Cultural Appropriation: Not Just an Anomaly


Cultural appropriation is something we do almost everyday of our lives as the world around us become more global and different cultures interact with each other. As stated in The Open Letter to Non-Native Wearing Headdress, by âpihtawikosisân, admiration for other cultures isn’t the true issue at hand, but rather the taking, copying, and appropriation of sacred cultural symbols from another culture for personal use and it can be very harmful especially when that culture has been oppressed. For someone to take a sacred symbol from another culture and using it outside of it’s cultural context and ascribe new meanings to the sacred object and perpetuate harmful stereotypes that not all people within that culture do not subscribe to. Cultural appropriation although having been used almost everyday, the mis-use of sacred cultural materials and symbols are detrimental to the oppressed culture, that the appropriator so wishes to emulate and it happens more often that one would believe.
A common example of cultural appropriation happens around Halloween when those who choose to dress up, decide to dress up and represent an entire culture. There are even many costumes available for sale such as, the Terrorist, a Geisha, Native American, Mexican and the list goes on, but all of these costumes have something in common. The take an aspect or a stereotypical fact about a culture and when that costume is worn the mis-representation, and lack of cultural context begins to take it’s toll, and this is especially true for Native American peoples. Their culture and it’s symbols are constantly being appropriated from insensitive Coachella goers, to halloween costumes, and even Caribanna costumes the miss use of the headdress is a symbol that is typically earned, and only for men. Yet, that symbol has been taken and mis-used constantly, and from the mis-use of this headdress, the feathers, the Native traditional dress in general we then generate stereotypes and generalized beliefs about that culture. Once again those symbols are part of traditional dress and especially today those pieces of clothing aren’t worn all the time, and it would be very easy for anyone to assume that those traditional pieces and those traditional pieces alone create the “Imaginary Indian” who is never truly authentic or indian enough, because the indigenous peoples today are in reality not any of these stereotypes.
These outdated views of indigenous peoples seem to lie within Canada’s roots in colonialism. As much of Europe sought to conquer the Americas for their own personal gain it is quite obvious that these views have carried over and aspects of colonialism still exist today. Even today Canada doesn’t treat their indigenous peoples with the respect that they deserve, as Canada and all it’s immigrants are the biggest squatters in history. Canada has taken away the control of their land, natural resources and even dictate the way in which indigenous communities live. Many Indigenous peoples do live in very poor conditions and often still feel a disconnect between themselves and their indigenous culture as the residential schools have taken so much away. Indigenous populations are dwindling and many are ending up in jail especially females and because of this they are being treated as a dying culture. Canada often denies the fact that we’ve had any racist or colonialist history by painting ourselves as a multicultural melting pot based in tolerance and less radical than our neighbours in the United States. Canada also paints itself as the saviours of a dying culture. When in fact Canada should be looking to not suppress and oppress our indigenous people but help them grow and give them the respect for their land upon which we’ve been using.
Through cultural appropriation reenforcing these stereotypes and micro/ macro aggressions against that culture/race one cannot deny the presence of systemic racism. It’s these harmful stereotypes that have put down the cultures outside of the white dominant group for many many years. An example of racism for the indigenous people of Canada are residential schools which sought eradicate indigenous cultures and languages until the last one closed in 1996. Much of the indigenous peoples who’ve attended these schools lost everything from their connection to their people and their culture to their own language. A census of the aboriginal population in 2006, found that only 22% percent of the Aboriginal populations have knowledge about their native language (Stats Canada) and knowledge according to stats Canada refers to, “ the ability to conduct a conversation in an Aboriginal language. The ‘on reserve’ population includes all people living in any of eight census subdivision (CSD) types legally affiliated with First Nations or Indian bands, as well as selected CSDs of various other types which have large concentrations of registered Indians. The ‘on reserve’ population is defined according to criteria established by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.” (Stats Canada, 2006) This is a painful reminder of the detriment that residential schools have put on the generations of indigenous peoples and whilst there has been much focus on reviving the languages of the first nations, there is still much to recover.
By culturally appropriating you are reenforcing the stereotypes that are harmful to a culture and it’s people, if ever there was an opportunity in which you are afraid your culturally appropriating in a harmful way ask yourself: Are the symbols/ object you are using sacred items? Are those sacred items being used for their cultural/ original purpose? Are you using those symbols to represent an entire culture? Were you invited to participate in the culture by member of that culture? If the answer to these questions were No or Maybe perhaps you should re-think your costume/ the use of the cultural symbol. Or You can use the bingo chart above that is also linked int he open letter.


