At The Movies: Byzantium (2012)

byzantium2012

Byzantium

★★★½☆

2012 • 118 minutes • StudioCanal

Despite the fact that I often use the terms interchangeably, there is a difference between feminist and feminist-minded. The former explicitly embraces feminism; the latter often embraces the ideology but not the term. (And that can be for a variety of reasons—ideally, it’s to separate from problematic expressions of feminism, but more often that not it’s the dread “I’m not a feminist, but…”) The former implies action; the latter implies intent.

But even the best intentions can go wrong. (“I didn’t mean to offend you” is widely recognized as the coward’s apology.) On paper, Byzantium sounds perfect: a Neil Jordan film, adapted from a stage play, about a mother-daughter pair of vampires eking out an existence on the borders of both the mortal world and the male-dominated vampire world, facing their inevitable parting when they return to the seaside town they called home in life. It seems like perfect material for a fantastic creative team, including Gemma Arterton as Clara, the mother, and Saoirse Ronan as Eleanor, the daughter. And yet…

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At The Movies: Attack the Block (2011)

attacktheblockmovie

Attack the Block

★★★★★

2011 • 88 minutes • StudioCanal

Out of all the arguments that whiners against diversity in speculative fiction attempt to use, the “shoehorn” argument is one of the worst. In its most insidious form, it attempts to excuse erasure by pointing out that, say, a fantasy novel based on medieval Europe can’t have people of color because of history, neatly ignoring both the existence of people of color in European history (oh, hey there, medievalpoc! Keep up the good work!) and the fact that it’s fantasy. If speculative fiction is used only to repeat the same old stories over and over, then it’s not actually speculative fiction because there’s no speculation necessary. Diversifying speculative fiction requires no herculean efforts or suspensions of disbelief; it merely requires shifting the viewpoint.

Attack the Block, harking back to the low-fi action movies of the eighties, largely focuses on the action inherent in a teenage gang fighting off an alien invasion in their South London housing estate. But while it does include a young, conventionally pretty, and white female lead to soften the focus (and complicate our viewpoint of the leads, since the film opens with them mugging her), it never loses sight of what’s truly harmed these boys: toxic narratives about what it means to be a man and a culture that sees them as threats instead of people. That’s what leads them to kill the first alien that lands, putting everything into motion. It’s only through the rare opportunity to play the hero (albeit through circumstances they created, which the film and the characters own) that the boys—sharp Dennis, slightly kinder Jerome, hangers-on Biggz and Pest, and their leader, John Boyega’s tight-lipped Moses—actually begin to escape from and recognize those narratives. At one point in the film, in a rare and unsettling quiet moment, the kids wonder what the aliens are up to. The normally terse Moses offers this explanation:

No, I reckon yeah, I reckon, the Feds sent them anyway. Government probably bred those things to kill black boys. First they sent in drugs, then they sent guns and now they’re sending monsters in to kill us. They don’t care man. We ain’t killing each other fast enough. So they decided to speed up the process.

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