Out to lunch

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Hey everyone, I’ll be gone for the next two weeks. Mr. Carmen (who from here on will be known as S – he does have his own identity after all ;) ) and I are going to Hong Kong to visit my folks, and do some sight-seeing in Beijing. It’ll be S’s first time in Asia, and my first time since about 2001, believe it or not. Hopefully I’ll still know how to get around.

Latoya and Wendi will help me out with moderating comments while I’m gone, and I’ve pre-loaded the queue with a bunch of end-of-year wrap-up posts. I hope you’ll enjoy those.

But understand that the blog will be sort of on auto-pilot for the next couple weeks, which means that there will be no link posts, and we won’t be able to post on breaking stories or anything like that. Also, moderation may be a bit slower than usual.

Thanks to all of you for making 2007 a wonderful year, and I wish all of you a happy, healthy and safe new year! :)

is there such a thing as a responsible rape scene?

by guest contributor Thea, originally published at Shameless Blog

Research. It always gets you into trouble. This review was supposed to say “Empowering! Feminist! Realism! Actually Tough Women of Colour!”. But then I did a little googling, (damn you google!) and now I’m confused.

The movie Bandit Queen is based on the story of the real life Phoolan Devi. In the 80’s in India, Devi led groups of bandits to pillage high caste villages for money. She was notorious and fearsome, and this was a big, shocking, deal – not only was she a woman, she was a low caste woman.

A kind of Robin Hood with a gender twist: at 11 Devi was married to a 30-something man who raped and mistreated her. As an adult she found him and stabbed him in front of his village, as a warning for old men who marry young girls.

Devi was always described to me as a hero for poor people and women. Separate from who she actually was, Devi became a legend and a symbol of the one woman who just wasn’t going to take it anymore. She was tough shit! She was brutalised, pushed around and dehumanised by patriarchal culture (more on that later) – but she actually pushed back!

So a movie about the life of this feminist hero – ok, the violence she committed makes her a problematic feminist hero – would definitely be a feminist movie wouldn’t you say? Well, this is where the confusion kicks in.

What I liked most about this movie was how it is such an unflinching, unsentimental portrayal of life for women in a patriarchal culture. The violence against women in Bandit Queen is essentially constant and blatant (I didn’t say it was a fun movie to watch), but that amazed me. Because the movie seems to be saying, look, it’s not just that some men are bad apples, and it’s not just that women will experience gender violence once in their lives. It’s that under a patriarchal system the threat of violence and the incidence of violence against women is constant and total.

For example, often “rapists” and “wife beaters” in North American cinema are portrayed as dirty, creepy, foul-smelling and poor. The men who assualt Devi in Bandit Queen however, are just regular, average men. This seemed to say to me that, it’s not just lower income men who don’t wash their shirts who are capable of violence, it’s all men who’ve been socialised by rampant sexism.

BUT, that’s exactly the problem with Bandit Queen: the constant gender violence. Arundhati Roy argues here and here that Bandit Queen reduces Devi to a rape victim, and is just two hours of rape, rape and more rape. Continue reading

links for 2007-12-21

Arby’s to the Irish: can’t you take a joke?

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

This Arby’s commercial is making some Irish-Americans really angry. Check out this recent letter to the editor of Irish America magazine (hat tip HighJive):

A television commercial currently aired by Arby’s restaurants features a group of laboratory chimpanzees so happy to have sampled Arby’s product that they break into a traditional Irish step dance. Rather than elicit my normal belly laugh, I was immediately reminded of the horrendous Punch and [Thomas] Nast political cartoons that lampooned our people in the past. The sting was immediate, taking my breath away.

This web site has some examples of the way Irish people were regularly depicted with simian features as “hot-headed, old-fashioned, and drunkards” and as “uncivilized, unskilled and impoverished.” Let’s not forget that not too long ago, the Irish weren’t regarded as white.

So what was Arby’s response? Well, typical, really:

We’re sorry to hear of your dissatisfaction with our current advertising.

Many times we choose to use tongue-in-cheek humor and satire in our commercials in an effort to communicate information about the Arby’s menu in an engaging and entertaining manner.

Nina’s Heavenly Delights: the cheesecake factory

by guest contributor Manish, originally published at Ultrabrown

Nina’s Heavenly Delights is the latest badly-written desi flick to hit enough recognizable truths about the diaspora that it’s fun in spite of itself. It’s a Glaswegian lesbian romance interpreted chastely, as if for kids. The female leads nuzzle and kiss without tongue, lest director Pratibha Parmar offend the focus group, while the drag queens camp and vamp to stereotype but are never permitted to smooch on screen. FSM save gays and lesbians from friendly filmmakers.

The problem with gay, desi, and gay desi flicks is that they’re made out of a crying need for representation, but neither ‘boon’ automatically makes one a good director. Nina’s is infested with clichés, begins with a spice metaphor, and ganks not only the ghostly chef from Ratatouille, but also the spirit guide from the atrocious Touch of Pink (Jimi Mistry, Kyle MacLachlan). It rings false and fantastical, with the most understanding desi mom ever written into film. But it leans on an indie soundtrack and a cinematographer who loves slow pans and tilts. Save for a tacky Taj Mahal model-slash-heartlight, it’s not as obviously amateur as Flavors.

Shelley Conn, great niece of stealth desi Merle Oberon, is taller with darker skin than her white love interest. She’s the top in this film, which is unusual for gay desi flicks. (Daniel Day-Lewis’ tomahawk cheekbones were clearly dom in My Beautiful Laundrette.) The plot is yet another battle-of-the-bands exercise, a ‘curry competition’ helmed at last by the great Kulvinder Ghir (Goodness Gracious Me) in burr, kilt and rabbits’ feet. The movie’s relentless focus on Indian food makes it more commercial, as does the lesbian angle; knowing her mainstream, Parmar let the girls get to first base, while any guy-on-guy takes place off-screen. It’s not that one wants to see Ronny Jhutti (Rafta Rafta) get it on — not that there’s anything wrong with that — it’s that it’s a blatant double standard, genuflecting in the direction of heteronormative marketability.

This movie was made earlier with more wit and bite as East is East, which too made great use of Jhutti and Raji James. But its ending video sequence has queens, twinks, brown highland dancers and white Bollyornaments naachofying to Briton Nazia Hassan’s classic ‘Aap Jaisa Koi.’ If you enjoyed Rocky the drag queen’s camp performance in Bollywood/Hollywood, you’ll have fun with this. And Shelley Conn (and Atta Yaqub) aren’t exactly hard on the eyes.

Nina’s opened in NYC and San Francisco recently. Here are the trailer and clips. For more desi Scots, check out Psychoraag and Ae Fond Kiss, among others .

links for 2007-12-20