A revelatory moment

Movies are made on models, particularly in the last few decades. You read a script and it’s like three acts. Something has to happen to the character that has to go to the end of the first act so that the second act is going to evolve the things until you end the second act with a big problem then at the end, things are going to be solved or it’s going to be sad or whatever. And then you have casual dialogue in the first act, then it becomes open dialogue between characters and ends up in being big monologues. This is, for me, a travesty and I hate it. But that is how 99 per cent of the fare that is given to us in cinemas worksLuca Guadagnino speaking at the 2017 TIFF Talks in Toronto to promote his latest film, Call Me By Your Name

Luca Guadagnino is officially one of my favourite directors — along with Barry Jenkins, Wong Kar-wai and Guillermo del Toro. Actually, he is at the top of my list.

Admittedly, my paltry list of favourite film directors isn’t as meaty as my list of favourite film composers. I just might be pickier when it comes to directors. But then, I also haven’t made the time to see a lot of movies either. I understand John Cassavates is a director whose work is a must-see for those wanting to get their toes wet in the world of film and filmmakers. I probably should start with a small list of directors I need to watch.

There are a number of things that go into making my favourites list. I’m hardly a film geek by any stretch of the imagination. But I know what I like and it’s usually the intangibles that grab my attention and determine who makes the list. I probably should be more geeky about the directors of photography but I haven’t figure that one out yet.

So, why is Guadagnino at the top of my favourite directors list? Oddly enough, it isn’t because of any of the films he has directed. I confess to not seeing any of them except for I am Love. It’s impossible to forget Tilda Swinton. I should watch that movie again before I see Call Me By Your Name. And I should also watch A Bigger Splash. It was a film that had been on my radar when it first came out but for whatever reason, I never got around to watching it. I can be so delinquent.

The reason Guadagnino is my number one director is because of the quote at the beginning of this post. But there’s much more to that quote and how he approaches filmmaking, storytelling and the truth as it exists in a story.

When he spoke about the three-act story arc, my mouth hit the floor. It must have stayed on the floor for a solid 5-10 minutes. Guadagnino referring to the three-act story arc as a travesty didn’t shock me. What shocked me was that there was someone else who felt the same way I (more than occasionally) felt about adhering to a three-act story arc. I should have jumped up and down for joy upon discovering that there was a like-minded soul out there. But I was so surprised by what he said, I didn’t know what to do with myself when I heard it. It was revelatory.

In another interview at the Toronto International Film Festival, he talked about the concept of genre movies and how very much it was an American construct, a way of compartmentalizing things, boxing things. Personally, I think one of the reasons genres are used to categorize anything and everything in the entertainment and literary industries is it makes marketing easier for studios and publishers.

Coming from a European filmmaking point of view, Guadagnino noted that genres are not as adhered to on the other side of the Atlantic pond. All that matters, ultimately for him, is telling a good story regardless of what genre the story falls under.

I just might be living on the wrong continent. I could not love the man more if I tried.

If someone were to ask me what genre of fiction I write in, I’d respond with “I don’t think about genre. I think about the story.” I couldn’t give a flying fuck what genre my stories fit into. The only reason I describe my current writing project as falling into the crime genre is because my writing mentor labelled it as such. Before that I couldn’t tell you because I don’t think about genre. I don’t like boxing in a story in that manner. I have plenty to deal with so that genre will never be a priority with me. That may or may not get me into a shitload of trouble down the road but I couldn’t give a fuck right now.

With each genre, there are conventions a writer should adhere to in order for it to fit into that genre. I probably was aware of this as a reader on some sort of subconscious level. As a writer, not so much. I was informed by my writing mentor about certain things that never appear or are never really used in crime novels. I won’t discuss discuss what they were but rest assured, I was not impressed. Ultimately, the do’s and don’ts are things I can deal with although I’m probably going to push the envelope where the ‘dont’s’ are concerned. Not because I’d be doing it out of spite. It’s more the case of I can’t fucking help myself.

