Tag Archive: Poverty


Been super busy with writing gigs, school and running book clubs. As summer approaches, the promised themes will begin and there will be an increase of post. But until then, why not do a more personal post so you can get to know me a little better.

This survey is based on the Anglo alphabet, but since this blogger is also fluent in Finnish this survey will add the Letters Ä and Ö. The survey was originally created by the blogger Jamie over at The perpetual page-turner”.

A: Author you´ve read most from.

Tove Jansson. I took a class on her authorship at the University before I got a Bachelor degree. Because of that I´ve read nearly all the Moomin books and comics, and one of her standalone novels, ”The Summer Book”. While ”The Moomins”-series is one of the best book series out there, ”The Summer book” kind of faded from memory.

B: Best Sequel Ever.

Alice through the looking glass”. A major accomplishment considering its predecessor. While I´ve always loved both ”Alice”-novels, ”Alice through the looking glass” was the book I made my dad re-read to me continually before I learned to read myself.

C: Currently reading

Ender´s Game” by Orson Scott Card. The copy I have was bought at ”Housing Works”, a second hand store in Manhattan (so no profits have gone to Card! The profits in fact went to giving aid to homeless people and people diagnosed with HIV) last year. I am reading it for a Science Fiction book club. 85% and find it to be a very engaging read, but a little formulaic at times.

D: Drink of choice while reading:

Lidl´s Cola light. Cheap and tasty.

E: E-reader or Physical book?

Physical book. But I also love Audiobooks. When stuck doing house chores, traveling on a crowded buss or cooking, an audiobook gives readers the opportunity to multitask.

F: Fictional Character you probably would have actually dated in High School:

If he would be aged up, Huey Freeman. (This counts because of the comics). When I was sixteen years old, Huey Freeman was my idea of a perfect man: politically active, nerdy, serious, and badass. Now, I´m not so sure. He´s a bit of anti-social sometimes 😀

G: Glad you gave this book a chance:

To all the boys I´ve loved before” and its sequel, ”P. S. I still love you” by Jenny Han. While I tend to avoid romance books and books set in high school (the Young Adult novels I read usually take place outside of high school), these books are delightful in their sincere exploration of family, life, identity, and even bullying.

jennyhan

H: Hidden gem Book:

Butterfly burning” by Yvonne Vera. A forgotten feminist classic.

I: Important Moment in your reading life:

Reading ”The Trial” by Franz Kafka when in the 8th Grade (which made me at the time 14 years old). That´s when I truly fell in love with the written word.

J: Just Finished

Pig tales” by Marie Darrieussecq, a required reading book for a class at the University. The book is a first-person narrative about a woman who starts to slowly turn into a pig while dealing with a misogynistic boyfriend and working at a abusive cosmetics/brothel department store. It was a wild ride, with great biting satire.

pigtalescover

K: Kind of book you won´t read:

Self-help books. A very problematic part of our current neoliberal society.

L: Longest Book You´ve Read:

Blonde” by Joyce Carol Oates. It is 867 pages long (at least the copy I own has that amount of pages). It is a very easy read despite it´s length and is a very well crafted depiction of sexism in American culture.

M: Major book hangover because of:

No book, but usually after finishing an exam I have a couple days burn out where reading is impossible. This was especially true last February, when the stress of finishing my bachelor degree made me unable to do anything outside of school.

N: Number of bookcases you own:

Counting the ones I don´t share with my parents: six.

O: One book you´ve read multiple times:

I´ve read ”Home” by Toni Morrison twice.

P: Preferred place to read

On my bed.

Q: Quote that inspired you

Politics means accepting that things happen for a reason” – ”I love Dick” by Chris Kraus

and from the same book: ”Art, like God or The People, is fine for as long as you can believe in it”.

First quote sums up why I´m a feminist/leftist activist. The second sums up why I´d ever study literature and be a critic/poet.

R: Reading Regret

That I never finished ”All the light we cannot see” by Anthony Doerr. Everybody loved that book. My significant other read it in a week and could not stop talking about it last year.

S: Series you started and Need to Finish (in where all the books in the series are published):

I am yet to read ”Madaddam” by Margaret Atwood, the final book in the ”Madaddam” trilogy. I adored ”Oryx and Crake”, the first book in the series; it was fresh and original. The topics are also still relevant, with genetic mutation and environmental concerns, as well as child slavery.

addam4

T: Three of your All-time favorite books:

The Trial” by Franz Kafka, ”Waiting for the barbarians” by J. M. Coetzee, and ”The Handmaids tale” by Margaret Atwood.

U: Unapologetic Fangirl for:

The Hunger games”-trilogy by Suzanne Collins. These books have great characters and discuss issues most books shy away from (even the more progressive ones), such as Poverty.

V: Very excited for this release:

Hunger: A memoir of (my) body” by Roxanne Gay. It deals with a topic quite rare in literature, which is the eating disorder of over-eating. Can´t wait to finally read a book about this topic.

W: Worst book habit.

Reading multiple books at the same time. Means that some books I end up not finishing and adding it back to the to-be-read pile.

X: X marks the spot. (the blogger is suppose to Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book.

Brown girl dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson. Birthday gift this year.

Y: Your latest book purchase.

In one person” by John Irving and ”Jag vill ha ett liv” (”I want to have a life”) by Sofia Hedman from a second hand bookstore.

Z: ZZ-snatcher book (last book that kept you up WAY late)

Saga vol 2” by Brian K. Vaughan. Those comics are very addictive.

Bonus round!: Ä: ”Äitienpäivä”. (”Mothers day”). Most memorable mother character you´ve read.

Marigold from ”The Illustrated Mother” by Jacqueline Wilson. Marigold is a very imperfect, but very well-meaning, mother who tries to be a good parent but can´t because of her undiagnosed bipolar disorder, as well as being a single parent with illusions of a past love that will return to her. A very touching, if heartbreaking, depiction of parenthood.

illustrated

Ö: Finnish word that starts with ”Ö”.

