viernes, 13 de febrero de 2009

Personal reflection#2 – Hairspray and privilege

Set in the city of Baltimore, Maryland in 1962, in the time of John F. Kennedy's presidency and during the Vietnam War. The musical Hairspray was first released in 1988 under the direction of John waters and recently filmed by Adam Shankman in 2007. This is a very relevant time to set the movie on as it was the year in which “Dr. Martin Luther King spoke in front of 3.5000 people at Willard W. Allen Masonic Temple urging continued non-violence demonstrations opposing segregation”. Also, “President Kennedy ordered federal marshals to escort James Meredith, the first black student to be permitted to enroll at the University of Mississippi”. However, I would like not just to analyse this 20 year old cinematrographic piece of art but its recent remake and its relationship to America’s present history.

*Timeline and article about the movie and its historical context:

For those who haven’t watched the movie or can barely remember it concisely right now here goes a quick review: Tracy, the protagonist of this film is obsessed with a TV teen dance show, The Corny Collins Show, whcich remains a racially segregated
program. The host and all of his Council Members are obviously white and so black kids are only allowed on The Corny Collins Show on "Negro Day", which is held the last Tuesday of each month. However, youngsters are mean and this film isn’t just about racial discrimination as Tracy is bullied by her classmates and rejected at the TV programme’s audition for being overweight as well as supportive of integration. She will lead to them to protest for equality and claim their right to participate in the contest without racial discrimination.

*Clip of Tracy being teased by classmates in school:

As far as I’m concerned, remakes from old movies or adaptations from novels, comics or any other piece of art are not just brought into the screen for any irrelevant reason. In the majority of cases the director has found history repeating itself and society in need for advise or realisation of a determined issue. Therefore, they decide to rewrite recognised storylines in order for the audience to easily read between lines a newly intertexualize its mesage and apply it to modern society.

Somehow, this movie reflects how the simple fact of being “different” to what majorities describe as “normal” was and still is a cause for rejection and exclusion from certain social activities. However, we are all different in a sense and so having a female, white character which doesn’t really fit into the perfectly stereotyped 60’s teenage girl as a protagonist enables the audience (composed by differentiated people) to rapidly and efficiently identify with her and therefore easily understand the movie’s main message. Tracy’s ackowledgement of her “inferiority” in opposition to the other girls in school is at the same time an open window that enables her to identify herself into the afro-american kids in school. However, to these kids she is the “different” one as comparisons always tend to depart from the point of view of the majority. Nontheless, her dancing skills are her tool to integrate into this group and be accepted by those who are discriminated just as her and join forces to fight against inequality.

Another thing to be taken into consideration about this movie is how it visually depicts unearned advantages and conferred dominance within the society during the 60’s (and less strictly but still present nowadays), as the TV show wouldn’t audition this so called “cool kidz” for their dancing skills but because of their physical appearance, especially skin colour. And so, dominance of the white pretty rich kids shows the inequality of privilege distribution. The teens getting rewarded aren’t necessarily the ones who diserve it the most.

This movie is somehow used as a tool to protest against racism and other types of discrimination and is calling for society to stand up and fight for their rights and a fair treatment. However, denial is a very present issue that lies in modern societies and this could be a problem at the time of interpreting this movie on modern times. I first watched it in Spain a year ago and I remember my mom commenting how unbelieveable the plot seemed to her even within the based upon context of the movie. She thought of it as a reminder of what used to happen during a time in which racism was considered to be inevitable in the United States, while in Spain we had a dictatorship going on and everything during that time spinned around the issue of racial superiority and the national pride. And so, the fact that Spanish society has changed so dramatically from that time to the present made my mom interpret this movie as a reminder of what happened, as many historically based Spanish movies tend to do nowadays.

Unfortunately, my reading was a little bit different. I believe that the remake of Hairspray actually demonstrates that race is still a main concern in moder american society and that it is yelling to the audience to stand up and stop denying reality; to reivindicate equality; to remember and avoid commiting the same errors once and again. And probably this movie fulfilled its purpose by encouraging americans to suppport Obama on the last elections. It may seem a stupid point to bring up but it is also true that the new media make societies move and are very influential when it comes to making decissions.

In fact, on a second level, we could discuss the resemblance between the movie’s finale and the elections results. Against all expectations, Hairspray ends with Inez (a young black girl) being elected winner of the The Corny Collins Show, just as Obama was fairly elected President. It is also one of the biggest moments of American and world history that he has become the new President and I am glad that I’m here as an exchange student to be a witness of this foresighted change. In the movie, this victory meant that the programme was finally integrated despite many people’s rejection such as one of the presentor’s declared frustration. Nontheless, she is caught red-handed by the camera confessing that she tried to trick the results and fired from the show as a sign of fair decissions and integration.

*Clip of the last scene of the 2007 Hairspray movie:

All in all, this is basically a movie about race and the unfairness of white privilege. However, this issues were certainly of greater importance at the time when the film was first made and the one it is based on, thefore in order to catch the modern audience’s attention newer and also denied issues should de brought into the scene. Despite many criticisms about John travolta’s female role in this remake, I believe that this is no way an offensive newly introduced element by Shankman, but a claim for homosexual and transsexual integration towards society’s acceptance of personal changes and decissions that individuals should be allowed to make. It is a major concern in modern societies which are introducing the right to gay marriages into their law systems despite criticism and opposition from many groups.

*Interview with John travolta about his transformation:

Using what we talked about in class, the readings and after watching Tim Wise’s video, I have tried to illustrate all of the points stated by reading subtdly between this movie’s lines and analysing this hidden social issues in its original and actual context. It is obviously my personal view, but anybody is free and invited to leave some comments and express their opinions about my readings or add some
of their own.

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