About A Certain Tendency In Contemporary Art Cinema
Updated: Apr 5
By: Amir Ganjavie
This year, Sundance Film Festival featured several movies marked by their role reversal. In these movies, the heroes are no longer attributed to white male characters. On the contrary, the heroic roles are given to women and men from ethnicities other than Anglo-American, such as Asian and African. Sylvie’s Love is one of these films. This movie causes one to remember classic movies, such as West Side Story (1961) or Love Story (1970). This love story is between two African-Americans living in the United States during the 60s, when the sexual revolution was underway and many traditional family values were being transformed. The love depicted in the film is between a musician and a woman who sells musical instruments. The films shows how their love changes and progresses in five years. While being close to one another, at times they drift apart. The outcome is an interesting film with great performances; a pleasant film to watch.
But the question now is if we genuinely want to make a fundamental change in the hierarchical order in cinema, should this revolution be limited to simply changing the race and gender of the previously white protagonists? On that account, if we truly believe that there exists white supremacy in cinema, then we must also acknowledge the change in the structure of the stories of the films made today. By changing only the race or gender of the protagonists and using the same plots and structures in the movies, we continue to promote the same 'white-ization' tendency in cinema. In this way, we are keeping the same formula and the same forms of exploitation that have always existed and even worse. In other terms, despite accepting such exploitations, we have high expectations of our new heroes to compere in that same format. This is a shallow pseudo-political view, which has pushed people to focus on trivial things instead of essential matters.
On the hand, there were movies like Zola and Cuties which were directed by women at Sundance. In these films, voyeuristic featured cameras focused on women’s bodies (specially in the film likes Cuties -with a few 11-year-old girls). One feels the same sexual exploitations we used to feel in the previous years' movies. There exists the same sexualized attitude towards women, which has always been criticized in other films, and yet these films are praised regardless of their offensive attitude (Sony Pictures has acquired the right to distribute Zola in North America).
It seems to me the reason these films received so much admiration is that they are made by female directors. By doing so, we are encouraging and expanding the false belief that if a woman is the director of a film, she can show a woman’s body in any way she likes and can sexually exploit a woman’s body. However, if the same films were made by male directors, all movie critics would reject the films on the grounds that the directors have a voyeuristic camera. Similar to the claims made against Abdellatif Kechiche, they could also argue that these male directors have had psychological issues having roots in their childhoods.
This seems to be a result of the #MeToo movement and the spread of identity politics in cinema. All of this can be seen as a serious criticism and what cinema has become today. There are people in cinema who think and act beyond their gender. We have had men in history, who fought for women’s right movements, who lost their lives for these great causes. Men who were not vegetarians but fought for environmental rights, or those who weren’t black but fought against racial discriminations.
This idea that only black people can make films about blacks, only women can make films about women, or only Jews can make films about Jewish people, has roots in inhumane and fascist beliefs, which obstructs the path towards freedom and progress!