The Cultural Significance of the Whale in ‘The Boy and the Beast’

When Americans think of whales and Japan, most likely they will be thinking of whale hunting. A lot has changed over the centuries and the significance of the whale in Mamoru Hosoda’s 2015 animated fantasy film “The Boy and the Beast” ties in pre-Meiji and post-Buddhist thought with current day dilemmas.

The Japanese title of “The Boy and the Beast” is “Bakemono no ko” (バケモノの子) with only one kanji (Chinese character) used. The word bakemono is shown using katakana, a syllabary usually reserved for foreign words or onomatopoeias). Obake (お化け) or bakemono (化け物)  is a class of yōkai or preternatural creatures. The Chinese character refers to things that change, shapeshifters.  Ghosts are often called bakemono but also yūrei (幽霊). A bakemono often has a true form.

The Japanese title translates into “The Bakemono’s Child” or “The Shapeshifter’s Child” or could also be “The Bakemonos’ Children” or “The Shapeshifters’ Children.”  In any case, the structure of the title is possessive, something that is not expressed in the English translation, “The Boy and the Beast.” The movie begins with a nine-year-old boy with the unusual name of Ren (蓮). His mother has passed away. He is estranged from his father since his parents divorced. Rather than live with his legal guardians, he runs to the Shibuya district (渋谷区 ) in Tokyo and gets lost in the crowd. Shibuya is a busy and fashionable shopping district that was once the site of a castle. The name translates as “bitter valley” and has become a hot spot for young people and the IT industry. It is also famous as the meeting place where a dog, Hachikō, now commemorated by a statue, once waited for its deceased master for over nine years.

There Ren meets with the bakemono Kumatetsu (熊徹) and his companion Tatara (多々良) and enters the Beast Kingdom or the Jūtengai (渋天街 Bitter Heaven Town). Kumatetsu one of two contenders to take over as lord of Jūtengai. The other more likely candidate is Iōzen (猪王山).  Ren witnesses a match between Kumatetsu and Iōzen and ends up as a disciple or apprentice for Kumatetsu. Kumatetsu names his trainee Kyūta (九太) and things do not start out well. Kumatetsu doesn’t know how to teach and Kyūta doesn’t show him the kind of respectful attitude one might normally expect. Kyūta finds that Kumatetsu’s battle strategies are predictable and the apprentice helps the teacher better master his skills as they train together for eight years.

As a result, other bakemono request to become Kumatetsu disciples, including the younger son of Iōzen. Kyūta is now a young man and finds his way back into the human world where he meets a young female student, Kaede(楓), who helps him learn things he should have learned as a human. Kaede’s favorite book happens to be “Moby-Dick.”

This sets up a show down between Kyūta and Ichirōhiko. On the day Kumatetsu and Iōzen duel for succession, Kumatetsu almost loses, but takes heart when Kyūta suddenly reveals he is in the crowd and cheers Kumatetsu on. At the battle, Ichirōhiko is revealed to be a human. He could also be the child of the title and with his telekinetic powers, Ichirōhiko seriously injures Kumatetsu. Kyūta  and Ichirōhiko are both threatened by an emptiness in their hearts. Battling against each other, they are almost both consumed by this emptiness.  Kyūta wins the battle but is saved from his own emptiness when he remembers Kaede. He doesn’t kill Ichirōhiko who disappears. Kyūta pursues Ichirōhiko into the human world where Ichirōhiko appears as a vengeful destructive whale, like Moby-Dick. Both Kyūta and Kumatetsu consider sacrificing themselves, but Kumatetsu does so first and becomes one with Kyūta and helps him defeat Ichirōhiko .

The ending finds both Ichirōhiko and Kyūta accepting their families. Kyūta re-unites with his father and attends university. Ichirōhiko awakens in the beast kingdom surrounded by his adopted family.

There are various connections here. Ren means lotus, a flower associated with Buddhism. The lotus is the flower who floats above the mundane muck and mud. The connection to Buddhism is further emphasized by Kumatetsu’s companion, Tatara (多々良), whose names means very much or more and more good. Tatara is presented as a Buddhist priest in a pig form.

Kaede means maple, a tree associated with autumn (the season of love in Japan) and change. The kuma in Kumatetsu means bear and tetsu means to pierce or penetrate and Iōzen means Pig King Mountain. For most English speakers, the relationship between Buddhism, pigs and mountains would be meaningless. When Buddhism came to Japan, dietary concerns followed. Animals with four legs were not to be eaten, but some Japanese worked around these constrictions by including rabbits as birds and wild boar as fish. The term yamakujiru literally means mountain whale. There are no whales in the mountain; yamakujiru is an old folk term for wild boar.  Tatara’s presence as a pig monk emphasizes this connection.

Other aspects of Buddhism may suffer in the translation. There is a danger in the English translation that I don’t believe exists in “The Beast and the Boy,” but I’d have to see it another time to be certain. In the English translation, the problem that both Ichirōhiko and Kyūta/Ren face is their anger and inner “emptiness.” Sometimes the Buddhist term of ku (空) is translated as emptiness and that along with mujō (無常) seems to mean a lack of feeling. Yet the emptiness or voidness (空) of Buddhism is not without feeling or an appreciation for the impermanence (another translation for mujō) of the physical world. In Japanese, the term used to describe this emptiness in both Ichirōhiko and Kyūta/Ren is the darkness of the mind/heart (心に闇).

While attitudes in the U.S. toward whaling has changed since the 1800s, we have to remember just how important whaling once was and how that differed from pre-Meiji Japan. Whaling in Japan was severely limited prior to the introduction of Western whaling techniques. The Japanese at first caught whales that swam into bays and later developed net whaling methods in the late 1600s. However, Japanese whalers were under the National Seclusion policy of the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1867).  This meant, they could not stray far from the coastal waters of Japan. Yet by the 1800s,  U.S. and Russian whalers began to appear in the waters near Japan.

Whaling was one of the reason Commodore Perry was sent to open Japan and did so by force. As the Department of State Office of History relates the reasons were as follows: “First, the combination of the opening of Chinese ports to regular trade and the annexation of California, creating an American port on the Pacific, ensured that there would be a steady stream of maritime traffic between North America and Asia. Then, as American traders in the Pacific replaced sailing ships with steam ships, they needed to secure coaling stations, where they could stop to take on provisions and fuel while making the long trip from the United States to China. The combination of its advantageous geographic position and rumors that Japan held vast deposits of coal increased the appeal of establishing commercial and diplomatic contacts with the Japanese. Additionally, the American whaling industry had pushed into the North Pacific by the mid-18th century, and sought safe harbors, assistance in case of shipwrecks, and reliable supply stations. In the years leading up to the Perry mission, a number of American sailors found themselves shipwrecked and stranded on Japanese shores, and tales of their mistreatment at the hands of the unwelcoming Japanese spread through the merchant community and across the United States.”

Whales were, at the time, like today’s oil fields. Their oil not their meat made them valuable. Whale oil was used in lamps before kerosene became a cheaper and longer lasting replacement. Other uses for whale oil included soaps and margarine. Whale oil was once even used in cars. In Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick,” the ship Pequod sails toward Formosa (Taiwan), and into the Pacific Ocean.  It is in the Pacific Ocean that Ahab meets and is defeated by Moby-Dick who destroys the Pequod.

After the opening of Japan to the Western world, the Japanese learned their modern whaling techniques from Norway and currently besides Japan, Norway and Iceland still continue commercial whaling for the meat.

Whaling as practiced by the Victorian era U.S. set up the violent collision between two worlds, the secluded Japan and the U.S. Navy under Commodore Perry who went in with canons blasting. In “The Boy and the Beast,” the mythical Moby-Dick becomes the destructive avatar, the medium through which  the bakemono world spills out into the human world in Shibuya, Tokyo.  Japan’s current whaling is in part a cruel legacy of the Perry expedition while the term yamakujiru is a laughable legacy of how a segment of the Japanese population got around the dietary restrictions of Buddhism. All of these things resonate in “The Boy and the Beast.”

 

 

Ms. Geek Speaks: What exactly does ‘No Swimming’ mean?

After the death of a toddler in Orlando, various comments have been made about the meaning of a sign. The sign said: “No Swimming.” The toddler, 2-year-old Lane Graves, was reportedly wading in about a foot of water at night. An alligator attacked the toddler in the water, dragged him deeper and drowned him.

Many comments note that “No Swimming” doesn’t mean no wading and that visitors from Nebraska wouldn’t know better. Visitors from Nebraska to Florida wouldn’t know that alligators could kill their son. Few have asked what should people from Nebraska know. What would a “No Swimming” sign mean for people from Nebraska.

The parents were identified as Matthew Graves, 42, and Melissa Graves, 38, of Elkhorn, Nebraska. Elkhorn is just 21 minutes away from Omaha, Nebraska by car. It isn’t that far from lakes and the Platte River. In Nebraska, “No Swimming” means that the water in lakes could kill your dog or you. The problem isn’t alligators although who knows. Alligators aren’t native to Los Angeles, but a few years back there was a hunt for a large alligator named Reggie, a former pet let loose in a city lake.

In 2004, a dog died after drinking water from Buccaneer Bay, a sandpit lake near the Platte River that is south of Omaha. In 2004, Matthew Graves was 30 years old in that year. The “No Swimming” signs put up mean that “the public is prohibited from full-body contact activities, such as swimming, water skiing, jet skiing, sailboarding and tubing.” Small children and pets were urged not to have contact with the water in those areas where a Health Alert has been issued.

