to me after I saw the movie. Even before Jyn was born, the Ersos lived with the threat of war. Jyn’s family is eventually torn apart as a direct result of the empire’s actions when she is very young. Nonetheless, she retains some semblance of innocence, in spite of being handy with a gun and throwing very effective punches. Though she is bold, she is not vengeful, nor is she originally aligned with the Rebellion. Cassian (Diego Luna) reminds her again and again that she is different from members of the Rebellion because she “chose” not to do anything about the forces that have displaced her and cause her pain. Jones does a great job of portraying a person who has seen a lot of violence and also spends a lot of time running from violence. Jyn is a person who has lived in fear all her life, as have many other people under the Empire’s reign. Rogue One aptly portrays the effects of a despot’s control over people’s daily lives.

I think the casting of a young-looking person for the role of Jyn was done intentionally. Jones is a small woman at 5’3″, and at 33 years old, she could still pass for someone in her early twenties.To me, Jyn is a symbol of the many children and youth, past and current, who live with the legacy of war. Even the settings in which she travels throughout the movie and the situations she finds herself in–hiding in small spaces, lashing out at people who claim to be helping her–are reminiscent of children in places like Syria, Palestine, Venezuela, Cambodia, Vietnam, Germany, and the streets of Chicago, who behave this way to survive.


Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera. Source: Wookiepedia

On Jedha and Scarif, the film comments on how war affects people of color. The settings of both planets seemed very intentional to me. The city on Jedha closely resembles cities in the Middle East (or at least, the American interpretation of them). Jedha is dry and sandy, and in the crowded streets, vendors and residents wear long, flowing clothes. It is here that the main characters find Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), and also where the Death Star is first tested.

It speaks volumes that the Death Star is tested in a place where it seems like a lot of black and brown people must live (Saw dies in this first test). The Death Star acutely conjures images of nuclear warfare. This first “test” alludes to the days of testing nuclear bombs in Indigenous territory. It also appeals to more recent drone strikes in various Middle Eastern and African countries. The Empire’s excuse for using Jedha as the test site is that they know that a rebel base exists there. Yet, the force used by the Empire to demolish the base is analogous to being annoyed by a fly and throwing a brick at it. Were they really getting rid of the rebels, or did they need an excuse to get rid of a whole city of aliens/people of color/people the Empire didn’t approve of? Dare I say Rogue One seems to be commenting on the US’s interest in military force at the expense of people of color?


Jedha. Source: Star Wars/Lucas Films


Diego Luna as Cassian Andor. Source: Wookiepedia

The symbolic cast of people of color in this film was fascinating. I’m not sure whether or not that was done on purpose, but if it was, I find this technique to be both admirable and a little concerning (admirable because people of color are playing roles where people of color should be, and concerning because I’m still not sure how I feel about one person representing a vast and diverse group). It pleases me greatly that Diego Luna, who plays Cassian, has an accent as thick as a tectonic plate and was born in Mexico City. I don’t know nearly enough about the wars of Latinoamerica to tell you how it is fitting of Luna to play Cassian, a character who is known for being kind of ruthless and fiercely loyal to the Rebellion, but I know enough to say that it is fitting.



Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook. Source: Wookiepedia

I’m not sure I am as sold on Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook. I do feel as though they made Ahmed play up the sleazy look a little bit (not to mention the temper and the big mouth), which is a bit of a stereotype considering the guy is Pakistani. I can’t lie, though; I’m still happy there is one brown dude reppin’ the Subcontinent in this movie.



Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe. Source: Wookiepedia

But the pair that absolutely warms and breaks my heart are Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang). The deaths of these two characters seemed symbolic as well, as they took place on the planet Scarif, which was intended to resemble the Pacific Front of World War II. The last battle takes place on a beach covered with palm trees that looks as humid as Vietnam. The use of the Death Star on Scarif seems to implicate the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thus, the last few scenes are a kaleidoscope of events on the Asian front of World War II.


Wen Jiang as Baze Malbus. Source: Wookiepedia

Chirrut and Baze give radically queer vibes in the scene where they both die. Chirrut, a blind warrior-monk who staunchly reveres the Force, dies after successfully opening the portal in order for the Death Star plans to be sent. He dies in Baze’s arms, and Baze finally says the words Chirrut repeated all his life to ward off danger: “I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me.” There was something moving about this burly Asian guy holding a delicate, more effeminate Asian guy and crying over his demise. I swear, I cried too.

