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The Clichéd Notion of Community Redefined by Film Festivals

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Courtesy of Yvette Shi

As a non-native English speaker, I started to ponder the meaning of a “community” during college application season. The word was, and perhaps still is, in the mission statement of almost every university across the nation. To this day, I still see it everywhere, from a president’s speech to a local restaurant flyer.

More importantly, the definition of “community” based on a physical location is now outdated, as suggested by Megan Garber at The Atlantic.

With technological development and globalization knitting the world increasingly closer, at least temporally and spatially, community has become a choice, a process of self-identifying in all possible realms. In short, we get to decide which communities we see ourselves as a part of.

This past summer, my long-term confusion caused by the somewhat over-used notion of “community” has been partly resolved in Middlebury, a small town with a population of 8,496 in Western Vermont.

The fact that it is where I go to college almost decided that my only relationship with the town was limited to its handful of restaurants and supermarkets, until I discovered what lied beyond that through writing for the local bi-weekly newspaper.

In one short month, I found myself at different news-worthy events trying my best to remain objective to note down everything I saw and heard. Yet, the jotting on my notebook failed to capture my constant realizations of what a so-called “local community” looked like, and with that, a sense of amazement.

Only a small number of students at my college knows about the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival taking place every August since 2015, but I would doubt that was the case for the local town residents.

At this year’s festival, more than 3,000 local community members showed up to screenings and other events to see the 96 films from all over the world, of which more than 40 were accompanied by an in-depth conversation with the filmmaker.

Among the filmmakers who made it to Middlebury was Thomas Bena, maker of “One Big Home,” a documentary feature about emerging giant houses and zoning policies on Martha’s Vineyard.

The small island of Martha’s Vineyard also has its own film festival, the founder of which also happens to be Bena, a marketing graduate who first made a living on the island as a carpenter.

Having never been to a film festival, Bena founded the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival in 2001. He considered himself a “believer in community festivals” and contemplated calling it that, but decided against it because it might sound too “out there”.

“We do center around films but for me, the period in between the films is as important as the films,” he said.

“It’s really important for us to connect with each other. What drives me and gets me out every morning is to play films that spark discussion, debate, and action.”

Bena’s documentary did just that. The film captures very different perspectives on the huge mansions being built on the scenic island, and Bena himself helped pass a new bylaw limiting house size in his local community.

With that, the notion of “community” began to reveal itself to me.

Despite its changing implications, which are now increasingly lending itself to “the rise of individualism as a guiding force in culture,” according to author Bill Bishop, I managed to comprehend the word in a truly multifaceted form.

A community can be based on what Garber calls “mutable circumstance” and be bounded by the physical site, while also be constructed towards a set of “shared values”.

As proven by community film festivals like the ones discussed, the “culture of extreme individualism” incubated by today’s digital-based everyday life can become a building block of a community.

A filmmaker’s work may at first seem individualistic, but the processes of both the production and the showing of the film would require a community of people – those with the same passion in filmmaking for the former and those finding themselves in the same place for the latter.

By: Yvette Shi

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Five Brilliant Quotes from Enola Holmes that Reflect and Address the Women of Today

Ayusha Mahajan

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Millie Bobbie Brown, star of Enola Holmes, smiling and looking into the camera

Netflix’s new film Enola Holmes is a feminist piece that uses certain tropes to enlighten its target audience on the potential of females. While doing so, it also features words of wisdom applicable to college students around the world.

Starring Millie Bobby Brown, this film is a new addition to the Victorian-era detective universe created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Released on September 23, 2020, it focuses on Enola Holmes, the famous Sherlock Holmes’ younger and more ambitious sixteen-year-old sister. The film’s narrative allows Enola to put her detective work to the test in pursuit of finding her missing mother.

The movie contains a multitude of themes — namely that of family, identity, independence, and feminism in the Victorian era. However, some have questioned how loyal the film’s feminist themes are to the current gender movement, and whether the film contains any nuggets of advice that may be applicable to today’s youth.

 “You’ll do very well on your own, Enola.”

Analyzing the film’s use of feminist tropes reveals a connection between the Victorian era and today. As a child, Enola is homeschooled by her mother Eudoria Holmes, who Enola narrates was “not an ordinary mother.” Enola was not taught to “string seashells or practice my embroidery,” instead, focusing on science, reading, athletics, and critical thinking.

