This morning a work colleague asked me how I was doing, and I replied that I was trying to focus on all the shows and films that were coming up this month, to which he replied: "it's the season of distraction."
It surely is, for since my last Links and Updates post, we've got trailers for Stranger Things, Avengers: Endgame, Game of Thrones and She-Ra, not to mention a very strange poster for Star Wars Episode IX.
Between the struggle to get back to normality and the awareness that things will never quite be the same in New Zealand, people are looking for different outlets to distract themselves, and April is certainly going to be a time for that given the final season of Game of Thrones begins, The Avengers: Endgame is out in theatres, and Netflix drops season two of She-Ra.
Don't tell anyone, but I'm looking forward to that last one the most.
Captain Marvel is to Marvel Studios what Wonder Woman was to DC back in 2017: the studio's first headlining female superhero. Whatever DC's faults, they beat Marvel to the punch when it came to pulling this off, ensuring that comparisons between Diana Prince and Carol Danvers (and their respective stories) are inevitable.
What I appreciate is that despite the fact both are warrior women, they are clearly very different people, with contrasting personalities, development, and outlooks on life. Carol is more jaded and battle-worn than Diana, and has a much more complicated relationship with her preternatural abilities. Whereas Diana has total confidence and control, Carol still has to learn the full extent of her potential.
Another interesting thing about Captain Marvel is that she's actually two characters throughout the film: the Kree soldier known as "Vers" and the human woman called Carol Danvers. The former is steely and unflappable, the latter is warm and driven - yet Brie Larson keeps the portrayal consistent, carrying across the character's sardonic sense of humour from one identity to the other, as well as visceral enjoyment of her physicality.
There are times when the character could have done with a few moments of fear and confusion - after all, losing one's memories and realizing you've been on the wrong side of a war are a pretty big deals that the story chooses to gloss over, but more than anything else, Carol embodies the power of not giving a shit.
As I mentioned in my review, the film's best scene is when she's confronted by her mentor Yon-Rogg, who challenges her to a fight while demanding she be less than she really is, insisting that it has to be on his terms if it's to be fair. She effortlessly blasts him out of her way and says: "I have nothing to prove to you."
There is so much power in not giving a damn... yet it can't be a perfect response to the real-world struggle of ignoring entitled people who demand one's time and attention. Sometimes threats are impossible to ignore, for sometimes they spill over into real physical violence - and unlike Carol, ordinary women have to do without photon blasts shooting from their fists to protect themselves.
But then that's the other purpose of stories like Captain Marvel: not only to teach us lessons, but offer us an escape from reality.
Looking at my reading/watching log for this month is a strange thing, as everything here is divided in my mind between those I experienced before March 15th and those that came afterwards. A lot of what I saw in the wake of the attacks was deliberate comfort-watch material, while stuff that spanned the entire month occasionally took on a drastically different tone within the new violent context of current events. As ever, stories provide both an escape and a mirror.
In any case, I've been trying to track down and complete many of the book series and television shows that I started in the past but never got around to finishing, which here includes a prequel by Danielle Jensen and the second season of Reign. In keeping with the theme of female royalty, I also tracked down the third season of Victoria, though much preferred the more grounded, lower-class lives of the Derry Girls and Nadia Vulvokov from Russian Doll.
Two magic-themed blockbusters managed to completely disappoint me, but there was enjoyment to be had in two books from my Treat Yo Self pile, not to mention the mixed bag that was The Dragon Prince and True Detective.
But I find that everything I consumed this month (barring Ghost Stories) was inherently hopeful in nature, from the Derry Girls dancing during the news that a bombing had taken place, to Nadia finding a meaningful connection in her chaotic life, to Rayla and Callum working together to save the baby dragon, to Ivy finding her way to a loving home and Sir Wilfrid forming a partnership with his long-suffering nurse. In dark times, these are the things you have to hold on to.
I had made plans to watch Captain Marvel in the week before March 15th, and afterwards my friend and I decided to go ahead and see it on the Sunday as we originally intended. If nothing else, it would at least feel like we were doing something normal, and temporarily take our minds off the dark pall hanging over the city.
Which it did, though the downside is that I will probably always subconsciously equate this film with the attack. However, it did make all the wank surrounding its release look even more ridiculous than it already was, so I won't dwell on it except to say Carol is clearly going to have a pivotal role to play in Endgame, and the haters are gonna be so mad about it.