It’s my understanding that each genre has its own rhythm. The crime genre definitely has it’s own rhythm. I, on the other hand, am familiar with one rhythm — mine. So, to get a taste and feeling for the rhythm, I read The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain, I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane, Sin City by Frank Miller and Elmore Leonard’s City Primeval.

At the outset, I can’t tell you what I’ve learned from reading those books because it’s one of those learn-through-osmosis deals. Whatever I’ve absorbed will be blended into my storytelling rhythm. I suppose it will be one of those slow evolution situations that I won’t notice unless someone points it out because they see it.

Listening to Guadagnino’s words has added more fuel to a fire that has been happily crackling away. Now, it’s become a little brighter and a few degrees warmer. I might be understating the heat temperature, though. Just a little.

Now, I’m gotta get back to that fire and stoke it for awhile.

Moonlight’s win is no joke

This is not a joke, Moonlight has won best picture. Moonlight. Best picture — Jordan Horowitz, producer, La La Land

Usually I don’t pay much attention to the Oscars. Primarily because I haven’t gotten around to seeing any of the nominees before the big night. I might see one of the movies after the statues have been handed out. ‘Might’ being the operative word.

The only time I was interested or invested in what happened at the Oscars was when Brokeback Mountain was up for best picture. I loved that movie. Still do. Naturally, I thought it was an absolute travesty when Crash robbed Brokeback Mountain of that particular Oscar. I remember being quite pissed about that outcome. Calling that win an upset is a mild way of describing it.

Since then, I hadn’t really given two cents to the pomp and pageantry of the Oscars.

That was until I watched Moonlight. Everything about it is perfection to me. It took hold of my heart like nothing else before it and it is a story I champion.

I will admit to not having watched La La Land. Will I ever? Most likely not. I’m not a fan of musicals. I have a hard time connecting to that film genre. Not my jam. But I’m not saying I don’t respect the time and effort put into making that film. Kudos to the film for the six Oscars they earned last night.

Going into last night, right or wrong, the two films were pitted against each other. The nature of competition, I guess. The Oscars, by its very nature, is a tedious awards show to watch, regardless of who is hosting. I’m not sure if it speaks to the shortening of viewers’ attention span, but it seems trying for the average person to sit for more than three hours watching a televised awards show when all they want to hear is who wins the last category of the night.

As expected, there weren’t any real surprises or upsets during the ceremony. It was getting a little boring although some of the speeches were beautiful, like the one Viola Davis gave after winning Best Supporting Actress. I’m all for ‘exhuming bodies’ and listening to those stories. Those are the ones I want to hear.

Another moment of note was actor Gael García Bernal speaking out against Trump’s plan to build a wall along the very long U.S.– Mexico border: “As a Mexican, as a Latin American, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I am against any form of wall that wants to separate us.”

I suppose the only hint that something might not go La La Land‘s way was the fact they did not come close to sweeping in all their nominated categories. Out of the 14 nominations, they took the Oscar in the only six categories.

Quite frankly, I was itching for an upset of epic proportions as the evening wore on. Something along the lines of what had happened to Brokeback Mountain, but bigger. I had always wanted Moonlight to win Best Picture but came to resign myself to the likelihood of La La Land taking that honour.

Then that gaffe happened. Everyone would have preferred that the correct envelope had been given to Warren Beatty and that the folks from Moonlight would have been given the opportunity to enjoy their win more completely. As the saying goes, shit happens. Then you roll with it.

Huge kudos to La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz for announcing there had been a mistake and graciously handing the Oscar statue over to Moonlight director Barry Jenkins and vacating the stage for the Moonlight folks. In any other situation where millions of people aren’t watching you because you’re on live TV, handling the situation with aplomb would have been a lot easier. But when everybody is looking at you and that self-conscious feeling is creeping up on you, you do what you know is right and hope the passing of the statue goes smoothly. Horowitz couldn’t have done it better in a painfully awkward situation.

These two films should have never ended up in this situation. It really was unfair to both parties.

Take away the biggest (and most embarrassing) gaffe in Oscar history and what you have is the epic upset I was looking for.

