At some point, we will have to stop rushing to call things, “Feminist” or, “Not Feminist”. Both because it’s getting annoying and also because it is gross to reduce a centuries-old movement full of setbacks, accomplishments, ideas and intersections as just another form of relatively easy, capitalist consumption. Having said that, here is the movie, “Born in Flames”, an independently made/produced dystopian fable that tells the viewer from the outset that it is willing to wear its ideas and its convictions on its sleeve. Very punk in aesthetics and tone while also being unafraid of speaking up about big ideas and people, here is a dystopian fiction that the likes of, “Mad Max: Fury Road” owe their very existence to, even if very few people seem to know about this movie. If you’re one of those people who think, “The Hunger Games” is a bit on the noise about feminine empowerment just because it has a female protagonist, this movie is probably going to give you an aneurysm. See also: that one person who gets off on of telling random strangers that their politics are not radical enough, while forgetting that for said radicalism to mean anything, people of all stripes have to be accounted for (I’ll get back to that in a moment).
The premise? It’s the future. A socialist future, in fact. State-owned media rules the day, and things seem great…until it is revealed that women and people who don’t fit into a heterosexual framework are still treated as second-class citizens. A group of renegades, lead by Adelaide Norris (played by Jean Satterfield), begins a series of missions meant to spread the cause of liberation around the country. And…that’s pretty much it, aside from a few politically charged twists. What’s striking about the movie is its mixture of styles. Sometimes it’s filmed in a classical manner, and other points it takes a documentary/cinema verite style where aesthetic polish is replaced with rawness and intimacy. Like many an independent production, here is a movie where sometimes the acting is dodgy, some props and effects look like…well, effects, and the pacing is all over the place. Also, yeah, this movie is quite preachy. In fact it has several scenes where individual women read poetry and recite revolutionary lines directly to the camera, and other scenes that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Public Service Announcement broadcast if it was written and directed by bell hooks.
But what brings the movie together is how, for lack of a better word, intersectional it all is (speaking of things I will get back to). Here is a rebellion lead by a lesbian black woman, with a group consisting of people of other races and even creeds. Yet here they are shown having arguments, talking about tactics, and emphasizing parts of themselves that make them stand out from the rest of the group. Hell, at once point, Adelaide Norris separates from the group, doing some combat training while being spied on, and leaving the other members to try to continue their work. It’s difficult, like all activism is, at first due to the many differences the members have from each other and then because of the pushback they receive. Yet through it all, it doesn’t erase these differences. The cause eventually lets each person have a voice, lets them talk about the things that ails them and even allows for them to have differences, with a framework of liberation for all being the ultimate goal. So, yes, for all of the Lena Dunhams/Amy Schumers of the world, sex workers and marginalized people of color are welcome here, as is everyone else who is willing to fight for a cause that even today has its critics.
Not to say that the movie is always this very flawed production that survives on sheer volume and audacity. Writer/Driector Lizzie Borden, working with Ed Bowes, Al Santana and a bunch of other crew members behind the camera, provides a handful of scenes that show a talent for scene blocking, compostion and pacing. One sequence that will probably be a nightmare for followers of Roosh V has a woman being harassed by some men. Suddenly, a group of women arrive to the rescue, riding bikes and blowing whistles. Yep, this movie does not give a fuck about the well being of sexual harassers and rapists. Of all the movie sequences that still remain fresh in my mind, that one is a great encapsulation of why independent cinema, before it was gentrified by the Wiensteins and Sundance’s kowtowing to their ilks questionable business practices, was so important and so great. Well, that and the ending, which would create a frenzy if the Fox News/Breitbart media crowd, ever having a supply of crocodile tears for western reactionary patriotism and conservatism, ever discovered this movie.
I think that independent cinema can be great, provided that it dares to have ideas and convictions. And I don’t mean the kind of respectability politics bullshit that would make for a good TED talk or fill the coffers of celebrities who are obviously only in it for themselves, but disguise themselves under rhetoric of safe, “ethical” consumption sponsored by corporations. I mean the kind where people take into account the costs and intersections of everyday life and its struggles. Ideas, no matter how radical, are nothing without people and their condition, and movies like, “Born in Flames” are great no matter how flawed they are, simply for recognizing that fact. Check this movie out, I think its worth your time. Hell, they are still selling DVDs of the thing, so why not seek it out?
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