Category Archives: Feminism

Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement Book Review

Some people are born to change the world. Others change the world by a twist of fate, forcing them to step into the spotlight and speak for those who for any number of reasons, cannot do so themselves.

Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement, by #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, was published last month. Born in the Bronx, Burke was sexually assaulted as a girl. Believing that she was at fault, she let the shame settle into her emotional bones and change her. She thought it could be simply hidden away and life would simply go on. But the experiences would force her to not just confront her own past, but how other women have lived with similar traumatic experiences. She specifically explores how those responsible for such heinous acts are often given a free pass. At the same time, their victims must live with the scarlet letter that is forced upon them for something they were not responsible for.

This book should be on every must-read list of 2021. In telling her own story, Burke speaks for the millions of women across the world, past, and present, who were called all sorts of names simply because some man thought they were there for his sexual pleasure. By calling out those who would shelter sexual predators and supporting those who have suffered, she is challenging all of us to break the status quo and make assault/rape the criminal act it should have been all along.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Much Ado About Nothing Character Review: Leonato

*The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday the latest from now on).

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the William Shakespeare play Much Ado About Nothing. Read at your own risk if you have not seen the movie. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations. The only thing any good parent wants for their child is to be happy and satisfied. The curve in the road comes when said parent has archaic ideas about their offspring does not followed the preferred path.

In Much Ado About Nothing, Leonato, a wealthy landowner has one child, Hero. She is his heir and his whole world. He loves her and cares for her as any father should. Leonato has also in his care, his niece Beatrice. Unlike her cousin, Beatrice is not as pliant and more than willing to share her opinions.

When Hero gets engaged to Claudio, it seems that nothing will stand in the way of their happiness. But the wedding day does not go as planned. Accused of cheating on her fiancé at the altar, Hero faints and is assumed to be dead. When she wakes up, Leonato believes what has heard and gives her a verbal tongue lashing that is laced with disappointment and anger. He calms down when he is convinced that the accusations are nothing but lies.

Pretending that his child is dead, Leonato goes to Claudio and tells him that forgiveness will only come if he marries Beatrice. Claudio agrees, not knowing that his beloved is alive. The play ends with Hero “returning” to life and marrying Claudio, to the delight of Leonato and the rest of the characters.

To sum it up: In 2021, some would say that Leonato is has old fashioned ideas about men and women. Though it is obvious that he is a good father, he is part of a patriarchal society in which virginity is an unmarried woman’s most valuable asset. Even the hint of his daughter having sexual intercourse before saying “I do” is going to create all sorts of trouble. Though by the end of the play, all seems to be forgotten, this writer has to question why the men who condemned based Hero did not ask for forgiveness to the person they hurt the most.

Which is why she is a memorable character.

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Rita Moreno & Mental Health: A Revelation That Needs to be Heard

Rita Moreno is more than an icon. She is a trailblazer who opened the door for non-POC performers to not only have a career, but to play roles than were more than the servant or the background character. She also dealt with mental illness and lived to tell the tale.

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It premiered a couple of weeks ago on the PBS series American Masters. The documentary follows her life and career from her early days playing “ethnic” characters to her current status as one of the most respected performers in Hollywood. Best known for her role as Anita in 1961 film adaptation of West Side Story, it was one of the first (if not the first) fully fleshed out Latino characters on the big screen. Up until that point, Latinx performers either had to hide who they were (a la Rita Hayworth) or play a stereotypical characters ( e.g. Carmen Miranda).

While I was not surprised that she was sexually assaulted. Then, as now, women are still seen as sex objects to be used and thrown away when our usefulness outside of the bedroom has vanished. What I was surprised is that she has lived with mental health problems for decades and survived a suicide attempt. I found her honesty to be refreshing and comforting. It was as if she was saying “I did it, you can too”.

If I could, I would send an invite to watch this film to anyone whose life is complicated by mental illness. If it provides one person at least a brief respite from the mess in our heads and the push to ask for help, I would be satisfied.

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It is available for streaming on the PBS website.

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Much Ado About Nothing Character Review: Hero

*The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday the latest from now on).

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the William Shakespeare play Much Ado About Nothing. Read at your own risk if you have not seen the movie. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations. In a patriarchal society, a women’s value is based on her virginity. If g-d forbid she is not a virgin and without a wedding ring on her left hand, her reputation (and in some places, that of her family) is in tatters. She is called all sorts of not so nice names and becomes an outcast.