This is an inaccurate portrayal of women in the Victorian era; in the 19th century, girls were encouraged to develop graceful artistic and housekeeping skills with the goal of supporting a husband. The film goes against this grain by depicting Enola and her mother as vibrant, vigilant women who favored independence.

All the skills taught by Eudoria come into play later as Enola encounters various obstacles in pursuit of finding her mother. Enola’s name, spelt “alone” backwards, is also a testament to the independent streak Eudoria engrained in her daughter.

The decision to display Enola as a character deserving of attention as a protagonist, however, somehow downplays the realism of the narrative. Both her brothers are portrayed as accomplished and erudite, and yet Enola takes upon the arduous task of finding their mother, despite previously never having left the safety of her home.

“The more I have spoken about feminism, the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating,” admitted Emma Watson at the UN General Assembly in 2014.

While it is excusable to shave off some realism in favor of iconizing a female protagonist, perhaps giving them more time to interact with each other would have been more pleasing instead of simply isolating her experience from theirs. This would show that the film not only aims to empower young women, but also to teach them about equality. That being said, idealist fantasies can be argued to do more good than harm in the context of this film.

Another crucial observation to be made is that Enola is part of the Holmes family, which provides her with a certain leverage. In addition to having a progressive mother, she also hails from a considerably wealthy and respectable background thanks to her famous brothers. As a result of this, she has the freedom to pursue certain schools of thought, which may not be the case for other demographics. In comparison, Enola’s jiu-jitsu teacher Edith is forced to hold her classes in a hidden dojo above a café.

“There are two paths you can take, Enola. Yours, or the path others choose for you.”

Despite being a film set in Victorian England and concerning women in the Victorian era, the female characters of influence in Enola Holmes offer nuggets of advice that can be of use to students of a variety of demographics.

One piece of advice Eudoria Holmes gives Enola concerns her autonomy in her life decisions. “There are two paths you can take, Enola. Yours or the path others choose for you,” she says early on in the film. Such advice from a woman in the 19th century is not only commendable, but also relevant to many today. Millions of adolescents are forced into social or career paths that go against their goals, interests and desires, leading to a variety of problems as they grow older.

A survey conducted by Target Jobs reported that more than half of participating students had their choice of career influenced by their parents. Additionally, almost 70 percent of the parents had attempted to influence their choice of university. Eudoria makes a firm point about exploring the nooks and crannies of control that let you steer your life in the direction you want it to.

“Paint your own picture, Enola. Don’t be thrown off-course by other people.”

While most students may agree with decisions made by their parents, some are forced down paths not compatible with their own interests or goals. “Other people” in the context of this quote can also be referring to male influences, which have the power to hinder and redirect worldly issues brought to light by women.

“My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent,” said Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

The association of phrases such as “feminine”, “ladylike” and “warm” primarily with females can be brought up here. What Eudoria Holmes considers independence and autonomy, her other son Mycroft sees as “wild” and “dangerous”.

“Perhaps she wants to change the world.”

Sherlock says this to Enola when discussing their mother’s absence, to which Enola responds, “Perhaps it’s a world that needs changing.”

From Nobel Prize laureates like Malala Yousafzai and environmental activists like Greta Thunberg, women’s roles in global issues have been a major concern of the feminist movement, even as a result of other areas of concern.

For instance, with the increasing awareness of the gender dichotomy and the pay gap between men and women, mothers like Pushka in India are paid the equivalent of less than a dollar for the production of goods sold for hundreds of dollars.

A report for the UN Development Program pointed out that while the number of women being paid for work has increased, the work is limited to the informal sector. This does not take into account the hours put into domestic work, in addition to addressing personal issues and goals.                                   

Minor victories have made their way into the narrative, however. In Europe, women were able to achieve paid maternity leave; while in America, some ambitious women have been able to independently make their way up the financial ladder. Awareness of the polarizing effects of gender dichotomy is also being made more aware through the advent of social media.

“There’ll come a time when you have to make a hard choice. And in that moment, you’ll discover what mettle you truly have — and what you’re prepared to risk for what matters.”

Eudoria Holmes’ words of wisdom to her daughter contain several grains of truth. The beauty of this wisdom, however, is that it can be applied anywhere — to one’s social life, career paths, on self-improvement, and even in relationships. Every college student is faced with difficult decisions that have the power to make a lasting impact on their lives.

