Fading to black: Lars Von Trier and gender politics.

As I have mentioned before, I really like to watch movies and TV Shows that are capable of making me feel uncomfortable —and, sometimes, even disturbed—not only for the cringeworthy moments, but for their capacity to confront and transform the paradigms with which I live my life by. Lars Von Trier’s films could perfectly sum up all of this.

I’m sure you have all watched at least one of his movies, and I’m also sure we can all agree on one thing: Lars Von Trier’s movies are nothing but average.

I’m not here to talk you into watching some of the best films of his wide and impressive career (something you should definitely do) or to tell you he is one of the most clever minds that the modern cinema has and will ever have (he really is), but to rather talk about something more relevant, and significant, to the times we’re living in: his gender politics.

If there’s something this director is really good at is portraying accurate depictions of what is like to be a woman in our current society, what her place is and how difficult her relationship with the men around her could be.

Lars Von Trier depicts his women like individuals without a voice, without a place to belong and a body to own. These women are often the caretakers, the ones that are always giving everything without expecting anything back, the ones that put everyone else’s needs before theirs. These women are stripped of any type of agency and decisions of their own and are constantly taken for granted.

Men, on the other hand, are the ones deciding upon women’s lives, decisions and bodies. The ones taking the spaces from them, the ones that are constantly putting women down by being condescending and unapproachable. These are the men that think they deserve everything they want, specially when a woman is involved. It’s no surprise that all of Lars Von Trier’s women end up on the verge.

The director has a keen eye to portray hopeless mothers. These individuals are portrayed as both completely vulnerable and always subjected to the men around them. They are women devoted to look after their children and to keep them safe from the dangers of the world.

Selma (Björk), in Dancer In The Dark, is the embodiment of this. She is an immigrant single mother that lives in the backyard of Bill (David Morse), a well-known policeman of a small town of the U.S who would do anything to please his wife, even if it means to steal money from his tenant.

Selma’s otherness is both the cause of her demise and her reason to be happy. She has no place to live, but the shed of Bill. She’s also going blind and lives with a constant guilt over her son’s possible blindness too. Bill takes advantage of this situation by immediately robbing her and putting her in a difficult position; leaving her with no other solution but to kill him.

Selma’s worst fear is to lose her child, to live in a world where his son’s childhood could be instantly robbed from him only because she has a hereditary illness. Selma’s entire life purpose is to procure her son’s health, even if it costs her her life.

So, when she’s thrown into jail, she’s not only becoming another faceless victim, she is also thrusted into a system unable to defend her. A system led by men,  that has control over her body and her freedom. A corrupt system that eventually ends up killing her and her spirit, without hesitation.

Charlotte Gainsbourg also depicted this type of mother on two Von Trier movies: Antichrist and Melancholia. This two women share the same fear of losing a child that Selma has. The difference between them resides on the story.  The woman named “She” loses her son at the beginning of the former and Claire at the end of the latter.

Both woman also have indifferent husbands who thinks that money and complaisance are the best way to be there for their wives in order to help them go through the difficult times. “He” (Willem Dafoe) is a psychologist reluctant to feel any sort of empathy towards his wife and his mourning process over the death of their child. John (Kiefer Sutherland) , on the other hand, is a scientist already fed up by her wife Claire and her “sentimentalism”.

These two men are completely certain that their wives would, and should, process their feelings the same way they do. They think they know and understand them perfectly well, but, in reality, they are just thinking about themselves. They’re not listening to them. In fact, they constantly find ways to silence them.

Dogville‘s Grace (Nicole Kidman) not only is left without a place to belong or live, but she’s also left without any will to go on with her life the very moment she arrives to the fictional town, named Dogville, looking for a place to hide from the gangsters that are after her. In there, the villagers find bizarre ways to mock her, silence her and arbitrary situations to justify the means of owning her body.

What’s really interesting of this movie is not only the raw depiction of humanity that Von Trier portrays accurately, but also the poignant point of view of a woman that is on the verge. Grace reaches a point were she has nothing left to loose. So, she orders the gangsters that are after her, to kill all the people on the town, even the children.

