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Healthcaring: From Our End of the Speculum (1976)

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Running Time: 32 min

Lolly Hirsch and her daughter Jean discuss self-examinations
Lolly Hirsch and her daughter Jean discuss self-examinations.

Healthcaring is a short documentary that focuses on the historical and contemporary abuses women have suffered at the hands of mostly male practitioners, and depicts solutions women find to lack of access to comprehensive health care in the 1970s.

The film includes many talking heads of women relating their stories of mishaps with mainstream gynecologists and obstetricians, including victim-blaming following a rape, mistreatment during labor, and general misinformation and disrespect. The women’s anecdotes are often short and intense with no interference from an interviewer. This gives the viewer a sense of the popular attitude of women towards mainstream healthcare, especially because there is a wide range of women speaking to the issue in terms of race and age. Interestingly, there is no discussion of abortion rights in the film at all, which may be due to the politics or morals of the filmmakers, or the fact that the Roe v. Wade decision had recently been made by the Supreme Court and there was uncertainty about the effects of the decision in favor of the child-bearer’s right to terminate their pregnancy.

There is also historical context for the systemic mistreatment of women by practitioners that is shown through archival images and acted narration. There is distinct romanticization of eras past when women would care for each other and there was little interference from men in natural female processes such as menstruation and birth. There is little mention of the benefits that modern medicine provided many patients will including antibiotics and effective birth control. But this ties into the main critique of the film that women have been denied genuine access to knowledge about how their bodies work and how to take care of themselves.

The crux of the film’s message rests in the spaces that women have created to nurture self-knowledge concerning preventative care. Though the women who speak about the clinics that they have created with fondness, they directly express their belief that the health care they had to seek out ought to be provided free of charge to every woman in the United States. There is a great sense of the value in maintaining a space for women that includes lively discussion about relevant health issues, promotion of preventative care procedures, and outreach to the communities that the clinics exist.

Ultimately, this film is very frustrating to watch in the beginning of the 21st century because so many of the problems discussed are still endemic in society today. There is still ineffective education about sexual health throughout the United States and shame surrounding feminine sexuality and the bodies of those with vaginas. There are still political attacks on organizations such as Planned Parenthood that provide much needed educational resources, as well as prenatal and STI medical care. It brings to mind the fact that there needs to be more visibility for women’s health clinics, staffed by community members or medical practitioners, as well as the continuing struggle for comprehensively available healthcare overall, with special attention to the needs of women.

 “Women and Mental Health: A Feminist Review”

“Rejecting the Center: Radical Grassroots Politics in the 1970s — Second-Wave Feminism as a Case Study”

 

Girl Power: All Dolled Up (Dir: Sarah Blout Rosenberg)

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Running Time: 24 min

Girl Power: All Dolled Up traces the inception and development of the phenomenon that birthed the songs of Riot Grrl and the Spice Girls and fueled the writers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: What is “girl power” and who defines it? Setting the candid responses of multiple young girls (aged 4-16) against the responses of women in academia, Sarah Blout Rosenberg makes visible the crushing effects of popular media and entertainment on the development of a female identity.

We are first introduced to the girls sharing what they believe “girl power” is. For Jasmine, 16, “girl power” is about equality: “Females can be powerful and they can do everything males can do.” Karen, 14, takes this a step further, asserting, “girls can do anything guys can do, sometimes they can do it better. And girls can do it differently.” The younger girls also chime in, seeing “girl power” as standing up for those being bullied or as Taina, 12 sees it “feeling good about themselves.” Sharon Lamb, EdD, Professor at the University of Massachusetts, then situates the phrase in a historical context, describing it as emerging in the 70s, a product of second wave feminism that sought to establish that girls could do whatever boys could do. For Carrie Preston, Assistant Professor at Boston University, the continued relevance of “girl power” is reflective of “the desire not to identify as the victim.”

