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Life with Lavendar in London town

Friday, 27 January 2017

Women's March London 2017

About a week before Trump’s inauguration I started acting like a cat does before a storm arrives. Hair on end. Pacing around the room. Eyes darting nervously, looking at something invisible that no-one else can see.

Cat before a storm. This was me.

'What is wrong with you?' asked the Husband as I stalked from room to room.

'I don’t know,' I screeched. 'I feel possessed!'

The Husband after watching me pace concluded:

'I think you’re tapped into the zeitgeist,' he muttered. 'Business as usual.'

He was right. I had managed to block out the reality of Trump’s presidency all throughout Christmas and New Year. Our family’s return to work and school had kept me preoccupied for the first few weeks of January.

But around mid- month, media attention surrounding the inauguration meant I could keep my head in the sand no longer. It was about to happen and I was pissed off and on edge. A storm was brewing. In the form of a radioactive orange Oompa Loompa with a mean little mouth and unnecessary hand gestures.

Change the wig to yellow and there he is

In November, I’d registered to attend the Women’s March in London. This march originated as an invite from a Hawaiian grandmother to forty of her Facebook friends to march on Washington, as a reaction to Trump’s election victory.  When she woke up the next day, the event had gone viral. Soon thereafter, sister marches were being arranged in cities all around the world as an act of support and solidarity to the Washington march. I wanted to attend the London march for it was a means to act in accordance with my beliefs rather than do nothing and despair at the erosion of civil liberties.

The last time I felt compelled to march was post Brexit last July. The time before that was twenty years ago when I was an environmental campaigner. Those years as a campaigner showed me the power of well organised and persistent grassroots action. It showed me that a small group of determined people working together can change things.

Women's March Global Logo

Logo from Women's March London

My intent was to attend the march alone. But to my delight, several other women I knew from Dragon’s school were also attending. Soon a small gang of us arranged to attend the event together.

The day of the march dawned bright and beautiful. The clear blue skies served as a welcome omen that our march was a force towards positive action. A tangible sense of excitement and electricity fizzed in the air as we assembled in Grosvenor Square opposite the US Embassy.  We knew that there were 600+ sister marches scheduled to happen all around the world and that we were there to represent the UK. The night before, I’d watched Trump’s inauguration which only heightened my determination to march for human rights, amongst other infringements which Trump represents. By this time, I considered it a civic duty.

A beautiful day for a march

There is a lot I can say about the march but in summary, the gang I marched with found it an overwhelmingly positive experience. The mood of the event was friendly, inclusive, peaceful and determined. We marched alongside a diverse demographic; old, young, men, women. I got the sense that like me, people felt moved to act because it was vital to take a stand against what was happening in the world. Brexit shook our foundations and Trump tipped us over the edge. The march was a vessel through which to funnel our charged emotions and say, No way. It's not OK to the powers that be.  The other big bonus of the event was the emergence of witty, creative protest placards such as these below:

Afterwards we found out we had helped make history. The final numbers have yet to be confirmed but the approximation is that over five million people participated in the global marches. From Antarctica to Sydney to Chennai to Antigua, people stood up to protect core values of respect, equality and individual freedoms. It purportedly was the largest turnout for a global march led by women in history. Ever.   

We Made History!

 And it’s only the beginning.

It’s a week after the march, and myself and the group I attended with are still on a high. We’ve bonded over this shared experience. People who said to us, 'What can a march change?''* underestimate the power of taking action. We feel energised. We feel hopeful. We feel a part of the movement working towards tipping the balance back to a just and open society.  For several of us, there is a dawning realisation that the march was just the beginning of our involvement in what is being referred to as the Resistance. Like Dorothy on her journey along the Yellow Brick Road, we’re not quite sure where this path will take us. Somewhere for the common good is my hope.

A quote by Gloria Steinem sums it up:

Sometimes we need to put our bodies where our beliefs are. 

Sometimes it is not enough to press send.

*Ever heard of Gandhi?  And if you are a woman, how do you think you got the vote?

