Last week featured so many movies I had to split the article into two. This week only has four entries, but you can find a great and needed film out of a stack of four or a pile of dozens. Please heed the following as you read:
A Content Warning
I want to be very particular about two of the entries this week. One is an Indian gothic horror movie that centers around criticizing the country’s history of child marriage. The other is a U.S. documentary that focuses on the cover-up perpetrated by USA Gymnastics to hide the sexual abuse of 500 girls.
I delve into some of the statistics or similar incidents for each, as well as providing some resources for learning more about helping, so please consider this a content warning. I’ll also place individual content warnings before those specific entries, which are the first two being covered.
directed by Anvita Dutt
CW: CHILD MARRIAGE
Set in India during the 1880s, a 5 year old girl named Bulbbul is married off to a man decades her elder. After several years, the man’s younger brother Satya, whom she initially assumed to be her intended husband, is sent to London. Satya returns to find his family missing, and Bulbbul the only remaining survivor. He’s told his family was taken by a witch, just as some villagers have been. A gothic horror mystery ensues.
Director Anvita Dutt has primarily worked as a screenwriter and songwriter on Indian films. “Bulbbul” is her directorial debut.
“Bulbbul” has received a mountain of praise in India as a fable with a strong feminist message. Though child marriage is technically illegal in India, UNICEF reported in 2017 that 27% of women in India are married by the age of 18. Believe it or not, that’s an improvement from 47% a decade earlier in 2006. India’s own National Family Health Survey has mirrored these numbers very closely.
However, both of these studies rely on self-reporting. This means that with a stronger national prohibition passed in 2006 and a greater focus on eliminating child marriage, that improvement – such as it is – may reflect an increased number of people lying about marriage ages more than it does the actual reality of the situation.
UNICEF also reported in 2017 that at least 7% of women in India are married by the age of 15. That’s one in every 14 girls.
My knowledge on this ends about where the statistics do. I don’t want to pretend I can educate on the problem much further than that. To learn more please take a look at Girls Not Brides, an organization dedicated to ending child marriage in every country. They have a lot of information on the topic, resources to help educate all of us about the problem, and steps you can take to help with girls’ empowerment, education, health support, and a number of other important priorities for girls around the world.
You can watch “Bulbull” with a Netflix subscription.
Athlete A (Netflix)
co-directed by Bonni Cohen
CW: SEXUAL ABUSE OF MINORS
“Athlete A” is a documentary about USA Gymnastics systematic cover-up of the sexual abuse of more than 500 children by the organization’s doctor.
Everything I just mentioned in the commentary for “Bulbbul” – we see it happen in other countries and there’s a privileged impulse to imagine they’re backwards and that sort of thing doesn’t happen here. Yes, it does. Our culture, our country isn’t immune from this. This was one organization that saw 500 children abused by one man. How many other systems aren’t scrutinized?
Dozens, if not hundreds, of politicians and celebrities who cavorted around with Jeffrey Epstein will likely never be held accountable. He was hardly the only perpetrator. He was just the largest we know about. The system in the United States just practices it differently, so let’s not feel better about ourselves when we read about what happens in other countries. Let’s recognize that it needs to be improved everywhere.
For every Penn St., for every USA Gymnastics, for every Jeffrey Epstein, how many do we not know about? If those can be successfully hidden for decades, how many were successfully hidden even longer? How many are still hidden? Let’s not pretend our country doesn’t have this same problem, and let’s not pretend as if we’ve magically avoided allowing it to be systematized in how it’s ignored and covered up.
The documentary follows the investigation not just into the perpetrator of these crimes, but those who covered it up, destroyed evidence, and lied to police – allowing it to continue.
Director Bonni Cohen is a powerhouse in documentary filmmaking, having produced “The Rape of Europa” about Nazi art theft, “Cooked: Survival by Zip Code” about environmental redlining, directed “An Inconvenient Sequel” about climate change and green energy, and produced and directed “Audrie & Daisy” about online bullying – just to name a few. She directs here with Jon Shenk, who she’s produced and directed with before.
You can watch “Athlete A” with a Netflix subscription.
directed by Chinonye Chukwu
This is a movie I featured before when it was first available to rent. This is the first time it’s on a subscription-based service. In a time of sheltering-in-place and social distancing, I can’t keep track of which rule about re-featuring I’m being consistent about or not, so new rule: movies starring Alfre Woodard get to break the rules.
“Clemency” won director Chinonye Chukwu the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. She was the first Black woman director to win it. Woodard plays a prison warden wrestling over the execution of one more inmate. The film itself seems to examine the social and racial implications of what she does, while allowing Woodard the room to play a character losing her own humanity.
The film feels like it could be especially relevant right now.
Daddy Issues (digital rental)
directed by Laura Holliday
“Daddy Issues” is a slacker comedy about a struggling stand-up comic who moves to L.A. to take over her late father’s business. She’s been distant from him and doesn’t know what – or who – she wants out of life.
This is director Laura Holliday’s first feature film.
I’ll quickly highlight a pair of other projects that are getting additional ways to see them.
Director Nubia Barreto’s telenovela “All for Love” is now on Netflix. It’s a Colombian series about a poor boy getting involved in organized crime in an attempt to find his lost sister, and developing a relationship with an up-and-coming singer along the way. You know, as one does.
“XX” is a horror anthology featuring four segments each written and directed by a woman, including horror master Karyn Kusama, first-time director Annie Clarke (better known as musical artist St. Vincent), Roxanne Benjamin, and Jovanka Vuckovic, as well as a title segment by Sofia Carrillo. It’s been on Netflix before, but Hulu’s got it now, so that may make it available to some new viewers. Anthologies are often a great way to learn about writers and directors whose work you’re seeing for the first time.
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