Jessica Jones and the Mechanics of “Post-Series Depression”

afterellen
Image from afterellen.com

Warning: The following content contains spoilers.

While I should have been studying for exams, I finally gave in to the hype and watched the first episode of Jessica Jones… and then the second episode, quickly followed by the third. Several days later, I found myself finishing the entire first season and dealing with that strange post-series depression; the kind of ache that arises only after you know you have finished a great show.

I know I’m late to the party since Jessica Jones aired on Netflix in November 2015, but this empty, void-like feeling after finishing this great show has got me thinking—why do we feel this way only when we have finished something that we really enjoy? After mulling over this for quite some time, I decided to do what I always do when I do not know the answer to something: write about it. I have decided that the answer to this question lies within Jessica Jones itself, or more specifically, its treatment of human psychology.

screenrant
Image from screenrant.com

For those of you who haven’t seen the show, Jessica Jones is a Netflix series produced by Marvel that follows the titular character’s quest to stop a mind-controlling psychopath named Kilgrave. Kilgrave himself is fixated on Jessica, and will stop at nothing to possess her. The show is one of the few television programs that accurately depicts a psychologically-tormented protagonist with an equally psychologically-complex villain. Characters on both sides of the good/evil spectrum suffer from mental illness. This is one of the reasons that Jessica Jones is so complex and compelling—it shows that people with mental illness are neither inherently bad nor good. Illness has no direct causal effect on a person’s morality, and thus we must examine the other, deeper reasons behind a character’s actions.

Everything about Jessica Jones is phenomenal, except for one glaring aspect that I find myself somewhat troubled with: Kilgrave’s death. There were so many interesting avenues to develop—Kilgrave was obsessed with gaining power and in one of his last scenes, his father warned him that the serum to expand his abilities might kill him. It was the perfect set-up for his death: in trying to develop his powers, his quest to become more powerful would end up killing him. Jessica’s ethical conundrum of having to kill someone would be avoided because Kilgrave’s own mad desire for control would do it for her.

So imagine my disappointment when Kilgrave falls for Jessica’s trap and gets himself killed in what felt like the most anti-climactic death in the entire series. I was so upset at this seeming cop-out of an ending. I ranted to all my friends about it, wrote this angry blog post about it… until I started thinking about why I was really so distraught by Kilgrave’s death.

I missed him.

screenrant2
Image from screenrant.com

I missed Kilgrave, the psychopathic, mind-controlling, cold-blooded murderer who rapes women and makes people commit suicide with his voice alone—but let me explain. I did not miss the unspeakable acts that Kilgrave committed. Rather, I missed Tennant’s chilling yet incredibly entertaining performance of him. I missed seeing what Kilgrave was up to next, and guessing at how he was going to carry out his next grand plan. Most of all, I lamented the potential to explore the possibilities of Kilgrave’s powers as a villain.

It is here that we come back to that empty feeling, that “post-series depression” we all get when we finish a great show. I would like to examine the effects of post-series depression first through the series’ most captivating (albeit disturbing) character, Kilgrave. He is a textbook psychopath, cunning and manipulative with an aura of superficial charm, and a complete lack of guilt for the atrocious acts he has committed. He does not see people as individuals, but rather as tools for his entertainment; characters in a play of which he is the director. We see this in the way he treats and imagines Jessica—although he claims to love her, he has no problem in trying to kill both her and the people she loves. What Kilgrave loves about Jessica is his ability to control her, to possess her, and it is this control that Kilgrave misses about Jessica when she is gone.

On a less extreme level, we miss our shows in the same manner. We miss our everyday interactions with them, seeing the characters we love, and the degree of control in what we choose to watch and when. Once the show finishes, we do our best to find other shows similar to the one we have just finished, but it is never really quite the same. Kilgrave’s character demonstrates the darker implications of this emptiness, since he tries to replace Jessica with Hope Schlottman (with the hope of filling the void), but this ultimately fails. Kilgrave’s behaviour demonstrates that possessiveness towards the things we love is not by any means the kind of relationship we should strive for.

rollingstone
Image from rollingstone.com

Jessica is the offered solution to this problem in the show. Although she suffers from depression and PTSD, she does not let these illnesses define her, nor is she isolated by them. On the contrary, Jessica has people she cares about and people who care about her. Despite her repeated attempts to “not give a shit,” she finds herself caring about people anyway, and in the end she chooses to accept these friendships rather than reject them.