More often than not, however, most students are unaware of the potential within them in tackling their desired life paths. It is also important to remember that one is allowed to feel sad when making the right decision.

A feeling of cognitive dissonance is not unusual to someone choosing to tread down the path less taken. Just as Enola was confident that her desire to see her mother would guide her towards her, so should you be aware of the rewards waiting to be reaped with that first step.

Netflix’s Enola Holmes uses feminist tropes that draw clear parallels to today’s struggles. Its illustration of the rebellious women in the Victorian era is vibrant with facts and emotion that strikes an audience of today’s generation. Despite being set in the 19th century, the film offers valuable advice on self-autonomy and the power of making one’s own decisions.

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Diversity Triumphs as Muslim Woman Suits Up in Latest Marvel Video Game

Ian Wentzlaff

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Kamala Khan bursts onto the screens in Marvel’s latest installment, “Marvel’s Avengers,” as the teen superhero, Ms. Marvel. Her inclusion into the ranks of Marvel’s premier superhero group marks a new chapter in the history of diversity as a Muslim woman headlines a AAA video game.

The meeting of Marvel with successful video game developers, Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics, brought forth lofty expectations for the new game. The development team behind Marvel’s Avengers sought to create a deep, story-driven experience about the titular team without retreading familiar ground from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As a result, they came to a stunning conclusion: a woman named Kamala Khan. 

Ms. Marvel is a vibrant, Muslim superhero of Pakistani descent. Gifted with amazing powers of elasticity, Kamala can contort, stretch, and elongate any part of her body. This unique ability makes for an extremely flexible character. While carrying the emotional weight of the story,  Ms. Marvel’s unique, hero-like abilities make the gaming experience all the more thrilling 

Players will experience the game vicariously through Kamala. The fledgling hero journeys through peril, danger, and hijinks, as she ventures desperately to reassemble everyone’s favorite super team.

Shaun Escayg, the creative director behind “Marvel’s Avengers,” had positive remarks about the heroine’s new arrival to the gaming world, “She’s the glue, the conduit that is drawing all these characters in.” Escayg further explains that featuring Kamala’s evolution from a humble fan of superheroes to a full-time avenger was always the goal of the company.

The decision to allow a Muslim woman to carry a blockbuster game was certainly an uncommon one. The Avengers brand practically guaranteed this game would sell well, so the decision to potentially jeopardize that in order to buck the trend of traditional superhero stories is truly astonishing.

Audiences have grown accustomed to seeing one predominant demographic represented in the superhero genre. What do Iron Man, Hulk, and Thor have in common with their rivals, Superman and Batman? They are all white men. Women and people of color are rarely given the chance to shine in the spotlight of a massive franchise. The Avengers brand decided that it was just about time to break that mold.

One of the reasons to celebrate the release of the project is that it took huge risks. The creators gambled on a relatively unknown character and rewarded audiences with a story that has never been told before.

Players can experience a well-known, action-packed story while simultaneously getting a fresh new perspective on the successful superhero format. Featuring a Muslim woman as the lead, playable character truly exemplifies how the game champions diversity.

Debuting as a comic book character in 2014 before earning her own solo title the following year, Ms. Marvel is indeed no stranger to being the star of a franchise. The series, “Ms. Marvel,” received critical acclaim upon its release, with many citing Kamala’s personal struggles as a Muslim woman fighting to fit into a world dominated by white men as the highlight of the book.

Similar to her role in the groundbreaking comic series, Ms. Marvel embraces her heritage in the new game, modeling her crime-fighting outfit after a traditional Muslim swimming outfit called a burkini.

Zoomed in on an Xbox controller, featuring the green A button, red B, yellow Y, and blue X.
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G. Willow Wilson, the writer behind Kamala’s comic series dissects how the young character upends her readers’ anticipations. “Everybody’s expecting Ms. Marvel,” referring to the blonde woman that previously used that moniker. “A real superhero. With perfect hair and big boots. Not Kamala from Jersey City.” 

Hopefully, this won’t be seen simply as a check in the so-called diversity requirement box for a massive video game publisher—but rather, indicative of superhero stories growing more inclusive. There is a larger audience for superheroes than ever before. With that larger audience comes an appetite for a wider array of stories and characters. 

