Scott Pilgrim Vs My Sanity (spoilers)

According to Hit Fix one of the reasons Scott Pilgrim did poorly in the box office this weekend was because people were having trouble determining the plot. I never read the graphic novels upon which the film was based, so I think it is pretty fair to say I only had the trailers to go on myself. It seemed fairly obvious to me that Scott Pilgrim was based on a particular genre of graphic novel addressing disaffected youth, counter-culture, and the pursuit of women and/or girls. I’m not sure how you could watch the trailer and not know that.

Just in case:

the plot of Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Scott Pilgrim is a 22 year old slacker bassist in an unsigned band who thinks he has met the love of his life, hipster Ramona Flowers. In order to date her drama free, he must fight her 7 evil exes all of whom have magical or video game like powers. The bulk of the film takes place at video game speed, with power ups, point values, and information bubbles. Visually it is a cross between the arcade games of 70s childhoods and modern day play station lives. The whole thing is also set to music capitalizing on the popularity of guitar hero and indie rock cred to reaffirm its geek + hipster sensibility.

The Good

Scott Pilgrim vs The World/Universal Studios/2010

The script is full of snappy one liners that in lesser hands would come off as pathetic caricature. Fortunately, from the smallest roles to the largest ones, almost every actor in Pilgrim has the necessary comedic timing and snark to pull it off. Both Alison Pill and Kieran Culkin serve up the best performances in the film, helping keep the pace of Pilgrim moving and entertaining when it could just have easily insulted and fallen flat. Johnny Simmons is brilliant as Young Neal managing to delight in every scene he is in despite having few lines. The only people who don’t seem to elevate this film to similar teen-period-piece classics are  Bree Larson, whose comedic timing on US of Tara is always a joy to watch but here seems like she’s been directed to overact to avoid dealing with real female emotions, and Satya Bhabha whose role suffers from offensive stereotype too much for him to do much with it. But we’ll get to that … wait for it …

The music is both entertaining and sometimes really good in this film. Despite failing at the acting end of her role, Bree Larson on stage is a real treat and the song is one of the best in the film. All of the actors take their dual roles as grunge heroes seriously. When they are on stage their parodies play like the real thing. The least effective of these moments is the Asian dragon sequence, but we will get to that … wait for it …

The romantic moments in this film are both visually and emotionally compelling. Scott takes Ramona’s hand in the snow the shot captures the individual snow flakes and the open heart shape of their arms to the soft background music that would make any girl’s heart go pitter-pat. When they walk together in the x in the snow, the shot not only calls up the plot of the film (evil exes) but also speaks to the crossroad both of them have or will meet in the film. These scenes have all the magic of any romance and yet are couched in enough hipster quipping to keep it from making its core audience wonder what they got suckered into. For instance, in the scene where they sit on the swings in Toronto winter, Flowers in nothing but wool tights, mini, light jacket, and fingerless gloves, they both remark how ridiculous it is that they are outside trying to be romantic in freezing cold temperatures; then, they go inside. Take that Hollywood!

b. o’malley/bigshinyrobot.com

Ramona also makes a nice alternative to the leading women that dominate mainstream romantic comedies. While her disaffected attitude toward both the world and Scott has critics stumped, this seemed no more or less disengaged to me than any other hipster film. Ramona could just as easily be Juno or Nora from Nick and Nora, both of which critics loved. More interesting to me was the fact that she has a healthy body. While she is far a cry from a “plus size” model, she has ample hips and undefined arms; in other words, she’s normal. When Ramona takes her clothes off, the camera does not shy away from angles that will make her hips larger or her chest flatter, and no CGI turns her into Laura Croft eye candy either. As much derision as I have for hipster culture, one thing I have always appreciated is that there is room for women of all shapes and sizes in their films, you know as long as they are young, mostly white, and able-bodied … but will get to that … wait for it …

Finally, unlike any number of mainstream and alternative films, this is one of the first studio movies aimed at summer audience with prominent queer characters. Scott lives with his gay best friend Wallace, played by Kieran Culkin. Wallace is hilarious as the non-stereotypical wise-cracking best friend who just wants to live his slacker life and get laid like everyone else. Unlike the chirping snarkfest gay bestfriends of stereotype land, Wallace is compassionate when needed, horny in believable and non-pathologized ways, always has Scott’s back even when that means calling him out sans a single “girlfriend”, and rather than snark he peddles in a fair amount of cynicism that offers the only real moral compass of the film. While his ever increasing sex partners are a consistent joke in the film, this too is depicted in a way that runs against the grain of the hypersexed gay man or the tragically grateful coming out story that dominate queer young adult films these days. And truthfully, I like that he gets laid without much fanfare, struggle, or questioning but instead is just another guy living his life.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World/Universal Studios/2010

Ramona is also not completely straight. Throughout the film, Scott displays typical heterosexism as he works out how exactly he ended up having to fight Ramona’s 7 exes. Every time he says, “7 ex-boyfriends”, Ramona corrects him with “7 exes”. It starts out as a subtle reminder about how heterosexism works and how people with gay bestfriend’s can still be guilty of it. This subtlety-turned-unnecessary-repetition is followed up with Scott finally cluing in with a scene that reaffirms the way the film naturalizes all sexualities; when Ramona says she was going through “a phase”, Scott replies “what a sexy phase?”. While in some ways that rejoinder reaffirms a heterosexist gaze at lesbian sexuality, ie for the entertainment of straight men, it also refuses to judge or pathologize Ramona’s chocies. And while it is not the most questioning -affirming comment in the world, I loved it when Romana’s ex responds to their love affair being called “a phase” by calling her a “has-bien”, we used to call it L.U.G. (lesbian until graduation) in my day. And I don’t think this film used the term to demean bisexuals, which I assume is how it is used in the real world. Instead, the comment markedly calls out women who deny or disavow parts of their sexuality with little regard for the women they ab/use in the process. To me saying a real relationship was “a phase” with all the implied judgment in your tone in front of your ex is a far cry from being confused about what you like or being bisexual and deciding to commit to a man. Ramona is guilty of the former.

Truthfully, as a person who teaches film, if the movie had not failed so horribly in other places I would be comparing it to Fast Times or Singles, for its ability to capture a particular cultural moment in youth culture that people can identify with now and look back on fondly later when, like those other moments, youth culture has moved on,

The Bad

This movie is choppy. It very seldom lets a scene play out all the way through and has even less transition scenes. While this fits with the overall goal of the film to be like a video game, it leads to some scene splicing that pulls you out of the film and makes you wonder about technique rather than story line; visionary work can use new techniques while telling a story.

