Saturday, 24 October 2015

Why Hollywood does not understand 'the Suffragette

The film 'Suffragette' opened in this country to widespread acclaim. Despite however having Meryl Streep in it all for 90 seconds American audiences were to say the least sniffy.
Time magazine damned it with faint praise, drawing attention to the objections from Black activists that there were no black actors in the story and that the film relied on too many cliose-ups because it was a 'low budget' production.
If only Walt Disney studios had made the film,Victorian London would have been awash with singing cockney chimney sweeps,titled ladies in pearls with swishy satin dresses and probably dancing penguins too!
It is a remarkable film and should be shown in every school as a shot of reality.Indeed if I was programming British education I would team it as part of a double bill with Ken Loach's 'Spirit of 45'
In two films all you need to know about the last 100 odd years of British history- sorted!
I would have liked to have included 'Braveheart' too,but the presence of that Neanderthal Australian knobhead Mel Gibson sadly rules out William the Wallace s' story for the time being.
Some British critics have not been to kind either,although given one eminent 'critic' was Danny Finkelstein  his opinion is barely worth the paper it was printed on.
His thesis was that votes for women was not won by the suffragettes but rather by the patient work over half a century by respectable campaign groups like those led by Millicent Fawcett, and anyway it was World War 1 'wot won it'.
Of course there is some truth in both those claims, the patient tireless work of those predominantly middle class ladies was an important part of the battle for the vote and it is true to say that the war was a catalyst for change.
It's also true to say that the WPSU that Mrs Pankhurst and her family led had a large element of middle class ladies involved-the Pankhursts themselves,Richard her husband was a doctor in Manchester-and a socialist freethinker to boot,but what the WPSU did was to kick the issue of 'Votes for Women' right onto the front pages and into the faces of the Ministers in Westminster.
The film however highlighted the role of working class women in the struggle.
It has long been known that many working class women were involved,Mary Kenny and the Northern mill girls are frequently cited, but the film focussed on London's east End, and the main character Maud Watts, was a browbeaten laundress in a sweatshop laundry in Bethnal Green where she had laboured for a pittance since childhood.

The notion that there were no black actors involved and the description in the publicity that the women were 'slaves' seems to have upset black activists.I think that reaction is a pity for two reasons, firstly of course there were few black workers in the East End in 1912,there were of course some,mostly men who had arrived as merchant seamen, and more significantly it was perfectly correct to describe the women as slaves, they were in every sense 'wage slaves'and were every bit victims of the system as black men and women.
Solidarity in struggle must always be a two way street.
The other American criticism was that the film didn't have the sweep and grandeur of the blockbuster epic.
Thank Christ for that.Edwardian London was dark,claustrophobic,insanitary and raw.It wasn't the technicolour world of Downton Abbey.Watching it you could smell the streets,the washing hanging out to dry and the decay all around.
Atmospheric it certainly was.
The other feature of the film was the understanding that most men were not villains, apart from some of the MP's and the lecherous laundry owner.Maud's husband simply did not understand what was going on, he was hard-working,poor and somewhat dim.Today we call men like that 'Sun' readers.
The Scotland yard detective, an Irishman was a subtle creation, an early intelligence/surveillance officer it was a recognition that they often get things wrong (even today) and the fact that he was Irish was a nod to conspiracy theorists and of course their concerns then about the dangers of Fenianism.

I wonder what nationality they would make such a character today?

The timing of the release of this film is a brilliant piece of serendipity.In the week it came out the Labour party launched a campaign to ensure as many people as possible are registered to vote.The Tories have changed the rules and it seems likely that maybe a million people will lose their right to vote.
They want to speed up the process and get it dusted off as quickly as possible.
In any other place and time it would be called gerrymandering!

If you see no other film this year,go see Suffragette- there are horrors in in,like the force feeding regime in Holloway, but the most moving is the way the Metropolitan Police  break up the demonstration outside Parliament.
Direct action has always been the last resort of desperate people, the women in 1912 understood that,just as we a beginning to understand it again.
Everything changes-nothing changes!