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“Every Breath a Black Trans Woman Takes Is an Act of Revolution”

Laverne Cox’s newfound fame earned by her role on Orange Is The New Black has given her an active political voice. The transgender actress made a speech recently detailing what it means to be a black trans woman in the United States. In this speech she focuses on the intersect of two systems of oppression prevalent in our society. The oppression of two groups, the black community and the trans community, affect Laverne and others like her doubly. It is no secret that these two groups are devalued in societal systems, but it is still questioned why it is the combination of these two labels placed upon a person that makes them the target of an intense form of systemic discrimination that has lead to them being the most targeted victims of violence in the LGBTQ community.

The black community has been the target of violence and oppression ranging in forms from blatantly overt to almost unidentifiable. In terms of citizenship in our society, it is easy to say that in the past the black community has been excluded. In response, I feel the black community created their own citizenship to remain strong against tides of adversity. I feel like for black males, this citizenship also came embedded with hegemonic masculinities that told them that any feminine behaviour was not acceptable. Homophobia also crept its way into this new citizenship. This need to be strong for their race obliterated another citizenship inherent to all of us. Plummer’s concept of intimate citizenship describes a “bundle of rights concerning people’s choices about what they do with their bodies, emotions, relationships, gender identities and desires” (Surya and Munro 348). The intersect of black citizenship and intimate citizenship is fraught with conflict. For a black trans person this then in turn threatens their trans citizenship as any behaviour other than that of extreme masculinity will be rejected and ridiculed.

We are told that a flaw in feminist theory is the “simplistic equation of masculinity with oppression”. (Surya and Munro 355) I think we can further extend this to the flawed simplification in our equation of whiteness with oppression. Systemic anti-blackness that has oppressed the black community has formed a hierarchy within the race itself. These power structures have created many divides, placing those that are fairer skinned above those that are darker, men over women and cisgender women above those that are transgender. It is unfortunate that some within the race itself have accepted these power structures as truth and perpetuate such systems of oppression themselves. Comparable to the exclusion of the “hijra” in Southeast Asia, these social ladders leave many black trans people at the bottom of the social hierarchy within society as a whole as well as with the hierarchy within their own race. They are unjustly excluded and victimized by a group to which they expect membership. I don’t wish to label the black community as oppressors, but instead as victims trying to hold onto power in a system that was not of their making.

To continue moving away from the equation of whiteness with oppression we can look to the hypersexualization and other racial subtexts in the sexualisation of the black female body. This false perception of black women as beings with insatiable sexual appetites was created during colonization and remains perpetuated today. Julia Serano describes to us a categorization of trans women as either ‘deceivers’ or ‘pathetic’ (Serano, pars 4-11). The hypersexualization of the body of a black trans woman either as a ‘deceiver’ or ‘pathetic’ proves to be extremely damaging. The black trans women whose sex at birth is not blatantly apparent to men, or rather the ‘deceivers’ illicit anger in men who feel an unjustified sense of trickery. Serano tells us “deceivers are… used as pawns to provoke male homophobia” (par 8). I feel it is the age-old story of hegemonic masculinity that tells a male he should reject his attraction to trans females. Rather than sort through his own emotions these men lash out with anger and hatred. For a black trans woman, this anger and hatred is made amplified by the hypersexualization of her body. For what Serano has dubbed the ‘pathetic’, someone’s whose birth at sex is obvious, their body will never conform to the expectations (laced with racial subtexts) that have been placed upon it. Constantly being made to feel as if they are not a ‘real woman’ these black trans woman are the target of constant ridicule and discrimination as well.

We cannot separate the oppressions of being black and being trans for an individual that is both. In a society fuelled by power systems it is rare to see those give up what power they have to move the oppressed to loftier positions. Those that speak out against anti-blackness cannot choose to not support the trans community by simply ignoring those members that belong to both groups. As Leverne Cox reminded us of Cornell West’s words during her speech, justice is what love looks like in public and currently there is a lack of love for black trans women amongst both the black and trans community. (Cox)


Word Count: 846

Works Cited

Cox, Laverne. “Laverne Cox on Bullying and Being a Trans Woman of Colour.” Everyday Feminism. Youtube. 2 December 2014. Web. 7 Mar. 2015.