The same thing happens with excessive use of pop ups. While most of them are in keeping with the film’s overall feel, sometimes they seem like an unecessary device reminiscent of the decline of Pop Up Video on VH1 than innovation. In at least one scene there are so many of pop ups you don’t have time to read them all. Alternatively, the film uses black marks to cover up cursing to hilarious effect.

Ultimately, the problems seems more about too much and timing than technique. While Director Edgar Wright had an amazing grasp on cinematography and story, his love of his concept gets in the way. Some times I think he does not trust himself with the meatier parts of the story (of which there are few) so he dumps in some graphics instead. This is particularly true when he is dealing with the love story that supposedly drives the film and is unfortunate because he clearly has the chops to make the story line sing.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World/Universal Studios/2010

Most of the characters in this film are two-dimensional. Some characters are introduced and then never seen again. Others are given significant enough attention or back story that we want to know about them but they are simply plot devices that appear and disappear in the night. This is particularly problematic with regards to Scott’s ex-girlfriend who is supposed to motivate all his douchebaggery. Of course, the film isn’t invested in female characters … But we’ll get to that … Wait for it.

For the vegan viewers, this film will also enrage. One of Ramona’s evil exes is a vegan who as a result of not eating animal products has magical powers and the condescension to match. For me, his ridiculous banter and ultimate dethroning were deeply satisfying as a critique against self-righteous vegans who act as though they are better than everyone else. Example: PETA’s beached whale campaign that incited an endless barrage of fatphobia and hatred toward large people as non-vegan or self-appointed voices of the vegan movement on the internet who transform multiple conversations about racism, classism, and other oppressions preventing veganism from reaching certain people or changing world systems that impact animals into myopic rants about how everyone who disagrees with them “eats meat” and “hates vegans”. This kind of pseudo-sainthood that targets others and refuses to address one’s own oppressive behaviors makes vegans an easy target and the film is spot on in its depiction of the sanctimonious set within a much larger social justice movement.

At the same time, there is no room in this film for vegans who actually are neither elitest nor judgmental. There is no real vegan in this film. The evil ex, it seems eats chicken occasionally. Even if he did not, there is no other vegan in the film who is sane, committed to social justice, and just trying to live their life in the best way possible. For those vegans this image is a huge slap in the face. It smarts even harder no doubt because in the graphic novel the character is actually a drummer with a bionic arm not a vegan at all … but wait for it …

The Ugly

The article I linked to at the top of this post, has a whole list of reasons Scott Pilgrim did not do well at the box office. None of these include that the film is offensive and thus fails to entertain at a deeper level. However, I would argue that it is the depiction of women and APIs that is at the heart of its failure.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World/Universal Studios/2010

Scott Pilgrim begins with a backstory about Scott being on the rebound with a high school girl. He is 22 and she is 17. To get around both legality and the potential morality issues involved in this hook up, the film spends a considerable amount of time pointing out that they do not kiss nor have sex. I know I am Catholic, and so is Knives Chau, the girlfriend, but seriously … Worse than these age differences is the way Scott treats her. Not only does he forget about her regularly, he misses dates, picking her up, and even jumps out of a window to avoid her. (The window scene is hilarious out of context but fails to read the level of the panty scene in the Breakfast Club precisely because the film never takes its female characters seriously and its characters of color even less so.) Worse, he also cheats on her without even thinking about it; the majority of the film depicts his heartless cheating as the great love story for us to invest in with little regard to Knives either. It is one thing if your hero is a douchebag, it’s another if your storyline elevates it to romance.

While Knives is doting on his every word, Scott is trying to get Ramona to pay attention to him. He orders a useless gadget to get her to deliver it after he finds out that is her job. He slides up to her at a party and tries to be witty using the same pick up line he used on Knives a few scenes before. He even goes to bed with her, though they end up not having sex because Ramona changes her mind at the last minute, while still dating Knives. In fact, he is so insensitive that he invites Ramona to the same concert Knives has promised to come see without breaking up with her. When they start to confront him, he simply runs away and does his best to keep them from talking. Only Wallace tells him he is cruel and needs to man up and even then, his answer is to try to avoid it and then simply tell her as she is going on about how wonderful they are, that it is over.

In a scene that should make every girl’s skin crawl, Scott rides home on the train looking pathetic because he had to break up with his girlfriend and that made him feel bad. Poor Scott. And then, his pathetic shell-shocked expression twists into a giddy grin as Ramona’s face pops into his head. His 5 seconds of guilt don’t even amount to remorse since they are really about how much it sucked for him to have to look at Knives teary eyes than about how how he treated her, demeaned her, and took her for granted. Did I mention he makes her pay for their dates?

In typical male fantasy fashion, we are supposed to excuse Scott’s treatment of Knives for three reasons: (1) Ramona is his true love, so of course he pursued her. Except, Scott was a self-absorbed user before Ramona came into the picture. (2) Knives is better than Scott, Wallace tells us so and so does Knives herself so that makes all his neglect and douchebaggery ok. And (3) After stalking him throughout the rest of the film, Knives herself gives him permission to go after Ramona even though he was perfectly willing to take her back as a consolation prize at the end of the movie. You know because Ramona said she was leaving and Knives still has an allowance to buy video games and pizza with on their dates. (Supposedly he learns a lesson in this movie, there is even dialogue saying “I think I am learning something” except the fact he is willing to reunite with Knives when he does not love her undermines the entire thing.)

What is most offensive about the Knives storyline to me is that it does not need to be there. Knives serves no purpose in this movie except as a vehicle for Scott and his friend’s racism and/or sexism… wait for it … and his overwhelming self-absorption. Including Knives seems like a huge mistake for a film that tries so desperately to convince us that Scott is a good guy. In case your smart enough to know better, the movie has Ramona says it over and over again. In this way, I agree with many of the mainstream reviewers who said one of the big failings of this movie is that the main character is not particularly likable or interesting.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World/Universal Studios/2010

The premise of the movie is also basically sexist when you get right down to it. In order for Scott to be with Ramona he has to fight for her with a bunch of beefed out men, and one puckish girl, who barely care that Ramona is there. In fact, it turns out that none of them are fighting for Ramona but instead to get her back for the only guy in this movie who is more narcissistic and sexist than Scott himself. Haven’t we gotten past the woman as property or prize days yet?

Worse, it turns out Ramona’s motivation is that she is only using Scott to get her ex to pay attention to her. Seems like Scott and his rival have a lot in common whe it comes to how they treat women and Ramona’s quite the catch with her lust for self-absorbed people who barely care about her.

Despite supposedly being empowered, Ramona does nothing to defend herself or put a stop to the conflict, except when Scott refuses to “hit a girl”. He can use them and ignore them but hitting is where Scott draws the line; I wish the director felt the same.