Öljy. It means oil!

Take Care/ Maaretta

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Hi Everyone. The long hiatus in August and September was caused by sickness in the family and University work. But now I´m back!

First, here´s the long awaited discussion video I did with Missmagic girl!:

I have also began working for the webb-based only swedish feminist magazine “Femt!den”. Below you will find the two articles I´ve written so far:

My take on the poet Warsan Shire, who worked with Beyouncé on “Lemonade”: http://www.femtiden.se/kreativt/poesi-som-visar-det-manskliga-sidan-i-krig-och-flykt/

A deep look at Nellie Wongs poetry: http://www.femtiden.se/kreativt/nellie-wongs-banbrytande-poesi-skildrar-varlden/

Ms. Wong is perhaps the greatest poet that gets criminally little attention. If you like heartbreaking, political and smart poetry, check her out.

Best Wishes/ Maaretta

(This is a guest post written by Shujie, a Chinese political activist, torture survivor and refugee. Shujie is a proud socialist and pro-feminist, fighting for democracy, worker´s rights and women´s rigths. He has worked on articles about enviremental issues andhas done many translations of political articles. He currently lives in Sweden after fleeing China due to political issues).

“The state-sponsored media campaign about ´leftover´ women is part of a broad resurgence of gender inequality in post-socialist China, particularly over the past decade and a half of market reforms.” – Leta Hong Fincher

Leta Hong Fincher grew up in a bilingual envirement, learning both English and Mandarin in the US. The family visited China frequently throughout her childhood summers from the years 1970-1980. Starting from the end of the ´90s, Ms. Fincher worked as a China-based journalist for several American news agencies until 2003.

Her acclaid book, “Leftover Women: The Resurgence Of Gender Inequality In China”, is the result of two and half years of dedicated research, which Ms. Fincher started upon in 2010 along with her final studies in sociology at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Book cover for "Leftover Women"

Book cover for “Leftover Women”

Hong Fincher had began to take notice of the so-called “Leftover women” phenomenon in China. Growing both curious and concerned to what this meant for the women of China, she began to investigate. Following her research, she interviewed many high-educated women in the end of their 20s, who described themselves as in a hurry to get married, even though they considered their fiancés very lacking of any positive traits. As a result of becoming a wife, many previously economically stable, independent women were drained of economical and financial independence after they made their marital promises.

Hong Fincher discovered that despite having no interest in their fiancée and rightfully worrying what marriage would do to their economy, many women still reluctantly married to escape the stigma of being a “leftover-woman”, a term which is has been prevalent in Chinese media since 2007. According to Hong Fincher, the CCP’s (Chinese Communist Party) claimed feminist-based “All-China Women Federation” defined the term “leftover” women as a single, unmarried woman older than 27. This term is sometimes also branded on women as young as 25.

One article that was published on many Chinese sites and newspapers, including “All-China Women Federation” website, claimed that numerous women were overly critical of their partners, and when they finally express interest in marriage, the men who are of similar age and have similar education are no longer available.

Ms. Leta Hong Fincher

Ms. Leta Hong Fincher

In response to this accusation, Hong Fincher points out that the country’s gender imbalance can be seen in the birth ratios: in 2008 121 boys were born and only 100 girls were born, which is a mark of the results from the countries one-child policy. In the Chinese culture it is tradition to prefer a son instead of a daughter. This leads to many women being forced to abort girl-fetuses. Or that, in some extreme causes, parents outright abandone new-born baby girls (causing them to die of hunger or lack of warmth).

Hong Fincher revealed that the motivation behind the “leftover” women media campaign was to motivate marriage to keep a social stability. The government believes too many unmarried men is a threat to stability. (Here it can be pointed out that the Government sees the men´s need for a wife as more important over women´s reproductive rights).

Another reason that Hong Fincher could see as an explanation for the sexist campaigns is that the lack of marriage was, to the government’s anxiety, supposedly effecting the countries population planning policy. This policy was designed for not only to control the quantity but also the quality of the Chinese population. Therefore the regime wanted the “high quality” women to get married and birth out “the best” children for the state.

One of the many propaganda posters used for the "Leftover women" campaign

One of the many propaganda posters used for the “Leftover women” campaign

One myth that is wide spread among Chinese people is that babies will be born with more disabilities and defects if the mother is over the age of 28, although no scientific research supports this belief. Many women that were interviewed by Hong Fincher were warned by their doctors not to have children “too late” since their baby would be “less than perfect” if they chose to give birth at the ages 28 and older. (The Chinese society has, as many cultures do, deep-seated ableist prejudices)
Furthermore Ms. Hong Fincher shows the mechanism between the housing market and the promotion of marriage between 20-30s male and female: “According to sales professionals, gang xu demand[rigid demand] comes largely from urban consumers experiencing the following life events: (1) marriage; (2) pregnancy and birth of the first child; (3) a child starting school.”

The idea of a rigid demand (gang xu) is constructed by the state so that they may control the property market; “it won’t become too hot or too cold”, as Ms. Hong Fincher writes.

According to Hong Fincher, the demand for residential real estate is kept high in these ways:
at one side, if I may quote her once again: “state-owned property development companies do not lower their prices significantly”. The new house buying policies in cities are often biased. For instance in big cities such as Shanghai, the real estate sellers discriminate against unmarried home buyers . On the other hand, as Ms. Fincher writes once more: “ property development companies collaborate with state media and matchmaking industries to reinforce the norm that couples need to buy a home when they get married…state media and real-estate advertisements perpetuate the myth that Chinese women will refuse to marry a man unless he owns a home”.

Hong Fincher also notes that the government probably wants to maintain high housing prices, so most of the middle-class home buyers must work under inhuman and overly-consuming conditions just to earn money for basic living. This results in the Chinese population having no time to reflect on their political and social situation and rights, especially the younger generation that are pressured into marriage and to buy a home the same minute they finish their university studies. A subtle and devious way to keep people under control.

