Review: Backward and in Heels

I wanted to kick off my first book review on this website with a non-fiction that I have read recently. Backward and in Heels is an essay written by film critic and journalist Alicia Malone, who went into book worming and film archaeology to dig some of the most influential women who worked in films throughout its short history.

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Backward and in Heels

I wanted to kick off my first book review on this website with a non-fiction that I have read recently. Backward and in Heels is an essay written by film critic and journalist Alicia Malone, who went into book worming and film archaeology to dig some of the most influential women who worked in films throughout its short history. All of the women who appear in that book have had so much impact on the film industry, that it’s hard to understand how some of them are almost forgotten now. So that’s the objective of Alicia Malone: to give back the credit to these wonderful people who made history but where left behind.

It’s gonna be short because I actually don’t have much thing to say on the content. It’s a deeply researched document that used multiple sources such as essays, interviews, and of course films to report these stories as best as she could, gathering details of there lives that gives them depth. Bibliographical sources are listed at the end of the book, and somehow, I kinda regret that they’re not directly referenced, in more details, in the text, but I have the sense that the author didn’t want to give a feeling that her essay was too academical, so it wouldn’t scare away people interested in the subject.

Aside from the biographies, it goes into the issue of the representation of women working on films before and now, and how the mainstream industry has an implicit close door policy when it comes to hiring female directors. And despite the current trend in putting high-budget production in the hand of amazing female directors, the ratio is still unbelievably unbalanced toward men (spoiler: it’s been about 12% women for ages). So she interviewed current essayists who launched huge projects to really go to the bottom of this, compiling data over thousands of films, and statistics are astounding, showing that this ratio is not the result of a lack of interest by women in this field, but the consequence of an unfair an blatantly sexist selection along the way that undermines the will and spirit of women to make a career in film. As the saying goes (quoted from the book): “Men are hired on expectations, women are hired on experience”

So, if you’re interested in stories around cinema history, and the role of women in the industry, I can only recommend that book. You won’t be disappointed and you’ll realise how much we lack a women’s presence in this huge industry. But it’s also empowering and showing women that they can make their place in films despite the adversity, and that they have allies already installed who are making their best efforts to have a more balanced workforce.

Empathy, empathy, why do you make me cry!

It looks like a movie review at first, but the real subject actually starts at the second paragraph.

If anyone had told me that I would have like The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, I probably would have thrown a sarcastic comment and laughed. But I did like it. It’s not an awesome movie, and it is boring at times (especially the action scenes), but it is far better than the Vol. 1 in my opinion. Well, not every one thinks the same way of course, and every one looks for something different when watching a film, but while the first film was desperately trying to convince me that those pathetic losers could eventually get along and save the galaxy, the second one had a real topic and a real reason to make them fight together (and save the galaxy again). I liked that they tell us that the real family is the people who raised you and put up with your bullshit all along, not the stupid genetic relationship that doesn’t mean crap when you get abandoned. It’s a good conclusion and that convinced me that it was trying to tell something.

Aaaanyway, that was a small review, but now I wanna go into the real topic of the day: empathy. And you ask me, “what does it have to do with the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”? Well, because of this character:

mantis

Empathy is the capacity to recognise and feel emotions in other people. And that’s what Mantis does. When she touches someone, she instantly feels what the subject is feeling, whether she wants it or not. It’s important to note, because in my opinion, that’s the detail that made this character so great. She is the empathy that exists between the crew members, but that they don’t want to accept.

I felt it was so well thought and put onto images in such a beautiful way, that I could relate so much to that feeling. Empathy is something that is crippling if you lack it or have too much of it. If you lack empathy, you end up having a behaviour that is not adapted to living in a society, because, either you don’t recognise what people feel, or it doesn’t affect you. If you have too much empathy, you just end up living on a roller coaster of emotion. Usually, people don’t have the same level of empathy with every one. Some will feel strongly for their family or friend, and not care at all for strangers. But some just don’t have any boundary: everything comes in, whether you want it or not, and most often, you’d rather not.