Marvel, after noticing Kamala Kahn’s rising popularity and increased profitability, recently greenlit a live-action television series starring the Pakistani teen. The creative heads behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe also hinted at the strong possibility of a future film featuring Kamala is on the horizon. 

Marvel certainly seems poised to diversify its costumed heroes on screen. Upcoming projects for the company include a Spider-Man game featuring Miles Morales in lieu of Peter Parker, a female version of Thor starring in an upcoming movie, and of course, the big plans for Ms. Marvel as well.

The game, “Marvel’s Avengers” has been met with mostly positive reviews. While critics can look forward to a steady stream of content headed to the game to patch its flaws, the character-driven story content anchored by Kamala Kahn garnered near-universal praise and requires no such fixing.

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My Catch 22: To Wax or Not to Wax?

Aanandi Murlidharan

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A girl with brown hair, brown eyes, dark tank top and pink lipstick, thoughtful.
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I am a hypocrite. I call myself a feminist by saying that women should be able to do whatever they want with their bodies. I say that women should not have to conform to the beauty standards of society.

They should be free to wear what they want to, when they want to, and how they want to. Yet, the sight of body hair on a woman makes me gag. For nine years, I have been bleaching my mustache, plucking my eyebrows, shaving my underarms, and waxing my legs and arms. 

If there is so much as a patch of hair on my body, I will wear full pants even in the hot, humid summers of New Jersey. If I get waxed, I feel obligated to wear skirts, dresses, short sleeves, and shorts to show off my smooth skin.

On the day that my armpits are shaved, I will raise my hand tall and high. On the day that tiny hairs begin to crow from my underarms, I will make sure to either wear full sleeves or not raise my hand at all. Each time, I tear up as the hot wax touches my skin or the bleach burns my face, it’s an example of my Catch-22. 

If I wax, I feel guilty about succumbing to the internalized misogyny that created these beauty standards. If I don’t wax, I feel unclean and self-conscious of my body hair. Either way I am in a state of discomfort.

But why do I take it? Why have I been trying to be completely hairless for the past nine years? Why do I bear the horrific pain of getting my hair ripped out from my hair follicle? Why do I bear the burden of my Catch-22? To be quite honest, I don’t know. Perhaps, it is because I am a South Asian woman. South Asian women are a group of people who are naturally hairy, but have conditioned generations of South Asian women to get rid of all the hair on their body.

During my trips to India, I am shocked by the sheer number of hair removal products. There are ten different kinds of bleach, five different types of wax, and three different types of laser hair removal treatments. Each product claims to remove hair in the most efficient way possible. Waxing and threading services are a staple in a beauty parlor and are as prevalent as gas stations in Route 1. 

Growing up, I was surrounded by South Asian women who were obsessed with body hair removal. I grew up in Edison, New Jersey, a town that is known as “brown town.” Even comedian, Hassan Minhaj said that “they [Cal Tech] basically dump Fremont, California and Edison, New Jersey into one school and said go hang out with your cousins.”

My friends and I would exchange numbers of the best waxers in town or lend each other epilators on the days where the salons were closed. We cried over being teased for our “fuzzy” bodies and wispy mustaches.

Even in the United States, the best waxing and threading parlors are run by South Asian women. However, the main reason I feel this way might be because for a large amount of my life I have been okay with the idea of conforming to standards placed on me.

My conformity exists not only with the beauty standards enforced on me, but also with my relationship with my parents.

In my first-year college writing seminar, my professor gave us an example of one of his students, who wrote a heartwarming essay about how parents shaped him into the person he is today. While reading his essay, my professor came across the word “infulcated.”

My professor said he asked this student why he chose this word. Did he mean inculcated, which, according to Merriam Webster, means to instill an attitude, idea, or habit by persistent instruction?

Or was there an underlying meaning to the “fu”? Then the student had an epiphany. He realized that the “fu” did have an underlying meaning. The “fu” was, in fact, a message to his parents. “F**k them for shoving their values down my throat, and not giving me the opportunity to think for myself.”

My professor then mentioned that while this student loved his childhood, he realized that his parents’ values took over his entire identity and way of thinking.  This led the student to make a complete 180-degree shift in his personality and way of life. Suddenly, all that his parents ever said or would say to him seemed like a “load of bullsh*t,” making him want to do everything in his power to defy their authority over him. 