“Angel No. 4”, 2006, by Cui Xiuwen

“Angel No. 4”, 2006, by Cui Xiuwen

Hong Fincher points out that middle-class activism tend to resolve around “NIMBY”, which stands for “not-in-my-back-yard” environmental concerns, such as to protest the construction of a chemical plantation that might pollute the neighborhood. However middle-class activisms among homeowners have not yet shown any serious potential for collective action that challenges the central government’s totalitarian rule. These activists are not concerned, for instance, with the lands poor or the lands oppressed minorities (such as the Tibetans or Uigur).

The world famous Sociologist Jean-Louis Rocca explains that homeowners in cities tend to support the one-party state and usually believe that engaging into politics is dangerous both to themselves and the Chinese society. Their motto tends to be: “China does not need a change in political regime. It needs stability.” Moreover, Hong Fincher says that aspiring home buyers in their twenties and early thirties tend not to show opposition to the state because of the “pursuit of money for a deposit on a new home saps much of their time and energy”. (It should be noted here that other journalist have stated that the Chinese do infact show a sense of dislike and distrust with their government, but accept it out of fear and the despairing idea that no other type of rule is possible.)

Ms. Hong Fincher elaborates: “Rather than causing political instability, high property prices and the norm of middle-class home ownership(home ownership is at 85% in China) might actually promote social stability by forcing young Chinese to focus on saving money to buy into the propertied class rather than agitating for social change.”

"Tattoo II", by Qiu Zhijie

“Tattoo II”, by Qiu Zhijie

Ms. Hong Fincher reports that the status of women in China has gotten horrible worse over the years and wealth inequality between men and women is the biggest form of wealth inequality that exist in todays China.

Most of the homes are owned only by the husband even though most of the women also have contributed to the home in different ways, Hong Fincher states. According to the nationwide “Third Survey” on the Situation of women, 51.7% married men are the sole owner of the home.

The problem lies in that when a women wants a divorce, she is at high risk at losing her entire apartment. According to a new interpretation of the Chinese martial law since 2011, it is stated that if the marital home is only written in the man’s name, the man gets everything automatically once a divorce is settled. Although many women contribute to housing in different ways, such as paying a part of the down payment or mortgage, they usually lack the documents to show their involvement. The Situation is even worse for housewives and stay-at-home moms who do unpaid housework.

Therefore, many women have difficulty to escape from their unhappy marriages, even in cases such as domestic violence. Many women are worried about losing child custody to the abusive husband and afraid that they will have nowhere to live if they end the marriage. In sort: abused women are forced to stay with their abuser to avoid homelessness.

A particularly heartbreaking example is when a woman was murdered by her husband in 2009. The woman had previously reported her husband’s behavior to the police eight times. The man was convicted only six and half years in prison for the abuse of his spouse. Women who report abuse to policemen are often ignored and left into the hands of their abusers.

Hong Fincher also describes women who resist the authoritarian state, at both collective and individual level.

One person Hong Fincher interviewed was Li Maizi, who was 24-year-old when the book was being written. Ms. Li is a feminist activist and openly lesbian. In the small space for activism in China her group organized many public activities such as “performance art” to protest gender discrimination. For example, they organised the famous “Occupy Men’s Toilets” campaign in Guangdong in 2011, where they were calling on local governments to provide more public toilets for women and in the same year she and other young women dressed in white wedding gowns splattered with red, blood-like paint to highlight the domestic violence issue.

Another famous activist is Ye Haiyan, whose blogger name is “Hooligan Sparrow”. She is a long time campaigner for women’s rights, especially in high-lighting issues around sex workers. After she protested against the cover ups of a officials and headmasters history of sexual abuse towards young girls, she was arrested and made homeless.

Ms. Fincher explains that since there is almost no space for independent women’s movements, many activist work in some NGOs registered by the government and work with agencies such as the All-China Women’s Federation. Many such NGOs are lobbying for legislation for domestic violence, according to her.

However, Hong Fincher observed that Li Maizi and many other radical feminists choose to work outside of the system.

In addition, Hong Fincher describes many women who struggle individually. For example, Hong Fincher interviewed a domestic violence survivor Kim Lee who immigrated from the states and married a famous entrepreneur, Li Yang. Even though she is an American, she still had to fight for several years before she got a result from the court. She received support and thanks from many anonymous Chinese women who live with domestic violence, which gave her the strength to continue, despite the constant threats by many other people, including a incident where a man walked up to her in the subway, spat in her face and screamed: “American bitch! Hope he beats you to death next time!”.

Interestingly, Hong Fincher sees many simularities between feminists and Chinese revolutions. During the bourgeois revolution in China which overthrow the Chinese empire in 1911, the famous feminist revolutionary Qiu Jin advocated for gender equality. In the May Fourth Movement, the women’s emancipation became one of the goals for the revolution. After the CCP gained power, the women’s position had been promoted considerably. But unfortunately these promotions have become merely lip service.

Qiu Jin

Qiu Jin

For instance many of these statements are mere mansplaining, i.e. they are often done without taking into consideration what the women of China are asking for. One problem that Ms. Hong Fincher forgets to mention is that these male bourgeois revolutionaries usually stand at a nationalist point of view, meaning that they merely see that China “needs” modern women to improve Chinese population’s qualities, which were inherited by the CCP. Ever since the CCP came into power, they also wanted to free women’s labour force. Hong Fincher describes how the women are ordered to work equally as men in the Great Leap Forward in spite of the fact that women still had to take care of the family and do all of the housework. Many women were forced to leave their infants at home when they went to work, which gave them lifetime traumas.

Chinese University students dressed as battered wives hold banners in front of an office of China’s Civil Affairs department, where local people register for marriage, in protest of domestic violence.

Chinese University students dressed as battered wives hold banners in front of an office of China’s Civil Affairs department, where local people register for marriage, in protest of domestic violence.

