by LELE JANDON
|Lele Jandon presenting the Special Event in Expo Milano 2015|
"Feeding the Planet. Energy for Life" is the slogan of Expo Milano 2015, that is an extraordinary occasion to sensitize to the scandal of 800 million of hungry people in the world, a growing number in South-Saharian Africa.
It is also an occasion to make notice how much is important to nourish our moral imagination (Energy for Civil Society), thanks to empathetic involvement, stimulating creative compassion by means of the magic of Cinema.
That's the mission of my initiative "Il Cinema e i Diritti" ("Cinema and Rights"), the free monthly Cineforum on human rights at Casa dei Diritti of Milan's City Hall, that I am going to present inside Milan Expo 2015 in Cascina Triulza, that is the Civil Society Pavilion, today, Saturday May 16th at 4 p.m. before the workshop "Words that Nourish".
What is Civil Society?
The American social theorist and activist Jeremy Rifkin in his book "The Empathic Civilization" defines civil society as the place where we create bonds of brotherhood and where we devote ourselves to activities with others, and where we voluntarily offer our free time with joy and enthusiasm, to get as a reward just a return of intimity and sense of community that are, Rifkin says, the main nourishment of the empathetic extension. Even though it is called "tertiary sector", civil society is really, as a matter of fact, the primary sector.
I will present this two hours event here in Expo both in English and in Italian, in partnership with Agedo, the Italian Association of Parents of Gays (whose American version is the Pflag). I am honored to project this event with Rita De Santis, a woman rich of humanity, empathy, comprehension and creativity, and a master of dialogue, with whom I already worked by projecting together the Special Cineforum "Exposti" ("Exposed"), a play upon words between "Expo" (the Universal Exposition) and the importance of exposing ourselves as gays or parents and friends of gays in civil society.
As far as the food is concerned, the Cineforum that I have created includes a Buffet (bit-size pizzas and tea cakes of refined Italian confectionery), that is offered by our sponsor "Aviva" Insurance Company, that makes this first moment of tasting, conversation and acquaintance an integral part of the evening event where I play a role of connector.
Swiss philosopher Alain de Botton notices that the restaurants do not have instruments to encourage people to make acquaintance, and proposes the idea of an authentic place where you can break the ice.
He imagines a restaurant of the future, "Agape Restaurant" (from the Greek name of the brotherly love) that should have the door always open and where you can sit down with complete strangers, like in the Holy Mass. Last night, at the Cineforum, we suggested to imitate the French tradition of the "Fête des Voisins" (Neighbours' Party) that consists in eating together food made by our neighbours, once a year, in an internal court or by the street, to make acquaintance with them (I experienced that also in the US).
|The Event created by Lele Jandon|
Anyway, the authentic sense of Community is not just satisfying our need of human warmth. It means building something together, in the very sense of the Latin etymology cum-munio. To build a better society, we need Culture, and Culture needs to be nourished with good readings.
The Jewish philosopher Simone Weil (1909 - 1943) used just this metaphor of nourishment and food in "Waiting for God" (1950, posthumous):
"I read, as far as it is possible, just what I am hungry for, in the very moment I am hungry, and so I don't read: I nourish myself"
As a promoter of the initiative "Il Cinema e i Diritti" I aim, among other things, to stimulate this hunger for good books, as the beautiful novel "The Help" that has inspired one of the movies we are going to watch today (my past complete review in Italian at this link of my Blog http://lelejandon.blogspot.it/2014/11/the-help-lezione-sulla-compassione_14.html).
Collage of 3 Movies Set at Table
So, today I will present you a refined collage of the highlight scenes set at table from the following movies:
- "The Help", starring a fantastic Jessica Chastain, Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Academy Award Winner Octavia Spencer, from the homonymous bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett;
- "The Birdcage" (1996), by Academy Award Winner director Mike Nichols (Berlin 1931 - New York 2014) based on the musical "La Cage aux folles" by Jean Poiret, starring Calista Flockhart ("Ally McBeal", "Brothers and Sisters") and Academy Award Winners Dianne Wiest, Robin Williams (1951 - 2014) and Gene Hackman;
- "The Wedding Banquet" (Usa - Taiwan) by Academy Award Winner Ang Lee ("Brokeback Mountain"), Golden Bear Award Berlin 1993.
