Exist and Resist . Indigenize and Decolonize

Cultural Appropriation
Cultural Appropriation

I write this blog post from the understanding that I, as a visitor from Northern Ireland am sitting on the occupied and stolen land of the Anishinaabe peoples, Haudenosaunee. This article I will write about was written by Âpihtawikosisân (2012), a Métis from the Plains Cree speaking community of Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta. ‘An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses’ looks at the issue of cultural appropriation, specifically looking at the ‘hipster’ trend of headdresses (otherwise known as war bonnets) at festivals such as Coachella and Burning man (Adrienne 2012)

http://www.native-languages.org/headdresses.htm
http://www.native-languages.org/headdresses.htm

The article looks at cultural appropriation through restricted symbols and unrestricted symbols. Showing that some symbols have an allegorical meaning attached to them, that they represent aspects of culture that have been earned. For example, war bonnets, the impressive feather headdresses commonly seen in western movies, are typically only worn by the Sioux, Crow, Blackfeet , Cheyenne and Plains Cree, from the Great plains region and only worn by chiefs and warriors (Âpihtawikosisân 2012).

Cultural appropriation is when someone or a group takes someone else’s practice without permission and makes it their own without knowing the correct meaning. Instead of appropriating native culture, try to celebrate it instead, in ways that does not add to negative stereotyping and commodification of culture.(Link in references on how to do this) She understands that people make mistakes and may not know that something is not respective (âpihtawikosisân 2012).

A question that often arises in online discussions is often similar or identical to this one “[T]here are plenty of Native-American descended Hispanics that love White people stuff and European stuff, so why can’t White people like Native stuff too?”(Lever 2011)

http://www.sfu.ca/ipinch/events/ipinch-events/commodificationsymposium
http://www.sfu.ca/ipinch/events/ipinch-events/commodificationsymposium

Firstly one cannot appropriate the dominant, especially if the ‘supposed’ appropriation was non- consensually forced upon a whole culture. There is a power imbalance that involves years of violence and an oppressive colonial history (Mycultureisnotatrend 2014) Cultural appropriation is another negative outcome of imperialism, capitalism, oppression and assimilation.  Imperialism is the creation and maintenance of an unequal cultural, economic and territorial relationship, based on domination and subordination, designed to pillage people and lands. Thus under capitalist imperialism, culture is seen as a resource commodity, ready to be stolen and sold on the market (Unsettling America 2011).

Secondly it ignores the forced assimilation practices that colonizers enforced upon indigenous peoples. Claiming indigenous peoples were savage and uncivilized, sanctioning the settlers to rationalize their actions in the name of civilization and Christianity. The theme of assimilation defined a framework for solving “the Indian problem” “the great aim of our civilization has been to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the inhabitants of the dominion, as speedily as they are fit for the change” (Sir John a McDonald as cited in Flearas Pp196) Cultural appropriation speeds up this process, because it is profitable, a marginalized culture can become lost, cultural identities can be blended into the dominate culture and then exploited for profit.

black and tan

On top of this cultural appropriation is the extension of racism, genocide and oppression. The headdress and other cultural appropriations could be seen as settlers mocking their victims by mimicking them through tried and practiced cultural production of stereotypes that were used to dehumanize indigenous peoples, making the public support their deaths and turn a blind eye to their continued suffering. Similar to the name of a drink ‘ black and tan’ that is consumed in North America. It is named after the uniform of the Royal Irish Constabulary, which were part of the escalation of violence, civilian attacks, police militarization and brutality in Ireland in 1920 (Northern Ireland is still occupied today and still in conflict) (Lowe.W.J 2015 and Michael 2014)

These comments ignore the colonial history and imperial rule that carved native history into the traumatized cultural genocide of an entire continent to the imposition of residential schools, creation and implication of systemic and institutional racism, stolen generations, and the eradication of entire groups of people and their cultural traditions. Ignoring the interconnectivity of race, class, and gender and their ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and domination (Hooks 1984).

https://www.popularresistance.org/the-art-of-the-indigenous-protest-movement/
https://www.popularresistance.org/the-art-of-the-indigenous-protest-movement/

They ignore the fact that there are hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women whose cases have never even been looked at. Indigenous women are far more likely than non-Indigenous women to experience violence. In a 2009 a Canadian government survey of the ten provinces, indigenous women were nearly three times more likely than non-indigenous  women to report being a victim of a violent crime. A report released in May 2014 states that 1,017 Indigenous women and girls were murdered from 1980-2012. Because of gaps in police and government reporting, the actual numbers may be much higher (Amnesty 2014).

