Posts filed under ‘politics’
The week of June 24, 2013 was absolutely monumental in the LGBT community, following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on the Defense of Marriage Act. After watching Texas State Senator Wendy Davis’ schooling of the Texas GOP on Tuesday night*, I went to bed conscious of the fact that the Supreme Court would announce its ruling on DOMA and Prop 8 on Wednesday morning at 7am PST. I woke up shortly after 7am and immediately checked my facebook and twitter feeds to find the brilliant news that DOMA had been struck down and Prop 8 invalidated. There was nothing but joy all over my newsfeeds as everyone seemed to be celebrating the glad tidings.
That night we had tickets to the Frameline Film Festival at the Castro Theater, the heart of the LGBT community in San Francisco. We arrived an hour before showtime and lucked out on parking not far from the theater, although the streets were closed off and full of ecstatic, celebratory throngs. At one point it took twenty minutes to navigate a half block down Market Street to pick up my tickets, so jam-packed was the crowd, but I didn’t mind the inconvenience. It was fun to be out and about on such a historic night and even the weather in San Francisco cooperated, as it was uncharacteristically balmy and warm until well after sundown.
After basking in the glow of the celebrating crowds in the Castro, it was great to settle in at the 37th annual Frameline Festival of LGBT Cinema. I only caught three out of the dozens of films at the fest this year, but they were interesting in the various ways they reflected current events.
On that historic Wednesday evening I saw Arvin Chen’s Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? Chen grew up in the Bay Area but now lives and works in Taiwan. WYSLMT is his second feature, following his well-received debut Au Revoir, Taipei (2010)
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? is a charming and bittersweet tale of a man reconsidering his sexuality after nine years of marriage. Weichung (Richie Jen) has a young son on whom he dotes and a good job at an eyeglass store, and he and his wife Feng (Mavis Fan) seem content. But after Weichung’s boss abruptly leaves the steady-but-dull optician’s business to him (after happily declaring the end of his “relationship with glasses”), Weichung begins to question his satisfaction with life. Running into an old friend, the openly and happily gay wedding photographer Stephen, further catalyzes Weichung’s dissatisfaction. After a chance meeting with dreamy flight attendant Thomas, played by Hong Kong heartthrob Wong Ka Lok, Weichung has to make some hard choices about his life as a “former” gay man.
The movie is sexy in a subdued way, with unrequited lust rather than full-on passion supplying most of the erotic heat between Weichung and Thomas. In a role that’s a change of pace from the Johnnie To action films (Exiled; Breaking News; Punished) he’s known for in the West, Richie Jen is very good as the husband on the down-low. Wong Ka-Lok is beautiful and charming as Thomas, Weichung’s lovely temptation, and the rest of the cast is excellent, including glamourous Taiwanese pop star Mavis Fan playing it straight as Feng, Weichung’s earnest wife, with her real-life full-sleeve tats airbrushed in postproduction. Also outstanding is a subplot involving Weichung’s high-maintenance sister who gets cold feet a few weeks before her planned wedding to the nerdy and devoted San San (played with forlorn mopiness by Taiwanese rock star Stone). Chen directs the movie with a deft touch, with likeable characters, believable situations, and a light touch of magical realism, including a spot-on spoof of a weepy Taiwanese drama. The movie is poignant, funny, and enjoyable, with sympathetic characterizations of its many characters.
South Korea’s White Night (2012) is slow, beautiful, and deliberate, a very different kind of movie than Chen’s brisk and buoyant film. Won-gyu (another sexy flight attendant, what?) returns to Seoul after a two-year self-imposed exile following a traumatic event. He hooks up via the interwebs with Tae Jun, a motorcycle courier, and despite their initial antagonism, the two court and spark throughout a long and eventful night on the streets of Seoul. Director Lee Song Hee-Il depicts Seoul at night as a brilliant, glittering, yet somewhat malevolent site, locating his actors on rain-slicked streets and in shadowy, cramped interiors. His actors do a good job maintaining their complex and often conflicted relationship, with Lee I-kyeong as the streetwise Tae Jun in particular showing a lot of swagga and charisma. White Night touches on relevant issues including internalized homophobia and gay bashing and possesses some great sexual heat from the two hunky leads. However, despite the effectiveness of its moody mise-en-scene, the film’s elliptical and somewhat opaque narrative leaves a few too many questions unanswered.
