Farassati also argues that these films tend to be dark in their subject matter and thus provide a bad image of Iran for the West. They reinforce negative beliefs about Iran, which in certain ways can be true. But of course he also knows that many major award-winning films from all over the world have been critical of their own societies and governments. This is what artists do.
Not long after reading David Shields’s Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, still high on its rallying cry for emotion over narrative, concision over Great American Novel bloat, I came across :: kogonada’s work. In his visual essays I discovered the cinematic version of what Shields called “the folk tradition in action: finding new uses for things by selecting the parts that move you and discarding the rest.”
Last week, I saw a film about the life of Julius Rosenwald, an early twentieth-century businessman and philanthropist who financed a series of rural black schools, built and run with the oversight of the Tuskegee Institute. Rosenwald otherwise had a life such as that from which the myth of the American dream is made. He started as a merchant on the streets of Chicago, worked his way up in the “rag trade” and eventually became chief of Sears and Roebuck. In the meantime, he made large matching donations to black YMCAs and attracted the attention of Booker T. Washington. Washington took him on a tour of Tuskegee, and soon the two formed a partnership, building what would be called the Rosenwald Schools, funded by Rosenwald and each school’s immediate community, staffed by Tuskegee-trained teachers, and erected by the black communities they served.
A month ago, a billboard advertising Lifetime’s latest cautionary tale-style movie, to join the ranks of such films as The Bride He Bought Online and I Killed My BFF, appeared on Hollywood Boulevard. Although some past Lifetime movies have drawn some media attention prior to their release–The Pregnancy Pact, in particular, gaining a serious online following before it even aired in January of 2010–the attention this new film, A Deadly Adoption, received had nothing to do with its uncanny resemblance to real events (though both films claim to be inspired by true stories). Instead, it was the two heads hovering at the billboard, over a pregnant woman standing on a dock, which propelled the Internet into wild speculation. At the helm of this Lifetime movie, both looking a little resolute and a little alarmed in profile on the billboard, were comedians Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig. The tagline: “The birth of a plan gone wrong.”
Julian Barnes once called writing across gender the “one basic test of competence.” This clearly isn’t basic: look how often movies, Hollywood and art-house alike, consistently fail the Barnes (not to mention the Bechdel) test. Whenever another disappointing, one-dimensional female character waltzes onscreen (from Grace Kelly in Rear Window to Carey Mulligan in Inside Llewyn Davis), I know the first thing my partner will say afterward: well, that was obviously made by a man. Which is to say: what we just saw wasn’t an authentic person, let alone woman.