Monro, Surya & Warren, Lorna. “Transgendering Citizenship.” Sexualitites. 7.3 (2004) : 345-362. Web. 7 Mar. 2015

Serano, Julia. “Skirt Chasers: Why the Media Depict the Trans Revolution in Lipstick and Heels.” Julia Serano. Web. 7 Mar. 2015. <;

Systemic Justification of Violence

From the moment of birth, people are bombarded with images and instructions on how they should grow up to be. Adults, mainly parents and teachers, as well as the media, discipline young children on how to behave to comply with the social norms. Whatever fits the social norms is considered to be natural and should be treated as being “human”. However, once an individual’s presupposition of what it means to be human is challenged, the individual’s sense of justice is skewed. This distorted perspective often leads to dehumanization of marginalized people and, ultimately, violence against them.

One of the many emerging problems of today’s society includes violence against transgender women, especially against trans women of colour. In western society, the binary gender system, which views gender with two rigid options of male and female, both of which are grounded in a person’s physical anatomy, has deeply rooted into its culture (Gender Spectrum). When such preconceived notion is questioned, for example by transgenders, individuals do not consider transgenders to be fit for society, justifying their violence against them.

Laverne Cox, who is best known for her role in the Netflix television series Orange is the New Black, shares her unjust experiences as being a Black trans woman in the United States.

“… these found me attractive, because I’m a woman. Then they realized that I was trans and it became something else.” (Cox)

The black and the Latin men expected to see a woman, but when they realized that Laverne was trans, their reaction immediately changed. It is not to say that catcalling is appropriate even if Laverne were not a transgender. However, when their expectation is overthrown by the fact that Laverne is transgender, they have dehumanized her into either the “b word” or the “n word”. Laverne is no longer considered a respectable human being, but rather a target for sexual harassment, which could have easily turned into physical violence.

It is also important to be aware that dehumanization occurs not only to transgenders, but also to all minorities, such as women, people of colour, including indigenous peoples, and disabled people.

Objectification of women is widely found in mass media and is deeply embedded in men’s socialization to value women less than men. Women are treated as properties, thus dehumanizing them, which creates an environment prone to violence, such as domestic violence (Porter).

Similarly, the European settlers’ definition of being human is being white and Christian. By using the term ‘savages’ to categorize First Nations, they dehumanize the indigenous people and attempt to justify treating them as less than human (Newcomb). Residential schools and mass murder of indigenous women are the results of such legitimization of violence.

Furthermore, social construction that privileges able bodies creates a contrast with the disabled people and illustrates them to be inferior. The disabled bodies or minds are depicted as being flawed and in need of repair. Such perspective further dehumanizes them and normalizes unjust treatments against them, which can at times be in forms of violence.

Unfortunately, none of the violence mentioned above stand alone in reality. Focusing on Laverne Cox’s speech again, this is what she describes her street harassment as:

“That moment when I was called the b or the n word, it was a moment where misogyny was intersecting with trans-phobia, was intersecting with some racist stuff.” (Cox)

Even though it is violence against one person, the underlying motive for such animosity targets Laverne’s various labels she carries as a black trans woman. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the intersecting nature and the overlapping root cause of violence against marginalized people.

It is easy to dismiss violence and oppression as few extreme cases. However, those positioned higher in the social hierarchy are systemically made unaware of their privileges (McIntosh). By disregarding these brutalities can contribute to the social norms that further condone such dehumanizing outlook on marginalized people.

For those reasons, acknowledgement and action from the privileged are crucial in preventing violence against marginalized people. However, this proposal is far from suggesting that the marginalized have no accountability. There are far more people who do not fall under the “perfect model” that society creates. If they can relate their experience as a marginalized person to certain privileges they may also possess, they can better understand the process of how their distorted perspective on marginalized people affects their behaviour towards them.

As Dr. Cornel West once said,

“…justice is what love looks like in public.” (West)

In order to bring justice, every person needs to deconstruct and reformulate the social norms, in a loving manner, so that they encompass and embody marginalized characteristics as simply being human.

Word count: 778


Cox, Laverne. “Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, Racism, and Misogyny (And What to Do About It).” 7 December 2014. Everyday Feminism. 8th March 2015. <;.

