FILM & TV

THE REAL REEL | Showtime's 'The Affair' Addresses Homophobia & Racism

I Love That This Show Finally Found a Reason to Weave Racism and Homophobia Into Their Highly Sexualized Plotlines…But Why Now?

In it's 4th season, Showtime's drama The Affair, which started out as a steamy forbidden romance, is suddenly taking on issues pertaining to gender and race. Non-hetero normative sexuality was barely ever touched upon on this show, and racism was never talked about…and now all of a sudden (spoiler alert), key characters are facing obstacles surrounding racism and homophobia. What gives?

Don't get me wrong, I love that this show finally found a reason to weave racism and homophobia into their highly sexualized plotlines…but why now? I can't help but think that networks as boundary-breaking as Showtime know their audience, and they must know that anyone who will watch a show about extra-marital affairs…for four seasons…is also concerned with gay rights and racism. Too far a stretch?

Let me connect the dots. If watching someone dissolve a marriage, in almost the most destructive way possible (Noah Solloway did not bow out of his 20-year marriage gracefully) is entertaining to you, it's likely because you relate to some of the characters. Even if you swear that you don't relate to the cheating Noah himself (he is very relatable), the wife he cheated on, Helen, isn't exactly a bowl of ice-cream. Noah is "the cheater" but the writers do a great job at compelling us to love and forgive him despite his indiscretions. So audiences must like Noah at least a bit, as the show's plot-lines rely solely on the fact that there is no one "bad guy," and all characters are flawed and forgivable. Then, isn't it possible that Showtime is making the assumption that audiences who find intellectually sharp, emotionally challenged, complicated characters compelling must be progressives and thus must care about homophobia and racism? I hope so! (I'm sure there is technology that Showtime is using to know if this is true or total malarkey).

So how does the show address racism? Wellll…the best way! From the perspective of white privilege, which is fantastic since even in the era of Black Lives Matter, so many well-meaning white people think they can end racism just by "being nice" to people of color. But you, my sophisticated readers, know that that's ridiculous! You know that racism relies on a system of privilege and it is this system (not individual acts of racism, though duh…those are bad too) is what needs to be disrupted. This unhelpful, "white savior" approach to racism is what I think the writers wanted to depict when they have Noah inspire teenagers of color to stage a school wide walk-out. What happens? He almost gets the kids shot. Why? Because when white suburban kids walk out of a high school the police assume they are protesting peacefully. Guess what they assume when Black teenagers walk out of a high school?

So, Noah learns that he is not Michelle Pfeifer and this isn't Dangerous Minds, and clearly he has no idea how to serve communities of color (hint, it's not by leading them). But don't worry. It looks like he will sleep with the very smart Black principal of the school and all will be forgotten. I said the show "takes on racism," I didn't say it did it well. But don't worry…he has a gay son! I think.

Noah and Helen's son seems to be coming out as gay…but the best part is that Helen is obsessed with the fact that there is a reason for it. It's 2018, this show was seemingly filled with very progressive characters, and yet, the idea that a parent can accidentally make you gay is still a thing. I like this. No, I don't believe it, but I like that this show is shining light on some of the darker ideologies that many families are still dealing with. Yes, we have made progress, and yes we have Queer Eye, Ellen, and Modern Family, but we still have kids being bullied for being gay, families that blame themselves for "making their child homosexual," and millions of people globally who think gay people are sick, broken, and morally screwed. Even in progressive familes you can hear parents say out loud, "Of course we accept you!" and in the same breath utter, "Where did we go wrong?"

This show doesn't get it all right, but I enjoy the nuances of the characters, their outward progressive values, and their veiled unaddressed ignorance. It's how many of the liberals I know exist. When it comes to real life people, it's not all bumper stickers and memes. "Black Lives Matter"…unless you really want that 3 bedroom Victorian in that "up and coming neighborhood" and "Gay Rights Are Human Rights" ...unless I have to take time out of my day to organize a petition. After all, I have a haircut and a basketball game to catch.

Keeping It Real,

Rachel


By Rachel Hall, Rachel has a Masters in Cultural Gender Studies, is a writer, a personal coach, and even though she is very very fun (just ask her three-year-old daughter) due to her academic inclinations, always the pooper at the party. She works with all kinds of people to improve their ability to work with all kinds of people. She can often be found hiding from her two children in her laundry room. More about her on her website.


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FILM & TV

Is Tomb Raider the Feminist Film You've Been Waiting For?

Feminist Success or Another Terrible Remake?

Longtime fans of Lara Croft turned out this past weekend to see the newly rebooted Tomb Raider franchise. If you are a big fan of the past adaptations, you might be in for a surprise. 2018's Tomb Raider isn't full of over-the-top explosive action, nor does it have the trademark tackiness of a video game film. Instead we are given an emotional origin story that has left some people feeling let down. As critics and audiences disagree about the quality of the film, one question is standing out from the rest; how feminist is this new Tomb Raider?

It's hard to take a fresh look at this film without referring back to the original Tomb Raider films, starring Angelina Jolie. It's only when you contrast these two very different interpretations that the reality of this modern Lara Croft takes effect. Alicia Vikander's Lara is not the busty seductress that Angelina Jolie embodied with an effortless sensuality.

The new Lara is missing her trademark braid, wears long pants, doesn't have a padded bra, and isn't constantly portrayed through a hyper-sexualized lens. This Lara isn't put on display to pump up your libido- in fact, the only lingering shots featured aren't of Vikander's chest, but her incredibly defined arm muscles. Appearance wise, this new Tomb Raider look is realistic, refreshing, and definitely feminist. That being said, appearance seems to be one of the few feminist aspects of this film that they got right.

Warner Bros/Paramount

If you take this film as a stand alone, it will leave a lot to be desired. It can seem disappointing to watch Lara Croft come into her own while being outwitted, beaten up, and struggling throughout the start of this film. I take that with a grain of salt, because unlike the video game character who has been kicking ass for a long time, origin story Croft is just getting her start. It can be refreshing to see a woman who hasn't been training as a soldier her whole life, learn to find her inner power throughout the film. It feels very human to see Lara's failures make her stronger and smarter.

Her journey is perfectly embodied during the sequence where she breaks free from a headlock. At the start Lara has to tap out, bite and scratch to escape. She fails numerous times before she finally frees herself. She is a relatable female badass, and that is the second (and last) feminist breakthrough of this film.

IMDB

The lack of representation in this film is, honestly, incredibly disappointing. One might argue, this whole movie is centered around a woman, so how could it lack representation? I would respond that, if women make up around 50% of the population, then why is Lara Croft the only woman in this film? Sure, there are a handful of badass fighting women who make an appearance at Lara's boxing gym, but that first scene makes up the majority of the female cast and lasts about 2 minutes. Ethnically, this could be almost be considered diverse cast…. of men. There are only a handful of women, and none of color. The majority of people won't see themselves represented in this film.

There is so much potential here, but it doesn't quite come to fruition. However, this is a win for women who want to see a realistic action hero that is so much more than tits and ass. It just isn't the best it could be, and that's a problem. It does enough to get by, but with so many films doing better, it feels like it's time for everyone to step up their game.

IMDB

As for whether or not the film is a good movie, I really enjoyed it. It had me on the edge of my seat at times and Alicia Vikander carries this role with strength, grace, and a tiny dash of humor. As it stands on it's own, this movie isn't a true feminist victory. But, if it's meant to entice audiences into a series, where Lara Croft has developed into her role, then there's plenty of promise for the future. Here's hoping.


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