Testing continues and the risk isn’t just from ingesting. “The risks to humans come from external exposure (prolonged contact with skin) and from swallowing the water. Symptoms from external exposure are skin rashes, lesions and blisters. More severe cases can include mouth ulcers, ulcers inside the nose, eye and/or ear irritation and blistering of the lips. Symptoms from ingestion can include headaches, nausea, muscular pains, central abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting. Severe cases could include seizures, liver failure, respiratory arrest – even death, although this is rare. The severity of the illness is related to the amount of water ingested, and the concentrations of the toxins.”

Testing begins in early May. The two dogs that died 2004 were not small. One was a sheepdog and another a yellow lab.   According to a recent article, testing for toxic algae determines whether “no-swimming” signs are put out. The problem exists not only in Nebraska, but in other states like Minesotta. According to a Lincoln Journal Star article, a 17-year-old Wisconsin boy, Dane Rogers, died from toxic algae. That was in 2002. His two friends suffered milder symptoms from their quick dip in a golf course pool.

Toxic blue-green algae also occurs in Florida, specifically in Orlando. The warm water warnings are the same as for Nebraska and those include:

  • Stay out of the water if “No Swimming” signs are posted.

The problem isn’t that the Orlando hotel didn’t have alligator warnings. Alligator attacks are relatively rare according to a recent article in USA Today. The problem is that there was a “No Swimming” warning and it was ignored by guests. Other articles have suggested that other guests have encouraged the presence of alligators by feeding them, despite there being warnings that feeding alligators and really any wildlife is not a good idea. Feeding alligators is illegal in Florida. This has been a problem at Disney World, but it is not clear what official actions have been taken. Fox News quotes a custodian at the Polynesian Resort Village had reported the alligators were “swimming too close to guests and that a protective fence should be erected” but he also said, “There are signs that say, ‘No swimming,’ but no signs that say gators and everything else in the lake.” Everything else being something besides alligators.

The “No Swimming” sign would cover toxic blue-green algae, alligators, poisonous snakes and brain-eating amoebas. One wonders if during the daytime, if people don’t see snakes or alligators, if they will take a swim and then, if affected by blue-green algae or a brain-eating amoeba, they will be encouraged to sue for lack of signage.

Nebraska may be in the Midwest, but it isn’t without its own natural hazards. Besides the fairly recent problem with toxic blue-green algae bloom, Nebraska also have four kinds of venomous snakes: prairie rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, western massasauga and copperhead. Rattlesnakes do swim. You can find clips on YouTube.

The New York Times doesn’t want you to consider what a “No Swimming” sign means in either Nebraska or Florida. Instead, it paints biased picture writing that “Lane Graves was doing what any 2-year-old boy would be doing on a hot Florida evening — splashing around in the shallow waters of a lagoon. His parents and sister, Nebraskans all, were nearby on the beach at a Disney resort here, relaxing, carefree.” Yet in Nebraska, a toddler should not be playing in waters that have a “No Swimming” sign. Not since 2004.

“No Swimming” signs in Nebraska also mean no wading and the consequences of ignoring them could be death for a toddler. One commentator says that even having an alligator warning would not have been enough for Disney despite over 40 years of without an incident at that particular hotel.

Dark Matters of the Mind and Mad Men

In one week, Islam was given respectful media coverage as a great American was buried in Louisville and then blasted by some as the cause of the carnage in Orlando, Florida. The Orlando shooter was Asian American, an ethnic Afghani, born in New York and raised in United States. Some say he was angered at the sight of two men kissing. The shooter killed 49 people at a dance club during a Latin night, wounding 53 others.

Earlier this month, on the first of June, another Asian man, India-born Mainak Sarkar, killed first his wife in Minnesota and then drove to California and walked through the familiar halls of UCLA to kill his former professor, William Klug, his advisor for his doctoral dissertation.  Sarkar had accused his former professor of stealing code, but UCLA authorities found these charges to be without merit.

If you’ve never been a graduate student, then you might not have heard the horror stories of professors with unreasonable demands. My graduate degree at UCLA ended with a grudge match between professors as did my year at an English university. The professors for my second master’s were more reasonable, but they had all been working journalists.

Much later,  I watched the movie, “Dark Matter” with a group of graduate and undergraduate Caltech students.  “Dark Matter” was inspired by the University of Iowa shooting in which a disgruntled graduate student returned to kill his mentors and his former roommate/rival. The competition to enter Caltech is fierce and yet the students often socially awkward and predominately male. This academic year, 61 percent of the undergrads and 72 percent of the grad students are male and 45 percent of the undergrads and 12 percent of the grad students are Asian (27 undergrad and 35 percent grad are white) What better audience could there be for such a movie.

“Dark Matter” was the first feature film by opera director Chen Shi-Zhen and won the 2007 Sundance Film Festival Alfred P. Sloan Prize cash award of $20,000. The award is given to a feature film that has science or technology as a theme or depicts a scientist, engineer or mathematician as a central character. Other winners include the 2005 “Grizzly Man” and the 2016 “Embrace of the Serpent.” In the movie, Liu Xing (Liu Ye) portrays a brilliant Chinese graduate student who joins Valley State University to study under a well-respected cosmologist Professor Jacob Reiser (Aidan Quinn). Socially, his transition into American life is aided by a wealthy university patron, Joanna Silver (Meryl Streep).

Xing proposes to do his doctoral research dissertation on dark matter, which he believes shapes the universe but also his theory conflicts with Reiser’s theory. Reiser doesn’t approve of Xing’s topic and favors the work of another  doctoral student, Feng Gang (Lloyd Suh). Gang had been Xing’s rival when they were undergrads. Feng also speaks English better than Xing and adopts an English name, Laurence. Feng is given a departmental award while Xing is unable to finish his Ph.D. and admit to his parents his failure. Xing shoots both Reiser and Feng out of anger and despair.

In the 1991 University of Iowa shooting, the Chinese-born Gang Lu did graduate and receive his Ph.D. in May. He believed that his dissertation should have received the D.C. Spriestersbach Dissertation Prize which went to his former roommate,Linhua Shan. Unable to find a job, Lu was still in the area and attended a November research group meeting where he shot three people: Shan, his dissertation chair (Christoph K. Goertz) and a member of his dissertation committee (Dwight R. Nicholson). He then went to another building to shoot the grievance counselor, T. Anne Cleary, who he had complained to about his dissertation not receiving the prize.  He also shot and wounded a student employee. In all, he killed five people before committing suicide.

The movie, “Dark Matter,” was originally going to be released in April 2007, but on April 16 of that year, Korean American Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and wounded 17 at the Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia before killing himself. Cho used a Glock 19 pistol and a Walther P22 pistol. Cho had been diagnosed with mental issues. If he had, like the Orlando shooter, used an assault rifle, the toll would have been worse. Until the Orlando shooting, the Virginia Tech shooting had the largest death toll for a shooting by a single gunman in the U.S.  “Dark Matter” was released a year later.

What you might conclude from these four real incidents (Orlando, UCLA, University of Ohio and Virginia Tech) is that Asian American men are dangerous, particularly when they are angry. They certainly have many things to be angry about as both the recent hashtag whitewashedOUT and the long-running blog of Angry Asian Man have noted.  One could fall back on the Orientalism and Yellow Perilism of another era, before the more modern stereotype of the model minority was applied to East Asians. Or one could remember that at Sandy Hook, the third deadliest mass shooting, was not committed by an Asian American. The 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults before committing suicide. Lanza was neither Asian nor Muslim. He was an angry loner, contacting his mother only by email even though they lived in the same house.

Once proponents of Yellow Perilism called for the closing of immigration to the Fu Manchus of the world. Now anti-Islamic sentiment has attached itself to the Orlando shooting. Yet all of these shooters were not Muslim. They were mad men, in the sense of angry as well as mentally troubled. After the 2015 San Bernardino shooting by Pakistani-American Syed Rizwan Farook and his Pakistani-born wife Tashfeen Malik, both also Asian Americans, one can’t deny there is a problem with Islamic terrorists yet there are Christian, Buddhist and Hindu terrorist groups and the United States government has supported terrorist and paramilitary groups. Terrorism exists, but isn’t inherently Muslim in nature. There are dangerous men of all races and religions and some aren’t religious at all.

Once Muhammad Ali was consider a threat because he was black and Muslim but he was only dangerous to his boxing opponents and the established way of thinking. As I have written earlier, there were heroic Muslims during World War II in Europe as portrayed in the 2011 fictional account, “Free Men,”  that included a characterization of a real hero, Si Kaddour Benghabrit,  and the documentary “Besa: The Promise.

Dark matter of the cosmos and the human mind remain unsolved mysteries.  Dark matter of the mad mind is behind mass murders and that’s a problem not limited to Muslims.

 

 

 

‘Finding Dory’ Offers Entertaining Lessons in Patience

For the cynical, the sequel to the successful 2003 animated feature, “Finding Nemo,” is a double whammy–it refreshes the public’s memory of established characters and enlarges the Disney money-making merchandising machine by adding new characters to the Nemo world and, in addition, the movie promotes a popular TV talk show host, Ellen DeGeneres. Yet “Finding Dory” has its own merits and provides lessons that are good for all ages.

Starting a year after the adventures in “Finding Nemo,” as the title suggests, the central character is now the Pacific regal blue tang Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres). Dory isn’t so much lost as looking. She remembers in small flashes that she once had a family and that she was also lost. If the 1000-mile plus journey from the Great Barrier Reef to Sidney (a good 20-hour drive on land), was harrowing for the father Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his new-found companion Dory (Hayden Rolence replacing Alexander Gould), then imagine a journey across the Pacific Ocean from the Great Barrier Reef to Monterey California.