But that is not all. Ms. Hong Fincher also illustrates a vivid image the situation and struggles for the LGBTQ community in China and the transformation of the woman’s status since 1000 years ago.

It is an extremely well-detailed, layered and thought-provoking book. It gives a much needed insight into the lives of Chinese women, letting their voices be heard and their woes be expressed. It pulls at the readers heartstrings and educates the readers mind, and should absolutely be read by anyone interested in the situation for today´s women of China. I applaud Ms. Hong Fincher and her fine book!

It must be agreed with her that the women of China, as all other women of the world, must continue their long and hard battle to equality and emancipation. This fight must be fought by the Chinese women themselves; male allies in China must show solidarity to the brave women’s work. It would also help to use a certain intersectional view within the Chinese feminist movement, one that includes also highlighting the poor women’s, the jailed female political activist, the minorities and also the Tibetan women´s issues as well. At the same time others social justice, human rights and democratic movements should also take part in the feminist movement and take a stand against sexism including sexism within these movements. An economic Social transformation is also needed to provide the foundation of the woman’s liberation such as free public day care and fair, humane jobs for both men and women. To me, there is no feminism without socialism. And there is no socialism without feminism. Will Chinese feminist activists reach their goal of overcoming the oppression of the authoritarian government in China? We’ll see.

“Father always spoke Finnish!” – Elina about her deceased father

This is a post to celebrate “The Day of the Finnish Swede”, a day for all Swedes of Finnish Descent and Finns who happen to live in Sweden.

Despite being a good 2-10 percent of Sweden´s population, Finns aren´t much represented in Swedish Media. Only a few Swedish movies feature a character of Finnish roots, and when it comes to the ever growing literature which is penned by immigrants or second-generation immigrants, people of Finnish descent are even less present. Susanna Alakoski and Eija Hetekivi Olsson, both Swedes of Finnish descent, have won awards and been best-sellers, but the fact that they write about Finns hasn´t really been acknowledge by the Swedish critics. Therefore it is a delight that the film “Elina – As If I Didn´t Exist” (2002) not only exists, but is a touching tale of courage and a enchanting, and completely underrated, cinematic gem. It is directed by Klaus Härö, who has also directed “The Best of Mothers”, another work of bright cinematic display.

Original Swedish Movie Poster For "Elina"

Original Swedish Movie Poster For “Elina”

“Elina” centers on a young 9-year old girl who lives in a rural area of Sweden in the year 1952. Both of Elina´s parents were Finnish immigrants, her mother being a single parent after the death of the father. After recovering from tuberculoses, Elina must return to school after a year of absence. Being a year academically behind her age peers Elina must reenter the school into the same class as her sister, Irma. The teacher of Irma´s class is the strict disciplinarian Tora Holm, who is both loved and feared in the small town Elina lives in. While at times generous, Tora is also frightening in her determination. Since it is strongly prohibited in the Swedish schools of the Era, Elinas mother warns her to never, ever speak Finnish outside of her home.

However when in school, Elina decides to help a fellow Finnish speaking classmate, Anton, since he, being of Finnish descent and newly arrived to Sweden and the school, doesn´t speak any Swedish. Elina speaks Finnish to help Anton come to grip with new the language. Unfortunately The teacher, Tora Holm, overhears them speak Finnish and without caring to know the context of the situation, decides this means Anton doesn´t get any lunch (a penalty for speaking Finnish). Elina tries to explain that Anton is at a disadvantage. Furthermore she points out that she also shouldn´t be allowed to have lunch since both of them spoke Finnish. These statements are dismissed by Tora. At lunch Elina, to protest the unfairness of the teachers actions, gives her entire meal to Anton. This starts a chain of verbal abuse Elina receives from her teacher. Elina becomes bullied, since she refuses to tolerate the discrimination she and Anton faces.

Elina and Tora Holm

Elina and Tora Holm

Despite “Elina” being a childrens film, it doesn´t shy away from showing how openly hostile people could be to Finns at the time, as well as to the poor. Since the death of her father, Elinas mother struggles to feed her three children and maintain a meager existence in a richer Swedish community in which they find themselves. The poverty Elinas family faces are constantly mocked by Tora. Tora also refers to the ability to speak Finnish as a sole reason to being poverty stricken, and even states that it´s “so hard to teach these finnsavages”. Today in Sweden Finnish is recognized under law as a minority language (as are the Sami language, Mäenkieli, Romani Chib, Yiddish, and Sign language). This status, as now conferred by Swedish law, means that every Swede of Finnish descent has a right to have access to their mother tongue, or a right to learn Finnish.

6983306.3

Chinese Poster for “Elina”

While it is of great importance that minority mother tongues, and the cultures which circulate around them, have found respect (at least in theory) in the Swedish State, it´s also crucial that films such as “Elina” show that discrimination and oppression have also been a part of the Finnish-Swede experience. On another note, the Sami in Sweden faced harsher discrimination and still continue today to be erased in Scandinavian society.

Elina as a protagonist is a fantastic, inspirational character. She is strong, fierce and believes in justice. She is brave enough to do this even when literally everyone else is against her, even her family. She feels pride in being Finnish and her sense of belonging and self-respect give her strength to avoid the shame in being different from the other Swedish children.

Elina´s family

Elina´s family

Also, Elina is also shown as having a substantial and binding connection with her father, which the movie implies to have been the person who has nurtured, and inspired, her sense of justice and concern for rights. The Finnish father, in “Elina”, gets to be portrayed as a kind, loving parent, which may not seem to be an important detail, however a commonplace, as well as unfortunate, stereotype of Finnish men in Swedish society, is that they are often drunken and violent hooligans who are commonly brutish and unremittedly uncivilized. In Contrast to this simplistic and one-sided stereotype, Elina´s father is a positive, nuanced portrayal of Finnish men. Granting a space for Finnish men to be allowed more three-dimensional roles in Swedish media without recourse to this overly represented stereotype is important to not only recognize the value of minorities in a society, but also to recognize the importance of the Finn to the history and development of Sweden.

