Short Film: Joy Joy Nails

The scene opens with a couple of girls smoking and gossiping, as they wait for a car to pick them up. One of them mentions that Sarah has moved up to be the front girl, since the previous girl was fired. Sarah says she deserves it, since she has been working there for a long time. Sarah stands on the corner smoking with her makeup all done up and dressed to fit the part of the boss, unlike the other girls who are a little more casual, but still rocking bright red lipstick. They won’t miss the ex front desk girl, since she treated them unfairly. With those first lines of dialogue, it’s implied that the rest of the girls have inferior parts to play in the nail salon. They also talk about a handsome guy who works there, the son of the nail salon owner. Sarah jokes that he likes her face. Behind them, the sullen expression of a tall girl appears wearing drab colors. “It’s fresh off the boat,” says Sarah, laughing. She talks about the new trainee in Korean, saying “she probably still gets her clothes from China.” They all ride out in a white van to the nail salon. It appears they’re heading to New Jersey, as the car passes suburban homes and mansions. The girls spend the rest of their afternoon in the salon.

In Joy Joy Nails there’s a flow of scenes depicting traffic, people walking, stores with Chinese symbols and juxtapositions familiar to Flushing, New York. The salon has a hue of pinks that overwhelms the screen. The shelves are filled with an array of nail polish colors like a field of flowers. Sarah’s pink lipstick radiates as she walks around smiling, observing the other girl, saying hello to customers, and keeping things organized and clean. Though Sarah has a cheerful personality, but she’s also childish and vindictive. The salon has a feeling of girlishness, but also an insincere, sugary and sterile environment.

Short film have always been intriguing to me, since they capture so much in a short span of time. Keeping things short and tidy, make Joy Joy Nails, which is under 20 minutes poignant and heartfelt. It also touched on important subjects: female relationships, female/male power dynamics, gender roles, new immigrants vs. older one.

The guy who the girls were swooning over in the beginning turns out to be an asshole. Though the Sarah has her eyes set on him, he starts checking out the new girl, who works in the back. Sarah notices, but doesn’t think anything of it, until she sees them going to the massage room together. The guy tells her, he is going to look for an earing a customer lost, and take Mia with him. Sarah spies on them through the security camera in the front. Sarah sees that both of them come out a while later. She automatically assumes Mia has an interest in the guy. Sarah confronts Mia later in the day after finding the earring herself in the massage room. Mia breaks out in tears and Sarah realizes that something worse has occurred to her. Of course she never really says it, but by her gestures we can tell something awful happen to Mia in the massage room. Later that night, Sarah buys Plan B, and then gives it to Mia the next day. She also gives her a deposit and a new job address some place else. Back at the nail salon, she tells the creepy guy that she fired Mia, but doesn’t fully explain why, but hints at the fact that she knows what happen, and asks him to pay for some extra materials out of his own pocket. She also plans to take the day off. He begrudgingly accepts the arrangement, but acknowledges that he has no choice, otherwise Sarah will go to his parents, and tell them what he did. The film leaves off with Sarah giving a side smile.

It was especially juvenile for Sarah to make a big deal about the guy in the first place and scream at Mia. After knowing the truth, it was clear Sarah felt shitty, so she helped Mia and gave her info for a new job, but the perpetrator was simply given a hand slap. Sarah also could not risk losing her job, by making a bigger deal out of this incident, so she decides on a convenient solution for her and the new girl. At least Mia will no longer be forced to go to work with this sick guy around. Sarah is no longer as naïve as she was before, now knowing the asshole she’s working with.

The director was able to create scenes with tension and drama. Even though some scenes are in another language, I was able to connect with them, and they weren’t overly long, so as not to bore the audience since sometime there were no subtitles. My favorite scene is still the one with all the girls waiting for the van as they are gossiping. In the next we see the main girl take on her role as the boss, by telling one of the girls not to wear her necklace. There’s also a scene where she’s intently looking at herself at a bathroom mirror, brushing her hair and getting ready for the day, as someone knocks. It cuts to the next morning, when the sun is not fully out yet, and Sarah walks to meet Sarah behind a store, so as no one will hear their conversation.

It’s infuriating how much these two women have to cover for this careless, half-brained guy. It’s clear how much power he holds as the son of the nail salon owner. He was able to prey on a vulnerable person, who’s new to the country and speaks little English. Sarah realizes her own power, even if small, she can wield some of it, after knowing this secret. But, she cannot go as far as firing him.

You can watch the film through the New Yorker channel, below:

A reading of The Handmaid’s Tale


The show has a way of absorbing you with its bareness and minimalism, becoming almost too austere and icy.