Like Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?, Two Weddings and A Funeral (2012, South Korea) also looks at the plight of a married man living on the down-low. But in comparison to Arvin Chen’s delightful and subtle film, Two Weddings and A Funeral, though heartfelt, is a much less accomplished piece of filmmaking. The film follows a gay man who marries a lesbian co-worker in order to convince his nagging parents of his heterosexuality, with a predictable lack of success. The film includes queeny friends, gay-bashers, tearz, and contrived situations, and is fairly clumsy and overwrought, filled with overacting and unbelievable plot twists, but there are some funny and charming moments sprinkled throughout. The Frameline screening was also marred by digital artifacts in the projection, which were distracting and took the viewer out of the story. The best part of the screening, however, was Jo Gwang-soo Kim, the film’s very sweet director, announcing to cheers from the audience that he and his partner, the film’s producer, were soon to be married. The two left the stage happily holding hands, yet another reminder of the great historical moment that we were inhabiting.
*NOTE: As a prelude to the repeal of DOMA, Tuesday night brought another significant civil rights drama, played out mostly on the internet. I stayed up well past midnight to watch the awesome smackdown of the Texas GOP by State Senator Wendy Davis, as she filibustered in her neon pink running shoes for 11 hours in order to block draconian anti-abortion legislation. After watching the whole thing play out on ustream and twitter (with the cable and broadcast news channels completely ignoring this fine political theater) I went to bed satisfied, as the bill was not passed in the Texas legislature. Asshat Texas governer Rick Perry has since called a special session to try to ram through the rejected bill, but Texans are not letting him slide by so easy this time. Later that week, thousands demonstrated outside of the state capital building in 100 degree weather, keeping a watchful eye on the sneaky Republicans as they try to roll back women’s rights in Texas. More to come as it develops.
As I watched our President sworn in for his second term this week I was pleased to note that in his inauguration speech he gave a shout-out to the Stonewall riots and made encouraging noises about marriage equality. Though subtle and fleeting, it was a definite indicator of the mainstreaming of the LGBT movement.
This is especially evident after seeing David France’s stunning new documentary, How To Survive A Plague, which focuses on the early days of the AIDS crisis in the U.S. The contrast is stark between President Obama’s careful but inclusive mention of LGBT rights and the Reagan/Bush administration’s rampant homophobia and indifference to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and 90s. France’s film specifically looks at the efforts of ACTUP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) in New York City as that grassroots organization sought to increase awareness of the epidemic and to pressure the government to develop treatments for the disease.
As one who lived through those times the film was very hard to watch in several spots, bringing back memories of the countless early deaths that devastated the gay community, here in San Francisco as well as in New York City and around the world. Though it’s very New York white middle-class male-centric (hello, Haiti?) it’s nonetheless a well-made and impressive piece of filmmaking. The documentary traces the stories of several young, mostly HIV-positive men who take up the struggle after the U.S. government fails to address the epidemic (then-President Ronald Reagan didn’t publicly utter the word “AIDS” until 1987, more than six years after the first case was diagnosed). The film follows several of these newly minted activists as they pressured the government, the medical establishment, and the pharmaceutical companies to search for effective treatments for AIDS.
The genesis of ACTUP coincided with the widespread use of the camcorder and the film is comprised primarily of historical camcorder footage interspersed with modern-day interviews. Although it took my digitally acclimated eye a little while to adjust to the unsharp VHS and Hi8 footage, the softer, fuzzier images are very evocative of the time and ultimately become a visual signifier for the era. Though not as crisp and clear as modern-day digital recordings, the footage is nonetheless powerful and moving as it documents seminal moments such as ACTUP’s infamous 1989 St. Patrick’s Cathedral “die-in,” the confrontation between ACTUP member Bob Rafsky and then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton (who gives as good as he gets, by the way), and the capping of extreme homophobe and all-around dickwad Senator Jesse Helms’ house in a massive canvas jimmy hat. The handheld, lo-fi quality emphasizes the immediacy of the footage and one archival sequence in particular, where dozens of protestors fling the ashes of loved ones who have died of AIDS onto the White House lawn, becomes astoundingly powerful in its intimacy.