You would think that you can never have too much empathy, but it becomes a problem when you feel bad even when people are wrong. For example, if someone is sad, even if you don’t have anything to do with it, you get sad too. I want to point out this fact because I feel it’s freaking important: you don’t just recognise the sadness, you actually feel sad. It’s depressive, really. Worse, if they’re angry at you, and you didn’t do anything wrong, you feel bad about it. And if someone is happy about something you did, but you didn’t do it (and you know it), you feel guilty. You feel like lying. There is no way to win. I never lie because of that. I can be a very convincing liar if I want to, but it’s just not emotionally worth it.

So what does one do to protect themselves against this phenomenon? Simply, they shield themselves. They try to avoid other people’s emotion by convincing themselves that they don’t feel them. I won’t go into it because I already explained it in this post.

I hate it when someone is angry at me even thought I haven’t done anything wrong. Sometimes, they’ve done me wrong, and I still feel bad about them being angry at me. Sometimes, I just want to apologise for nothing just to let steam go and get back to an almost normal state of living. But it’s not fair. Why would someone who’s being a dick and angry at me get away with me actually apologising for it? I used to respond by being aggressive, but we all know it doesn’t work. It’s just making things worse. To be honest, so far, I haven’t found a better solution to the problem than avoiding the distressing people/stimuli altogether. If someone is pissing me off for no reason, I’ll just ignore them and try to focus on something else, because I don’t see why I should get all the trouble when I didn’t do anything wrong.

Now the movie doesn’t give any answer to that question, because it’s not the point of the film. It’s just trying to tell that they should stick together, and Mantis’ role in all this is to make them recognise that they have feelings for each other and that they’re not just a bunch of low-life criminals randomly put together anymore. But what it does is really well done, and I felt like it was worth mentioning because when I see reviews of this film, I only see people praising the entertainment and the action (seriously, action scenes in this film are pointless and boring, come on), and completely ignore the topic of the film and that kind of details. And that makes me somehow sad.

 

Good entertainment has something to say

I went to see Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle last week, and I might say, it was a very good surprise. I didn’t expect much, so it went beyond my expectations. First, it’s a good entertainment. Dwayne Johnson and Karen Gillian are two of my current favourite comedians and I don’t think a movie can really fail on the humour side if they’re attached to it. […]

I went to see Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle last week, and I might say, it was a very good surprise. I didn’t expect much, so it went beyond my expectations. First, it’s a good entertainment. Dwayne Johnson and Karen Gillan are two of my current favourite comedians and I don’t think a movie can really fail on the humour side if they’re attached to it. The story is basic, but I think it’s a good thing in this case. Not overdoing it in the plot makes room for all the great thing they wanted to put in, and it’s packed of awesome ideas, that I will break down in this order:

Respect for the original material

I saw Jumanji, with Robin Williams, back when it was released in theatre in 1996. I was 13 and I had a blast. I then watched the VHS at home many times because it was so much fun. The story is simple and follows the rules of a board game, a hobby that was trending in the 60s, when Alan Parrish finds it. Above all the adventure and fun of the movie, it tells you that in the 90s, board games are quite a deprecated activity, and are seen more as a curiosity, even though they are so much fun to play together.

And that’s how Welcome To The Jungle starts. Now that board games are back in people’s home, the movie tells the story of another kind of game: video games and role-playing games. From video games, it makes fun of the clichés, and it denounces some tropes. From role-playing, it brings the whole concept of identity. We’ll come to that later. The thing is, in the 90s, role-playing was getting a lot of attention, especially since it was absurdly considered deviant by many people who saw role-players as cultists and mass murderers. Now tabletop role-playing has lost most of its appeal to actual RPG video games (1). And again, it’s about remembering how fun it was to get together and play a game that would take us to a different place, using the rules of RPG and video games.

