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Defining Foreign: What “Minari” Says About America

By: Christina Lee

“Korean people use their heads,” Jacob Yi says in Korean, his son David trailing behind him. Then in accented English: “We use our minds.” The duo walks across what seems like an endless field of grass below a cloudless sky, perfect for a farm.

The 2020 film Minari, written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, follows the Yi family, headed by South Korean immigrants Jacob (Steven Yeun) and Monica (Han Ye-ri), as they relocate to rural Arkansas where Jacob hopes to support his two children, wife and mother-in-law by growing Korean vegetables.

A semi-autobiographical film based on Chung’s childhood memories, Minari took home the trophy for the best foreign language film at the Golden Globes this year. Chung shared his gratitude for his win, but he also hinted at what could be interpreted as lingering dissatisfaction, a sentiment shared by viewers and fans who understand what it feels to be “othered” in the United States.

Minari is about a family,” Chung said in his acceptance speech. “It’s a family trying to learn how to speak a language of its own. It goes deeper than any American language and any foreign language. It’s a language of the heart.”

With this statement, Chung suggests that he too is very much aware of the controversy surrounding the movie and its classification as a “foreign-language” film.

Minari, the story about South Korean immigrants in the United States, had no choice but for its American film distribution company A24 to submit the American-directed and American-financed film to the foreign language category, as more than 50% of Minari’s dialogue is spoken in Korean. 

“It goes deeper than any American language and any foreign language.”

The country that is home to the largest film industry in the world fails to recognize the inherent Americanness of its own movies. Instead, it resorts to arbitrary numbers to define what counts as “foreign enough” and therefore disqualified from competing against English-language films in a country that does not have an official language.

Chung knew that finding financial support for his movie about a deeply cultural experience would be hard in an industry still dominated by whiteness and one-dimensional narratives. However, thanks to Korean American producer Christina Oh, Chung found an ally in his mission to keep Minari spoken mostly in Korean.

While the film’s characters speak English from time to time, Chung addressed why the dialogue remains predominantly Korean, and his reasoning is personal. Chung described his characters’ Korean speech as the “sort of insular feeling that you have when the reality at home is different from the one outside.” Through this reality of bilingualism, Chung demonstrates that the dual experience or “twoness” is common among immigrant families, to whom a second language is not simply a convenient tool used to appeal to monolingual moviegoers for financial profit—it is an entire lived experience. The Golden Globes failed to acknowledge this.

“You really try to preserve some of that reality within your own family as you feel it slipping away,” Chung said.

The Korean American director and writer’s work is truly one of preservation, to uphold the truth about the immigrant experience through language, especially when Minari stars Korean American actors like Steven Yeun, who proves that the loss of home and one’s native tongue within immigrant families is an ongoing and evolving experience. Noticeable in interviews, Yeun’s improvement in the Korean language demonstrates that children of immigrants are still engaged in a constant relationship with their parents’ ways of communication and that “foreign” language is not a cinematic gimmick nor a static category title that demarcates narratives about the experiences of people who do not look like the white majority.

Chung also recognized the arbitrary nature of deeming something “foreign.” He said, “My grandmother, if she were still alive, she’d be very proud that I held through and did a film in Korean and didn’t compromise and then start using that foreign language of English.”

The subjective lens of “foreignness” easily allows for the country’s narrative to favor the white, English-speaking majority over multilingual Americans of diverse cultural backgrounds. Rarely is it acknowledged that English in America is just as foreign to immigrants and their children, who often learn their native tongue first, English second. To deem any language other than English as merely “foreign” hints at xenophobic tendencies to invalidate the sense of belonging and community of immigrant families, further establishing that their languages, cultures, and experiences can never be fully integrated into society.

