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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Be Quiet. You’re Disturbing the Movie.

They were doing a screening of Roma in my neighborhood so I went. The theatre was dotted with audience members – so everyone sort of had a little bubble of space for themselves.

About two rows behind me sat two elderly Latino men. They were possibly the only Latinx people in the place. Once the movie began, they spoke to each other in Spanish. In a movie that is so much about atmosphere, their voices added to the experience. I was only sorry that my Spanish is not good enough to eavesdrop a little.

But some guy on the other side of their row was not happy about their conversation. He shouted at them to be quiet. His shouting was very jarring. And he did it again about ten minutes later. He was really mad about those old guys talking. The third time, he shouted “Be quiet. You’re disturbing the movie.” Which was ironic because to my mind, it was him who was disturbing the movie. (Also – it’s a movie. It doesn’t care what happens out in the audience. I think you mean the movie going experience.) I turned around to glare at him and of course he was a white guy. He was a white guy who was convinced he was being a white guy hero. However, I’m a white lady so I used my disapproving white lady glare to hopefully disabuse him of that position.

I don’t know if it worked or it didn’t work. He shut up after that. If it was my glare, I wish I’d used it sooner. And I don’t know if I ought to have said something to the shouter who was disturbing the movie by declaring the movie disturbed, I somehow didn’t feel like more white people shouting would help the situation.

But I did find it ironic that this white guy had decided to come to this movie about a working class Latina and did not want his experience disturbed by actual (I’m assuming) working class Latinos in the theatre. It felt a bit like all the folks who love tacos and nachos and celebrate Cinco de Mayo but are fine with separating Latinx children from their parents at the border.

It’s all of a piece, it feels to me. It is a control of the space, any space. This attempt to keep spaces like theatres and movie houses quiet and in control is an attempt to exclude, to state who is welcome and who is not. The attempt to dictate how we experience culture is generally classist if not explicitly racist. I’m thinking of that story I just heard on This American Life about a group of kids going to see a movie on a field trip and getting kicked out of the theatre because they had a visceral response to what they were seeing and no context for it. And the racism that they encountered on their way to their seats didn’t help either.

I’m particularly sensitive to this because of my previous work as an arts educator wherein it was my job to prepare students for whatever they were about to see in a theatre or on a screen. Performers loved our audiences because they were vocal and responsive. But if they were ever mixed in with a general audience, the general audience became a problem. It’s almost as if we ought to have been leading workshops for the adults in how to be less classist, racist or uptight before we let them watch a show with a bunch of kids. (Watching shows with bunches of kids is great. People should pay extra to do it.) The kids generally just need a little context and a heads up about stuff that’s going to be new for them. Adults usually need far reaching lessons in cultural imperialism.

In the end, back at Roma, I was more interested in what the two old guys thought of the movie than the movie itself (that’s another post, coming soon) and I definitely hoped to never have to see (or more importantly, hear) Mr. White Savior again – especially at the movies. He very definitely disturbed that movie for me.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Like the blog?

Become my patron on Patreon.

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

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