This show couldn’t have arrived at a more appropriate time, seeing as how women have much to lose from the extreme, right-wing policies of the current republicans in control of the senate, house and the fake white house. The patriarchy wants to reverse the progress on women’s health care and family planning. Not a single women was part of the republican senate group meant to write the new health care bill. Once it was out in the open, we saw why they kept it hidden for so long. There were severe cuts to programs vital to women and families, for example Medicaid and planned parenthood. I guess conservatives are pro-life, but not when its comes to women and their children.

People want to lie to themselves, and say “that couldn’t happen to us.” Often we dismiss older societies as being naive. We saw this at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale (book) when the historian discussed the tape recordings, which revealed June’s story. He laughed it off, saying Gilead was antiquated and their ideas were primitive and impossible now. That is until someone asked, “What sort political climate do you think could potentially break apart our current status and take us back in time?” The past repeats itself only with minor differences, so it’s safe to say, we should not make light of our current political state. The historian in The handmaid’s Tale goes on to respond:

In times of peace and plenty it is hard to remember the conditions that have led to authoritative regime changes in the past, and it is even harder to suppose that we ourselves would ever make such choices or allow them to be made, but when there’s a perfect storm and collapse of the established order is in the works, precipitated by environmental stresses that lead to food shortage, economic factors, such as unrest due to unemployment, a social structure that is, top-heavy with too much wealth being concentrated among too few, then scapegoats are sought and blamed, fear is rampant, and there is pressure to trade what we think of liberty, for what we think of as safety.



I’m a little mad that no one told me about this book growing up, nor was it a required reading in high school or junior high. I wonder how I would have perceived the harsh dystopian setting, the stony characters and the cruelness of how women were treated. It may have been the case that my teachers were either offended by the nature of the book, or were not allowed to teach it since the faculty might have deemed it inappropriate for teenage girls. It would have no doubt made me hate men, at least initially. There are some redemptive male characters who are not as deplorable as the males figures in power.

I began watching The Handmaid’s Tale series, blindly without having any background on the story. This caused a shock in so much as I did not want to watch another episode, even with another human present. I could only stomach one episode at a time, because by the end of episode I had shrunk and felt depressed. This was not a lighthearted show you binge watch for 3 or 4 episodes that include moments of comic relief of the likeness of OITNB.

The scenes in the show have a way of absorbing you with its bare and minimal quality. It takes place in Cambridge, Massachusetts (though it was actually filmed in Canada) where a new society called Gilead has overthrown the U.S. democratic government of the modern era and instituted a version of Christian fundamentalism or a theocracy. This could have taken place in our decade, but it’s meant to resemble 2005—a not so distant past.

Fall in New York.

“They have instituted a caste system paired with a rigid wardrobe meant to subjugate women.”

The Gilead society is structured in such a way where everyone has a designated function, which determines their social ranking, and what they wear. They have instituted a caste system paired with a rigid wardrobe meant to subjugate women. In every town a group of handmaids are in charge of breeding children that will be raised by the wives and fathered by the commander within the assigned household. The names they once had have been discarded and in its place are the chosen family names, so they are Offred or Ofwarren. In this society love doesn’t exist, so no one dates or marries a person of their choice. Most of the men have been turned into guards or angels, meant to protect the women, but in reality they are there to make sure they don’t escape.

There is no a sight of imperfection with the neighborhood’s pristine streets, homes and gardens. Everything is meant to appear clean and pure including the women. The only colors that resonate are the handmaid’s crimson dresses and cloaks, their white hats and the wives’ blue dresses, which symbolize purity. The Marthas are the cooks and they wear drab gray uniforms; they mostly keep to themselves, since they are hidden away like discarded towels in the kitchen. The men mostly wear black and the nuns wear dark green outfits, which appear heavy.

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Three dolls found in a nyc thrift store.

The handmaids cannot wear makeup. Their faces hide underneath the white hat that doesn’t let them see on the sides or above, only straight as if they were in a tunnel. The handmaids walk in pairs at the same rhythm. “She is my spy and I am her spy,” Offred (June) thinks  while walking with Ofglen.

Every word is carefully studied, as is every gesture, since the characters must be careful not to let their true feelings come out. An illegal action can mean punishment, or worse the women could be sent to the colonies where people go to die. It’s pertinent to know everyone’s motive, and to make sure they will not tell on you if you dissent.

“The series is an alternative reading of the book and works as a complement or another  layer.”

We often find closeup shots of June’s face as we hear her interior monologue. There’s a natural quality to the way the show was filmed, especially when June or other handmaids are in the shot, which is not to be compared with the harshness of the wives or nuns.

Let us be who we want to be and wear what we want.