Depiction of video games

And the movie is honest in that regard. Even if it drops a various genres (RPG, adventure, action) into the mix, it’s still trying to make it right: quests, NPCs, levels, bosses, abilities and even dice roles are used correctly and consistently throughout the movie. It’s also nice to see the clichés made fun of and the tropes being denounced. The writers obviously knew what they were talking about and it’s refreshing not to have to deal with stupid preconceptions.

Apparently there was an outcry when the first teasers were released, because Karen Gillan was only slightly covered when every other characters had jungle equipment. But it was actually the point to make people discuss it. It’s an obvious reference to the first Tomb Raider games (released in the 90s), in which Lara Croft is not ideally equipped for her combat archaeology, which was already criticised back then, but has been repeated so many times since then. It’s literally one of the first things Karen Gillian’s character complains about in the beginning. And you know what else is refreshing? Nobody makes dirty or borderline joke about it. And the only pee pee joke of the film is actually funny and not gross. So, it’s possible.

Strong case for self-identification

In my tweet, I talk about a woman trapped in a man’s body, but it’s not only that. Every character’s choice of in-game character has something to say about what they want (or don’t want) to be.

They all follow the same pattern. They are good at something, but lack the confidence in something else that they wish they had. For Spencer and Martha, they’re both very intelligent, but they want to be strong and social, so they choose bad-ass characters (Spencer’s character has literally no flaw). For Bethany and Fridge, they’re popular, but they want to succeed because of their skills, so they choose scientists. Bethany gets to be a man by mistake (2), but every other character calls her “she” despite what she looks like, even the 5th player who never met her in real life (3).

In the end, they realise that the image that we project to other people is only a shadow of who we really are, and that we can be whatever we want. It’s not telling a tale of over-achievement. All the goals set by the characters are in reach, whether it’s being satisfied of who she is for Bethany, or being able to live in his passion without feeling ridiculous for Spencer. I like how simple these goals are, and yet we have such a hard time to reach them, because we’re stuck in a very rigid society.

This is a family movie, but I feel that it would strongly appeal to a young audience who struggle to find themselves, and tell them that it’s alright to be who they are. We don’t have to follow a path set by obsolete societal rules.

(1) I feel like I need to point out that there are not many video games that allow several players to come play a story together. Most game are either solo or mass-multiplayer. The movie uses core role-playing concepts in a video game setting, so it’s a good mix of both.

(2) The game uses a confusion in the first name to make her a man, but when you play a RPG, since you don’t have to be physically the person you’re going to play, people often swap genders. The movie just wants to make it simple. We could say that she was assigned the wrong gender.

(3) Although he is confused at first, but that’s actually a good depiction of how people react when you tell them you’re transgender, and they didn’t make it as a joke. I appreciated it.

Note: I don’t why the tweet shows the previous tweet in conversation. I specify in the code that I only want one tweet and not the conversation. If someone knows the reason it happens and how to change it, I’d love to be made aware.

The strange phenomenon of saying pointless yet hurtful things

The fact that Dune -Ya takes our side is a great things. She posted a lot of awesome messages about transgender inclusion, and I thank her for that, but as she said in a later tweet, she got really mean replies to that message, and didn’t know why people are so mindlessly cruel. And I don’t know either.

[…]

Today, I came across this tweet (I put the transcription under the tweets in case they get deleted somehow):

 “trans women r .. women .. if ur a straight boy attracted to trans women u r still .. straight . quick maths — dune -Ya (ya ya ) (@dounia)”

The fact that Dune -Ya takes our side is a great things. She posted a lot of awesome messages about transgender inclusion, and I thank her for that, but as she said in a later tweet, she got really mean replies to that message, and didn’t know why people are so mindlessly cruel. And I don’t know either. One reply that caught my eye was this one:

“Trans women are not women they are….trans women. Trans men are not men they are….trans men. Just because you decide to change how you look doesn’t mean you can relate to/identify with people who were naturally born that way. — M (@fiyamayaa)”

And because it wasn’t clear enough, she followed up with that:

“Like I said, they can turn into whatever they want to be but they cannot relate to me as a female woman. No matter how hard they try. This doesn’t mean they deserve any disrespect or pain but they aren’t female women. They are male women. — M (@fiyamayaa)”

And the fact that she says that we don’t deserve any disrespect is quite funny when she basically shits on excludes us in the same sentence. Also, she posted a handful of other mean tweets after that, but I don’t think I need to show them all, I guess you got the idea.