Canada prides its self on being a ‘multicultural mosaichowever it seems to ignore the fact that a large proportion of the indigenous population are in the substratum of the socioeconomic hierarchy. Canadian society is structurally based on the fundamental inequality between the settler and the indigenous. It is important to analyze the disparities in relation to the patterns of power between privilege and property. As long as these predominantly unequal intragroup relations continue to prevail and provoke the politics of race, ethnicity and indigenous relations will remain a contested subject (Fleras 2012).

exist, resist, indigenize and decolonize

Indigenous activists are focused on decolonization, which is as much a process as it is a goal (Walia 2012) which could start with ‘[A] dramatic reimagining of relationships with land, people and the state. Much of this requires study. It requires conversation (for example; with people wearing headdresses). It is a practice; it is an unlearning.” (Hussan cited in Walia 2012)

idel no more allyship

Stephanie Irlbacher-Fox (2012) from Idle no more suggests that “co-existence through co-resistance” is the responsibility of settlers, following and supporting Indigenous action and direction. For settler allies, having a place to land relationally creates a stronger rationale for unsettling established systems. This kind of relationship creates accountability and responsibility for sustained supportive action.

References

Âpihtawikosisân.” An open Letter to Non- Natives in Headdresses”. Âpihtawikosisân, Law      Language, Life: a plains Cree speaking Metis women in Montreal. , 2012. Web. Sunday 1March 2015. Retrieved from http://apihtawikosisan.com/hall-of-shame/an-open-letter-to-non-natives-in-headdresses/

Fleras, Augie. “Unequal relations: An introduction to Race, Ethnic, and Aboriginal Dynamics in Canada” Don Mills: Person Canada. 2012

Harsha, Walia “Decolonizing Together: Moving Beyond a Politics of Solidarity toward a Practice of Decolonization”. , Briar Patch Magazine: Fiercely Independent. 20. Web March 1, 2015. Retrieved from http://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/decolonizing-together

Hooks, Bell. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Centre. Cambridge MA: South End Press, 1984.Print

Irlbacher-Fox. Stephanie. “#IdleNoMore: Settler Responsibility for relationship”. Decolonization indigeneity, education and society. , September 16, 2011. Web. Tuesday 03, 2015. Retrieved from https://decolonization.wordpress.com/2012/12/27/idlenomore-settler responsibility-for-relationship/

K, Adrienne. “The Hipster Headdress Abounds at Coachella”. Native Appropriations. 2012 Available at http://nativeappropriations.com/2010/04/the-hipster-headdress-abounds-`atcoachella.html accessed on 01 March 2015

Lever “Is it disrespectful to get a tattoo of a Native American”. , Yahoo Answers. 2011. Web March 1, 2015. Retrieved from https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110412141428AAwISW2

Lowe. W.J “Who Were the Black and Tans”. , History Ireland.2015. Web. March 12 2015. Retrieved from http://www.historyireland.com/20th-century-contemporary-history/who-were-the-black-and-tans/

Michael. “How not to get tossed out of a pub in Ireland”. Changes in Longitude. Web. March 8 2014. Retrieved from http://www.changesinlongitude.com/order-black-and-tan-irish-pub-ireland-dublin/

My Culture is Not a Trend “My Culture is Not a Trend: A Dialogue about Cultural Appropriation”. 2012. Web. March 1 2015 http://mycultureisnotatrend.tumblr.com/

Native Languges. “Native Headdresses: Facts for Kids”. , Native Languages of Americas Website. 1998-2015. March 3 2015. Retreived from http://www.nativelanguages.org/headdresses.htm

