Tag Archives: Gender

Visions of Abolition: From Critical Resistance to a New Way of Life

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 92 min

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(image from amazon.com)

This two part documentary was designed by activists and community organizers directly impacted by the violence of incarceration, as a tool to educate communities about the prison industrial complex and the prison abolition movement in the United States.

Part one, “Breaking down the Prison Industrial Complex,” provides a critique of mass incarceration, tracing its history to the war on drugs and its roots in slavery and capitalism. It “weaves together the voices of women caught in the criminal justice system, and leading scholars of prison abolition, examining the racial and gendered violence of the prison system” (visionsofabolition.org). Part two, “Abolition: Past, Present & Future,” discusses examples of prison abolitionist ideologies and frameworks in practice. Visions of Abolition features interviews with scholars, activists, and previously incarcerated women, including Angela Y. Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Susan Burton, Melissa Burch, Dylan Rodriguez, and Andrea Smith. 

Importantly, Visions of Abolition was not made by trained filmmakers, nor was it made with the specific intention of creating a film. It began as a community research project with LEAD (a branch of a grassroots organization called Critical Resistance), wherein interns interviewed people about their experiences with the prison industrial complex. It was then made into a full length documentary by student activists at UC Riverside, who determined that documentary would be the most effective way to synthesize and present information about the cause for which they were advocating. Thus, rather than an artistic or creative endeavour, documentary as a form was seen by these directors as a means to an end–a tool for the goal of political education. 

Since the documentary was released in 2013, women have become the fastest growing group in the US prison population, and it has been reported that between 70 and 90% of people incarcerated within women’s prisons have experienced sexual and/or domestic violence prior to being incarcerated.

Bibliographic item: https://survivedandpunished.org/

This bibliographic item is the website for a prison abolitionist group called Survived and Punished, which focuses on ending the criminalization of survivors of sexual and domestic violence and abolishing all forms of gender violence. The group has a nuanced analysis of the ways the Carceral State perpetuates gender violence, criminalizes survivors, and relegates people to places where gender violence is routinized and state sanctioned (prisons, jails, and detention centers). The website contains many toolkits, curricula, publications, projects, and resources. It can help elaborate on and complicate the documentary’s discussion of the ways in which the Carceral State perpetuates gender violence and has more up to date statistics and resources.

Goddag, mit navn er Lesbisk (Hello, my name is Lesbian) (2009)

Directed by Iben Haahr Andersen and Mina Grooss. Denmark, 2009. 52 mins.

This 52-minute documentary discusses the experiences of lesbian women and couples in Denmark. The film contains interviews with each of its subjects wherein they discuss everything from social perceptions of lesbianism in the 1950’s to the sexual liberation of Denmark as a whole to sex toys. The documentary is narrowly focused on lesbians–it does not discuss bisexuals or other queer women. Goddag, mit navn er Lesbisk contains a considerable amount of nudity and sexual content. Almost all of the couples interviewed in the film neatly fit into the stereotypical butch/femme dichotomy that codes lesbianism as heteronormative, though some of the couples acknowledge this stringent categorization as problematic in queer communities and society as a whole. The documentary spends a long time discussing misandrist radical feminist movements and phallophobic lesbian collectives without necessarily addressing that both of these groups make up very small, if at times loud, extremist sectors of the lesbian community. Stylistically, the film includes surrealist animated segments that function as transitions between interviews and subject matter and metaphorical representations of what the voiceover is saying. Thirty-seven minutes into the film, the matter of public perception of lesbian couples is discussed. This issue is key in queer female communities; many female/female relationships are perceived through hetero-lens as strong female friendships when in reality these are romantic and/or sexual relationships.

Related article: http://www.kinseyinstitute.org/ccies/dk.php#homoerot
Especially sections 6 & 7 on hetero-, homo-, and bisexuality, gender and transgenderism.