Not having long-term memories is both a blessing and a curse for Dory. Marlin’s funny confusion that progressed into flustered frustration now becomes a poignant reminder of what can be so easily lost. Dory helped Marlin find and rescue his son, Nemo, when Nemo was plucked off the reef by a scuba diver. The happy-go-lucky Dory had been a loner, but now Dory has been adopted as sort of a ditzy aunt and now lives by Marlin and Nemo. Watching the familiar family interaction sparks a memory in Dory.

Dory had parents who loved her very much and recognized her peculiar problem of short-term memory loss. She remembers her mother and father, Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy). She remembers where she was from: The Jewel of Morro Bay, the Monterey Marine Life Institute. Dory is determined to return and Marlin reluctantly joins with Nemo. They reconnect with an old friend, Crush (Andrew Stanton), a sea turtle we met in the first film and his son, Squirt (Bennett Dammann taking over for Nicholas Bird).

Once in Morro Bay, the threesome gets separated. Dory ends up in the back rooms on the institute where fish are rehabbed and then either displayed, shipped off to another aquarium or released back into the ocean. Marlin and Nemo now must find a way to break into institute, taking the advice of two sea lions, Fluke (Idris Elba) and Rudder (Dominic West).  As with “Finding Nemo,” their plan involves a bird.

Dory, on the other hand, has been tagged to be sent to Cleveland. An escape artist octopus with seven legs (Ed O’Neill), Hank,  covets that tag and helps Dory find the tank where she was born and raised, but after all this time, will Jenny and Charlie still be there? Dory also meets an old friend, a whale shark named Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) whose friend Bailey (Ty Burrell), a beluga whale who is the key to the happy ending. The movie parallels the relationship between Dory and her parents in the past and the further development of Marlin and Nemo as they attempt to find Dory.

Compared to “Finding Nemo,” there’s much more literal fish-out-of-water hijinks that include birds, a plastic bucket, cuddle-time with otters, a “septopus” driving a truck and fish in plastic bags. Sigourney Weaver voices herself as the narrator of the taped announcements for the institute. John Ratzenberger voices the husband crab, Bill. You’ll understand the ending better (and the significance of the name Gerald) if you watch or re-watch “Finding Nemo.”

Throughout the movie, small incidents trigger memories in Dory’s fish brain and we flash back to scenes of a much younger Dory with her parents.Dory isn’t, however, a useless member of the marine society. Writer (with Victoria Strouse) and co-director Andrew Stanton (with Angus MacLane) show what Nemo and Marlin have learned from Dory. “Finding Dory” illustrates the sometimes tricky pathways of forgotten memories and the movie might be helpful in teaching children how to deal with differently able children or adults suffering from senior moments or Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

‘Finding Nemo’ Is a Safe Father-Son Love Story

Before 2003, I’d wager that Nemo was a name most widely associated with two Jules Verne novels and not an orange and white striped clownfish. Disney and Pixar changed all that with their successful 2003 computer-animated comedy, “Finding Nemo.” If you’re planning on watching “Finding Dory” this weekend, take time to review this little gem.

Life on the coral reef looks beautiful, but at the onset, we understand that death is always a possibility. The mother fish, Coral, is quickly dispatched. We first meet the happy couple, Coral (voiced by Elizabeth Perkins) and Marlin (an always anxious Albert Brooks). Marlin has found a place with a view, a large anemone that overlooks the end of the Great Barrier Reef and into the wide and seemingly endless ocean. Think of the beautiful view that houses on a cliff have. Then think of all the dangers living cliffside entails. Baby fish don’t have to worry about falling but the deep ocean isn’t a safe place for the small colorful coral fish.

In a small nook below their home, Marlin and Coral have already laid their clutch of eggs and are discussing baby names, when Marlin notices that the other coral fish have disappeared. Cue in ominous music and a dark figure looming in the distance. A barracuda has come in from the sea. Coral is faced with a choice–the safety of the anemone whose stinging tentacles would keep her safe or protecting their clutch of eggs. As Coral heads toward the eggs, Marlin attempts to defend his wife and unborn kids, but is knocked unconscious, falling into the safety of the anemone. When he wakes up, his wife and all the eggs except one are gone. The remaining egg is slightly damaged, but the baby fish survives and is named Nemo.

Due to the damage of the egg, one of Nemo’s front fins is much smaller than the other. If Marlin was a worrier before, now he’s a hovering world-class worry wart. Wisely, Marlin has moved to an anemone in a more central location, far enough away from the dreaded open ocean. He wonders aloud if Nemo (Alexander Gould) shouldn’t delay school another year, but Nemo is determine to attend school and make friends. On Nemo’s first day of school, Marlin follows the class, and embarrasses Nemo. Determined show a little independence, Nemo swims into the open ocean to touch the bottom of a boat that is idling just off of the reef despite his teacher’s instructions and only prodded on by his father’s orders to return. Before Nemo can safely return to the reef, he’s caught by a scuba diver. Another scuba diver approaches Marlin and takes a photo; the flash blinds Marlin momentarily.

Once his vision clears, Marlin rushes after the boat which is speeding off. He bumps into a regal blue tang who claims to know which way the boat went. The tang, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), is good natured but often appears confused. She has short-term memory loss and sometimes confuses if she’s actually met Marlin before. One of the divers drops his diver’s mask and it sinks. Dory can read and this sets up where Marlin and Dory must go.

The rest of the story concerns Marlin and Dory braving the dangers of the ocean to find Nemo. The ocean is a scary place. Sharks could eat you; at the dark bottom of the sea, weird fish with glowing parts and want to try some exotic reef meat and whales might swallow you by mistake while trying to take in krill. Twice Marlin and Dory must maneuver through a field of doom: once through murky rusting man-made mines and once through the more ethereally beautiful pink jellyfish.

Marlin and Dory find their way to Sydney where Nemo’s captor, a dentist, has an aquarium of fish, the Tank Gang. They warn  Nemo he is destined for the dentist’s spoiled niece, Darla, who will likely kill Nemo. A fish in a plastic bag is an invitation for her to practice her shake-and-bake technique. One wonders if the disappearing clownfish have ended up in the tanks and plastic bags  of dangerously adoring Nemo fans all over the world.

John Ratzenberger voices the moonfish school that does formations of other fish in a fishy game of Charade. Pay attention to the use of the name Gerald, too.

As this is a Disney-Pixar film, there will be a happy ending. Marlin and Nemo will end up back at the reef and Dory, having found a new friend, will join them. Along the way both the father and son have learned something about each other and gained the kind of courage and confidence that comes from surviving a great adventure.

“Finding Nemo” is available on Amazon.com for $3.99.

’20 Minutes of Action,’ Rape and Ruined Lives

A young man is going to jail for what his father calls “20 minutes of action.” Two women regret a night of partying, both thinking of what they could have done differently.  The Stanford rape case and the relatively light sentence handed down by the judge after the jury found the young man guilty has raised concerns about college student-related rapes. Between the January 2015 Stanford sexual assault and the June 2016 sentencing, two high-profile documentaries came out exposing different aspects of college campus-related rape: “The Hunting Ground” and “Fantastic Lies.”

In the Stanford case, there were two witnesses:Lars Peter Jonsson and Carl Frederik Arndt. The two graduate students from Sweden saw a man on top of an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, chased and caught Stanford swim team member Brock Allen Turner. Both the unconscious woman and Turner were intoxicated. The woman didn’t recall Turner or the rape. She indulged in high risk behavior; he committed crimes against her.

Brock’s father undoubtedly grew up during a time when attitudes were different. I don’t know how old Dan Turner, father of Brock Allen Turner, is. He must be in his forties or fifties. If he is 50, then Dan Turner was born in the mid-60s. Susan Brownmiller’s 1975 book, “Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape,” had not been published nor the phrases “date rape” or “acquaintance rape” been coined.

Brownmiller’s book was the first place the term “date rape” was found in print. By the 1980s, other magazines such as Mademoiselle and Ms., would use it, too. The issues of rape myths, victim blaming and slut-shaming would also be raised by feminists in the 1970s, but old ways die hard. Getting a girl or woman drunk was once an acceptable way of seduction in the old boys’ club, but as attitudes were changing laws also changed. In 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown signed an informed consent law: Consent cannot be given by a person who is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol. Stanford University is in California. Stanford has a residential population of 13,809 and a daily population of 35,000.

Turner is not from California. He was born and raised in Oakwood, Ohio (population 9,202 )which is near Dayton (population 141,527)–eight minutes away by car. He graduated from Oakwood High School in 2014. The six-foot, 180-lb. man  was a three-time All-American swimmer and Olympic hopeful. He is not, according to his friend Leslie Rasmussen, a rapist. She does “not blame her [the rape victim] directly for this, because that isn’t right. But where do we draw the line and stop worrying about being politically correct every second of the day and see that rape on campuses isn’t always because people are rapists.” Turner did not, after all kidnap a woman “as she was walking to her car in a parking lot” because “that is a rapist.” College kids who are partying “are not rapists” they are instead “idiot boys and girls having too much to drink” who have “clouded judgment.” She has changed her opinion since her statement became public.