Unsettling America. “Cultural Appreciation or Cultural Appropriation”. , Unsettling America: Decolonization in Theory and Practice. September 16, 2011. Web. Tuesday 3 March 2015. Retrieved from https://unsettlingamerica.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/cultural-appreciation-or-culturalappropriation/

Exist and Resist . Indigenize and Decolonize

Film Review of “The Circle – Der Kreis”

The Circle – Der Kreis” (Haupt,2014) – a Swiss docu-drama directed by Stefan Haupt was set in Zurich during the time of the late-1950s to early-1960s. The movie’s title, “The Circle”, was taken from the name of the first gay rights organization during the Nazi period in Europe. It documented the rise, the downfall and the eventual collapse of this organization; alongside this historical setting of the movie, tells a heart-touching, real life love story of an ex-teacher, Ernst Ostertag and a transvestite star, Röbi Rapp.

Homosexuality

Homosexuality, has long been a sensitive and controversial topic. While North Americans nowadays have become far too familiar with the stories of fighting for gay rights and marriage equality, “The Circle” takes viewers back to a world where homosexuality was hardly legal, and was not completely acceptable.. Switzerland, having decriminalized same-sex relationships since 1942 (Rodgers et. al,2014), had become an attractive country for a lot of the gays. That being said however, due to geographical and cultural reasons, the country has always been in close association with its neighboring country, Germany. Therefore, the country during that time was still more or less under the influence of World War II, where discrimination were strengthened under the Nazi regime.

Homosexuality & Social Acceptance

If homosexuality was legal in the country, then what was the purpose of this underground community? Looking back at before 1973, homosexuality was actually considered a form of mental illness globally (TreeHugger,2011). With that in mind, this particular social group were then subjected to social discrimination. In the movie, Ostertag came from an upper class family. In a position of superiority means to uphold their reputations within the society. This is shown in the movie when Ostertag had to hide his sexual orientation not only from his friends, but also his family, and especially at the girls’ school that he taught at. The only time he felt truly himself, was after he took part in “The Circle”, where he met others of “his kind”. In contrary, Rapp who came from a lower middle class, was lucky enough to have his family’s support.

Lack of Sexual & Racial Diversification

Unlike other movies, there is no apparent white privilege shown in this movie – even the “whites” could not escape the fate of social discrimination (due to society’s inability to accept homosexuality). However, this point can be argued that there seems to lack racial diversity in the first place. Revisiting the point mentioned earlier, the movie is set in a post-war period and still under the influence of Germany’s regime. As a result, diversity was not exactly the most favorable topic at the time.

While it is understandable that the movie focuses on male homosexuality which might have an impact on the lack of female characters in the movie however, one cannot simply finish watching this movie without wondering: how about female homosexuality? In the society where women were from in the 1950s, their roles were to be a “perfect mother, obedient wives and clever homemakers” (RoobixCoob,2005) but being gay was, unfortunately, not one of them. Although homosexuality could very much be an issue for women back then, they seemed to have a much bigger issue to focus on: to fight for gender equality. The movie demonstrates how much men struggled to fight for their sexuality without the burden of their gender status in the society, one can imagine how much harder it could have been for women in addition to the gender inequality within the society. As a result, it is not surprising that the movie has chosen to put more focus on male, particularly those within the gay community.

Final Note

The Reelout Film Festival, where the movie was shown, was no fancy movie theatre; however, it provided a friendly and cozy environment for the viewers to enjoy the movie, despite a couple machinery malfunctioning. There were a lot of young viewers in the audience, but a few gay couples were spotted in the crowd. They were particularly engaged to the movie; at times, they even applaud when some of the scenes really hit home for them. This has to do with the fact that the screenwriter cleverly employed a story-telling methodology; with real Rapp and Ostertag narrating, it added a dramatic effect to the movie because it allows the narrators to tell the story from their own experiences and that played an important role in captivating viewers’ interests. Walking away from the Reelout Film Festival, had definitely left me a lot to think about.

Reference

[1] Der Kreis, The Circle. Dir. Stefan Haupt. 2014. Film.

[2] Rodgers, Lucy, Pablo G. Martin, Martyn Rees, and Steven Connor. “Where Is It Illegal to Be Gay?” BBC News. N.p., 10 Feb. 2014. Web. 13 Feb. 2015.