Screenshot from the film, including an animation to represent gender roles: goddagmitnavnerlesbisk
(source: http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C2374360/hello-my-name-lesbian, screenshot by Kemmer Cope)

Jasad & The Queen of Contradictions

Filmmaker: Amanda Homsi-Ottosson
Year: 2011
Country of Origin: UK, Lebanon
Format: Color, DVD
Running Time: 40 minutes
Languages: English, Arabic (subtitled)

This documentary from Lebanese director Amanda Homsi-Ottosson explores the controversy surrounding Jumanah Sallum Haddad’s magazine Jasad. Published quarterly, Jasad is an erotic cultural magazine that aims to educate and provide and outlet for Arab sexuality.  Haddad, a writer herself, decided to create an outlet for other Arab men and women to read, write, and discuss arts and literature surrounding ideas of the body.

Contradiction mostly focuses on the debate that has sprung up around Jasad, both between those who view the magazine as beneficial and those who find it to be inappropriate and shameful and between those who believe that it is not serving women in the way it should be. The documentary focuses mainly on interviews with Haddad herself, those who read (or wish to ban) her magazine, and various professionals whose lives are touched by the issues in covered in Jasad, such as a sexual health counselor.

Contradictions paints an interesting portrait of Haddad and her magazine.  The documentary begins with Haddad explaining why she was motivated to create Jasad and continues with street interviews about perceptions of the magazine. Reactions are predictably polarized, ranging from religious denunciations of the magazine to endorsements of the work by young men and women hoping to spread awareness and acceptance of sexuality.

The most interesting part of Contradiction comes when various Jasad readers explain the importance of having such a publication in the Arab world.  It is explained that it is common for Arab men and women to use French or English words for genitalia and sex acts, because the most common equivalent words in Arabic are either offensive or nonexistent. Jasad is portrayed as bringing back ownership of not only the body but the language surrounding the body to Arabic speakers.  The narrative of Jasad can be written as one of decolonization and reclamation.

Contradictions, although unconditionally supportive of Haddad and Jasad, does allow alternative opinions to be expressed through interviews. One in particular offered a valid and interesting critique of the magazine. Two Muslim feminists – one veiled and one not – argue that Jasad is pushing a certain kind of liberation on society. The women explain that there should be no shame in wearing a veil, and that they are “not represented in this ‘revolutionary magazine'”.

Related readings:
I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman, by Jumanah Sallum Haddad, creator of Jasad

Orchids: My Intersex Adventure (Phoebe Hart, 2010)

Filmmaker: Phoebe Hart
Year: 2010
Country of Origin: Australia
Format, English
Run Time: 60 min
Orchids film

Official poster for the film.
Source: Orchids Facebook page.

Phoebe Hart knew from a young age that she wasn’t like other girls. When she finished high school, her parents told her that she was born with a genetic condition called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, or AIS, meaning that she had male chromosomes and undescended testicles.

AIS is one of many intersex conditions, in which people’s genes or genitalia do not fit neatly into the categories of male and female. Intersex conditions are quite common–the film mentions that as many as 1 in 100 children born may be intersex–but both the conditions and intersex people themselves are hidden and misunderstood. In Hart’s case, she was pressured into a questionably necessary surgery to remove her testicles, and her family talked so little about their secret that she didn’t learn until years later that one of her younger sisters had the same condition and was going through many of the same challenges. In her director’s statement, Hart says that after everything she has experienced, “Now I actively seek to disrupt this cataloging and meddling with as much honesty and humour as I can muster. It’s the reason why I wanted to make this film.”

In the documentary, which took six years to make, Hart sets out on a cross-country trip with her sister Bonnie to meet other intersex people and come to terms with herself and her family. Many of the stories they hear are profoundly personal and tragic, and both sisters grapple with difficult issues in their pasts and present, but the film always keeps a note of positivity and humor. Background information about intersex conditions is illustrated with fanciful sequences of Greek statues and colorful orchids (a symbol repeated throughout the film). The interviews, Hart’s own story and narration, and the background information combine to create a moving and nuanced whole. The film contains powerful critiques of normative ideas of gender, sex, and normalcy but remains accessible and genuinely emotional.

