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Joy. The oldest trick in the book.

I love film. Let me start there. I’ll continue with the caveat that this review is colored by my most recent film excursions, including the story of a woman overcoming tragedy and defamation to bring retribution on an Australian country town, and the story of a woman who loses house, home, income and reputation to bring about votes for women in the early 1900s. Joy is about a woman who must stand up to her family’s expectations (or lack thereof) and invent a mop. I left disheartened by these producers who promised me an uplifting, relatable tale of feminine strength and success, and did not deliver.

I can pinpoint three things about this film I thought did more damage than good for the causes its advertising proclaims to endorse.

  1. Every female character in this film is depicted as either weak-willed and self-doubting, or a manipulative, self-serving bastard. And what little bit of that felt like satire was patronising to the audience in its Luhrmann-esque opulence.  For all that Joy is a woman we can relate to: a goodhearted, hardworking mother with twentieth-century-disease. Flung along the milestones of marriage, mortgage and motherhood, her story is all too familiar; perhaps this is what the opening notes about how the story is inspired by countless women who have triumphed over adversity meant. But I call foul, and maybe I am wrong, because for all the obstacles, she did smarten up, she did stop presuming advice from those around her was good, she did end up in he big house with the kids who loved her and there was no love story. But I call foul: Joy is not the only woman in this film, and her story is one where her success is impeded by bitter people around her who never change, or feel like they should change and in real life, it shouldn’t be like that. Joy’s entrepreneurial spirit is the only good thing about this movie (aside from the nod to Joan Rivers) and it is continually drowned out by dream sequence and sickening scapegoating by the other characters. Which brings me around to…
  2. Some have said that Joy‘s intrigue and modernity are based around a lack of resolution in the film, it’s a real “real-life” picture. I call foul again because nowhere in the content do we find remorse or victory over the agonising-to-watch mistreatment of parent upon child in the film. Optimists like me in the audience will see that the fact Joy never cast out or reprimanded her father for his remarks on how worthless she was, nor her underhanded sister, nor her victim mother, is an indication that true resolution comes from abject forgiveness. Optimists like me will recognise that although Joy directly and violently cast the same cynicism and shutdown of self-esteem inflicted upon her to her daughter, the fact that they’re still the image of loving at the end of the film probably means she turned out OK too. But it matters what we say to our children, it matters what sense of hope or importance we foster in them – that is apparently the message of the film but the titular character continues the vicious cycle in the scene and this is never resolved or commented on.
  3. The grandmother narrator character was poorly constructed and poorly written. The cool speech from the trailer isn’t even in the film (fair because the film’s structure makes that speech redundant).

This film is a remark upon what must be overcome by women to achieve success, what expectations and crises of faith in oneself. And then it isn’t. See it for yourself, because I think films like this should be seen. And be entertained by it, for it is entertaining enough. But I believe we still have a responsibility to respect our audiences when we make abundantly clear the value of women in home, workplace, education centre and political stream. I fear this offering to the film industry’s representation of women is tokenistic, lazy and misguided. Joy is better than no joy. But Joy‘s lesson is hard to make out, and talking about things it only thinks it knows. Erin Brockovich would be rolling in its grave if it were anything close to dead. Now there’s a movie.

The cinema played this advertisement before the film about how terrible an adolescent boy felt after he hit his girlfriend as a deterrent to abuse. The whole ad was about how bad he felt. Think about that.

 

If you’re a woman who wants to do something great, check out these places:
http://www.goldmansachs.com/citizenship/10000women/about-the-program/index.html
http://thestoryexchange.org/
https://businessfamilies.org/en/education/?l=en&co=bff-prepare-propel-your-venture

If you’re the victim of domestic violence then you can speak to someone. It doesn’t to be physical violence to make an impact on your life. That is one thing to film makes clear:
http://www.whiteribbon.org.au/finding-help
http://au.reachout.com/tough-times/bullying-abuse-and-violence/abusive-relationships
http://www.amnesty.org.au/svaw/comments/2239/

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Sisters Unite! A Review of ‘Suffragette’

When Suffragette opened in London, a woman I know was there, waving her banner and fighting with fervour for the rights to safety of women everywhere. When it came here to Australia, I waited three days and joined perhaps eight people to see the film that is part of revolution in cinema: films that gather and mobilise women in their production, their distribution and their attention. Eight wasn’t enough, but it was better than one, and better than none.

