Tag Archives: Harry Potter

Feminism for men: Emma Watson launches the HeForShe campaign

22 Sep

Former Harry Potter star Emma Watson gave a passionate and well argued speech at the UN yesterday, where she has been UN Women Goodwill Ambassador since graduation. The speech was to launch HeForShe, a feminist campaign that is avowedly inclusive of men.

“Men,” she said as part of her 12-minute address, “I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.”

Caitlin Moran, one of the most influential of the new feminists (I’m sure there should be a catchy term coined for this, but new feminist will do), said much the same in her funny and essential book, How To Be A Woman:

“And do not think you shouldn’t be standing on that chair, shouting ‘I AM A FEMINIST!’ if you are a boy. A male feminist is one of the most glorious end-products of evolution. A male feminist should ABSOLUTELY be on the chair – so we ladies may all toast you, in champagne, before coveting your body wildly.”

I would like to respond to Watson’s initiative, as a man.

When I was at uni, my partner was a feminist, while I had been educated at an all-male public school and viewed women not so much as inequals, as aliens from another planet. Through her I discovered Greer and Dworkin, and Mary Daly who argued for the wholesale rebranding of words: “history”, for instance, should become “herstory”. We poked gentle fun at this, coining words such as “peroffspring” instead of “person”, but there was a strong point there. As Orwell knew, words frame concepts. Where there is no word for “freedom”, it is hard to conceive the idea of freedom. Where there is only a “chairman” of the board, or a “fireman”, it is hard to conceive of women being appointed to those roles. The change has now run deep. With the exception of Fireman Sam – kids’ cartoons still lag woefully behind in sex equality – the profession has been widely rebranded as “firefighters”; “chairman” is now “chairperson”.

There was in this strain of feminism, at that period of time, an undercurrent of man-hatred. “All men are rapists,” was a popular slogan. Gee, thanks. “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” was another. Mary Daly herself ran into legal difficulty at Boston University by refusing to teach male students. Perhaps it’s natural, when you have been oppressed, to hate your oppressors. But since then Nelson Mandela, for one, has shown that there is another way to react to oppression. By embracing your former oppressors, and making them part of the change.

The majority of young women do not identify themselves as “feminists”: only 29 per cent of American women do so; 42 per cent of Brits. Yet “feminist” simply means, “I believe in equal rights, respect and pay for women”. That’s it. That’s all. That so many still interpret it to mean “Hate men and refuse to shave armpits” is a legacy of those righteously angry gender-warriors of the ‘70s and ‘80s.

And because feminism simply means “I believe in equal rights, respect and pay for women”, a man can be a feminist too. The first club my eldest son joined at Cambridge was the Feminist Society. There was no sense, now, that he should be excluded for his gender.

Emma Watson is right to say that men can and should be part of the change. Right, too, to point out that men are also trapped by gender stereotypes; that suicide is the biggest single killer of men up to the age of 45; that being part of the change, for men, is not just philanthropic and ethically sound, but self-interested as well.

“Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive,” says Watson. “Both men and women should feel free to be strong. It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals.”

So what can men, practically, do?

The first change is from within. Are you inclusive or dominating in a conversation? If in a relationship, do you do an equal share of household chores? If you have children, do you share the nappy-changing and sleepless nights and, when they’re older, the tough conversations, as well as the play?

The second is something simple I have been thinking about for a while, something I know I need to work on myself. It’s a ripple effect. I’ve brought my boys up to respect girls and treat them as equals. Now they’re older, I feel I should move on to other men.

In the distant past, when men cracked sexist jokes, I would laugh along with them. Unsure of my own masculinity (I’ve never been much of a “bloke”) I wanted to feel part of the pack. I feel ashamed of that now. These days, I maintain a stony silence, a tacit disapproval.

That’s not enough. As Emma Watson quoted in her speech, “All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men and women [tellingly, Watson had to add “and women” to the original quote, which did not consider them worthy of inclusion] to do nothing.”

Recently, at the poker table – one of the last pretty much all-male preserves – someone looked leeringly at the masseuse giving a shoulder-rub to a player. (It’s a common thing, in poker, when people sit for up to 24 hours at a stretch.) Without even addressing her, only the other men at the table, he announced, “I love that the massage girls here are all so gorgeous. This one can rub me down any time.”

I piped up, looking him in the eye, “I love that the massage girls here are all consummate professionals who have trained for years to acquire diplomas in different branches of physiotherapy.” (Which is true. I’ve asked.)

That felt good. I’d like to do more of it.

One’s a movie, the other’s a film: About Time vs. The Great Beauty

16 Sep

Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams in About Time

I went to the cinema twice this weekend. It occurred to me afterwards that both films were about the same thing – love, and loss, and ageing, and how looking back stops you looking forward, or how sometimes not looking back stops you looking forward. The first film was Richard Curtis’s About Time, his “new funny film about love, with a bit of time travel”; the second was Paolo Sorrentino’s Palme d’Or-nominated The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza).