There is a hint of a connection existing between Jedi and Indigenous peoples, too. I think I was awakened (no pun intended) to that possibility when we learn about Kyber crystals, which are used by Jedi to make light sabers, and which are also used by the Empire to power the Death Star. Insofar as the crystals are a natural resource, there are probably factions in the Star Wars world who fight to preserve them, and factions that fight to harvest them. It would be interesting to see if this is a point upon which future saga directors elaborate.

In short, Rogue One shows us the possibilities of what a robust, organized force of radicals can achieve. It seems to argue something beyond just arming ourselves or debating identity politics–it shows the potential of a radical collective. It is not as though Jyn, Cassian, and their band of rebels arrive on Scarif with any sort of plan. However, it takes all of them together to send the Death Star plans back to the Rebel Alliance. Perhaps our strategy to combat empire, in this modern era, should literally just be numbers. One person’s stamina only lasts for so long, but a group can get a lot done if the work is staggered or if people just have each other’s backs. Perhaps it is not the answer to all our problems, but in the information age, where the number of twitter followers you have determines your level of outreach, it’s a start.


Thoughts on The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

tcvContent warning: Self harm

Last week, I finally finished The Casual Vacancy, a recommendation that my mother made. For all the critique I’m about to throw at it, it was not bad overall. As always, Rowling’s strengths as a writer are most clearly illustrated in the characterization and dialogue throughout the novel. Some of the exchanges are quite entertaining, and admittedly, she kept my attention until the very end.

The damn thing started quite slowly, though. I’m beginning to realize that Rowling tends to follow a formula, granted it is a formula that I can forgive. (At least it is not the White Women’s Dystopic Future Novel formula. I’ve had my fill of Hunger Games, Divergent, nuclear bombs, zombies, and apocalypto-love stories. If I had my way, I would ban that particular formula for at least the next ten years). Rowling seems to be a Dickens acolyte; like him, she gives you minimal action until the last 5 pages, where she proceeds to stun the reader stupid with all the action she withheld for the last 495 pages. I may exaggerate slightly.

Another point that makes the book drag at first, at least to me, is that there is a grand total of one (out of some 12 main characters) who is a person of color. Okay, perhaps there are two, and a third plays a minor role, but we definitely see the nine or so white women feature much more prominently. It got somewhat tiring for me after a while to keep track of which Becky was mad at who, especially when all white girl names sound the same. After the introduction of the fifth one, I wondered how many Beckys’ lives I would have to keep track of in this damn book. The answer is too many.

And it’s not like the portrayal of the people of color is much better. Inevitably, since this is England, they’re an Indian family (as opposed to, I don’t know, a Nigerian one or an Egyptian one, or some other descendants of a country previously colonized by the British). So they’re a Punjabi Sikh family with the surname, Jawanda. The character that is given most prominence is Parminder Jawanda, a wife and mother of three. She is described as skinny, cranky, and with inevitably “almond-shaped” eyes (that particular cliche I could not forgive as easily. Rowling ought to be ashamed, relying on such a lazy trope for a main character). Her husband, Vikram, is described as far more easygoing and, in the words of Samantha Mollison, looks like “sex on legs”. Does anyone smell the casual racism here? The brown man is sweet and friendly and everyone approves. The woman is always grumpy and disliked by everyone. What’s that word that Moya Bailey came up with? Misogynoir? Does that apply to brown women, too?

What’s worse is the portrayal of Sukhvinder Jawanda, third child to Parminder. This poor girl clearly experiences her fair share of racism as well. Her hairiness and the shape of her body cause a particularly mean-spirited character to refer to her as a hermaphrodite. As a result, Sukhvinder cuts herself when she is alone.

Sure, sure, all this is allowed because this is a fictional novel, and besides, the good Tessa Wall and Gaia Bawden see the racism for what it really is. Get a grip, y’all. This is an example of trauma porn, the same kind you find on Orange is the New Black (so if I’m being honest, I didn’t get past the second episode of season two with that show. But the horror stories I have heard about episode twelve in mystery season hasn’t got me too excited to start again). White people can’t be bothered to portray people of color in a position in which they actually have institutional or radical power (or really any kind, for that matter). Thus, they stay in their roles as fuming examples of Things That Need Trigger Warnings (if you believe in that sort of thing).