The show is a version, adapted from Margaret Atwood’s book by the same name. As is the case when books are turned into shows or movies, many scenes are left out, dialogues or the similitude of relationships. The series is an alternative reading of the book and works as a complement or another layer.

The interior monologue of June is much more fluid and spontaneous in the book, where she takes certain freedoms  describing scenes and giving us suggestive anecdotes, often tricking into believing that she is still in her old life. There are poignant moments of irony and sarcasm that are not strongly felt in the show.

The book version also has a longer scene between Moira and June when they meet again after the red center days. Nick and June’s relationship is lackluster in the book and I’m glad I had the show’s version to illustrate their affection, since in the book it seems oddly cold. The wife also does not represent much of threat in the book version, but in the series she is much younger and has an alarmingly sadistic quality.

From the book, I remember Margaret Antwood’s words on how cool the scrabble pieces felt in June’s hand as she paired the letters. From the show, I remember, “They didn’t get everything, there was something left in her. She looked invincible,” June said after seeing another handmaid commit an act of bravery.

Blurry memory.


Ixcanul: Volcano

Ixcanul, by Jayro Bustamante.
Ixcanul, by Jayro Bustamante.

On the screen, we see the striking, beautiful face of María and her bulbous eyes under the sparks of a fireplace. The mother helps the girl get ready, by cleaning her soft face with a small rag and putting a headdress on her. The latter part cuts to the everyday scenes of the two Mayan women as they handle the chores, from cooking to taking the eggs from the chicken coop. In one scene the mother teaches the daughter how do skin a pig. She tells the daughter, “smile,” when her future husband visits the family. All the relatives laugh and cheer, boasting about married life and how María will enjoy it, yet she sits idly, wishing she were not there.

The two women take care of the shanty home, while the husband works the land, which has been invaded by snakes. The landowner who plans to marry María’s gives him poison to kill them off. The landowner appears to be much older than María, and has been married before. He seems fair but also crude and unflinching, paying his laborers on the coffee field unless they drink their money away or try to cheat when picking coffee beans, but he also doesn’t inspire honor.

Ixcanul roughly translates to “volcano” in the Mayan dialect of Kaqchikel. Though a volcano may be dormant for a long time, one day it will erupt, and you get this sensation from María, not just because of her pregnancy but because she longs to escape.

The silence dissipates throughout the film as the mother tells the daughter to watch over the pigs— and the sun and wind blow their hair against their faces, or when the mom tells the daughter to count her moons. “Did you count your moons?” she asks, when she discovers the daughter is pregnant. Underneath the moonlight they shower together, and the mother clasps the daughter’s face and pats her hair down. María has sex with one of the laborers, but her mother does not reproach her too harshly, instead gives her a few herbal concoction to get rid of the baby, because she knows the landowner won’t marry her, but when none of those work, she tells María, “The baby is meant to live.”

The first sign of modernity appears when a laborer mentions going to “Los Estados Unidos.” Also when the landowner’s red truck comes down the highway, which is not far from the village. The parents don’t have to venture out until they’re forced to take the daughter to the hospital. The contrast of the Guatemalan city, the loud traffic and the bright lights is an alarming juxtaposition to the quiet life by the volcano filled airy scenes of natural landscapes and a spiritual closeness to mother nature.

Everyone in the village speaks the Mayan dialect. It’s only when we see a census worker speaking to the family that we realize, the alien language of Spanish hovering above them. The census lady doesn’t understand their language, and so the landowner must translate, posing a future opportunity to alter the truth, since the indigenous family relies too heavily on his integrity.

What is even more troubling is no one at the hospital speaks their language even though 60 percent of the population in Guatemala is Mayan. Like in many central and south American countries with an indigenous population, children have been forced to learn Spanish and forget their native language. The consensus is to forget the old ways in order to progress. Knowing these facts, made it more significant for the director Jayro Bustamante to use the Kaqchikel dialect. It provides a direct link to another way of life. The words provide a color, a feeling that we can’t get with another language.

There’s also a sense of female strength throughout the film despite the circumstances. “It’s your daughter,” the father tells the mother after he finds out María is pregnant, as if to say it’s your problem, and you must solve it on your own. The daughter doesn’t have the final decision on whether she wants to marry the landowner. There are few signs of control over her sexuality and body: when she chases the handsome laborer, or when she decides to look for her baby. She begins to discover her own sexuality and her power as a women in an otherwise male-dominated world. This story is told by many girls who are married off too young and forced to take on responsibilities that don’t belong in a child or adolescent’s life.

Bad Feminist


This is how I feel on some days.