Director France skillfully weaves together historical footage of the often-contentious ACTUP meetings (one featuring fire-breathing playwright Larry Kramer lambasting the bickering factions), various demonstrations, interventions, and acts of civil disobedience, and more personal footage of several significant participants, following them to their eventual fates. Sadly, for many including performance artist Ray Navarro, this means death from AIDS-related illnesses. After witnessing Navarro gleefully skewer the religious right as he performs as Jesus in early ACTUP demonstrations, it’s painful and poignant to watch his last days captured on video as he succumbs to blindness and delirium. The film follows other individuals who meet similar fates and, after watching video footage of them playing with their children at birthday parties or speaking out eloquently against ignorance and homophobia, their deaths are deeply felt losses. The film effectively captures the horror of the era as seemingly healthy young men are articulate and strong one day and are frail and dying of opportunistic infections and Kaposi’s sarcoma the next.
Some may argue that the movie is just another rehash of the ACTUP/Larry Kramer/New York City mythology that’s way too focused on a small group of gay white men to the exclusion of the rest of those affected by AIDS. To be fair, there are a couple women activists included (but their stories aren’t followed to the extent of the men in the movie), Latino artist and DIVA-TV member Ray Navarro has a featured role, and some of the b-roll includes images of African American men. Would the film have been a more inclusive and representative picture of the AIDS epidemic if there had more Haitians or females or people of color included? Sure. Would that make it a better, more powerful film? Not necessarily, it would just make it a different film. As it stands, the emotional and visceral impact is there, the craft is there, and the storytelling chops are there. Despite its somewhat narrow worldview, the movie makes a strong case for grassroots organizing and for standing up to institutional indifference, hostility, and outright discrimination, and for that it’s a significant and important piece of work.
Nov. 2, 2011: Spent a good part of the afternoon at the general strike demonstrations in Oakland today. I’d fully meant to get in a good day’s work editing my new film but once I got on the twitter feed my good intentions went out the window. The revolution was happening just across the Bay Bridge and I realized that my creative process would probably benefit most from the knowledge that I could glean from what was going on in the streets, not from wrangling with the intricacies of Final Cut Pro.
So after sketching out a couple ideas I decided to skive off the rest of the day and head over to Oakland to show my support for Occupy Oakland. As noted in my last post, OO got worked over pretty good last week by the Oakland Police Department, with help from outside agencies including seventeen different regional police departments and a rumored assist from Homeland Security. After that mess the folks at Occupy Oakland’s general assembly voted for a general strike, which took place in spectacular fashion today.
When I emerged from BART into the warm autumn sunshine at Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza this afternoon the area was full of excited but peaceful demonstrators. I met up with fellow Asian American Studies @ SFSU prof Eric Pido and we took a quick spin around the plaza, checking out the various speakers and performances both scheduled and impromptu, as well as the happy line of people waiting for free grindz dished up by the Food Bank and other kindly folks. The outdoor kitchen included an orderly cleanup station that included compost bins and recycling (!)
We circled back to the main intersection in time to hook up with a large march headed up Harrison Street toward Grand, passing by the Caltrans building where curious workers stood on the sidewalk watching the demonstration pass by. At one point I observed a couple office ladies confer with each other, then gleefully join the march as it continued up Grand Avenue. I headed back to San Francisco shortly thereafter and followed the rest of the protest on twitter as tens of thousands of people shut down the Port of Oakland and effectively prevented any activity there.
As I write this around 11pm there are still many hundreds, if not thousands, of people peacefully massing at Ogawa/Grant plaza. The police are keeping their distance, although I’m sure they’re chomping at the bit for any excuse to brutalize the demonstrators. Here’s hoping that things will stay calm, and that this amazing day will continue into the night.