The film is wonderful, I suppose that’s why you’re here, to see if based on my opinion that the film is worth forking out a fair cop of money to see. And it is worth it, not because of my opinion, but because if you do spend the money, you’re telling conglomerates and industries that this is a good thing: telling these stories, hiring these women on merit and demonstrating what equal rights look like in the artistic domain.

The term ‘suffragette’ has been somewhat archived, though there are still suffragettes now, rightly so. The term refers to a movement of women (and some men) seeking the right to influence law and political leadership of the countries they work, produce children, and contribute to the sustainable environment of. In the film, we see the movement through the perspective of Maud Watts, excellently portrayed by zephyr Carey Mulligan. Suppressed actively by her boss and passively by her husband, Maud is haphazardly brought into the inner sanctum of the suffragette movement thanks to local insider Edith – yes Helena Bonham Carter can absolutely still act – and the encouragement of suffragette icon Emmeline Pankhurst, played by Meryl Streep. You could say she loses everything, but then having it was a fragile façade built with brick and paper by the men who thought nothing of her strength and importance.

Maud Watts isn’t everywoman, nor everyman; someone who sees the iniquities around them and for all their pain and pity, can’t muster the strength to stand up to those with more power, more influence. But with friendship, resilience, and a sense of integrity unable to be ignored, finds themselves doing the work in this life that will change lives beyond them. Maud Watts isn’t a reflection of each of us, for all that she should be.

The movie does not end happily, but you knew that already because we are living the ending: each day, where 1 in 3 women will be killed by her partner or ex-partner. The story of this film is true, and ongoing. There is bred in us a gentle apathy, cleverly painted with compassion and naiveté to fool our mirrors into throwing a picture of benevolence in our faces that we wear with pride, not knowing what Emperor’s New Feminism some of us parade the streets with.

Don’t mistake Suffragette for a period piece, nor a skewed biopic. It is a film to remind us how history repeats, and snowballs as it does. It is a film to enlighten us to the battles that bore a fruitfulness we greedily feast on, with the skirmish forgotten behind us in the newspapers, in our Facebook feeds. It is not a film to be heartened by, but one to be awakened by. One to walk away from calling our mothers, and sisters and friends to make sure they’re alright, to tell them they’re not alone in whatever struggle they face now. A film to go home from and start showing people our bruises, holding people accountable for their prejudices. We are ten times more fortunate than we can comprehend or be taught, and infinitely more than we deserve.

Many points are to be made about the rise of films that are led by female heroes, host female-dominant casts, and are made by female-dominant crews and financers. Much of the representation has balanced, but the inequity exists still in the shadows. I say the same thing to people talking about how much has improved for the gay community: it’s not better, it’s just quieter. The diseases of prejudice and discrimination aren’t dormant, they’ve merely become immune to the floodlights of social media and mainstream television. Violence against women, political and domestic, has only finessed into certain hours, certain rhetoric, certain communities and become slipperier to grasp at and tear apart than ever before. Injustice against women hasn’t reduced, it’s simply adapted, become better at hiding itself. Applauding our successes in doing whatever part we have, passively or actively, to create the environments for female-focused films is crucial to the continual pursuit of complete parity, not a laurel to rest on. Know the difference. Please.

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Let it last be said that I am a man, with a privilege that may be ingrained, but not impotent. I don’t intend to use what gifts I’ve innocently been born to against a cause that truly must be run by those it will provide equality to. But as someone who will benefit from feminism, my stance is in firm, active support. And if yours isn’t, whoever you are, and whatever disillusion you live under, then go see the film. Wake up.

 

Here are some places to learn about and contribute to the safety, agency and equality of women globally:
http://www.whiteribbon.org.au/finding-help
http://www.bigsteps.org.au/about
https://unwomen.org.au/
https://sistersuncut.wordpress.com/

Here is another review of the film I enjoyed reading:
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/29/suffragette-reminds-us-why-its-a-lie-that-feminists-need-mens-approval

Here is one I didn’t:
http://www.afr.com/lifestyle/arts-and-entertainment/film-and-tv/movie-review-suffragette-2015-20151224-glujye

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