Voices of Women – Against Silence in “Alias Grace”

 

For people who study media, a production like Alias Grace has much of interest. I look forward to reading and hearing about what it discussed about how the act of speaking is constructed in amazingly complex webs of power, and the possibilities for self-representation for women who are so completely caught in these webs.

In some ways AG is the anti-Downton text, removing the justification of proper social location from the manor house to the Warden’s house. The escort from prison cell to domestic space, conducted by men enforcing the will of the state, becomes an opportunity for routine micro-assaults from the guards.  Director Mary Harron brilliantly brings us so close to Grace, but at the same time respects the character’s self-possession. As a viewer I felt apart from her, but that distance felt respectful, necessary, even admirable. Quite an accomplishment for a character imprisoned for two murders. What, after all, really is a confession?  What does it mean for a woman to take the chance of telling the truth of what happened? Would she be believed?

Among Grace’s domestic responsibilities, she has lengthy conversations with a doctor, who acts as if he is interested in her story. And much of this story is told, all while Grace works on her quilt.

But it is not just one story. We hear and see what Grace says–choosing her words carefully and tailoring them for her audience. Then there is what Grace tells us in direct address as she narrates her situation to the audience. Finally (no spoilers), there is the voice that never gets to speak, that is inside Grace but can only get out when she is shrouded–like she is speaking though a veil that is both marital and funereal. It is amazing and terrifying and liberating when this voice is freed.

It is quite special to experience a story so thoroughly deep in the woods of patriarchy. And it should not be that unusual. The disruption of traditional legacy production models has produced opportunities for storytelling in visual media since the measure of success is so different.

This program remains an exception, but we can hope that it is becoming more likely that stories demonstrating such a clear understanding of patriarchy through displaying its failures can and will be produced.

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Ralph Beliveau
Media Arts Area Head
Associate Professor, Creative Media Production
Beliveau@ou.edu @ralphbeliveau

Dr. Beliveau is on faculty for the Gaylord College and affiliate faculty in both Film and Media Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies. He co-authored Digital Literacy: A Primer on Media, Identity, and the Evolution of Technology (2016) and co-edited the forthcoming collection International Horror Film Directors: Global Fear (December 2016). He writes and teaches about media education and literacy, race, horror media, documentary, rhetorical criticism, video production, film, popular culture, music & cultural studies, and documentary theory production & history. He has written about network society, documentary rhetoric, horror media, The Wire, African American biographical documentaries, Alex Cox, Supernatural, Richard Matheson, Night Gallery, Italian film, and Paolo Freire and media literacy. He previously taught Radio/TV/Film at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and broadcast journalism, popular culture, and rhetoric while doing graduate work at the University of Iowa. Beliveau ran an FM radio station and cable television studio in Chicago and worked in Los Angeles in independent film and television production. He served as editor of the Journal of Communication Inquiry, chair of the Cultural and Critical Studies division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, and chair of the Student Documentary Competition for the Broadcast Education Association. Beliveau is part of the team of faculty who leads the British Media Tour annually and also taught Italian Popular Film and Literature in the Journey to Italy program in Arezzo. Beliveau earned his B.S. from Northwestern University and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. More can be found at http://www.ralphbeliveau.com/.

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