Yes, Lars Von Trier’s women can be selfless caretakers, but they also are human. And, as human beings, when they feel threatened, they will retaliate. Sadly, these personal rebellions will only appear when a breaking point is reached. Lars Von Trier depicts perfectly the way women are raised nowadays, as mute individuals that will not, and should not, raise their voice against anything.

Notwithstanding, Selma’s spends her last minutes alive by singing a song as an act of rebellion against the system that is in charge of breaking her. Claire finds a way to calm her child minutes before the world’s end as a way of retalliation against her fear of letting him down. In Antichrist, She finds a way to mutilate the genitals of her husband as a way to emancipate and break free from the box He put her into.

But, as we will learn from this movies, acting out will always bring consequences to the women involved. Something that Von Trier perfectly sums up on Nymphomaniac. a film where Joe (another wonderful acting piece by Charlotte Gainsbourg) goes against all that standards that the women before her had to live upon.

Joe is a fearless woman who is trying to understand who she is through sex. She is very confident about her sexuality and very conscious of her body. She refuses other men’s advances whenever she wants to whilst she doesn’t put up with them trying to control her body. She, eventually, will learn that society will not tolerate rogue women prancing around with their moral values.

By the end of the movie, Joe will be punished for her actions and for standing against a society more concerned about her behaving than to actually listen to her. Joe will reach for a gun in order to protect herself against a man (Stellan Skarsgard) who wants to control her body, and we will be left with nothing but a fade to black and an uncertainty around Joe’s life. Like all the other women in real life who are brave enough to stand against the very system who is always trying to break them but they keep disappearing.

No te metas con mis hijos: la invisibilidad de la infancia queer en los medios.

Si hay algo que debo reconocerle a la televisión actual que está mucho más adelantada en el tema que el cine, creo yo es su interés por la representación. Cada show, cada historia y cada temporada nueva hace un esfuerzo importante por incluir un (o más) personaje que pertenezca a una minoría o grupo vulnerable.

Ya quedaron atrás los tiempos donde la televisión era completamente blanca y heterosexual. Ahora ya podemos encontrarnos con personas adultas de color, homosexuales y transgénero como protagonistas de historias relevantes y muy actuales. Sin embargo, no todo es miel sobre hojuelas.

Algo que siempre me ha causado mucha curiosidad es la falta impresionante de personajes infantiles queer en cine y en televisión. Podemos entender que un hombre adulto mantenga una relación con su novio e, incluso y con mucho esfuerzo y meditación aceptar que una persona haya nacido con sexo femenino pero se identifique en su adultez como hombre. Lo que está prohibido siquiera sugerir es que una niña se vista de azul y le gusten los carros o que un niño decida usar un vestido y salir bien librado del asunto.

Esto, por supuesto, solo es reflejo de la sociedad en que vivimos, donde argumentar que los infantes queer existen será siempre equiparado con realizar un ataque directo a la inocencia infantil y a cuestionar los buenos valores con los que cada familia educa a sus hijos y sus hijas.

Pensar en una presencia importante y una representación de niños y niñas queer en los medios es aceptar, e institucionalizar, algo que la sociedad ha estado negando de manera recalcitrante a lo largo de los últimos años: ser queer es algo con lo que se nace, no algo que se aprende al crecer. Pero no todo está perdido. Algunos shows muy pocos, para ser franco han decidido ir deliberadamente más allá de los cánones sociales al incluir a la infancia queer en sus historias.

El remake de One Day At A Time de Netflix, por ejemplo, decidió que la historia de Elena, una chica activista de 15 años que también es hija de la protagonista, era relevante para la historia al mostrar su proceso para salir del clóset con su familia. La serie lo logra extraordinariamente al presentarlo como algo totalmente normal, sin necesidad de estereotipar a sus personajes ni de caer en el sentimentalismo barato.

The Mick, la nueva serie de FX protagonizada por Kaitlin Olson, decide ir mucho más allá con Ben, un infante de no más de 7 años de edad, que se identifica como una persona de género fluido que lo único que quiere hacer es poder vestirse con vestidos y pantalones cuando más le plazca sin necesidad de explicarse frente a sus maestros o a los padres de sus compañeros de escuela.