[3] RoobixCoob. “A Woman’s Role in the 1950s.” Associatedcontent from Yahoo (2005): n. pag. Print.

[4] TreeHugger CA. “When Homosexuality Was Mental Illness.” Web log post.When Homosexuality Was Mental Illness. Daily Kos, 26 Apr. 2011. Web. 12 Feb. 2015.

Film Review of “The Circle – Der Kreis”

Film Review: The Way He Looks

“The Way He Looks” features a blind teenager, Leonardo, who searches in vain for a sense of independence that he cannot seem to accomplish with the unwarranted protective gestures of both his parents and his best friend, Giovana. Everything takes a turn with the arrival of a new kid at school, Gabriel, who guides Leo through new avenues of exploration.

One theme that permeates the entire plotline is ability. The very first scene is indicative of the approach the director takes in addressing Leo as a differently abled teen; he incorporates it as an aspect of Leo’s identity, instead of incorporating Leo into a discussion of able-ism. Leo and Giovanna are laying by the pool having a discussion about kissing, and though Leo’s gaze does not fall directly on Giovanna’s face, one does not immediately deduce his visual impairment nor is the audience forced to focus on it. Rather, it is simply a scene of two teens having a juvenile conversation. As the scene continues, one naturally comes to realize his blindness, and personally I felt embarrassed at my flinching reaction when Leo jumps into the water at the end of the scene. I imagine this was the intent of the director.

Leo’s parents and Giovana are reluctant to allow Leo to take control of his own life. From a curfew inappropriately early for his age, to Giovana insisting that she put the key in the door for him, it is evident towards the beginning of the film that Leo has passively accepted a false sense of lack of ability that extends beyond his physical impairments. His internalized able-ism is shattered when Gabriel enters his life and provides the confidence and opportunity for Leo to explore abilities he never knew he could have (i.e. going to the movies), and his newly attained sense of ability is symbolized when Giovana once again tries to unlock a door for him, and he insists he does it himself.

The class bullies depicted in the plot are all male, exhibiting a classic modern day manifestation of hegemonic masculinity. In Gendered Worlds, hegemonic masculinity is defined as a set of social practices designed to emphasize a male’s “normative” masculinity, features of which involve being heterosexual as well as dominant to women. At first glance, it seems as though Giovana holds her own when she stands up for Leo in opposition to these boys. A further analysis shows that in fact, Giovana often times exits the conflict in frustration while the males remain in satisfaction. This can be interpreted as a subtle display of a common stereotype that women are emotional and less capable than men. Additionally, the aforementioned bullies craft offensive jokes designed to tackle their suspicions that Leo and Gabriel are both homosexual. It is refreshing to see that the film was designed to acknowledge the existence of such stigma surrounding homosexuality that continues to exist today, and to do so in the context of adolescent milieu.

The bullies not only target Leo for their suspicions that he is homosexual, but also for his different ability. Their comments are often essentialist assumptions, declaring untrue comments about Leo’s identity that were extrapolated only from the fact that he is blind. For example, in the earlier parts of the movie, one scene displays a classmate declaring that Leo must be academically challenged and refuses to sit near him. The script for this scene made me cringe but was effective in the sense that it acknowledges essentialist reasoning that people often give for being presumptuous towards those with different abilities.

My personal qualm with this film was that it fails to acknowledge racial and ethnic minorities in the context of the plot. There is no representation of any ethnic group other than those of Brazilian descent (as far as one can tell). Perhaps this is the out of the scope of the argument the director aimed to target with this plot line, but in my humble opinion, a product that claims to promote discourse on homosexuality and able-ism cannot maintain full integrity without considering a cross-cultural variation in perspective or what ethnic diversity changes for the sequence of events of those involved.

