Difficult Love- LGBTQIA Film Festival

April 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

On Monday evening, I attended Purdue’s LGBTQIA Film Festival that was organized by NOGLSTP and watched a film called “Difficult Love.”  Though only about an hour long, this powerful film documents the work of South African lesbian photographer Zanele Muholi and the challenges she faces as both an artist and as a black lesbian living in South Africa.

The film opens with a group of village women (there may have been some men, too, but I can’t remember exactly) looking over several photographs from Muholi’s collection.  The images they were looking at showed women in loving embraces, laughing and smiling together, and sharing tender moments.  Some, though not all, of the photos contained nudity.  As the villagers looked at the photos and passed them around, one woman remarked in a disgusted voice that, “our image has been dented by this thing” while those around her nodded in agreement.  They believe that it is casting their community in a negative light.  This is just one example of the opposition that Muholi is up against as she tries to promote her work.  She says that she simply wants to “show beauty” through her photographs, but South African society (as a whole) is not so receptive to her ideas about beauty.  They discredit it and refuse to view it as art.  Instead they claim that it is “immoral” and “pornographic” because it dares to go against their narrow, constrictive societal norms.  Muholi does not seem to be affected by their harsh perceptions of her work.  The film shows that she is rarely without her camera and takes photos wherever she goes.  She wants to prove that there is nothing abnormal or freakish about being a black lesbian.  She stresses how much she wants to do work that is positive for black lesbians.  Various art critics interviewed during the film spoke highly of her photography and pointed to the “tenderness” and “intimacy” that she manages to capture in each shot.  One journalist/critic said that Muholi “humanizes” lesbian relationships and her photographs show that these women are not “freaks.”

The fact that their culture fosters the belief that there is something non-human about lesbian relationships practically guarantees trouble for lesbian women.  One of the most difficult things to see in the film was the story of Millicent Gaika, a woman who was severely beaten and repeatedly raped.  Her face was covered in bruises and one eye was completely swelled shut, while she could barely open the other.  She had asked a man on the street for a light for her cigarette and they spoke briefly but when she turned down his advances, he forced her into his home and kept her there from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m.  She recalled how he told her things along the lines of “I’ll show you what’s it like to be with a man” as he beat and raped her over and over again.  With that, the film discusses how many in South Africa (but also all over the world) believe that a lesbian just needs to sleep with a man to “cure her” or that she simply hasn’t found the “right” man to show her what she’s missing.  The level of intolerance in statements like these is truly disgusting.  These women should proud of who they are and not have to live in fear that they might be kidnapped and raped.

Watching the film “Difficult Love” was a truly eye-opening experience for me.  I had no idea that lesbian women in South Africa faced such hatred and mistreatment.  Zanele Muholi should be commended for the work she is accomplishing with her photography.  I recommend that everyone looks into her photographs and watches the film.

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