So, I don’t want to go into the debate of this very binary view of gender, because it’s not the point and anyway, when we do that, it’s like punching air. Bigots are just not receptive. No, I want to talk about another part of her message, when she declares that trans-women cannot relate to cis-woman (and changing “trans” and “cis” by “male” and “female” doesn’t make it more accurate, just fucking rude). And I’m sorry to break it to you, but of course, I wasn’t born with a woman’s body, and I didn’t grow up being identified as a woman, so obviously I didn’t have to experience what women get when they grow up. Also I don’t have some of the annoying things that come with the female body, like periods. That’s one thing hormone therapy or surgery doesn’t provide, and unless they come up with a way to shove a functional uterus in a trans-woman’s abdomen, it’s not going to happen anytime soon. I had problems of my own, you know, growing up with the wrong body, and even though I identify as a woman, I’m not asking cis-women to relate to it. And don’t think I would hesitate a second to trade everything for a fully functional female body, so people would genuinely see me as a woman. I’d do it in a heartbeat.

But I wonder. Why state the obvious? I know I’m trans, and not cis. Why bother telling me? Who are you trying to convince? Transphobes are way beyond recognising it, they’re straight out calling us “male with a face full of make-up” (2). And tolerant people already know that, but they’re not saying it. Because they know we know, and that saying it to our face is just rude. You can’t say that people don’t deserve any disrespect, and be rude at the same time. They don’t cancel each other. Disrespect beats respect to a pulp.

Now, I can’t relate to what a cis-woman have experienced as a child or as a teen. I totally agree with that. But… can you? And don’t misunderstand me, you may have very similar experiences with your neighbour, or people who were in the same school, even the same country, but beyond that? Do you think you can relate, even in the slightest, to a girl born in a slum in a third world country. Or a woman from the 18th century or earlier? What do you have in common? If you were even to meet an early 20th century woman, she would probably think you live like a man (3).

So, how is the fact that I can’t relate to a white woman from my neighbourhood important? How is it different from the fact that said woman can’t relate to another woman who doesn’t fit her very geo- and chrono-centered definition of a woman’s life? Who can just tell what it universally feels to be a woman? I sure can’t. I know how I feel, but I have no idea if there is one person who feel the same way I do. I don’t even know if I feel the same way as any other trans woman. It’s like trying to explain a colour. We all see blue (4), but we have no idea if it looks the same for everyone nor we can explain it (we know the wave length, and yet we can’t describe a colour). We just know it’s blue because one day, someone pointed at it and said “this is blue”, so we matched the colour we saw with the word we were told. And that’s that simple.

So, the bottom line is, I know that I feel like a woman, because I am one. And sorry to break it to you, but there is no debate about that. It’s maybe not the same way another woman feels, but there is no point in comparing something we can’t explain. No one else than me can know how I feel, so no one has anything relevant to say about it. I can’t relate to everything a cis-woman have experienced, but you can’t either, and I’m still a woman. End of story.

(1) A lot of us would love to have a baby, but have to freeze their sperm before starting hormones, so they can have a baby with their own genetic heritage later. I’d rather adopt, because I don’t really care about the genetic part, but that’s down to a personal choice at this point.

(2) Real transcription of a comment I heard yesterday coming up Granville Avenue (in Vancouver, BC), and it’s only a small sample. I was in for a treat. People are mean.

(3) In “The Marvelous Mrs Maisel”, which is set in 58, there is a running joke at the beginning, that parodies this, where Susie is constantly called “young boy” by people who actually think she is a man because she dosn’t conform.

(4) If we are not blind or colour-blind, but that’s not the point here.