Monday, August 22, 2011

My experience of the Cape Town SlutWalk: “A dress is not a ‘yes’!”

It is estimated that a quarter of all South African men have raped at least one woman. Despite the fact that most rape survivors don't go to the police, over 70 000 cases are reported every year in the country, with some estimates putting the actual figure as high as half a million. In 2009, Human Rights Watch stated that South Africa had the highest rate of reported rapes in the world. Add HIV into the mix and you’ve got a terrifying reality that South African women face on a daily basis. It was against this grim backdrop that thousands of Capetonians converged on the Prestwich Memorial on a sunny Saturday morning in anticipation of the city’s first SlutWalk.

The SlutWalk was born in Toronto in protest to a police officer’s statement that women should avoid dressing like “sluts” so as not to be targeted by rapists. Since the first SlutWalk in April 2011, many similar events have been held all over the world, highlighting the problem of victim blaming. Notions such as, “Of course, she dresses like a slut! No wonder he got the wrong idea!” lay the blame squarely at the feet of the woman and absolve the rapist of any blame. After all, he is just a poor, lust-driven man who cannot control his animal urges. I hope those who believe rape is the (scantily-dressed) woman’s fault realise that they’re being incredibly sexist towards males, too.

Rape is a horrendous ordeal, and if a victim is brave enough to come forward to report the attack, her sexual history may be questioned and she may be asked what she was wearing prior to the attack (You may recall the infamous kanga from Zuma’s rape trial.). As a result of this negative treatment and stereotyping, many rape survivors may feel like they provoked their attacker in some way by dressing provocatively and choose not to report the incident.

At the march itself, it was heartening to see hundreds of men, with there being almost an equal number of males and females. In keeping with the event's spirit, some of the men even wore dresses and skirts. As for the ladies, many took the walk’s controversial name to heart, donning anything from a casual ensemble of jeans and tees to daring combinations of miniskirts, hot-pants, fishnets and lingerie. Two marchers were dressed in niqab, their posters proclaiming, “Rapists rape people, NOT outfits”. At the other end of the spectrum, a few daring protestors dispensed with fabric almost entirely, covering their nipples with crosses of masking tape instead.

In true Cape Town style, individuals of different sexual orientations were also present – a large group of women whose colourful banner loudly proclaimed “Cape Town Lesbians” also made itself heard. This group drew attention to the fact that lesbians in South Africa's townships are subjected to so-called “corrective rape”, a particularly heinous and misguided crime.

With SlutWalks having taken place in Durban and Cape Town, and another planned for Joburg, it is exciting to see civil society mobilising in the way that it is doing. Rape occurs in every country, but in South Africa the problem is particularly dire and it is up to us to highlight the plight of rape survivors and to make rape, and the way it is dealt with in the justice system, something that is discussed and ultimately changed for the better. It is rapists who should be terrified, not their victims.

As for the SlutWalk itself - it was very enjoyable and it felt great to be walking down the street without hearing cat-calls or being whistled at, especially considering that I was wearing far less than usual. Despite the way we looked (and some of us did indeed look ridiculous), no one played the fool and hundreds of voices - female, male, black, white, coloured, Indian, gay, lesbian and straight - rang out in unison: "Real men don't rape!" I hope that one day I'll feel as safe as I did in that crowd when I walk by myself.

The Johannesburg SlutWalk is scheduled for 24 September 2011.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

X-Men: First Class gets top marks

Set during the Cold War, the story follows Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), a geeky Oxford biologist, and the brooding Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), a tortured soul with a dark past, as they meet and work together to recruit fellow mutants and help the CIA to prevent a nuclear war with the Soviets. As in the previous films, villainous mutants, most notably the sinister Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), try to thwart the heroes’ efforts to aid the non-mutant humans.

While neither Xavier, the future Professor X, nor Lehnsherr, the would-be Magneto, had particularly happy childhoods, Erik’s experiences in the Nazi concentration camp have, understandably, warped him. The skilled actors portray both Xavier and Lehnsherr’s emotions beautifully as Xavier tries desperately to save his tormented friend from his past.

The film also gives viewers an interesting look into the sixties – complete with tiny miniskirts, loud wall-paper and footage of President Kennedy. Again, detailed make-up and stunning CGI transform normal humans into fantastical beings – the highlight being the winged mutant Angel (Zoë Kravitz – three guesses whose daughter she is!).

