Sunday, 23 July 2017

Shubbak: Imagined Futures

A couple weeks ago I spent an evening in the Barbican watching the only part of the Shubbak Film Festival: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture that I made it to this year—a program of five short films titled “Imagined Futures.” These were not all science fiction, by any means, although at least two of them explicitly position themselves within the genre. I’m not going to try to review the films or the collective here, but give a few thoughts and reactions—if you can catch any of this series for yourself, you should surely do so.

Mare Nostrum is a Syrian/French production directed by Anas Khalaf and Rana Kazkaz, which in 13 minutes shows us a Syrian father apparently being irrationally cruel and abusive to his young daughter. The father’s own anguish at his daughter’s fear and suffering makes it clear that there is more going on, and the story ends on a heartbreaking—if all-too-familar—dénouement.

An animated short film from Lebanon directed by Chadi Aoun, Silence lasts only 15 minutes and is a beautiful/terrible dystopia where silence is obligatory (and brutally enforced by military agents), and rebels dance supernaturally to a music that seems to result from their choreography. Very nicely animated, tear-provoking film.

Selma, a joint Algerian/French production directed by Batoul Benazzou, is at 35 minutes the longest in this anthology, and rather than futuristic is about a girl worrying about her future after graduating school. Another longish piece, the 21-minute Lebanese parable Submarine, directed by Mounia Akl, is about the only woman who refuses to abandon her town when the garbage crisis gets apocalyptically out of control.

The shortest film of the evening was the 10-minute, Palestine/Denmark co-production Nation Estate, directed by and starring Larissa Sansour (who also joined us for a Q&A in the theater after the films), a squeaky clean dystopia in which the entire Palestinian people are housed in a single huge tower block. Their lives are luxurious, well-fed, with plenty of space for everyone and every resource and comfort they could want. The protagonist even has an olive tree in her living quarters, and instant, classic Palestinian food in preserved containers in her kitchen. The pseudo-utopian setting is so convincing that—Sansour tells us—a German critic went so far as to delightedly proclaim that this would be a good solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict! A spine-chilling, and more subtle science fiction offering than most of those shown here. Other than a couple of fascinating/infuriating anecdotes, the Q&A was short and rather shallow (the questioners’ fault, not Sansour’s), but the collection of shorts made for some nice contrasts, and none of the films were duds.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Recommend: Superheroine

For this month’s recommendation post we’d like to hear from you all about your favourite superheroines. They can be costumed comic characters, spandex-clad muscular movie heroes (or villains), or superpowered characters or people of any stripe—if they’re superheroines in your book, tell us about them and why. To prime the pump, we’ve asked a handful of authors and other friends to tell us their favorites. Read and enjoy—and then please tell us yours in the comments!

Priya Sridhar (author blog, story)

The Adventures of Superhero Girl is always a fun read, a project by Faith Erin Hicks that is currently on hiatus. Superhero Girl spends her days fighting crime, giving loose change to homeless people, and babysitting kids that have temporal powers. She also lives under her brother Kevin's shadow. Kevin has a huge superhero fanbase and merchandise collection. For the most part she has to be the ordinary kid sister who happens to have superpowers. Thus she gets little to no respect. But she keeps trying, and to keep herself from resenting her brother. The art has a loose, fun style that lends to large panels. I can get lost in SHG's story, her struggles which combine mundane resentment and fantastic adventures.

Omi Wilde (story; story)

Like Spiderman and Daredevil, Storme DeLarverie patrolled the streets of New York. But Storme, nicknamed “guardian of the lesbians,” was a real life hero who played a pivotal role in North American queer history. Described as a “gay superhero... tall, androgynous and armed” in her New York Times obituary, Storme walked the streets of downtown Manhattan well into her 80’s, always protecting her “baby girls” from any “ugliness.” She was present at Stonewall in 1969 and by her own admission and many reports, threw the first punch and inspired others to rebel against police persecution. As well as her work for the LGBTQ community, as a musician and drag king she organized and performed at benefits for abused women and children and is quoted as saying that she did so because “Somebody has to care… If people didn’t care about me when I was growing up, with my mother being black, raised in the south… I wouldn’t be here.” A biracial butch lesbian whose credo was caring and fierce protective love—she's very easily my favourite superheroine.

Check out Storme’s obituary and a short film on her life and career in the Jewel Box Revue.

Su J Sokol (website; Goodreads)

My recommendation for a superheroine is from the novella Scale Bright by Benjanun Sriduangkaew. One of the main characters of the story is Hau Ngai who is also Houy’i—the immortal archer of Chinese mythology who is married to Chang’y, the goddess of the moon. In this retelling of the ancient legend, the archer Houyi is interpreted as female.

Though technically an immortal rather than a superheroine, the setting of the story in modern-day Hong Kong, along with the almost cyberpunk feel to the aesthetic, gives the character of Houyi a distinctly super-heroic feel:
Houyi stands on the first letter of HSBC, ancient myth-feet resting on logo black on red, under which throbs a mad rush of numbers and commerce and machines: trades riding cellular waves and fiber optic, fortunes made and shattered in minutes. She does not shade her eyes.
As a feminist who grew up reading superhero comics, my heart thrilled to this description of Hau Ngai/Houyi. I could almost see her cape as it caught in the winds of flight.

Regina de Búrca (twitter; TFF bio)

C.B. Lee's Not Your Sidekick is set in a quasi-dystopian 22nd-century America where the line between hero and villain is often blurred. Jessica Tran, a bisexual Chinese-Vietnamese girl, is a superhero precisely because she struggles to figure out what her superpowers are, or if she even has any, growing up in a family of superheroes, in a town full of people with special powers! While working as an intern for the town supervillains' lab, Jessica comes into her own as she embraces her identity. The book’s title references the #notyourasiansidekick movement and this novel does an excellent job of challenging stereotypes and redressing imbalances in representation via Jessica's character. As Jessica plays to her strengths, her story shows that being empowered is not just for the realm of stereotypical superheroes.

Now tell us about some more superheroines in the comments, please!