“Elina – As if I didn´t exist” is a powerful film about discrimination and bullying. It´s a film that speaks of a personal history of the Finnish immigrants, but also speaks of the universal will to fight for what’s right.

So for The Day of the Finnish-Swedes, go have a sauna, munch on some Karelian pies and watch “Elina – As if I Didn´t exist”!

Swedish/Finnish Flag

Swedish/Finnish Flag

“The PJ’s” (1999-2001) was a stop-motion animation created by Eddie Murphy, Larry Wilmore and Steve Tompkins. The show centers on the main protagonist Thurgood Stubbs (voiced by Eddie Murphy) who is the chief superintendent of and lives in a housing project with his wife, Muriel (voiced by Loretta Devine). The show as well as centering on the awkward adventures of Thurgood followed the escapades and personalities of the myriad residents living in the housing project. The show has been heavily criticized for depicting negative racial stereotypes of life in the projects by many social activists, including the great director Spike Lee, and the cartoonist Aaron McGruder even accused “The PJ’s” of being nothing but a host and list of stereotypes in his comic strips “The Boondocks”. I agree with these accusations, along with feeling that the show in a whole relied on labels and simplistic characterizing which didn’t always seem the reality of representation to either minorities or those of the captured classes who must deal with living in socially neglected lower income housing. The show seemed to also for the most part ignore the subject of poverty too often and neglected to touch on the subject of discrimination of lower classes. That is, except for the third episode in the first season.

Thurgood and Muriel

This episode, titled “The Door”, begins with the inhabitants of the building expressing consternation about the front door constantly breaking and leaving them victim to (what they perceive as) criminal elements of the neighborhood. Thurgood at first dismisses these complaints, but eventually is compiled to secure a new door for the building. Everyone falls instantly in love with the new high tech and exceedingly secure door, feeling it will give them the protection they need. These hopes are destroyed soon after the door is found to have been stolen – only to be returned by criminal gang who decide to occupy the project house.

What worked in “The Door” is that the viewer is exposed to the problems and dangers poor people must face continually in the milieu of there neighborhoods and in the social planning they are forced (by money) to inhabit. The shows succeed by detailing the residents of the project in the human terms of people striving to secure a place of living which is safe and protected. Though “PJ’s” was made for comedic effect, this episode features a heartbreaking scene where Thurgood strolls down the hallway of the building while the residents one by one look out of their apartment with statements such as: “I’m frightened!” to which Thurgood only can answer with the powerless reply: “I’m sorry”.

The Door” depicts the characters of “The PJs” as sympathetic and likeable, fully humanized. The show wasn’t able to do this in any other episode and was inclined towards a meager portraiture of characters to laugh at. The characters are depicted as poor (and also all of them are non-white), and simply laughing at them for this is extremely problematic and without empathy. Yet with “The Door” the characters actually display something thought- provoking about poverty: how vulnerable and trapped the people living in it are. This is an important subject to think about right now, especially with the ascendency of poverty, and the schism of inequality, has climbed in the past few years.

So check out the third episode of the first season of “The PJs”. It’s a very solid episode, even if the rest of the show wasn’t. The whole episode is featured below in three parts.

Today is the international childrens day! For this special day, I will post a touching, yet tragic poem by the Nobel laureate Gabriela Mistral.  Mistral was from Chile, a known feminist and wrote poems centering themes as mother’s love, sorrow, sterility and recovery.

“Tiny Feet”, the poem below, speaks of a child stricken with poverty. Mistral speaks of the poor child’s bravery and of the horror of the adult world ignoring the unfortunate little one. Considering the amount of children still living, around the world, in poverty, this poem is still terrible and horrible accurate.

Tiny Feet
By: Gabriela Mistral

A child’s tiny feet,
Blue, blue with cold,
How can they see and not protect you?
Oh, my God!

Tiny wounded feet,
Bruised all over by pebbles,
Abused by snow and soil!

Man, being blind, ignores
that where you step, you leave
A blossom of bright light,
that where you have placed
your bleeding little soles
a redolent tuberose grows.

Since, however, you walk
through the streets so straight,
you are courageous, without fault.

Child’s tiny feet,
Two suffering little gems,
How can the people pass, unseeing.

Good will to all children! / Maaretta

Ruthless realism and complex characters is the two main, strong points in the Scottish director Lynne Ramsay’s films, “Ratcatcher” (1999) and “Movern Callar” (2002). The everyday life and anguish of lower class people is her core theme. Both films are great, but it is “Ratcatcher” I will review.

Lynne Ramsay

In the recent decades, the subject of poverty has been dealt with masterfully in many films. Courtney Hunts “Frozen River” (2008), Andrea Arnolds “Fish Tank” (2009) and Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone” (2010) to mention the very best ones. Even if all of these films deal with people of lower classes, every film has told their story differently and adding different elements to their story. “Fish Tank” for example also deals with troublesome relations between minors and adults and “Frozen River” deals with illegal human smuggling. “Ratcatcher” also, like these other films, focuses on the plight and difficulties inherent in the devastations of poverty. It is also about death, guilt, dreams and desolation.

“Ratcatcher” has one of the bleakest openings found in modern cinema. It introduces Ryan, a young 12-year old boy, only to drown him moments later. The story then follows James, a boy of a like age, who accidentally kills Ryan in the midst of aggressive play. James refuses to tell anyone that he killed his playmate, which results in him developing a terrible and deep-seated fear of water. He lives with his alcoholic father (Tommy Flanagan), his mother and two sisters. He hangs out with his friend Kenny, who has a huge interest and love for animals but is slightly dim. He also starts a platonic relationship with an older teenage girl, who is the local sexual punch bag for the town bullies. James dreams of moving away from the slums, away from the small dirty apartment he currently lives in, and moving into a beautiful big house he sees in suburban neighborhoods. But dreams defer and old secrets come back to haunt James.

