Pop Life

Saturday, May 31, 2003


fishy - but in a good way

Finding Nemo starts off with the loss of a parent that gave me Bambi flashbacks but it's also the most fun I've had all year at the movies - certainly more than the sloggy mess of The Matrix Reloaded and edging out the frenetic fun of X2. When it comes to animation magic, I'm still more of a Miyasaki fan but I have to admit that Pixar makes some brilliantly funny films for folks like me who can appreciate how junked out on pop culture the nerds in Emeryville are. My only regret: no blooper reel :(

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Wednesday, May 28, 2003


beckham beckons

Here's my beef with Gurinder Chadha's Bend It Like Beckham: For once, I'd like to see a movie that doesn't reduce interracial relationships to a narrative device that's supposed to dramatize a clash of cultures or trigger a generation gap conflict. It'd also be nice to see someone abandon the colonialist impulse to cast women of color as the repository of cultural Otherness that is a hybridized/assimilated into Western society vis a vis a romance with a white male. Furthermore, it'd really be something if a director could find some other way of negating the potential romantic rivalry of attractive men of color for said woman of color's attentions by making them gay (more on this in a second).

There's more to Beckham than just the relationship between Jesminder and Joe - after all, Chadha's mixing at least three genres together: a sports film about football, a girl's coming of age narrative and an East-Meets-West set-up about an immigrant Indian family living in Britain. But for a filmmaker who can clearly make more sophisticated films about race, gender and society (see Bhaji At the Beach), it's disappointing to see Chadha fall back on tried-and-true cliches about interracial romances (IR). More often than not, cinematic narratives reduce IRs to easy tropes used to introduce conflict, accentuate cultural differences or represent assimilation from the backwards East into the modernist West. I don't care if you're talking about Puccini's Madame Butterfly, Joshua Logan's Sayanora, Mina Shum's Double Happiness, or hell, even Disney's The Little Mermaid, all of these work on a colonial logic that stubbornly refuses to die.

The irony is that, in many of these films, the intended message is meant to be anti-racist, i.e. love sees no color, blah blah blah. But if anything, these glib handlings of IRs only dramatize the immutability of race by suggesting that it's a problem that needs resolution. I was watching John Sayles' uniformly excellent Lone Star, the other night and marveled that this was one film that manage to handle IRs with far more skill and sensitivity than is typically shown. On one hand, Sayles is trying to make a point about life along the political and social border of Texas and Mexico - his pairings of black/white and Latino/white are, of course, not arbitrary - they're literal manifestations of a mestizo sensibility. However, these relationships, particularly between Chris Cooper and Elizabeth Pena's characters, have far more human depth and complexity than you typically see in mainstream cinema. For Sayles' characters, there is no utopian escape in race that ends with the violin-swelling kiss - instead, people learn to live within the realities of race, neither completely free nor fettered, which would seem to be an accurate reflection of the world we live in.

Going back to Beckham, we learn, early on, that Jess is close friends with another British-Indian peer, Tony but there's no romantic or sexual spark that flies between them. As Jess and Joe begin to reveal interest in one another, Chadha seems to feel it necessary to eliminate Tony as a potential rival - even though she hasn't really even cast him as one - and it's revealed that, surprise, surprise! - Tony's actually gay. Problem solved. (For the record, Mina Shum does the same exact thing in Double Happiness).

It'd be one thing if Chadha was actually trying to say something about queerness but of course, she's not. Tony being gay is a narrative device that she feels compelled to use. The real irony is that, by doing so, what she's really saying is that race really does matter because if Tony was actually straight, then no one would seem to believe Jess would fall for Joe. Had Chadha had the courage to avoid queering Tony simply for the sake of convenience, then the message she sends is this: Jess chooses Joe not because there are no good (straight) Indian men around but because she actually - *gasps* - likes Joe for his personality, integrity, etc. Instead, Chadha seems resigned to the perception that, as a British-Indian woman, Jesminder would naturally have chosen "one of her own" which defies the reality of any Western society I'm familiar with. Interracial relationships are commonplace throughout America and Europe - hardly the stuff of transgressive social statements that they might have been in the days of anti-miscegenation laws. If anything, these days, portraying intra-Asian romances is a revolutionary act, at least in Western cinema, where images of Asians-loving-Asians (outside of queer film) are the exception and far from the rule.

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