In it’s most simplified explanation, this film is a love story between two black men. It is a coming-of-age film. The film’s characters are representations of people who exist in the real world but have never really had the chance to exist and flourish beyond art house-style cinema.

This is a film that cost $1.5 million to make and was filmed in under a month. It has shown it is possible for independent filmmakers to go toe-to-toe with the big boys at the Oscars. It shows that stories like the one Jenkins tells in Moonlight are worth telling and should be told. People want to hear these stories. These stories are universal. To be denied the opportunity to tell them is criminal.

Some will excuse Moonlight’s win as the result of the current political climate. That may be partly true but it doesn’t diminish the fact that the film resonated with a lot of people before the U.S. presidential election back in November.

You cannot diminish this win. You cannot diminish the fact the film exists. You cannot diminish the fact this movie is very important to a lot people who have been marginalized in film, mainstream media and society.

The fact Moonlight was honoured last night with Best Picture brings hope that cinematically, we will see more of these kinds of stories, a more rounded and complex take of the world we live in.

Sometimes, you gotta represent

It’s hard as a young person of a different ethnicity or background to look at the TV and not see anyone who looks like you. Representation is very important — Zendaya

I’d like to amend that quote by saying that it is not only young people of a different ethnicity or background who find it hard to look at the TV or a movie and not see anyone who looks like you. Representation is important to everyone who is of a different ethnicity or background, young and old.

While striving for positive representation of people of different ethnicities and backgrounds on TV and in movies has been an ongoing topic of (ocassionally heated) discussion, it came into the supernova-bright spotlight with the movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story because of its multicultural/multi-ethnic cast.

My Dec.19 post, regarding my love/deep appreciation for the movie and my declaration that it was the best film to come out of the Star Wars franchise, focussed on the fact it subverted the idea that a movie’s protagonists always came out of a conflict alive and still standing to fight another day. That a happy ending isn’t always the best ending.

I really didn’t dive into the diversity of the cast in that post because I was still processing what I had seen. I’ve probably ruminated long enough to make somewhat lucid remarks on the subject. I also admit to being encouraged and spurred on by a tweet Rogue One actor Diego Luna shared last week regarding a Star Wars fan’s Tumblr post. The post made an emotional impact on him. In it, the woman shared her experience about the time she took her Spanish-speaking father to see Rogue One and how the fact that Luna kept his accent for the film, made her father proud to be Mexican instead of being ashamed of being Mexican. The tweet went viral resulting in media outlets in the States and from Mexico wanting to speak to the woman and her father.

Her post struck a chord with me. I can be outspoken on a lot of things but diversity/representation hasn’t been a subject I felt the need to weigh in on until now.

I grew up in a multicultural environment. In school, from kindergarten to university, my classmates were Indigenous, Filipino, East Indian, German, Italian, Ukrainian, Portuguese, Argentinian and so on. We didn’t quite resemble the United Nations but we did resemble the United Colours of Benetton ads that were almost ubiquitous back in the ’80s. There was an easy acceptance of our physical appearances that tied us to our individual ethnicities.

If any racial slurs or jokes were made, they were most likely made because the person making those slurs/jokes didn’t know how to verbalize whatever was gnawing them and lashed out over something that was obvious but was never really the source of the problem/issue.

When I was growing up, in the handful of times where racist slurs were made at me, it was confusing and hurtful because I never did anything to insult or harm the taunters. They would never tell me what I did wrong. They always ended up making themselves the victim and me the bad guy. I suppose when you think that way, you’re fucked up. No getting around that conclusion.

Over the years, I have come to understand that those who throw out racist remarks/slurs are people who need to exert some sort of power over someone else because they feel a degree of powerlessness that makes them uncomfortable and maybe, a little panicked. So they pick on someone who they believe won’t call them out on their bullshit. Of course, there are other who were taught racists views. You’re never born thinking that way. You’re taught labels and use them as a way of making sense of the world. Let’s be honest, labels are never that helpful. Labels box you in.