The film “Ratcatcher” gives the viewer a slice-of-life experience while watching James trying to find happiness despite his situation. He is in deep conflict with his father and has almost no relationship with his mother. The mother tries her best to keep her children happy and cheerful when the father is out at the pubs, which at times works and at times doesn’t. James is unimpressed by his mother’s efforts. He tries to be friends with Kenny, but finds him annoying. Anne Marie, his “girlfriend”, is the only person he loves. A major current theme in the film is James dreams of moving to bigger, cleaner house in the suburbs. His lust for a better life is similar to that of “Fish Tanks” major protagonist Mia, who lives in the dead end corner of a lower class suburb but dreams of taking off and finding something better. Both films capture the desire and hope of a better life masterfully. However, Andrea Arnold “Fish Tank” is more subtle in this regard, using Mia’s obsession with freeing a horse as compound allegory of her own will to escape from her current life and using the song “California Dreaming” as a constant symbol of dreaming of a “warmer” home. In “Ratcathcer”, James’ dreams are depicted by him straight out asking his father if they have any chances of getting the opportunity to move to a new house far from the squalor of urban projects and crushed spirits. The film also uses a beautifully shot scene where James wonders around the project of under-construction semi-rural houses in a far-off (end of the line bus trip) “richer” neighborhood, were he pretends his occupation of the unfinished houses. James, being younger than 15-year old Mia, has the narrative conceive of his character as open and playful about his wishes. He wants what he wants. When he realizes he probably never will get to live in the kind of houses he longs after, he loses all hope in life. Being so young and powerless, he has no chance for happiness.

James’ friend, Kenny, is portrayed as the young man with a huge love and fascination for animals. Unfortunately, Kenny is stuck in the slums and has no chances of doing anything with his interest. He tries to fish pets out of a lifeless river bordering the back of the projects but, just as the social gives the tenants of this area, he can catching nothing from its dead waters.. He’s naivety is constantly taken advantage of and when he finally acquires a live specimen to love The town bullies manipulate Kenny and make him believe strange things, with tragic results. Kenny’s narrative portrait encompasses, for Ramsay, the stock of children who due to their background have no chances to develop their interest into something productive for either themselves or the society in which they live. Kenny is stuck with unfilled ambition and becomes the harbinger of waste.

Anne Marie, who is the girlfriend of James in the “Ratcatcher” dreams of something better. She starts a relationship with James because he is the only male around who is gentle towards her and in many ways mirrors her own outsider status. The town bullies more or less bully her into sexual favors, which Anne Marie partly hates and partly just accepts as natural in the mechanisms of survival of her urban lower class milieu. James becomes her havoc in a hopeless storm.

“Ratcatcher” is a film about an accidental murder that doesn’t dwell in the theme of guilt, but recognizes the traps and containments of poverty from which the act springs. James does feel guilt for his friends death, but has already so many and varied (and unsolvable) problems in his life he forces himself to forget the incident. Instead, he creates a fear of the tepid and stagnant river where his friend met his death. This projection of fear and guilt is rather symbolic. James keeps his secret well kept, which is easily done since the adults in his world have little, to no actual contact with the youngsters. Ramsay cleverly gives us a believable portrayal of a case when a child has accidentally killed another child. James, being so young and full of despair already from being poor, can’t handle anymore misery. He’s young mind blames the water. The harsh environment has taught him to ignore troublesome feelings and detach himself from the things happening around him.

“Ratcatcher” is honest, giving a view into an unkind life that gives no happy endings. Ramsay is merciless to her characters and merciless to the audience. Her debut movie offers nothing but reality.

Update: Ms. Ramsey has won a major award at the London film festival! Read about it here.

A Glimpse Of The Past

Ah yes, it’s 2011. A new year. Fresh new months, ready to be filled with new events, new movies, books and music. A whole new year to create new memories. So what to do? Look over what were the three best films of 2010 of course!
As in my post “Looking back last year…”, I will start with my “least” favorite movie of the three best films and finish with my favorite.

3. “Winters Bone” by Debra Granik – Ree, a girl of the tender age of sixteen, has to take care of her depressant mother and two younger siblings all by herself. Her father, a drug dealer, has recently abandoned the family. One day a policeman shows up at the family’s door, stating that Ree’s father hasn’t shown up to court when charged with felonies. Unless he shows up to court, the Bail bond Company who loaned him the money to make Bail (be out of jail until his court date) will take the house Ree’s family lives in. Ree sees no other choice but to go looking for her father, in hopes of saving her family.
“Winter’s Bone” is a film which truly tells the horrors of poverty. It shows people doing their best to get by, some taking destructive comfort in drugs, others shooting squirrels to be able to eat properly. The visuals are harsh. During the winter it is cold and dangerous. The viewer quickly understands that this is a world where if you take one wrong step, it could cost you dearly.

Even if this film was gripping, there was one major problem with this film: Ree is too perfect. Her role in the film is to be a hero, who is great, but Ree is written too much like a superhero than just an everyday hero. She never gets mad at the wrong people, never cries or shows sign of fears in dangerous situations or even complains about her situation to anyone. It is very hard to believe that anyone would be this noble, especially since everybody around her are somewhat, or completely, messed up. Compared to other recent female leads in movies about poverty or lower classes, I prefer “Frozen River” ‘s (2008) heroine Ray and “Fish Tank” ’s (2009) Mia much more. They have flaws, but still have a lot of good in them that comes through. This makes them more human and easier to believe in. Ree is more like a goddess you idolize. However Jennifer Lawrence, who portrays Ree, pulls off a good performance and is able to pull the viewer into the brutality of her world.
The story’s climax is chilling. Without giving away the conclusion, I will say that the scene where Ree’s quest has reached its “destination”, is followed by a gruesome scene which will be very hard, for some, to stomach. Ree is put through such psychological torture it physically hurts to watch. Granik handles the films story skillfully and delicately. No clear answers to why the things that happen have happened. In the environment of desperation life is never easy. My hat off to Debra Granik!