Hitting girls is pretty common place in this film. Mr. Vegan punches Knives with such force that he “knocks out her highlights”. While the refrain about her highlights being gone is meant to make us laugh, there is nothing amusing about seeing the former Superman punch a 4 foot something teenage girl in the jaw. And there is even less amusing about the fact that neither Scott nor her new boyfriend do anything about it until he insinuates his sexual domination over the two white women in the room. The white women don’t care either by the way, one even seems turned on by it. Worst of all, this fight takes place between two women in the graphic novel, meaning the director decided it would be “funnier” to have a huge, muscle bound, male actor punch a thin teenage girl than follow the existing story line; it’s a “joke” he resorts to too often and it also speaks to the fact that while he does not mind changing the pre-existing story to heighten iniquity, he has no qualms with leaving it alone when the inequity is already there.

B. O’Malley

Which gets us back to the other major issue in this film: race. The way Scott treats Knives is bad enough on its own. But as he discusses her with his friends and family, he makes sure to mention that she is Asian. Many of their reactions point to the exotic erotic. Just in case we are too dumb to pick up on the unspoken orientalism, Scott spells it out for his sister when he points out that she is both Asian and has a Catholic School uniform …

Throughout the film her race is used to casually express racism. Besides the multiple conversations referenced above, when Scott wants to break up with her he asks if she is “even allowed to date outside her race” as if his eroticization of her is acceptable but her parents’ potential fears about that eroticization are discrimination. At the end of the film, she shows up dressed like a hipster version of a ninja. And when she gives Scott permission to go after Ramona, he says “Chow Knives” you know, cause her name is Knives Chau …

The other Asians in this film fair little better. Ramona’s first ex is Indian and is forced to do an obligatory Bollywood dance with ghost-vamps in the middle of their fight scene. It’s the kind of thing that made me question what exactly does go on behind the doors of 20-something hipsters’ homes when they’ve locked all the people of color out. When Ramona explains their relationship, she says “he was the only non-white jock in the town.” So she did not date him because she liked him; she dated him because he fit into her rebellion against hypermasculinized whiteness that left her no room for female autonomy. In this way, she has something in common with Scott in that she dated a person of color to give her friends and neighbors something to talk about but otherwise could care less about them as people or lovers. She also has something in common with Julie Roberts’ new movie, in as much as her supposed act of feminist enlightenment was bought on the back of brown men. Yippee!

Ramona also dated Asian twins. Their sole contribution to this film is a synthesizer that shoots out Chinese dragons. If that weren’t bad enough, let me just point out that the twins last name is not Chinese, it’s Japanese.

Conclusions

Scott Pilgrim vs The World/Universal Studios/2010

I walked into Scott Pilgrim with the last shred of hope I had left for the summer movie season. I was expecting a sort of graphic novel angst that both entertained and sent up the original in unique ways. While the graphics and the overall gifted cinematic eye were certainly present in much of this film, its tongue-in-cheek hipster angst fell flat in the face of so much unnecessary racism and sexism. The film’s race politics seem to be  a fairly faithful adaptation of the graphic novel which means both the racism and some of the sexism originated there and the directors and writers made the decision not to omit it in the re-telling for film. What concerns me most about Scott Pilgrim then is that it is not new in its peddling of either oppression; instead, it seems like a sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, sometimes visually compelling version of the same old 20-something shlock. While hipsters pat themselves on the back for being completely disaffected with all the evil in our world, able to cut through the bullshit, and take on any number of liberal causes it seems like in their fantasies, and for many in their real lives, the oppressions that do not impact them directly do not matter to them any more than the fascists and neocons they define themselves against.

I understand why young men would be attracted to this film. Michael Cera as average Joe is always compelling and his fight scenes, done mostly himself, and endless supply of women makes him the perfect nerd hero whether playing Scott Pilgrim or the myriad of other versions of this character elsewhere. However, it is hard to know why white women, and a handful of women of color, buy into this culture that does not take them anymore seriously than the sexist society they rally against. While mainstream culture is both blatant and unapologetic about its exploitation and objectification of young women, hipsters do pay lip-service to their empowerment and does so in this film as well. But if all feminism means these days is you get to be as big a douche as the pompous boy ignoring you and you get to have everyone around you acknowledge that you are smarter and cooler even while they do nothing to change their interpersonal worlds to make room for you as anything other than the ignored girlfriend, hated interloper, or object of racialized sexual fantasy, than give me a new movement. And please spare me the transparent cinematic reinforcement that elevates average Joe at Jane’s expense.

Overall Scott Pilgrim gets a C for Crap.

Quickies: The Catch Up Addition

(updated) So a lot happened in the world of fluff while I was away and, if my stats are to be trusted, some of you are really desperate to hear what I think about certain media moments. Here is the long and the short of it in the following order:

  1. Dr. Who Season Finale
  2. Wonder Woman Revamp
  3. Lindsay Lohan’s Arrest
  4. Despicable Me Review
  5. The Real L Word a Retraction

Moffat/unattributed

  • Dr. Who Season Finale (Spoilers)- I admit that after much initial scepticisim, I decided I really liked the latest incarnation of the Doctor. As I said in my post “Dr. Who Super Quickie“, the writing, acting, and directing had finally seemed to gel, everyone was bringing their A game, and the storyline was finally distinctive and engaging. Unfortunately, Moffat could not just sail his own ship into Dr. Who history like the amazing writer, director, and fan he is capable of being. Instead, like a rejected child whose lost one too many fights with daddy, Moffat consistently veered the show back over Davies territory in order to rewrite, rehash, and re-envision what has come before instead of simply taking the show in the direction he would like to define it’s latest incarnation. As a consequence, many of the episodes and especially the first part of the finale played out more like “suck it dad” than creative expansion. I’ve never been one for Freudian dramas between men, but when the final episode pt 1 aired as a mirror of the first, full of pointless pontificating and the resurrection of doctors past dissolving into the underwhelming Matt Smith I’d had enough. When part II opened with all of the Dr. Who enemies past destroyed, I wanted to call about the BBC and demand an apology to loyal fans or at least get myself put on an important panel in Britain to give a scathing review up close. The ridiculousness of Moffat having to constantly remind fans that his Doctor is The Doctor and his Whoniverse was better than all the rest because ha, ha, he destroyed all the other ones, throughout the show ranged from the subtle changes that we could all get used to, to the drastic ones. He even stomped on Torchwood lore by making Rory somehow able to be human despite not having an ounce of human DNA left as a cyberman while Lisa, who was half human, could not pull it off. But the worst, was when his entire first season at the helm ended with “DO OVER.” Seriously? What kind of lazy writing does one have to engage in it that they offer up very little new material throughout an entire season and yet still can’t think themselves out of the one new piece of information they provided without just calling time, literally, and starting again? What is the point of a time traveling show if the solution to go forward and then backward in time to rectify one’s mistakes is not expressly prohibited? Where is the tension in the show, if at any time they don’t like the direction they can just yell “do over” and set the universe’s time clock back to the part they liked? And as for those of you wondering if Smith is coming back as the Doctor, he is. I’ve seen the early images from the second season filming and he is there in an even uglier tweed coat; but then this should have been obvious from both the ending of this season and the fact the man has a 5 year contract. The sharp distinction between Matt Smith as Doctor when the scripts really were new ideas devoid of Moffat’s posturing and Smith as puppet in Davies banishment is only slightly less striking than the caliber of the story lines, direction, and acting of the supporting cast in these same episodes. To see how great this show could be if Moffat would stop playing what one of my colleagues calls “penis, penis, whose got the penis” long enough to realize no one else is measuring makes me sad, at best, for how terribly mundane it will continue to be until Moffat let’s it go.  (I had a discussion about this on twitter with some filmmakers, fans, and DMs with a few former employees of Who, and everyone was in agreement that the show has potential but Moffat’s obsessions get in the way. We also agreed the finale was underwhelming for anyone who has been a long term fan of the show; people who are only 5 or so years in to their fandom may feel differently because they don’t recognize all of the elements that we do.) Here’s hoping that during the hiatus Moffat puts his issues to bed, realizes that he is the undisputed heir to an amazing fortune, and gives us the brilliance Dr. Who and Moffat’s own legacy deserve.