Coming up to the day was a mix of trepidation and a surreal sense of repetition. My day started exactly as it did on the fifteenth of March: a two hour shift at Papanui, a two hour lunch break, and then five hours at Bishopdale.
All the morning I was thinking: "it hadn't happened yet, it hadn't happened yet" and once I was at Bishopdale I kept glancing at the clock, trying to match the times with the corresponding events of the week before.
At half-past one we all stopped to watch the live broadcast of a two minute silence and the Islamic call to prayer in Hagley Park, which was attended by thousands of people, including some of the survivors that have recently been released from hospital.
You've all heard the news by now: yesterday my city was attacked by a terrorist who targeted two mosques and murdered fifty people. This is unprecedented in New Zealand, for although there have been shootings before, never at this scale and never for explicitly political/religious/racist reasons.
Like I said on Tumblr, it feels like the end of our innocence. Whenever we saw these attacks overseas, we would inevitably tell ourselves: "that will never happen here." No more.
In a bid to process all of this, I'm going to write down the events of the day, as they happened to me.
Having seen the Broadway show, I've spent this entire month revisiting all things Aladdin. The trifecta of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin encompasses the Disney movies of my formative years and the best Disney Studios had offered since its Golden Age, definitively proving that they held the monopoly on fairy tale retellings.
Among the Disney Princess line-up, Jasmine stands out for being the only Middle-Eastern princess, though like Ariel and Belle before her, she was characterized by an innate longing for freedom and adventure outside the confines of society's expectations.
In the nineties, Disney Studios were aware of the need for more proactive and engaging heroines, and Jasmine was more vocal than her predecessors when it came to what she wanted from life. Of course, the fact that she achieves her dream through a relationship with a man is a thing, but sometimes you have to take a character (or story, or idea) in the spirit with which it's given.
With that in mind, Jasmine has always embodied freedom and self-determination, something we saw more of in the home-video sequels and animated television show, which regularly saw Aladdin and Jasmine visit far-off lands and enjoy adventures together.
Jasmine in the stage play (played by Shubshri Kandiah in Auckland) is even more outspoken, with a whole song aptly called "To Be Free" and a collection of handmaidens to bounce off - a precedence that will apparently continue in Disney's live-action adaptation coming out in May. There she'll be played by Naomi Scott with a lady-in-waiting called Dalia, and it seems inevitable that it'll explore her character further.
She's also been portrayed by Karen David in Once Upon a Time (I had checked out of the show long before then, though it's amusing how many people had pegged the actress as a perfect Jasmine when she appeared in Galavant) and of course, she featured with the rest of the Disney Princess line-up in the Wreck It Ralph sequel.
You could write a thesis on the Disney Princesses and their influence over pop-culture, with opinions ranging from "outdated and passive props who promote unrealistic beauty standards" to "feminist icons who give little girls positive role models in everything from kindness and self-possession to determination and spunk." The debate continues, and I won't add to it here.
In regards to Jasmine, I actually want to talk about agency and how it pertains to female characters. Jasmine is not a character with a huge amount of agency. She's the only princess in the line-up who isn't the protagonist of the movie she's in, existing within the plot largely as Aladdin's motivation.
Although she does make choices of her own (sneaking out of the palace grounds, accepting Aladdin's invitation for a carpet ride, distracting Jafar at a critical moment - heck, her main desire throughout the film is the freedom to make her own decisions) she's largely acted upon, caught between the opposing actions of Aladdin and Jafar (and her father).
And yet, consider the characters of Jyn Erso in Rogue One and Jane Porter in The Legend of Tarzan. Now I liked Jyn, I really did, but despite being given a huge amount of agency throughout the course of the story, she never really popped as a character. Somewhere between the performance and the writing we never really got a fix on who she was.
And then there's Jane, who is a distressed damsel for almost the entirety of the movie, yet is brimming with personality: intelligence, humour, compassion...
My point is that being a female character with little to no agency doesn't mean she's necessarily unlikable or uninteresting. In the case of Jasmine, her characterization walks a fine line between the needs of the story and the understanding that she can't just be (in her words) "a prize to be won."
It's true that her problems are solved by other people - and yet along the way we've seen her quick wits, integrity, bravery, humour, curiosity and charm. Sometimes it's enough to state your beliefs: "if I do marry, I want it to be for love," and hold fast to them, and there's never a moment in the entire film when Jasmine isn't bursting with vibrancy, conviction and passion.