NOTE: Oakland writer and artist Kenji Liu has produced an excellent diptych of posters, Memory Is Solidarity, that connects the dots between Frank Ogawa and Oscar Grant, whose names grace the downtown Oakland plaza that is the hub of Occupy Oakland. He eloquently explains why he thinks that we should remember both Ogawa and Grant, since both were victims of institutional racism–Ogawa was imprisoned at the Topaz internment camp during World War Two, and Grant of course was murdered by BART policeman Johannes Mehserle in 2009. Liu also notes the importance of other significant place-names including Wall Street, which was indeed originally a wall that separated European Americans from the indigenous Lenape people in lower Manhattan. It’s great that the Occupy movement is spawning so much thoughtful and interesting debate–a true sign of a successful campaign.
UPDATE: 11.53p: About 300 police have shown up at Ogawa-Grant plaza. Protestors chanting “Oscar Grant! Oscar Grant!” Teargas and rubber bullets fired–livestream here: http://www.livestream.com/globalrevolution
UPDATE 2: 12.14p. Alameda County sheriffs have just moved on the occupiers in Oakland. Teargas, rubber bullets, and flash grenades being used on protestors. All went down just after the television news crews packed up and went home. Luckily an intrepid cameraman has been livestreaming the entire event. Don’t let this unbridled show of police brutality go unwitnessed.
Here’s what I gleaned from the livefeed: Protestors were dancing in the streets just before midnight. Some had occupied a foreclosed building adjacent to the square. A couple hundred police in riot gear arrived and without warning or a dispersal order fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd, which had dwindled quite a bit from earlier that day. Several of the police, who appeared to be from the Concord Police Department among other agencies, had masking tape covering their names and badge numbers. When challenged about this I heard one cop say, “Go home,” to a demonstrator, who then said, “I have a right to peacefully protest.” A hostile bystander then replied, “He has a right to kill you.” When I finally succumbed to fatigue around 1am the police and protesters were still in a standoff.
UPDATE 3: OakFoSho has corrected my belief that a cop said, “I have a right to kill you.” Apparently it was a heckler standing nearby who said it. Fixed.
On a similar tip, here’s a great video of a couple demonstrators who came across an Oakland policeman with his name-tag taped over.
UPDATE 4: Davey D. from Hard Knock Radio breaks it down in an excellent overview and analysis of the day.
UPDATE 5: Great discussion of the turn of events on Thursday here on dailykos.com.
UPDATE 6: The Occupy movement, and attendant police violence, has spread to the UC Berkeley campus. asiansart.org has a great on-the-ground description of the demo yesterday, including videos of UC police beating on peaceful student protestors.
The Berlinale opened this week and the film festival posted on the front page of its website a powerful and poignant letter from jailed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, whom the Iranian government recently sentenced to six years in prison and banned for twenty years from making films, for supposedly plotting against the regime. In his letter Panahi states, “The reality is they have deprived me of thinking and writing for twenty years, but they can not keep me from dreaming that in twenty years inquisition and intimidation will be replaced by freedom and free thinking.”
It’s heartbreaking to think that an artist as talented as Panahi and as outspoken in his support of human rights might be muzzled for two decades. I’ve only seen his three most recent films but each of them are both innovative and imaginatively made movies as well as clear, uncompromising critiques of social inequities in Iran and beyond. The Circle (2003) savagely exposes the gender inequities in the lives of Iranian women. Crimson Gold (2003), written by fellow Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, concerns an everyday pizza delivery man whose daily humiliations by the ruling class eventually push him over the edge. Offside (2006) also takes on gender roles in modern-day Iran, framing its story against the runup to the World Cup.
The international film community, as evidenced by the Berlinale’s decision to leave a symbolically empty chair for Panahi on its jury panel, has been vocal in its opposition to his sentence, but it remains to be seen if the Iranian government will bow to public pressure to release Panahi or reduce his sentence.
Panahi has been eloquent in his own defense, noting in an interview in August, ““When a filmmaker does not make films it is as if he is jailed. Even when he is freed from the small jail, he finds himself wandering in a larger jail. The main question is: why should it be a crime to make a movie? A finished film, well, it can get banned but not the director.”
