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Athena Film Festival 2013 | Day 2

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athena 75It’s a tribute to David Riker’s skill as a writer and director that, even when Ashley is behaving in ways that should make her totally unlikeable, you don’t completely write her off.

 

 

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The Girl

As the Northeast continues to dig out from the remains of Winter Storm Nemo, I saw two intriguing new films at the Athena Film Festival. The Girl, written and directed by David Riker, stars Abbie Cornish as Ashley, a single mother in Austin who becomes involved in human smuggling. The story is set in the context of illegal immigration from the Global South to the United States, and doesn’t shy away from showing how tough circumstances may encourage people to undertake risks that would otherwise be unimaginable. But the real focus is on Ashley and how she changes as the result of her experiences.

As the film begins, Ashley is no angel—she lost custody of her son (Austin Rose West) because she was drunk-driving with him in the car—and you may find yourself frustrated by her bad choices and tendency to blame other people for her problems. But it’s also clear that, at heart, she’s a good person who, with a little better luck and/or some appropriate assistance, could be living a stable life and being the mother she really wants to be. She also understands the context of her life well enough to argue, convincingly, that her personal flaws are magnified by her poverty. As she says to the social worker who comes to inspect her trailer—just on the day the sink has backed up—nearly every poor person in Texas faces the same problems she does. It’s a tribute to Riker’s skill as a writer and director that, even when Ashley is behaving in ways that should make her totally unlikeable, you don’t completely write her off.

The other star in The Girl is Santiago Maritza, who plays Rosa, a Mexican girl for whom Ashley assumes responsibility when a smuggling operation goes awry. A newcomer to acting, Maritza is completely natural and effortlessly profound, just as the role requires her to be. She’s the girl of the title, but so is Ashley, and the similarity between them becomes clear after we meet Ashley’s father, Tommy (Will Patton), a coyote who almost fools you into thinking he’s a nice guy. Tommy did have the best line of the day, however: I’ll have to paraphrase here, but it was along the lines of, “The only thing I learned from Jesus is not to be a martyr.”

My second film of the day was Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s documentary Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines. It’s a straight-up documentary covering both the history of Wonder Woman and the more general issue of women characters in general, and superheroines in particular, in American comics, with excursions into the women’s liberation movement and female comics fandom. That’s a lot of territory to cover in just over an hour, but Guevara-Flanagan pulls it off pretty well. This film is a great consciousness-raising tool (how 1970s is that?) and a fun celebration for fans of Wonder Woman and her sisters in spandex.

Wonder Women! incorporates a regular murderer’s row of interview subjects, from Lynda Carter and Lindsay Wagner (stars wonderwomenof the 1970s TV series Wonder Woman and The Bionic Woman, respectively), to Gloria Steinem, Trina Robbins, and Gail Simone; the latter coined the phrase “women in refrigerators” and also became, in 2007, the first ongoing female writer for Wonder Woman. That it took so long tells you a lot about the American comics industry, as does the fact that Simone needed to point out how often female superheroes come to very unheroic ends (as in, dead and stuffed into a refrigerator).

One of the tropes discussed in the film is the persistent, exaggerated sexualization of superheroines, and the fact that male superheroes don’t get equivalent treatment. During the talkback with producer Kelcey Edwards and two of the film’s interview subjects (4th grader Katie Pineda and Brazilian immigrant Carmela Lane), someone pointed out that Hawkeye Initiative is the perfect demonstration of how sexualized the depiction of superheroines tends to be, and how different it is from the way male superheroes are typically drawn. The Initiative involves drawing Hawkeye, a male superhero from the Marvel Comics universe, in poses typically used for female superheroines—just Google the phrase “Hawkeye Initiative” and you’ll find lots of examples. | Sarah Boslaugh

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