Yet in 2012, two Ohio high school football players, both 16, raped a 16-year old girl who was incapacitated by alcohol. The two, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, were convicted of the rape of a minor in what is known as the Steuben High School rape incident. As minors themselves, the two boys were tried in juvenile court. They did transport an unconscious girl and document their acts on Facebook and Twitter and cellphone videos. So perhaps by Rasmussen’s definition these men are rapists. Trent Mays, who is white, wants to play college football. Both served longer sentences than Turner will. Steubenville has a population of 18,659  and is less than four hours away from Oakwood. The informed consent law is also in effect in the state of Ohio. Ohio and California are not so different in this regards.

The problem of rape in college campuses and college-related events and organizations is the topic of “The Hunting Ground.” Written and directed by Kirby Dick, the documentary focuses on two former students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Annie E. Clark and Andrea Pino. Pino is from Miami and was the first in her family to leave her state and attend college. She went dancing with a man and she was pulled into a bathroom. The man slammed her head against the tile and raped her.

Clark was from Raleigh, NC. As  a freshman, Clark was raped before classes started. She was out with friends, drinking and dancing when she was pulled outside, had her head banged against the wall and was raped.  In both cases, there were no witnesses. Unlike the Stanford case, both rapes were a he-said-she-said situations. Neither reported the rapes immediately after. The two have used Title IX to file complaints against their university and later founded the advocacy organization End Rape on Campus.

When Clark finally reported her rape, the administrator advised her, “Rape is like a football game, Annie. And if you look back on a game, what would you do differently in that situation.” This angered Clark. The documentary then goes on to other victims who ridicule the kinds of questions they were asked, yet what the documentary doesn’t establish is why these kind of questions are asked.  According to the Slate article “What’s Wrong with the new Documentary About Rape on College Campuses” by Emily Yoffe, these questions are meant to establish facts. The questions are tame compared to those asked the Stanford victim during the trial.

In the Stanford University case, which is not part of either movie, both the unnamed victim and her sister are re-accessing their behavior. In her letter to the judge, the woman who was raped states that her sister “is sorry for leaving me alone that night” and feels more guilt than the rapist. What she finds worrisome is that Brock Turner’s father doesn’t call his son a rapist. Dan Turner worries about Brock Turner’s lack of appetite and the loss of his Olympic bid. He feels Brock can educate college students about “the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity.” The victim states, “Having too much to drink was an amateur mistake that I admit to, but it is not criminal…Regretting drinking is not the same as regretting sexual assault.”

Drinking can be risky behavior. Brownmiller has been critical of the rape activism on college campuses. Brownmiller commented in an article by Katie Van Syckle for “The Cut,” that campus rape activists “have been tremendously influenced by the idea that ‘You can drink as much as you want because you are the equal of a guy,’ and it is not true. They don’t accept the fact there are predators out there, and that all women have to take special precautions. They think they can drink as much as men, which is crazy because they can’t drink as much as men. I find the position ‘Don’t blame us, we’re survivors’ to be appalling.'”

To a certain extent, the two documentaries do not consider what one could have done differently to prevent rape or even false accusations of rape. The documentary “The Hunting Ground” does note there are male victims of rape so perhaps the best advice is to drink responsibly.  Brownmiller has been accused of victim-blaming. Yet according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, “Alcohol and drugs are implicated in an estimated 80% of offenses leading to incarceration in the United States such as domestic violence, driving while intoxicated, property offenses, drug offenses, and public-order offenses.”

In “The Hunting Ground,” the administration is often viewed as being part of the problem. Stanford was quick to issue a statement after sentencing that stated  the school “did everything within its power to assure that justice was served in this case.” Unlike so many incidents in the documentary, “The Hunting Ground,” this wasn’t a he-said-she-said case. There were witnesses. While the victim wasn’t a Stanford student, Turner and the two witnesses were. According to its official statement, “Once Stanford learned the identity of the young woman involved, the university reached out confidentially to offer her support and to tell her the steps we were taking. In less than two weeks after the incident, Stanford had conducted an investigation and banned Turner from setting foot on campus — as a student or otherwise. This is the harshest sanction that a university can impose on a student.”

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky is 54 and received his bachelor’s degree from Stanford where he was captain of the lacrosse team. His reasoning behind giving Turner a light six-month sentence in the county jail with three years probation was Brock Turner’s age and his lack of criminal history. “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others.”

One wonders if Persky isn’t reminded of another off-campus rape trial: The 2006 criminal case against Duke University men’s lacrosse team. Three members of the lacrosse team, Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans, were accused of raping one of two strippers, Crystal Mangum, who they had hired for a private performance at the off-campus house where many of the lacrosse team lived.  The ESPN movie, “Fantastic Lies,” is about that case. Part of the 30 for 30 series, the movie is number seven of Volume III. ESPN subscribers are 94 percent male and 47 percent single. The subscribers are 87 percent are college educated. “Fantastic Lies” may play upon a male fear of false rape allegations but it serves as a cautionary tale for both college administrators and college rape activists.

Director Marina Zenovich doesn’t give any solutions. The offensiveness and hostile environment that the two strippers performed in isn’t questioned. That might make the lacrosse team members less sympathetic in a world that now finds a hostile work environment a symptom of sexual harassment and misogyny. The documentary mainly looks at a rush to judgment by the university and its rape activists as well as misconduct by the prosecutor. The incident supposedly occurred on March 13, 2006. Duke suspended the lacrosse team from two games by the end of the month and in April, the head coach was forced to resign and the rest of the lacrosse season was cancelled. Watching “The Hunting Ground,” one sometimes feels this is the kind of quick strident action the activists want.

Yet in the Duke case, the charges were dropped against the three men over a year later. Duke University ended up settling out of court with its three former lacrosse players. The lead prosecutor, Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong was forced to resign and was eventually disbarred for misconduct.  The three accused lacrosse players only settled their lawsuit against the city of Durham in 2014.

The Durham case isn’t explored in “The Hunting Ground.” Neither is the discredited University of Virginia story in “Rolling Stone” nor the 2013 Vanderbilt University incident.  Yoffe notes that critical details are left out of “The Hunting Ground” in its coverage of the 19-year-old Lizzy Seeberg who committed suicide and the rape allegations against former Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston. FSU President John Thrasher published a statement the week CNN aired “The Hunting Ground.” Nineteen Harvard law professors  protested the documentary’s unfair representation of a case between two law students.

One thing years of Law & Order should have taught us is that the truth can’t always be proven in court. The movie “Rashomon” teaches us that the truth isn’t always the same for each witness. If a woman was assaulted, without witnesses, that will be hard to prove. Any situation that is a he-said-she-said needs more evidence. Being found not guilty in court is not the same as actually being not guilty. Yet in our legal system, one is supposed to assume innocence until proven guilty. What’s troubling about “The Hunting Ground” is not only a lack of perspective, hearing from both the accused and the victim or of the legal or administrative arguments, but also the lack of responsibility taken for actions.

One of the things that stuck with me in the discussion of “The Hunting Ground” review by Brian Tallerico was Vicki Rush Siegel recalling that “In 1977 I was surprised to find two men in my dorm room in the middle of the night locking my door behind them. The light from the hall had awakened me.” Siegel then answers the obvious first question, “I had left the door unlocked for her [roommate’s] convenience.”

You are living in a shared facility with complete strangers and you leave your door unlocked?  Unlocked doors were not brought up in “The Hunting Ground,” but I suspect this might have been an aspect in some of the incidents.  Leaving dorm room doors unlocked is not an uncommon scenario but an open door or window can lead to robbery or rape.

In a 2013 article by Jo Erickson for MintPressNews, Dallas Jessop, founder of Just Yell Fire, discusses the false sense of security that men and women have on campus, including while living dormitories. Jessop said, “Women don’t realize that people will ‘Hall graze’ — walking up and down the dorm hallways looking for unlock doors or enter rooms if they hear someone in the shower.”

Unlocked doors may be convenient, but also a critical lapse in judgment. In 1986, 19-year-old Jeanne Clery was raped and murdered by a fellow student; her roommate at the Lehigh University dorm left the room door unlocked. Prior to her death, over a hundred incidents or auto-locking doors being propped open had been reported.  In 1990, a 28-year-old campus security guard entered the unlocked door of a freshman at Columbia University and raped her.

The dangers “The Hunting Ground” polemics are that it encourages a rush to judgment and pits administrators and law enforcement against victims, making rape victims defensive when they are being asked pragmatic and required investigative questions and encouraging men and women to refuse possible defensive actions, from locking their doors in dorms to drinking responsibly if at all. “The Hunting Ground” assigns blame instead of admitting that some cases can’t be prosecuted and means to pressure college administrators to punish the perpetrators even if the public defenders find there isn’t enough evidence for a case to proceed to trial.

The case against Brock Turner didn’t depend upon the victim’s testimony; she didn’t remember the events at all. The case hinged on the testimony of two witnesses. Likewise, the Vanderbilt case which involved four football players and an unconscious woman, did not rely on the testimony of the victim. The case came to light because of surveillance camera video. In the Vanderbilt case, the administration was pro-active, something that contradicts the thesis of “The Hunting Ground.” The documentary fails to address a real fear of both the accused and the administrators: false accusations.

“Fantastic Lies” addresses specifically male fear: false accusation of rape. The victims aren’t particularly sympathetic to me yet what happened to them could have been avoided. The documentary acknowledges that the lacrosse team had a certain arrogance but doesn’t question the kind of abusive and frightening situation that the two strippers began performing in. That doesn’t excuse the lies told by the one woman nor the misconduct of the prosecutor. Like “The Hunting Ground,” the documentary “Fantastic Lies” doesn’t tell its audience about possible preventive measures.