Through this collage I want to show that, as we need the nourishment of the food, so we need kind Words that Nourish: like the kind words of friendship of Celia and her husband Johnny Foote to their black maid and cook Minny ("You will have a workplace forever, if you want"), the Val's words to his two dads ("You are my real mom", he says to his dad en travesti), and the words that the Taiwanese old father says to his "son-in-law" ("Wai-Tung is my son. Then, you're my son also"). These movies are about the evolution to an inclusive conception of family: "We are family", as the song sung in "The Birdcage" says.
THE COLLAGE/1: "THE HELP"
The story (fictional but based on a real historical setting), is set between 1962 and 1963 in Jackson, in the same ebullient American State of the movie "Mississippi Burning" (starring Academy Award Winner Gene Hackman, that we will see in "The Birdcage") during racial segregation under the Crow Laws (1876 - 1965): a regime of separated toilets, schools, hospitals and restaurants, in a climate of intimidation and attacks against black people.
It's the story of black maids who, even though they raise (as a mater of fact) whites' children, instead of their mothers (too busy among garden parties, hairdressers, bridge games and charities for poor African children) including the babies' toilet training, were neither admitted to sit at their table, nor to use their toilets. In the novel it is said that they even used different dixie cups and different cutlery. Still nowadays we hear of chronicle cases of gay people discriminated, treated baldy or rejected, in some restaurants.
"The Help"/First Part:
the Friendship btw Skeeter and Aibileen,
the Nanny who repeats to "her" Baby:
"You is Kind, Smart and Important"
The first collage shows the friendship that grows between Eugenia called "Skeeter", a young newly graduated woman, aspiring writer, of integrationist ideas, and the black maids who are encouraged to tell their own stories in the top secret interviews at table.
Skeeter wants to write a book with the aim of changing things, and make develop what the Jewish philosopher Martha Nussbaum calls "narrative imagination", the capacity to put into others' shoes that makes us expand our "moral circle", namely the whole people we are interested in, an essential quality of the citizens of a sane and active liberal democracy.
The first maid that she persuades to speak is Aibileen (Viola Davis, that you have seen in the philosophical movie “The Doubt”, starring Academy Award Winner Meryl Streep) who takes care of the kindergarden baby Mae Bo, whose mother never gives her caresses. Aibileen, who is profoundly empathetic like a good mother, often repeats to Mae Bo and aks her to repeat this mantra in order to create her self-assurance:
"You is smart. You is kind. You is important."
In the novel there is also a passage where Aibileen regrets not to have told one of her children who is beaten by his dad for being gay, that it is not a sin (page 337 of my Italian edition).
Skeeter guarantees that she will change both the names of the women and of the place, so also Minny is persuaded of the goodness of this project and accepts to tell her story and then other maids tell Skeeter the various daily injustices: the lack of minimun wage, of social security, the mobbing and the bossing.
"The Help"/Second Part: the Friendship btw Celia and Minny
The second part of our collage shows the friendship between Celia (Academy Award Nominee Jessica Chastain) and Minny (Academy Award Winner Octavia Spencer that you can see in "Black and White", a movie about racial issue starring Kevin Costner).
Both Celia and Minny are excluded: Celia is the sexy newlywed without prejudices that has just arrived and is already cut off by the circle of racist housewives for marrying Johnny, the man whom diabolic Hilly would like to have married; Minny was fired, due to her own character, by Hilly who has spread the rumor that she is a thief, so nobody will take her on.
(Being isolated in her house in outskirts, Celia doesn't know of this voice, and is happy to recruit her.)
In the novel she defines Celia "ignorant" of the "boundaries". But she will change her mind.
Celia is the very first boss who makes her sit at table with her and treats her as equal.
Celia learns to cook having fun and joking together like in a game, and at the same time Minny learns equality and dignity.
One day Celia tries and rings at Hilly's door bringing a Minny's pie to break the ice, but diabolic Hilly asks all of her guests to hide.
Celia understands, and comes back home to confide to Minny who consoles her with a home-made pie.
Celia understands, and comes back home to confide to Minny who consoles her with a home-made pie.
Celia makes her a surprise: she has cooked all the night and has prepared in her honor a sumptuosly laid table with the dishes Minny has taught her. Mr Foote adds that she will always have a job at their home: she is already part of their family.
Skeeter and Celia Perfect Example
of Creative Compassion
"The Help" is both a novel and a movie about Compassion and Creativity. Both Skeeter and Celia embody the real creative compassion.