Pretty Little Liars lo hace también con un discurso un tanto contradictorio y perjudicial, debo decir—con Charles, el hermano menor de una de las protagonistas, que decide tener su transición a Charlotte mientras está en un hospital mental donde intentan tratar su identidad como un problema psicológico y no como algo que ha sido parte de su vida desde el momento en que nació.

Debemos celebrar que existan programas que se arriesguen cuando de representación en sus historias se trata. Sin embargo, me parece muy peligroso fingir que algo tan sencillo y natural, como lo es la identidad infantil, sea aún tratada como un tema tabú en los medios.

Series como The Mick o One Day At A Time nos demuestran que no es difícil ni imposible tocar temas de relevancia actual sin la necesidad de caer en la controversia o el sensacionalismo que rodea tan típicamente a la identidad, el género y la sexualidad, sobre todo si se trata de la de los niños y las niñas.

Estos shows logran representar a la infancia no como un monolito de inocencia difícil de alcanzar, sino como integrantes importantes de una sociedad de la que no podemos seguir manteniéndolos alienados.

Si nos dejáramos de preocupar tanto en lo que nuestros hijos e hijas puedan o dejen de aprender de los demás y mejor enfocáramos esas energías en empoderarlos y hacerlos sentir orgullosos por lo que son y no por lo que dejarían de ser, nos evitaríamos muchos problemas a la hora de tratar de convivir en armonía como sociedad.

The nice guy and the entitlement to date him in movies

You all know the story, a nice boy meets the wild girl and falls in love with her, along comes a serious relationship and she turns to be nothing he picture she would be. Boy feels betrayed by girl. Boy calls her a bitch. Boy asks himself why does these things always happen to him.

If it sounds familiar to you is because more than a handful of movies and TV shows have depicted this precise story more than enough, I must stay in their rom-coms. Unfortunately, in most of the cases, these stories tend to represent the nice guy  like nothing more than a victim of the thoughtless and rude girl, that used him ruthlessly, without thinking about this hopeless individual that devoted his whole world to woo her and love her inconditionally.

The nice guy trope in fiction is usually portrayed as that one dude who thinks he is entitled to date someone only because he’s treating the person he’s in love with with kindness and respect. This guy is that person who always thinks is being missunderstood, but that’s also lovable and totally deserves to be in a relationship only because he’s nice.

Lately, three films in particular, (500) Days of Summer, Ruby Sparks and Comet, have drew upon this specific formula in order to revert the trope of the nice guy and instead tried to depict something more real: relationships are, first and foremost, something bilateral. When it comes to love, everyone involved are the ones to blame.

If you haven’t watched these movies, let me break them down for you. Boy meets girl (fictional girl in Ruby Sparks’ case). Boy and girl begin a relationship (casual relationship in (500) Days Of Summer’s case). Girl tells boy how she feels about love. Boy doesn’t actually hears girl. Boy sky-rockets to stalker mode and wants girl to change for him. Girl breaks up with boy. Boy is devastated. Boy hates girl for putting him in that ugly position and blames her for everything that was wrong in their relationship.

What makes these movies different from the others is the way the narrative treats the relationship. Instead of begging the audience to side with the nice guy, it asks us to go further and look behind the curtain, that place where fiction collides with reality and where the cracks of their telationship begin to show. These films actual purpose is to look beyond the nice guy facade in order to really focus on the human beings involved in the relationships and the things they struggle with.

(500) Days of Summer’ Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the ultimate nice guy cliche. He’s kind, considerate and thoughtful, and on the first minute he mets Summer (Zooey Deschanel) immediately gets infatuated by her. She, on the other hand, doesn’t believe in love and hasn’t actually met someone who’s proven her wrong. Summer doesn’t want to get involved in a relationship and just wants to be friends with Tom.

If you have read carefuly, you will probably imagine what will happen next: Tom decides to have a casual relationship with her anyway to prove her he is worthy of her love; then, things go wrong. Summer ends up being the bad one, the one who is rejecting this nice guy who only wants to be in love. The one who crushes his heart .