It is worth noting that all of Jessica’s plans to defeat Kilgrave fail, and it is not until she starts including her friends in her plans that they start making progress. She includes her best friend, Trish, in her plan to take down Kilgrave. In addition, the very last scene shows Malcolm, one of Jessica’s allies, answering Jessica’s phone at her apartment, and viewers are left with the hopeful assumption that Jessica and Malcolm are to run Alias Investigations together.

Maybe the right way to love our shows is not to find another one to replace them with, nor to let post-series depression keep us from discovering new things, but to share our experiences with the people we care about. Having a good relationship with art means having a good relationship with people; we should want to share the things we love with others, not keep them exclusively to ourselves. It’s the reason we always want our friends to watch the same shows that we do, so that we can talk about the shows with them and have a shared experience. In a way, it is like we are keeping our experience of the show alive in our everyday conversations so that, technically, a show is never really over if we keep talking about it—and that, I think, is a comforting thought.

-Contributed by Carine Lee

Mulan Takes The Bechdel Test

Did I love Disney princesses? Of course I did. We all did. Don’t even try to lie. Everyone is an 8-year-old at some point in their lives.

It probably would have been a healthy obsession in my case—stopping after a few cute Halloween costumes, some fairly awkward conversations with animals, and an assortment of charming husbands—had it not been for Mulan.

Mulan-disneyscreencaps.com-3154
Image from http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/

Fa Mulan.

Sigh…

I knew there was no going back from the moment I first watched it. I went from wearing plastic tiaras to whacking my brothers with sticks faster than you can say, “The Huns have invaded China.” Maybe it was the lucky cricket. Maybe it was the silly grandmother. It was probably Mushu. But I like to think that it was watching Mulan discover herself with a sword in hand, rather than in ballroom slippers.

Let’s fast-forward (a shamefully small amount of time) to the present.

Now that I am much older and think about things (before hitting them with sticks), I have long since come to the conclusion that I was merely drawn to a strong, empowered female character. Done. That was easy.

Events transpired, however.

I recently stumbled upon something called the Bechdel Test, which is an unofficial measure of female portrayal in films.

Here is a 20-second history to get you up to speed:

The Bechdel Test was invented by Alison Bechdel and came from a comic titled “The Rule” in her series Dykes to Watch Out For (pictured here).

The-Rule-cleaned-up
Image from http://dykestowatchoutfor.com

A movie must meet three very simple criteria in order to pass:

  1. It must have two female characters (with names)
  2. They must have a conversation with each other
  3. That conversation must be about something other than a man

It sounds laughably easy to pass, but it turns out that 69% of IMDB’s top films fail that simple little test.

I’ll admit I was doubtful. I read through page after page about it.

I bet you have a favourite movie, they said. Look it up, they said. YOU WILL BE SUPPRISED BY WHAT DOESN’T PASS, they said.

So I looked it up. I saw a little green check mark next to Mulan. Hah, thought I, and gave my laptop a smug little smile. I was confident in my superior judgement. I was about to move on when the words “although dubious” caught my eye.

Dubious? DUBIOUS?!

How could Mulan be dubious? She was the pinnacle of female kickassery, the definition of feisty and unafraid, a raw, unadulterated shock of battle tactics and brute force with some kooky chicken feeding methods to boot. What could possibly be lacking?

Well, it seems that the female conversation was very scant in Mulan. Yes, there was some chit-chat between female ancestors, but they were unnamed. Yes, there was some mother/daughter/grandmother musical numbers, but those all circled around getting ready for the matchmaker to find a good husband. And yes, the protagonist was FEMALE but get this: Mushu had more lines in the film than Mulan did.

curvy-disney-mulan-1
Image from https://metrouk2.files.wordpress.com

Here’s how the movie scraped by:

Fa Li: I should have prayed to the ancestors for luck.
Grandmother Fa: How lucky can they be? They’re dead. Besides, I’ve got all the luck we’ll need.
Fa Li: Grandma, no!
Grandmother Fa: Yep! This cricket’s a lucky one! 

