‘Point of view’ in cinematic storytelling is at the crux of the entire issue of equality and sexism in film. Its influence on popular culture – and, in turn, society as a whole – is routinely underestimated. The fact is that the majority of the narratives we watch on our screens are told from the point of view of white men – making their experience the ‘norm,’ and everything else marginal. This creates a skewed cultural perspective, and leads to a situation that reinforces a pervasive sense of entitlement – if your perspective were the only one regularly represented in the media, you would unconsciously assume it was the most important, too. This is why The Keeping Room is a vital film.
In reality, the perspective of white men is, of course, no more important than any other perspective – particularly considering that that point of view is actually in the minority in global terms. However, since it is the white male that has consistently dominated the filmmaking industry since its inception, this is the picture we are bombarded with. It is to be celebrated, therefore, when a voice other than the dominant one is finally heard, and the voice behind The Keeping Room absolutely demands attention.
It is the first screenplay from Julia Hart, and it was included in the 2012 Black List. With Daniel Barber (The Tonto Woman, Harry Brown) at the helm, the film premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, and collected a number of Best Film nominations as it made its way around the rest of the festival circuit. It stars Brit Marling (Babylon, Another Earth), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit, Begin Again), Muna Otaru (Swingtown, Whitechapel), Sam Worthington (Avatar, Cake) and Kyle Soller (Bad Education), and sets out to tell a genre story from a perspective other than that which has created the cultural status quo.
“In this radically reimagined American Western, set towards the end of the Civil War, Southerner Augusta (Brit Marling) encounters two renegade, drunken soldiers (Sam Worthington and Kyle Soller), who are on a mission of pillage and violence. After escaping an attempted assault, Augusta races back to the isolated farmhouse that she shares with her sister Louise (Hailee Steinfeld) and their female slave Mad (Muna Otaru). When the pair of soldiers track Augusta down, intent on exacting revenge, the trio of women are forced to take up arms to fend off their assailants, finding ways to resourcefully defend their home – and themselves – as the escalating attacks become more unpredictable and relentless.”
The Keeping Room has been praised by some as a ‘feminist western,’ and this trailer certainly supports that characterization. This is a film that not only places women at the centre of the kind of story that is traditionally focused on men, but it gets deep inside their experience – creating a narrative that truly moves the audience. The reason this story resonates so effectively is that, like all successful stories, it is entirely relatable – despite the historical setting. While it remains true to the female experience of the Civil War era, it reminds us on many levels that society has made very little progress in terms of the female lived experience.
Yes, women in many countries can now vote, work, defend their country, and even make movies on occasion – but the emotional experience of every woman in this film – as seen in the trailer – relates all too closely to the emotional experience of women now. The Keeping Room’s Augusta makes the mistake of walking into a room while female – which is not so different from today’s standard experience of random harassment in public places. The idea of defending oneself against male aggression and dominance is as common today as it has been throughout history – and continues to correlate to all aspects of life, including the fight to have the female experience portrayed onscreen. This is the success of The Keeping Room, and it can be seen on limited release from September 25th 2015.
Source: The Film Stage