Tom later learns that Summer is getting married and, of course, he feels betrayed. What he doesn’t know is that she is an actual person who is capable of making her own decisions. She wasn’t in love with Tom and she always told him that. He, on the other hand, decided to hear what he wanted to hear and not what she was actually saying.

Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is the nice guy on Ruby Sparks. A dude who’s been trying to forget his ex-girlfriend (the crazy bitch of this tale), but when his fictional character, Ruby (Zoe Kazan), appears in his life as her real girlfriend, everything changes. He is thrilled to have (literally) the woman of his dreams in front of him, the one woman who has everything that he’s been looking for and certainly won’t be cruel to him.

Later in the film, reality kicks in and Calvin learns that, even though Ruby was created by him, she also is an actual human being sounds familiar?,  a person who has feelings and ideas and someone who is not just part of a fantasy. He could try all he wants to change her and expect her to love him back because he’s nice, but, in the end, she is a woman capable of making her own decisions, not someone who Calvin can tamper with.

In Comet, Dell (Justin Long) falls instantly in love with Kimberly (Emmy Rossum) and immediately makes everything he can to woo her. At first, she is not convinced at all and tells him she’s not ready to date, she’s not someone who sees herself spending the rest of her life with someone else.

Eventually they start to date and we see how their story develops in multiple timelines. We also get to see how this relationship was doomed from the very beginning and how it crashes and burn in each and every one of the timelines.

Dell tries to convince Kimberly he is the man of his life, the man who will prove her wrong, the man who will always be nice to her. He tells her that in each and every universe and story they share together. The real problem, though, resides on his stubborness and unwillingness to hear her, to acknowledge Kimberly and her decisions. Once again, the woman is not a an actual person on the nice guy’s eyes, she’s just the idea of what he wants her to be.

As we can see, the nice guy usually lives in a delusional world where his fantasies are attached to the reality he’s part of. He really is a product of the films he lives in. I could perfectly see Tom, Calvin and Dell watching rom-coms and living their life by those depictions of the nice guy.

What’s really interesting is the way these three films use different narrative devices to explain the world their nice guys live in, (500) Days of Summer uses a narrator that gives us instant access to Tom’s mind, Ruby Sparks brings Calvin’s fantasy to life with Ruby, and Comet exploits multiple timelines to evoke Dell’s confusing grappling of reality.

Thus, the real problem with the nice guy as a character is his representation as someone who has null interest in knowing more about the person he has a crush on. He is in love, yes, but he bases his infatuation on the idea he has of the woman, and how she should be, not on the actual individual.

To reproduce this type of depiction is to keep acknowledging that women must date someone just because they are nice and not because they should try to make an effort to know them really. Someone who is willing to see them as  fully formed human beings with an own voice, and not a deranged fantasy that lives only in the nice guy’s head.

La falacia de la mujer protagonista en el cine

Hollywood tiene algo claro: los personajes femeninos empoderados venden. Solo con echarle un vistazo a algunas de las películas exitosas de los últimos años (sobre todo si se trata de franquicias) como The Hunger Games, Mad Max: Fury Road o Rogue One: A Star Wars Story nos podremos dar cuenta de ello.

Tuvieron que pasar muchos años, y diversas peleas dentro y fuera de la industria, para que los estudios comenzaras a ver a las mujeres como algo más que objeto de deseo de los hombres. Ahora es posible encontrar a personajes femeninos que vivan fuera del imaginativo popular y ser protagonistas al mismo tiempo; eso es, sin duda, algo digno de celebrar. Los personajes femeninos pueden -y deben- llevar historias completas en sus hombros sin problema alguno.

Me encantaría argumentar que esto es suficiente para que exista equidad de género y representación femenina suficiente, pero me estaría mintiendo. Es cierto que hemos avanzado mucho, sin embargo, es necesario hacer un especial hincapié y detenernos a pensar en la forma en la que este avance se ha hecho.