Authentic compassion, that is neither sentimentalism or commiseration nor paternalism (like the one of those who believe to determine the deadlines of others' freedoms, as reverend Martin Luther King Jr said in one of his sermons), is being able to share both the joys and grieves of our neighbour, and it is inspired by the consideration of him or her as equally human.
Creativity, oriented to brotherly compassion, is the essence of our humanity. Creativity requires the courage to fail: Celia needs time and learns by trial and error, and Skeeters knows that maybe nodoby will read or accept to publish her book. But both of them try.
Creative Compassion is that moral energy that activates our spirit of initiative to make something right not for somebody, but with somebody.
Compassion is a creative, constructive and positive action, as Martin Luther King said, according to the original meaning of the Jewish Biblical word that is often in the form of a verb of motion (as the American theologian Matthew Fox writes in his book "A Spirituality Named Compassion"), it is a personal help (the novel's title).
Skeeter wants to write a book to create compassion, to sensitize to see from the blacks' perspective, and she does this thanks to the help of the black women who give their stories; Celia wants to become a good cook and at the same time to create a bond of friendship and sisterhood with Minny, who becomes her only female friend.
Last night, at the Cineforum I interviewed a maid whose situation was reverse: Marta learnt to cook Italian dishes by the woman for whom she worked and they made friendship in the kitchen also.
Both Skeeter and Celia sit down at the same table with the black women: sitting down at the same table becomes the symbol of perfect equality.
In a passage of the novel where Skeeter notices the contradiction of Hilly's false compassion: on one side, Hilly organizes charities for the hungry African children, by collecting money with home-made pies, but on the other side she denies a honor loan or the fair wage to the African - Americans maids living in the other side of her city.
"The Wedding Banquet" by Academy Award Winner Ang Lee
|HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SIMON!|
The second movie represents another interracial affection: Simon and Wai-Tung are two happy gay men who have been living together for five years in the same duplex apartment in Manhattan. Simon is Caucasian, Wai-Tung is of Taiwanese origin. Wai-Tung's parents are eager to see him married to a woman and exert pressures on him from Taiwan.
Wai-Tung stalls them off by promising that he is intending to marry soon.
Simon suggests that he marries one of the tenants of his apartments, Wei- Wei, a penniless Chinese female painter who accepts to play this role in the farce because she needs to get a Green Card to stay in the US.
But one night they call him, letting him know that they will be coming to NY for the wedding. Simon and Wai-Tung make Wei-Wei come and live with them and remove all the evidences of their conjugal life in the house (as Armand and Albert in the next movie, "The Birdcage") and Simon had to teach her quickly to cook. The parents are bringing a sum of 30 thousands dollars, collected from their friends for the wedding party. When they arrive, they show sincere appreciation for the future "daughter-in-law". The two Taiwanese are elegant and distinguished, the old man was a former General. They only speak Chinese and they do not understand English.
When he is alone with his son, the father reveals that he entered the Army because he had rebelled against an arranged marriage. In the presence of Wei-Wei, he invites his son to encourage the artistic career of his future wife and not let her abandon her passion (on the topic of Creativity as the essence of our humanity, see my articles in Italian: http://lelejandon.blogspot.it/2015/03/il-coraggio-creativo-e-la-risposta.html, http://lelejandon.blogspot.it/2013/12/il-segreto-della-felicita-e-la.html). Since his father has just recovered from a stroke, and had a military education, Wai-Tung daren't to tell him the truth, and introduces Simon as a friend and as the owner of the house. To his parents' great regret, Wai-Tung says at table during the meal that he already scheduled the wedding at City Hall because he doesn't like ceremonies.
The wedding service is extremely brusque and informal, and his mother burst into tears for the shabbiness of the ceremony. Then Simon tries to remedy by inviting the family at dinner at the best Chinese restaurant in Manhattan. Here an old friend of the father, who owns the restaurant, recognizes him and, full of gratitude, offers him his venue for a sumptuous wedding banquet that would be worth of his stature. The lunch is extremely lively, in perfect Chinese traditional style, and includes group games in which the blindfolded bride has to guess which is her husband's kiss. The parents had fun and are very satisfied. That night at the hotel, the girl, quite inebriated, rapes Wai-Tung and gets pregnant. After that wedding night, the two newlyweds come back and live at Simon's house. The two parents feel so good that they decide to stay some weeks more. The five live as a family, they have breakfast, lunch and dinner together: the table is the central family place.
