Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 16, 2020

A Good Woman is Hard to Find; Blood Quantum

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 6:38 pm

While commercial Hollywood films have ground to a halt during the pandemic, indie films have had a new lease on life through what they call virtual cinema, a fancy term for VOD. I get invitations to review them practically every day and prioritize films with a political message.

Since most of you are house-bound like me, you probably might be on the lookout for films with an emphasis on pure entertainment. While the two films under consideration in this article could never be described as mindless entertainment, they both fall under the rubric of pulp fiction. Both are premiere efforts by young directors and have some shortcomings that are a function of inexperience, but are also attempts that are mostly successful and lots of fun in their own crash-bang way.

“A Good Woman is Hard to Find” is set in a Northern Ireland estate, their word for England’s council housing. Like the housing projects of the USA, they are incubators of drug-dealing, the only trade that can support a family in many cases.

As the film begins, we meet Sarah (Sarah Bolger) and her two toddler children, a boy named Ben, who is mute, and his sister Lucy. Ben became mute after he watched his father get stabbed to death in the street near their home. Like many of the other men in the estate, he was a petty drug dealer and probably killed by a rival dealer. That, at least, is what the local cops believe. When Sarah stops by their headquarters to see if they have made any headway in finding the killer, they tell her that they can’t waste their time with gangland rivalries.

With her husband dead, the family barely scrapes by. When her son purloins a chocolate bar at a local supermarket, the manager shames her. Her only pleasure in life beside reading bedtime stories to her children is using a neon-pink vibrator. In one of the film’s more memorable scenes, after she discovers that the batteries are dead, she goes through her children’s toys desperately trying to find ones that aren’t.

While determined to protect her children from the jungle-like conditions beyond her front door, trouble breaks down that door into her meager sanctuary one day. A local dealer named Tito has stolen the drugs of two men higher up on the food chain and forced himself into her apartment to elude them. After surveying the situation, he decides that her place would be the perfect place to stash the drugs and even offers her a cut of the proceeds he makes reselling them on the street.

One day, as he is off on his rounds, her son Ben discovers the drugs and scatters them across the children’s bedroom floor as if they were talcum powder. When Tito stops by to collect his goods to sell on the street that day, he flies into a rage and tries to rape Sarah as punishment for her son’s childish mistake. Self-defense saved her from being raped, but the gangsters Tito ripped off are now determined to invade her apartment in search of Tito and the drugs. “A Good Woman is Hard to Find” climaxes with her transformation into a merciless avenger determined to both protect her family and get to the bottom of who killed her husband.

“A Good Woman is Hard to Find” is a blend of Ken Loach’s class-inflected themes and action-oriented movies about women taking care of business, like Jennifer Lopez’s “Enough” or Julia Roberts’s “Sleeping With the Enemy”. Directed by Abner Pastoll, a 38-year old British director born in South Africa, its main flaw was in failing to show the preparation Sarah went through as she readied herself to confront and defeat her tormentors. It was a bit too compressed and strained credulity. Other than that, it is a first-rate premiere film.

If you’ve spent anytime reading about American Indian society, you’ll know that the term “blood quantum” indicates whether you are a full-blooded native. The test was not introduced by the Indians themselves, but by the American government to determine whether an individual, band or nation was entitled to benefits.

In many ways, the test has become an arbitrary dividing line between natives defending their sovereignty and a method of exclusion. For example, Ward Churchill was viewed as having no standing as an Indian because he could not offer up evidence of his blood line. By any measure, however, he was a member of the Cherokee people and qualified to speak and act on their behalf. With so many Indian tribal officials are acting on their own behalf through graft, their blood is a poor measure of determining their identity.

It is available on Amazon for only $4.99.

“Blood Quantum”, a zombie horror film, was written and directed by Jeff Barnaby, who was born on the Mi’gmaq reservation in Canada. Everybody in the cast is an American Indian, except a character named Charlie who is the pregnant girlfriend of Joseph, the troubled son of Traylor, the chief of police on a Canadian reservation, where “Blood Quantum” was filmed. With zero Indian blood quantum, Charlie (Olivia Scriven) is resented by many people on the reservation, including by Joseph’s older brother Lysol, a nickname that captures his mean and violent temperament. He is the most extreme example of an Indian, whose legitimate grievances against whites makes him not only capable of killing her but his own brother for violating blood ties.

The film begins with Traylor’s father Gisigu gutting the salmon he caught in the lake near the reservation. To his surprise, the gutted fish continue to flop around after their presumptive death. Later that day, after Gisigu’s dog has fallen gravely ill to some unknown disease, he asks his son to stop by and put a bullet in the animal to end its suffering. Once that is done, Traylor puts the dog in his trunk to be disposed of later. When that moment arrives, the dog is just as alive as the gutted salmon and far more dangerous.

The reservation and the nearby town eventually fall prey to a zombie attack that is choreographed as if in a George Romero movie. Bitten once and you are doomed. Except for the Indians, that is. For some reason, if they have the sufficient blood quantum, they are immune to zombie bites just like someone with COVID-19 antibodies. As I said in a March 27 CounterPunch article, there are striking affinities.

Once a week, I go shopping with my wife and can’t help feeling queasy as I pick up an avocado to see if it is ripe enough. In my memory banks, this summons up scenes from a George Romero zombie flick or “The Walking Dead.” From their well-guarded base, the living make periodic forays into various towns looking for food, medicine, or other essential goods. This is the equivalent of us going to a grocery store or a pharmacy. In “The Walking Dead” (I bailed on the show after Rick died), one of his crew might open a door looking for canned goods only to discover that zombies lurked behind it. Death could come in the form of a zombie assault or an accidental exposure to a coronavirus-laded avocado. The logic of zombies and coronavirus is deadly. They both exist to replicate themselves, just as does the capitalist class.

As the immunized Indians begin to take white survivors into their makeshift fort, Lysol’s anger rises to psychopathic levels. This leads to a confrontation between him and those Indians who do not see blood quantum in exclusionary terms. In the press notes, director Jeff Barnaby describes his alienation from any such tests, whether applied to immigrants or to Indians:

Since the Trump election win I have never felt less welcome here in my life, in this time and place, hate for the other is at a premium. The bitterest paradox to being native in the 21st century is knowing that you’re going to have to embrace the culture that has tried to exterminate you in order to guarantee your own survival. Being Mi’gMaq and knowing the history of the Americas, and having to live in the aftermath of colonialism, there is a vicious hypocrisy to modern xenophobia: the immigrants that came here and murdered the original inhabitants are scared that immigrants are going to come here to murder them. In the interim, native people and new immigrants are getting murdered.

Like “A Good Woman is Hard to Find”, “Blood Quantum” has some first-time filmmaking flaws. Intent on showing the psychic damage done to American Indians, Barnaby bent the stick in one direction, making his characters either destructive toward others, such as Lysol, or self-destructive like his younger brother Joseph. In zombie movies, it is always best to have a couple of people in leading roles who you want to identify with. Otherwise, it becomes a bit of a slog. “Blood Quantum” comes close to that at times, but never crosses the line.

The film is available on the Shudder cable channel, but you can see it for free with a trial membership to Shudder through Amazon.

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