My Nomadland…somewhere to go to.

Frances McDormand has always captivated me. From the first time I watched her in Fargo to the latest release of  Nomadland, there is a connecting quality. One doesn’t have to look too deep to uncover that Frances is adopted. I am not adopted and I can never really understand how one might be but maybe my current questioning of identity and affiliation comes close? There’s an innate feeling of rejection, anger, injustice, questions around belonging. And life is spent filling these gaps and holes trying to make sense of one’s place and worth, in my case, being mixed race in a country that’s still entrapped in binary colonial worldviews. Before moving to my current residence, my people were the target of government policy that wanted us gone- our existence, our rights, our identity, and our sense of place. And that’s why a critic’s review of Frances’ recent film is so incredibly relatable to me ‘hardscrabble lives in a society that has little room for them.’ There can be no more common ground than having first hand experience of that quote regardless of one’s ethnicity and background. It’s a unifying language the film subtly and gently portrays.

On the surface the film shows a segment of American society discarded by capitalism. In our ‘throwaway’ consumerism , these people or traded commodities are thrown away no longer needed and no longer remunerated. The lack of the latter forcing hard decisions for a hard end of life. The world cares little for them because they aren’t professionals running a well oiled capitalist machine. Their worth and value defined by their ‘lack of’- education, profession, connection, money. What strikes me as particularly poignant is that anyone at any time of their life can fall off the edge and join these vagabonds, that ‘lack of’ can happen completely out of one’s control; we can seriously find ourselves homeless.

A balanced voice may suggest that people can choose the life they ultimately have. That choice comes into play such as a battered wife in a loveless marriage chooses to stay because financially she’s better off. Or a husband chooses to continue in an affair because it makes the loveless marriage so much more bearable than to divorce and go through messy child custody issues and financial wrangling with a bitch who doesn’t deserve a penny. Some come out of it all the better. Many others though live with regret, pain and emotional scarring taking years to heal. Others have an amazing talent for self deception. 

Normadland did come out a year after my mother passed away. My travelling caravan of life, lonely, empty, the constant outsider, the itinerant resident became more so when someone permanent to me was no longer. Despite the complex feelings I had toward my mother she was still around to listen when at times I was in my own echo chamber, deplete of anyone who could understand. She got my context without explanation and perhaps shielded her fears in some hope I wouldn’t take them on, that my life would be better than hers. In many ways it is but the tragedy of her death, her joyless, unhappy marriage and suffrage have left me questioning many things in life.

This is where a nomadic lifestyle, I believe, allows you to let go. The beauty of coming to terms with one’s lot in life is the freedom of letting go and being as authentic as you can be. When there’s no one else around, how long can you keep lying to yourself? When those around have little tolerance for pretence as is the case in a Nomadic life, the road travelled could get even lonelier and I wonder is this the lesson so many need? Does it matter about your profession, the money you made, the connections you had , the lifestyle you led when you close your eyes for the last time and don’t like who you’ve become? A nomadic life must be a catalyst to that point and yet so many won’t have the happenstance to experience it and many actively choose to avoid it, a much needed life lesson.

Fargo, Three Billboards, Olive Kitteridge, and many of France’s acting roles bring me back to the intersection of tragedy and authenticity, of truth and pretence, of all life’s contradictions and how we can choose our authentic self to the end with all the pain and delights on the way. The journey of a forced nomadic life may bring this to the fore for many, travelling with ourselves and facing our weaknesses and strengths daily and our place in ourselves and the world. Nomadland may be a story of movement and itinerant residence but to me it’s  a metaphor of my life epitomised by the genuine and unapologetic Frances McDormand. 

Realised and Rewarded Aesthetics for Some Only

I write this as an aging ethnic female with passions and desires for a creative outlet that of course have not been and will never be realised. Domesticity, responsibility, societal norms, and yes limited self esteem have shaped my life to a predictable existence and an existence contained within the parameters of my gender, race and socioeconomic standing. I should not ever think my life could have ever been different when white women themselves struggle to be artistically realised as equals and those who have, usually have a short shelf life. I speak of actresses, directors, musicians, writers, in short all story telling artists here.

What has spurned this rant ? I’ve had an intense past two weeks of admiring Mr Depp and I’ve always had an admiration for those who Story-tell by film, especially those who’ve managed to play the game and still hold their creative truth (love Wes Anderson, Tim Burton, Cohen Brothers). I’ve admired them for being able to realise their talent and find their expression, knowing full well being a white male helps. In short I’m a sucker for Hollywood Marketing and the Film Industry be it in the US, UK or Australia. But I also know who gets noticed, who gets ‘picked up’ and who the Media Machine will deem which actor beautiful and talented.