At the news that Wei-Wei is pregnant, Simon gets furious in front of everybody in the kitchen while the others are sitting at table, and says he is not able to support the stress of the farce anymore. (Also due to this typical lovers' tiff at table, the father guesses the real nature of the relationship between his son and Simon, as we will discover at the end.) The mother doesn't understand ("Wai-Tung hasn't paid the rent?" she asks in an exilarant line), her husband hushes her up and tells her to go on eating.
The father is hit by another stroke and at the hospital, Wai-Tung finds the courage to come out as gay with his mother, by appealing to her compassion:
"I have been living in the lie for twenty years. I would like to have shared many joys and sorrows with both of you"
That's the definition of compassion: being able to share both joys and sorrows of our neighbours.
One day, while they are sitting together in front of the Hudson River, Wai-Tung's father makes a surprise to Simon, by speaking to him in English in a memorable scene:
FATHER: "Happy birthday, Simon. Here you are your gift"
(and gives him a "hongbao", the red envelope
with some money given to the newly-weds)
SIMON: "So, you understand?"
FATHER: "A little. I watch, I hear, I learn. Wai-Tung is my son. Then, you're my son also.
Not Wai-Tunhg, not mother, not Wei-Wei must know. It's our secret. For the family."
SIMON: "I don't understand."
FATHER: "I don't understand too."
In the meanwhile, Wei-Wei decides to keep her child and asks Simon whether he wants to be, together with Wai-Tung, the baby's father. As the mother has become affectionate to her daughter-in-law, so the father shows to love his son-in-law.
The phrase that the mother tells her "daugter-in-law" at their first meeting at the airport ("Thanks for taking care of my son") is the same that the father, saying goodbye at the airport, says to his "son-in-law", rescuing him from embarassment when his wife freezes up at the moment of hugging him). These are Words that Nourish soul. Through these simple but unequivocal words, the son-in-law is recognized as an integral part of the family. It was just at table that the father had guessed the intimate bond between his son and Simon. The very last scene, where the father lifts his arms at the metal-detector, is a metaphor of his serene surrender in front of his son's reality.
"The Birdcage" by Academy Award Winner Mike Nichols
In the third and last film there is another gay male couple: Armand (Academy Award Winner Robin Williams) and Albert (Nathan Lane) have been together for twenty years and cohabitate a luxury flat in gay-friendly South Beach, Florida. Their place is above the night club ("The Birdcage") where Albert performs as the star of a drag revue. The movie starts with a pan from the sea to the night club and the largely gay-curious straight audience. The performers are singing "We are family" and in this manner the theme of this family comedy is announced.
Val (Dan Futterman) is Armand's only son, product of a one-night stand twenty years before. His mother having ceded custody to Armand, Val was raised by his father and Albert who has acted as a tender maternal figure for him. This issue is extremely topical because the Italian government has not deigned to recognize stepchild adoption yet (see my article http://lelejandon.blogspot.it/2014/12/le-famiglie-felici-si-rassomigliano.html).
One day the young man reveals to his father, whom he loves dearly -as indicated by their very demonstrative displays of affection (see the promotional video of the event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HW9WvZndkJw&spfreload=10)- that he is in love and with and engaged to Barbara (Calista Flockhart, protagonist of the TV series "Ally McBeal" and "Brothers and Sisters"). She is the only child of a Republican, reactionary, homophobic senator and chair of Committee for Moral Order (Academy Award Winner Gene Hackman). Knowing the family situation of her fiancé and her parents' prejudices, she tells them she has gotten engaged to the son of a diplomat who lives in Greece.
Since a sex scandal has just erupted in his moralistic party, Barbara's father insists on moving the wedding forward and organizing a meeting with the future in-laws, hoping that a beautiful marriage will distract from the sexgate scandal. They set out for South Beach, where they are shocked (but curious) to see kids skating on thongs: very different from the extremely-conservative and prudish milieu they are accustomed to.
In the meanwhile, at the gay couple's home, they prepare to pretend to be a traditional family: all the references to homosexuality and Classical Greek art are removed (just as occurs with Simon and Wai-Tung in the "The Wedding Banquet"). In their place, a huge crucifix is hung, so that the house ends up seeming more like a monastery than a normal home!
The plan is to keep the stepfather out of view and to bring in Val's biological mother who has never seen her son. Armand proceeds to invite her in Miami.