How progressive for the dark ages of 1998.

So I re-watched Mulan and came to the conclusion that in terms of women’s representation, it’s far from perfect. But then again, so is the Bechdel Test.

Although there was an utter lack of meaningful, non-male-related conversations between women in the movie, it’s not a stretch to attribute some of that to the largely (and in this case logically) male cast. Not to mention that this test doesn’t take into account the historical context, in which Mulan shows considerable independence and strength of character compared to the rest of the female cast as well as her fellow warriors. So perhaps this test is superficial, but it’s not entirely wrong.

Re-watching Mulan, I realized it wasn’t the perfect embodiment of female power I once believed it to be. Mulan says very few noteworthy things over the course of the movie, and the speaking parts are all largely male. Mulan is fighting for the greater glory of China, but the victory of the movie is more about winning the Emperor’s and her father’s approval, and Li Shang’s admiration.

I’m sad to say that I could summarize Mulan by saying, “Girl pretends to be a man, girl successfully blends in and is a very good man, girl wins huge victory for China and is offered a place as a woman in a man’s world but rejects it to return to domesticity. Then girl gets boy.”

That being said, for me, this movie will always be full of important victories: the cross-dressing imperial army, a Disney princess in armour, the most flattering of compliments (“Um… you… fight good.”), and an unlikely girl showing up all the boys.

But maybe I’ll make room for new heroes.

-Contributed by Katie Schmidt

Anybody Can Be a Hero

Overwatch-heroes-background-blizzard-1080x623
Image from gameranx.com

Heroes never die!” – Mercy

Released in May 2016 by Blizzard Entertainment, Overwatch is a team-based first-person shooter (FPS) that has quickly taken centre-stage in the gaming world. In a landscape already saturated with FPS games, what makes this one so different?

Perhaps a successful new IP was to be expected from the developers of Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo. But what makes Overwatch unique, is that it appeals to diverse audiences with its similarly diverse content, a hard find in an industry still dominated by white male developers who cater primarily to gamers like themselves.

Overwatch has garnered an avid fan-base and a burgeoning competitive scene, surpassing 30 million players as of April 2017 across PC, PS4, and Xbox One. It has also amassed an intriguing collection of lore that spans across a variety of mediums.

Set on a futuristic Earth where robots (known in-universe as Omnics) have gained sentience and turned against humanity, the original “Overwatch” organization was an international task-force that ended the war, kept the peace, and tried to prevent new crises from arising. As with most powerful global organizations, however, corruption soon tore it apart and ended its official operation. The game’s main timeline begins after the fall of Overwatch, when ex-member Winston—a scientist and gorilla who was raised on the moon—recalls the old team to face the new threats to the world.

vdwaybvhopxpp4xy6wax
Image from nowloading.com

As a class-based shooter like Team Fortress 2, Overwatch features heroes who each have their own role to play on the team. However, Overwatch takes its narrative aspect much farther, incorporating unique skills and abilities that are rooted in each hero’s backstory. From Tracer, a spunky British pilot who can blink through time; to D.Va, a South Korean eSports idol in her tanky mech; to Lucio, a black Brazilian DJ and freedom fighter who supports the team through sound waves; to Bastion, a decommissioned battle unit with PTSD accompanied by a small bird on its shoulder; Overwatch’s characters span cultures and professions, ages and races.

A relatable international cast makes Overwatch appeal to audiences world-wide, and the development team has made it clear that representation is a priority. Jeff Kaplan, the game director of Overwatch, has said that the team “want[s] everybody to feel kick-butt,” alluding to the role that heroes play in this universe and in pop culture in general. They recognize the importance of acknowledging that anybody can be a hero.

The follow up to these ideals has been significant as well; for example, when Tracer’s over-sexualized victory pose stirred up controversy early in the game’s beta period, Blizzard listened to fan critique and changed the pose to better fit Tracer’s overall depiction. This change occurred in spite of the protests from other fans who accused the team of pandering, as well as limiting free speech. The decision to put the concerns of problematic representation above adherence to the status quo is a promising sign of Blizzard’s commitment to inclusion in gaming, and an acknowledgement of the way gaming audiences have changed.