Gender Spectrum. “Understanding Gender.” n.d. Gender Spectrum. 8 March 2015. <;.

McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack.” 1989. PDF. 11 March 2015. <;.

Newcomb, Steven. On Historical Narratives and Dehumanization. 20 6 2012. 10 March 2015. <;.

Porter, Anthony. National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence (NCDSV). 11 8 2014. PDF. 9th March 2015. <–ACalltoMen.pdf&gt;.

West, Cornel. “PRESIDENT’S FORUM Dr. Cornel West.” September 2009. Hobart and William Smith College. Webpage. 11 March 2015. <;.


Last Wednesday my floormate and I ventured out of the university bubble to partake in the Reelout Queer Film + Video Festival here in Kingston. Seated in a cozy theatre sprinkled with locals throughout the mass of my fellow Queen’s students, we watched Eric Schaeffer’s latest work. His film, Boy Meets Girl is sex-positive, coming of age tail of a transgender girl, Ricky and her friends, both old and new.

The film was designed to cater to any viewer. The lead was instantly relatable with universal problems as a twenty-something, with her problems consisting of getting into school and finding a new relationship. Eric Schaeffer slowly introduces turbulence as the film moves forward, intricately weaving in problems unique to Ricky being transgender. The small southern town became less of a safe heaven and became more pronounced as a cultural hegemony when Ricky became involved romantically with a young, politician’s daughter, Francesca. Francesca’s conservative Republican mother goes as far as to tell Ricky that transgender is an “ugly word” to which birth defect is preferable. Her heterosexist fiancé flies into a rage, pushing Ricky to the ground when he learns of Ricky having a sexual relationship with Francesca; not because of her infidelity but rather because Ricky is transgender. In the film, small-town, southern, old-fashioned ways of thinking clearly reign outside of the small bubble Ricky has created for herself.

This newfound turbulence all culminated in a poignant scene, which stood out to me. After a fight in which her best friend Robby tells her she is neither a boy nor a girl Ricky seeks refuge in a familiar spot, a lake that her and Robby frequent. It was in this scene that I feel both Ricky and Robby came to wholly accept Ricky as being transgender. Ricky went from being unable to verbalize telling someone she was transgendered, resorting to writing it on paper or in a text, to being able to exclaim it unashamedly. Robby finally was able to admit his feelings for Ricky knowing that being with her meant being with her as she currently is, not having undergone a sex-change surgery. In this scene Eric Schaeffer decided to include a shot that included Ricky’s nudity. It’s easy to accept Ricky when she is presented as someone just like you and up until that scene the audience was never forced to make a conscious choice to accept her in her entirety. It was then that the audience was delivered the final reminder that Boy Meets Girl is more than a feel-good comedy, but a film with a statement to be made in the realm of gender politics. Eric Schaeffer made sure Ricky gradually goes from a girl just like you to someone slightly different, which in my opinion allows the audience to explore Ricky’s issues in their own time and accept her on their own terms.

While I felt this film did its job as a sex-positive film, I still questioned its message to girls in general. Boy Meets Girl had the opportunity to break gendered stereotypes and I felt, failed to do so. Eric Schaeffer made a commendable decision in casting trans actress, Michelle Hendley. However, I do not think it is coincidence that she also happens to be a model with a particular set of body and facial features we’re bombarded by the media to value. Ricky is a character created with a host of emphasized femininities. She’s often presented in dresses, with flawless long hairstyles and her one hope is to get into fashion school, a hyper-feminized degree. Her estrogen pills allow her to grow breasts, yet it is not enough for her and she wants implants, again conforming to another idea that men only value women with larger breasts. The film in a way reinforced our binary thinking. Every character in the film stayed neatly within the lines of what we think a male is and what we think a female is. Robby working as a mechanic, always needing to defend his female friend to Francesca forgoing school to be a housewife to her marine fiancé.

Another transgender female who watches this portrayal may feel she won’t be valued or accepted as Ricky had been because she may not feel she lives up to such preconceived standards of beauty and desirability; comparable to a cisgender female looking at airbrushed models in a magazine. No racialized minorities were represented; again possibly making a transgender who is racialized feel undervalued or less than those that are white. For a cisgender watching they will simply be bombarded with yet another show of binary thinking drilled into us from birth. I felt that adhering to these emphasized femininities and misrepresenting the diverse world we live in detracted from the overall message of the film.