Rosenberg is skeptical, however, of whether this modern-day politics of girl power is even empowering. We see Uma Thurman in a battle scene in Kill Bill, Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, Ke$ha on a red carpet, Miley Cyrus gyrating in a music video, Katara waterbending in Avatar: The Last Airbender the series, Beyonce shakin it in “Single Ladies,” Superwoman, and finally Lady Gaga scantily clad in “Bad Romance.” Interweaving images of women that seem contradictory- Lara Croft and Ke$ha?- the film scrutinizes the very notion of what female empowerment is in popular media and the extent to which this new meaning of “girl power” has been co-opted.

Refreshingly, the voices of the young girls, speaking unabashedly about how they interact with media images of themselves, create the narrative. The younger girls giggle and share their desire to look beautiful all the time, how they relish shopping, and how they want to be princesses. The older girls, however, offer the most poignant critique: while they understand the “business” of it all, they admit they are still attracted to these products and stereotypes. As the level-headed Karen, 14, lamented: “Every girl wants to find Prince Charming. Every girl wants to have pretty stuff. Every girl wants everyone to love them.” Granted, this response is, as many others in the film are, a bit hetero-normative and generalizing. This is Rosenberg’s intention. By layering the voices of an ethnically diverse and wide-ranging group of young girls in terms of age, Rosenberg shows that no girl is exempt from these images and that each girl internalizes them.

While Rosenberg touches on the most widely critiqued and established offenders, Mattel (manufacturer of Barbie) and Disney (creator and disseminator of fairy tale stories of Princesses and Prince Charmings), Rosenberg contexualizes her analysis in the current moment, considering the impact MGA Entertainment (the manufacturer of Bratz), television programs, entertainment magazines, interactive online games, and musical lyrics have on young girl’s self-perception. In the business of making money, even Dora the Explorer falls prey to gendered commodification. When first aired, Dora was the best role model in toys and television for young girls, as she wore “shorts and not skirts” and was adventurous, inquisitive and determined. She has since then been co-opted; girls can buy Dora in the “kitchen, Princess Dora, Dora shopping kits, Dora makeup kits,” all items that “undermine” what she originally symbolized, Professor Lamb laments.

Arguably, it is Rosenberg’s cutting and fusing of seemingly endless multi-media examples that makes her critique powerful: visually, the viewer is so bombarded by commercials and magazine covers showing lip gloss, flowing hair and high heels, that he/she undeniably feels the omnipresence and power of these images. In these moments, the viewer departs from being a spectator to inhabiting the gaze of a young girl consuming the glitter and glam.

It becomes clear that these brands, only concerned with selling their products, teach girls a very problematic sense of “girl power”, one based on beauty, popularity, and approval by men. Girls seeking this sort of disabling empowerment learn another irreversible message: consumption of the right products can grant them happiness. As a scholar in the film puts it, this new sense of “girl power,” namely equating “girl power” with beauty, is oxymoronic. Having nothing to do with “behavior,” “action,” or “enacting change,” this new conceptualization sadly only offers girls a very hollow and temporary means of empowerment.

The documentary ends as it began: revisiting the notion of “girl power” and reinvigorating it. Highlighting female politicians like Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton, Rosenberg offers an alternative role model to sex vixens like Kim Kardashian and Nicki Minaj. On a somewhat clichéd note, the girls then share their aspirations, and how they will use their best asset, their intellect, to become: a lawyer, veterinarian, engineer, graphic designer, midwife, teacher, and an artist. Rosenberg gives the last word to a scholar, who, resisting a polarizing classification of what it means to be an empowered woman, provocatively claims–, “the issue is not that you wear pink or are a cheerleader but that the world acknowledge you are more complex than just that.