At this point I must add a spoiler alert, for those of you who give a fuck.

I did find the end to be quite surprising, though. For all that seemed predictable about the first four fifths of the novel, the last was shocking. I don’t think it is any mistake that three characters who embodied the Fields are dead by the end of this novel. Before presenting my analysis, I must confess it may be somewhat patronizing. For all I know, there is some other message Rowling was trying to convey, and I am missing it. My class analysis is not as strong as it could be. However, from my point of view, it seems like the (slightly ham-fisted) message here might be that people of the working class are most affected by the decisions made by wealthier people (and if this was a message, I felt it could definitely have been strengthened if the working class characters had been people of color. That would challenge white readers to complicate their narratives a little more than they do currently, and it also would reflect the truth more accurately).

Another theme I could tease out was that Real Change does not take place unless violence occurs. Pessimistic as that may seem, it’s an outlook I can agree with more. I do appreciate Rowling for not coddling the reader with the ending. In my experience, people do not do anything to change the status quo until they see someone with whom they identify harmed as a result of current proceedings. Perhaps Krystal Weedon truly was a part of the community of Pagford. It is only after her death that people began to take action against the established members of the town.


Those of you who like my book reviews–feel free to suggest another book. Winter break is coming up and I’ll have time to do more writing soon! Leave your suggestions in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Works Cited

Rowling, J.K. (2012). The Casual Vacancy. Little, Brown, and Company.


Thoughts on Stranger Things

I don’t know if you all have yet seen the Netflix Original series, Stranger Things. If you haven’t, I highly recommend it. It’s got this Stephen King-meets-The Little Rascals feel to it, and the screenplay, acting, and soundtrack are all on point. It doesn’t overdo the cheesy damsel-in-distress-screaming-and-hiding sequence that is so common in the horror genre. In addition, all of the characters have refreshing depth and intelligence. It’s such a nice change from the usual white-family-in-denial about the monster in the closet until it comes out and eats the husband or whatever.

While I could wax poetic about a lot of things in this series (the examples of triggers! The little boys are so dialogic!), I really appreciate the examples of women standing up to men in this series. The three women who I would say are main characters (there’s more than one woman as a main character!) all have significant instances of telling the men in their lives to fuck off. This happens more than once, but I’ll explain three of my favorite moments here.

First, there is that time in episode 5 when Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) tells her good-for-nothing husband (Ross Partridge) to get the fuck out of her house.

get out

I got really scared when the husband guy came back. For a second there, I thought he was going to stay for way too long and significantly derail Joyce’s life the way all sleazy exes do in TV shows (think Sex in the City and Friends). But no, not in this series. In this one, as soon as Joyce even suspects her husband is around just for money, she kicks his ass out. You go, girl.

On a tangent, I think this is one of the strengths of a shorter series. They can no longer prolong horrible relationships for the sake of drama and ratings. I am so thrilled that TV is heading toward the 8-12 episode range. I cannot tell you how tired I am of that Grey’s Anatomy tier, 22-episode season shit, where you had to endure a person’s sexism or racism for entire 4-5 episode arcs that made you want to tear your hair out.

Anyway, the second example: I am equally thrilled that Nancy (Natalia Dyer) stands her ground and hits Steve (Joe Keery) when he’s being an asshole in episode 6.


Yas, girl! So basically, when Steve and his friends decide to paint the town to slut-shame Nancy Wheeler, she hits him. And I LOVE it. This show does a great job of breaking down age barriers. Even the younger women give no fucks about putting men in their place. I love the message this sends–that teenaged girls do not have to take shit from immature boys. We are bombarded with so many instances in which young women are publicly humiliated through slut-shaming (Vanessa Hudgens, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Swift, to name a few). Nancy decides enough is enough. Time to shut the haters up.

Last but not least, we have Eleven (Millie Brown). Eleven is constantly saying “no” to all the boys.


Here, she is saying she will not compromise her safety by telling Mike’s mom of her presence in episode 2. This girl cannot be much older than, well, eleven (no pun intended), but she understands consent PERFECTLY. She is a great example to women of any age, that no one, not even your friends, can make you do anything without your consent.


And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much humanity in this show that I could write about, like the relationship between Jonathan and his brother, the friendship among the four boys, and all the shit Nancy goes through that I can thoroughly relate to. For a short series, Stranger Things accomplishes so much. I can’t wait for season 2.