Overall, my first experience at the Reelout Queer Film + Video Festival was a positive one. It was great to see members of the Kingston community so engaged and excited to watch the film as they exclaimed aloud to the more comedic or hard-hitting scenes in the movie. Their energy was easy to feed off of and ultimately I felt became reflected in myself and those watching around me.


Works Cited

“Trans Actress Michelle Hendley on Trans Rom-Com Boy Meets Girl.” Advocate, 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 11 Feb. 2015. <>

The Way He Looks: Reelout Review


The Way He Looks was showing on the second day of Kingston’s Queer film festival Reelout. The film festival itself had a total of 19 films, showing 1 per day until February 7th 2015. All films had the underlying theme geared towards the LGBTQ community, promoting films made in Kingston and abroad. The film The Way He Looks was from Brazil directed by Daniel Ribeiro and came out in 2014. Over all, a very pleasant film depicting a young boy Leonardo  Who is blind and had been from birth. Leo desperately wishes to gain independence as his family (especially his mother) do pretty much everything for him and limit his time spent outside the house and even time home alone. The films starts off introducing Leo’s way of life, how his mother over-cares for him, his friend Giovanna walks him home from school, the bullying etc. Though, without giving too much of the film away, when the new kid in school Gabriel comes around and befriends Leo and Giovanna their situation starts to change. Leo is intrigued by Gabriel as they begin to hang out and perhaps independence isn’t the only thing Leo has been searching for.

The film was simply adorable, the lush cinematography and the lovely scenes of Brazil. I must admit, I was watching the film expecting some kind of struggle causing the audience the deeply mull over the social issues of queerness in Brazil, a third world country with different social expectations for queerness and race. Though I was surprised to see next to any social issues or emotional turmoil at all aside from Leo’s minor struggle for some independence. Instead the world where the film takes place is idealized. It isn’t hard to notice the neighbourhood Leo lives in is of high to middle class homes. The people depicted in the film were light skinned and any cultural variance was minimal and if cultural variance was present those characters were very pale in complexion. The bullying there was only one kid and his posse, who taunted and teased him on and off throughout the whole film, mostly verbally. Of course that kid could never say too much without Leo’s teacher or his friend Giovanna to put the bully in his place, and severe physical harm was never caused. The world Leo had lived in seemed just a little too perfect, aside from the nervous teenage feelings which stood in the way of Leo and his crush.

The film was more so a celebration of love, not only was it visually pleasing, but the narrative was quite sweet and endearing. The cinematography was simplistic, but enticed the viewer to think of their other senses especially in the sexually charged scenes. The cinematography helped the viewer understand how Leo ‘sees’ the world around him. The viewer can’t help but relate to the awkward, nervous feelings of teenage love, as the drama goes down (which again is very minimal). When Leo ultimately comes to terms with his feelings and they are acknowledged, it was just the kind of film to make your heart melt. Through this loving approach to viewing homosexuality, it is easy to relate to nervous teenage feelings and love. When the film resolves, you can’t help but feel joy for Leo, as he has now found happiness and in a way independence through love.

My final qualm I have with the film besides the fact that drama was kept to a minimum was the overemphasized sexuality within the film. There were a few scenes that were sexually charged and though perhaps at times it could be argued that it was appropriate as whether gay, straight or in-between sexual tension and attraction is definitely there. I couldn’t help but think that somehow this film fell into the stereotypes that gay/queer couples need to be all over each other, as if to prove that they have a loving relationship. This has been overdone in visual media and I personally feel that some scenes would’ve been better without. I feel it’s cliché and if the point of this film was to normalize homosexual relationships in cinema then perhaps feeding into the harmful stereotypes wasn’t the way to go about doing so.