The faults of Girl Power: All Dolled Up are undeniable– its subject matter is too overdone, the use of heart wrenching and candid responses of young girls is so cliché, its message is very one-sided, and it doesn’t delve very deeply into any of the themes it brings up. Where are the Spice Girls and their role in the resurgence of “girl power”? Where are the representatives from Mattel or MGA Entertainment to offer their side of the story? Why does she not incorporate more historical footage, counter-narratives, really any additional material that would make her argument more complex? In a review for the Buffalo Library, Kathleen Spring, a Librarian at Linfield College in Oregon,  recommends the film but acknowledges it:

“is not significantly distinct from Susan Macmillan’s Girls: Moving Beyond Myth (2004), and the short documentary What a Girl Wants (2001) is a more compelling film of comparable length. Maria Finitzo’s 5 Girls (2001) and Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s Miss Representation (2011) provide fuller, feature-length treatment of the same subject matter; as such, libraries with these films in their collections may opt to pass on Girl Power.”

Paradoxically, while all of these arguments are leveled at the film’s relative simplicity, the film arguably addresses a mature audience. Making interviews with professors and multi-layered media the central devices of criticism, Rosenberg inadvertently ostracizes the young girls who inspired her work. Very young female spectators would maybe understand and identify with the young girls’ stories, but would lose the narration of the scholars and not be able to interpret the connection among the images Rosenberg fuses.

While all that may be valid, I cried throughout the entire short film. The young girl participants answer so candidly that it is impossible to not think back on one’s own childhood;  wanting to be Princesses, loving shopping, going through puberty, and crushing on boys, their story was my story in undeniable ways. Rosenberg’s montage of blatantly sexist commercials really made the targeted nature of them visible and forced me to question whether I internalize and even find pleasure in the images of “femininity” the commercials espouse. Despite being about young girls, this short film should be watched by all girls older than 16 because in its limited and yet vivid exploration of the relationship girls have to popular media, it inspires internal retrospection and the mending and cultivation of one’s own, real girl power!

For more information please visit:

Doing It Ourselves: The Trans Woman Porn Project

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Running Time: 99 min

Doing It Ourselves: The Trans Woman Porn Project is a self-reflexive documentary that explicitly responds to the lack of non-fetishistic media and pornography by allowing trans women to represent their own sexualities with partners of their choosing.

DVD Cover of Doing It Ourselves

Doing It Ourselves DVD Cover

The first scene features Tobi Hill-Meyer, the filmmaker, coming home to the newest film by Trannywood, a studio that produces pornography exclusively featuring gay trans men. She sits down on her couch and begins watching the film and masturbating with a Hitachi. After she orgasms, two of her friends, also trans women, come in, and they discuss the lack of “trans dyke” porn. They decide that with Hill-Meyer’s filmmaking skills, they could make their own porn and she begins filming her friends kissing and then moving into a bedroom. There are three more scenes, each beginning with a brief discussion of performers’ experiences with pornography and what they are expecting from their scene. The film features trans women in scenes with each other, with trans men, and with cis women, often in pre-existing relationships. The performers vary widely in gender presentation and consent is clearly verbally negotiated during sexual encounters, with participants laughing and admitting when things are uncomfortable.

Rather than fetishizing the bodies and especially genitalia of trans women as anomalous, the film emphasizes whole people and interpersonal dynamics. This is done with self-reflexive cinematography. The performers actively discuss filming themselves and there are frequent shots of the performers in the LCD display of the camera. In contrast to mainstream pornography, which shows genitals in intrusive, sensationalized close-ups, Doing It Ourselves features more medium shots, which focus on skin and body movement, frustrating habitual audience attempts to scrutinize physical differences. The performers’ identities also normalize gender and sex variation; surgical status is not emphasized in any way. The DVD extras feature interviews with all the performers, humanizing them and allowing them to speak for themselves about other parts of their lives aside from sex. Hill-Meyer also uses her work to build community, interacting online via tumblr and giving interviews in small queer publications.

