my week at the movies: ‘The Stoning of Soraya M.,’ ‘My Sister’s Keeper,’ ‘Year One,’ ‘Humpday’

I saw a woman in Manhattan the other day completely covered, head to foot, in shapeless robes, with only the narrowest slit allowing her to see. Her husband was taking a picture of her in front of tourist attraction, and I thought, What’s the point of taking a picture of someone you can’t even see? The husband, of course, was half naked, wearing shorts and flip-flops and a short-sleeved shirt. It infuriated me to see her reduced to an unperson while he was free to dress as he pleased. So I’m primed for The Stoning of Soraya M. (opens in the U.S. on June 26; no U.K. release date has been announced), which looks certain to engage my rage.

My Sister’s Keeper (opens in the U.S. and the U.K. on June 26) is a sure-to-be weepie about a little girl, conceived to be an organ donor for her older sister, who decides instead to fight her destiny. Director Nick Cassavetes is responsible for such over-the-top schmaltzy, phony tripe as John Q and The Notebook — which might be the most preposterously sentimental movie ever made — so I expect much the same from this one.

I look at the poster for Year One (opens in the U.S. and the U.K. on June 19) and I wonder, Why? I look at the trailer for the film, and I despair for Jack Black and Michael Cera. How could Harold Ramis have anything to do with this? Who thought this was a good idea? It’s not screening till Wednesday night, and that screening won’t end till about 27 hours before the film opens with midnight showings on Thursday. Which means the people in charge are probably asking, Why? too.

I suspect I’m gonna have to reschedule my screening of Humpday (opens in the U.S. on July 10; no U.K. release date has been announced) — it looks like I’m gonna run into a conflict with the press day for The Stoning of Soraya M. If not, I’ll get to see an indie bromance that apparently could be titled Ben and Andrew Make a Gay Porno. They’re not gay, of course: alcohol was involved in the origin of this dare. The film won a special jury prize for “Spirit of Independence” at Sundance this year, which I’m hoping means that the film is a subversive look at male friendship and sexuality, and not the standard homophobia-tinged grossout.

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Mon, Jun 15, 2009 2:05pm

Why do you have such negative feelings towards year one, MJ? I thought a film that appears to ridicule the most absurd parts of the old testament would suit your tastes…

Der Bruno Stroszek
Der Bruno Stroszek
Mon, Jun 15, 2009 2:21pm

Hang on – that’s the actual plot of My Sister’s Keeper? Like, it’s basically Parts: The Clonus Horror remade as a weepie set in the present day? That is absolutely insane, I had no idea it was about that.

Mon, Jun 15, 2009 10:36pm

I thought a film that appears to ridicule the most absurd parts of the old testament would suit your tastes…

Is that what it’s supposed to be doing? Really? I had no idea.

Even if that’s the case, the ridicule has to be something above Neanderthal level to engage me. And I probably shouldn’t insult Neaderthals like that…

Der Bruno: That is the actual plot of *My Sister’s Keeper.* For real.

Victor Plenty
Victor Plenty
Tue, Jun 16, 2009 1:15am

In fairness to the veiled woman in Manhattan, when she looks at those pictures, she’ll know she was the one standing in front of those tourist attractions.

It’s hard for a lot of us in the Western world to believe, but I’ve read convincing accounts from Muslim women who have freely chosen to wear what they consider modest attire, whether that means a simple head scarf or the completely obscuring robes described above.

We don’t know whether this particular women freely chose her garment, or felt pressured to wear it by the men in her family and her culture. Either way, it seems the best way forward is to promote the idea of treating women with full respect no matter what they choose to wear.

Tue, Jun 16, 2009 11:49am

“I’ve read convincing accounts from Muslim women who have freely chosen to wear what they consider modest attire…”

VP: i think it’s far too glib and smooth to say these women have “choices.”

there are many cultures where women are constricted and devalued, and they convince themselves they are doing it of their own choice; but really, the culture they live in makes their choice almost a non-choice. what choice does a child have whose clitoris is cut off by her own aunts and mother? do muslim women in certain areas really have a choice? when a little girl of 10 or 12, is already covered up from head to toe, while her brother wears shorts and a t-shirt, do you think, oh, well,she had a choice?

when an orthodox jewish woman marries and cuts off her hair and wears a hot wig and scarves, is it really her “choice” after being told her entire life to avoid being attractive to men other than her husband? when all around her, all of her life, her mothers, aunts, friends, do the same, what is her real choice? yes, i suppose you could say, she could move away from her community, but is that really a “choice” or is it a type of cultural suicide?

i often wonder what choices do i, a non-religious, well-educated, single western woman, make every day that are really non-choices?

Tue, Jun 16, 2009 11:55am

@Victor Plenty I guess I can see that — I dated a Muslim Malay woman, and actually encouraged her to wear her head scarf if it made her feel comfortable, since she despaired a bit at her friends who came to the US and completely abandoned their culture.

On the other hand, I helped by not being “embarrassed” for her in her “non-Western” garb, and she did make her own choices for dress — she covered her hair (sometimes in a floppy hat instead of a scarf), but decided for herself that short-sleeves were OK when it was hot.