There are websites, some with the unpleasant whiff of misogyny, that do advise men how to avoid false accusations of rape. Most of the suggestions can be summed up with the old-fashioned advice of getting to know a woman well before getting any state of naked or becoming sexually involved. Be wary of much younger/older women or women who are married or otherwise involved in committed relationships. Beware of women who are ashamed or otherwise unwilling to reveal your relationship to relatives or friends, and beware of mentally unstable people. All of those things are difficult if you’re caught up in the instant-hookup or sex-by-date-three culture.

As an employer, there are other safeguards. The lacrosse team could have investigated the record of their freelance employee. She had already been arrested for stealing a taxi cab in 2002 and assaulting a police officer. They could have turned her away when she arrived that night intoxicated. They should have provided a safe or less hostile work environment. If all that was too much trouble, they could have gone to a strip club in Durham.

Further, the focus on rape at colleges is in its own way about privilege. While most colleges have female students, not all women will attend colleges. Most will not. Brownmiller points out that college women “are not the chief targets of rapists. Young women and all women in housing projects and ghettos are still in far greater danger than college girls.” Brownmiller advises that college activists extend their focus “to the larger percentage of women and girls who are in danger of being raped.”

False accusations ruin lives. That was true in the Duke case as it was for Brian Banks. Banks served six years for a false accusation, losing a football scholarship. Banks has more sympathy for the Stanford rape victim than Brock Turner. He realizes that neither six months nor six years will erase the ruin she has suffered. Rape ruins lives–whether it is linked to a college or not.

What both documentaries and the Stanford case point out is how society has changed and people haven’t kept up with those changes. If people really suffer, “worrying about being politically correct every second of the day,” then something somewhere has gone wrong in how people are being raised and their subsequent values. Men like Brock Turner and Persky were raised with values that no longer match the laws. The problem of rape won’t be solved on colleges campuses or in the low-income housing areas until the dialogue acknowledges people like Brock Turner, Brian Banks, Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans and even Crystal Mangum. We have to acknowledge that campus-related rapes are a small part of the so-called rape culture and that false allegations do occur. We all have to ask: What do we need to do differently. If we look at what universities did wrong, we also need to see what Stanford and Vanderbilt did right.

Ebertfest 2016: ‘Love & Mercy’

In the song “Love & Mercy,” Brian Wilson writes about watching a crummy movie and seeing all the violence that occurs. What we really need is not violence and not news of people hurting, but “Love & Mercy.” To stand against the violence, the horror of daily life as presented by the news and by the mundane loneliness:

“Hey, love and mercy, that’s what we need tonight
So love and mercy to you and your friends tonight
Love and mercy, that’s what you need tonight”

“Love & Mercy” was screened during Ebertfest 2016 (April 13-17) far away from the sandy beaches of the Pacific Ocean and the labyrinth of the celebrity industry there.

Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys helped define the California sound in the 1960s, a pop rock sound that at first glorified the sunny life in beach towns of Southern California. The title, “Love & Mercy,”  comes from Brian Wilson’s 1988 debut solo album. Originally, the song was credited to Wilson, Alexandra Morgan and Wilson’s therapist, Eugene Landy. Eventually, this changed and Wilson became the only credited writer. That should tell you something about the movie which presents us with three parallel realities with three Brian Wilsons: The past (Paul Dano), the present bed-ridden (also Dano) and the future (John Cusack).

In the past we follow the young Brian Wilson as he and his younger brothers Dennis (Kenny Wormald) and Carl (Brett Davern) with their cousin Mike Love (Jake Abel) and friend Al Jardine (Graham Rogers) form the Beach Boys in the landlocked city of Hawthorne, California in Los Angeles County in 1961. Although their music embraces the surfers and beach lifestyle, Dennis was the only surfer in the band. As the band becomes more successful, Brian approximates an artificial beach life with his own pool that is a quick jump away from his bedroom and a piano that is set on a tidy sand pit.

The young men chafe under the management of their domineering father Murry Wilson (Bill Camp) who both drove them to success and then attempted to punish them after they sacked him by promoting an ersatz version of them. Brian wanted his music to evolve; others wanted him to stick to a commercial formula.

Brian’s mental state also begins to disintegrate. A panic attack on an airplane leads him to quit the tour, but allows him to work full-time and over in a studio where he eventually produces the Beach Boys’ 11th studio album, “Pet Sounds.”

In the future, Brian  begins courting a pretty female car sales person, Melinda (Elizabeth Banks). Dennis is already dead, having drowned in 1983. Carl is still alive, but we don’t see him in Brian’s life (Carl died of lung cancer in 1998). Instead, we see Landy (Paul Giamatti), a man who claims to  have saved Brian from his drug-addicted bedridden present self, but only with loads of drugs and a controlling anger that echoes pere Wilson. This alarms Melinda who is both charmed by Brian, but startled by his admission he had heard voices since 1963.

Jumping between the three realities gives us a sense of instability. We’re unsure of what is real and what is not. Director Bill Polhad doesn’t judge Brian Wilson, but he does present us with a villain, Landy, and a hero, Melinda, and her sidekick, the housekeeper Gloria (Diana Maria Riviera) who gets the necessary evidence to free Brian from Landy. The screenplay by Michael Alan Lerner and Oren Moverman treats Brian with respect, he’s a lost boy without the love and mercy one might expect from a father and the movie suggests a more sympathetic view of mental illness.

Love & Mercy” is currently available on Amazon Video for $19.99.

Three Docs Show How Western Ambition Shaped Sherpa Culture

As a personal project for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I’ve spent most of May considering Everest on film. Three documentaries help trace how the quest to summit Everest has changed the Sherpas and how Sherpas have been whitewashed out of history: “The Epic of Everest,” “Everest” (1998) and the 2015 “Sherpa.”

The first documentary, “The Epic of Everest,” is an old-fashioned view of things as one would expect from a silent movie that was originally released in the late 1920s.  The film was digitally restored and re-released in Great Britain in 2013.   John B.L. Noel was the expedition’s documentarian and recorded the ill-fated third attempt to climb Everest which ended in the disappearance and deaths of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine.  Previous attempts had been made in 1921 and 1922.

Beginning in Darjeeling, the 1924 expedition hires Tibetan and Sherpa porters at the end of February. The Tibetans and Nepalese are the objects of a Western curiosity. The peoples of these cultures are really the stars of this documentary by our standards and have more close-ups and film time than either Mallory and Irvine. We don’t see the Sherpa point of view, but we come to understand something important. The Sherpa of the 1920s, although physically adapted to the high altitude, were not originally mountain climbers. They were not driven to climb Everest. Another important point is the timing. Current wisdom limits summit attempts to two weeks during May.

The 1924 expedition doesn’t have that wisdom. The first summit attempt by Mallory and Geoffrey Bruce was on June 1, 1924. The second attempt by  Edward F. Norton and Dr. T. Howard Somervell was made the following day.  The last attempt was made by Mallory and Irvine on June 7.  The two men disappear on the Northeast ridge and they are given up for dead at the end of the documentary.

Mallory’s body was discovered in 1999. By then the type of climber on Everest had changed and the tragedy of 1996 had delivered a different image of Everest to the world.

Noel’s documentary shows us that Sherpa weren’t mountain climbers in the 1920s and makes us realize just how exceptional a man Tenzing Norgay was when he summited Everest with Edmund Hillary in 1953 (May 29).  The following year Tenzing Norgay became the first director of field training of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling. In 1978, he founded Tenzing Norgay Adventures, a company for trekking adventures in the Himalayas.

The one charming aspect of David Breashears’ documentary, “Everest,” which was originally shown in IMAX, is that it seems unintentionally diverse. The expedition includes the leader American-born leader Ed Viesturs; a Sherpa, Jamling Tenzing (Tenzing Norgay’s son by his third wife) and a Latino woman, Spanish climber Araceli Segarra.  Segarra wants to become the first Spanish woman to summit Everest. Viesturs has brought his wife, Paula, who becomes the base camp manager.

The year is 1996 and for Everest, that was a PR disaster. Eight people died on May 10-11 when a blizzard hit Everest, including the leaders of two expeditions: Ron Hall of Adventure Consultants and Scott Fischer of Mountain Madness. Each of those two expeditions included a journalist. John Krakauer was on assignment from Outside magazine. Sandy Hill Pitmann on the Mountain Madness expedition was filing reports over the Internet for NBC. The writers survived. Adventure Consultants lost two guides (Andrew Harris  and Hall) and two clients (Doug Hansen and Yasuko Namba).  A third, Beck Weathers, was critically ill and had to be airlifted off the mountain (after a Taiwanese climber). Mountain Madness only lost its expedition leader, Fischer. In addition, three Indian climbers from an Indo-Tibetan Police expedition died. At the time, it was the deadliest day on Everest.

Viesturs knew Ron Hall. Breashears’ expedition members were one of several who helped Weathers down. After a brief reflection Breashears’ expedition members decide to push on.

Viesturs, who passes Hall’s body,  summits first. Jamling and Segarra summit together. Segarra wonders what her friends are thinking and takes a photo of Jamling. Jamling comments, “My heart just overflowed. My tears froze to my cheeks.”

Breashears notes that in 1996, there was  “a critical lack of experience” amongst the crowd of climbers ready to take on Everest. For the 1924 expedition, consideration was given to military experience or university degrees as well as the status of their families.  By 1996, Sherpas have become an essential part of the Everest experience and the adventure tourist industry plays a growing part in the Nepalese economy.  In the credits of this short 45-minute documentary, all of the Sherpas are given recognition. Their faces are shown in photos besides their names and positions including the camp cook.