As a documentary, the film is very personal and reflexive. The two sisters are the subject of the film, but both also filmed and made directorial decisions. Often, the film includes their discussions of the shots or their feelings about the project itself, presenting the viewer with many layers to read and consider.

Orchids won several awards, including Australian Directors Guild’s Best Direction in a Documentary and the Brisbane International Film Festival’s Best Documentary, and has been shown at many LGBT film festivals.  Swarthmore’s Professor Patty White praised Hart’s “warmth and candor,” calling the film “engaging.” A senior endocrinologist at the Melbourne Royal Children’s Hospital said, “Personally I could not imagine a better film ever being made on coming to terms with a condition like AIS. It’s wildly funny in parts but at the same time it’s very intimate and deeply moving. I can’t stop thinking about it.”

Further Reading:

Available on Tripod

Trailer on Vimeo

Women Make Movies entry

Filmmaker’s Website, hartflicker

ABC Local interview with Phoebe Hart

Director’s Statement, more information

AIS Support Group, list of books and articles

WMM Gender Collection, including more films dealing with intersex issues

Intersex Society of North America, Ambiguous Sex” or Ambivalent Medicine?

More intersex resources on Tripod

Phoebe Cook, April 10 2013

Ella es el Matador (Gemma Cubero and Celeste Carrasco, 2009)

Country of Origin: ,
Running Time: 62 min

Format: Color, DVD

Ella es el Matador (She is the Matador), as the title indicates, is a documentary film about two female bullfighters and their career in Spain and Latin America. The film features the life of a celebrated, professional female matador, Maripaz Vega, and of a novice, Eva Florencia. By depicting both the life within the bullfighting society and the process to enter the professional world, the movie rigorously captures the inequalities and obstacles that exist in the rigidly gendered – extremely masculine – bullfighting society.

In terms of narrative elements, Ella es el Matador consists of two big parts and these parts are blended into the flow of narration throughout the movie: individual lives of Maripaz and Eva and historical path of female bullfighters in Spain and Latin America. The lives of two female bullfighters are told mostly via the interviews of their family members and themselves; in an interview, Maripaz’s father proudly expresses his amazement toward his daughter’s achievement, mentioning that none of Maripaz’s brothers could attain the matador status. Eva’s run-away story from Italy to Spain for her passionate love of bullfighting when she was only sixteen is quite dramatic and impressive, too. The interviews of male matadors and audience also convey how deeply the gendered notion of bullfighting is ingrained in Spanish society. Along with these aspects, the movie provides historical background of women’s participation in bullfighting, “Franco’s Law,” which banned women from partaking in bullfighting, and unstated prohibition that still exists these days.

However, despite the discouraging attitude of the society that is shown in the interviews and history, two women’s passion and fascination of bull and bullfighting can never be missed in the movie; especially, the visuals vividly conveys the emotions. There are many close-up shots of Maripaz and Eva when they talk or are in practice; their fierce eyes talk more about their passion and love about bullfighting. Moreover, camera’s focus on their gestures – movements even in the tips of the hands and toes – and the rhythmical line that flows throughout their bodies when they are in the ring demonstrates the beauty and sensation of bullfighting and helps audience understand the meaning of being a matador.

Although Ella es el Matador does not suggest any particular solution to the gendered bullfighting society in Spain, it does describe well the realities of women matadors through the inclusion of different paths that Maripaz and Eva have ended up taking in the end of the movie. Especially, if one compares Ella es el Matador with Pedro Almodóvar’s movie on a female matador, Hable con Ella (Talk to Her) (2002), he/she can easily find the different attitudes in depicting women bullfighters of two movies.

Maripaz Vega


For further information:

Ella es el Matador page on Women Make Movies website:


Talcual films website (in French):


P.O.V. Ella es el Matador trailer:


Maripaz Vega on Bullfighting News:


Article about Maripaz Vega’s recent activity:


Art work of Eva Florencia:


Trailer of Hable con Ella:


Soomin Kim 2013.