But Val's mother is very late due to traffic, and in the meantime, Albert enters disguised as a woman and wearing a wig. He introduces himself as the youth's mother. He is talkative and maintains the ruse to perfection. The farce is working, and the two guests do not have the least suspicion that "she" is a "he".
The couple also hides their real Armand's typically Jewish surname, Goldman. Instead they give their family name as Coleman knowing that this type of extreme conservatives wouldn't take kindly to Jews.
During the bizarre dinner there are tense moments, for example when the two guests notice naked Greek male figures decorating the plates: Armand saves the day with a strange soup cooked by their manservant.
from "A Modest Proposal"
by Jonathan Swift
"Mrs Coleman", in the meantime, risks phrases like "I was against gays in the Army till I found out that Alexander the Great was gay" and totally charms the senator who, on the other hand, finds Armand loathsome due to s eyes who finds hateful her husband Armand due to the fact that he keeps trying to stifle his wife.
Val tries to explain that his mother's style is a form of paradox like the irony used by the great writer Jonathan Swift (Dublin 1667 - 1745) who in his satire "A Modest Proposal" (1729) suggested that poor Irish people should fatten and sell their children as food for the rich landowners in order to save from unemployment and overpopulation (in reality, this was a cloaked denunciation of the scandalous degree of poverty of his fellow countrymen: the issue of the problem of famine hinted in the novel "The Help" returning here). The two, revealing their ignorance, don't know Swift, and the mother reacts with an horrified expression upon hearing of Swift's proposal, but the senator reassures Val:
"Don't underrate your mother, she is a very clever woman, and I am crazy about her!"
The senator is truly smitten with Mrs Coleman ("She is a real lady"): her good manners, her courtesy, even her unorthodox way of thinking, a quality that evidently he doesn't see in his lackluster wife (who, jealous of his attention to her counterpart, comments to him in private: "It seems like I have never known you!").
But eventually even she ends up having fun and letting herself go as shes sings to Armand's piano accompaniment, while the senator dances with "Mrs Coleman". And this spirit of letting go and being able to have fun is both very Jewish and very gay. And both gays and the Jews, as the American artist and activist Susan Sontag (1933 - 2004) said, are the most creative minorities of our modern cities in the very sense of word: they create sensitivity.
Even Barbara is persuaded that Albert is Val's real mother: this stepdad in drag who, in rescuing his son's dinner party, is so motherly that the girl forgets for a moment that he is not truly a woman:
BARBARA: "Sweetie, I hope your mother knows that I want to have a career after we are married" (notice: the same concern of Wai-Tung's father for his daughter-in-law in "The Wedding Banquet")
VAL: "That's not my mother, he is a drag queen!"
BARBARA (bringing her own hand to her head, and laughing): "Oh, yes, I forgot! The fact is that she really looks like a mother!"
But then another sudden turn of events: Val's biological mother rings the bell:
SENATOR: "How many mothers does Val have?"
VAL: "Only one" (and removing the wig from his father's head): "This is my mother"
VAL: "These are my parents."
VAL: "These are my parents."
ARMAND: "This is my wife"
ALBERT: "It's always me, with an only, insignificant difference..."
When they try to go out, they are in for a shock: the paparazzi are waiting outside mongering for a new scandal thanks to a tip-off by the senator's driver. The guys come to the rescue helping them to disguise themselves as drag queens and guiding them to the exit through the club. We see them exiting "The Birdcage" with their in-laws while the audience watches a performance (of the Italian gay dancer Luca Tommassini) and the photographers are completely eluded.
|FAMILY. Sean Patrick Maloney and his family|
The last scene is of the wedding, celebrated according to Jewish rite in a synagogue, where Albert's sobs can be heard as the senator and his wife have finally accepted both the mixed marriage and their unhorthodox in-laws.
The movie celebrates, through the liberating "coming out of the closet" finale, Val's attachment to his stepfather Albert.
The chemical reaction responsible for the bond between parents and children is due to the presence of oxytocin, the hormone of attachment (as I have explained in my essay: http://lelejandon.blogspot.it/2014/08/le-intuizioni-morali-innate-come-i.html).
|Nobel Prize Barack Obama receiving two gay dads and their child|
Oxytocin is produced by the female body to facilitate uterine contractions during labour, and to stimulate nipples to produce lactation, but when it takes effect it also induces a state of relaxation and renders one responsive to bonding.