Minari attempts to bridge this gap between “American” and “foreign.” Its actors—ranging from South Korean-born parents of American children to second-generation Korean Americans—exemplify the American experience characterized by these actors’ varying linguistic abilities. The Korean grandmother speaking broken English to the American-born child responding in flawed Korean is a living, breathing representation of the ultimate American experience for immigrants. What is foreign to one person is never foreign to the other. So what truly defines foreignness?

In retrospect, the tension between American and foreign feels nonsensical. A country built on immigration and cultural diversity should not devalue the very origins of the nation’s unique identity. Through films like Minari that portray the diverse lives of Americans, hopefully we will begin to realize that whatever seems “foreign” at first is more familiar than it appears.

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Four Indigenous TikTokers You Should Know

By: Claire Armstrong

Considering the United States’ historic and continued cruelty toward its Native peoples, the lack of education most American students get on Native issues is pretty despicable. Fortunately, TikTok now provides a platform for many young indigenous activists who are helping to educate others on their cultures as well as the issues they face. Below, I have highlighted four North American Indigenous TikTokers who I personally have learned a lot from. Readers, give them the likes and follows they deserve!

1. Shina Nova (@shinanova)

Shina Nova is an Inuk creator from Montreal, popularly known for her videos of her and her mother throat singing together. Throat singing is an unfamiliar art to many of us, and Shina frequently receives mocking comments on her videos, but that doesn’t stop her from posting.

She educates her followers on other aspects of Inuit culture, such as traditional clothing and traditional foods, like raw beluga, wild berries, and caribou stew.

She also critiques the Canadian government for its ignorance of its indigenous peoples, and sheds light on issues of cultural appropriation and harmful stereotypes.

2. Tia Wood (@tiamiscihk)

Tia Wood is Plains Cree and Salish, from Canada, and has amassed a whopping 1.4 million followers on TikTok. 

She creates videos celebrating traditional dance, singing, and clothing, and also discusses issues such as cultural appropriation.

Tia also provides the vocals for the “Make it Indigenous” version of Banjo Baby by Nico Flaco, which has become widely popular on TikTok.

3. Lia (@fiiliia)

Lia is a neurodivergent, LGBTQ+ creator who is part of the Siksika Blackfoot Tribe, a tribe in Montana and Canada. 

In the first video I saw of Lia’s, she explains why many Indigenous people prefer the terms “Indigenous” or “Native” to “Native American” or “American Indians.”

Lia has made several videos condemning the romanticism of the story of Amonute, who is commonly referred to as Pocahontas.

She also has videos about successful allyship for non-Native peoples.

Lia has also emphasized the importance of protecting the Tongass Rainforest, which is culturally significant to multiple Indigenous communities.

4. James Jones (@notoriouscree)

James Jones is a traditional Native dancer, and has performed all across the globe, and is one of the top five ranked hoop dancers in the world.

In his videos, James dances in many different styles, including the hoop dance, the grass dance, the men’s chicken, and the men’s fancy dance.

James also creates Hair Teachings, in which he educates his viewers on the significance of hair in Indigenous cultures.

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Night Witches and Gangs and Rebels, Oh My

By: Jasmine Zepeda

Taking history classes in high school versus college history courses, you begin to learn more about what exactly shaped countries and the long fights it took to get us to where we are today. What students mostly learn are white male heroes in history with dashes of white women in history and even less of women of color in history. Women of color have been written out of history in favor of white women and more specifically white male inventors and entrepreneurs. What this does is create a serious lack of diversity and representation for women. To highlight some of the brave women from history I would like to bring to light the Russian Night Witches, the Sukeban girl gangs of Japan, and Mapuche warrior Janequeo. These women have changed and challenged stereotypes and proven leadership skills that prove that they deserve to be more than a footnote in the history books. 