Overwatch is perhaps the embodiment of ludonarrative dissonance, a phenomenon where the gameplay doesn’t necessarily match the plot of the story. This is how mortal enemies like Reaper and Soldier: 76 can be on the same team, defending a magical artifact they would canonically be fighting over from an attacking team that might consist of Russian weightlifter Zarya and Omnic monk Zenyatta, despite Zarya’s hatred of Omnics.

Overwatch allows for maximum gameplay potential using its team-based structure without sacrificing its rich world-building and ongoing speculative narrative. Players can choose how much to engage with the lore, whether just through playing the game and picking up references to the deeper story, or through reading each new comic and following the animated shorts for clues about alliances and histories.

CHi-jBmUcAAkFw4
Image from @OverwatchNews on Twitter.com

Multiple mediums such as comics, animated shorts, social media, and even alternate reality games expand upon the lore and characters of the game. The compelling narrative of Overwatch has gained many followers, some of whom have never even played the game. Fan art and fiction of the characters in various canonical and alternate universe situations proliferate in online communities, as well as shipping of just about every possible character combination (a number of queer couples in particular). Not to mention the impressive amount of pornographic content that existed even before the game’s official release.

Fans enthusiastically follow the developer updates and hunt for clues about upcoming characters and maps. Beyond the addition of permanent content, however, the game also has constant updates that reflect real-world events, such as the summer Olympics or the Lunar New Year. The events create a link between the futuristic setting and the real-time experiences of its players. Limited-time cosmetic items and game modes come with these events, and sometimes they have accompanying narrative context that occurs outside of the game.

For example, the heartwarming winter wonderland comic “Reflections” that was released near the end of December portrays a number of the primary cast celebrating the holidays. The main plot of the comic follows Tracer as she urgently searches for a present for her lover, who is revealed to be a woman after months of speculation about canonically queer characters in the cast. Since the main face of such a popular game is queer, and in such a relatable and normalized way, that sends a strong message about Blizzard’s intentions for diverse representation in the game going forward. Queer representation is no longer relegated to fandom, and the developers are actively creating characters with diversity in mind while attempting to avoid tokenization.

kiss
Image from mic.com

This is why it’s so significant that Overwatch won Game of the Year in the 2016 Game Awards, and continues to boast a growing community with developer support more than halfway through 2017. In a time when the real world could definitely use a few more heroes, seeing a popular multiplayer game strive to represent the increasingly diversified community of gamers in empowering ways is uplifting. Overwatch’s success gives me hope that the often misogynistic and white-dominated world of gaming is experiencing a long overdue change. Although new conflicts arise and old ones grow more complex in the futuristic world of Overwatch, those with the power to make an impact come from many different backgrounds. Perhaps we can all imagine a future in which anybody can be a hero.

As Tracer says at the end of the launch trailer, “the world could always use more heroes.” Her words carry a sentiment we can all take to heart.

-Contributed by Victoria Liao

Anna Biller’s The Love Witch: A Feminist Approach to the Alternative Horror Genre

THE LOVE WITCH-illustration

Anna Biller’s faux-1960s alternative horror film, The Love Witch (2016), follows the narcissistic and eyeshadow obsessed Elaine in her search for the perfect fairy-tale romance. The self-proclaimed “Love Witch”, Elaine (played by Samantha Robinson) is a woman who uses home-made love potions, sex spells, and her own mysterious allure to seduce men until, of course, it takes an unexpected turn for the worse.

Aesthetics and visuals are central to the film. The costumes, scenery, cinematography, and soundtrack are all carefully directed and consulted on by Biller herself, a Cal Arts graduate. The sequences seem spontaneous, taking on a life of their own beyond the linear plot of the picture. These vivacious, colourful, and intrusive statements guide the film from the tropes of a mainstream horror flick to the unconventional features of an independent art film.

1-wu2iffuj83jV7tT6sY-cMA

In the director’s statement for The Love Witch, Biller mentions, “While I am quoting genres, I am using them not as a pastiche, but to create a sense of aesthetic arrest and to insert a female point of view.” Although Biller takes influence from aspects of the alternative horror/thriller genre, she uses a perspective that twists the typical male gaze of that genre, and brings about a sense of female empowerment. By using her knowledge of what men want, Elaine controls her own sexual agency.

