Hanging out in New York City after putting in approximately six hours into the day job goes a little something like this for me: catch the afternoon cinema show of Suffragette at Times Square; text conversations with friend who is still at her day job to coordinate meeting spot for seeing theatre show, Allegiance, a few hours later; and, find familiar spot to wait it out.
I’m becoming convinced that nothing is a fluke and I happened to see the movie Suffragette and the Broadway musical Allegiance on the same day and so I’m going to tie my thoughts and experiences of the two different mediums and shows together now. I won’t be able to separate my experience of them completely since I saw them on the same day and the mind works like that – linking images and thoughts together finding patterns or stark contrasts as it goes along.
Chronologically my experience started with a female-led cast of Suffragette recounting the path of women receiving the right to vote in the United Kingdom. The film was extremely well cast and it was very moving – being a woman myself and knowing that I was watching an account of historical figures who actually did fight for me to be able to exercise the right to vote, to hold property, to demand equal pay etc. It really says something that, for stories about women, it is very difficult to separate female relationships with their friends/family/coworkers/employers, and the motivations and actions that changed history. It might suggest that depicting women’s ability to carry their relationships has a lot to do with their capacity to infiltrate daily motivations and actions with what they fight for. It demonstrates that how women are forced to fight for their needs is an ability that proves much more difficult if society prescribes an unequal dynamic and voice in the home, the workplace and in political arenas.
As for the history of how women suffragettes fought for equal rights – the movie reiterates that it was a fight that escalated into violence and self-sacrifice that is quite frightening (consequences of asking for an equal place in society resulted in police beatings, jail time, hunger strikes, loss of friends lives, breakdown of families etc.). These consequences were often inflicted on extremely over-worked human beings too. Meanwhile, it’s difficult to imagine what the world would look like if this level of conflict and scrutiny of the law had not occurred. The history puts into perspective that the past legislative discrimination still lingers on systemically and the leveling out of equal rights for men and women, and human beings in general, is necessary to pay attention to today! Prescribing equal rights in print requires an ongoing effort to infiltrate the effect of past discrimination into the every day lives of people. In effect it seems there is actually less violence and discrimination in the home, the workplace and in political arenas. (I’m all for that – less violence in all its forms – world peace yeah).
The film does indicate how women born or married into more privilege or class (Ramola Garai’s character) had a different level of safety and protection in fighting for equal rights than say… the protagonist ‘laundress’ (Carey Mulligan) of very low class and education. The only other craving for me in this film (being of mixed Algonquin, Scottish, Irish, Welsh ancestry) was to see some color – the experience of women of color who would have experienced a double discrimination of sorts (not being able to be ‘human’ due to being a woman and a non-Caucasian person). It could have been interesting to juxtapose that discrimination with the experiences of suffragettes who were Caucasian. Mind you – I saw myself and people I know in all of these characters in Suffragette regardless of their race or class – and that I appreciated and applauded the filmmaker and cast for. I’ve also recently studied a character, Joyce – a low-status laundress, in Carol Churchill’s Top Girls for a scene study class in the summer – so I couldn’t help heavily empathize with Carey Mulligan’s character learning to participate in society despite the severe limitations on her ability to do so.
Hmmmmmm…. so I went from that movie to watching the experience of Japanese-Americans that were incarcerated and placed in concentration camps on American soil during World War II. At my lovely day job… I’d actually greeted the famed George Takei in New York… which had caused me to Google him (LOL) and find out about this musical Allegiance in which he mainly plays, Ojiichan, a grandfather. I’m SO GLAD I DID!
The inspiration and guiding light of this production was “Gaman”, a Japanese word that captures a principle of “endurance and dignity”. In fights for equal rights it seems many people have returned to this principle in order to stay strong through the vulnerability that accompanies a lower, unequal status in society. The Japanese experience of discrimination is also inextricably linked to the ability to carry their families with them. Having just seen Suffragette I started to see Caucasian women have this quality as well – it’s just not called “Gaman” all the time. The “Gaman” thread in Allegiance was intricately and invisibly woven by Takei’s character… the eldest/ grandfather to his children and grandchildren leaving an essence of strength and humor hand-in-hand wherever he went. In the musical he actually gardens and places chimes on the doorstep and these simple daily activities of fertilizing the ground and listening to the sound of chimes are symbolic of his effect on his family and his lingering presence. The embodiment of “Gaman” was in this old man, soon to become an ‘ancestor’, and had lightly folded his way into his family’s minds and on the very ground they’ll walk long past the horrible experiences of the concentration camps. I know people like Ojiichan, some of my ancestors – and my Vietnamese godfather in particular – was like him too, and I won’t forget Takei’s performance and ‘guiding light’. I truly believe that kindness can live on despite all odds.
And hey – if I didn’t work my lovely day job I mightn’t have fluked out and ‘Googled’ him and been struck by this performance. I also might not have had the extra motivation to jet out of the day job to watch some female actresses I admire pave the way for really great female characters in cinema. So I’m now more convinced that nothing is a fluke.
(here’s to kindness… and world peace…)