Shuggie Bain

The day was flat.

Shuggie Bain, Douglas Stuart Grove Atlantic 2020

Been a while since I read someone writing so vividly. This is an appealing story because of its style and imagery, and also severely depressing because of its images and stories.

The depictions of addiction, recovery and sabotage (intentionally and unknowing) is rough and tough, a trainwreck that just refuses to stop.

A Girl is a Body of Water

Until that night, Kirabo had not cared about her.

A Girl is a Body of Water, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, Tin House 2020

What stuck with me most is how well Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi communicated the surprise and shrugs Ugandans had/felt about European ideas like time and religion. Might sound silly and/or narrow-minded but yes: not everyone cuts days into twelve hours and decides that one way of going at it is the right way. It’s all been decided before somewhere, and doesn’t mean that elsewheres should go along.

A Girl is a Body of Water plays out in a different time – Uganda in the nineteen-seventies and -eighties – and in a different world. The plot is familiar: absent parent decides to bring first child into second family. But Kirabo has plenty of other things on her mind; Sio, the mother who refused her, familial issues between her grandmother and the village witch and adjusting to private school and the city after growing up in a rural village.

Makumbi makes it all feel a bit like a fairy tale; even when dire reality sets in (war, death), it seems like something our princess has to get through to get to her happy ending. This absence and style takes some getting used to, but after you’re all in: we want the Stories of Kirabo; and we get them.

Nine Days

124 min.

Heartbreaking and heartwarming. Someone somewhere gets to decide who gets a life on earth. Something that could have turned very philosophical (“are they souls?”, “where are we before we’re born?”, “who deserves life?”) is kept very approachable — probably because of the two main characters.

Will and Kyo are very different from each other. Kyo thinks that is because Will used to be alive once, while he never lived. Will doesn’t share his thoughts on the subject, as he is wont to do with almost every subject.

He judges, though. Judges and tests to see who’s the right fit (“good enough” is another discussion). Again, I’m aware that none of this sounds very enticing, but this is actors showing their skill through emotions, text and body language. And do so without things becoming “floaty”.

Of course there’s something between Will’s very tough exterior, and it’s a cheeky-to-annoying young woman to get to it, but that’s about the only cliché this film offers.

The Inheritance Games

When I was a kid, my mom constantly invented games.

The Inheritance Games, Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Little Brown and Company 2020

Two things YA novels could easily do without: the first person POV and the endless need to add (implied) heterosexual romantic relationships to it.

The Inheritance Games is the first book of a trilogy (possibly, who knows how long Barnes will make this last?) which uses the Knives Out story and gives it to a teen. Avery inherits a lot of money from an unknown billionaire, but why?? And why are there so many male grandchildren??

Anyway, except for some plot holes due to sloppy writing, and the aforementioned unnecessary heterosexual activities, it’s all quite entertaining. When I know how many books she’ll get out of this idea, I’ll read the last one for the clue so I can satisfy the smidge of curiosity that obvious cliffhanger left me with.

Fiebre Topical

Buenos dias, mi reina.

Fiebre Topical, Juliana Delgado Lopera, The Feminist Press 2020

Well, this wasn’t at all what I expected. I thought I was going to get a YA romance about discovering your queer identity while struggling through immigration, but.. I kind of got all that, minus the romance, plus depressed family members, a much more serious (and desperate tone) and a lot of Spanish. Without translation.

That took some time adjusting, and I still don’t know if I liked the novel. It was definitely an original experience, and I think the story told was genuine and heartfelt. The way it was told was sometimes hard to follow and frustrating.

Protagonist Francisca moves from Colombia to Miami, where she quickly loses half her family to a pretty extreme version of Christianity. She isn’t clear on what she wants, but she knows what she doesn’t and it is this; but how to fix it? And how to feel about the pastor’s daughter?

All this happening in a sweaty, oppressive Miami doesn’t make things easier. I felt like I had to step outside into the cold after having finished Fiebre Topical.

Leave the World Behind

Well, the sun was shining.

Leave the World Behind, Rumaan Alam, Bloomsbury 2020

I don’t scare easily, but am still a little bit rattled because of this one. While the blurb about this being on the level of Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go made me not expect to: I’m not fond of or impressed by the man’s writing.

But Rumaan Alam, okay. Idyllic family holiday in the middle of nowhere that gets disturbed by two strangers and only gets much stranger to completely unwind from that point on. In the falling apart way, not the relaxing way.

With all that delicious build-up, surely it can only disappoint? Reader, not this time.

That also makes for a short post: I don’t want to tell you more and risk the pleasure of that unheimlich feeling of disaster happening. If you love that feeling: Leave the World Behind is right there for you.

Firedrake: the Silver Dragon

93 min.

After nixing some too-kiddy-looking animation from my Netflix list, it was Firedrake‘s chance to prove me wrong.

It ticks all the (recent) animated films boxes: intro in a different animation style (which is always prettier than the main one used), goofy, too rounded characters (literally, definitely not characteristically – was Antz really the last film that dared to use angles?), and a Life Lesson plot.

Sadly, that also mean it’s riddled with clichés. Overly angry female sidekick. Annoying male sidekick viewed as heroic and wise. Only other female character? Old. Although this at least saved me from a dragon with fake eyelashes. Just as with The Harder They Fall this plot could have been tightened up: the entirety of Ben drags things down just to add that Life Lesson.

Honestly, I’m still shocked by how ugly the animation is. You have dragons and turn them into boulders. Who will stop animated Hollywood?

Bulado

87 min.

Voor een flink deel van de film doet het alsof het niet meer dan een coming of age/verhaal van onthechting is. Kenza pubert (deze keer gebeurt dat op Curacao), alleenstaande vader probeert daar mee om te gaan, terwijl opa haar Dingen leert.

Daarin ligt ook dat mijn mening veranderde van “wow mooie beelden” naar “Jezus, het klopt”. Het is vast een geval ‘juiste film op het juiste moment’, maar dat ik nu – dagen na het kijken ervan – weer dat ‘het is goed zo’-rust voel, is wel heel lekker en komt weinig voor.

Coded Bias

90 min.

Wat zegt het over mij dat ik al veel wist van wat in deze documentaire wordt besproken? Misschien lees ik te veel. Of genoeg, en de rest van de samenleving te weinig.

Want algoritmes beïnvloeden niet alleen wat wij wel doen en kopen, maar ook wat wij goedkeuren en afkeuren. Wat als de norm wordt beschouwd, en die norm wordt vastgelegd door (oude) witte mannen. Daardoor hebben zwarte vrouwen witte maskers nodig om gezichtsherkenning te gebruiken: waarom zou je als witte man de gezichtsherkenning aan zwarte gezichten laten wennen, tenslotte?

Naast die ongelijkheid laat de documentaire ook zien wat er nog meer mis is met het verafgoden van het technische. Mooi vond ik hoe ze zeiden hoe algoritmes in het verleden wortelen. Zij leren tenslotte van data, maar die data is seksistisch, racistisch en meer. We moeten dus nog véél meer kijken naar wat we de ritmes voeren.

Zei zij, op het internet.

Crip Camp

100 min.

First documentary of the month. An uncomfortable one because really; did anything change in how society handles disabled people in the past fifty years?

Crip Camp is about Camp Jened, but so much more. About the American government lacking in viewing disableds as citizens instead of their disability. They fight (for) laws, but first and foremost for the right of a multi-dimensional life.

The documentary is completely American focused, connecting to civil rights, racism and sexism. That also makes it easy to pretend it’s a local thing, but of course we know better.

That leaves Crip Camp as a reminder of how much change still has to happen to give disabled citizens the room in society they deserve.