The Reelout Film Festival provides an extremely unique and welcoming atmosphere that very obviously caters to a wide portion of the demographic of the Kingston community. I arrived at the Screening Room an hour early to ensure a spot in the screening, and was surprised to see that there were four people that had come even earlier. Throughout the hour the line accumulated about 30 eager Kingston residents and students, and unfortunately the capacity of the theatre was not able to accommodate everyone. The only seat left was near the very corner of the back row but I was thrilled to be there nonetheless. As it was one of the first screenings of the festival, Matt Salton gave a small spiel before the commencement of the film, to inform the audience of the upcoming screenings, as we as to announce the contest winner of a basket of goods from local businesses (I cannot say that I was not jealous of the winner). I frequent the Screening Room, and I have never seen a full house like I did that night. It is evident that the Reelout Film Festival is catering to the interests of the community and I am confident in their potential to further the growth of this incredible event.

Campbell, Fiona A. Kumari. “Exploring internalized ableism using critical race theory.” Disability & Society 23.2 (2008): 151-162.

Judy Aulette Root and Judith Wittner. Gendered Words, Second Edition. (New York: Oxford, 2012)

Martino, Wayne. “‘Cool boys’,’party animals’,’squids’ and’poofters’: interrogating the dynamics and politics of adolescent masculinities in school.” British Journal of Sociology of Education 20.2 (1999): 239-263.

The Way He Looks. Dir. Daniel Ribeiro. Vitrine Films, 2014. Film.

Film Review: The Way He Looks

Blackbird Film Review

On Tuesday, February 4th I attended the 2015 Reelout Film Festival at the Kingston Frontenac Public Library and saw the film Blackbird. Directed by Patrik-Ian Polk, Blackbird is an emotional, powerful and beautiful story of the life of Randy Rousseau. Randy, a religiously conservative black teenager is forced to face challenging obstacles that question his race, faith and gender identity in order for him to learn what it truly means to be himself.

The film opens with a remarkable rendition of Randy singing, “I Would Be Like Jesus” alongside his church choir. The scene quickly transitions into him making out with another male choir member halfway through the song. When Randy wakes up in a panic, the audience realizes that this scene was just a dream. This powerful opening scene guides the audience to understand that Randy’s confused thoughts and uneasy feelings are as a closeted homosexual. Throughout the film these dreams coincide with Randy’s difficult issues of having to deal with his little sister’s disappearance, his parent’s separation and his ongoing attraction to the same sex all while trying to be a faithful Christian. Observing how Randy handled his distress while managing to keep his head up was very moving and inspirational. It is through the roles Randy plays in the theatre, his supportive friendships and his experimentation with the opposite sex that Randy is able to ultimately accept his gay sexuality and find self-acceptance.

After witnessing her son making out with his friend Marshall, the film cuts to Randy, his mother, and the Pastor sitting on the stairs in their church. Randy is in his mothers arms while the Pastor’s hands are on Randy, praying. The Pastor is reciting words like; Clear this child. Heal him. Cleanse him. Erase his sins. Have mercy. (Blackbird, 2014) Interspersed with the Pastor’s words, Randy repeatedly says “Save me.” (Randy, Blackbird, 2014) The combination of intensifying music, dramatic voiceovers and fast past editing all create a very emotional scene. In fact, I believe that this scene late in the film is the best executed one.

This heartbreaking scene illuminates the complexities of Randy’s ambivalent feelings about coming out and his being open about his sexuality in light of his religious beliefs. In the New Testament, it consistently states that homosexual activity is a sin and is a result of denying or disobeying God. (Slick, 2015) This scene is very important as it shines light on the struggles that many people have to face when trying to accept their sexuality while also trying to remain faithful to their religious beliefs.

Another important issue that the film addresses concerns the stigma around racism and sexuality. The fears of homophobia, discrimination, prejudice and rejection in the black community has prevented many males from accepting their gay sexuality and being open about their sexuality. According to Dr. Eric Grollman, PhD, the term down low or DL, specifically refers to black men in heterosexual relationships who secretly have sex with men. (2013) The idea of hegemonic masculinity discussed in Gendered Worlds, chapter one, reinforces the idea that in order for men to fit society’s image of the ‘proper man,’ they should be heterosexual, and therefore, gay men believe they have to be in the down low.

I found it very uplifting and inspirational to see that by the end of the film, Randy, a black religious male, was able to accept his sexuality regardless of the shame-based messaging he continually received. I believe that this film will help to break down barriers for individuals in the future as well as encourage more filmmakers to present race and various types of masculinity equally through queer films in order to address these negative stigmas.