There’s no better time to talk about Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay. It’s a sound way to combat the idiocy. Once again we find ourselves in the whirlpool of misogynistic language. Just last week, not only did the Republicans try to defund Planned Parenthood, but also forced a 5-hour hearing on a well known organization that provides medical services especially in low-income areas. The hearing was filled with inaccuracies, ignorant remarks towards women and fake graphs that don’t prove anything—except that republicans want to control women’s bodies.

Republicans have gone as far as shutting down the government to meet their goal of defunding PP with the argument that they have increased abortion services. It’s become the go-to talking point for the circus party. But people are already seeing the cracks in their argument. Abortions is not the only service PP provides. Out of 10 million services yearly, 4.4 million are related to STD, 3.5 million for birth-control, a 1 million for pregnancy tests, and so on. Abortions only make up about 3 percent of PP’s work. Even so federal funds don’t pay for abortions directly, and other services are paid through a Medicaid reimbursement after services have been given, not before.

Bad Feminist resurfaced many thoughts I’ve had over the years, watching the bullshit on cable news and what we hear from our elected officials. Gay presents emphatic arguments on gender, sexuality, race, and what it means to be a feminist. Bad Feminist gets at the core of being a women or simply a human asking for respect and acknowledgment of our worth.

Most of the writing I’ve read on these topics are usually academic or journalistic—not to say they’re not enriching, but it often lacks a contemporary style. Gay is opinionated but also uses factual information, and personal anecdotes, making the tone wiry and funny. It points to the hypocritical nature of society, and the barriers left to overcome, not just in the U.S., but around the world.

There’s a lot of confusion out there about what it means to be a feminist, and how it’s portrayed as a man-hating, militant ideology. Put simply: women want to be treated like human beings—not second-rate citizens. There was an anti-feminist trend going around twitter sometime ago, where females praised themselves for not needing feminism. Some chose not to be called a feminist for fear of alienating men. There’s a misconception that feminists hate men and want nothing to do with them. Recently Meryl Streep said, she doesn’t consider herself a feminist but instead a humanist; she likes an “easy balance.” Why should we care anyway? She’s clearly part of the tone-deaf side of Hollywood. Streep’s not-a-feminist baggage, and the “I rather be a rebel than a slave,” T-shirt for the movie Suffragette are giving me a bad taste. This is what happens when you try to dilute a historical complexity into a silly shirt for marketing points.

Let’s get things straight—Feminism, similar to other movements have many factions, in the realm of moderate and extreme. As a women it’s counter intuitive not to be a feminist. The reason why you can vote, own property, control your finances, get an education and employment—is because feminists paved the way. Men did not have to fight for equality it was given to them. We needed the women’s movement to find equality under the law. Even though it wasn’t perfect since initially the women’s movements did not include black and minorities. Also it’s counter-intuitive for us to ask for equality when we don’t believe men should be equal too. For the time being no one is making life difficult for men in a similar way.

Gay doesn’t pretend she has all the answer. Her vulnerability as well as her intellect are out for everyone to see. She’s funny and smart, and acknowledges there’s no sense in prescribing to essential feminism, which has rules on how to be a proper feminist, as she suggests in the Back To Me essays. It sounds absolutist to even suggest there are strict rules. Just as there is no standard for the ideal women. We’re told women are supposed to be chaste, submissive, have a family, a husband and kids; those that don’t follow this pattern, have clearly fallen from grace. They are not proper women.

Gay comments on female friendships in Girls, Girls, Girls, and the misconception that they are essentially combative and fraught with jealously. If a good friend is envious over your well-deserved success then possibly she’s not happy with her own life. It would be wise to reflect, and not bring negative energy to the relationship.

Sometimes our crushes are seriously misdirected at people who clearly don’t deserve it. We fall into the trap, the glazed feeling for a guy who’s our version of “prince charming.” It’s not rare to be smitten by the wrong guy, and fall head over heals. We’re often distracted by his looks, career or some vain quality, and we overlook behavioral flaws that offend us. As Gay points out in The trouble with prince charming and he who trespassed against us, even when we know we’re being treated like shit we continue to hurt ourselves and make excuses for the sake of keeping a relationship. And yet we call ourselves feminists. How did we let this happen? It’s a learning curve like anything else, and there’s no reason to believe all is lost simply because you chose dignity over a guy who has no meaningful purpose in your life, other than being eye candy.

We need more writers like Roxane Gay voicing their concerns and their experiences in strong and powerful language. What we need is a variety of voices; diverse, and real. There’s no such thing as a perfect feminist. There’s no perfect human, but we keep learning and fighting to be respected. Bad Feminist asks the reader to get involved by not letting the media corner us and define women based on preconceived notions.