Recently it has been discovered that new fathers (gay or straight) also demonstrate a hormonale change in the levels of oxytocin - thus strengthening the bonding instinct. This idea is further supported by the fact that the hormone is also produced also during enamorment. Whereas in the past there was a belief that attachment, without a natural filiation, would be incomplete, Diane Wirr of the Birmingham University has shown that the adoptive parents experience high levels of oxytocin when they meet the child for the first time, and eventually will attain the same levels as biological parents.
Curiosities about the Cast
This American remake of the Italian movie "Il Vizietto" (1978, starring Ugo Tognazzi and Michel Serrault) is profoundly enriched and the protagonists are more developed. The movie won a Prize as "Best Ensemble Performance" at the "Screen Actors Guild Awards", and at the "American Comedy Awards" Dianne Wiest (twice Academy Award winner as Best Supporting Actress) won as Best Supporting Character and Nathan Lane as Best Actor.
Robin Williams (1951 - 2014) had already starred in a drag role in the movie "Mrs Doubtfire" (1993) with Academy Award Winner Sally Field (whom you have seen starring in the TV series "Brothers and Sisters" with Calista Flockhart, who plays Barbara in "The Birdcage"). He committed suicide by hanging himself with a belt, probably due to paranoia and Lewy disease, a form of dementia (associated with Parkinson's disease) that provokes hallucinations.
The world's compassion for his tragic death shows the empathetic power of Cinema by making these artists household presences.
Calista Flockhart is Harrison Ford's wife.
Dan Futterman is Jewish also in real life and is also a screenplayer and was in the cast of the play (by Pulitzer Prize Winner Tony Kushner) "Angels in America", from which the TV movie was adapted (I have presented this film in a past Cineforum).
Both "The Wedding Banquet" and "The Bircage" represent the psychological stress of hiding a homosexual relationship (recent longitudinal studies suggest that it even shortens life): in both cases, there is a gay couple that hides and disguises under the mask of traditional family.
Nowadays, the states in the West that persist in denying gay marriage are a minority, among which Italy, where nobody among influencial politicians is pro gay adoption. In eleven years, the American states that recognized gay marriage passed from one (Massachusetts, in 2004) to 37, while in twenty years, no pro gays laws were approved in Italy.
But once, interracial marriages were banned, and the same irrational, disgustingness against mixed wedding is shown against homosexual weddings today (see my essay in Italian: http://lelejandon.blogspot.it/2014/11/the-help-lezione-sulla-compassione_14.html).
In 1967, when the movie "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (set at table also) was released, that is the story of a black man who is invited to dinner by his white fiancée at her parents' home who don't know he is colored, the American Supreme Court, through an historical, unanimous sentence (Loving v. Virginia), banned the anti-miscegenation laws. Nowadays there are many interracial couples, from Academy Award Winner Robert de Niro (with Grace Hightower), to Nobel Prize Winner Barack Obama.
Sexphobia, Homophobia, Racism, Anti Semitism
In the movies above we saw represented variuos forms of irrational and antisocial phobias:
- the fear of sensuality, embodied by sexy Celia Foote, curvaceous woman who doesn't hide her sex appeal and is isolated just like those who suffer from mobbing (very spread in Italy, as we have seen at our Cineforum "Il Cinema e i Diritti", see my article in Italian: http://www.lelejandon.blogspot.it/2015/04/linvidia-maligna-del-perverso.html);
- the fear of homosexuality (also in the novel "The Help") that has hindered racial equality recognized under Barack Obama's presidency;
- the fear of the Jews (considering the case of the Republican senator, he probably sees the Jews as Democrats) in the movie "The Bircage" (that is by a Jewish director, Mike Nichols, whose family emigrated from Germany to escape from Hitler's racial laws);
- the fear of the blacks, due to which a regime of racial segregation was estabilished in some states of the US that has hindered equality recognized under Lyndon Johnson's presidency;
- the fear of androgyny, embodied by Val's adoptive father in "The Birdcage", that prevents from recognizing appreciation for Albert's person: by wearing a mask, the protagonist is appreciated, so that the contradiction of the negative prejudice is shown;
The Contact Theory
Against these negative prejudices, the contact expands our moral circle, "the circle of sympathy", as the American philosopher Peter Singer calls it, namely the ensemble of people we are interested in. I have illustrated this psychological theory in my review of the book "Just babies. The origin of good and evil" by the American Yale psychologist Paul Bloom (http://lelejandon.blogspot.it/2014/08/le-intuizioni-morali-innate-come-i.html): the more the face-to-face contacts with people of won't haunt (as gays or blacks) are promoted, the more the majority of people tends to review their own prejudices.