Sí, ahora contamos con una mayor representación femenina en las pantallas grandes y sí, ya tenemos mujeres protagonistas dispuestas a llevar historias que antes no eran consideradas dignas de su género.

El problema, en realidad, no radica en la extraordinaria construcción detrás de Katniss Everdeen o de Furiosa, sino en la existencia de otros personajes femeninos que tratan de imitarlas, aprovechando la tendencia actual por representar mujeres fuertes, pero que terminan perdiéndose en esencia.

Ahora tenemos a la muer fuerte, empoderada y con agencia suficiente para mantener una historia donde sus decisiones repercutan directamente en la trama, pero, al mismo tiempo, tenemos a esta misma mujer cuya existencia en la película depende enteramente para validar al personaje masculino (sea protagonista o no) y a sus decisiones.

Aurora, el personaje de Jennifer Lawrence (quién también interpreta a Katniss en The Hunger Games) en Passengers es la representación perfecta de esa idea. Al principio de la película es presentada como una chica independiente, con motivaciones y metas fuertes que la llevan a tomar la decisión de cambiarse de planeta y comenzar su vida de nuevo allá.

Algo que pierde por completo cuando Jim (Chris Pratt) decide despertarla para no estar solo en lo que resta del viaje, es decir, una vida completa. En un momento de la película, Aurora se entera que su despertar no fue accidental, sino a causa de Jim.

En cualquier otra situación de la vida real, una persona común y corriente se sentiría traicionada y herida al enterarse que otra persona literalmente la condena a vivir encerrada. Aurora se enoja, pero al poco tiempo lo perdona e incluso decide olvidar su vida en el nuevo planeta en favor de quedarse con el hombre que ama.

Sus decisiones, antes de conocer al personaje de Chris Pratt, dependen enteramente de ella y de nadie más, pero al momento en que se encuentra con él, comienzan a girar a su alrededor. Todo lo que ella hace es en función de validar a Jim como persona, como ingeniero y como amor de su vida. Aurora termina siendo definida por su relación con Jim y no por sus decisiones.

Lo mismo sucede con el personaje de Maru, intepretado por Karla Souza, en la película mexicana Qué Culpa Tiene El Niño. Maru es una mujer con decisiones propias, ella decide seguir adelante con su embarazo no deseado, no porque Renato (Ricardo Abarca) se lo pida, sino porque ella quiere hacerlo.

El problema radica, más bien, en las acciones que suceden a esta decisión, cuando comienzan a girar en torno a renato y su felicidad, mientras que vemos a Maru pasa de ser protagonista de su historia a espectadora. Para la mitad de la película la narrativa comienza a transformarse sutilmente hasta que llega a un punto en el que  Renato secuestra la decisión inicial de Maru y la hace propia.

Al final, Maru y Renato tienen el bebé y él se corona como el héroe de la historia que mantuvo sus convicciones intactas mientras que Maru se pierde en el fondo, al pasar de ser una portadora de voz y agencia a convertirse en un mero receptáculo de reproducción humana.

La invisibilización de las mujeres en la sociedad -y en consecuencia, en el cine- no es algo nuevo. Por mucho tiempo, incluso en la actualidad, han sido constantemente despojadas de agencia y voz con el afán de tomar papeles dependientes a los demás que les den presencia.

Así, vemos cómo estos dos personajes comienzan su historia portando un nombre y una agencia propia, para terminar al final de la película siendo un dispositivo de validación más, y objetos de sus contrapartes masculinas, “el amor de la vida de Jim” y “la mamá del bebé de Renato”.

Son mujeres a las que se les da agencia, pero no autonomía. Mujeres fuertes que pueden ser protagonistas y llevar la historia principal con facilidad y sin problemas, pero aún necesitan de una presencia masculina a la cual institucionalizar. Mujeres con voz, pero sin credibilidad alguna.

La representación equitativa de género en el cine no significa simplemente tener un personaje femenino que parezca ser fuerte, y que cubra las necesidades básicas de cualquier filme. También significa crear una narrativa acorde a la construcción del personaje, que la valide, e institucionalice, más allá de su aparición.

Abortion and the decision to be a mother on TV shows.

