This movie came out in 2008, but I only got around to seeing it now. And it’s absolutely heartbreaking.
Jesira (Summer Bishil) is a Lebanese-American teenager. Her white mother sends her to live with her dad after catching her boyfriend trying to shave her bikini line (“The other girls call me Chewbacca!”). The reasoning is that Jesira doesn’t know how to act modestly around men, and some time with her father might teach her that, but the possible actual reason is that her mom has a new boyfriend she wants to spend more time with. The film is set during the Gulf War– Jesira’s dad seems to be overcompensating for being Middle Eastern by out-patrioting his neighbour Mr. Vuoso, a redneck army reservist (Aaron Eckhart).
So, basically Jesira goes from bad to worse. Her period starts and her dad buys her the gross regular pads, not the ultra-thin ones. Her dad starts dating a woman and leaving her unsupervised. The Vuosos hire Jesira to babysit their bratty, racist kid. Then Mr. Vuoso rapes her. She meets a boy she likes, but then her dad forbids her from seeing him because he is black. Some nice neighbours (including the wonderful Toni Colette) notice something’s up and gives her an emergency key to her house.
Arrgh! So many layers of racism snugly fitted together with misogyny and politics. It’s a wonder that girl gets out alive, what with the sexual predation of her horrible neighbour, her father’s racism (“I didn’t make the world what it is.”) and her mother’s neglect– never mind society’s overall objectification of women, while denying women any sexual agency. I mean, for some reason it’s OK to take sexy photos of 13 year old girls (hello, Miley Cyrus!) but it’s not OK for them to learn about sex, get birth control and say how they like it? Messed up. Consent gets really complicated, that’s for sure.
And the creepy suburban facade of perfection– yeah, nothing is private that should be, and there is so much hidden that is just plain evil. It makes me so angry (again!) for the failings of the nuclear family. They aren’t safe for women. Women need tight communities to protect them, and these bungalows-as-fortresses only isolate them.
To think of how typical this situation is, in any suburb in North America. It’s really painful.