Women have been fighting and changing history since the beginning. Janequeo was a warrior queen who fought and won many Spanish military invaders in the early to mid 1500’s. A defeat against the Spanish conquistadors was a huge feat to pull off and not an easy task to do. While the Spanish may have had more fire power, it took a skilled military leader to win battles. Janequeo was from the Mapuche tribe in Chile and she was married to the captain of the Mapuche army. When her husband was captured, tortured, and killed by Spanish invaders, she took arms and lead the army in her husband’s place. It was said that the Spanish armies were confused and then outraged when battle after battle their armies fell. She burnt the fort her husband ruled and last defended with the heads of the Spanish laying on the ground. 

The Spanish leader Cristobal Aranda went one on one with Janequeo, probably believing there was no way a Chilean woman could ever beat him. She did. She mounted his head on a spear and continued on with winning more and more battles. Janequeo caught the attention of Alonso de Sotomayor, a powerful conquistador, and he came with full force to take down the rebel. Janequeo won many battles but her numbers were now waning. Sotomayor was burning villages that supported her and cut off more soldiers from her army. With Janequeo’s army dwindling and Sotomayor calling reinforcements, she was forced to call a retreat to her army. Refusing to be taken as a war prisoner, she fled and no one knows what exactly happened to her. Janequeo’s bravery and military tactfulness has made her a symbol for freedom and hope for the Mapuche people who still fight for their rights in Chile. 

Moving forward several hundred years we land in World War II. The soviet Union was desperate for more people in their army, but they weren’t sure if they wanted to involve women at all in their army. On June 28, 1942 the first bombing mission was given to the Night Witches. A ban of over 400 women were chosen carefully by their leader, Marina Raskova. She was known as the “Soviet Amelia Earhart” and was famous for her long distance flight records. These women were bombers and could return fire on incoming German planes, making Russia the first nation to allow women combat during war. As for their names, it was the German’s who termed them, The Night Witches. These women were not allowed updated planes and lacked the advanced equipment needed during this time to help them on their missions. The planes would turn off midair and in order for it to be turned on they would have to get out of the plane midflight and turn them back on again and continue with the mission. Since their planes were so loud they would fly above the clouds to conceal their engines and only dive when it was time to release the bombs and then fly back in the clouds and disappear. 

These women were feared and hated by the German army so much that if a German downed a Night Witch they were given high honors when they returned. Given this incredible fact, it’s a wonder why these women are left out of history books today. They flew nearly 30,000 missions, accumulating to nearly 800 missions per pilot, and out of the 400 women chosen only 30 were lost in battle. These women proved that they were capable of fighting and contributing to the war, in this and any other type of military endeavour. Their final mission was just three days before the end of the war, and became the most highly decorated unit in the Soviet Army. Despite these amazing feats and contributions, the women were not allowed to walk in the victory day parade in Moscow. The amount of disrespect they received is astounding and reprehensible, but still, these women persisted and achieved a great victory for women everywhere.

Flashing forward again twenty years we land in the 1960’s and 1970’s in Japan where the largest school girl gang organized to fight patriarchal rules and laws. These young girls would sneak cigarettes into the schools to smoke and would start violent fights and shoplift. They were known to carry pocket knives and the gangs would range from 80 to 20,000 girls. This made it hard for the news to talk about them. What could you say when young girls ranging from young teens to young adult women. The young women would lengthen their skirts, opposing the sexist school outfits they were made to wear and swore up and down the road to prove that they did not fit into the patriarchal standards that are being pushed on them. These are some of the most strongly organized women and have made an impact on Japan’s culture and even in anime, however not in a good way. 

In order to try and demean their cause the Japanese porn industry began making films of them. Using them as sexual objects and pushing for a certain look on the girls. The girls persisted and continued to fight and “act like boys” where they were being pushed to go back into the box of feminine and submissive girls. While violence isn’t always the solution, they still make a huge impact on what girls can do when they organize. Fighting and standing together is what makes them important to the history of feminism and that fighting for equality is not always a pretty picture or even a peaceful event that caused changed, as little as it may be, to society.

