Earlier this year, cult Canadian filmmaker Bruce LaBruce welcomed us back into one of his wonderfully weird worlds: A feminist terrorist cell located in Ger(wo)many, plotting to take down the patriarchy with nothing else but lesbian porn as propaganda – or, in short, the storyline of his latest feature length “The Misandrists”. Debuting at the 67th Berlinale in Berlin in February, “The Misandrists” once again depicts topics of queerness and sexuality, the newest addition to LaBruce’s famed and acclaimed legacy of advocating the “New Queer Cinema” movement in the 90s, introducing cinema to topics it often consciously chose and still chooses to overlook.
Equally on the forefront of both the film and the continuance of this strive for liberation is actress and model Kita Updike. Starring in “The Misandrists” as Isolde, Kita plays one of the students living in said terrorist cell, which functions under the name “Female Liberation Army” (FLA), hidden in a cloister in the woods. It is not until Isolde and fellow feminist-warrior-in-the-making Hilde find a wounded soldier in the forest that they are first confronted with a man, even deciding to hide him in the basement of the cloister, and thereby dropping him right into LaBruce’s female focused adventure.
With the lack of visibility for all kinds of characters in cinema still alarmingly high, we took it to Kita to ask her all about her own perceptions of both the film and fashion industries as a transgender actress right now – and of course about working with Bruce LaBruce, who also revisited his own path in an interview for INDIE’s current Obsession issue.
Reading the plot to “The Misandrists” one can’t help but be quite amused. When first going though the script, what stood out to you?
They were very upfront with the fact that I would be appearing nude in the film before I accepted the role. It wasn’t until I read the entire script that I learned exactly what would be happening in those particular scenes. I had never done a sex scene, let alone on film, but I was very pleased with who I felt Isolde was in script. I think I really knew that I was happy with my choice to do the film once I personally spoke with Bruce before I came to Germany to shoot.
How did you ultimately prepare for the role of Isolde?
Most of the preparation that took place was going over the lines with Bruce before we shot, and getting the ability to see how he felt the character should be. That of course made me more confident in being able to play the character how he saw her, along with my own personal touch. Bruce knows what he wants, but he is also very fair. I actually think we became closer after we were done shooting the film, which makes sense because we were there to work. It is difficult to cultivate a personal relationship when your mind is on finishing a feature length film in a very short amount of time.
Sounds like you were working quite closely with Bruce – how did your collaboration come about?
I saw someone mention that Bruce LaBruce, the director, was still looking for an actress to fill the role of Isolde. I figured I had nothing to lose so I sent in the info to audition, not thinking much of it. At the time I think what pushed me to do that was the fact that I had heard of Bruce being an important filmmaker, especially when it came to queer topics. I wanted to be able to look back in 50 years, and possibly be able to say that I was a small part of his legacy.
An integral part of that legacy is to also continuously tackle the underrepresentation of queer, feminist, and sex related topics. Despite its funny elements, “The Misandrists” also makes us quite aware of how prominent a lot of inequality still is.
In the last year we have seen beautiful and exciting demonstrations for women’s rights all over the world. I believe many of the social issues that we face can be traced back to sexism. A woman’s right to do what she wants with her body, a woman’s ability to earn an equal wage or have an equal or better position than a man in the workplace, the centuries old thought process that homosexuality makes a man less masculine, or that someone who was born male could “choose” to live as a woman should be treated as a 3rd class citizen are just some of the issues that fit this description. Race relations have continued to be mediocre at best around the world, especially in US where it has been less than stellar. It has become abundantly clear racism and sexism has just been festering below the surface, but now it seems that people feel safe to express these ideas again with this new presidency. The good news is that films like “The Misandrists”, take an in your face approach to challenging these issues with a sense of entitlement that has been practiced by many of our male counterparts for centuries.
How can a film convert these established ways of thinking?
I wholeheartedly believe this film is a step in the right direction. The great part about film, much like theater, is that you can transport people into different realities that give them another perspective. We had a specific scene in the film that could be taken as violence towards a male, similar to the disgusting violence that you see made towards women and girls around the world. In some of the screenings there were men who actually walked out of the cinema during this scene. This is the feeling that women have felt for years, and in this film we are transported to an alternate world where women are in the same place where men are today socially. It is through film and theater we can show people a different angle to realize how absurd and unjust something happening in the world may be.
Are there enough conversations around these topics in film right now?
I think there are many filmmakers in the world that are creating meaningful works that deal with topics that are important to improving the wellbeing of society. The issue is that the vast majority of these films are not seen by the general public, so it becomes difficult to reap benefits of the lessons they might be teaching. Films that are put into theaters that are frequented by the general public are made to be commercially viable. Film festivals, and cinemas that are dedicated to showing independent works are amazing, but at the end of the day we just have to continue to find ways of showing these projects. Programs like netflix and amazon seem to be a step in the correct direction as they are buying and producing some of these films, which puts on a platform that reaches a wider audience.
Still, it often feels like these topics are nonetheless seen as taboos by a big part of the industry.
There are definitely people who are unfortunately against homosexuality, sexist towards women, and in favour of strict gender rules. For them, these topics would be taboo, because they either challenge their personal beliefs, or they may be struggling with such issues as their own sexuality or gender identity, which causes them to lash out towards others who are openly themselves.
In fashion on the contrary, diversity has become one of the biggest buzzwords in recent time. How do you perceive this development?
Well… I have worked in the fashion industry for several years in NYC before doing this film, so I have strong opinions about the fashion industry in general. What I will say is that as a Black and Native American woman I would like to see more women of colour represented in the fashion industry, regardless of what the current trend is. I feel that this is sometimes rooted in racism, but I also understand that the current market for luxury clothing tends to be people who are not of colour. This is because at least in places like the United States there is a large racial discrepancy between those who can afford these items. If I am speaking directly towards trans or non binary models in fashion, I think that we have been moving towards using them because it reflects the conversations going on in the world. As long as this continues to be a topic at the forefront, it will continue to be reflected, in fashion and other artistic disciplines.
How would you like to see this reflection evolve?
If I have to pick something that I would personally like to see, it would be fair representation by marginalized groups in society. In many disciplines they grab one or two people to represent the entire community, and they get used for every project in that artistic discipline. They don’t continue to look for new talent or stories, which again leads back to making many projects commercially viable. Entertainment and fashion is a big name game. It’s who you know and how much klout you have to get your name on the marquee.
Header Image via Kita Updike’s Instagram