I found the use of costumes in the film to also be very interesting. In the first few scenes Randy is seen wearing a clean and perfectly pressed school uniform. It is not until Marshall, his soon to be boyfriend, picks him up for play rehearsal that we see Randy out of his uniform for the first time. He is still wearing clean, tailored clothing but he is now seen wearing a purple button down shirt. In the final scene in the film we see Randy in a much less tidy presentation with his shirt untucked. As Randy becomes more himself, his clothing slowly becomes less restricted. These subtle costume changes help to convey the message of self-acceptance in the film and further reflects Randy’s growing self-acceptance by ‘shedding’ his outer persona.

Overall, watching Blackbird was a very interesting and enjoyable experience. It was a nice treat to view a film on a weekday afternoon. Asides from a quick detour from getting lost I managed to secure a good seat for the film. Everyone was very friendly and the majority of the audience were young women. At the end of the film there was a moment of silence during which everyone digested what they had just witnessed. As I left the film I felt very moved. I continued to reflect on the film for many days after. The most enjoyable part was seeing the firsthand experience of the challenge of coming out. I also gained a greater empathy for the difficulties that some individuals may face when trying to be themselves. Patrik-Ian Polk did a marvelous job in portraying a coming out and coming of age story. I would highly recommend this film.

 

Work Cited

Aulette, Judy Root, and Judith G. Wittner. “Introduction.” Gendered Worlds. Third ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2015. 7-8. Print.

Blackbird. Perf. Julian Walker, Kevin Alless, Mo’Nique. KBiz Entertainment, Tall Skinny Black Boy Production, 2014. Film.

Grollman, Eric Anthony. “Being On The “Down Low”: What Does It Mean?” Kinsey Confidential RSS. The Kinsey Institute, 8 Jan. 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.

Slick, Matt. “What Does the Bible Say about Homosexuality?” Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry. 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.

Blackbird Film Review

Film Review: “The Dog”

When one views the trailer for “The Dog,” it is easy to write this movie off as a story of crime. Intriguing as it may seem, the connection between John Wojtowicz, the Dog himself, to the LBGT community does not appear strong, despite knowing that he robs a bank to fund his transgender lover’s sex change surgery. However, the trailer does not do the film its justice, as it chronicles a man’s adventurous life, filled with love, sexual diversity and social change. Directors Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren provide their audience with a film that is both climatic and informative.

John Wojtowicz, a cisgender man from New York City, takes viewers through his life as a soldier, a member of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), a four-time husband and proud criminal. One learns about the LGBT community following the Stonewall Riots and becomes acutely aware of how difficult life was for a gay or transgender person in this time. The film takes viewers through John’s military career, where he has his first “gay experience,” his marriage to his cisgender wife Carmen, his relationship and marriage to transgender women Liz Eden, the bank robbery he commits for her surgery, his time in prison, the creation of the film “Dog Day Afternoon,” and his relationship with his gender fluid wife George.[1]

One theme that the film addresses is ability, as viewers learn about John’s brother Tony. Tony suffers from epilepsy and seizures, and was taken away from his mother Terry when he was five and placed into a state institution. Although Tony’s narrative is not dominant, one learns about the struggle of the differently abled from his scenes. Following John’s release from prison, he and Tony go to Coney Island together. Terry narrates this scene, explaining what happened to Tony as a toddler and how he ended up in state custody. Tony’s epilepsy causes him to lose his memory, requiring him to relearn many things following a seizure. The stigma attached to the differently abled is made abundantly clear when Terry expresses her fear state intervention, leading to the separation of Terry and Tony.[2] One can also observe that John treats Tony differently; when discussing his bank robbery with Tony, he does not say that he robbed the bank for Liz’s surgery, which he always mentions in other conversations. Additionally, John expresses his frustration with Tony’s inability to understand that John is dying from cancer.[3]

