One reality of this pandemic is how claustrophobic it feels. It’s a holiday start-of-week here in Antigua and Barbuda – between Emancipation Day (August 1st 1834 marking the liberation of enslaved Africans/people of African descent) and Carnival Monday and Tuesday (sans Carnival since that has been cancelled due to the pandemic). With no Carnival and the beach remaining closed on public holidays and social distancing restrictions and an ongoing curfew, reality remains rather flat and claustrophobic.
I don’t have any finished books to share so I thought I’d mention two films seen during the pandemic that have a similar stifling feeling though for different reasons – they’re good, but mood killers.
One is Share.
I don’t remember how I came across it but I’m glad I did. Not glad, happy; but it’s a good film. It’s about the sexual assault of a teenage basketball player presented in a way that leaves much uncertainty. In the beginning she doesn’t really know what happened or if anything did but then there’s video but no clear culprit and pressure from her parents to speak and from others to be quiet. It is real and grounded and unsettling.
Also unsettling is a film called Luce.
How to describe this film? When we meet Luce, he is a model student and athlete with a bright future; he is also the adopted son of a white couple and a former child soldier. There is tension between him and an African American teacher played by Octavia Spencer exacerbated by a paper he wrote on Frantz Fanon that had her thinking he was a powder keg ready to blow. The thing is there is so much uncertainty around his motivations and the actions of him and others in the film that it’s not clear he isn’t … or is he being unfairly profiled.
What these two films have in common, at least to me is both being tense, quiet teen dramas in suburbia which gave me an intense sense of the claustrophobia of the situation.
Speaking of claustrophobia, though very far from suburbia and modernity, this article reminded me that I planned to watch Harriet,
the biopic of Harriet Tubman starring Cynthia Erivo and directed by Kasi Lemmons (glad to see her and fellow Black female director Gina Prince-Bythewood, who recently helmed The Old Guard, getting more, beyond overdue opportunities to do mainstream Hollywood films). Why claustrophobic? because from the very beginning, I have a clenching in my belly expecting the worst though, knowing the history of Harriet Tubman, I expect the story to be ultimately triumphant. I guess I’m feeling particular sensitive to the torture my people endured just now – and, yes, it is my people. Black people are my people. But beyond that, the horrors of chattel slavery were experienced in the Caribbean and Latin America, not just North America – I’ve read enough of our history, of the atrocities of the British Empire Atlantic Slave Trade in the Caribbean and in America, and post-American Independence, slavery in the USA, to know that. As much division as there is in the chatter, even the chatter around this film and Erivo’s right to play Harriet, I know that as sure as I know that my ancestors survived the worst so I could be here to write this. I am currently re-reading a book, To Shoot Hard Labour, about post-Emancipation Antigua (Antigua being where I live), that reminds me that the horrors didn’t end with Emancipation (August 1st 1834 in our case). And when it comes to slave narratives, I’ve always been of the mind that we need to remember, that if they had the stomach to endure it, the least we can do is remember. But these films are never easy. So, I don’t know if I have the stomach for this film but I’m watching it. EDITED TO ADD: Okay finished it. Love the tone – unlike any slave narrative I’ve ever watched in the way it feels not oppressive but…freeing. Harriet Tubman is inspiring as heaven: put the woman on your $20 bill already, America.
ETA Again: How could I forget to mention Ms. Juneteenth.
It’s my favourite of all named films in this post – including Harriet. I suppose because it didn’t fit the theme of the post, although it sort of can as it is about a former teen mom in some ways being suffocated by her life even as she tries to make a better way for her teenage daughter. But it is also so charming. Really liked Ms. Juneteenth starring Nicole Beharrie as a former beauty pageant winner trying to set her daughter on the same path, not strictly to relive pageant glory, but to have her access status and opportunities she would not have access to otherwise. So, it’s similar to Dumplin’ (the also charming Jennifer Aniston film) in some ways, but with the former Ms. Juneteenth’s particular experience as a Black and struggling working class woman with levels of grit and pain mixed in to the sweetness.