Terry Dodgen

  • Wonder Woman’s revamp. First, go read Gay Prof’s analysis because there really isn’t anything else to say about what is lost here. En breve: her proto-feminist legacy has been completely erased, no more matriarchy origins, no more island of powerful women aka Amazons, no more female defined moral code or ethics, and yes no more swimsuit. As I said, I could be analytical about it all, especially given the huge loss of feminism, proto-feminism, and even pseudo- or out-dated feminism that defined various incarnations of Wonder Woman, including her origin story, but Gay Prof has already done that so well. So Instead, I am going to tell you a story. A long time ago, in an isla far away, I used to run around in my front yard in my Wonder Woman underoos imagining I was a powerful Amazon who stopped bullets with my big, shiny, bracelets. Years later, I was a wee lass jumping over koi ponds and lassoing cacti with an actual golden lasso I found one day on a walk with my big sister, with the boy next door. He was Steve Austin and I was Diana and we were saving the world across the super hero-bionic divide. I credit these moments and all the ones in between them for my development as a femme. I was never insulted by the bathing suit, or the short skirt, I was empowered by it, because I understood that Wonder Woman was a powerhouse that even male superheroes and military generals respected and she did it in thigh high boots and those signature bangles I mentioned already. The only women who made me want to femme out more were probably the queens and female rulers on Star Trek who combined their minis w/ the most delicious fabrics and green, purple, and glittery eyeshadows. Like Diana, they could not be bested even by the likes of Captain Kirk. For me, the revamping of Wonder Woman into some watered down, feminist-history-absent, manga-esque (and I like manga), video game ready, no doubt wise-cracking ie makes fun of men to prove her superiority instead of just being superior b/c she is umm a superhero, teen girl with a bad hair cut and even worse fashion sense makes me want to go all Fembot on someone. So for all the feminists saying “at least she has pants”, your analysis of why she didn’t before was spot on with regards to gender inequity in the superhero universe, however, her pants come at the price of her actual feminism and feminist history. More than that it comes at the price young girls who are still bombarded with hypersexualized images of youth that never contained feminist messages while being robbed of the few cultural icons that did. Better to be a girl in the front yard in your swimsuit taking down bad guys than an equally young girl in the backyard wearing XW-inspired hoochie gear # 5 while practicing how to go down on them instead. Oh and one more thing, have you seen the drawings of Wonder Woman? Most, tho certainly not all, of the fan art shows her with powerful legs and biceps, looking strong enough to take on the world. Many of the women and men who emulate her at conventions, costume parties, and events do so with a sincere reverence, even when its campy, toward her strength, intelligence, and femme-fatale. And even music videos that do homage to her have all referenced her brains and her braun as well as her beauty. This stands in stark comparison to the re-imagining of other female heroes and side kicks found in graphic novels who have always been fully clothed; take good look at the fan art and you will see a pattern in which their drawings make Barbie look appropriately proportioned, I’m just sayin’ …

you thought I was going to miss the opportunity to do two Wonder Woman pics; silly

rjonesdesign/2010

  • Lilo’s arrest – am I the only one who thinks a critical piece of the puzzle is being ignored in the hate on Lindsay bus? While many child actors end up addicted and burned out, and Lohan made no friends with her pre-teen diva act, it seems to me that hating on her in the absence of similar critique for the industry that supplied her and every other kid on the block is not only wrong but incredibly short-sighted. Part of the reason the industry gets away with taking talented children and turning them into drug addled teens with one foot in the grave is that our culture engages in collective cognitive dissonance as a society; we know who gives them drugs, how and why, and yet we just keep on staring at the spectacle and blaming the victims. More than that somewhat predictable answer to the Lilo situation, I want to add a queer eye. At least publicly, Lindsay’s drug habit seemed to spiral at the exact moment she was considering her sexual identity. Her first reported major drug bouts came around the same time that the photos of her engaging in knife play with another actress surfaced. Both women denied the lesbian content of the images and the media was happy to spotlight the “freakery” and call it attention getting. Shortly after those images emerged however, Lilo was moving forward with Samantha Ronsen. And while she seemed to be occasionally better while with her, Lindsay’s addiction continued to flare up. Those moments when she seemed to cross the line from spoiled party-girl to addict seemed to always coincide with public humiliation surrounding her sexuality or with dwindling film options that everyone assumes are related to the drugs, and are to some extent. But no one considered how quickly the doors shut on her options while similar young women in Hollywood with far less talent and just as public drug use continued to find work; those girls were all straight. Young queer people self-medicate every day in this world especially in response to imagined and real rejection. They fall down the looking glass never to resurface. So I ask you, is it so much to think that maybe a young woman just discovering her sexuality, who still does not even use the word “lesbian” to describe herself, who has her sexuality discussed in public across the world as if her feelings mean nothing or worse are humorous or a publicity stunts, and who already works in an industry in which drugs come easy and fast to people in her position, is in fact partially medicating her way through a major identity change? And even if she wasn’t, knowing what we know about the coming out process in the U.S. do you think someone who is already using drugs wouldn’t consider turning to them for comfort when the whole world is taking opinion polls about her sexuality and mocking her sometimes heart wrenching break ups with comments like “even women don’t want you fire c—-h” and “ha ha, guess that lesbian thing really wasn’t the way to boost your career”? So I am not saying there isn’t a complex picture here in which Lindsay must take some responsibility, including for her own actions, but instead pointing out that there are both recognizable circumstances devoid of sexuality and very clearly documented issues with regards to them that everyone seems to want to ignore so that we can all point and laugh of the fallen child star. I for one think she deserves more than that.