Sunday, 4 October 2015

To understand oppression is to be a Jew.

It would appear today that the actress Maureen Lipman has left the Labour Party once again, she left it a few months ago but it seems,well according to the Mail on Sunday that she has decided to leave again.
Fine, there are a lot of people I think the Labour Party could lose, not least Blair,Mandelson,Danzuck and loads of others that should never really have been in the Labour Party,but I'm strangely sorry to see Lipman leave again.

I'm sorry not because I think she is a great loss but the reason she has given for her departure. It is an accusation of anti-Semitism that I find disturbing,and it's one that appears to be gaining currency on the more irrational fringes of pernicious anti- socialism.
It is interesting that whilst they link it to Jeremy Corbyn all the critics are at pain to explain that they do not believe that Jeremy himself is anti-Semitic but it is the trope of guilt by association, you're not an anti-Semite but you know someone who is.
I've written about this topic before and I'm sure I will again, but I think it is an argument worth repeating as often as necessary and as in the past I prefix it with a quote from a wonderful song by Ruthie Gorton:
"TO understand oppression is to be a Jew,
so Free Palestine now."

At a time in the world's history when millions are travelling the world dispossed of their homes,dying in dreadful conditions,suffering unimaginable hardship and being victims every which way they turn it's worth casting our minds back to the last great exodus of people all over Europe.
When World war Two ended millions wee fleeing persecution and cruelty from countries they no longer felt safe in. Most ofvthe refugees then were displaced Jewish families,victims of the holocaust without a state and without any prospect of finding one.
many went to America but a large number wanted their own homeland and the prospect of the State of Israel offered a sanctuary.

The Jewish homeland had beeen a dream of Zionists since the 19th century and of course that homeland was located in Palestine.
That was of course the big problem, because Palestine was already occupied by Palestinian Arabs who had settled for centuries.A difficult problem but frankly not an intractable one, after all the people were all Semitic and had a great deal in common, Arab tribes and Jewish tribes had lived peaceably foe centuries and indeed many of the early Zionist pioneers saw no great difficulties.
But of course what people saw and what great power politics wanted were two very different things.They was a world view,not a full blown conspiracy theory but one that recognised that the Middle East was the most important region in the world because it was the most important source of oil and anything that could keep the region volatile could allow for 'intervention' at any time.

Afterv all the theatre of war in WW2 was not about a few million miles of sand, it was about controlling the oil fieldsfor the future.Britain,France and the United States had powerful oil companies and they wanted a degree of instability in the region that would ensure their presence.
Since the end of WW2 thee has been turmoil and chaos in the region, the West has pursued an aggressive policy of supporting Israel financially and militarily, and at the same time picking and choosing various client states like Saudi Arabia,Quatar, and so on and encouraging division amongst Moslem people.
The Middle East has never had a days peace since the end of the last war, and the people throughout the region have paid a very heavy price .
What has been done cannot simply be 'undone', we see on a daily basis what is the human price of intervention-remember the WMD that Saddam was supposed to have and the consequences.
And our flexible approach to human rights violations, Assad is a cruel tyrant yet the Saudi Royal family are pussy cats who deserve all the high quality armaments we can flog to them!
But we are where we are, and as far as I can see the only long lasting solution lies in the two state option,guaranteed by effective United Nations action.
And any two nation solution must look beyond the current boundaries.It is intolerable that the palestinian people are confined to two overcrowded and insufficient ghettoes.Any permanent settlement must spread beyond current borders and must involve land annexed from other parts of the region.Saudi Arabia is a vast empty land that could easily accommodate large Palestinian communities-mind you that might mean them having to give up some oil reserves and embrace human rights,but I think they owe it to the Palestinian people.
I believe that the only solution is one of co-operation and the building of secular states throughout the region.Of course I'm aware of the reluctance of the great powers to give up their power bases, and the religious maniacs on all sides to abandon their primitive beliefs and a kinder vision of politics that places human worth and solidarity above all else.
And to do that most effectively we need to defeat the worst and greatest scourge of the human species-racism in all its forms!