Songs for the Struggling Artist

In Which I Get Myself F-ing Mad About the Roma movie

Both swearing and spoilers ahead. I’ll warn you before the spoilers. Consider yourself already warned about the swearing.

I really wasn’t mad about Roma while I was watching it. It was a quiet arty experience and I appreciated the cinematography and getting to see the very specific world it created (and perhaps documented). But I didn’t find it moving. I expected to. I brought a pocketful of tissues and I did not use a single one. Not that my tears are required for a moving experience. But I was oddly unaffected and I was trying to understand why.

So I did some googling and saw this cascade of articles declaring Roma to be a feminist film. That’s when I started to get mad. Sure, there are mostly women in the film and that’s really nice and all but crowing about it as a banner feminist film? Sorry. No. Now I’m mad about it.

Just putting women in your movie does not make it feminist. Having your movie declare that men are trash also does not make it feminist. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Feminism holds that men are equal with women (and vice versa of course) and, in fact, men are quite capable of being great (in other words, not trash). Feminism has had a bad reputation for being a man-hating ideology but in truth, it holds men to higher standards than the trash men are often accused of being. Demonstrating that men can behave badly and sometimes leave women to fend for themselves in the world men created is not a particularly feminist demonstration. It’s just something that happens. Feminism doesn’t flatter men or give up on them. It says, “You could do better and you should.” Which is how I felt about Roma.

If (SPOILER ALERT) when Cleo’s character got pregnant she’d been able to get an abortion, that would have been fucking feminist. Assuming Mexican abortion laws were restrictive at the time, there would still be ways to make that a more feminist movie. For example, if her employer had taken her to get an abortion where surely all the rich ladies got their illegal abortions, (because people with money always have more access to abortions even when they’re illegal) that would have been fucking feminist. Even if neither of those things were possible, a feminist film would have at least discussed the possibilities for dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. Instead this film acted like everyone needed to be super happy about a baby no one wanted. And when that baby was born dead – we could maybe not, as an audience, have been put in a position to think, “Well, that’s probably for the best.”

I resent a film that made me feel relieved about a dead baby. Really. Come on. That’s why abortion needs to be fucking legal. Because no one wants to feel relief about a baby born dead. No one. Come on.

And then – at the end, the big fucking reveal is that she never wanted that baby in the first place? What the fuck? Of course, she didn’t. From the moment her boyfriend ditched Cleo in the movie theatre, we all knew she did not want that baby.

In addition to all the personal reasons that the baby was a bad idea, she could have lost her job. It’s clear a different employer would have fired her immediately. That pregnancy was a catastrophe long before it had a gun aimed at it. Somehow the movie pretends it’s not and somehow thinks that women wouldn’t talk about that.

Cleo is a sort of domestic saint, who always does the right thing, is always put upon. The pregnancy somehow makes her more holy. I kept expecting her to get martyred and I’m glad she survives the movie but I guess her declaring that she didn’t want that baby is meant to be an acknowledgement that she is not an actual saint? I don’t know – but domestic sainthood doesn’t rank high in my feminist book.

END of major SPOILERS – some very minor ones ahead:

This sanctification of a boy’s nanny appears to be a thing. I don’t know why boys who grew up with nannies feel the need to make art about them but they do and they seem to be these saintly loving self-sacrificing figures who endlessly give of themselves to help form genius young men. I’m thinking, also, of Tony Kushner’s much lauded musical, Caroline, Or Change, which has similar issues of a woman of color raising white children. Both Roma and Caroline, Or Change have been fictionalized but both creators make it clear that their work was based on their youth. They also both drive me up a fucking tree with their magical negro/magical Native American tropes.

Anyway, speaking of how Roma was based on Cuarón’s nanny, I highly doubt that the big fulfillment in Cuarón’s actual nanny’s life – the end of her story – was to be told that her charges loved her. I’m sure hearing what she meant to her employer’s children was very gratifying but the odds that his family never once drove her crazy and never once made her want to cry out in frustration or kick a hole through one of those glass doors – those odds are very low.

I’m super glad that Cuarón has introduced us to Yalitza Aparicio, who is an extraordinary indigenous actor and that this film got her an Oscar nomination and all that – but we never learned anything about the character she plays or where she’s actually from. The barest minimum we learn is that her village looks a bit like the countryside where they spent New Year’s Eve. Her indigenousness was inconsequential in the end and that feels like a real missed opportunity – especially when it feels like the only real purpose of the film is to tell us that some men can be trash sometimes. Yeah, we know.

Now, can we get some reproductive freedom for everyone?

I’m not saying the film’s not brilliant – the sequence of the father trying to park that whale of a car in his garage is as poignant a look at masculinity as I’ve ever seen. But lionizing Roma as a feminist film just makes this feminist fucking mad. No. Not all men are trash and not all movies about women are feminist. Fade out on ranting feminist.

photo by ProtoplasmaKid via WikiCommons


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