Though Panahi’s sentence may seem shockingly excessive, we here in the U.S. shouldn’t forget that culture wars are still being fought in this country as well. In October 2010, conservative Reps. John Boehner, R-Ohio (now Speaker of the House) and Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) targeted the inclusion of the late artist and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz’s short experimental film A Fire in My Belly in the show Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Citing a brief passage from the film in which ants are seen crawling over a wooden crucifix, Boehner called the exhibit “an outrageous use of taxpayer money and obvious attempt to offend Christians during the Christmas season.” Skittish Smithsonian curators quickly pulled the film from the show, to the outrage of much of the art world (the Warhol Foundation threatened to withdraw its funding from the museum). As with early 1990s attacks on NEA-funded artists by Sen. Jesse Helms, another far-right stalwart, the current assault attempts to silence what the right considers a dangerously subversive perspective, that of a gay man who dared to include religious iconography in his work. It’s one more volley in the ongoing attempt by the right to control the cultural discourse of the U.S.
Perhaps more so that the left, the right wing keenly understands the ability of art and culture to sway public opinion. As Jeff Chang and Brian Komar so astutely note in Vision: How We Can Beat Conservatives With Progressive Culture, their excellent essay on alternet.org about what they term “cultural strategy,” “When artists tell new stories, they can shift the culture and make new politics possible.” There’s a reason why conservatives are once again agitating to de-fund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Public Radio, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and it’s not because they don’t like the tote bag they got with their membership pledge. It’s because the right understands that by controlling arts, culture and media outlets, and by extension controlling the master narrative, it can control the social and political landscape as well. As Mao Zedong famously stated, “[Our purpose is] to ensure that literature and art fit well into the whole revolutionary machine as a component part, that they operate as powerful weapon for uniting and educating the people and for attacking and destroying the enemy.” (Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art, May 1942) Change “revolutionary” to “conservative” and “enemy” to “Democrats” and this quote could be straight from the latest installment of Fox News.
Mao had a good reason to fear the millions of artists and intellectuals that he exiled to hard labor in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. He understood the power of art to shape popular thought and sway political opinion, as does the Republican brain trust that has been fighting for control of the arts and culture of this country for decades, and as does the ruling party in Iran that has chosen to silence Jafar Panahi.
So while we wring our hands over the fate of Panahi, we should keep in mind that we’ve immersed in a culture war here in our own backyard as well. Rush, Sean, and Bill aren’t just harmless kooks mouthing off on cable tv, but are significant bully pulpits of the right-wing thought-control machine. It’s no accident that in the dire hours of the Egyptian revolution this past month, then-President Mubarak immediately moved to shut down Internet access, repress independent media outlets, and harass journalists. The power to define and shape the cultural narrative, whether through art, media, or information exchange, is the new high ground in the battle for ideological and political power.
UPDATE: Jafar Panahi has just been awarded the Carrosse d’Or (Golden Coach) at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, which is awarded for “innovative qualities, courage and independent-mindedness.” Cannes will screen Offside on May 12 and will keep an symbolically empty chair in the theater for Panahi.
I’m a little irked at last week’s Daily Show segment that punk’d San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar for sponsoring legislation to ban McDonald’s Happy Meals in San Francisco. Aasif Mandvi mugs and pops his eyes at the suggestion that the government should have any role in preventing corporations like McDonalds from marketing toxic, cancer- and obesity-causing poison as food. Mandvi even uses the term “nanny state” to describe regulation, which is a straight-up Fox News talking point. He also suggests that the Board of Supes banning Happy Meals would be like forcing Netflix to send all SF residents free copies of Supersize Me. Sure, it’s a funny gotcha moment, but it’s really a stupid false equivalency–one prevents an action, the other mandates one. I’m no lawyer but even I could see the faulty reasoning behind that one.
I can’t believe I have to even say this but fast food has been repeatedly documented to be total crap, so what’s the point of siding with McDonald’s and its fucked up, evil and bottom-line driven agenda of stuffing people with garbage that kills them? It can’t be that hard to understand that marketing edible poison to little kids with the lure of a cheap and shiny plastic toy is inherently messed up and venal.
And invoking the “nanny state” is straight out of the conservative anti-regulation playbook. Sure, give multinational corporations like McDonald’s free rein to regulate themselves and of course they’ll do what’s socially, morally and ethically responsible. How’s that working out for you, Enron, WaMu, and Halliburton?