I think there’s something wrong with our society when, still nowadays, people aren’t able to talk openly of abortion without being subjected to a reprimend. It doesn’t matter if you are in favor or against it, people still would snap out of their minds with the very mention of it and this needs to change.

Women are still having -and will keep having- abortions wether people like it or not, it’s a fact. Our responsability, as active members of a society, is to dig in into this controversial -and troublesome- ideas, no matter how (un)comfortable that makes us feel.

We need informed people, we need individuals to be confronted head on with this subject now more than ever, because we can’t keep avoiding it. Abortion is part of our reality and we need to see that. Wee need to accept that and carry on with our lives.

Lately, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to know that TV shows had surpased us on this very subject. Just last year, I’ve came across with four shows that aired different episodes with a variety of colorful stories were abortion has been treated like it is, a  non-judgmental day-by-day decision made by women about her own bodies. Sometimes accompanied by their partners, other times, alone.

Take Bojack Horseman for example, not only did they succesfully managed to make an entire episode (Brrap Brrap Pew Pew) devoted to treat the subject from diferent angles -controversial song included- but it also singlehandedly managed to create an enthralling story for Diane in which she decides to have an abortion with the full support of his boyfriend, Mr. Peanutbutter, and with no regrets whatsoever.

Within Bojack Horseman‘s world, abortion is a delicate topic to engage with too, thus, women are also demonized. What’s refreshing is the much human take of the situation. There there is this strong and confident woman who’s not ready -or doesn’t want – to have a child and her life partner is, nonetheless, by her side all the time. Talk about relationship goals.

Something similar happens in a stelar episode (When Will Josh And His Friend Leave Me Alone?) of the wonderful second season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, when Paula finds out that she’s pregnant right after receiving the news that she was accepted to study law in order to follow her dreams of becoming a lawyer.

And the show comes up with an interesting take on the matter and certainly one that a lot of women has to deal with in any given moment in their life: how much self-sacrifice should women have to face in order to achieve their dreams? What happens when life gets in your way? What you shoould do? How it will affect your life and the way everybody sees you?

The answer is, and as Crazy Ex-Girlfriend perfectly sums it up, to go on with it, whatever the finally decision is or would be. Eventually, she decides to go on with the abortion, with her husband by her side, holding her hand and taking care of her. Paula already has two kids and a prominent future looking right at her, waiting for her.

As we can see, motherhood is not, and shouldn’t be, an obstacle in one’s life.  Motherhood it’s neither a burden every women has to carry on their shoulders, nor an obligation that should be imposed on their lives.

This is something that crosses Lindsay’s mind on a poignant episode of You Are The Worst (Talking To Me, Talking To Me) when she is met with a crossroad deciding if she wants to go on with her pregnancy because she really wants to have a baby or just because it’s what her husband needs to be happy.

As an audience, we’re aloud to see through the cracks of Lindsay and Paul’s relationship. They are -and has been-together more out of a rutine than by a shared sense of love or mutual respect, for that matter; and, as later Lindsay realizes, a baby is not going to help improve it either way. Their not meant to be together, pregnancy aside or not.

Lindsay, as immature and impulsive as she is, ends getting the abortion without consulting it with his husband. Eventually he learns about it and, after a big fight, he too acknowledges that even a baby would not save their relationship.

The series is so nuanced and invested on telling this story, that they manage to make a powerful argument with it: being a mother is, as any other aspect in life, a decision that needs to be made, not by others, but by the couple involved; and, first and foremost, by the woman herself.

Fiona Gallagher, the matriarch and the (somewhat) moral compass of the Gallagher family in Shameless US has to make the same decision on an episode (NSFW) of the sixth season. After she learns she is pregnant she decides, with the help of her boyfriend, to have an abortion. As we can see throughout the whole episode, they are not ready to have a kid, nor they want to.

Praises aside, these four bold series have managed to do what any other show couldn’t, treat abortion not as the main event of an episode, but rather as a part of each of their characters’ stories. By not making a big fuzz about it, they’re really changing the way we should be treating the subject, like a life decision more than a game changer.

Un espacio para la desnudez.