In Much Ado About Nothing, Hero is one of the play’s protagonists. Young, innocent, and sheltered, she is smitten by Claudio and he is equally smitten with her. Unlike her cousin, Beatrice, Hero is beholden to her father, Leonato. She is also not so quick to make judgements about others and has yet to be exposed to the potential heartbreak that comes with love.

Claudio and Hero get engaged in a blink of an eye and if all goes well, will be married in a week. But trouble, as it often does, comes in the most inconvenient of times. Accused by her betrothed and Don Pedro of cheating on him at the height of the marriage ceremony, she faints. When Hero wakes up, Leonato excoriates her for being sexually active and unmarried. Believed to be dead by Claudio and Don Pedro, Hero returns to life when Claudio publicly takes back his accusation and agrees to blindly marry her, not knowing that she is still alive. When the curtain falls, they ride off into the sunset, with promises of what will hopefully be a bright future.

To sum it up: Hero is the moral center of the play. She is a truthteller, but innocent of the games the people play and the lies they tell. She is also stronger than she appears to be. She accepts Claudio’s apology and is willing to give their relationship another chance. While another woman may just decide that he is not worth the heartache, Hero trusts him and their love enough to put the past behind them. She also appears to forgive her father, which again for some women would be impossible to do.

Which is why she is a memorable character.

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Throwback Thursday: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

The wonderful thing about the movies is the ability to take us away from our daily lives for a short time. The not so wonderful thing about movies is that stereotypes can easily be spread.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was released in 1984. This chapter of the Indiana Jones narrative takes place in 1935 in India, which was then part of the British Empire. When a mystical stone is taken from a small village, Indy (Harrison Ford) teams up with Wilhelmina “Willie” Scott (Kate Capshaw) and Short Round (Ke Huy Quan) to find the rock. It has been taken by a secret cult who is driven by death and slavery.

I have mixed feelings about this movie. As an adventure film, it’s fine. Ford is at his finest as the title character. I understand that this is a heightened reality that would never exist in real life. The one thing that stands out to me how extremely annoying Capshaw’s character is. She is whiny, she is needy, and she contributes nothing to the story other than being the obligatory female. I don’t understand how Capshaw and co-screenwriter Gloria Katz could bring this 2D character, who is completely unlikable, to life. I was also struck by the portrayal of the Indian people. I wish this image had been a little close to the truth and less of a caricature. While I appreciate the inclusion of Short Round, it does little to improve my opinion.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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The Eyes of Tammy Faye Review

Those of us above a certain age remember the late Tammy Faye Bakker for her boundless enthusiasm, her makeup that some might call excessive and how she was portrayed in the press. When she and first husband, Jim Bakker made the news in the 1980’s for the financial scandal surrounding their television ministry, there was no escaping the headlines.

The new movie, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, takes the audience behind the flash and the noise to reveal the real woman. Stepping into the shoes of Tammy Faye and Jim are Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield. The film follows Bakker from her early years, where she is an outcast due to her parents divorce to the high of being the face of televangelism for a generation, and finally when she became a late night punchline that revolved around the fiscal mismanagement of the Bakker’s Christian ministry empire.

First of all, kudos to the makeup and hair department. They were able to recreate Tammy Faye’s iconic look without making it look like Chastain was wearing a Halloween mask. What I liked about the film is that the woman on the screen is much more than was in the news back in the day. She has a big heart, genuinely believes in her mission (and her husband), and unlike others in her world, is willing to embrace members of LGBTQ community.

A nice counterpoint to Tammy Faye is her mother, Rachel, played by Cherry Jones. Rachel is down to earth and practical. She does not exactly want to burst her daughter’s bubble, but wants to bring Tammy Faye back to reality. What I did not realize is that in her own way, Bakker was a feminist. She was not the typical wife of religious leader who quietly stays in her lane. Tammy Faye was an equal partner in sharing their message with viewers and fans. My only complaint is that towards the end of the film, a few minutes could have been cut from the final presentation.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye is presently in theaters.

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The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902: Immigrant Housewives and the Riots That Shook New York City Book Review

Food is more than the nourishment our body needs to survive. It tells the story of the people who prepared it.

The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902: Immigrant Housewives and the Riots That Shook New York City by Scott Seligman was published last year. One of the major tenets of traditional Judaism is keeping kosher. That means that certain foods are off limits. Meat and dairy dishes cannot be combined in the same meal. There must be two sets of dishes and two sets of preparation tools. Most of all, the only acceptable meat is kosher. The problem with kosher meat is that it is more expensive than its non-kosher counterpart.