disney/2010

  • Despicable Me – the first hour is a snoozefest facilitated by the major jokes having all been included in the trailer. The last 1/2 an hour however is endearing and entertaining. Despite being billed as a supervillian movie, it is really a modern Orphan Annie in which the main character falls in love with three Orphan girls while trying to steal the moon. In finding his inner-parent with them, he also resolves his issues with his own judgmental mother and makes peace with the ways she tore down his dreams of going to the moon that led to his criminality, and plot to steal the moon, in the first place. There are 5 main women and girls in this movie, all of  whom are white. Some of them are stereotypical, like the overweight Southern Belle-turned-B–ch who runs the orphanage and the overbearing, uncaring, mother. The girls, on the other hand, represented a range of female identities none of which are disparaged despite the fact that one or two of them are extremely different. One girl wears glasses but there are no other disabilities present in the film. There are also minor female roles in which the women are also stereotypes, including the overbearing and over-indulgent N. American tourist mother and the overweight black mom. Minor male characters with lines are more varied: there is an overweight, clueless, N. American father, and over-indulged obnoxious N. American tourist son, and the annoying-but-meant-to-be-slightly-creepy, scientist, who is not emasculated but instead used as the source of jokes about age and aging; there is also a black male tourist with no lines and two Egyptian guards who are so dumb they don’t know the pyramid has been stolen, there roles as really minor. The major action takes place between the male supervillians and the bank, also run by a man, and most of the comedy involves yellow aliens who speak a mixture of Spanish and gobbledy-gook, which of course is insulting.

showtime/2010

  • The Real L Word – I know I said it was like bad dyke drama that you cannot turn away from in my original post, but seriously now it’s just bad. Since that first episode, I have not been able to sit through an entire episode of the show and I stopped watching all together when Rose, one of two Latinas and the only one who is light but not white appearing, through a party at the home she shares with her girlfriend and then spent the entire night demeaning her and acting like a loud mouth. When her girlfriend Natalie tries to confront her sexist and belittling behavior, Rose simple tells her to move out if she doesn’t like it and seems completely unfazed when Naatalie says she might and started to cry. In fact, Rose went downstairs and continued her boorish behavior with her guests. It was the kind of moment that makes you question whether a reality show should be a “true” reflection of the diversity of the lesbian experience, which includes boorish, self-absorbed, women who really don’t care about anyone but themselves or if it should make an effort to show lesbians in as positive a light, without losing sight of reality, as possible because it is only one of two reality shows to be centered completely on us. And these questions are colored, pun intended, by the fact that the only person acting this way is the only visible woman of color on the show; though, admittedly, she is not the only one who plays with women’s emotions and puts her needs first. I fall somewhere in the middle on the issue, in that I believe that a diversity of experiences need to be shown but that when you are among the first to represent a community to a wide audience you need to engage in point and counterpoint, ie that there needs to be a balance of identities and that race needs to be a factor in making the decisions about who you cast. In this case, if you have a loud mouth sexist Latina lesbian than you need to have a loving non-sexist Latina lesbian alternative precisely because the former plays into the stereotype of sexist hotheaded brown folk. Technically the L Word has provided this alternative in soft-spoken Tracy, the problem is Tracy is a white Latina (white appearing in the language of the U.S., blanca, ie white, in the language of Latin America) and therefore is not a visible counterpoint to Rose at all. And while we are talking race, there continues to be the ongoing issue of an utter absence of people of color in the “Real” L Word’s version of LA. If we removed Rose and Tracy LA could pass for a really sunny Sweden; when you film somewhere as diverse as LA, you should be able to get some people of color in the background shots just because they are there. This lack of reality has been a bone of contention amongst culturally conscious lesbians since the fictional L Word but there is also the issue of unreality in general in reality shows and what it means for the stories we see rather than the ones that were told/filmed. For more insight into that from a couple on the show we participated in order to help people struggling with self-acceptance or figure out how to fit into a sexual identity that has become synonymous with a lifestyle they may not lead see here. The women of Velvet Park also discussed in detail the way the show seems to want to exploit every negative thing about every member of the cast and turn this show into a sort of “Real Housewives of Lesbian County” which seems inappropriate in general and especially in the context of groundbreaking television. And so, I have to remove my endorsement of the show as something painful and yet compelling to watch. I’m not watching and from what I can tell neither is anyone else who is media savvy.

Displaced Women and Children

REUTERS/Alexei Osokin

I have been doing a lot of thinking on the rise of “Ethnic Cleaning” in our world lately. While there have always been examples of people turning on their neighbors and friends because of racial or religious differences from the burning out of entire African American communities in towns in the U.S. to the genocide against Jewish people and anyone who dared to support them under Hitler, sadly, we have examples great and small to choose from. Yet it seems to me that the modern period has seen much more frequent examples of ethnic cleansing across the globe. Worse, in most of these cases so-called super powers have done very little to stop them while they are in progress. We can mobilize an endless amount of troops to go fight for oil in the Middle East, regardless of how many innocent people on all sides die or are permanently warped by the experience, but we seldom rush into the face of great evil against minority people whose only crime is the color of their skin, hair, eyes, or the place where they worship. Human Rights and Corporate Interests are clearly unequal in the eyes of the modern states and we humans are losing.

This week, another vulnerable group fell prey to its neighbors while the world watched. Southern Kyrgyztan errupted in ethnic violence late Thursday when armed Kyrgyz men turned on their unarmed Uzbek neighbors. By Saturday morning, the second largest city in the region is in flames with 1000s wounded and the counted dead nearing the 100s. Uzbek areas of the nation are all but deserted and people fear that even if they survive the violence there will be no food, medical supplies, or water for them to survive the aftermath.

While men were targeted to be beaten and killed, fleeing women and children found themselves trampled in the rush to a secured border and the attempts to cross the intentionally ditched designed to stop them. Like in other ethnic conflicts, these women and children are likely being targeted for specific gendered violence and trafficking and without aid will continue to be into the future.

While you might be hoping to turn a blind eye to this conflict and wait for the moving Hollywood film that comes out in a year or two, the fact is both Russia and the U.S. are implicated in the conflict in Kyrgyztan. Both countries have military bases there and yet neither has responded with requested military aid to the people being systematically killed and burned out of the nation.