Hill-Meyer is planning a sequel, Doing it Again: In Depth, which will be about how trans women navigate relationships and hooking up, both with trans and cis partners. It will explore how intersections such as race, class, ability and survivor status influence how trans women connect and flirt with sexual and romantic partners. It will be released as a two volume DVD, with a volume each on trans women with trans partners and trans women with cis partners. The Kickstarter campaign for the film raised enough funds that a third volume will be made about genderqueer and gender non-conforming trans women, as well as trans women with genderqueer and gender non-conforming partners. The open casting call again encourages people in mid and long term relationships to apply to represent intimate interpersonal dynamics, as well as identities that are underrepresented in pornography, such as people of color, people over forty, and trans men.

Motherland: Cuba Korea USA (Dir. Dai Sil Kim-Gibson, 2006)

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Running Time: 41 min
motherland

Second-generation Korean-Cuban Martha Lim Kim 

Korean-American documentarian Dai Sil Kim-Gibson opens Motherland with her own voice relating how her feeling of homelessness in her “adopted home,” the United States, led her to Cuba. There she meets Martha Lim Kim, a second-generation Korean-Cuban, and talks about Korea–the home of the past for both–and Cuba and US, their current homes. The conversation continues with Martha’s family and other Korean immigrants in Cuba. Their general pro-Revolution stance provokes Kim-Gibson to interview Korean immigrants in the US who fled Cuba after the Revolution. Their belief in the American dream and antagonism toward Cuba, inherited by their US-born children, makes Kim-Gibson look back to Cuba. At the end of the film, between the two (or three) countries, she seems to have found an answer that is not bound to any one country.

Although Motherland starts with a personal history, soon it becomes clear that the personal search for home inevitably coincides with political histories. Kim-Gibson, born in 1938, started her journey from her homeland North Korea to South Korea for “democracy” and then to the US for education, while Martha’s father fled Mexico to Cuba, where the revolution has accepted Martha and her children as true Cubans. The subject of Korean-Cubans branches from the documentarian’s interest in the less known peoples of the Korean diaspora such as the Sakhalin Koreans (A Forgotten People, 1995), the choice of this subject and her way of approaching it reflect her political frustration in the US.

Visual narration is as informative as the voice-over narration and interviews in Motherland. First, the documentary is bookended with shots of the filmmaker herself, first in Havana and in the end on the Brooklyn Bridge, providing a frame for the personal stories that share a common root, extend to three distinct countries, and interact with each other. The images of traditional Korea that accompany Kim-Gibson’s introduction to her personal history are followed shortly after by the shot of Martha in her traditional Korean dress. While these images project Korea as a place of the past, the houses of Martha and her sister reveal the recent history intertwined with their respective personal narratives. Martha’s house, a remainder/reminder of the colonial and capitalist Cuba, is compared with her sister’s house in Miami—a token of the middle-class, multiethnic American life. In addition to Kim-Gibson’s own footage, photographs from archives and family albums, as well as video records of historical events, are used extensively to tell personal stories.

Se Eun Gong 4/15/13

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (2012)

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Running Time: 232 min

America Ferrera speaking with Urmi Batsu in ‘Half the Sky’ (via avclub.com)

Half the Sky is a documentary about women’s rights that focuses on women in “developing countries” (countries of the Global South). The film is inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s nonfiction eponymous book. The film itself examines complex moral and cultural issues that are addressed by women from within the community who have experience with those issues. Half the Sky aired as two two-hour segments on PBS in the United States. While it mainly focuses on and features the women who are making change for other women within their own countries, the documentary also features Nicholas Kristof and several actresses (Diane Lane, America Ferrera, Olivia Wilde, Gabrielle Union, Eva Mendes, and Meg Ryan), as well as an appearance by George Clooney and many women’s rights advocates and activists. Some issues of violence against women examined in this documentary include rape in Sierra Leone, sex trafficking in Cambodia, maternal mortality and female genital cutting in Somaliland, and intergenerational prostitution in India.

While this documentary does quite a few things right, there are many issues with its presentation and execution. I will discuss these problems – with Kristof’s reporting, the representation of “global” or “worldwide” women, the inclusion of American celebrities, and the lack of male representation – before I talk about the positive aspects of Half the Sky.

In Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof portrays himself as something of an Activist-Reporter. He creates a clear “us and them” dichotomy between (generally) white American women and the “worldwide” women of the Global South. Kristof’s continual discussion of “their culture” (my emphasis) demonstrates this dichotomy, especially when he claims that “[female genital cutting] may be [their] culture, but it’s also a pretty lousy aspect of culture.” Furthermore, Kristof unabashedly asks these women (and young girls) of the countries he is touring about the state of their genitals and their experiences as victims of rape; it is doubtful that he would ask these questions so publicly of white American women.

The inclusion of celebrities in this film is problematic. Kristof seems to think that these celebrities create a “bridge” for the presumed-typical white American viewer. While there may be something to be said for generating interest or support for an issue that obviously needs attention, taking female celebrities on what is essentially a poverty tour does not benefit the story Kristof should be telling. Perhaps these celebrities could have lent their star status in a different way (support through advertising, perhaps). Rather than contribute to the telling of individual cultural stories, the American celebrities highlight the dichotomy Kristof has created: sure, it may be aesthetically pleasing to watch Olivia Wilde dance with traditionally dressed Kenyan village women singing “the vagina song,” but there is no reason for that image to be an important moment in Half the Sky.

The portrayal of women of the Global South as “worldwide” women is another problematic topic within Half the Sky. These women are consistently portrayed as unloved, disrespected, and ignored by men. This portrayal only serves to further the “us/them” dichotomy. Additionally, men are not represented at all in Half the Sky. They are simply mentioned as careless, useless, brutal members of society who treat women with cruelty.

Finally, I want to point out some of the positive aspects of Half the Sky. Depicting women native to the countries being explored, women who have experienced the problems/horrors/issues that they are now fighting against, women who are part of the culture they are trying to bring change to? That is an extremely positive representation of women and of a solution for violence against them because that violence is being addressed by women who get it. They understand the culture, the atmosphere, the reasoning behind the actions. Seeing local women activists brings attention to the organizations that are truly fighting the problems in their native countries. While the “us/them” dichotomy in Half the Sky discourages the kind of global female empowerment and relationships that the film seems to attempting to encourage, the overall message is still a true one. Educating and empowering women improves the health of families, the strength of communities, and the growth (particularly economic) of nations.

Relevant, Interesting, and Informative Articles:
[1] “How Nicholas Kristof and Half the Sky Use Women Against Each Other” by Sayantani DasGupta on Racialicious
[2] “On the Ground: Westerners On White Horses…” by Nicholas D. Kristof on The New York Times Opinion Pages: Kristof’s Blog
[3] Half the Sky Documentary Reviewed by Azra on Patheos
[4] Information on the North-South Divide (Wikipedia)
[5] Half the Sky Information (PBS)
[6] Half the Sky Movement: Half the Sky Information

Julia Aversa

Future of Food, The

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Running Time: 91 min

 

Modern agriculture© Lily Films 2009

Modern agriculture involves the monoculture of a small number of crops, rather than a diversity of crop types.
© Lily Films 2009

Deborah Koons Garcia’s The Future of Food examines the recent Green Revolution, a dramatic change in production of food.  Using interviews from people who have worked in corporations that deal with food, government officials, and farmers, as well as footage of working farms, the film illustrates the evolution, or degradation, of food production.

The Future of Food opens with a description of the Green Revolution, during which food production became more mechanized and the use of chemical fertilizers, insecticides, and fungicides increased the yield of common crops.  Agriculture and biotechnology melded soon after, and genetic modification produced crops that were resistant to herbicides, pests, and had higher yields.  At this point, however, the story reveals a darker reality of food production in North America.  Large corporations began to apply for patents on their genetically modified organisms, claiming ownership over their strains of crop.  Unfortunately, as seed spreads from one field to another by wind, insects, or other natural processes, patented plants  grew, unbeknownst to the farmers, on neighboring fields.  Corporations filed lawsuits against farmers, claiming that the farmers had stolen their plants.  Koons uses interviews with farmers who have been taken to court by large agriculture corporations, such as Monsanto, to illustrate the changing field of modern food production.  Many of her interviewees are female farmers who describe how their families and livelihoods have been affected by these lawsuits.