Monday, 16 January 2017

Wah Wah Land

Sometime before Christmas last year, publicity posters of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling locked in dance embrace started following me wherever I went. The tube, the train, escalators, online media. Wherever I was, so was this poster:

The Stalker Poster

You could be blind and still be able to see from all the stars and accolades squashed together in said poster that the film was well received. Still, the public's appetite can differ from that of film critics and attendees of Cannes, Sundance and other chi chi film festivals. You can shove as many stars as you like on a poster but will it translate into box office?  Undeniable though was the buzz surrounding  La La Land, reaching crescendo height at the recent Golden Globes where it swept the floor with all other films nominated.

I went to see the film today with a sense of unease due to my sky high expectations. I grew up watching old MGM musicals and I rate Gene Kelly as one of my favourite dancers, ever. I choreograph ensemble dance sequences in my head on the way to work with my face squashed against someone's armpit on the Tube. This is what I see every night before I go to sleep as it hangs in my bedroom:

Gene Kelly & Vera Ellen in Words & Music

Before I saw the film, I read an interview with director Damian Chazelle where he discussed his intent to make a musical for people who don't like musicals. The aim was to draw from the canon of musicals from the golden age of Hollywood and yet make the film modern and fresh.

I was sceptical. Musicals aren't really a genre in film anymore. Chicago, Mamma Mia. Sweeney Todd. What else from the last ten years?  Gone are the days where actors could also sing and dance, doing all three things well at the same time. Doing a musical is tough as it is. How the hell was he going to do a new type of musical to win over a non-musical accustomed audience?

I went to an afternoon screening filled with old aged pensioners holding glasses of wine and walking sticks. Usually afternoon screenings are sparse but the cinema was almost full. A guy came in and sat next to me. Immediately he took possession of the arm rest between us.

I saw red. Stubbornly I wedged my arm back onto said armrest so that our elbows were both perched together like angular roosting pigeons. The previews came and went.  The lights dimmed. The film started.

My arm did not move from that armrest.

Vibrant technicolor hues flooded onscreen where tanned people started dancing on top of their cars on a gridlocked highway. All the cars looked cool, not like the ugly monochrome plastic bubbles they make now. The sky on film was vivid blue. I could almost see the shimmer in the air emanating from the heat of hot LA summer's day. I took it casually in whilst having this internal monologue:

I was here first Mister. Why makes you think you have the right to hog the armrest? Because you're a man? Because you're tall? Because you're tall man?  It's so annoying when men do this. Do women do it? No, usually men. Like in swimming pool lanes. Men* are arseholes when swimming in pool lanes. Does testosterone multiply when you're submerged in water. Do you feel my elbow sticking into you? 

Oblivious, the guy seemed absorbed in the film and remained that way for 2.5 hours. He didn't move. And neither did his elbow.

By this time, my own elbow was in pain from being stuck in an awkward position. I decided to distract myself by paying attention to the film. It certainly was gorgeous to look at. The cerulean sky changing to an effervescent mauve draped over the twinkly lights of Hollywood.  Emma Stone's incandescent face and googly eyes drawing you in. The ever present music which was the third character in the film, so much was the mood of this film driven by music. The dancing was a bit blah but I didn't care. The film had a tangible rhythm which made up for it.  The camera techniques employed were reminiscent of old Hollywood with fish eye lens zoom in and out. Shots were framed like Edward Hopper paintings such as:

La La Land film still

La La Land film still

La La Land film still

Early Sunday Morning by Edward Hopper

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

Quietly and with great charm, the film won me over. I completely forgot about my now frozen elbow and fell headlong into La La Land. An old fashioned story, some might say cliche, of girl-meets-boy, boy-meets-girl, with stars in their eyes, hoping to both make their mark in Hollywood. It is a cliche but who cares. Grounded by two very real and nuanced actors, both fizzing with onscreen chemistry, Damian Chazelle has made a tender, romantic and hopeful film which will charm the pants off you. And if it doesn't, well, there are plenty of other films for you to watch that would not employ those adjectives.

I don't cry often during films but something in La La Land set off  the waterworks, resulting in Wah Wah Land.  After an annus horribilis where the UK voted for fracture instead of unity and where a giant orange wart was voted President of the US of A, it was a tonic to watch something uncomplicated and lovely.

