Achieving financial stability in the film journalism industry is a difficult feat for anybody. With regular gigs few and far between, ridiculous amounts of competition and low rates of pay, it’s pretty much an accepted fact that even the best of freelancers will struggle to make ends meet. As a community we joke about this frequently: we should have specialised in STEM subjects, we’re the disappointing creatives of the family, we’ll never pay off our student loans, and so on and so forth.
As a working class freelancer, financial insecurity is something that has plagued my attempts to crack the industry from the very beginning. Whilst I am incredibly privileged in some areas – my family are emotionally supportive, my workplace is flexible (something which is rare in working class environments) and I have a university education – the feeling that I am ridiculously out of my depth remains. The fact that I, as a relatively privileged (and white) working class person, still struggle, opens up a plethora of questions on the exclusive nature of our work. How can a person on a zero hours contract, living without the luxuries of university connections or familial support possibly engage in film criticism in the same way that a comfortable middle class person can?
Artist-turned-director Steve McQueen has a certain flair for the insightful. His previous works, Hunger (2008), Shame (2011) and 12 Years a Slave (2013) have focused upon singular characters, fixating on the intimate details of an individual’s life and creating a display which feels almost private. With Widows (2018), however, McQueen branches out from this intimate filmmaking, to establish a world which feels colossal in its realism, and painfully current in its observations of today’s racial, sexual and class politics.
The widows in question – Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) – represent women from across various different social circles and spectrums. Veronica is a teacher’s union delegate and lives a lavish lifestyle, but remains acutely aware of the racism entrenched within her surroundings, especially as a black woman married to a white man. Considerably worse off financially is Linda, who juggles a business and two young children. With lived knowledge of the prison system, Linda is naturally more cautious than her contemporaries, illuminating a class difference that is essential to McQueen’s depiction of an intersectional environment. Alice, on the other hand, works as a high-end escort and experiences the daily struggles of male egocentrism. After suffering abuse at the hands of her husband, her journey is one of rediscovering her own independence – and it just so happens that a $5 million heist is the perfect way to pull this off.
The lives of teenage girls are increasingly entangled with various forms of violence. Whether it be through the sinister undercurrents of body shaming amplified by the internet, the very literal brutality at the hands of boys and men, or the obsessive hatred of their typical interests by the media, young women have a lot to struggle with as they grow up. Directed by Sam Levinson in only his second directorial output, Assassination Nation takes this theoretical violence and manifests it in a gory, stylised take on the revenge of a generation bombarded with gendered hate.
Lily (Odessa Young) is a high schooler obsessed with so-called ‘selfie culture’. Her life revolves around the attention she gains both from her teenage boyfriend Mark, and from the grown man she calls ‘Daddy’ behind Mark’s back. Her best friend, Bex (Hari Nef) has her own relationship issues; the boy she likes is insisting they keep their sexual relationship private due to the fact that Bex is transgender. Together with Em (Abra) and Sarah (Suki Waterhouse), the girls form a refreshingly diverse and positive friendship group in a world where teenage girls are expected to view each other as competition for male attention.
It starts with a whisper, then a murmur, then a joyous shout. Spreading across the screening like waves disturbing still water, the chanting begins. Sapphics hold hands as they begin to activate their power, absorbing gay energy from the very presence of Rachel Weisz in a hunting outfit. They will now live forever, to spread a message of plaid and emotional detachment across the world.
“Let’s go lesbians,” yells the theatre, and all heterosexuality evaporates into dust.
I’m joking, of course, but that’s kinda what watching The Favourite felt like.
Women on screen are so rarely allowed to be bad people. Redeemable qualities must be injected into even the most abhorrent of female characters, and this is only amplified when the character in question is a mother. Neglect of a child is a role that any fictional father may take up, but as a woman, the mother must ultimately soften even when her dedication is in doubt.
Destroyer avoids these pitfalls in its depiction of detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman), a grizzled LAPD cop with a dark past and a difficult nature. Bell, in all aspects but her gender, is the stereotypical protagonist of every police procedural ever created. She has an awful relationship with her family, works alone wherever possible, and goes off the books to the dismay of her superiors — but through it all, she is exceptionally talented at what she does. It is fantastic, from a representation perspective, to see this familiar trope be transported into the body of an older woman, with all the wrinkles and blemished skin that comes with aging. Kidman is reliably incredible within the role, as piercing and intimidating as any lone wolf officer should be. Here we have a woman over the age of fifty, who is so often dismissed by the media, take centre stage —and she is permitted to be irredeemable.
Rafiki is a film that will go down in history. Wanuri Kahiu, in creating a Kenyan film unafraid to portray lesbian sexuality, not only succeeded in winning over the international festival circuit, but also faced down a tough legal battle in her home country. Victorious, Kahiu was permitted to show the film for one week in Kenya (where homosexuality is illegal) so that Rafiki may qualify for Oscar submission — a week that was undoubtedly revolutionary for the Kenyan lesbian community.
Subversive in its very existence, Rafiki’s profound impact is twofold: as a love story, the film crafts a study of forbidden lesbian intimacy unlike any other. Never voyeuristic, Kahiu’s camera traces the bodies of her characters as they touch, following the movements of hands upon skin with breathtaking detail. The absence of what we would typically consider as nudity only strengthens the clandestine, almost wistful nature of Kena and Ziki’s relationship — we are outsiders to their unique bond, and their bodies are not ours to consume. Rather, it is their affection for each other that we witness, and what a beautiful affection it is. The pair is endlessly supportive of each other regardless of the circumstance. When Kena explains her wish to become a nurse, Ziki pushes her —why not a doctor? Kena doesn’t think she’ll get the grades, but Ziki believes in her fully. There is no selfishness between them, and in this sense, they function almost like a friendship, as reflected in the title: “Rafiki” means “Friend” in Swahili.Continue reading “BFI London Film Festival ’18 Review: ‘Rafiki’ is a Beautiful Study of Dual Identity”→
An unsolved mystery, especially one as peculiar as the case of the Lizzie Borden murders, should be like gold dust for filmmakers looking to tap into a ready-made audience. The chance to portray a real story that has peaked our communal curiosity for over a hundred years provides an opportunity to update those old tales for a new, fresher audience, and dare to make judgements through the interpretive lens of a camera. With a wealth of grisly information on the aftermath (Mr. Borden was struck 18 times with an axe; his wife 17), here is the perfect circumstance for an artist to create something devastatingly haunting from a story so deeply embedded in American popular culture. Lizzie promises all of this but never delivers, presenting us instead with a bare-bones carcass of a biopic that is stripped of all individuality, charm, or character.