This feminist concept is intermingled with the rules of witchery and the occult within the film. This is evident when the members of Elaine’s cult discuss how the strength of a woman’s sexuality both excites and challenges men’s patriarchal position in society, and how this makes men feel inclined to “put women in their place.” It is the figures of magic who bring attention to this, and the concept is juxtaposed with Elaine’s controversial behaviour regarding her lovers. Elaine uses her attractive persona to seduce men, but with her potions and her high expectations of romance, she “loves them to death.”

In a twist, Biller presents the dichotomy of Elaine’s lack of concern regarding her lovers with their increasing emotional attachment and eventual toxic separation from her affection. Elaine lacks any moral conflict in her actions, believing that the tragedies that result are simply a shame.

Biller borrows from the trope of the 1960s femme fatale, utilizing their hatred of betrayal by former lovers and twisting it so the woman gives the man what he wants physically but uses magic to separate herself from the emotional response he desires. Here, Biller references the social ideology in which men are thought to lack an emotional response in relationships. The moment Elaine denies her lover an emotional response is the moment that he starts to long for her love and support.

lwitch2

Another vital aspect of the plot is Elaine’s obsession with fairy-tale romance. Despite the contrary ways she exhibits this, she greatly desires a relationship in which her love is fully requited and without complications. While Elaine presents herself as imposingly stern and careless, she fantasizes about a pseudo-medieval scene in which she rides off with her prince charming, away from the difficulties of a mundane life.

When Elaine’s curious landlord Trish (played by Laura Waddell) snoops around in her apartment, we are exposed to the hyper-erotic drawings and paintings that cover the room. These depict explicit scenes in an artistic style that is unexpectedly harmless and bubbly. This seems contrary to the darker erotic aspect of the film’s visuals, but its absurdity and spontaneity are central to the alternative rhythm of the plot, and play on the extreme paradoxes in Elaine’s character.

Overall, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch explores the rhetoric of the ill-fated search for a perfect love affair. In unison with the occult genre, this results in over-the-top dramatic sequences, stunning visuals, and a soap-operatic flair. Although the film is identified as a horror/thriller, it most definitely isn’t the type of film that has you at the edge of your seat in anticipation. Rather, the overly dramatic acting, quick-cut sequences, and flashy and comical costumes leave you with a smile plastered across your face.

-Contributed by Mia Carnevale

Jessica Jones: Feminist Noir

jessica-jones-netflix-poster

In my line of work, you gotta know when to walk away. But some cases just won’t let you go…”

Jessica Jones, Marvel’s second outing with Netflix following Daredevil, arrived on November 20 at 3am EST. Needless to say, an hour later I had finished the pilot, and a day later, I dried my eyes as the credits rolled on episode thirteen.

There is a lot to unpack here. Jessica (Krysten Ritter) is the culmination of almost a century of noir detective stories. She’s a hard-boiled, keen, alcoholic sleuth, giving monologues about cases over the sounds of smooth jazz and a glass of whiskey in the dead of night in New York City. Even the opening lines, “New York may be the city that never sleeps, but it sure sleeps around,” would have felt at home in such films as The Maltese Falcon or, indeed, City that Never Sleeps. But this is more than a classic detective story.

For one, Jessica has superpowers. She’s super strong, a little bit fast, and can fly (badly, or as she calls it, “controlled falling”. This works to the advantage of the show’s budget). Jessica isn’t showy with these powers—she isn’t dressing up in a costume and beating up thugs, but she isn’t really hiding either. She uses these gifts when the situation calls for them, and that’s it.

But her powers are of secondary importance to the show. What is given the real emphasis is her relationship with her adopted sister Trish (Rachel Taylor), love interest and fellow defender-to-be Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and her neighbour and friend Malcolm (Eka Darville). Each of these relationships are nuanced and interesting, particularly the chemistry between Jessica and Luke. It has the benefit of neither one ever really being in a true position of power over the other; it fluctuates as needed. You know, like it would with real people.