Unfortunately, because Asian people, in particular, Chinese and Japanese people, especially Chinese and Japanese girls and women, have been stereotyped as docile and passive… perfect doormats for verbal and physical attacks.

I do not have a Chinese accent. But I have a Canadian accent (whatever that is supposed to sound like). That’s because my family came over to Canada when I was four months old. But the lack of a Chinese accent hasn’t kept the odd and questionable human being from making remarks about slanted or slit eyes and talking with a really bad Chinese accent because they think it’s funny. Dumb fucks. I blame most of that behaviour on sheer ignorance. If they truly disliked me, for whatever reason, it’s easy enough to stop interacting with me. It’s that simple, is it not?

Despite the unpleasant moments, I have to say that for the majority of my life, I have been fortunate enough to be around people who look beyond my ethnicity, who are never distracted by my ethnicity, who accept me for who I am as a person.

In my current job, I am the only person with Chinese ethnicity working in my department. It’s been that way for years. I never think of it unless an older relative brings it up. Fortunately, I can count the number of times on one hand where I’ve had to address the issue with a relative. And since I’m bringing it up, yes, representation at my workplace is lacking but I’m not looking to change anything because my focus is elsewhere… somewhere I believe I can make my own little mark on diversity and representation. Honestly, my ethnicity is a non-issue at work. If it is, no one has said anything to me. I was hired for my skill set, not because there was some invisible quota that needed to be filled regarding diversity or the fact that I’m female.

While my ethnicity seemingly is a non-issue in my professional life, I do think it has been a shadowy issue in my romantic relationships. Not in every relationship but there are some that probably wouldn’t withstand the microscopic scrutiny I would put it under right now.

I’ve met men who will only date Asian women because they’re not ‘aggressive’ or ‘possessive.’ Sorry, but I see nothing but red flags when I hear shit like that. Quite frankly, any guy who thinks I’ll be docile and passive in a relationship because he thinks I can manifest his stereotyped assumptions/dreams about Asian women, is going to find my steel-toed boot up his bleeding arse and his car tires slashed.

But I think I’m digressing by talking about relationships.

Anyway, representation is something I never thought to put down into words until I saw Rogue One. Aside from the premise, another reason I love the film is because of its talented multi-ethnic cast. While Mexicans are thrilled Diego Luna is the male lead in the film, I love the fact Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen are also in the movie. And let’s not forget Riz Ahmed. Sure, he is British, but he is also Pakistani.

How great is it for children and adults — who share the same ethnicities as these actors — to see themselves reflected back in a movie that doesn’t have them portraying stereotypes? Pretty fucking great, I’d say.

And you know what? They all have accents, folks. And you know what else? You understand what they’re saying. The fact that accents are treated as normal and not something to be made fun of, or is seen as an obstacle to understanding what they are saying, is fantastic.

Personally, I love listening to accents. Accents are great. I’ve never regarded accents as something that got in the way of understanding the dialogue and what was happening in a scene. Makes me wish I had an accent even though I apparently have a Canadian accent. Again, I don’t even know what that means or what it’s in reference to.

Right from the beginning, when I started writing, representation has been something that has found its way into my fiction writing. With any long-form or novel-length projects I’ve worked on or are working on, there has always been some form of representation with regards to my characters. I’ve never forced it. It just is.

Through writing, diversity and representation have become important to me. There is this need to manifest it in my creative life, in my writing life. Again, I’m not forcing it. It’s just there and there is no way I’m going to dismiss it.

This need to show diversity has manifested itself in other ways — who I follow on social media, the kind of music I want to listen to, my small but significant interest in social histories and a desire to explore beyond the Canadian border and the North American continent. I love how this is subtly and positively infiltrating my life and my choices.

I long for the day where the entertainment media, or the media in general, stops running stories about representation or the need for representation because it’s been normalized. As it stands, it’s not normalized. As long as there are still adherences to using ethnic stereotypes to tell a story, we won’t be any closer to being rid of them. And so, the fight for representation continues. I stand behind this fight. There is no other way for me.

Representation matters.