By the end of the film, I wanted to give the guy next to me a hug. I couldn't move my arm, but that's an aside.

That my friends, is the power of art.

And here's to the fools, 
who dream 
Crazy, as they may seem 
Here's to the hearts that break 
Here's to the mess we make

-Audition, La La Land soundtrack

* My intention is not to tar all men with the same brush. I have just observed that after many years in swimming pool lanes that men tend to be much more aggressive in claiming space than women.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Yellow Face

The Husband was making small talk with me last week as we sat in the cinema waiting for the start of Rogue One (which I enjoyed immensely by the way).

If a play is set in China, contains characters that have Chinese names and are described as Chinese, do you think that Chinese actors should be cast in those roles?

What do you mean? I replied. What's the context?

He went on to fill me in on the controversy surrounding a play called In the Depths of Dead Love being staged at The Print Room in Notting Hill.  Written by Howard Barker, the play is set in Ancient China featuring characters that are purportedly Chinese. Here are the characters' names. What do you think?

  • Mrs Hu
  • Lord Ghang
  • Chin
  • Lady Hasi

The controversy has arisen because the play's director, Gerrard McArthur has cast an all -Anglo cast with nary a Chinese actor in sight. Andrew Keates, theatre director of the upcoming play, Chinglish, has taken exception to this and drawn media attention to what he considers is inappropriate casting.  In an open letter posted on his Twitter feed, Mr Keates wrote:

Your entire cast are all clearly Caucasian actors when the characters are written to be Chinese. You must not endorse this racist, outdated and unnecessary practice of 'yellowface' and instead find actors who are appropriate.

In response to all the media attention, The Print Room released a statement which claims that although the play is set in China containing characters with Chinese names, that no-one should be offended because the Chinese aspect within the play is just an 'allusion' and was never 'intended to be taken literally.'

Is it all a storm in a teacup? Is Andrew Keates simply using the whitewashing of this play to promote his own play, Chinglish, which does contain British Asian actors. Did Howard Barker never intend for his play to be about Chinese people? And even if he did, shouldn't it be a director's discretion to interpret a play how s/he wishes to? For example, why can't King Lear be a woman if a director wants to cast the role as such? Or Othello Irish for that matter?

Isn't art about vision and interpretation and sometimes, pushing the boundaries of what has gone on before?

I have not read In the Depths of Dead Love (and cannot find a free copy on the web to read) so can't comment on whether I think Barker wrote a play about Chinese people or not. The question begs however that if not, why did he set the play in China with Chinese characters?

It is a fact that Chinese actors are grossly under-represented in Western mainstream theatre and film. Try counting on two hands the number of well-known Chinese actors in mainstream media and you will struggle to find ten. There is no excuse for this apart from the absolute lack of vision on behalf of directors and writers in film and theatre.  The roles for Caucasians are numerous, it is the status quo, whilst roles written specifically for Chinese characters are next to none. It is not an even playing ground. Therefore whilst I think art should be a matter of interpretation, I do believe it is wrong to cast Caucasian actors in roles written for Chinese characters.

One of  the best plays I have seen showcasing an exceptional  British Asian cast

My own experience has led me to this conclusion. Growing up in a Caucasian society, my role models in film and media were Anglo-Saxons. I could not change my heritage however and my heritage is Chinese. There were no parts for a Chinese kid in the school play. I was told I couldn't be Nancy in Oliver. I couldn't be Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. I certainly couldn't be Mary in the nativity play - gasp! Imagine that. I couldn't be any thing apart from a tree perhaps. Maybe I just sucked at acting.

I was still learning about racism when I experienced all of the above. Later on, when studying drama in my twenties, I found that not much had changed. A theatre director told me he could not cast a Chinese person in a Shakespeare play as I was not white. Instead of being angry, I just felt sorry for him. And I told him so.

When I was little and faced rejection from the school plays that I so wished to participate in, I wrote my own plays instead.  And did my own casting and directing. And then we performed these plays for the school. It was very rewarding.

And that really is the sum of it.

Protesting and speaking out is important but only goes so far.

If what you want to see is not available, then make it available.