However, it might not be her friends, but rather her enemy that this show will be remembered for. Kilgrave (Doctor Who’s David Tennant, looking like he’s having the time of his life), is the most terrifying villain Marvel has ever given us, topping Daredevil’s Kingpin and leaving Loki whining in the dust. The fact that Kilgrave is so compelling and frightening, coupled with how magnificently David Tennant plays him, is essential, considering almost the entire show is focused on the villain’s story.

From episode one onwards, Jessica is almost entirely focused on finding and stopping Kilgrave (with the occasionally side step to set up Luke Cage’s story).

With Jessica Jones, we get the first conflict between hero and villain that is truly a personal fight since Loki in the first Thor movie.

Before she was a P.I., Jessica was kidnapped and held against her will by Kilgrave. The show doesn’t say for how long, but it is implied that it lasted for months. Kilgrave has his own power: mind control. People are forced to do whatever he asks. He forced Jessica to be with him, just as he forces others to commit acts of violence or even murder or suicide if he feels like it.

Jessica escaped from Kilgrave, and this is how we meet her in the show. She is a survivor of rape and abuse, of having her agency stripped away from her, and of having her mind and body violated. Jessica suffers from PTSD because of her time with Kilgrave, and more than anything, this struggle is what the show is about.

Kilgrave is used to force a discussion on serious issues. Through his evil, the show explores the issues of consent, agency, and male entitlement. What might be most genuinely upsetting about his character is that Kilgrave doesn’t think that he’s done anything wrong. He takes no responsibility for the things he makes other people do.

Kilgrave, who repeatedly forces people to kill, genuinely believes that he didn’t kill anybody—they did it themselves. When, in episode eight, he is directly confronted by Jessica about her rape, his first reaction is to say, “I hate that word,” and claim that it wasn’t rape.

In fact, after everything he put her through, Kilgrave really believes that he loves Jessica and that he can make her love him back. He believes he’s done nothing wrong. One of the most unsettling moments is where he attempts to be considerate, telling her: “You were the first thing, excuse me, person, I ever wanted that walked away from me.” It’s terrifying, because you really know how proud of himself he is for that tiny consideration, even while threatening to kill a building full of people if Jessica doesn’t do what he says.

Kilgrave is the embodiment of a type of misogynist that has long gone unchecked in society. A man likes or is attracted to a woman, so she must reciprocate this attraction. Kilgrave wants Jessica, and so in his mind she has to want him back. It’s this unnerving sense of entitlement that carries the character and his understanding of the world, and it is terrifying.

Jessica Jones rejects that this is a normal or a forgivable way of thinking. Instead, it puts it front and center as evil, and on the way it creates the most terrifying on-screen presence since Heath Ledger’s Joker. When Jessica finally wins the day, you have to cheer just a little, because this battle was so personal, and her victory is completely earned.

Which is good, because Jessica focuses on almost nothing else. While the supporting cast is strong, and several secondary characters have their own plotlines, none of them manage to compete with the interest in the main story. This is unfortunate, because not every episode can be centered on the main villain. Jessica spends several episodes hunting Kilgrave without him ever appearing.

The only secondary character with a satisfying arc is Luke Cage. Apart from this also turning out to be about Kilgrave, and being defined by his relationship to Jessica, this sets up Luke’s own Netflix series for next year.

Jessica is an amazing character, and she’s put sharply on-screen. It’s just a pity that in thirteen episodes, Kilgrave is the only real case she focuses on, and everything else falls to the wayside. It would have been nice to see her take on some more P.I. work, to stop the show from focusing almost entirely on Kilgrave.

But that is one complaint in a sea of compliments. If you haven’t seen Jessica Jones yet, go and do so. You’re in for a wild ride.

-Contributed by Ben Ghan

Lilo & Stitch: it only gets better

Lilo and Stitch 2
Illustration by Bethany Pile

Check out Part One of this two-part blog series here!

Before we delve back into the serious stuff, let’s take a moment to admire the unique and colourful animation style of Lilo & Stitch. For the first time in decades, the directors chose to return to watercolour backgrounds as opposed to the typical solid colour of most of Disney’s current filmography. Watercolours were used to create a more storybook look as well as to recall the aesthetics of Disney’s Dumbo.