Girlhood is a 2014 drama film that is written and directed by filmmaker, Céline Sciamma. The film follows the life of a black female teen named, Marieme, as she faces the struggles of adolescence, acceptance and identity while living in the banlieues (suburbs) of Paris. This is the third feature film from Sciamma, and it loosely follows the same pattern of her first two films, Water Lilies (2007) and Tomboy (2009). The film trails Marieme as she deals with living in a broken home with an over protective brother who is critical of her every move, and a mother who is often absent because of her job. As Marieme deals with the stress of her household her grades suffer which results in her being unable to attend High School. Marieme meets up with gang of girls, who end up being an interesting influence on her life. Marieme begins to change as person; she drops out of school, changes her hair, her clothing and also her name, which is changed to “Vic” which is short for Victory. Along with her metamorphosis Vic finds a new sense of belonging and confidence. She now has a tight-knit group of friends, a new boyfriend, Djibril, who is a close friend to her brother. She also begins to establish a very violent and rebellious attitude. Vic’s life begins to spiral out of control and after a series of events finds herself alone and working for a local drug dealer. Vic realizes she is not happy with her life but also recognizes that she is stuck in her position. The movie ends in a very ambiguous manner, we do not find out what ultimately happens to her and it is up to the audience to decipher and to determine her fate.

On many levels this picture was very enjoyable, but at the same time, something was lacking from the movie to make it feel complete. I liked the fact that the film took an intersectional approach when looking Vic’s life, it showed that her struggle was beyond simply being a girl. The film revealed that sadly her struggles came from several different places. She was a young black female growing up in a low-income neighborhood and was also a victim a physical and sexual violence; her problems were not singular. I really enjoyed how Sciamma depicted the female bond. When Marieme meets her gang of girls they first seemed to be a negative influence on her, but as the film progresses we see that they are an important aspect in her life. The girls, although reckless, show Marieme the importance of self-love and worth. I also enjoyed the fact that the film tried to show the effects of Marieme’s culture. After having sex with her boyfriend her bother finds out and beats her for it because she has given away her virtue. Later in the film Djibril says that if they marry, she will no longer be seen as a slut and can return home. Although its not fully explained, you can infer that this issue that is something that stems from their culture opposed to society. It seems that it shunned upon for women to explore their sexuality, and when that does occur they are punished for it.

A key scene that stood out to me was closer to the end of the film when Vic has begins to dress like a man after she begins selling drugs. Djibril, her boyfriend, comes over to see her at her new apartment. Djibril begins to talk about how he dislikes her living in such conditions and they begin to argue a bit, but they resolve and begin to make out. As they are making out Djibril take off Vic’s shirt to reveal that she has bound her breast. Djibril becomes infuriated and begins to berate Vic on the fact that she no longer resembles a woman. He addresses the fact that she no longer wears her hair out, or wears feminine clothing, and that now she is binding her breast. In a very accusatory and judgmental tone he ask if this is what she wants, after which he storms out in a fit of rage. I felt like this scene was very important to the overall plot of the film because it encompassed a lot of its key features. For one it really exposed the emphasized femininities in Vic’s world, opposed to the rest of the film where it is only implied. It is very clear that Djibril has a preconceived notion of what women must look and dress like to be considered a woman. This is a recurring theme that I noticed throughout the film. The males in Vic’s life have this that she must conform to this idea of an ideal women, who is quiet, follows orders, and is the picture of femininity. To me this seemed to be hegemonic masculinity, the men believe that for some reason they better then the women within the film and that they must conform to their ideals. These issues never seem to get resolved, which makes sense since this movie is about real life. Although Vic say she doesn’t want to be a male, its hard to move past the blatant transphobia, and it makes you wonder whether or not those her true feelings

I really enjoyed Girlhood; I thought that the beginning of film was very well thought out. It was nice a movie that focused on the importance of friends and the female bond. When it came to the ending of the film, it did not really sit with me as well. I found that part on Vic dressing like a man was unexplained, and it seemed as though the filmmaker just wanted to just add in a queer aspect to the film. It seemed like the filmmaker wanted to generate pink dollars, so they added a queer aspect that would interest the LGBTQ community. I felt that it needed more clarity to help audiences understand why it was occurring. I thought having an ambiguous ending was very effective, because it was a real representation of life, we have no idea how our lives will end up. The overall film was really good and enjoyable; I thought it was amazing that almost all of the actors were pulled off of the street. The beautiful cinematography and natural acting only made the film better. I would easily recommend it to anyone.

I thought that the Reelout Film Festival was very cool. I think it’s important to expose people to different cultures, especially in a town like Kingston. Along with Girlhood, I also went to see Blackbird; it was nice to see that both of these movies had a large turnout. The movie selection for the week was diverse and interesting. Next year I will most likely attend the festival again.