Koons then examines the potential health and environmental effects of genetically modified organisms.  Allergic reactions as a result from taking genes from an allergenic food and inserting them into another food have been reported.  Additionally, the effects of genetically modified plants reproducing and combining their genes with non-genetically modified plants have not been fully studied, and the potential consequences of hybrid plants have the potential to wreak havoc on small- scale subsistence farmers.

This film has a clear message, one that is distrustful of industry and big agriculture, and it questions the place of biotechnology in our food.  However, the film ends on a positive note, describing the rise of the organic movement, farmers’ markets, and community-supported agriculture programs.  Koons encourages viewers to use their consumer power to support local farms.

While there are not a lot of interviews coming from female experts, many personal anecdotes from women pertaining to how GMOs have resulted in an allergic reaction or how the Monsanto lawsuits have affected their lives are used in the documentary.  Using these interviews alongside the interviews coming from men make the effects of GMO more personal because we see that this technology affects everyone associated with it.

This documentary received mixed reviews, with some calling it one-sided, without addressing oppositional views [1].  Others praised the documentary and used it as a rallying point to protest industrialized agriculture [2] [3].

For more information, visit http://www.thefutureoffood.com/.

[1]  http://pubs.acs.org/cen/reelscience/reviews/future_food/

[2] http://www.sfgate.com/living/article/Fighting-for-the-future-of-food-Deborah-Koons-2637592.php

[3] http://movies.nytimes.com/2005/09/14/movies/14food.html?_r=0

Queen of Versailles, The (Dir: Lauren Greenfield)

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Running Time: 100 min
David Siegel and Jaqueline SiegelPhoto by Lauren Greenfield – © 2012 - Magnolia Pictures

David Siegel and Jaqueline Siegel
Photo by Lauren Greenfield – © 2012 – Magnolia Pictures

Lauren Greenfield’s The Queen of Versailles challenges viewers to contemplate the emptiness and excess created by consumerism. Through following one ultra-wealthy family’s accumulation and subsequent loss of material wealth, Greenfield explores America’s pre-Recession moral decay and its consequent (and painful) hangover.  Part cinema verite, part candid interview, she investigates the ugly byproduct of America’s free market ideology – unashamed greed – and how we are all suspect to its charm.

“Everyone wants to be rich,” says David Seigel, one of the subject of Greenfield’s film, as he expounds on his business philosophy, “if they can’t be rich, the next best thing is to feel rich. And if they don’t want to feel rich, they’re probably dead.” Seigel, the owner and founder of the largest privately-owned timeshare company, uses this theory to amass his empire. While he profits from alluring working-class Americans to indulge their appetite for luxury, he seeks his own aspirations of building the largest house in America, modeled after the Versailles Palace.  In essence, Seigel’s business successes and personal aspirations epitomize America’s pre-Recession greed-driven culture.

But when the housing market crashes, his billions disappear. While Greenfield could have focused on David for her film, as his meteoric rise and fall have Shakespearean proportions, she instead makes Jackie, his wife, the primary subject of the film. Greenfield follows the tall, blonde fortyish shopaholic as she attempts to maintain cohesion within her family of eight children even as they become bankrupt. As the family falls deeper into economic trouble, we see Jackie becoming more responsible. Although she remains quixotically optimistic that their wealth will return and that they will complete their Versailles home, she forces herself to live a more constrained lifestyle.

