Monday, 10 April 2017

Review of 'Pulse', the centrepiece of Melbourne Queer Film Festival 2017

The centrepiece of the 2017 Melbourne Queer Film Festival was a film called 'Pulse' 
and was billed by #MQFF as:
''Mixing sexuality and teen angst with an undercurrent of sci-fi, this bold fantasy follows a gay disabled teen who undergoes a mysterious procedure that gives him the body of a young able-bodied woman in order to pursue his love object. Exploring how our bodies shape who we are and how we are perceived, Pulse is a modern day parable for the young, the queer, the disabled and for anyone who has ever struggled with their sexuality, their desires, and essentially, themselves. We are excited to be screening this debut feature from writer/actor Daniel Monks & director Stevie Cruz-Martin (Marrow, MQFF2016) as the Centrepiece presentation''. My take on it as a queer disabled person myself is somewhat different. I did not find it to be a parable for my life but instead found it to be reinforcing disability stereotypes and sexism. 

I wrote the following review on my personal Facebook page that evening after returning from the #MQFF screening, and published it on my public activist page the following day. 

Daniel Monk plays the lead, a gay guy with disability (in real life and the film). The premise of the film is that he feels terrible about his disabled body and "dick that doesn't really work" and is in love with his straight best friend, so he undertakes a full body transplant to become cis-gendered, able bodied, slim, conventionally gorgeous woman in order to pursue his best friend and to escape his disabled body.

You can see the trailer here

When he told his mum he wanted to have a female body transplant his mothers reaction was to say "You're not a transvestite are you?" To which a lot of the audience members laughed. At a Queer Film Festival! As though to want to transition to a different gender is a funny thing for our queer community to still consider, and that using the wrong language for this is also hilarious. (he identifies as a guy, but just appears to think it would be easier to be female bodied because of his attraction to (straight) men. and his assumption that he cannot be sexually desirable as a person with a disability, which is underpinned by his homophobia and ableism and his desire to experience the privilege of normatively and heterosexuality.)

To say that it is ableist is an understatement, he wrote the script and he literally says "I'm not a poor helpless cripple anymore." and cries 30 minutes into the film about how much he hates his life and himself because he is disabled. As a cis-gendered woman, he goes and has a lot of drunken sex, his body as a woman is treated by him and everyone else as nothing more than a sex object throughout the film.

At one point in the film he appears to have been sexually assaulted, and yet no one in the film seeks to address this or see it as an issue, including the lead himself. He has a confrontation with his mum about him sleeping with her boyfriend in which he implies that he wouldn't be behaving the way he is if she hadn't had all these boyfriends and slept around. Talk about slut shaming! In fact the only reason why he transitions back is because he can't trust himself to not behave like a "slut" in a conventionally beautiful female able body. When his friend says "I'm not retarded" at one point, the audience also laughed, because you know, ableist language is still a joke.

I'm not saying he doesn't struggle throughout the film, he is going through shit around homophobia and ableism clearly, I'm just so bone tired of seeing this narrative perpetuated over and over again of disability as this horrible tragedy, and of course you'd want to be normal and escape it if you could.

He is shown for literally 10 minutes at the end of the film where he is back in his old body dancing, and looking at his impaired arm and joking with an (assumed queer) male companion as though he has somewhat come to terms with his own internalised ableism and homophobia, except it doesnt really explore this in any depth or detail compared to the homophobic ableist narrative for literally 90% of the film.

The deeply sad and heartbreaking thing for me as a proud queer disabled person is that this film will be lauded as provocative and ground-breaking because of the subject matter it deals with, when you know what would really be provocative and groundbreaking is to showcase a film for our queer community that dealt with disability pride, disability rights and a film that really challenged people to think differently about disability.

Stella Young said it best when she said:
''Disability does not make you exceptional but questioning what you think you know about it does.'' This film does not do that, in fact it does the exact opposite.

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