That is because the chance to really know people is given. Both in life (at mixed school and at work with gay and black colleagues) and in the arts, the daily contacts are basic like mass destruction guns of prejudices that create social exclusion. That's why visibility and coming out is so important, starting from school.
As far as art is concerned, the American Tv serials that show gay or black characters, as "Brothers and Sisters" and "The Cosby Show", have been important to make these people familiar, as Paul Bloom notices in his book "Just Babies. The origins of Good and Evil" (2013) as well as the great movies like "Brokeback Mountain" (by the same director of "The Wedding Banquet", the Academy Award Winner Ang Lee) that is at the eighth place among the most seen romantuc movies of the history of cinema, as Jeremy Rifkin writes in his book "The Empathic Civilization" (Penguin 2009).
Martin Luther King Jr in his sermons (that I analyzed in my article in Italian http://lelejandon.blogspot.it/2014/11/the-help-lezione-sulla-compassione_14.html) preeched and embodied the authentic compassion as a personal sympathetic concern, by appealing to personal responsibility and to spirit of enterprise. As we can organise the neighbours' parties, so we can come out of the closet as gay in our condominium.
|REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING'S LESSON|
I would like to underline reverend King's highly topical concept of time: to those so called "moderate" who told him not to accelerate the times, that time would prive him right, he replied that "time is always right to do what is right" and invited to "use time in a creative way". The so called "civil partnerships" promised by the Italian government are nothing but a new and cinical form of paternalism (false compassion) and of juridical segregation according to the concept "separate but equal" preeched also by the racist character of Hilly in "The Help".
A recent example of creative initiative comes from Finland where a group of citizens has collected in one day 50 thousands signatures to extend marriage to everybody. The conservative Prime Minister has presented the popular initiative law to the Parliament that approved the reform (see my article in Italian http://lelejandon.blogspot.it/2014/12/le-famiglie-felici-si-rassomigliano.html).
Coretta King (1927 - 2006), Martin Luther King's widow, was also a civil rights activist who was engaged for gay marriage:
"Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood"
PAUL BLOOM, “Just Babies. The Origins of Good and Evil”, The Crown Publishing Books, 2013.
MATTHEW FOX, "A Spirituality Named Compassion. Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice", Inner Traditions International 1999 (first edition 1979)
LELE JANDON, review in Italian to Matthew Fox's book "A Spirituality Named Compassion. Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice", Inner Traditions International 1999 (first edition 1979): http://lelejandon.blogspot.it/2014/09/la-via-della-compassione-creativa.html
LELE JANDON, review in Italian to Kathryn Stockett's book and Tate Taylor's movie "The Help" http://lelejandon.blogspot.it/2014/11/the-help-lezione-sulla-compassione_14.html
LELE JANDON, review in Italian to Paul Bloom's book “Just Babies. The Origins of Good and Evil": http://lelejandon.blogspot.it/2014/08/le-intuizioni-morali-innate-come-i.html
LELE JANDON, article in Italian about gay families with the family portraits: http://lelejandon.blogspot.it/2014/12/le-famiglie-felici-si-rassomigliano.html
LELE JANDON, article in Italian about Supreme Court's historical marriage equality sentence in June 2013 http://lelejandon.blogspot.it/2013/06/la-gioia-la-speranza-le-campane-festa.html
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., "Strength to Love", Harper & Row, 1963.
MARTHA C. NUSSBAUM, Upheavals of Thought. The Intelligence of Emotions, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (Massachusetts, USA) 2001.
MARTHA C. NUSSBAUM, "Not for profit. Why Democracy Needs the Humanities", Princeton University Press 2010.
MARTHA C. NUSSBAUM, "Hiding from Humanity. Disgust, Shame and the Law", Princeton University Press 2004.
JEREMY RIFKIN, "The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis", Jeremy P. Tarcher Inc., 2010.
KATHRYN STOCKETT, "The Help", Penguin Books, 2009.
© LELE JANDON
Civil rights activist and lecturer
Civil rights activist and lecturer
He hosts "Il Cinema e i Diritti", a monthly Cineforum on human rights
at "Casa dei Diritti" of Milan's City Hall