PRINT December 1995

Lawrence Chua


One of the strongest pictures I saw this year was EL CALLEJÓN DE LOS MILAGROS (Midaq Alley), by Mexican director Jorge Fons, at the Toronto Film Festival. This nearly two-and-a-half-hour-long opus situates Naguib Mahfouz’s ’40s Cairo street life in a seething alley in contemporary downtown Mexico City. While it has all the trappings of a meaty soap opera, El callejón is more than a dewy-eyed telenovella. Fons deftly interweaves his characters’ lives, using conflicting perspectives to underscore the dialectical tensions between individual and collective memory. El callejón has everything most American films this year lacked: real drama, not just spectacle; passion, not just cheap thrills; and a rigorous intellect organically meshed with populist flavor. But most important, El callejón glows. Instead of the familiar disdain for and exoticization of the poor regularly served up on the screen, Fons delivers an empathetic love for his working-class characters.


Following the lead of Pulp Fiction, there was a barrage of indie flicks that looked dope and transgressive but ultimately trade on the same reactionary values, tired ideas, and lame moves as the most backward Hollywood product. But these horrors paled in the face of Disney’s POCAHONTAS. The real Pocahontas was kidnapped and died four years after being made into a sex slave by European colonizers in America, but the celluloid version is pure fantasy. Leave it to Disney to give us genocide in glorious, mind-numbing song and dance and unimaginative, soft-core animation. Reinscribing the primacy of the pink phallus, Pocahontas is essentially the narrative of civilization: conquest is progress and therefore inevitable; traditional cultures inhibit individual development; love of blond men is higher than love of black community. But what’s most disturbing about Pocahontas is its pedagogical tone and its youthful target audience. The movie is not infused, like so many other American-made products, with the fallacious notion that racism is over; in Pocahontas racism never existed.

Lawrence Chua is a writer living in New York.