The erasure of these women from history shows a great lack of representation and also a lack of inclusion. These women, and many more than just these three, have shaped and challenged stereotypes and patriarchal societies. These women braved history and stood in places where men tried to keep them from. There needs to be more inclusion of women in history classes, not a women’s studies class, simply history teaching about women and their footprints in history. Remembering them and focusing on them instead of pushing them aside as sub categories or as a different class section. 

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Feminism in Superhero(ine) Movies

By: Jasmine Zepeda

What defines feminism? What might come to mind is strong women in your life; perhaps family members, senators, or world leaders. Can feminism be found in superheroine comics where the majority of the women wear bikinis or skimpy outfits that are only functional for the male gaze? When discussing feminism in today’s world of superheroines, there is still much to be worked on. There have only been two solo heroine movies, the catwoman movie we have collectively decided as a society to forget, though two more are coming out soon. What mostly comes to mind is the most recent solo hero Marvel movie Captain Marvel. She is tough, bad ass, and wears practical outfits for battle. Captain Marvel became a pioneer in what a female superhero could look like and be, not just sexual costumes and sexual poses. However, she isn’t the only one to pioneer the feminist superheroine film industry to recently come out in theaters. Harley Quinn’s new movie has the potential to show that feminism isn’t only about one type of woman or one type of representation in women.

Equating the two as pioneers in feminism in movies can be confusing. Both women show different aspects of feminism but they are also more alike than you may think. The women’s solo movie, is based around the fact that they escape toxic masculinity. Captain Marvel escapes her mentor’s limitations that he puts on her and his constant comments about controlling her emotions. A comment most women get when they become passionate or angry. Harley Quinn is broken up with her long term, verbally and physically abusive boyfriend and struggles to cope with the aftermath of that damage. Both women were under constant restrictions given by their male partners/mentors and have broken free from that cage where they find their true power and strength in themselves and among female companionship. Focusing on Harley Quinn for a second, she is powerful in that she is able to find herself again outside the constraints of an abusive relationship. 1 in 4 women are likely to be in an abusive relationship and about 3 women a day are murdered by their partners according to The National Domestic Abuse Hotline. Harley Quinn’s story of survival and thriving life after an abusive story is one to admire. It is also one many women can look up to and see themselves in. 

Captain Marvel breaks free of societal norms and empowers women to be who they are despite what is being told around you. Many women are able to see themselves in Captain Marvel’s position. Being told how to act and react, that they need to prove themselves to male figures in order to be accepted and valued, and cat calling. This movie marks a new era of superheroine movies to come, showing that a stand alone film with positive female lead and relatable stories that the average woman can relate to. She doesn’t need any man to save her in the film, instead she learns to discover her unlimited powers and not be afraid to show who she is. 

This is an important factor for both women. The most heavily debated and often times conflicting aspect of what feminism is, is how women express themselves. If they choose to cover up or to dress provocatively is something a woman chooses for herself. Harley Quinn’s signature look has always been short shorts and a sports bra or something similar to that type of outfit. She bodes off her child-like behavior and was only brought in for a side kick to the joker. Captain Marvel’s outfit in the movie was more practical and functional instead of revealing and sexualized. While there is nothing wrong with either costume, the Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad was dressed for the male audience it was trying to attract. The new Harley Quinn, directed by a Cathy Yan, still wears revealing and sexy clothing but in a more natural way that fits her character and not just there for the male gaze. 

They both support other women and find companionship in other women. They show different sides of what feminism is and not just one cookie cutter shape. Whether she dresses in short shorts and revealing clothes or chooses to cover up and be modest is the women’s choice in how she expresses herself. There are different forms of feminism not limited to clothing or how they choose to be. What makes these women significant is that they are not afraid to be who they are. Whether is crazy, sexual, and out-going like Harley Quinn. Or stoic, strong, and sarcastic like Captain Marvel. There is no one way to be a feminist. All there is to do is support one another and promote strength in women, together.