Not rated, but the movie talks about the sexual exploitation of women and how women are killed in the pursuit of truth. There's nothing visual on screen that would be offensive by any means, but it is also difficult to deal with this exploitation knowing that this is a documentary. Not rated.
DIRECTORS: Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas
Originally, Writing with Fire wasn't supposed to come out before the Academy Awards. Then, I found out that I could rent it about 30 hours before the awards were presented. I was all jazzed until I had the epiphany, "What am I going to write about when it comes to this?" Honestly, Writing with Fire spells out so much for me that I don't feel like I'm contributing to the conversation. There's probably going to be an even greater sense of stream of consciousness when I write this because, if I think for more than a second, I'm going to run out of things to say. For what I publish, I apologize in advance. I am clearly on the outside of this narrative and that makes it difficult to write about.
I'm going to talk about religious extremism first because that was the part that I found most fascinating. This is clearly about the caste system and women in a society that has made it more than acceptable to degrade women and treat them like the lowest of the low. I do have to talk about that and I'll try to. But I do find the tie to religious extremism to be the most fascinating thing, because this is something that bugs me about the world that directly affects me. I don't deny that that I gain a larger sense of sympathy when I see pain around me. I'm not alone in that. But I also feel like I can expound on this concept because I'm not simply regurgitating someone else's ideas. I'm thinking about this stuff all the time. And there is a tie there. It's not like I'm making a wild leap there. I'm not the first guy to point out the inherent sexism in a lot of zealotry. But I am intrigued by the relationship between conservatism and zealotry, even in countries that seem fundamentally different in America.
While this is a story about women trying to garner the attention of a patriarchal society, the through line of the story follows the women tackling the rise of a political party founded around a specific sect of religion. Now, I know very little of the Hindu / Muslim divide outside of stuff that I hear on the news. I wish I could say that I've done a deep dive into this stuff, but I haven't. I am loosely literate at best. But in my head, Christianity hits this place of paradox. Christianity, in its teaching, is about caring for one's neighbors and the dismantling of classes, yet the religious right often worships at the feet of aggressive Capitalism. With the rise of Indian theocracy, it's haunting to see the parallels between America, which is supposed to have its act together, and political leaders who brandish swords for interviews. Every time that the are people covered in orange in this doc, there seems to be ties to violence as a means to keep the lower classes in line. From a Western perspective, the idea of castes somehow seems barbaric, but I can't help but notice the rhetoric paralleling racist and sexist policies in the United States. Honestly, even thought that this was a story about gender and caste, the horrors of what happens both domestically and internationally is what I wanted to talk about.
I feel like I can't critique this movie properly without coming across like a monster. So much of my life is taken for granted. If I studied and wanted to become a journalist, the way has been paved for me. Between being an American, white, and male, there are so many opportunities for me to be taken seriously, regardless of the quality of my journalism...unfortunately. After all, all this blog is good for is the constant editorializing about things that I have no right to talk about, so I'm most of the way there. It's not like journalism is easy, by any stretch of the imagination. But that is the element that one should go into this documentary with. Journalism is hard and it seems nearly impossible for a group of women who are scorned to get their voices out there. The amazing thing that I got from this documentary is that it really is possible to do the impossible. These are women who have had very little training in technology and are using phones that aren't even in their primary language to report on issues that a patriarchal society has deemed unworthy of attention. On top of that, people watch this and react to their reporting. That's super cool.
But from a documentary standpoint, I feel like I'm doing a lot of the heavy lifting. I'm not quite sure what is missing from the doc to sell the notion that there's a mountain being moved here. That's kind of the burden of documentary; you can only show what is really happening. Hollywood movies make journalism look sexy and dangerous. There's a score and the are conversations where people get really dramatic. Writing with Fire, I have to be reminded, is the real world. While there are all of these stakes, a lot of this is people sitting around talking to people who don't want to talk to them. There's no third act event drop that recontextualizes the doc to add drama. Their news office isn't burnt down. No one is killed that we know. (A famous female journalist is killed, reminding the subjects of the film of their heroic work.) All we really see are the soup-to-nuts form of journalism. On top of that, this is the journalism that we get on YouTube. Now, I totally get that it might be the only kind of reporting that women in their caste can make and get out there. But I don't really want to see a documentary about something similar to The Young Turks or Damage Report.
I love those videos, but I also can never really send them to anyone. There's an implicit bias that gets that kind of journalism dismissed. I understand that the future of journalism is stuff that can be found on YouTube and for the subjects of the documentary, it is probably the life blood of their industry. But I couldn't shake the notion that this was someone's YouTube channel. The fact that there's a "like" and "subscribe" option for a source of news screamed that it wasn't news. My stupid logical brain wouldn't shut off and realize that the actual broadcast news was part of the problem. The very notion of their existence is an attack on mainstream media. But I wish there was a direct attack on mainstream journalism. While the movie is about guerrilla journalism, it seems to fall in the background of this story because the movie is more about The Bad News Bears tell stories than an examination with the problems with state sponsored journalism.
I wanted to like it, guys. I really did. There's so much here that is up my alley. But I also found myself kind of bored with this, with the exception of the religious climate that was boiling over. And that's what I should be taking from this movie. These journalists got me excited and worked up about the rise of a theocracy in a country that I'll probably never visit. I now know something about a country that I needed to know, but it hasn't changed my opinion about the documentary itself. It isn't a great doc. It's just...interesting. I got what I needed from the first fifteen minutes, which may be more of a commentary on me than it is about the quality of the documentary itself.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.