In May of 1902, many Jewish families who resided in New York City were poor immigrants, barely struggling to get by. But in spite of the hardships, they were determined to maintain their traditions. That included the food they purchased and consumed. When the price of the animal based proteins rose beyond what many could afford, women took to the streets, believing that price gouges were responsible for the increase. What started out as a non-violent movement turned into a battle for the hearts and minds of the community. Led by women who lacked the education and opportunities of their uptown peers, it is a story of not just economic survival, but the average person fighting against the powerful.

This book is obviously a niche subject and right up my alley. This is my history and the women I come from. Instead of keeping silent, they stood up for themselves and their community. In doing so, these women blazed a path and helped to created the blueprint for the modern non-violent protest that we see today.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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The Rose Code Book Review

War is not always fought in the battlefield. For every soldier with a weapon in their hand, someone is working equally hard behind the scenes to ensure victory.

The Rose Code, by Kate Quinn, was published in March. In England in 1940, as World War II is about to explode, three women join the war effort. Accepting jobs as code breakers at Blectchley Park, they are responsible for cracking the codes that have been intercepted from Germany.

Osla is the debutant who wants to be known for more than her status in society. She is also dating Prince Philip, who was still a few years away from marrying the future Queen Elizabeth. Mab climbed her way out of her poverty driven childhood in the East End of London. While she works furiously to save lives, she is looking for a husband to give her the life she did not have when she was young. Some might say that Beth is shy, but those who know her will say that she is incredibly intelligent and eager to see what the world has to offer. The war brings these women together before tearing them apart.

Seven years later, the country has united under happier events: the royal wedding. Osla, Beth, and Mab have not spoken to each other since the end of the war. When two of them receive an encrypted letter, the unspoken lie comes to the surface and they must work together to catch a traitor.

I loved this book. It is one of the best that I have read this year. The story is a thrilling rollercoaster of friendship, the sacrifices that war demands, and three women whose lives are turned upside down. It was half spy novel and half coming of age narrative with an undercurrent of early 20th century feminism that is sometimes forgotten.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Much Ado About Nothing Character Review: Beatrice

*The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday the latest from now on).

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the William Shakespeare play Much Ado About Nothing. Read at your own risk if you have not seen the movie. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations. When the one we love walks away, the emotional wound that is created by that loss does not always close quickly or easily. It sometimes festers, creating a wall to prevent future heartbreaks.

In Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice comes off as a confident, smart mouthed, and distrustful of romance. When she meets up with her ex, Benedick, her response is to call him on what she sees as his bullshit. While everyone around them is enjoying their banter, they do not see that she is afraid of being vulnerable, especially in front of the man who she is not quite over. When she hears that he is in love with her, Beatrice loses her armor and becomes hopeful that their relationship will begin again.

Unlike her cousin, Hero, Beatrice is not willing to submit to marry whomever her father approves of. She will only walk down aisle if she can respect herself and be in an equal partnership. In her world, a married woman is legally the property of her husband. She has no right to property, to any income, or even to her own children. The only way to remain in control of her fate and maintain control of financial and/or material assets is to remain single.

The turning point for her narrative is after the aborted wedding of Hero and Claudio. Angered that her beloved cousin’s name and reputation has been blackened, Beatrice rages that the sexist and misogynistic ideas that have ruined her cousin. Though she is unable to challenge Claudio, she and Benedick walk into the sunset. She is no longer afraid of love and more importantly, in love with a man who will not force her to submit the traditional idea of what is it is to be a woman.

To sum it up: Being vulnerable is never easy. It is harder when the person we want to be vulnerable with is the person we love most. The fear of rejection is so prevalent that the immediate reaction is to put up emotional walls and pretend that the we are fine. Beatrice’s initial reaction to Benedick is hide her heart to protect herself. But she eventually learns that putting your heart on your sleeve is not a bad thing. We just need to trust our gut and hope for the best.

Which is why she is a memorable character.

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The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay and Diaries: Bringing Jane Austen’s Novel to Film Book Review

Though it appears that a film or television appears as a finished product as if out of thin air, the reality is that it takes a lot of people working together to bring the magic that feels seamless.

The 1995 book, The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay and Diaries: Bringing Jane Austen’s Novel to Film, takes the reader into the process of making the 1995 adaptation of the Jane Austen novel, Sense and Sensibility. Written by the movie’s screenwriter and star Emma Thompson (who played the lead role of Elinor Dashwood), the book contains the complete screenplay and Thompson’s diaries of the making of the film.

This book is so much fun to read. Seeing the screenplay in black and white was a treat. Thompson’s journal from the period is bawdy, funny, honest, and full of delicious minutiae of movie making that only adds to the joy of this beloved classic.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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