Sharmane is an undergraduate in English Literature from Singapore. She's mostly interested in the representation of LGBTQ experiences in film and television, and how film can be a medium through which the heterogeneity of such experiences is respected.
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 Honours the Relationships Women Share with Each Other”→
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.
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.
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.