The Queen of Versailles received high critical praise, including the US directing award at the 2012 Sundance. The film received further attention when David Seigel sued Greenfield for not obtaining proper release. The US District Court Judge Anne Conway sided with the filmmaker, writing “it rips the fibers of the imagination to stretch it so far as to believe that a sophisticated business executive within the tightly run organization of a self-proclaimed dictator would sign an agreement without reading it and without ever discussing it with his iron-fisted boss and father until after litigation commenced.”[i]

But as much as this film is a moral indictment against American consumerism, it is also a celebration of ambition, strength, charity, and redemption. No doubt Greenfield remains sympathetic to her subjects, particularly Jackie, whose unpretentiousness and undying optimism makes for a compelling watch. While the film indulges the audience’s sense of schadenfraude, it also forces the audience to cringe when we see their comeuppance.  But the film hits its audience the hardest when it reveals the emptiness in our material lives. This becomes most apparent when the Seigel family opens up their hundreds of Christmas presents. After the brief and fleeting moment of excitement of opening the presents, the family sits with empty expressions on their faces, surrounded by a sea of cheap plastic toys and glittering wrapping paper.  As A.O. Scott of the New York Times writes, “if this film is a portrait, it is also a mirror.”[ii]


[i] United States District Court Middle District of Florida Orlando Division. Westgate Resorts, Ltd. v. Lauren Greenfield, Frank Evers and Greenfield/Evers LLC. 2013-01-24. Retrieved 2013-04-09. http://www.entlawdigest.com/2013/01/29/qofversailles.pdf

[ii] Scott, A. O. “Let Them Eat Crow.” New York Times 20 July 2012. Web. 10 April 2013.

Southern Comfort (Dir: Kate Davis, 2001)

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Running Time: 90 min

Robert Eads and Lola Cola

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Subject Headings: documentary, transsexual identity, health care, human rights

Southern Comfort is divided into the last four seasons of the life of Robert Eads, a cowboy from the Toccoa, Georgia backcountry.  Director Kate Davis spent one year living with Eads and filming his daily struggle with ovarian cancer.  More than a dozen doctors denied Eads treatment because he was a female-to-male transsexual.  Unable to receive treatment, the cancer ultimately claimed Eads’ life shortly after he spoke at the 1999 Southern Comfort conference in Atlanta, GA.  Southern Comfort, an annual conference for people affected by trans issues,

During the last year of his life, Eads pursued a close relationship with Lola Cola, a male-to-female transsexual. Davis documented their life together, as well as the tensions that resulted within Eads’ “family of choice.”  After bearing two sons, a period that he described as both the best and the worst in his life, Eads divorced his husband and lived as a lesbian before undergoing gender reassignment surgery to live as a woman.  At the time Davis was filming, Eads lived near several other transsexuals who came out publicly for the first time in the film.  Fiercely protective of one another, each member of the family sought to help Eads, who was a father figure and mentor to each.  Eads’ biological family, including his parents, son, and grandson, makes a brief appearance, but they still see him as a daughter and father and are unable to relate to the person he has become.  The loss of his biological family clearly pains Eads deeply, and he often mentions his grandson, to whom he has always been a man.

Davis highlights the frustration and anger felt by Eads and his friends over the medical establishment’s unwillingness to offer transsexuals parity. Those who underwent gender reassignment surgery shared stories about the expense and the doctors who did a poor job.  Footage of Southern Comfort reveals men and women discriminated against and threatened by a system ill equipped to address difference.  But as much as the film is about the difficulties faced by transsexuals in America, it also emphasizes the beauty and normalcy of transsexual relationships.  By showing both the unity and the divisions within Eads’ chosen family, Davis demonstrates that they are as human as her audience.  The film received numerous awards and critical acclaim, including a grand jury prize at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.