The failure to act on the part of either the U.S. or Russia is further complicated by the relationship of Kyrgyztan’s Prime Minister with both nations. Interim PM Roza Otunbayeva, is a college educated moderate with longstanding ties to Moscow, including teaching at Moscow University. She was also the UN envoy to Georgia when violence broke out there. And while Otunbayeva served in a government she herself said continued the corruption and nepotism of the nation’s past, she broke away from them in order to form a party and a platform that would see more egalitarian representation and inclusivity in the Kyrgyztan’s government and society. Her calls for help should have been met with at least some kind of response from Russians who know and have supported her and North Americans who want to continue to have a moderate in charge of a country where the hold a military base. And so one has to wonder why those calls have fallen on deaf ears except for minor humanitarian efforts on the part of Russia. With two major super power’s bases in the nation, violence should never have escalated unchecked to ethnic cleansing and burning cities. In fact a previous conflict between these same ethnic groups in 2007 was quickly put down by Russian troops, sparing huge casualties and/or genocide.

Otunbayeva is also the first female president CIS/SCO member state yet neither she nor the huddled and terrified female refugees of today’s violence have garnered much attention from mainstream feminist press. As of now, I have seen no calls to support a beleaguered female leader or women who are very likely being raped or rounded up for trafficking and certainly are homeless, displaced, and largely trapped at the border with burning cities on one side and ditches blocking their exit on the other. Unlike imperialist feminist calls to “save women” in the Middle East that aligned with western expansionism and hunger for oil and failed largely to ask what women living in the region wanted or needed, hold accountable military and counter-military strategies that targeted women and girls and made it less safe for them to go to school or be in public, or ensure that women’s rights were not discarded by this or any previous administration as they pushed forward, calls to support the women and children in Kygyrztan would align with the requests the PM herself has already made. She has asked specifically for military aid in stopping violence and detaining the engineers of ethnic cleansing in the state. She has also asked specifically for help with the people who have already been displaced and with containing and putting out the fires and other damage raging through the cities.

At this point NGOs in the region are trying to get outside aid to people and hoping that violence can be quelled long enough to restore the constitutional democracy Otunbayeva has promised.

It seems that we feminists need to take a wider and deeper look at the meaning of solidarity and global feminism. And that we people engaged in social justice also need to make more lasting connections between current processes (economic, political, and social) and old “coping skills” (marginalizing, enslavement, rape, and genocide). As I watched the news today I couldn’t help thinking about lost African American cities, the children who refused to save themselves at the cost of their targeted classmates in Rwanda while adult “peacekeepers” divested in Rwanda, the gains one, or possibly two, corrupt military bases could gain from widescale instability in Kyrgyztan, and the deadly shooting of a Mexicano in Arizona weeks before the new pass laws come into effect there. It may seem like these things are not comparable and certainly the scale of some far outweighs the scale of others. Yet, what I am arguing here is that there are cyclical patterns of power and control that ultimately erupt in violence whenever, as the saying goes, “good men do nothing.” Sitting at the intersections of feminism, critical race theory, and history, I think we have plenty of information to do things differently and I find myself wondering why people, especially women and children, have to suffer while we do not use it.

—–

image two: displaced women and children look on with nowhere to go on Saturday in Kygyrztan. AP Photo/D. Dalton Bennett

Book Giveaway: Latin@ Lit Month

Hatchet Books is giving bloggers like yours truly the opportunity to give back to our readers through a book giveaway in honor of Latin@ Lit Month.

The Rules:

Tell me which three books from the list below you would like to have and why. Winner will be chosen at random. Deadline is May 31.

The Books:

Try to Remember By Iris Gomez

Hot (broke) Messes By Nancy Trejos

Waking Up in the Land of Glitter By Kathy Cano-Murillo

Little Nuggets of Wisdom By Chuy Bravo, Tom Brunelle

Lone Star Legend By Gwendolyn Zepeda

Into the Beautiful North By Luis Alberto Urrea

Amigoland By Oscar Casares

Restrictions

Sorry but the contest is open to U.S. and Canada only and books cannot be shipped to a Post Office Box.

More info

I will be reviewing some of the books on the list here on the blog as the month continues. You can also find out more about each book by clicking the links to Hatchet Books website.

Happy reading and good luck!

You Can Help People of Color Alt Media Survive in Two Easy Steps

Step One: Donate to BrownFemiPower one of the most consistent voices of female empowerment from a working class woc perspective (what I’d call feminist if she’d let me) on the internet.

Every person who donates will receive a gift!

For those who donate between:

$5-25: You will get a personalized thank you note from yours truly!

$26-50: You will get the personalized thank you note and a newly published zine!

$51-100: You will get the personalized thank you note, and two newly published zines!

Over $100: You will get the personalized thank you note, two newly published zines, and a surprise gift (I will tell you once you order–I only have certain quantities of each, so I don’t want to list them online!).

The bad news: Because this computer breaking down has taken me by surprise, I am only in the planning stages for the zines. So it will be up to two months before those of you who order zines will get them. So that you know what stage I am at making the zines, I will be documenting the process I go through to make them here on the blog. This has the added bonus of hopefully helping other people–so many people I know have expressed interest in making zines, but have also expressed not having any damn clue how to.

So, that’s what is where things stand right now. I hope that you are excited–I sure am. I’m a bit apprehensive as I know it will be a lot of work–but I also am really excited for the motivation to get these new zines out! I love zine making, and I’m really excited to get back to the drawing board again–see how things flow out of the mind this time.

Please donate and/or spread the word–and THANK YOU so much for your continuous support!

Step Two: Bid on Nezua‘s Sheriff Joe painting which gives you both the chance to raise awareness about the blatant racism in Arizona and keep an amazing activist blogger and multimedia radical working/eating.

HARD TIMES HAVE FALLEN UPON US ALL! I know this for sure simply watching the donations I once received from readers—unsolicited aside from the buttons on the page—dry up over the past year or two. It’s tough out there, and it’s not just blog donations but even work online with graphics that has tapered off a lot. In fact, I was bumped offline for two weeks for not being able to pay all the bills this month. And to be honest, this is the first time since I’ve lived in this apartment that I don’t have all the rent this close to the first of next month. Ouch. That’s four days away.

I’m not trying to paint a doom n gloom scenario. … So I’m going to do something here I’ve not done in a while and humble myself to make the direct request to my philanthropist friends, or the ones who have a few to throw down to support their friendly neighborhood nezua: if you have a few, throw ‘em in the bucket!