2. “Toy Story 3” by Lee Unkrich – Even if I do believe this film was a little hyped, it still was a clever and witty, with some pretty touching moments.
Andy has grown up and is going away to college. His toys, which come to life when no one is watching, fear what will become of them. Luckily, after being shipped accidently off to a daycare things start to look up. But not for long…
Many critics had analyzed this film as being a comment on unfair imprisonment, totalitarian societies and a smattering of other social issues. What is actually playing out, and what is actually enough to propel a film to an enlightening endeavor, is a well-built film formed from a coherent aesthetics and subtle narrative. And Toy Story 3 is just that. “Toy Story 3” is a strong film about the hopes of friendship and the anxious truths about finding a new home and life. Few movie sequels are this funny and original.

3. “In A Better World” by Susanne Bier – Wow. That’s all I had to say as the credits rolled at the movie theaters. This film blew me away; it’s as simple as that.
“In A Better World” is a Danish film, set in both Denmark and Sudan. It follows two parallel story lines.
The first is the story of Anton, a man who works intermittently with “Doctors without Borders” travelling at times to a refugee camp in Darfur. While Anton tends medical attention to the needy, another (anti)protagonist, with an antithetical nature, called “The Bandit”, wreaks havoc and violence upon the landscape and people on the nearby refugee camp. The bandit’s violence and malignance seem boundless and devolve into even the horrific slicing and opening of pregnant women’s stomachs, and sadistic killings of small children along with his band of like-minded thugs. The husbands of these accosted and ravaged women often run to the Medical Facility with their lethally injured wives and Anton is often called upon to operate in hope of saving their lives.
Back in Denmark Anton has recently separated from his wife and may end up getting a divorce. The reason is that Anton had an affair. The clincher comes when Anton, who already has enough on his plate as it is, gets caught up in a moral dilemma in Sudan when the Bandit shows up in the camp one day asking for medical attention.

The second narrative line in “In A Better World” involves Cristian, a ten year old boy, who has recently lost his mother to cancer. He moves from England to Denmark with his father and starts attending a new school. There he meets Elias (Anton’s son), who is being picked on for being half-Swedish and for having very odd looking braces on his teeth. As one of the bullies tries to assault Elias, Christian goes to Elias’ defense. The two boys strike up a powerful friendship. Unfortunately for Elias, Christian has a way of believing in “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” and convinces Elias to follow him in his growing plans of vengeance against a variety of targets.
Bier has created a number of critically acclaimed movies, and is now seen as one of the biggest directing stars from Scandinavia. Her work is known for its excellent means of portraying human relationships. In this film, not only does Bier give moving portrayals of friendship and family dynamics, but also asks difficult questions about revenge. Is it ever right? Is it fair? Does it really solve any problems, or does it instead add much more? Bier also shows how all societies have their bullies, whether they come dressed with guns in a war-torn nation, or with bare fists and horrid words in the school playground. How should societies deal with these bullies in a progressive way?
Definitely a must see movie. Astonishing acting, smart dialogue and complex themes, Bier’s film won’t leave anyone unmoved.

As a final note, I would like to mention that I was deeply saddened that I couldn’t put “White Material” by Claire Dennis on this list, since according to Imdb the film was made in 2009. It came quite late to Sweden, so I hadn’t seen it yet when I made my “Looking back at last year…” list of the best films in 2009. In any other case, it would have earned a spot on either one of these Lists.

"White Material" by Claire Denis (2009)

So that was the best of 2010. Let’s see what 2011 has to offer us!

“Frozen River” is an independent drama film from 2008. It is both directed and written by Courtney Hunt. This is her first film, which I would not have guessed after watching it. After viewing this film I was sure she had a lot of experience in film making due to the films maturity and how touching it was.

“Frozen River” stars Melissa Leo as Ray, a middle aged woman with two kids who is in the midst of buying as well as desperately needing a new house. Unfortunately, the money she has been saving up for the new house gets stolen by her husband who takes off on a gambling spree. This act destroys the family’s economy. Ray has a low-paid part time job which can barely feed the family, let alone buy the new house. While trying to figure out how to be able to gather enough money for the new house, she comes across a part-time human smuggler, Lila Littlewolf. Ray soon realizes how much money she can make through the smuggling of illegal immigrants from Canada to US (over a frozen river which separates the boarder of the USA and Canada). Ray becomes a smuggler herself, working with Lila, but working in the smuggling business doesn’t go as smoothly as the women have hoped…

“Frozen River” deals with big issues: poverty, immigration and motherhood. The movie is pretty short (97 min.), but it’s so intense it feels a lot longer. Ray’s struggle to somehow satisfy the needs of her family single-handedly is heartbreaking to watch. She gets a rotten deal, a not uncommon thing for single mothers in the US (they are actually the most common group of people who are below the poverty level in the US). Ray is shown having a part time, minimum-wadge job, a problem that most single-parent women have and which places many of them below the poverty level. So the movie is fairly realistic about Ray’s problems, which makes the movie even grittier. For an American film, “Frozen River” gives a true and fair voice to poor families, and to the sometimes harsh realities of being a single mother. Also Lila, the other smuggler and a Mohawk, is a character the viewer bleeds for. She is also a single mother, but her child has been taken away from her by her mother-in-law. She has trouble getting jobs and feels mistreated by the white majority in the film. Lila at first acts harshly towards Ray, but after the two women get to know each other and realize that they are both getting the bad end of the social deal, she and Ray bond, resulting in a moving friendship. This part of the movie is particularly poignant since it’s one of the few decent female bonding’s portrayed in cinema.

Even if you meet most of the illegal immigrants briefly, Hunt gives us a pretty good idea of how vulnerable their situation is. Ray even seems somewhat lucky for not having to be one of them, even if just barely so. Hunt seems to want to point out how inhumane illegal smuggling can be and how we should put into place some kind of protection system for the illegal immigrants. Hunt also points out that Ray and Lila get a fairly small portion of the money for the smuggling, while the top dogs in the smuggling business are fairly rich and very savage.

