Last night I analysed The Grizzlies (2018) at the theatre. It is an entertaining, powerful and sometimes heartbreaking drama set in Nunavut and based on a true story about Inuit youth and their teacher. It scores fairly well for women’s presence and voice, likely because it was directed by a woman (Miranda de Pencier) and co-written by a woman (Moira Walley-Beckett). Some of the things it has to offer female viewers are significant and rare in film so they are worth mentioning. For instance, it includes a woman in a position of power (Tantoo Cardinal plays a school principal), a smart girl (Emerald MacDonald), affection between females, respect for the opinion of an elderly woman and praise for girls (MacDonald’s teacher tells her she does excellent work and says, “You’re the smartest kid in the school”). There are other uncommon inclusions, such as assertive females (MacDonald and Cardinal). Furthermore, its exclusions are just as important as its inclusions (e.g. absence of sexualization of females and derogatory names in reference to females).
One of The Grizzlies' greatest strengths is the consideration shown for female viewers. Here violence against women and girls (VAWG) is not ignored or taken lightly and it is not gratuitous. When a teenage boy hits a girl (off-screen) she receives support from her teacher, and the boy is shown feeling deep remorse. When a man assaults his wife he is taken away by police officers. The filmmakers’ approach to VAWG, as well as suicide, is considerate, not graphic or gratuitous. Viewers do not need to be shown the girl’s boyfriend hitting her to know what happened. A skilled filmmaker can suggest an assault without showing it. Unfortunately, many filmmakers either lack the skills to do this or they do not mind seeing females harmed. Either way, they rarely film such scenes in a way that makes them less uncomfortable for female viewers.
The Grizzlies' filmmakers also explore the issue of the harm VAWG causes communities (e.g. through the teacher’s reaction, the son’s helplessness and pain and the boyfriend’s remorse and sadness). This is a film that should be shown in high schools because it is one of the very rare films that deals effectively with suicide, domestic violence and relationships between Natives and non-Natives. A hopeful movie in an era desperate for hope.
© 2019 Alline Cormier
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