So it’s strong women you want | What to watch, March 2021

Rape reckoning and revenge aplenty; the lesbian Civil Rights activist you’ve been dying to meet; Billie Holiday’s middle finger; Jane Fonda, uncensored.

Follow list of March 2021 recommendations on Letterboxd.

☐ F.T.A.

Director: Francine Parker

Writers: Michael Alaimo, Len Chandler, Pamela Donegan, Jane Fonda, Rita Martinson, Robin Menken, Holly Near, Donald Sutherland, Dalton Trumbo, and Nancy Dowd; based on the book by Dalton Trumbo

Year: 1972

Country: United States

Runtime: 1 hour, 37 minutes

Release: Available to stream on Kino Marquee beginning March 5, 2021

Follow: @JaneFonda

Long censored and finally available to the masses, the documentary F.T.A. follows a performance troupe, Fonda among its members, as they tour the Pacific Rim during the Vietnam War to provide disenchanted soldiers with levity and shoulders to cry on.

The F.T.A. acronym stands for several things, “free the Army” and “fuck the Army” included. That grassroots dissent against the U.S. military was both so inspiring and threatening in the 1970s should be of interest in the contemporary, when the military remains our country’s richest billionaire: each year, the war machine is funded the equivalent of Elon Musk’s worth, four times.

Paired with the fragmentary discourse on whether trans people should take up arms for this country now debating whether trans kids should have access to the most basic tenets of democracy, F.T.A. paints a picture of a moment where many — from Hollywood royalty to Black Panthers — were united in their fierce condemnation of the draft, imperialist goals, and veteran neglect. It’s why this film is just as marvelously dangerous today as it was was fifty years ago. The same goes for Jane Fonda. ❤

Courtesy Kino Lorber

☐ Hysterical Girl

Courtesy The New York Times

Director: Kate Novack (The Gospel According to André)

Writer: Kate Novack

Year: 2020

Country: United States

Runtime: 13 minutes

Release: Free to watch on The New York Times Op-Docs.

Follow: @katenovack

My interest in Freud is purely filmic, as the Austrian still remains foundational to “getting” psychological thrillers. See: the inevitable advent of the term “phallic woman” to describe the moving image’s most iconic femmes fatales.

Despite experimentally approaching Dora, the analyst’s most famous patient, Hysterical Girl remains rote in its political postures. Shortlisted for an Academy Award, the short does the fashionable thing that so many documentaries and biopics helmed by white feminists are doing in this moment: condescending to their own female audience by conflating the distant past with the #MeToo contemporary.

Such creative decisions seem dangerous for the wrong reasons; they seem to afford white cis women more artifacts to overstate their own woeful disenfranchisement in lieu of their culpability in white supremacy, gender criticality, and capitalism at home and abroad.

Second wave feminism pilloried Freud, rightfully so. My question here is: Why? Why do what Fear of Flying did, to far lesser impact, and 50 years later? It’s tone-deaf on Novack’s part, as a great many young intellectuals, understanding Freud’s limitations, have cheekily reclaimed hysteria from the bowels of modern psychiatry. There’s a critical feminist conversation to be had about Freud in 2021, but it looks more like this than Hysterical Girl. Antiquated rebukes of Freud only succeed in repressing new and exciting critiques. As trans scholar Grace Lavery recently noted on Twitter:

At face value, Novack’s “actor-as-subject” style will call to mind Robert Greene’s two affecting and galvanizing feature-length documentaries: Kate plays Christine (2016) and Bisbee ’17 (2018), as well as Kitty Green’s memorable 2017 experiment, Casting JonBenet.

Courtesy Abstract Productions

☐ #Like

Directors: Sarah Pirozek

Writer: Sarah Pirozek

Year: 2019

Country: United States

Runtime: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Release: $3.99 rental on Amazon Prime Video

Follow: @Like_TheFilm

When I saw Assassination Nation at Sundance several years ago, I doubted the movie would be appreciated apart from the handful of enthusiasts who stuck around to afford the high school techno-thriller a round of applause. There was too much blood and not nearly enough character development. At the same time, I realized that Assassination Nation pushed boundaries and buttons that other filmmakers would continue to push; Sarah Pirozek is one such instigator.

Feminist vigilantism in movies is relatively old news; many of us wouldn’t be who we are today if not for Enough, Double Jeopardy, Thelma and Louise, or the myriad aughts reincarnations of Carrie. What sets films like Assassination Nation and #Like apart is their enthusiasm for embracing contemporary technologies and film noir genre conventions.

Set in “family-friendly” Woodstock, New York, #Like observes a mother and teen daughter as they grieve a child and sister who committed suicide after being sexually harassed online. As both fantasize about ditching their respective daytime responsibilities (work and school), an interesting thread of feminine codependency in grief emerges between mother and daughter; unfortunately, it goes subdued when Rosie (Sarah Rich), a typical enlightened Gen Z kid, begins to investigate her dead sister’s social media and ambitiously hones in on a potential offender. Throughout, the viewer must indulge skepticism with the “believe all survivors” platitude.

#Like requires a leap of faith from the feminine viewer for which its third act lacks safety netting. Ultimately, it’s a film that couches its initially promising ideas about sexual assault within the unsettling shell of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt.

What viewers ultimately want from rape revenge isn’t cultural commentary or even misandric gore (of which #Like has plenty); we want the enemy to fall to his knees, no matter the collateral damage.

Courtesy Brigade

☐ Lillian Smith: Breaking the Silence

Directors: Hal Jacobs and Henry Jacobs

Year: 2019

Country: United States

Runtime: 52 minutes

Release: $5 rental on Vimeo On-Demand


It’s hard to put into words what Lillian Smith, a white daughter of the Reconstruction, means to me as a Georgian, or what she might mean to other women, had they ever encountered her name in a text book.