Speaking of beautiful creatures, on a more superficial level, the cast provided a smorgasbord for the eyes – for the ladies, either McAvoy or the multilingual Irish-German Fassbender will appeal, and plucky newcomer Jennifer Lawrence as Raven, later Mystique, and Rose Byrne as the gutsy CIA agent Moria MacTaggert will provide some visual stimulation for the guys.

The themes that run through all the films in the series – that of dealing with being different and, of course, how one treats people who are different are remain pertinent in a world filled with xenophobia, racism and prejudices of every kind. The film also addresses the notion of letting go of past experiences instead of letting them consume one.

The only small complaint I have with this film is that it features an event, which I will not give away for fear of spoiling the story, that does that does not tie up with the chronology of the rest of the series. It's a minor niggle (in my humble opinion) and something I would not have realised had I not seen X-Men: The Last Stand a few days after viewing First Class.

Having not seen Wolverine – soon to be addressed (!) – I believe this to be the best installment in the X-Men series behind the first film. The storyline provides just the right combination of drama, comedy and explosive action – a definite must-see for the big screen.

Monday, May 23, 2011

PotC: On Stranger Tides: time to sail away into the sunset?

The fourth installment in Jerry Bruckheimer’s popular Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, On Stranger Tides, represents a marked improvement on the last film in the series, At World’s End, but also disappointed in places.

On Stranger Tides was far more action-packed than its predecessor, with hardly any dull moments in between the bouts of swordplay and fight scenes, but this also proved the film’s downfall – both the plots and subplots had the same aim, and lacked the depth of the first film, which, in my opinion, was the best out of the four.

This is essentially a stand-alone film, as hardly any reference is made to the three previous films. The characters Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) also don’t make an appearance. That said, the popular Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) again dominates the screen, and the witty banter between him and the sultry Angelica (Penélope Cruz), offers more than a few laughs.

The plot follows Captain Jack and his fellow buccaneers from London across the seas and through a jungle on a quest to find the Fountain of Youth. Highlights of the film included a brief yet highly amusing cameo by a famous actress, Jack’s sardonic and pun-filled one-liners and the adventurers’ encounter with a group of vicious mermaids.

I did not watch this film in 3-D so I can’t comment on those effects, but the 2-D experience was very satisfying, with the oceanic panoramas, steamy jungles and the eerie special effects providing an ample visual feast.

In short, it's an enjoyable, frivolous night out, and if you go for Captain Jack, you'll get just that, but I think the film relies too heavily on Depp's brilliant improvisations. It's been fun, but it's time for this franchise to be retired while it can still go out with a bang.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Imagining the unthinkable in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours

This is a film that will stick with you for a while. It's not one of those you exchange a few lines over with a friend as you head out the cine and have forgotten by the time you reach the parking lot. It’s been a long time since I’ve been profoundly affected by a film, and director Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours did just that. The fact that the film is based on a true story makes the events portrayed even more visceral.

The plot is deceptively simple – a young thrill-seeker, Aaron Ralston (James Franco), finds himself trapped out in the inhospitable desert, miles from help. As the torturous hours pass, the young climber's situation becomes increasingly desperate.

The film was shot in the hauntingly beautiful rocky wasteland of Utah, and the setting emphasises how tiny and insignificant we humans are when we venture beyond city limits. Alone in the eerie, almost Martian landscape, Aaron is forced to come to grips with his fears, as well as face the harsh reality that nature is simply indifferent to his ordeal.

While there are a few supporting cast members, the stricken Aaron takes up most of the screen time, but despite this, I was not bored for one second. It’s easy to see why James Franco was nominated for an Oscar for this film: the tension remains taut and the actor does a superb job in conveying Aaron’s raw emotions as he struggles to escape the present situation and finds himself reminiscing about happier events.

The film takes viewers on an emotional roller-coaster and sighs of relief could be heard throughout the cinema when the closing credits rolled. I felt as if I had just spent days on the verge of death together with the main character. While this gripping thriller is a testament to the power of man’s endurance, it also conveys how fragile life is, and emphasises the notion that life is there to be lived and enjoyed.

Shot on a comparatively low budget of $18 million, this film is a refreshing change from the 3D-infused inanities that Hollywood has been churning out lately. Millions can be spent on special effects, but mere eye candy is not going to give a film substance. The excellent script and fine acting in 127 Hours have produced a story that strikes a poignant chord deep within viewers – something that most films today do not manage, if they even attempt it.