When I heard this story, I honestly thought this student was dead wrong. While I do agree that we should think for ourselves, I also believe that our parents are the backbone of our existence and shape us to be the people we are today. Perhaps, it is because I am not only an overtly filial person, but because of my South Asian culture that respects our elders.

We touch the feet of our elders when we greet them. We receive their blessings before important events such as taking an exam or going off to college. We even live in joint households, where our parents reside as the matriarch and patriarch. There are definitely certain ideas and issues I have that do not match up with my parents.

My opinions on gender roles and sexuality do not always line up with my parents. However, I value their general advice and their life experiences. If push comes to shove, I am willing to swallow my pride and accept certain situations regardless of whether they are physically present in my life or not.

Once again, I am okay with conforming with societal standards and expectations. In this case, the expectation is filial piety. 

Coming to Bryn Mawr, there were more societal standards placed upon me. Bryn Mawr College probably one of the most liberal colleges in the country. A family friend of mine from Swarthmore College described it as a place “where all the girls are liberal hippies.”

Being a women’s college, many women feel like it is a safe space to showcase the autonomy they have over their bodies. As a result, I’ve seen many women on campus flaunting their underarms with full bushels of armpit hair, their legs with long prickly, unshaven hair, and their upper lips with dark wispy mustaches. To them, their body hair gives them a sense of autonomy, and a way to own their femininity. 

Body hair is not the only instance of how Bryn Mawr students showcase their autonomy. During a club meeting, one of my fellow first years and I were having a conversation about college life and our overall experience in Bryn Mawr.

Out of the blue, she mentioned that she got a tattoo on her leg. She lifted her pant leg to show the outline of a pretty pink flower on her leg. “My mom completely freaked out when she saw this, but what’s she gonna do? I’m eighteen years old and living in college by myself.”

At first, I thought to myself: Wow I am such a hypocrite.  These women are trying to break the hold society has over them. They are trying to break the mold of conformity, something I have always wanted to do. But then why do I feel uncomfortable? Why does it feel like wrong? Am I a conformist?

Then I realized something. Everyone, including my professor’s student, the girl from my club, Bryn Mawr students, and me, is conforming. Everyone is trapped by conformity regardless of race, cultural background, age, sexuality, gender identity, religion, or socioeconomic background.

Almost everyone at Bryn Mawr or just college, in general, is trying to become the opposite of what they were in high school. They try and challenge the social norms that were placed them growing up in by getting a tattoo, a navel piercing, not shaving, or drinking their weight in vodka, but people seem just as trapped in the social norms of culture as I am.

They say that they are free of society’s rigid chains. But are they really? Freedom is the ability to choose who you want to be. But are the people around me genuinely free if they are all conforming to the idea of not conforming? 

As I was going over my first draft of this paper with my professor, he mentioned that a rebel is, to some extent, defined by what they rebel against. My professor’s student, who felt as if he was completely defined by his parents’ values by rebelling against them in the hope of finding his own identity, in fact, did the opposite. His identity was still defined by his parents. Perhaps, in a different way but still defined by them. 

I always felt I was the one conforming to society, and everyone else was being their own individual self. But in reality Bryn Mawr’s beauty standard of “au natural” and my South Asian culture’s need to have smooth skin or the rebelling against my parents both force people to conform to some kind of societal standard even if they claim to be liberating themselves from the constraints of the majority’s rules.

While it may seem like we are trying to rebel from societal norms such as our parent’s influence or the stigma of body hair, we are, in fact, letting it trap us even further. Because we are letting the very thing that we are trying so hard not to let control us and our life. 

But how do we escape this trap of conformity? This trap of being defined by the very thing we are trying to run away from?

To be quite honest, I do not know. At this moment in my life, conformity also feels like a Catch-22. If we follow societal standards, expectations, and norms, we succumb to conformity. But if we decide to go against those societal norms by rebelling, we are also conforming to the concept of rebellion and being defined by the very thing we are trying to rebel against.

Just like Yossarian in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 unsuccessfully tries to escape from war, we too end up stuck in the same situation we fought so hard to escape. So does freedom exist? Can we ever have the freedom to do what we want and go against the societal expectations and social norms placed upon us? Ask me in four years. Maybe I’ll have an answer by then. 

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