Alternately, I have put one of my paintings up at eBay, and I invite you to bid, or spread the link around if you want. It’s an 18 x 24″ Lotería card of the infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Times are tough for everyone, but with both activists asking for as little as $5 a person, we should all be able to come up with a little something to help them out. The coffee and pastry I bought today cost more than their minimum donation request. And if a distaste for “blegging” (a multi-directional derogatory term that conflates the use of online media and the desire to be paid for one’s writing, film, or activism work with the “undeserving poor”) is getting in your way,  just remember all the times you have talked about, worked on, or simply lamented in the front of a classroom, staff mtg, dinner party, etc. about the absence of radical, engaged, people of color at your events, jobs, or in the media and know that this is the tiniest of steps toward making the connection between words and action. For my POC readers, all I can say is, community means sharing the wealth even when you don’t have any; the wheel will turn and someone will have your back too.

Link Luv Sunday

A lot went on in our world while I was sick and/or overworked (yes including all the late diss chapters I had to read during Spring Break, cue violins) so I thought some link love was in order to cover some of the issues I have not here at the blog and to honor some of the voices holding it down across the internet. Since it is still Women’s History Month and yours truly has failed so miserably in doing her own feminist spotlight posts, I have linked to several folks who did use their blogs to honor and highlight specific women throughout the month.

  • Swandiver – Michelle Alexander: The New Jim Crow highlights a talk by Alexander about her new book and the civil rights inequities that remain in the U.S. through the loopholes provided in the prison-industrial-complex
  • National Center for Transgender Equality – breaks down what the new Health Care Reform Bill means for trans communities trying to meet their health care needs
  • Guerilla Mama – “The Buddha, The Dharma, and the Sangha” – a painfully poetic discussion about the intersections of race, class, gender, nation, love, and family through the eyes of a black immigrant who survives an attempted rape (trigger warning)
  • Alexis – Happy Birthday Toni Cade Bambara – another informative and celebratory contribution from Alexis and her Black Feminist Mind Project
  • Vivir Latino – “19 years without justice” – 19 year old hate crime against a Dominican youth still not solved, yet his mother keeps the pressure on
  • Vegan About Town – Nacho Cheese Dip and Nacho Cheese Nachos because I was sick most of the week and unable to eat much, I got really enthralled by blogs about food (what the comic industry has referred to as food porn blogs b/c they make you drool) and I was particularly excited by how yummy Steph made this recipe sound since I am a picky eater & don’t eat anything with too much melted vegan cheese because of the melt quality (I like almond based cheeses for eating & soy based for melting but the latter only in small amounts)
  • Asian American Lit Fans – much like Feminist Review, this livejournal site offers accessible reviews of new and old fiction by API Americans and should just be a must read in general for anyone who loves books
  • Nezua – “Invisible: Thoughts on Immigration Rally in DC” – not only does Nezua look at the complexities of the reform in succinct text but he also has a powerful slideshow of photos from the event at the bottom of the post.
  • Viva La Feministe – “The Fly Girls are Finally Golden” – learn about the civilian women who helped win world war II but got little back for their service
  • The Green Belt Movement – “GBM Celebrates International Women’s Day” – truthfully I am just sending you to this blog to give you an example of what decolonized grassroots feminist environmentalism looks like.
  • Claire @ Hyphen Magazines – “Women’s History Month Profiles” – spotlights on Asian American feminists and women activists
  • Mark Anthony Neal  – “Women’s History Month Classic: Say My Name” – I happened to love this film and I teach it pretty regularly as a counterpoint to “the video ho” image of hip hop (of course I also like to trot out Tawny Kitaen for that purpose as well) so it was nice to see someone review this classic as part of women’s history month.
  • Annaham “Invisible Illness and Disability Bingo” – this post is old, but I just got sent there by vegans of color blog, and I have to tell you that as a person with “hidden” disabilities, not only have I experienced everything on that list but, like Damali Ayo’s rent-a-negro cards, I wish I had a stack of these to pass out to co-workers and family members whenever they made light of what it is like to be differently-abled

Happy Reading!

Go Ask Alice Pt I (Burton’s Alice in Wonderland Review, Spoilers)

I’ve recently returned home from a disappointing Alice in Wonderland. Like many other people, I think my expectations were too high. When you hear Tim Burton and Johnny Depp in the same sentence it almost always means something magic, add to that a mythical world of upside down that is really right side up, and how can you go wrong? Well …

Alice in Wonderland/Burton

Plot

An adult Alice, age 19, returns to Wonderland to avoid a forced marriage proposal and finds herself a key figure in the counterrevolutionary plot to overthrow the Red Queen and reinstate the White one. Accompanying her on her journey are all of the familiar characters from the original novel and a few new ones.

Feminism


I was almost immediately taken out of the film by the trite mobilization of banal “feminist issues” in the beginning of the movie. Don’t give me a sad morality tale about a “poor girl” and a boorish aristocrat, “spice it” w/ a cheating husband, and expect me to be politically moved, especially if you intend to drop the whole thing for “the real story” later anyway. Let’s get clear, Burton’s re-imagined Alice is feminist enough without this transparent packaging. She is courageous, strong, clever, and loyal. She also single-handedly bests or subdues several beasts in this film and stays true to herself no matter what others want or expect of her. Though powerful in Wonderland, Alice is reduced to caricature by a script that has her rehashing a trite marriage plot at the beginning of the film, then simply dodging it at the end by telling off ever single person involved, one after the other, in a far too tidy ending.

Worse, Alice’s seeming empowerment when she rejects the marriage, fails to empower any of the other women present. She does not tell her sister about her husband’s infidelity, though she does warn him that she is watching him, nor does she stand up for her mother or her aunt. Instead, she tells her “crazy aunt” whose “crime” is not getting married, and being driven slightly crazy by the judgment she endures as a result, that she needs to get over her fantasy life because no one is coming to marry her. What could have been a moment of shared triumph between Alice and her Aunt as self-directed women with active fantasy lives, turns into an ugly and dismissive gesture that seems to utterly contradict the empowerment Alice is supposed to have gained through her own fantasy world.

Nor is Alice’s empowerment very meaningful in and of itself. Moments after claiming the right to go her own way, she proposes a plan to the man who has bought her father’s company to increase their profits. There is no attempt by Alice to get the company back, presumably bought because women cannot be left in charge. While this is at least historically accurate, in the next breath the new head of the company offers Alice an “apprenticeship” for her ideas. It’s her father’s company and her ideas, yet she is not offered anything like the inheritance she would have gotten were she a man nor that she has earned on her own. You can’t have it both ways. If we are going to stick to history, Alice could not have been an apprentice sailing off to China on her own and if we are going to offer fantasy with a feminist twist, then why not give her mother back the company or at least partnership in it?

