What I learnt from watching 245 films and TV series in 2020
When January 2020 came around, I decided to keep track of the films and TV series I was watching during the year on a Pinterest board. For the TV series, the rule I chose for myself was one season counts as one mention. As 2021 came around, it was time for me to close 2020's board. It is quite an experience to see everything I have watched in one place.
This year, I reached 245 films and TV series. As I was scrolling through to make sure I did not forget anything and to remind myself of the films I have seen, I realised there were a few lessons I have taken away from that experience.
After watching Big Bang Theory, James Bond, classics like Casablanca, or the latest release Wolfwalkers, I realised there were similarities in all of those films and TV series despite their different genres, historical context or filmmaking techniques.
It was not surprising to see that overall women’s roles have not evolved that much even in the few films released that year. The industry is also struggling to represent the diversity of our society on screen. Let's be honest, if Hamilton can find a whole cast of talented BAME artists, Hollywood can do it too. They are just not trying hard enough.
© The Personal History of David Copperfield
But there is hope. Change is on the way. Armando Iannucci’s Personal History of David Copperfield (2019) is the best example on how to do modern period dramas and literary adaptations. This is a film where society is just as diverse as ours without making it seem extraordinary.
Skin colour did not determine the role an actor could get and it is a breath of fresh air to see Dev Patel as David Copperfield. He was perfect for the role and it would have been a shame for him not to be cast just because he did not fit the white standard set by the numerous adaptations that came before.
Women are stubborn, strong, in charge of their destiny and not only the propriety of their husbands. Some of them are married, some are not. Some are fragile and precious, but it is never assumed that all women are the same. The diversity of characters makes it clear that everybody is different.
It is also a good way to introduce the new generations to classics with representation that do not repeat patterns of the past. Iannucci’s take on David Copperfield is proof that it can be brilliantly done - so no more excuses !
© Le portrait de la jeune fille en feu
One other film that caught my eye this year is The portrait of a lady on fire (2019). A romance between two women written and directed by Celine Sciamma and shot by Claire Mathon. At every important job that influences the frame and narrative, there is a woman in charge. It allows the film to depict the female perspective and experience accurately and far away from the male-centered norms .
Because the cinematographer is a woman, the gaze is not that of a man but a woman just as the protagonist who is looking at her lover. It focuses on sensuality, the looks exchanged and the lightest of touches. For a film about a romance, there is almost no naked skin which proves there is no need for it but a male dominated world decided that sexy and sex means close ups on various parts of women’s bodies. It shows another approach of romance and sex is possible. In a world of social distancing, there are lessons on representing desire that can be quite useful for romance films going forward.
I saw that film with my partner at the Glasgow Film Theatre. After the screening, he said there are things he didn’t get and subtext he missed while it seemed quite obvious to me. It dawned on me then that women live in a "man’s world" as James Brown sings. We are used to see things, watch films and experience the world from a man’s perspective whereas men find themselves lost seeing films from the point of view of women because they never have to put themselves in our shoes.
This is why it upset me that Ammonite (Francis Lee, 2020) was written and directed by a man. I am aware the director has experience of same sex relationships but gender plays a big role in the perception of romance and depictions of physical relationships. The portrayal of sex scenes were the fantasy of a man imagining what a lesbian couple may do.
It is not as bad as Blue is the warmest colour (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013) but still. This is why I think it is important to give women the opportunity to tell their stories and direct them as they wish so men can also learn to see things from a different perspective. And hopefully in decades, it will not matter who directed what kind of story. Now it matters because we are not there yet but there is hope.
While we are on the subject, I was very happy to see that even in a Netflix TV series who has no other purpose but to entertain as Emily in Paris (2020), Emily stands up against sexism and male gaze when the marketing firm she works for wants to release an ad where a woman is walking naked in Paris with men looking at her as a representation of female desire. This show has many problems but it is nice to see that it becomes unacceptable in mainstream content to portray women as objects of desire only here to please men.
Another surprising film is Wolfwalkers (Tomm Moore & Ross Stewart, 2020). It makes it possible for two little girls to be at the centre of a film. Going into Frozen’s footsteps, it pushes further by making the two protagonists friends. It is important as women are often pushed to compete against each other to represent friendly relationships and to promote sisterhood.
The girls are very different on every level but they are never compared. The film conveys a message of tolerance. It is never insinuated that one is better than the other. It is also made very clear that Robyn being in the castle cleaning and cooking is wrong and that she should do whatever she wants. This an adventure film with two little girls driving the narrative, overcoming their fears and standing up for themselves.
The world might not be perfect but these films definitely make it a better place. They can remind us that it's not that difficult to change and break old patterns. They do not represent the majority of films being made. They are the exceptions but they can become the norm. I hope these films will inspire you and prove that anything is possible. To 2021 and another year of (hopefully) amazing, ground-breaking and inspiring films !