I respected her choice on how to balance honoring her own cultural and religious traditions while making allowances for what was important to her (like, er, dating a white American atheist *^_^*).

Victor Plenty
Victor Plenty
Tue, Jun 16, 2009 3:10pm

Bronxbee, I would never say “well, they have choices, so everything’s fine,” which is the interpretation you seem to have drawn from what I said above.

If the ideal is for every woman to have the opportunity to develop her own unique talents and strengths, we do not serve that goal very well by talking about “these women” as if they were all exactly the same.

Respecting each woman’s choices, even when they are choices constrained by her circumstances, seems like a necessary prerequisite for reducing those constraints and opening up greater freedom.

In other words, I am not saying this as a way to end the conversation, but to move it in a more constructive and inclusive direction.

To really improve the lives of Muslim women and others who live under oppressive traditions, we need to include their voices too. Limited good can be accomplished by talking about them without including them in the conversation. Nor can we assume all their opinions are automatically invalidated by the oppression under which they live.

Tue, Jun 16, 2009 4:50pm

VP: i was not trying to limit the conversation, nor was i trying to accuse you of anything — i *was* trying to make a point that while we think people have choices, they often have very limited choices (head scarf or burka?) or ones that are at one extreme or the other (abandon my culture or conform?. and as for talking “about” them, instead of including them, how many Muslim women in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China, how many young African women subjected to practical slavery and torture, how many orthodox jewish women, how many poor third world women, do you think have access to a forum where they *can* discuss these things? respecting a woman’s choice, when she actually *has* a choice, is one thing… but let’s face facts, most of these women do not. so it it is at least better to talk about what their situation is, then to sweep it under the “cultural diversity” rug.

and, bzero, *where* did you date this woman? was it in the US by any chance, where she “despaired a bit at her friends who came to the US and completely abandoned their culture.” in other words, she was a victim of her culture, and caught up in not respecting *their* choices.

it’s all very well to pay lip service to “choices” but living the lifestyle you were brought up to believe is the right lifestyle is not exactly a choice. i’m afraid i do believe there is a right and wrong in human relationships, and most women in this world get the the “fuzzy end of the lollipop” (to use a movie reference).

Tue, Jun 16, 2009 5:06pm

Teaching any child that they are not as valuable or free or divinely blessed as another child is cruel and evil. Sure, plenty of people “choose” to be Christians and “choose” to wear burquas when they are young without the threat of violence, but the lack of physical coercion and the fact that the practice is normal in their culture doesn’t make it any less repulsive to me.

On a less serious note, I remember glancing at the Year One poster several weeks ago and thinking, “how typical, they have portly Jack Black paired with a thin, attractive blond girl. Oh well, at least they bucked buddy comedy conventions and included a woman in a starring role.” Only now do I realize my mistake. Sorry Mr. Cena, I should have looked more closely.

Liz L
Liz L
Tue, Jun 16, 2009 8:57pm

The cultural “embeddedness” of sartorial decision making is a two way street. When a young teen girl poses for her boyfriend in 3 inch heels and a playboy bunny t-shirt, is she too an invisible non-person, reduced to considering herself nothing more than a sex object and stripped of choice and agency by her patriarchal culture?

Seriously, dudes, enough about the veil.

Far better to wonder about the woman herself rather than the clothing she wears. How does she like America? Is she a tourist? Maybe she’s an American citizen, or a student here. What are her hopes, ambitions, fears? Does she like chocolate or vanilla, is she a loyal friend? A Muslim feminist? A conservative housewife? A businesswoman or doctor?

You’ll never know if you walk on by, nose turned up with pity for poor, generic oppressed Muslim girl.

Wed, Jun 17, 2009 12:55am

I’m not turning my nose up at the girl or Islamic culture or even at Sharia, I’m turning my nose up at this particular outrageous practice which is quite a bit more severe than a young girl wearing a playboy bunny t-shirt (although I turn my nose up at that practice also). I do pity her, even if she is a billionaire American citizen who loves this country and vanilla ice cream too. It’s possible to pity someone without denying their humanity and individuality.

Your face and your body are fundamental instruments of communication, crucial elements of your “voice.” Any practice that denies people access to their own voice is an evil practice in a universal, objective sense, and people who have evil habits and ideas ingrained into them when they’re too young to know any better should be pitied. My grandfather was an unapologetic racist. I pitied him for not being taught any better as a child, but I still loved him and tried to understand him as a complete, complex human being. This is understandably more difficult to do with a random stranger in the city.

I admittedly hold an extreme view when it comes this issue though as I see no problem with allowing adults to wear absolutely nothing in public if they choose to. A lot of bathing suits are practically nonexistent as it is, and the sight of a naked body (or the sight of a burqua for that matter) should never serve as a valid excuse to harass or assault someone as it does in the pathetic justification for the laws which require the wearing of burquas. All rational, sane people are capable of being taught to exercise reason and restraint by the time they reach adulthood.