Will Hopkins 2011

Further Reading:

Official web site: http://www.nextwavefilms.com/southern/

Southern Comfort web site: http://www.sccatl.org/

World Professional Association for Transgender Health: http://wpath.org/

Meyer, Carla. The transsexual life, Southern style / HBO documentary explores fascinating ‘chosen family’. SFGate.com. 2002. < http://articles.sfgate.com/2002-04-12/entertainment/17538451_1_transsexual-southern-comfort-ovarian>

Mitchell, Elvis. Genders That Shift, but Friends Firm as Bedrock. The New York Times. 2001. < http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9B01E5DC1639F932A15751C0A9679C8B63>

Mirror Dance (Dir: Frances McElroy and María Teresa Rodríguez, 2005)

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Running Time: 53 min

Subject Headings: Exilic/Diasporic cinema, Identity, Documentary

Mirror Dance follows the lives of identical twin sisters Ramona and Margarita de Saá, both former prima ballerinas for the National Ballet of Cuba. After the 1959 Cuban Revolution, the twins became separated, as Ramona dedicated herself to the cause by remaining in Cuba, while Margarita immigrated to the United States following a marriage to an American. Set against the backdrop of unstable and tense relations between the U.S. and Cuba, the film examines issues of divided and reterritorialized identity on both a personal and national level.

The de Saá’s story unfolds amidst (mainly) verité sequences, formal interviews, family photographs and old archival footage of not only the twins as ballerinas, but also the volatile 1950s and 60s Havana in which they grew up. Following Fidel Castro’s pledged commitment to the arts, the twins flourished. Margarita, however, began to grow disillusioned with the Revolution, finally making the painful decision to leave her life, and sister, for the United States. She now runs the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet in Narberth, PA. Ramona, a self-described “revolutionary woman,” saw Margarita’s departure as a betrayal, and refused to have contact with her for over 40 years. The film therefore investigates the intersections between the personal and the political, questioning at what cost comes the formation of a national identity.

While the film seeks to universalize the de Saá’s tale of personal pain and loss as a result of international hostilities, it is also a distinctly personal story. On February 28, 2004, Ramona and Margarita were reunited in Cuba, both expressing the desire to remain in contact. Yet, Margarita does assert that she “would not have gone back to Cuba” without the impetus of the documentary.

In June 2004, politics once again intervened when the U.S. government tightened restrictions on travel to Cuba. The twins’ identity in relation to each other, their home country Cuba, and (in the case of Margarita) their exilic home remains complicated.

Further Information:

Preview Clip on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1Y505Gnlds

Film’s Site on PBS Independent Lens: http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/mirrordance/film.html

Filmmaker Bios: http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/mirrordance/bios.html

Cuban Revolution Information: http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/mirrordance/revolution.html

Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet: http://www.paacademyofballet.com/teachers2.htm

National Ballet of Cuba: http://www.balletcuba.cult.cu/

Bibliographic Sources:

Benamou, Catherine: “Cuban Cinema: On the Threshold of Gender.” In (pp. 67-98) Robin, Diana (ed. and introd.); Jaffe, Ira (ed. and introd.), Redirecting the Gaze: Gender, Theory, and Cinema in the Third World. Albany, NY: State U of New York P, 1999. xi, 377 pp.. (Albany, NY: SUNY Series, Cultural Studies in Cinema/Video ). (1999)

D’Lugo, Marvin: “‘Transparent Women’: Gender and Nation in Cuban Cinema.” In (pp. II: 155-66) Martin, Michael T. (ed. and introd.), New Latin American Cinema, I: Theory, Practices and Transcontinental Articulations; II: Studies of National Cinemas. Detroit, MI: Wayne State UP, 1997. 322; 540 pp.. (Detroit, MI: Contemporary Film and Television). (1997)

Quirós, Oscar Enrique: “The Aesthetics of Cuban Cinema: The Emancipatory Role of the Arts in the Cuban Social Whole.” Dissertation Abstracts International, (54:9) 1994 Mar, 3244A. U of Kansas, 1993. DA9405783 . (1994)

López, Ana M.: “Cuban Cinema in Exile: The ‘Other’ Island.” Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, (38), 1993 June, 51-59. (1993)

Rachel Killackey 2012