The animation style also differed from the standard Disney fare, being more reminiscent of director Chris Sanders’ personal drawing style, which is often described by his fellow animators as seeming to melt, as if the images were dripping. This effect gives us the chunky and gorgeous curves we see on all the characters (I’m looking at you, Nani).

Reportedly, Lilo & Stitch was also influenced by another one of our Spec faves: Hayao Miyazaki, who, according to director Dean Deblois, “creates genuine relationships in the realm of fantasy”. This inspiration is apparent in the complexity of the characters’ relationships to one another. Fun fact: Kiki’s Coffee Hut is named in loving tribute to Miyazaki’s film Kiki’s Delivery Service.

photo a

Nuanced Morality

The wonderful thing about this movie is the lack of “black and white” morality that is so predominant in films for kids. Too often, children’s media is excused for having poorly written, one-dimensional characters—something that is thoroughly criticized in most other genres. In mainstream film today, we demand well-written and complex female, queer, and ethnically diverse characters. Yet somehow we constantly excuse simplistic “good and evil” morality in films just because they are “made for kids”. Fiction is important because it allows us to see things that are not necessarily our personal reality, and to thereby gain empathy and understanding. The overwhelmingly reasonable characters and complex motivations and conflicts in Lilo & Stitch allow for a broader and more engaging experience.

Representation of Minorities

Although mainstream Hollywood seems to still be dragging its heels with good LGBTQ+ representation, films like The Danish Girl and About Ray, which premiered in this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, signal hope for the future. Unfortunately, the casting of cisgender actors in these defining roles is a blatant indication that we must keep pushing forward. With luck, we can move toward a future where characters are not defined by their gender identity or sexual orientation—or are turned into a farce—but are seen as people first, their sexuality and gender a small part of who they are.

Considering the state of modern media today, it seems amazing that Disney included such an ambiguous and gender-fluid character as Pleakley over a decade ago and in a children’s film. Clearly identified with masculine pronouns and voiced by a male actor, Pleakley resists gender constrictions by dressing in traditionally feminine attire when on Earth. While his choice of disguises could be chalked up to a misguided understanding of Earth (which Pleakley clearly has), he is further shown to enjoy his wigs and make-up, and remains in them throughout the film. It’s not even a point of contention in the movie; no one at any point has a problem with the way Pleakley chooses to dress and behave. While I’m not saying that Lilo & Stitch is the best portrayal of casual LGBTQ+ visibility that I have ever seen (the only gender-fluid character is not from our planet, after all), Pleakley is nonetheless a positive presence in the film. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be reminded that one’s decisions about one’s body don’t have to involve everyone around them.

photo b

The respectful and beautiful way that the film portrays Hawaii also deserves a mention here. While Lilo & Stitch is set on the island of Kauai, it doesn’t exploit stereotypes in order to tell its story. There are examples of beautiful Hawaiian language songs, although they are not the only music that we encounter (Elvis makes numerous welcome and hilarious appearances throughout the film). The traditional-sounding songs serve to set the stage, but do not dominate the story as a whole.

photo c

Similar is the treatment of traditional Hawaiian activities such as hula dancing and surfing, which are present but do not detract from the point of the story. What I mean to say is: Lilo does not have to win a hula competition to earn enough money for the surfing team; these activities are used to build on the characters, not the other way around.

photo d

Furthermore, for the most part, the Hawaiian characters are played by Hawaiian actors. Tia Carrere (Nani) and Jason Scott Lee (David) are Hawaiian-born and Hawaiian-raised, respectively. For a film that doesn’t visibly show its actors, it is impressive that the casting directors took the care to cast actors with a relationship to the islands. The actors even helped to rewrite some of their dialogue using correct Hawaiian colloquialisms. The natural traces of an accent in their voices lend a realistic feel to the atmosphere of the film that is subtle but extremely effective.