Reelout Film Review: “Lilting”

Writer-director Hong Kaou’s feature debut, Lilting, is a quiet and delicate chamber piece about two unlikely acquaintances overcoming barriers while grieving the untimely death of their loved one. Despite the film’s lack of character development, its cross-cultural narrative can reach out to a refined niche. 

The film opens to Kai (Andrew Leung) visiting his Cambodian-Chinese mother, Junn (Cheng Pei-pei), at her London retirement home. Complaining about being locked up, Junn is concerned that she is excluded from her own son’s life, and she is right. Kai is keeping his mother in the dark about his homosexuality and the real identity of his “best friend”, Richard (Ben Whishaw).

The conversation is deeply affectionate and almost dream-like, and it is later revealed that the opening scene is Junn reliving her last moments with Kai. As a nice little touch, the interaction is subtly different every time it is replayed.

Feeling responsible to take on Kai’s role, Richard tries to reach out to Junn by hiring Vann (Naomi Christie) to translate for Junn and Alan(Peter Bowles), a fellow British resident who has budded a flirtation with Junn. This yields a minor comic relief during the film’s deliberately slow pace, maintaining the mood from getting too sulky.

Kaou tries to convey a compelling message about the emotional connection, even without a common language. Contrarily, Junn is isolated from the other English-speaking characters as well as the (presumably English-speaking) audience. Kaou leaves out the subtitles when Vann is translating, and Junn’s innermost vulnerability is only conveyed through monologues, which are never translated to the other characters. Junn is also devoid of the choice to withhold the translation of some of her dialogues, which the other characters often do, marginalizing her even further.

Kaou’s depiction of homosexuality is also worth giving some attention. In most scenes where Kai and Richard are together, they are either naked and in bed or are intimately touching each other. It is possible to omit the hypersexualization without affecting the plot, but Kaou chooses not to. The film also pursues the androcentristic illustration of white gay men, who are mostly better represented in popular culture than, for example, black lesbians.

Racial subtexts in sexualization are also prevalent throughout the film. Junn’s racial preference, pointed out by Kai, and Kai’s choice of white British man as his partner suggest a racial hierarchy, where Asians supposedly advance in status by acquiring a white spouse.

Kai: Is he(Alan) English? (Junn nodds) You like pale skin. Dad was half white.

Vice versa, Junn mentions Alan’s behaviour that possibly stems from orientalism, which hypersexualizes Asian women.

Junn: I can talk rubbish and he still thinks I’m an exotic beauty.

Whishaw plays febrile, soft, and teary Richard exquisitely, however, the writer-director does not extend the role any further. Given Whishaw’s previous works, such as Skyfall and Cloud Atlas, it is unfortunate that his broad acting spectrum is not used to its full potential. Similarly, best known for her martial-arts in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Cheng plays equally one-dimensional Junn, who is predominantly rigid and grumpy until just before the end of the film.

Although peripheral to the plot, the short take of the senior home effectively conveys the alienation most marginalized people feel. The shot begins with a zoom-in on white elders peacefully engaged in their activities. Then the camera focuses on Junn, who is hunched over at her tea alone, with a frown on her face.

Reflecting on the scene, a comment made by Richard comes to light.

Richard: I’ll doubt that they have mid-century furniture from Cambodia.

What is meant to make the residents feel “at home” not only does not apply to Junn, but also makes her feel even more distant from the community.

The juxtaposition of Junn against the other white elders reminds me, as an immigrant, of the memories of being overly conscious about my differences. The emotion of total disconnection from the world can only truly be comprehended through experience. As a result, marginalized people, by race, gender, or any other way, can viscerally resonate with the desolation Junn bears throughout the film, Lilting. 

Aside from the film itself, the upbeat atmosphere of the Reelout Queer Film Festival has also contributed to the positive cinematic experience. Despite the vicious weather, a high number of people came out with excitement and enthusiasm. The modest scale of the theatre created an air of intimacy with the festival director as well as a sense of connection with the fellow audience members.

Prior to the feature film, a quick interactive raffle prize and a short film took place, which helped to liven up the mood. The short film has also broadened my perspective on the different genres of motion picture.

As my first participation in a film festival, Reelout Queer Film Festival was a delightful experience that opened new doors to diverse culture and community.