The Triumph of Morally Ambiguous Women in ‘Line of Duty’

Why Do We Hate Morally Ambiguous Women On TV?

The portrayal of morally ambiguous women in television and film has never been particularly well-received by critics and audiences alike. Often, such a portrayal of women evinces misogynistic criticism, without much consideration for actually analysing characterisation, plot or themes. This special consideration seems to be solely reserved for the criticism of morally ambiguous male characters, who are afforded the luxury of being analysed as complex. In contrast, the criticism of morally ambiguous women eschews analysing the technicalities of characterisation altogether. Instead, this criticism is usually directed towards her gender and consequently, how she should behave as a woman within a specific cultural context. It seems that implicit in the word complex, is the de facto accepted face of the white, heterosexual male, whose race, gender, and sexuality no longer matter because they are the norm against which all marginalised groups are measured by. Only when these attributes (i.e. race, gender, sexuality) are backgrounded, can the technicalities of his characterisation be foregrounded and fleshed out in the wider context of criticism. Unfortunately, the rest of us aren’t so lucky. The marginalised are never complex. We are almost always negatively defined in relation to the norm, and that is a definition which lapses back into homogeneity and sameness. Complex is a word which denotes possibilities beyond what is universally accepted, and the idea of the beyond horrifies those in power who rely on the fixity and determinacy of essentialised categories like race, gender and sexuality. Continue reading “The Triumph of Morally Ambiguous Women in ‘Line of Duty’”

Advertisements

Art, Autobiography and Sexuality in Desiree Akhavan’s ‘The Bisexual’

Many critics of Desiree Akhavan’s The Bisexual have condemned it for not being explicitly subversive enough, somehow implying that because of Akhavan’s bisexuality, she necessarily has to write a neat arc which leads up to a climatic acceptance of main character Leila’s sexuality. I believe that form of criticism in itself is worth interrogating: Why do we expect LGBTQ-centered media (particularly, those by LGBTQ artists) to live up to a totalising and universalising narrative, when all of us have differing experiences on sexuality because of our varied socio-political circumstances? And why do we place the burden on LGBTQ people to figure out all there is to do with sex, gender and sexuality when the world is persistently denying and censoring our access to all these things?  Continue reading “Art, Autobiography and Sexuality in Desiree Akhavan’s ‘The Bisexual’”

‘Shirkers’ is a Defiant Ode to the Poetics and Politics of Filmmaking

Despite the disorder that permeates Shirkers by Sandi Tan, it ultimately is a defiant ode to the gendered poetics and politics of filmmaking. Above all, it reminds us there is no future in our nostalgia, and no nostalgia in the future of our past, to recall Arthur Yap’s poem on the well-known Singaporean mourning for a past snatched too soon from us.

As a Singaporean film writer, I am acutely aware of the difficulties of breaking out of impossible censorship and a meagre amount of funds granted to independent cinema. It is rare to even see Singaporeans believe in our own artistic potential. That’s why Tan’s internationally-acclaimed work not only holds extreme cultural significance in our country, but also instills hope for the next generation of Singaporean filmmakers. For the first time, I am seeing a piece of Singaporean work talked about by my fellow colleagues here at Much Ado. It may simply be casual chatter to them, but for me this chatter reflected the visibility I have desired so much for Singaporean art. And I did not know how much I have wanted our art to be part of a simple, off-handed discussion on an international stage. Shirkers changed all that.

SHIRKERS3
Young Sophie Siddique and Sandi Tan in Shirkers (2018)

Continue reading “‘Shirkers’ is a Defiant Ode to the Poetics and Politics of Filmmaking”

Female Director Spotlight: Sally Wainwright’s Honest Portrayal of the Relationships Between Women

I first encountered Sally Wainwright through watching a series that she wrote, created and produced entitled Scott and Bailey, which revolves around the powerful friendship forged between three women detectives in a police unit despite their stark differences in hierarchy, age, and personalities. I haven’t looked back since, continuing to watch as much of her filmography as I can. What I received out of it was a profound understanding on the myriad of ways women lift each other up, and how important it is for us to recognise that the bonds between women have to be strong, necessarily so. They have to be filled with kindness, empathy, and love for us to quite literally, survive in a world that isn’t in any hurry to stop men from hurting us. In short, what summarises my tender fondness for her work is this quote put forth succinctly by Wainwright herself:

“Women do have very strong relationships with each other and you don’t often see that dramatised on telly. In fact, friendship itself isn’t dramatised terribly well on television. I’d suppose I do like reflecting on friendships. A lot of warmth and humour can come from the relationships women have with each other.”