Positive Romantic Relationships

On the subject of David Kawena, everyone take a good long look, because he demonstrates what you should be looking for in a partner. First and foremost a good friend to Nani and Lilo, David doesn’t try to hide his romantic interest in Nani, but neither does he resent her for being too busy to date him. Instead, he finds productive ways to be a positive force in her life, such as by cheering up the sisters when they are feeling down, or by helping Nani to find a job when she is at her most desperate. He seems to truly care about Nani, as a person and as a friend first. Theirs is a truly good example of a mature and sincere relationship, and anyone waffling about in the murky swamps of romance should take note.

photo e

What my gushing boils down to is: don’t waste your time indecisively flipping through Netflix. Do yourself a favour—watch this film and drown in a torrent of happy-sad tears with extreme satisfaction.

-Contributed by Amy Wang

OHANA Means Quality Film-Making

The recent addition of Lilo & Stitch to (Canadian) Netflix answers the call of a generation.

As we enter the latter half of the 2010s, our cultural shift toward a celebration of the strange and alternative has exploded exponentially thanks to the age of the internet. The social outcasts, the quiet intellectuals, and the eccentrics suddenly find themselves idolized as ideals for our generation. The marginalized now find themselves more and more a part of the accepted mainstream as the demand for media to represent alternative lifestyles, minorities, and realistic characters grows.

Recently, animated films have risen to the occasion in this respect, responding to our collective desire to see more than just the typical boy-girl love story. For instance, the Frozen craze has shown us that people are tired of the Disney princess formula, and the movie has been widely celebrated as the quintessential depiction of sisterly love above romantic relationships.

What people seem to have forgotten, however, is that Disney already produced the perfect film for our generation’s needs over a decade ago. Thankfully, the benevolent overlords over at Netflix have decreed a second coming of Lilo & Stitch, which is just what we need.

We remember the adorable alien and that catchy “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride” song, but it’s really the characters and the weird, special bond they form that have us hastily wiping away tears because WE’RE ADULTS DAMNIT and a children’s film shouldn’t be making us feel so much. So, here for your reading pleasure, a definitive post detailing how the return of Lilo & Stitch is the answer to what we’ve been yearning for in our modern media.

Preach Love Not (Necessarily) Romance 

pic 0

If we can praise any film for its depiction of non-romantic love, Nani and Lilo’s sisterly bond is high up on the list of excellent portrayals. While the sisters in Frozen show their love for each other through sacrifice, their entire relationship is based on their isolation from each other, and they don’t share much screen time. The bond between Nani and Lilo is shown subtly: through their intimate knowledge of the other’s habits and the similarities in their behaviour. The sisters’ struggle is to stay together, through the good times and the bad. They have fun together, annoy each other, fight, and make up; and although the relationship is dysfunctional in many ways, it’s made clear through the small tender moments that they truly care for one another.

In fact, the overarching theme of the film is the importance of family, and how finding a place where you are loved and accepted can mold you into the best version of yourself. Both Lilo and Stitch are outcasts yearning to feel wanted, and they are able to find belonging by opening their hearts to one another.

Pic 1

Well-Rounded Female Characters

Nani deserves all the praise in the world for being both a sister and a mother, while dealing with all of the eccentricities of her strange yet lovable sibling. Though she has her limits, she is consistently shown to be understanding, and truly does her best to make ends meet. She rejects romantic relationships in order to dedicate herself to her family, but this is not the be-all-end-all of decisions in the film. This affirmation that romantic relationships are not the primary goal of female existence is a small detail that highlights the much larger positive message of this movie. Even better is the fact that it’s not made out to be a major conflict. Nani simply states that she is too busy to date (we’ll talk about how fantastic David is in an upcoming installment).

Pic 2

Lilo is basically cooler than you’ll ever be. She has a non-conformative view of beauty and body types, fantastic taste in music, and she embraces the strange and the unusual with open arms. Although she is rejected by her peers, Lilo unabashedly retains her unique outlook on life, and doesn’t stop trying to be accepted for who she is. Her perseverance and optimism is incredibly admirable and we should all aspire to be just as outspoken and imaginative–the world would be a much better place for it.

pic 3

In the vein of fantastic female characters, the Grand Council-WOMAN of the Galactic Federation definitely deserves a mention. She’s imposing and tough but also fair, and she recognizes her own errors. She also seems to have a sense of humour. Young (and young at heart) girls always deserve more female role models to admire, and if a lady can hold the highest political position in the galaxy, a female president doesn’t seem so impossible, now does it?

pic 4

Check out Part Two of this blog post here!