"The Piano" is the story of a mute woman who is sold (at least twice) and eventually sacrifices her expression (via the piano) for the roles of wife and mother (and speaking person).
Okay. It's a visually stunning film. I usually like to watch movies with backgrounded thoughts of how I would have shot this differently, how I would have made that sequence move more quickly, how I would have used this kind of light-- especially when I'm seeing something for the second time. But "The Piano" didn't make me think about any of that. Instead I was focused on the question of whether or not this is a feminist text.
I'm still slightly torn.
As we discussed in class, intentionality is a big part of applying this label. Hypothetically, if I create something and call it feminist, who's to say that it isn't, right? What strikes me most is that our class seemed to agree that Ada was raped by both Baines and Stewart, was sold by both her father and Stewart, and was only freed (and given a chance to use her "real" speaking voice) through her relationship with the rapist, Baines. As bell hooks says, she does indeed employ some feminist "tropes," especially with the theme of Ada "finding her voice." But Ada doesn't find her voice on her own because it is all controlled by the men in her life. If Jane Campion had intended to create an overtly feminist story, I would have been slightly more disturbed.
In all this, there seems to be a problem involving the name game. There's a lot of power in naming, and with a loaded word like "feminist" this can mean a lot of things. I am totally into self-identifying. When someone assumes an identity on me that I don't choose for myself, I let them know. But with a film that chance to self-identify is totally lost once The Times et al. have reviewed it and stamped out the labels. After that happens it hardly matters what the author has to say because there is definite value in the meaning derived from consuming a piece of art.
I just worry that calling "The Piano" feminist is really no more societally healthy than calling "Tomb Raider" feminist...