For this spotlight, I have decided to focus on Sally Wainwright because I am, frankly, exhausted of seeing women pitted against each other on television. Most shows can spend up to seven seasons churning out feuds between women, reducing our identities to pure cattiness and jealousy, with harmful implications. Such representations perpetuate the false sentiment that there is no room for women to succeed because other women exist, which distracts us from the truth — there is no room for women to succeed because we live in a patriarchal world that simply doesn’t want us to. As a result, it’s all the more imperative that the portrayal of women on television affirms the strength that can be drawn from our love for one another, and this is exactly what Wainwright’s writing offers. I know that my relationships with other women have saved my life, and continue to do so.  Continue reading “Female Director Spotlight: Sally Wainwright’s Honest Portrayal of the Relationships Between Women”

Criterion Throwback Review: John Cassavetes’ Devastating ‘A Woman Under the Influence’

In A Woman Under the Influence (1974), John Cassavetes offers a devastating look into the suffocating gendered politics of heterosexual family life, exposing how our cruel expectations of each other can lead to our undoing. The film follows a seemingly simple plot: The protagonist, Mabel Longhetti (Gena Rowlands), appears to suffer from a series of mental breakdowns which prompts her family to commit her into a psychiatric institution.

Watching the film prompted me to ask the following questions: Were those really mental breakdowns, or merely a woman misunderstood by a largely patriarchal society quick to condemn women for resisting their expected roles of mother and wife? Of course, Cassavetes offers no definite answers, only multiple scenarios and therefore, many possible interpretations for Mabel’s behaviour. Here lies the film’s strength – its propensity for ambiguity. Even without watching the film, we know that the dominant narrative is that of the hysterical woman and the madwoman in the attic. In a society that is quick to label women as hysterical simply because they refuse to conform to masculine expectations, Cassavetes’ penchant for ambiguity is an act of resistance towards a singular patriarchal narrative that has heavily permeated much of society for decades. 

woman under the influence
Gena Rowlands in ‘A Woman Under the Influence’ (1974)

Continue reading “Criterion Throwback Review: John Cassavetes’ Devastating ‘A Woman Under the Influence’”

The Dardenne Brothers: The Struggle for Dignity in a Capitalist System

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, often referred to as the Dardenne Brothers, are well known for their modern neorealist films of the working class, especially the lives of those who live on the margins of Belgium society. While many films depicting the working class often romanticise suffering as a means to squeeze out every ounce of our pity, the plots from the duo can be sharply defined by their refusal to patronise their characters. Instead, what their films do is give a sense of dignity to a section of society that is never given any, through focusing on the brutal circumstances that their protagonists are in. Often, these circumstances are a result of the exploitative mechanisms of capitalism, leaving their characters forced to make morally grey decisions, scrambling to do anything to survive. Yet, in these films, the camera never assigns blame to the people, but rather to the environment which made them this way.

In this piece, I aim to offer an analysis of how the Dardenne Brothers critique the capitalist society which thrives on the absence of human dignity and connection in two of their films: Rosetta (1999) and Two Days, One Night (2014). It can be argued that both films make two directly opposing points with their contrasting women protagonists; the former exposing the harrowing conditions one can be driven to inhabit as a result of an internalisation of capitalistic notions of human worth and value, and the latter revealing to us how sometimes solidarity amongst the working class can be our only saving grace.

rosetta 2
Èmilie Dequenne in ‘Rosetta’ (1999)

Continue reading “The Dardenne Brothers: The Struggle for Dignity in a Capitalist System”

The Futility of Ideals in Greta Gerwig’s Screenwriting

For many of us, the world sets unrealistic expectations of being materially or academically successful at a young age, leaving behind a lingering emptiness for the rest of our lives when we fail to achieve that in our 20s, maybe even our 30s. It’s the heavy wistfulness of wishing you were more, and the resonating regret because you weren’t. So we keep on chasing an ideal just within reach, but never losing the race. 

The films co-written by Greta Gerwig explore what it’s like to be trapped in this liminality, exposing the futility of dedicating your efforts to create a place you can call your own, only to look around and realise it doesn’t exist. Continue reading “The Futility of Ideals in Greta Gerwig’s Screenwriting”