Mandvi and the producers at The Daily Show really failed with this one. I guess I’ve been lulled into thinking that The Daily Show has some kind of oppositional cred since in the past Jon Stewart & Co. have successfully satirized other corporate and governmental malfeasance. But the show itself is on Comedy Central, which is owned by Viacom, one of the biggest communications corporations in the world. So I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to find that The Daily Show is reluctant to bite the pecuniary hand that feeds it.
UPDATE: Just in case you need more evidence, Taco Bell is being sued for false advertising because the “meat” in their tacos is only 36% beef.
UPDATE 2: Public health attorney Michele Simon busts out the legal argument on alternet.org: Why “Happy Meals” Are A Crime. She succinctly notes, “Ample science, along with statements by various professional organizations tells us that marketing to young children is both deceptive and unfair. Why? Because young children simply do not have the cognitive capacity to understand that they are being marketed to; they cannot comprehend “persuasive intent,” the linchpin of advertising.”
This one’s for you, Aasif. MDC live, Corporate Death Burger
On hemmed-in ground, use subterfuge.
Just a quick shoutout regarding a nice little intervention that’s followed in the wake the Johannes Mehserle verdict a couple weeks ago. Short, sweet, and to the point, these little gems have apparently been popping up on BART trains throughout the Bay Area. I haven’t found images of any of them in situ so if you happen to see one pasted up somewhere on your next BART ride be sure to whip out your cameraphone & document it for me. If you send me a pic I’ll post it for sure.
The Mehserle verdict was frustrating in so many ways, but even more aggravating was the mainstream media’s utterly predictable and fairly irresponsible response to it. The day of the verdict you could almost smell the anticipation on the breath of the cable news networks’ spokesmodels as they hopefully waited on the streets of Oakland for a riot to break out. Oakland residents managed to defy expectations as hundreds of people peacefully rallied for several hours after the verdict was announced, and it was only after most of those folks had gone home that a few goons trashed some storefronts and stole some running shoes. I’m not discounting the idiocy of the vandalism that happened that night but for the most part damage was contained to about 5 blocks in downtown Oakland.
It’s telling that, of the 79 people arrested that night, prosecutors only filed charges against nine of them. Even more significantly, of those arrested 75% were not from Oakland and twelve of them weren’t even from the state of California. This reflects a common pattern of police repression that’s been honed in recent anti-capitalist demonstrations worldwide, most recently at the G-20 summit in Toronto.
As Loius Proyect, aka The Unrepentant Marxist, notes in his blog, what happened in Oakland followed a well-worn scenario:
There’s a mass demonstration. A layer of people do a split from that march and then some engage in expressing their rage against the system by smashing windows and other acts. Given the world we live in, it is surprising that more of this doesn’t happen more often.
In response, the police hold back until the main march disperses. They wait for some damage to be done, and then they go on the offensive. They round-up and brutalize everyone left on the streets, including passers-by, peaceful protesters and those engaged in property damage. In Seattle, Quebec, Genoa, etc. this script has played out over and over again. The police wait until the mass organisations leave, then go after the rest. This strategy suggests that the police and the state are keenly aware of who they want—and don’t want—to provoke.
The events in Oakland suggest that, onced again, we were played both by the police and by the complicity of the mass media. If the powers-that-be have perfected the art of misrepresenting peaceful protests as riots and discouraging the average citizen from any form of dissent, then continuing to utilize creative interventionism as a revolutionary tactic is an absolute must. As 19th-century Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz famously stated, “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Street protest is a venerable form of dissent, but if properly done, small, sneaky activist artworks like the BART sticker above can also pack a mighty wallop.
For a more detailed analysis of the Mehserle verdict and aftermath, go to Davey D’s blog here.
UPDATE: Nov. 5, 2010. Johannes Mehserle’s sentence has just been announced–he got 2 years, which was the minimum about of jail time he could have received. The gun enhancement charge, which could have added up to 10 years to Mehserle’s sentence, was thrown out by Judge Robert Perry. With time served, Mehserle could be released as early as February 2011, or in about three months. In my opinion there are no words to describe how stunningly wrong this is.