In the recent 2015 adventure feature film about the 1996 catastrophe, also named “Everest,” the Sherpas have become little more than b-roll with the exception of the helicopter pilot (Madan Khatri Chhetri ) who made two trips to airlift two survivors. Without the inclusion of the Taiwanese surviving climber “Makalu” Gau Ming-Ho and the three Indo-Tibetan Police  fatalities (Subedar Tsewang Samanla, Lance Naik Dorje Morup and Head Constable Tsewang Paljor), the 2015 feature film doesn’t indicate the significance of 1996. Up until the 2014, a blizzard made May 10-11, the deadliest single day on Everest with eight deaths, almost ten if the helicopter hadn’t lifted both Gau and Weathers off the mountain.  The movie is adapted from Weathers’ 2000 memoir, “Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest.”

Jamling Tenzing carries on his father’s legacy, but he also noted something striking in his own autobiography: The deaths of Sherpas on Everest do not make news. According to a 2015 BBC article by Rachel Nuwer, the majority of the deaths on Everest are people from Nepal (113). Compare that to 19 deaths of Japanese nationals, 17 each for UK and Indian nationals and 14 for USA nationals. Of those deaths 120 came during route preparation compared to 90 descending from the summit bid.

Jamling figures in the documentary “Sherpa” where he reflects on his father’s legacy but the documentary originally meant to focus on another Sherpa: Phurba Tashi. Jamling Tenzing notes that many foreigners have “no idea we are actually an ethnic group of people.” Even fewer people probably know that Sherpas weren’t always mountain climbers. That’s his father’s legacy. Phurba Tashi, who works for Russell Brice’s Himex, was about to make his 22nd bid to summit.

Australian filmmaker Jennifer Peedom became interested in filming the Sherpa point of view after the confrontation between Sherpa and Occidentals during the 2013 season. The three-person alpine team of Swiss Ueli Steck, Italian Simone Moro and France-based Jonathan Griffith were involved in a confrontation with about 100 Sherpas on April 27. We see video of that incident. Yet in 2014, there was a different cast of foreign climbers.  Instead of Phurba Tashi attempting to summit, the crew caught the 2014 Everest ice avalanche tragedy and the tensions between the mountain climbing tourists and the Sherpa guides.

At 6:45 a.m. on 18th April, 2014, an ice avalanche on the Khumbu Icefall kills 16 Sherpas. That’s twice the number of people who died on May 10-11 in 1996.  The Sherpas are divided. Some want to cancel the season. Others want better treatment from their own government that now has become reliant on the income brought by adventure travelers as well as the foreign climbers and expedition companies.

You might wince when Brice tells his Sherpas, “You know before it was always friendly smiling Sherpas. These guys have spoiled your reputation.” The foreign climbers call the protestors “militant” and “completely irrational” and one says “if this were one of your Sherpas, you could have them removed from the mountains.” Another described the situation as “like being held captive by terrorists.”

The 2014 season is cancelled. The closing titles tell viewers that the 2015 season was also cancelled by an act of God: The April 2015 Nepal earthquake. Phurba Tashi wasn’t on Everest that day, having honored his family’s wishes.

“Sherpa”  premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival before its US release. It was nominated for a 2016 British Academy Film Awards. “Sherpa” is currently available on Amazon Video for $14.99.

“Everest” by directors David Breashears, Stephen Judson and Greg MacGillivray (written by Tim Cahill and Judson), and narrated by Liam Neeson is available on Amazon Video ($2.99).

The restored “The Epic of Everest” has a modern touch. Simon Fisher Turner has created a new soundtrack of electronic music, using found sounds, with a mix of western and Nepalese instruments and vocals for this movie. The movie is currently available on Netflix.

‘Sherpa’ humanizes the people who make Everest possible

The climbing season was opened this year, 2016, on Mount Everest with the summiting of nine Sherpas. The Sherpas do not need assists because who would play sherpa to the Sherpas? Last year, the 2015 season was closed  after a magnitude 7.8 earthquake on April 25.  Three days later, the Nepal Mountaineering Association reported 19 deaths, 10 of those were Nepalese Sherpa. Phurba Tashi, the main focus of the 2015 documentary, “Sherpa,” was not part of an expedition. That might have saved his life.

You probably haven’t heard of Phurba Tashi. He has summited Everest 21 times. In 2006, he carried double-amputee Mark Inglis down part of the descent on his back as shown on the first season of the Discovery Channel series. If there is any group of Asians who have been whitewashed out of history, it is the Sherpas. The first white person to summit was Edmund Hillary in 1953 with the Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.

Time magazine named Hillary one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th Century. The expedition had 362 porters and twenty Sherpa guides. Hillary was knighted by a young Queen Elizabeth II; Tenzing was ineligible for a knighthood but received a George Medal. The late Hillary was horrified at the kind of circus Everest has become, saying in the wake of fellow Brit David Sharp’s 2006 death on Everest, “I think the whole attitude towards climbing Mount Everest has become rather horrifying. The people just want to get to the top. It was wrong if there was a man suffering altitude problems and was huddled under a rock, just to lift your hat, say good morning and pass on by.” The Sharp controversy isn’t mentioned in the Sherpa documentary, but the different reception that Hillary and Norgay received is.  Hillary died in 2008.

“Miracle on Everest”

The dying Sharp was passed by the Inglis party. Days later, four climbers gave up their summit attempt in order to save Australian Lincoln Hall. Ten Sherpas went up to carry Hall down. Hall died in 2012, not from a climbing accident, but from cancer caused by childhood exposure to asbestos. Hall’s story was retold in the 2008 “Miracle on Everest.” You’ll see interviews with Hall and the expedition leader Dan Mazur who found and saved him, but you won’t hear interviews from the three Sherpas who summited Everest with him and who tried to help him down, but left him when he became maddened by brain edema. Nor will you hear from the 12 Sherpas who went to save him (some say 12, some say 13). Only Dawa Sherpa appears as himself.  Pember Sherpa and Jangbu Sherpa are played by actors in the re-enactments while Dorie Sherpa and Lakcha Sherpa were played by Jehan and Sonam Sherpa respectively. In the documentary “Miracle on Everest” when the documentary talks about Pemba, we hear not from Pemba but from Hall. When the Hall becomes delusional, we hear from Hall and not the Sherpas.

We hear from Hall’s wife before Hall recalls how he tried to whiz down the ropes out of control. Pemba Sherpa was injured by Hall’s crampons. We  never hear from the “badly hurt” Pemba or see his scars. Pemba Sherpa died in 2015 on Annapurna, Nepal with the Finn Samuli Mansikka, falling to their deaths during a descent. Pemba Sherpa’s side of the story is now lost.

Dan Mazur was with his two paying clients, Myles Osborne and Andrew Brash, and Jangbu Sherpa. We hear from Mazur and Osborne, but not from Jangbu or the leader of the Sherpa crew who went up to save Hall. Again, the Sherpas are whitewashed out of both the decision to leave Hall and the actual rescue of Hall. Hall summited, but required the aid of three Sherpas to get to the top and over a dozen Sherpa to get him down. Sharp, in contrast, had his camp maintained by the Sherpas but went up without a radio or a Sherpa.

“Mountain Without Mercy: The Everest Story”

This whitewashing is the same treatment given the 1996 Everest tragedy in “Mountain Without Mercy: The Everest Story” on ABC’s “Turning Point.” During that climbing season eight people died during a blizzard (May 10-11), including two expeditions leaders Rob Hall of Adventure Consultants and Scott Fischer of Mountain Madness died. The white people are interviewed (Ron Hall’s wife Dr. Jan Arnold, Charlotte Fox, Beck Weathers, his wife Peach Weathers, Jon Krakauer, Sandy Pittman, documentary director David Breashears, Mountain Madness guide Neal Beidleman, Tim Madsen, Mountain Madness guide Anatoli Boukreev , Alpine Ascents Guide Todd Burleson, Pete Athans), and the locals are not except for a brief clip on the helicopter pilot. The Sherpas who were part of Rob Hall’s last rescue team who decided to turn back were not interviewed.  The 1996 tragedy was the first time that the climbing of Everest became a spectator sport with journalist Sandy Pittman sending back stories over the Internet for NBC and a satellite phone call relayed a man’s last words to his wife, naming his unborn daughter. Jon Krakauer published an article in “Outside” magazine that would become a 1997 book, “Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster.”Anatoli Boukreev with Gary Weston DeWalt wrote a reply that was also published in 1997, “The Climb: Tragic ambitions on Everest.” Boukreev died that year in 1997 in an avalanche. Beck Weathers was a miraculous survivor, left for dead, but willing himself to live. Over the entire season, 12 people died that year, eight of those during that May 11th blizzard making it the deadliest day on Everest until the 2014 season (16 deaths) and the 2015 season (18 deaths).

“Sherpa” is about the 2014 season. Originally, the documentary was intent on following a Sherpa make his 22nd summit attempt. Also up on the mountain was the second unit crew for the 2015 movie “Everest” about the 1996 blizzard disaster.

“Everest”

“Everest” is an ensemble movie that focuses on the white men at the center of the 1996 Everest disaster, in particular Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), the guide and expedition leader of Adventure Consultants, and to a lesser degree, guide and expedition leader Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) of Mountain Madness. Hall dramatically spoke to his wife (Keira Knightly) via a satellite telephone call as he was dying. The movie is adapted from Weathers’ 2000 memoir, “Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest.”