I enjoyed About Time. It was simple (I mean that in a good way) and occasionally moving. The young lead, Domhnall Gleeson (formerly Bill Weasley in Harry Potter), was surprisingly good; Rachel McAdams grinned her way gamely through an underwritten part that called for her to be incessantly endearing (she even gives way to the groom on every detail of wedding planning, which stretches credulity more than the time travel!); and Bill Nighy, as the doting dad, does that bumblingly cool Bill Nighy thing that Bill Nighy always does.

But, when you watch The Great Beauty straight after, you realise quite how shallow, manipulative and manufactured Curtis’s effort is in comparison. About Time is just a movie; The Great Beauty is a film. Unlike in Curtis’s best work, such as Four Weddings and Notting Hill, not a single moment seems real: the embarrassment  of being asked to rub sun-cream on a beautiful girl’s back, and squirting it prematurely all over her; or of blurting out something about blow jobs when your girlfriend’s parents turn up out of the blue – these are all movie moments, unrooted in real life.


Tony Servillo and Sabrina Ferilli in The Great Beauty

Whereas The Great Beauty, caricature of empty Roman high society though it is, is full of understated glimpses of truth. Every character, however parodic, has his or her moment: the Cardinal who is more interested in cooking tips than in spirituality; the ageing woman who looks down at her younger lover, as he swims against the current in their indoor pool, and knows that he is cheating on her; and all the peculiar bit-part players on the stage of the Roman night that the 65-year-old writer protagonist observes as the strolls through the streets in his immaculate suit: the tourists, the drunks, the nuns, the Muslims, the stick-thin dog-walkers and even, bizarrely and briefly, Fanny Ardant as herself.

About Time wraps its message up neatly with a little red bow: who needs time travel, when all of us, in our lives, are travelling through time; the object is to use that time wisely. The Great Beauty, in contrast, defies simple explanation. At times it feels like a thriller, where you are not trying to work out whodunnit, but whydunnit. It’s fragmented, often frustrating, breaking every Save The Cat rule of screenwriting, with no clear plot in sight nor objective for the protagonist. It’s also luminously beautiful and, despite its veneer of cool detachment, almost unbearably moving.  

As a writer, I’m much more Curtis than Sorrentino. I’ve even written my own time travel romance. I too have a tendency to wrap things up for the viewer in a neat little bow.

Watching The Great Beauty is a timely reminder that film can be more than a novel, greater than plot. It can ask some of the great questions in life and, precisely by not answering them, force the viewer to supply their own response.  


The Fallen: 18-year-old Brit makes sci-fi flick

20 Aug


I was impressed by the trailer (above) for micro-budget Brit sci-fi flick The Fallen. It had action scenes and explosions and hundreds of alien spaceships hanging in the air, as Douglas Adams once memorably wrote, in exactly the same way that bricks don’t. I was even more impressed when I discovered that its director, Rupert Rixon, is only 18, wtf. So I kept an eye out for the finished product.

Now the first episode in this ambitious six-parter, which together will add up to feature-film length, has finally been uploaded to YouTube (click here). Given the director’s age and the tiny budget (for their most expensive battle scene they managed to dig trenches, set off explosions, fire machine-guns and kit out actors in army uniform for just £600), it’s enormously impressive: pacey, well directed, making excellent use of derelict areas and buildings across England to give it that post-apocalyptic feel. Give Rixon a few years and a good producer, and you could expect him to be beating Hollywood at their own game.

And yet it doesn’t deliver on the trailer’s promise. The sound quality is atrocious, which is hard to forgive. And you wish as much thought had gone into the initial script as it clearly did into the filming.

A sci-fi or fantasy film only works if the alternate world it creates is credible, if it feels real. Lord of the Rings or Dune or even Harry Potter endure not just because of story and character, but because so much thought has gone into the economics, politics and language of their worlds. Here, we are told in an opening voice-over that most of Earth’s water has been sucked out by aliens, leading to global famine. It’s not thought through. Bottle-caps are used for money, which in itself makes no sense; a handful of caps is apparently fortune enough to provoke an armed fight at a poker table, yet 30cl of water costs 120. Humans need a litre per day.

The characters’ motivations, too, are frequently unclear or downright unconvincing; not least when a man running from machine-gun-toting baddies lights his way with a flare, which may look good on film but is not recommended for evading nocturnal pursuit. (Mind you, M did much the same at the end of Skyfall, and she’s meant to be the spy of spies.) And so far there’s not an original or surprising line of dialogue.

Does all this matter? You may think not, on YouTube. It’s free, it’s short, the audience maybe don’t expect so much. Comments so far have all been positive. But it doesn’t cost any more to think these things through, so why not do it? And if you feel this is harsh on an 18-year-old, it is I hope a mark of respect for Rupert Rixon’s prodigious potential that I am criticising The Fallen as I might a “proper” film.

Lessons for would-be film-makers? Get a proper sound recordist/mixer, and a decent script-editor. They will do your film far more good than the latest state-of-the-art digital camera that most directors get their rocks off on.

But the more important lesson is – just do it. You can’t complain you don’t have the right contacts, the right financing, the right breaks, the right training, when an 18-year-old can get out there and make a full-length sci-fi feature armed with little more than vision, determination and a giant pair of clanking brass balls.