Case in point here is Australia of course. Look at who gets exported to Hollywood? Chris Hemsworth, Liam Hemsworth, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Melissa George, Cate Blanchette, Bella Heathcote, Toni Collete, Rachel Griffiths. All pale of the palest white, good Australians, will only be known as Australians because Australia was always a white country and we’re not about to change our identity now are we? All those Heath Ledger Scholarships and Nicole Kidman Grants go only to their own kith and kin, unless someone cares to prove me otherwise? Haven’t seen a lot of indigenous actors in Hollywood of late, have you? For those of you looking at the facts behind this, think about representation. Anglo Australians make up 58% of the population (statistics from 2011 Census) but their representation in media and entertainment is a staggering 86%. It’s a way of manufacturing a white national identity to the exclusion of Indigenous and non-white migrants, oh wait the politically correct term for the latter is now ‘New Australians’.

Cast your minds to Janeane Garofalo vs Reese Witherspoon, Kirsten Dunst, Kate Hudson, and you get the picture of where  Hollywood’s beauty disparity runs. I am being selective here but I wonder why do average plain Blond women always trump the average plain ethnic ones? Thank you Hollywood , thank you mass media.  Drugs and alcohol anyone? Anyone?  And yes, I get it. We all want eye candy to look at, not our mothers and the local supermarket check out chick.  One actress who debunks my rant is Frances McDormand, Ms Plain Jane Blond Chick with Loads of Talent & Integrity, not afraid of aging, I love her. Frances McDormand, I have so much respect for you as a person and actress.

My recent ‘get-sucked-in-crush’ is Johnny Depp, crush version 2.0 seeing as I loved him in the 1980s, 21 Jump Street. He would have liked me back then (given Mr Depp’s penchant for younger women), as I was pre-pubescent and he well in his twenties . Flash to now,  I watched all his movies, saw all his interviews, bought books and interviews about him because in my mid life crisis, boring Sydney suburbia he provided an alternative and an escape. He was different from the rest of them. He didn’t want the teen idol-sex symbol stereotyping roles. He seemed drawn to the weird, the occult, the strange, the outsiders. He loves music, loves art, loves reading. As one blogger wrote, Johnny Depp is the ‘thinking girls’ actor (given his recent marriage and divorce, I don’t quite know if that is what Mr Depp looks for in a woman). He looked like one of ‘them’ and sided with them emitting truth, integrity and honesty. With his dark features, mixed race look, he was siding with me.  Something more to him than meets the eye and yes don’t the eyes get an amazing specimen of a man when they feast on Johnny Depp?

But coming down from my airy loft of fan-in-awe, he is after all the makings of the Hollywood film industry. Would he really be where he is a fat unattractive male? Would he be making as much money if he were an African American? Then I got thinking, he’s not that different to what we expect in Hollywood. He’s still more white than he is ethnic, he takes photos well and he is ‘marketable’. He has eyes only for whippet looking white women (naughty Mr Depp for perpetuating the anorexic ideal as attractive) and as much as he is a ‘gentlemen’ to fans, he is apt to temper , drugs, alcohol and an extremely indulgent white male life of excess, choice, riches and folly. And that’s just how we like it. After much deep thought and many fantasized moments of romantic chance encounters with Mr Depp (read Barnabas Collins) and a deep convincing that he and I would connect on no other level he’d ever experience with another human being, I reluctantly concluded, he’s really like the rest of them and he would never ever give an ethnic woman in her forties, slowly growing fat with stress and age even a moments glance. Bang! A hard hit down to reality, with only my fat butt as protection.

Johnny in his mid-fifties looking like a 1930s hobo magician/drunkard muso may now be experiencing the aging reality like the rest of us. Lucky for Depp he’s a white male, no double standard to contend with. Word of advice Johnny, you don’t need to have the latest and greatest hanging off your arm. I’m not going to comment about his recent marriage and divorce but I will dare him to be with someone who gets him and will look after him regardless of what she looks like. The paradox of the entertainment industry and ‘truth’ is that all that is superficial, light and glitzy often distracts and often doesn’t present with what it appears, much like ‘fake news’ . When you’re too cool, that might be a harder lesson to learn.

That abruptly brings me to the issue of body image and the gender ‘Double Standard’ of beauty.  The double standard of how men can age and women still need to look pre-pubescent in movies, media and the general public in order to be deemed attractive.  The awful, awful mental illness of anorexia and bulimia, if you ask me, a symptom of patriarchal desire. The desperate need to diet, exercise, botox, undertake plastic surgery and every other regime one can find to reverse the aging process. It has made some look like buffoons. Serves them right if their vain excesses have made them appear more feral than real. Why do we let these people dictate what is beautiful in the world anyway? Is it because it’s now an industry? Money is involved? How dare an industry tell us who is beautiful and who isn’t? People of the world, we should rebel!

So next time you want ‘luck’ to get you somewhere in the creative industry in a first world country, be sure to look the part first and start when you’re twelve years old and be blond. Preferably be someone who did modelling first because school was too hard. Try then to act the part. Then actually get paid well for it. The rest of us are hanging around with our hands outstretched for the charity of knowing who can have and who can’t have, who is attractive and who isn’t, working hard for the spare change to fall our way because our genes and happenstance in the world would never allow us near that privileged grail of paid creativity leading to fame and fortune. Unless of course you have no integrity, reality nor dignity….