John is liberal about expressing his sexuality, however his views towards others seem oppressive. He mentions that his GAA membership is due to sexual intentions, while his counterparts are concerned with political change.[4] He does not consider how his race places him in an advantageous position, as he clearly benefits from being a cisgender, white man. In addition, his attitude towards Liz’s surgeries is not always supportive, as he deprives her of any agency. He explains that prior to her hospitalization, Liz “agreed” not to have the operation because John was against it, ultimately leading to her suicide attempt.[5] John does not identify with essentialism, explaining that he looks for a partner with “big tits and a little dick,” yet he initially refuses to support Liz’s surgery.[6] He adheres to hegemonic masculinity; described as the subordination of women, authority and aggression, these traits seem to come through rather strong when he describes his relationship with Bobby Westenberg.[7] John ultimately gets what he wants from his sexual partners, often through force, and sees no wrong in this. He is not concerned with receiving Bobby’s consent, and despite his refusal, he coerces him to have sex with him.[8]

While the film chronicles John’s life, it is Liz’s story that exposes the many problematic institutions in American society. Upon her hospitalization, she is labeled insane because of her wish to have a sex change, illustrating the problematic way that North American society handles one’s transition. Aside from stigmatizing Liz, John points out that doctors wanted to treat her with Electric Shock Therapy to “cure her.” [9] To transition in Canada, one must be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, suggesting that being transgender entails a mental illness. Archaic “remedies” such as conversion therapy continue to exist in the United States, to “cure” transgender youth, suggesting that one’s gender identity is invalid if it does not match their biological sex.[10]

Following Liz’s suicide attempt, she is able to have her surgery, but the film does not address the lack of access some have to these procedures. Liz herself points out how expensive her procedures are, but does not consider that other people have no means to fund their surgeries. This suggests that for one to successfully transition, they need to possess economic and racial privilege, as healthcare is not universal in the United States, and racial and colonial structures continue to dictate one’s accessibility in society.[11] The film seems to conveniently ignore the white privilege that John and his peers possess. Despite chronicling the years following the Civil Rights Movement, the film makes no mention of the African American experience. [12]

The Reelout Film Festival provides a very welcoming, comfortable and warm experience for those who attend. The screening room itself is not large, but it is certainly cozy and welcoming. It is evident that the Festival is appreciative of its community support, as the ads presented were exclusively local, and these sponsors provided some giveaways for audience members. A diverse audience attended this screening, as people of many ages were in the audience, and pricing was rather reasonable. However, the venue could have been somewhat more wheelchair accessible; it was unclear if the venue had an elevator, and the theatre was on an upper floor in the building. While select parts of the film were captioned, full closed captioning would have made the film more accessible to some viewers.

Although John exhibits some problematic behaviours, his story is certainly one that needs to be told. “The Dog” shows a man who embraces his sexual identity, and eventually his partner’s gender identity. Describing himself as a pervert with “horns,” John’s wives and members of the GAA speak of his intentions positively.[13] John’s story illustrates the importance of social movements and fighting for one’s rights, but also exposes how far society needs to go to rid itself of some long standing prejudices and oppressive structures.

[1] The Dog. Directed by Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren. (2013, Toronto, Toronto International Film Festival, 2014), Cinema.

[2] Terry Basso Wojtowicz, 2015, The Dog.

[3] John Wojtowicz, 2015, The Dog.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Judy Aulette Root and Judith Wittner. Gendered Words, Third Edition. (New York: Oxford, 2015): 33.

[7] Root Aulette and Wittner, Gendered Worlds, 413.

[8] John Wojtowicz, 2015, The Dog

[9] Ibid.

[10] Laci Green. “Pray the Gay Away.” January 14, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGFEDYrkDek

[11] Matani, 2015, Week 6

[12] John Wojtowicz, 2015, The Dog

[13] The Dog, 2015.

Continue reading “Film Review: “The Dog””

Film Review: “The Dog”

Film reveiw of 2015 Austrailian move ‘Drown’

Drown (Francis), a film by Australian, gay identified director Dean Francis depicts the brutal reality of immense and outward heteronormativity within the competitive sports world. It shows us what often happens when people step out of line of the naturalized state of hegemonic masculinity. This film sheds light on the physical and psychological bullying and homophobia that individuals who do not fit with in the sexual binary face.

