Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Crushing stereotypes, by everyone

The opening night film at the Tampa Bay film festival (officially known as the Gasparilla International Film Festival) was Michael Berry’s version of his stage musical, Stuck. It brings together a high-profile cast including Amy Madigan, Giancarlo Esposito and the singer Ashanti. All of them are good, both as actors but mainly as singers in this film about a small group of people stuck in a New York subway car during one of that subway's notorious breakdowns…….The premise: throw a bunch of people made up of different races, classes, and basic human differences – the human soup you’d meet on public transit - and see what ensues. What ensues is the manifestation of a bunch of human stereotypes, based on what people think they know of strangers simply because of their appearance. What’s beautiful (and I don’t mean that in the saccharin sense) about this movie is that it addresses these issues in a fresh and even break through way. After all, almost exclusively in the popular culture, films and TV give us one point of view and one only. For example, only one race has a monopoly on racism or stereotyping. In fact, this film explains, everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity or social class, can stereotype. So, we have a Hispanic man, Ramon (Omar Chaparro) concluding that an Asian fellow passenger, Alicia (Arden Cho) is Chinese when she’s Korean. He yells out “you people” to Eve (Ashanti) because she’s black. Meanwhile, Eve concludes that Sue (Madigan) is a religious zealot spouting “white woman bullshit” when she advocates Eve, pregnant, keep her baby …. That’s in terms of exploding basic racial differences. Stuck also gives equal weight to both sides in current political debates. This is most evident in the argument over illegal immigration. It might be surprising (again breaking a stereotype) to hear a cogent argument against illegal immigrants (unfairly taking advantage of public resources) put forward by the Korean-American (Cho) …… Otherwise, the film’s singing is the best part of the movie, with songs, including by Tim Young (who also has a small role as Christopher) that lift and inspire, not only through their lyrics but because of the sheer beauty of the music. Without the songs, the movie, set in a confined space, might be tedious (and there are times one fears it will be) and subject us to didactic nostrums. But beyond the messaging, Stuck ultimately demonstrates how even a brief encounter with a stranger can be transforming.

(The Gasparilla International Film Festival, combined with the Tampa Bay Jewish Film Festival, runs March 20 – 25 in the Tampa Bay, Florida, area.)

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