The title cards at the beginning of the movie indicate that New Zealander Rob Hall pioneered the concept of commercial guiding on Everest in 1992. By the 1996 disaster, more than 20 expeditions were competing to summit Everest during the same two week window.

In the movie, the script by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy doesn’t mention that like Hall, Fischer was a family man who left behind two children when he died. We learn that Doug (John Hawkes) was a mailman, but not that Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori)  worked for Federal Express.

The movie is not interested in the Indo-Tibetan Border police expedition fatalities (Subedar Tsewang Samanla, Lance Naik Dorje Morup and Head Constable Tsewang Paljor) who died on the Northeast Ridge. Paljor is believed to be the infamous Green Boots whose body became a landmark for those climbing Everest. Nor are we particularly interested in Adventure Consultants’ client Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori) who left behind a husband. The leader of the Taiwanese expedition, “Makalu” Gau Ming-Ho (Chike Chan) appears in “Everest” briefly but his rescue by the Sherpas and subsequent helicopter rescue isn’t depicted nor will the typical audience member be aware of his identity when he appears.

Lieutenant Colonel Madan Khatri Chhetri  (Vijay Lama) made two trips up the mountain with Weathers (Josh Brolin) graciously giving up his ride to the more critically ill Gau and almost losing hope before Madan Khatri Chhetr arrived a second time. Gau, who was found near the dying Fischer,  lost both hands and legs as well as his nose. (Gau disputes some of Jon Krakauer’s account as does Lopsang Jangbu Sherpa).

What you might not realize watching “Everest” is that there were many Sherpas involved in the 1996 expedition. The Sherpas set up camp, they help climb, they clean up after the climbing tourists have left and they are the ones who retrieve the bodies if so requested. It was the climbing Sherpas who located Fischer and Gau and rescued Gau although Boukreev did later look for Fischer and found him dead. While at first Peach Weathers speech about getting her husband down might sound brave what she is really saying is: I want the lives of the locals to be risked to save my husband. Gau can be thankful for American intervention, but not for how he has been portrayed by either Krakauer or this movie.  HistoryvsHollywood.com details how this movie diverges from fact and notes, “Peach Weathers was instrumental in organizing her husband’s helicopter rescue. She enlisted the help of her friends and fellow moms, who began calling everyone they could think of. They contacted U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison from Texas and Tom Daschle, the Democratic Senate minority leader. Daschle encouraged the State Department to act, and they reached out to David Schensted at the embassy in Kathmandu. After Schensted was turned down by several pilots, a Nepalese woman he worked with recommended Lieutenant Colonel Madan Khatri Chhetri, a Nepalese Army pilot who she suspected might accept the challenge.”

The daring Lieutenant Colonel Madan Khatri Chhetri might have been a natural hero for a Hollywood movie if he had been white. From a 2003 story by Mark Baker, Asia Editor for TheAge.com.au, one can see a dashing man who has just rescued three stranded Victorian police climbers in Tibet. He was then the veteran of hundreds of high-altitude helicopter rescues. As he told the reporter, “If you go above 6000 metres there are chances of engine flame out in the thin air. It was very, very dangerous because if you have problems at that altitude no one can come and help you. You are on your own. There is no margin for error and the terrain is so bad. If something went wrong I don’t think you could survive out there.”

Without Gau, the three Indian climbing fatalities and a more fleshed-out portrayal of the Japanese woman climber, the script for “Everest” can be summarized as white men get themselves into trouble on a recreational outing and some survive. The international scale of the 1996 tragedy and the added risk of the continued commercialization of Everest is not fully realized.

“Sherpa”

In “Everest” Boukreev is quoted as saying, “We don’t need competition between people. There is competition between every person and this mountain. The last word always belongs to the mountain.”

Fischer says, “You know what they say, man. It’s not the altitude, it’s the attitude.”

Hall explains, “Human beings simply aren’t built to function at the cruising altitude of a 747. Okay, once we get above here, above the South Col, our bodies will be literally dying. And I mean literally dying. It’s not called the Death Zone for nothing.” This is some necessary exposition and some romantic realism from Hollywood in a movie that is more interested in white lives.

There were some Asian conflicts on Everest that year as well according to a BBC article by Rachel Nuwer. When the 1996 Indian team ran into trouble, an Indian member of the team attempted to speak to the Japanese team, “using a Sherpa who spoke some Japanese to help translate.” The Japanese team would dispute the message that was received and the two Japanese climbers and their three Sherpas passed Smanla and Paljor but did not stop to help them according to Harbhajan Singh, the deputy team leader and only survivor of the Indian expedition.

What do the Sherpa say? According to journalist Mark Jenkins who was on Everest in 2012 and interviewed Sherpa, “most of the fatalities belonged to clients who had refused to turn around.” He told a BBC writer,  “Your Sherpa will tell you, ‘You’re too slow, you have to turn around or you’ll die, and some people don’t.” From his point of view, “Mountains don’t kill people, people kill themselves,” he says.

Kathmandu-based journalist Billi Bierling told the BBC, “Without Sherpas, 98 percent of people who climb Everest couldn’t.” Bierling has been chronicling expeditions to Everest since the 1960s.

Australian filmmaker Jennifer Peedom originally meant to tell about the 2014 climbing season from the Sherpa point of view after the confrontation between Sherpa and Occidentals during the previous season. Instead, the crew caught the 2014 Everest ice avalanche tragedy and the tensions between the mountain climbing tourists and the Sherpa guides. What more could a documentarian ask for except better exposure and distribution?

Using archival footage of Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary as well as interviews with Norgay’s children, she illustrates the generational changes. Jamling Tenzing notes that many foreigners have “no idea we are actually an ethnic group of people.” Norgay was uneducated but with each succeeding generation, the educational standards of the Nepalese has increased. The simple math of how much is paid by each climber compared to the renumeration to those most at risk is stunning.

In 2016, the average cost for a standard climb is $45,000. A climb with a Western guide company is in the $60,000 range.  Alan Arnette, the oldest American to summit K2,  gives a complete breakdown of choices and costs. According to a 2012 National Geographic article, the average Sherpa makes about $5,000 for two months of work while the average farmer will likely make less than $1,000 for the whole year. In the 2015 movie, “Everest,” Weathers boasted that he paid $65,000.

Even though the pay is much higher than the average Nepalese income, many wives and families are opposed to the continued high risk. Sherpa will pass through the dreaded Khumbu Icefall as many as 30 times in a season while the foreign climbers will only do so 3 or 5 times.

The result of the commercialization of Everest isn’t only in the numbers of people and pay disparity, but also in the comforts. Peedom points out that in Hillary’s time everyone shared in the risks, in the carrying up of items. With so few people on the mountain during Hillary’s time, the problem of garbage and littered bodies wasn’t present. Focusing on Phurba Tashi, Peedom drives home what he risks. Phurba Tashi has a family who are against his continued employment on Everest, even with the number of 22 summits in sight. Phurba Tashi works for Russell Brice’s Himex.

In the “Sherpa” documentary Brice comments, “In the old days, people did everything together.” Yet now with “everyone on the summit you need much more creature comforts.”

In 2014, there were according to “Sherpa,” 38 expeditions and all that equipment has to be moved up the mountain by yak and Sherpas. If Kraukauer complained about Sandy Hill (now Sandy Pittman) as a “privileged villain” who brought a cappuccino machine to the Himalayas, and others (HistoryvsHollywood and Lopsang Jangbu Sherpa’s letter to the editor of Outside Magazine) have suggested that she caused some of the delays, comfort has become more readily available for those with the money to spend. “Sherpa” shows just how much stuff actually has to go up and down on the backs of Sherpas.

Two adventure tourists, Jeff Brown and Annie Doyle comment without irony, ” I love the Nepalese people” and add that it’s “cool you get to share it with these beautiful people.” What they don’t share is the statistical risks.

In contrast to Phurba Tashi’s family, for some, the dangers of Everest weren’t enough, or at least the dangers faced by the Sherpa guides have little meaning. American Joby Ogwyn wanted to up the danger quota by BASE jumping in a wing suit and had a Discovery Channel crew with him. Imagine how that looked to the Sherpas?

According to a 2015 BBC article by Rachel Nuwer, the majority of the deaths on Everest are people from Nepal (113). Compare that to 19 deaths of Japanese nationals, 17 each for UK and Indian nationals and 14 for USA nationals. Of those deaths 120 came during route preparation compared to 90 descending from the summit bid. In addition, the tourist industry and survivors have another concern: all those dead bodies. Yet to remove a body requires a team of Sherpa and a frozen body weighs more and must be dug out.

Since 2008, Sherpas have been cleaning up, taking down about 15,000kg of old garbage and 800kg of human waste. In 2014, when Discover and Peebom were filming, Green Boots was mysteriously absent, but controversy of the ethics of Everest and the dead was not.

The previous season, the three-person European alpine team of Swiss Ueli Steck, Italian Simone Moro and France-based Jonathan Griffith were involved in a confrontation with about 100 Sherpas on April 27. A climber Melissa Arnot had to step in between the climbers and the Sherpas. Ueli Steck was quick to get his story out to the press and give a press release and it is suggested that there was a cultural conflict that Steck isn’t quick to acknowledge. The threesome had “already benefited from the Nepalis’ labor in the dangerous Khumbu Icefall.” The account of one of the Sherpa, Tashi Sherpa,  came out in August. The 2013 incident is what piqued Peedom’s interest and using accounts and video from the actual incident she sets up the stage for the 2014 season. One of the foreign climbers called a Sherpa a “mother fucker.” Certainly, “the foreigner who swore was wrong,” but the attitudes at that altitude hasn’t really changed by 2014.