A close correspondent of James Baldwin, Dr. Martin Luther King, Lorraine Hansberry, Carson McCullers, Pauli Murray, and a number of other Civil Rights era thinkers and doers, Smith interrogated segregation and flaunted her own integration practices at a time when white women were encouraged by white men to remain prone. With lover Paula Snelling by her side, Smith went on to write a number of abolitionist books about the state of the South, including Strange Fruit, a novel she named having never heard Holiday’s pained song.

Her legacy as a queer woman matters, especially for those of us who are concerned for our sisters of color and disparate genders, but not sure how to cut through the clutter of contemporary discourse. Smith, through holding tight to her cultural roots while resisting their unsavory fruits, offers some nice footsteps to follow. In Breaking the Silence, Smith finally begins to get her due.

Courtesy Hal Jacobs and Henry Jacobs

Rose Plays Julie

Directors: Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy

Year: 2020

Country: United States

Runtime: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Release: Premieres on video-demand, digital, and in virtual cinemas on March 19, 2021

Follow: @roseplaysjulie

This list was instigated by the large number of press releases I’d been receiving for rape revenge-type thrillers this winter. This week, I went on a tear and finally solicited a bunch of screeners for newer movies like Rose Plays Julie, a U.S. psychological thriller set in Ireland. This one in particular left me utterly enraptured. More importantly, it made me excited for the future of art that grapples with sexual assault by moving theses incidents outside of the criminal justice system and instead inserting them into the complex, messy realm of feminine impulse and vigilante justice; at #MeToo’s acolytes have learned, carceral justice cannot save us; nor can it save the moving image.

When veterinary student Rose (Ann Skelly) comes of age, she begins seeking out her birth mother, Ellen (Orla Brady): an actress. While seeking clarity on her origins and adoption, Rose also unravels the grim story of her conception: Rose, born Julie, was the product of rape. Identity-bending lacefront in hand, Rose goes undercover to meet her father. When she comes face-to-face with enduring knack for grooming and predation, Rose chooses to finish him off for good. Profession and parentage converge here in a grotesquely satisfying climax; one that’s not without Assayas’ love of actors and Sciamma’s love of Ovid.

Courtesy Film Movement/Foundry Communications

☐ Test Pattern

Director: Shatara Michelle Ford

Writer: Shatara Michelle Ford

Year: 2019

Country: United States

Runtime: 1 hour, 22 minutes

Release: Screen for ~$12 on Kino Marquee

Follow: @ShuhTarUh

As I note in several other reviews here, viewer vulnerability is a big requisite of the rape picture show; if one can allow herself to submit to art, and the art has something worth saying, the cathartic rewards are immense. Debut filmmaker Shatara Michelle Ford has designed a movie that encourages one to bring her full self and perceptions of others to it. There are no #MeToo polemics here, let alone the usual racial quips that are often used, with a heavy hand, to describe the tension of interracial relationships. Abiding by no discursive status quo, Ford shows us her characters in the moment, where there are more words unspoken than anything else. Instead, the viewer’s own experiences with institutions, race, and masculinity guide interpretation.

In Test Pattern, yuppie, amiable Renesha (Brittany S. Hall) and tattoo artist Evan (Will Brill) first encounter one another at a bar. Renesha is beautiful and sensible and Evan is eccentric and persistent; there’s no high romance in their inevitable courtship, though there is the steep hill of compounded ethnic and gender difference that appears in frame after frame. This tension only intensifies as Renesha is date raped during a girl’s night well after the couple has begun to co-habitate. Evan’s partner-advocacy and shocked fury with systemic barriers are his whitest qualities; they are destined to unnerve survivors who, like Renesha, are well-aware of how the odds are stacked against gender justice, and/or remain skeptical of carceral feminism. As the story unfolds, the cognitive wall that separates Renesha’s attacker and her lover grows dangerously thin.

Test Pattern is a quiet, beautiful, and class-conscious film that deals with the ideological conflicts and systemic barriers that often undermine romantic relationships.

Courtesy Kino Lorber

☐ The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Director: Lee Daniels

Writer: Suzan-Lori Parks

Year: 2021

Country: United States

Runtime: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Release: Free on Hulu with subscription

Follow: @USVsBillie

As I reservedly noted on Twitter during my first viewing of The United States vs. Billie Holiday, I fear that there is still too much pressure on Black biopic filmmakers to render an image that is canonically sound with American politics, the Black church, Hollywood, and other parties. This isn’t to say that The United States vs. Billie Holiday isn’t a great movie; that it is, from the songs to the hair to the costumes to the script to Andra Day’s spellbinding performance. But after peeking at Suzan-Lori Parks’ script, I realized what was missing was Lee’s willingness and/or ability to experiment beyond the occasional period lens filter.

One of the aspects of the film that especially suffers is Holiday’s queerness; this is, as far as I’m concerned, an erotically uneven film. For those interested in a more in-depth portrait of Holiday’s mannishness and endless trysts with women, a $0.99 rental of James Erskine’s 2019 documentary Billie is vital to partially understanding what has been left out, from her amusement in her own ability to turn a trick to her priceless encounters with other teen girls. I won’t nitpick Tallulah Bankhead’s depiction as this movie has so many other fish in the fryer and Natasha Lyonne nails it. However, Bankhead was the best sort of filth. To not see these two women be filthy together smacks of sexism gilded in respectability politics.

Courtesy Hulu

Follow list of March 2021 recommendations on Letterboxd.



Periodic diary-style musings on the arts, homosexual culture, & the outhouse poverty class.

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Sarah Fonseca

Periodic diary-style musings on the arts, homosexual culture, & the outhouse poverty class.