The Australian film immediate grips the viewer with its raw, beautiful and powerful imagery. The aural experience is enchanting, ranging from intense sounds of violence and emotion to the electric and euphoric build-up of pumping dance music that heightens the viewer’s excitement, awe and anxiety. It gives the spectator mixed emotions through captivating scenes of excitement and eroticism, parallel to this is a sense of uneasiness, an under lying feeling that something big and bad is just around the corner.

The film is based around two main characters, Len, played by Matt Levett, who is a mentally unstable hetrocentric hyper masculinized lifeguard, who is plagued by fear of not impressing his father and Phil, played by Jack Mathews a new life guard who steals Lens glory in the competitive championships, butchering Lens ego on top of this Len discovers that Phil is gay after he sees him kissing a man. This spirals Len into a series of self-doubt and confusion about his masculinity and his sexuality as he finds himself attracted to Phil.

Being a life guard is part of Lens familial and national identity, his father and grandfather both preceding him were also champion lifeguards. He has grown up in a fiercely hetropatriarchal family with an abusive father. Lens has the perception that there is a strict gender and sexual binary coming from a homophobic background. Thus when he starts to have feelings for Phil he internalizes his homophobic gender and sexual ideology upon himself.

He deals with his confusion and anger with violence. Len takes his feelings out on Phil, beating him in the shower rooms. Phil’s face is badly bruised and beaten, it obvious to their boss that something has happened between them and tries to kick Len off the team, However Phil backs Len up with a sense of brotherly solidarity or Australian mateship (Davies). This confuses Len even more and his feelings run out of control ending up with a drug and alcohol crazed night out ending in extreme physical and sexual abuse toward Phil.

This is a very engrossing movie with a good depiction of the bullying, alienation and homophobia that goes on in western society and many competitive sports. However the film plays upon a stereotypical cliché of homoeroticism and from critical perspective the film demonstrates the unconscious racist undertones within the western film industry. The actors in the film are all white, accept in one club scene, where there is a representation of a typical racialized and sexualized stereotype of a gay Asian male. He was portrayed as being very femme gay man, thus seen to be not a true male. This could be seen as a form of Edward Said’s theory on orientalism (Said), where by people from the orient are ‘othered’ additionally he was feminized because of his sexuality thus he could be seen to have been characteristically fetishized, sexualized and racialized  by the ever watching western ‘gaze’ (Foucault).

In addition to the lack of racial diversity this the film shows only one type of man, albeit there was slight sexuality heterogeneity as it was the main theme of the film, however every other male was picture perfect of Audre Lorde’s ‘mythical norm’ (Lorde), including having very toned and muscular bodies which is an unrealistic ideal.

It is hard to focus on one key scene of the film because of the way the film was laid out, to add to the suspense of the film it jumped from and between scenes and time frames, which added to the emotional tension. The film screening took place in the screening room, surprisingly it was not a full house. Reel out were running a little late thus the screening time of Drown was late also. They were supposed to screen a short film before the screening of Drown, but it was broken. There was a small talk from an alumni of Queens speaking about his experiences of homosexuality and internalizing his own form homophobia within high level volleyball. His story was interesting and heart-warming. Of what I remember before the film there was an acknowledgement that we were sitting on the traditional lands of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples, helping us to understand out positionality within settler context however this could have been before ‘In the turn’. Sitting at the back of the theater was a bad idea, as people were running up and down the stairs behind our seats in addition the sound seemed a little echoed at the back of the theater. However since this was my third film out of the six that I had seen in the festival it was enjoyable to see some familiar faces from within the queer community

Bibliography

Davies, Glen. Australian Mateship. 7 May 2012. Webpage. 3 Febuary 2014. <https://independentaustralia.net/australia/australia-display/on-australian-mateship,4109&gt;.

Drown. Dir. Dean Francis. Perf. Jack Mathews Matt levett. 2014. Cinema.

Foucault, Michel. Disapline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books, 1979. electronic resourse.

Lorde, Audre. Age, race, class and sex : women Redifining differance in Sister Outsider. Freedom: Crossing Press, 1984.

Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1994.

Film reveiw of 2015 Austrailian move ‘Drown’