Films for Thought

Qaddafi’s Female Bodyguards: Shadows of a Leader (read description from Montreal World Film Festival ) Zohre & Manouchehr (read description from Montreal World Film Festival ) France 2004 / Video / Colour / 70 min by Mitra Farahani A look at sex and sexuality in contemporary Iran, i found this film excellent. It comprises a series of interviews with men and women, conservative Moslems, prostitutes and (my favoutite) a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war. In fact, the latter man’s clear explanation of the connection between his politics, his experience in the war and his sexual mores are worth the price of admission alone, for the example they give of how patriarchy can be more than a hidden dimension of the real world, but can in fact be an axis around which some people’s lives, and some societies, revolve. While there is some needless sensationalism, and at times i had the impression that the audience was just enjoying seeing how backward those “crazy Moslems” were, there is also a lot of interesting testimony about how people, and most especially women, navigate social controls to make a little space for themselves. While there is a brief clip with a transwoman, there was no discussion of transsexuality in Iran, or of any queer sex at all. The only mention was when a right-wing man explained that he was against all pre-marital sex – boys and girls, boys and boys, girls and girls. There was also no mention of HIV – perhaps in part because according to most account the vast majority of cases of HIV infection in Iran result from sharing needled. However, despite the fact that contraception is widely available and promoted in Iran by the State and religious authorities, the pill is the method of choice with only 5% using condoms. This combined with the fact that that people who contract AIDS or HIV through sexual transmission are reluctant to seek medical help, talking to people for an hour about how they have sex but not asking any questions about HIV or safer sex seems like a major omission. Even more major an omission is the question of pregnancy. As i noted above, the Iranian regime supports use of contraceptives, and has done so since the early 90s in an effort to slow the rapidly increasing population, but abortion is still illegal except where pregnany endangers the mothers health or the fetus is deformed. Blackmarket abortions are available for $3000 – more than the average rearly wage. How the women who negotiate sex outside of marriage deal with the risk of unwanted pregnancy is not even touched upon in this film. Nevertheless, as a series of personal testimonies rather than a detailed look at the sexual state of the Islamic Republic, this film is worth checking out. Witches in Exile (read description from Montreal World Film Festival ) Matzpen (read description from Montreal World Film Festival ) In the Shadow of Gold Mountain (read description from Montreal World Film Festival ) 2004 / Video / Colour / 43 min Karen Cho Sometimes it takes a great filmmaker to make a subject interesting, and its an uphill battle all the way. In the case of this movie, however, an important and compelling subject-matter is made far less interesting due to the filmmaker’s liberal perspective. While i did enjoy this documentary and learnt some interesting facts, it is unfortunate that Cho put so little energy into contextualizing her subject or drawing parallels with other similar situations. This film deals with important subject-matter – the head tax on Chinese immigrants to Canada that varied from $50.00 during the 1880s and 1890s to $500.00 after 1903 – and subsequent exclusion act that barred Chinese immigrants to Canada from 1923 to 1947. The head tax was imposed on Chinese immigrants who generally came as unskilled labourers hoping to raise money to send home to their families. The $500 was roughly the cost of two houses at the time, and the total revenue collected from the head tax was $23 million – almost the same amount as the entire cost of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Through interviews with Chinese who were children at the time, and whose parents thus had to pay the head tax, as well as those who lived through the period of the Chinese Exclusion Act that effectively tore families in two (as there was often a mother with older siblings in China unable to immigrate and join the father and younger children in Canada for over twenty years), one gets a sense of the human tragedy caused by these policies. Contemporary interviews with younger Chinese gives a look at the redress campaign, basically a call for very limited reparations to surviving head tax payers or their descendents. There is unfortunately no real look at what motivated Canada’s racist policies – i left the movie still ignorant of whether it was just racist ideleogy, a political manouever by this group or that, or an economic policy. Nor was there any discussion of racism against other Asian immigrants, or the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II, though at least in the minds of many white Canadians who backed these policies they were all part and parcel of the same white supremacist project. In short, there was no discussion of what within Canadian society motivated anti-Asian and more specifically anti-Chinese policies. In this context, the call by one man who had grown up at the time of the head tax, to be aware of racist treatment dished out to immigrants today, and he mentioned Moslem Canadians, found no real resonance in the rest of the film. The filmmaker’s final conclusion – that unlike older Chinese who still boycott Canada Day and consider it “Humiliation Day” (because the Exclusion Act came into force on July 1st 1923), she would “reclaim” July 1st as her day too – pretty much sums up the political direction of this National Film Board movie. For those interested in the anti-Asian movement in Canada (especially British Columbia) during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, a much better source is White Canada Forever, by _____.

K. KersplebedebK. KersplebedebK. Kersplebedeb

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