“Frozen River” is a near-perfect work of cinematic art which I feel should be viewed by everyone interested in any of these issues. It is actually not that hard to find, either, since it was highly acclaimed by critics.

As a movie about illegal immigration/immigration, I thought this was one of the best movies I’ve seen on this subject.
Some other films of interest dealing with the issue of immigration are “An american tail” (1986) by Don Bluth and “Persepolis” (2007) by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi. Even if “Persepolis” is not strictly about immigration, it does deal with it in some parts of its 90 minutes or so length. It is also, like “Frozen River”- a great movie directed by a woman.
Does anyone hear now any good movies about immigration? Or has anyone seen “Frozen River” and would like to comment on it?

Lila and Ray

Looking back at last year…

I don’t know about anybody else, but this year’s upcoming movies don’t seem very exciting to me. None of the movies that come out 2010 have seemed very good to me, which is a pity since last year’s production was wonderful. 2009 was a good year for movies.

I’ll list the three best, in my opinion, movies of last year. I’ll start with my least favorite to my absolute favorite, with an explanation of why the movie was so good.

3)  — The Princess and the frog by Ron Clements and John Musler – this is Disney’s newest hand-drawn film. It is based very loosely on the Grimm’s fairy tale “The frog prince”. It tells the story of Tiana, a young ambitious woman living in New Orleans. She dreams of owning her own restaurant, but despite her hard work that dream is far from coming true. When she meets a frog who claims to be a prince under a spell, she agrees to give him a kiss to turn him back into a prince for a load of money. Things don’t go as planned; the kiss results in the prince staying a frog and Tiana turning into a frog.

This movie had a lot of things that were nice and fun. The first being the characters. The prince, Naveen, is one of the few Disney princes that actually have a personality – and a really strong, well-developed one at that. Naveen is your typical frat boy, who loves partying but hates having to work in any way. It is easy to laugh at Naveen, but you can’t help but to like him. He matures throughout the movie and even admits that he has been a hopeless case. Tiana, the main heroine, is also a great character. She is a modern, strong woman with a big heart. She is also the one who defeats the villain in the end!

Dr. Faculier, aka. “The Shadow man”, is this movies incredibly villain. He is a voodoo magician who wishes to take over all of New Orleans. This is one of the coolest, neatest and actually interesting villains Disney has had in years. Dr. Faculier is a smart, cunning villain who even gives hints of why he has become the way he has. He also does look a little scary in certain scenes. And he gets his own, awesome song!

Another thing that was great about the movie was the story of the movie is entertaining and fun. It is a real feel good movie. And it’s nice to see a kid’s movie that takes place in an area with overwhelming population of African-Americans.

The third thing I liked about the movie was the animation. It was elegant and beautiful. You could really tell the animators tried their best to please the viewer. I thank them for that.

2) — “District 9” by Neil Blomcamp, Peter Robert Gerber and Simon Hansen – this was by far the best science fiction movie to come out since 2000. It is a harsh, vicious portrayal of human cruelty. The story takes place in Johannesburg, where a spaceship has landed and its passengers have been forced into ghettos. The aliens are hated and feared, they are controlled and used. The movies protagonist, Wikus Van de Merwe, is a man who gets the opportunity to lead the removal of the aliens from the ghetto they live in to a much worse slum area where they are not expected to survive long in. During his mission he comes in contact with some mysterious liquid that starts to turn him into one of the aliens. Do to this transformation, he gets kidnapped by the military and witnesses the horrible experiments done on the aliens. He escapes, only to be forced to work with the alien Christopher and his son for a chance to be turned back into a human again.

Neil Blomkamp, who not only has done most of the directing but also done most of the writing, has said that he has based most of the films happenings on his childhood memories of the Apartheid. That comes of no surprise. “District 9” is a clear attack on xenophobia and prejudice, on the vicious treatment “different” kind of people get. It is a cleverly done film; it is half mockumentary, aka fake-documentary, half-action film and half- political commentary (which in this movie adds up to more than one movie – in this case). Everything is filmed with a gritty feeling and spares us no gross details. The film also is able to get the viewer to sympathize and cry for the aliens despite there at first frightening appearance. There were times I had to close my eyes due to the cruelty done by humans. Christopher, the main alien, is a brilliantly designed and developed character. He acts just like your typical every-man, yet looks like a sea-creature.  Wonderful!!

Also strangely and thoroughly enjoyable is the open ending of the movie. It allows the viewer to decide for him or herself what will happen next.

1) — “Fish Tank” by Andrea Arnold (directed as well as written) – I find this movie to be the best movie of 2009. It is one of the few movies that gives a fair voice to abused and/or neglected young adults. It is also a brilliant portrayal of an outcast of society. The main character is Mia, a fifteen year old girl who is neglected by her mother, thrown out of school and has fallen out of her friends cycles. Nobody seems to really care about Mia, who finds comfort only in dancing and listening to Hip Hop. When her mother brings home a new boyfriend, Mia seems to have found someone she can talk to. Mia becomes very attached to the man. Too attached.

“Fish Tanks” has a “dirty realism” feel to it. Nothing about life is idealized; people are complex creatures with plenty of faults, the living areas are messy and the major conflict’s in life isn’t always resolved. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t hope; Mia is a strong girl and is able to find a way to change her life. The filming style of the film is very “dogmatic”: shaking cameras bleach colors etc. This makes the film feel realistic.

Andrea Arnold is a promising new woman director. She’s made one film before “Fish Tank”, “Red Road”, which I haven’t seen yet. She’s also made three short films, which are nearly impossible to find, but which have been highly acclaimed. Judging from “Fish Tank”, I’ll say that Arnold has a perfect feel of harsh reality and human drama. If you haven’t seen this touching coming-of-age film, I recommend that you see it immediately!

See more pictures at the end of this page!