Before the Everest foreign climbers can get very far, at 6:45 a.m. on 18th April, 2014, an ice avalanche on the Khumbu Icefall kills 16 Sherpa. The Sherpas have a different name for Everest (Chomolungma) and a different connection, one that is spiritual and derived from folk and Buddhist beliefs. At the beginning of the “Sherpa” documentary, Jamling Tenzing noted, “We believe in reincarnation.”

Phurba Tashi and Brice must navigate between commercial interests, their employer-employee relationship and the anger and discontent that has finally boiled over on the chilly mountain named for a British surveyor (Sir George Everest). The Sherpas, who are genetically better suited than most people for working high altitudes, want better work conditions and compensation. While the overcrowding on Everest has continued to be a source of controversy, Everest adventure tourism has become, Brice says,  “a necessary part of the Nepalese economy” and “more Sherpas are working now than there have ever been in the history” of Everest. The money doesn’t seem to trickle down equally to the men who are taking most of the risks, the 30 trips per season across the Khumbu Icefall compared to the 2-3 for foreign climbers.

Some Sherpas do not want to continue the season out of respect for the dead. The foreign climbers must deal with frustration and disappointment. Some treat the Sherpa and the local law enforcement as little more than servants. Is that a rich person’s sense of entitlement and privilege or Western post-modern imperialism/Orientalism? That’s hard to discern, but there seems to be some disappointment that the Sherpa are no longer the smiling agreeable men of the past.

Brice tells his Sherpas, “You know before it was always friendly smiling Sherpas. These guys have spoiled your reputation.” The foreign climbers call the protestors “militant” and “completely irrational” and one says “if this were one of your Sherpas, you could have them removed from the mountains” and another described the situation as “like being held captive by terrorists.” The Everest 2014 climbing season comes to an end. All the foreigners are turned back. Phurba Tashi will not make his 22nd attempt to summit. The Sherpas have chosen respect for themselves over money. 

The Discovery crew had to cancel their BASE jump plans and ended up filming the conflict between the Sherpas, their employers and the foreign climbers to make the TV film:”The Everest Avalanche Tragedy.” The crew reportedly made a donation to the American Himalayan Foundation Sherpa Family Fund, a non-profit that supports the families of the 16 Sherpa who died. The closing titles tell viewers that the 2015 season was also cancelled by an act of God: The April 2015 Nepal earthquake. Phurba Tashi wasn’t on Everest that day, having honored his family’s wishes.

Discovery also aired “Sherpa” in April of this year, 2016, as part of their #ElevationWeek. “Sherpa” premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival before its US release. It was nominated for a 2016 British Academy Film Awards. Snow might lead to a type of blindness, but we should no longer be blind to the contributions and risks of the Sherpas who have too often been whitewashed out of fictional and documentary movies about Everest/Chomolungma. In a color blind world, we might see the tragedy of Everest as rich foreigners too often stepping over the corpses of impoverished Sherpa to leave a questionable legacy of summiting Everest.  “Sherpa” is currently available on Amazon Video for $14.99.

 

‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ a messy affair that doesn’t reflect on the meaning of imperialism

The sequel to the live-action “Alice in Wonderland” picks up three years later and leaves all charm and coherency behind. In “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” there are fewer nods to the actual book and more to recent science fiction and CGI extravaganzas and the current popularity of something called steampunk.

Have movie makers, including Disney, forgotten how to make small, intimate movies for children? “Alice Through the Looking Glass” begins with pirates, but none as insolently charming as Jack Sparrow. The ship called Wonder, captained by Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska), must escape pirates and does so with an impossible maneuver that the pirates attempt only to crash and burn. Alice left England after refusing the proposal of the evil lordling, Hamish Ascot (Leo Bill).

Alice again finds herself at Lord Ascot’s estate for an evening party and again she is inappropriately dressed in a garish Chinese inspired pants suit before women were allowed to wear pants in polite society. So much has changed in three years: Her father’s friend and Hamish’s father, Lord Ascot, has died, the lordling is now the Lord Ascot and owner of the company Alice’s father helped build. Her mother sold her and Alice’s shares in the company and will be forced to sign over her late husband’s ship that Alice now commands if she wishes to keep her own home. So much has not changed; Hamish and his cronies are male chauvinists with money and social position. Hamish is willing to hire Alice, not as a captain, but as a clerk (said with a sneer). This is the old boys’ club at its Victorian worst.

Someone needs to check out Ascot’s estate for the paranormal is strong there. Alice sees her old friend the Caterpillar now turned into an iridescent blue butterfly, Absolem (voiced by Alan Rickman). He lures her to step through the looking glass of the title. In Linda Woolverton‘s script there’s some initial reference to chess, but little to the mirroring. Both those things characterize the original book. Yet the script treats the mirror more as a portal between two worlds and not a mirror universe or mirrored universe.

Alice enters what this series has dubbed “Underland,” and learns that her friend the Mad Hatter, Tarrant Hightopp (Johnny Depp), is possibly mad or at least severely depressed.  Woolverton works hard to give us back stories for the Red Queen, the White Queen and the Mad Hatter. To help the Mad Hatter, Alice is determined to change history (always a mistake, right?) and to do so she must visit Time (Sacha Baron Cohen).

Time is half-clock and half-human: Think steampunk cyborg. This cyborg needs something called the Chronosphere to keep his own ticker ticking. The Chronosphere also powers the world. Each person’s life is a pocket watch and when the pocket watch stops ticking, the person dies and Time takes it from the place where clocks tick to the place where clocks are suspended ornaments kept in alphabetical order. What chaos zombies must make for Time. Time is keeping time with the Red Queen, Iracebeth of Crims (Helena Bonham Carterj).

The Red Queen may have been banished, but she has her own minions, people made up of garden veggies and fruits. She is determined to get the Chronosphere (you can get one for a little over $50 at the Disney store) which will help her rule the world of Underland. Alice gets it first. The Chronosphere once taken from its place in the clockworks of Time, can be thrown and it instantly enlarges into a spherical time machine that can be ridden to the past. Alice rides the Chronosphere which is like piloting a ship, chased by a weakening Time in another makeshift time navigating craft. Through the surrounding seas of times, she tries to prevent the death of the Hatter’s family, his leaving his family after a disagreement with his father and the accident that caused the gross enlargement of the Red Queen’s head. Time warns Alice, “You cannot change the past. It always was. It always will be. Although I dare say, you might learn something from it.”

Certainly there’s some intelligence in the script: Don’t miss the bit of cleverness where the pocket watch of Alice’s father has “Carroll” written on it. And there’s a reference to Mickey in Time and surely many more if you have the patience to see this movie more than once.  Yet the names and the back stories scream “Wicked.” The Red Queen has been betrayed by the goodly White Queen in the past. This time, under director James Bobin (Tim Burton is the producer), Hathaway’s more mincingly mimicking Glinda from the “Wizard of Oz.” One’s surprised that the Red Queen isn’t wearing stripped socks. The time travel conundrum does come up where characters from the past see their character from the future. So this version of Lewis Carroll’s fantasy includes a Time lord, time travel, portals between worlds, steampunk robots, a cyborg, animated veggies, talking animals, an unusually long-lived butterfly and time at an insane asylum plus a little Orientalism so off-stage you’re meant to ignore it.

Bobin gets it wrong in the press notes when he says, “‘Alice, as written by Lewis Carroll, was very forward-thinking for the time and almost out of place because she’s a strong female character in a very patriarchal, Victorian society…sort of a modern woman in an old-fashioned society.” Alice in the book  “Through the Looking-Glass” is not yet eight. She declares she is seven and a half. She isn’t a woman. She’s a child who can clearly see the nonsensical society before her. In this movie series, Alice is a young, determined woman.

Also in the press notes, Wasikowska notes that “Alice is a great character because she’s very much her own person, and after returning from her travels where she was captain of her own ship has gained more confidence and is filled with a sense of inspiration and excitement.” By this Wasikowska unintentionally means, Alice is excited about the unequal treaties between China and the possibility of exploiting the Chinese labor and being part of the colonizing British who could act like they were lords while plundering a defeated country. This Alice can’t deal with the restrictions of her own society and its aristocratic society yet has appeared at the dowager empress’ court and navigated the restrictions much older than the thought of England as a nation? Think of that for a moment. China isn’t faux pas friendly unless you’re pulling the card of white imperialism.

For a generation that remembers the turning over of Hong Kong to Mainland China in 1997, the legacy of British trade in China isn’t just part of a distant past. While that’s a matter for Great Britain, the 1997 turnover also brought another wave of immigration of Hong Kong Chinese to different countries, including Great Britain, Canada and the U.S. This movie opens during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in the U.S.  and the Chinese have a long history in the U.S. This version of Alice, puts the heroine in gleefully in the middle of China, just after the Opium Wars (1839-1842, 1856-1860). The first Opium War ended with the cessation of Hong Kong and granted indemnity and extraterritoriality to Britain. The second Opium War ceded Kowloon and allowed British ships to carry indentured Chinese to the Americas and legalized the opium trade. The year this movie supposedly takes place, 1875,  was the year the four-year-old emperor Guangxu ascended to the throne as his aunt, Empress Dowager Cixi adopted him and became regent along with the Empress Dowager Ci’an. Here in “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” Alice is a different kind of pirate, one who embraces the days of empire as glorious opportunity for white people. Alice has sidestepped the old boys club by joining club colonialism where even white women are superior to the local men.  This presentation of Alice isn’t really feminism at its best.

 

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