Race


There are no people of color in Alice in Wonderland. There is however colonialism. Not only does Alice resolve the unwanted marriage proposal with an individualized rant at various people, but she also proposes that her father’s company expand to China. This seems harmless enough, but colonial and Asian historians will shutter at the image of young blond blue-eyed Alice helming a boat to “open the markets in China” at film’s end. What is sad is that this is the way many white women in Victorian England escaped marriage and found empowerment, ie boarding boats and participating in colonialism to increase their station in life.

I also found myself thinking for the very first time: are there ever people of color in Tim Burton’s films? The answer that came back was telling since it hits on the next issue, dis/ability … The only film I could think of was Big Fish in which two Asian American women play conjoined twins.

Dis/Ability and Physical Difference


One of the things I have always loved about Burton is the way he embraces the strange, unique, and different. His worlds have always offered us characters that live outside the norm and often invite scorn from normative characters who turn out to be the more flawed. In the magical worlds of Burton unique characters are central, movingly human, and illuminating. While Alice in Wonderland gives us some of that in Johnny Depp’s Hatter, there is very little elsewhere.

In fact, the story hinges on a conflict between two Queens, the good one is able bodied and all white (except for some black eyebrows and black nail polish) in an all white world, and the bad one is best known for her big head and even bigger temper. The Red Queen’s head is the source of endless speculation, mockery, and even an ablist comment from the White Queen about her mental health as evidenced by her physical appearance. As if the emphasis on the Red Queen’s physical difference were not bad enough, everyone in the Red Queen’s court has some kind of physical issue. There are women with huge noses, ears, and pointed breasts, and men with paunches and eye patches. No human in her court is without some visible physical difference and everyone in her court is in some way morally corrupt.

Even though it is later revealed that most of the people in her court are faking it, the film fails to make the connection between their passing and their fear of the Red Queens judgment. While it would be easy to interpret the court as sycophants who exaggerated their features in order to suck up to the Red Queen, 1. this continues to center physical difference as a sign of corruption and failure and 2. Burton and the screenwriters do not do enough to depict the Red Queen’s court as three dimensional characters who both fear and loath her enough to act this way. Instead, the exaggerated body parts are played for comic effect and then torn off when needed to move the plot forward, much like Alice’s real world feminist dilemmas. Worse, the only two people punished at film’s end have actual physical differences while all of the able bodied characters on both sides remain free.

(It should be noted however, that characters with mental differences are actually on the side of the White Queen. While this does balance out the dis/ability issues on one level, mental health issues are no less positive in this film. Instead, we are given a hare who looks like someone chewed it up and spit it out, who mutters to himself and throws things at everyone’s head, while he is universally ignored and the Hatter whose bouts of PTS are often sharply corrected by Alice as if his abilities are a choice. Thus while their presence contradicts the differently-abled=bad, able-bodied=good paradigm, they do little to correct ablism in general nor the emphasis on physical difference as evil. Honestly, the ablism in this film is incredibly jarring given Burton’s classic, Edward Scissor Hands, and his wonder-inducing embrace of difference in all of his films.)

Character development in general is one of the major flaws of this film. Very few human creatures in this film are three dimensional. As a result, Burton’s attempts at visually deconstructing them is often lost. Like the ablist portrayal of sycophants in the Red Queen’s court, the White Queen’s constant pose with her hands “just so” like a fairy from Cinderella fails to resonate as a critique of her “overwhelming goodness” precisely because she herself never moves beyond the flat representation she embodies. Since the film ends with her win over the Red Queen, there is no structural critique of the “good queen” archetype either. Burton’s more subtle reference to the White Queen’s decision to study undead arts does a better job, but it is a fleeting glimpse at his genius that is otherwise sorely absent here.

The conflict between the two Queens and how it plays out also contradicts the trite nod to feminism at the beginning of the film. In Wonderland, we are given a world in which female leadership is reduced to “who is more loved.” Though the Red Queen makes references to the difference in the way she and her sister, the White Queen, were treated growing up, no real attention is paid to her complaints. Her desperation to be loved is played for comic relief and scorn rather than presented as a possible counternarrative to ablism linked to physical difference. And while Alice’s entrance into the conflict re-centers female power, both Queen’s wage their war with male champions, male spies, and male heroes prior.

Animals


On the positive side, most of the animals in Alice and Wonderland are far more complex than the 2-D humans. For the most part, their motivations and their desires are well thought out and their loyalties and actions convey a complexity that the original story relied upon. Alan Rickman’s caterpillar is appropriately condescending and wise. I think his casting was a stroke of genius even if his delivery of the famous line “who are you” was not slowed down enough for my liking. The Cheshire Cat’s comedic timing was also a highlight of the film.

The animation related to the animal characters is where the creative team shines. For the most part, I don’t think this film needed to be in 3 D as much of its wonder is no more spectacular than any 2D Burton film (which is both a compliment to Burton’s previous vision and a slight against the rush to 3 D film in Hollywood). While some of the animation for the dog was somewhat questionable at times, the animation for the Cheshire Cat made me fall in love with this character all over again.

Interestingly, despite their centrality, the Red Queen only keeps animals who can help her oppress others and like the humans of her court, she keeps them in line through cruelty. At least one of the animals in her court has its eye torn out and nothing is done to heal it. When Alice returns the creature’s eye, it in turn heals Alice’s wound. So there is some subtle comment on animal rights here as well, it is just too bad that it is still couched in the physical difference narrative of the film.

Conclusions

Ultimately Alice in Wonderland is another visually stunning film from team Burton. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter give two of the better performances in the film, though Depp’s in and out brogue is distracting. The newcomer playing Alice also does a good job, but the rest of the human actors are either wasted or phoning it in. The people in the real world are particularly two-dimensional and it is hard to separate the failures of the writing from those of the actors because their time on screen is so brief and insignificant.

The storyline is updated and yet retains much of the interesting lyricism and quirkiness of the original while losing the stark class critique. As long as the movie stayed in Wonderland it was compelling, but when it leaves that magical world it falls as flat as matzoh (unleavened bread). In the real world, the story is contrived and borderline offensive in its easy attempts to mobilize a throwaway feminism that never really comes to fruition.

With regards to diversity, there is very little, and what is there is sadly invested in oppressive narratives.

If you haven’t gone to the theater yet, I’d suggest renting Burton’s Alice in Wonderland or at least going during the matinee. Only pay for 2D unless you have a thing for 3D b/c it isn’t necessary for the majority of the movie and in my theater several people complained of eye problems or headaches during and after the showing, including my movie companion and myself. (This may have been a result of human error at the showing, but still, if you go to the 2 D version, you don’t have to worry poorly calibrated tech is going to cause you pain for no reason.)

And if you want my honest advice: skip this movie until it comes on cable and go rent Alice, a SyFy Channel import that was far more creative and interesting despite a much lower budget. (Review of Alice forthcoming, see: Go Ask Alice Pt II.)