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Fish People
[ Issue 160 Page 10 ] Thursday, March 29, 2018, 14:50:37 Jae Hwan Jeong Head of Society Division jeong7331@kaist.ac.kr

The stature of cinematic worlds is strongly built on the consensus pick of the audience. Don’t mind the directors’ deliberations — they just splay the options for us to pick and pop. They are like poker dealers except they can carefully choose what they wish to present to us and we are at our liberty to filter through the choices and add them to our equally well-founded opinions. And at the end of the day, the view that we choose to voice out will be the one we think will gather the most rational approval.

In the recent Oscars, the Best Picture winner piece The Shape of Water tells the story of a mute janitor in her silent pursuit of embracing her profound love. There is a clear emphasis on the idea of eccentricity, as having a gay best friend and an African-American co-worker for partners in crime to fight the menace brought by a straight white man is no usual scenario. In the wake of the social turmoil on intersectionality along with the well-persisting #MeToo movement, the film is definitely not a fortunate misplacement in time and place. The contextual frame laced with the classical cinematic references are valued as a fairly safe selection, but it does closely mingle with ideas vis-a-vis political inclusion. Did the movie wish to invoke such interpretations? The director Guillermo del Toro did say on the red carpet that the film is about “empathy for the other”. But as mentioned earlier, the social ties are made upon the audiences’ choices and psychological prevalences suggest that we will double-down on our consolidated views the more hybrid perspectives try to seep into the general consensus.

Progress with the social minorities, unlike feminism, has yet to reach its third wave of reformations. The equal contracts are there, but the debate hasn’t been broadened out as much as it should. The micropolitics of gender equality in the third wave of feminism has given birth to hybrid derivatives and the terms such as “ego-cultural feminists” and “ecofeminists” are occasionally handled in the media. Such varying forms of feminist outlooks are not necessarily resonated through the minority demographics of today. It may be over the top to bring in a merman to illustrate the case, but The Shape of Water somewhat depicts the limitations of how the word diversity is used. The concept is an ornament, a brooch if you will. Hence, its utility becomes more restricted and starts to wear out its true meaning. Director of Selma, Ava DuVernay, firmly argues that diversity is a “medicinal word that has no emotional resonance, [whilst] this is a really emotional issue ... It’s emotional for artists who are women and people of color to have less value placed on our worldview.” Her case is valid in that what stood for a radical and important idea is merely used as an empty buzzword. The tropes of the concept remain — like the pageant of variegated colors and the crystal arch of the Oscar’s main stage — as does the magical creature that the merman exists to be in the film. But for the idea to mature and flourish, it must come to people’s attention that the social inclusion must take place as a form of unity and not in a complementary sense, simply being used as a tool to be accredited for in someone’s speech.

It shouldn’t be passed without saying that the award winning pieces in the Oscars harbor much more than the artistic elements that bedazzle the big screens. It’s a vessel for social impetus that has the power to deliver its messages without being subjected to direct criticisms; as said before, the outcome of a film is in the eye of the beholders. Guillermo del Toro too can opt for his alibi when asked of the film’s relevance to intersectionality-related conflicts, but I’m sure he’d instead knock it off with a grin on his face. The whole procedure of inspecting and alienating the merman in the movie was all too similar to how we view diversity itself — and the closest efforts to infuse with “it” are met with inevitable barriers (physical, in the case of Eliza Esposito). What people want is the inclusion of all people to come naturally, to a point where the term “diversity” is not even necessary. This all starts with understanding this very fact. And I think filmmakers that hinge on these critical ideas are all laudable and deserving of more encouragement to better deliver their crafts in the cunning way they always have done.

Jae Hwan Jeong Head of Society Division Archives  
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