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  • Writer's pictureLauren

The APAHM Project Day 13: Polite Society

Film: Polite Society

Directed By: Nida Mazoor

Release: 2023

Where to Watch: Prime

Wanna Skip? Pick a Movie from APAHM Project 2023, 2022, 2021, 2020

Why It Made The List:

Nida Mazoor makes her directorial feature debut with "Polite Society" which premiered at Sundance in 2023. With "Polite Society", Mazoor won a BIFA for Debut Screenwriting. Mazoor, who grew up inspired by Jackie Chan movies, decided to combine comedy with martial arts with a dash of Tarantino, All About Eve, and Jane Austen to create this one-of-a-kind, genre-defying film.

My Thoughts:

When choosing the line up for this year's APAHM Project, I had no idea I had chosen two Mazoor titles. I had watched both "We Are Lady Parts" and "Polite Society" before finalizing the project and liked both titles very much. Tonally, there are similarities, but Both projects are so unique in their own ways that I never made a connection. And I think that is a great testament to Mazoor's style. While WALP was inspired by Mazoor's love for music, of which she describes as her first passion, "Polite Society" is Mazoor's ode to action and martial art films.

Mazoor pursued an education in politics and intended to become a human rights lawyer. However, due to her love for movies, she convinced her family to allow her to pursue a career as a filmmaker. Similarly, Ria of "Polite Society" wants to be a stunt woman. Her parents do not approve of this career choice and her teacher encourages her to pick a more stable career, such as being a doctor (to which Ria exclaims, "do I look like a doctor?"). Her older sister, Lena, is an art-school drop out who is going through a rough patch of depression (at one point she eats a whole Chinese roasted duck on the street like a turkey leg). Ria has been writing to her hero Eunice Huthart, a professional stunt woman, but hasn't heard back. She also posts videos of her stunt work on YouTube, which Lena begrudgingly helps her film. Lena is constantly encouraging her to get back up and that she will eventually nail the move. In turn, Ria encourages Lena to continue in her artistic endeavors.

However, Lena and Ria's family gets invited to a Eid soiree hosted by Raheela, a woman in their mother's social circle. Upon entry, the guests experience a flash of light. Many of the women attempt to win the attention of Raheela's bachelor son, Salim, a geneticist. While exploring, Ria finds a slew of photos of beautiful, young women, including Lena. To Ria's dismay, Lena is flirting with Salim at the party. They eventually date and get engaged, but not before Lena throws away her art, a symbol that she is leaving her passions behind.

In a sequence of comedic scenes. Ria and her friends, Clara and Alba, try to find dirt on Salim. They find nothing, but Ria breaks into his house to plant fake evidence to smear him. She is caught and Lena is furious, telling her that she is not an artist and that Ria is not a stunt woman. Ria gives up on becoming a stunt woman, even emailing Huthart that she doesn't need to bother replying. Later on, it is revealed that Ria pushed Lena to be an artist because if Lena can't reach her dreams, how will Ria reach her dream of being a stunt woman. When Ria goes to Raheela to apologize, she uncovers a secret lab and discovers that the flash of light at the soiree was a body scan to see which woman had the ideal uterus to be a host. And Lena is the winner.

Ria, Alba, and Clara attempt to kidnap Lena on her wedding day, but Raheela fights Ria. Raheela reveals that she will finally have a chance to be the woman she's always wanted to be -- by planting a clone of herself in Lena's womb to be born again. Once this is revealed to the wedding guests, a Scooby-Doo level chase ensues to capture Lena and Ria. Ria finally lands her reverse spin kick to defeat Raheela, while Lena beats up on Salim for performing non-consensual tests on her. The two sisters escape, make up, celebrate, and film the reverse spin kick for YouTube.

OKAYYY if I haven't lost you with that bizarre summary, let's break it down. I think it's safe to say we haven't seen a movie quite like this. The entire film has themes of sisterhood, passions, and feminism. As Clara enthusiastically proclaims "down with the patriarchy!" But this movie is not a direct attack on the patriarchy, nor does it throw around man hate, but rather emphasizes the unfortunate role women have played for so long.

Ria wants to be a stunt woman, a career that is predominately male. Some of the women-led action films hat first come to my mind are ones like Charlie's Angels and Angelina Jolene's Tomb Raider. They are hyper-sexualized and wearing skin-tight clothes. While those films may star women, their target audience is still the male gaze. Another note is that Ria's hero is Huthart. Her hero could have easily been a woman of color, such as Michelle Yeoh or Jackie Chan (one of Mazoor's favorites). I think this is important to note for two reasons. One is that you do not often see Brown women in action movies. And two, it shows that you don't have to have POC heroes just because your are a person of color yourself. We can feel represented in many ways, not just race. People of all backgrounds have the ability to inspire others.

When Ria tries to reason with her parents about Lena's marriage, her Dad says not to think of it as an arranged marriage. Instead, think of it as Lena asking her father to do the work to find someone for her so that Lena doesn't have to go through the emotional hardship of sorting through non-contenders. The entire thing sounds so transactional. In an interview with Vulture, Mazoor says some studios wanted the film to be centered around white people (big shock) or around a forced marriage. Mazoor quotes "they wanted more trauma in it as though Muslim women must endure trauma to have a story to tell." Raheela tells Ria that girls today have it so easy. When she finished school, her parents sent her off to be married. This is why Raheela wants to be reborn, so she can have a life that was taken from her. She never got to be her own person or even use her degree possibly. She went straight from student to wife to mother.

"Polite Society" also touches on the idea that women exist purely to procreate. Women have, and will forever be, synonymous with motherhood. In royal families, a queen is nothing if she is not able to bear a child. Women are so often asked "when will you have children" while men get more interesting questions at family reunions. People are shocked when women say they don't ever want to have children, as if their worth comes from being a mother. Women, unlike men, are constantly reminded of their age and their ticking uterine clocks. Lawmakers often talk about women as if we are not humans. We are, as Raheela says, merely vessels. Carriers, a body. Thank goodness Ria comes to save Lena from this family of lab experimenting psychos.

Lastly, the theme of sisters is persistent. Lena and Ria dance around, sing, and film videos together. Even when Lena is depressed and sad, she still helps Ria film. They constantly cheer each other on. When they have their big fight, it is a metaphor to how only a sister can hit you where you hurt most. Mazoor says in the Vulture interview "That sister fight was so cathartic to shoot, so I wanted my sister there. She watched it, and we were crying together." Only Ria, who knows Lena so well, notices changes such as Lena wearing cardigans.

And of course, a shout out to Alba for using menstrual cycles to make men uncomfortable and get her way. Even a man who is packing heat can't stand the thought of a period.

In Conclusion:

When I first watched "Polite Society" I thought this movie was so weird in a good way. I had no idea how to describe it. I thought the fight scenes were so extreme for an otherwise normal film (until I got to the bit about the secret lab). But in a world where there are few Brown and/or Muslim superheroes, you have to make your own. Mazoor saw a gap and filled it. It took her 10 years, but she filled it. When asked about filming techniques, she explains she uses a full range because people who look like her deserve the same techniques used in big-budget, white, male led projects. She channels the fact that white, hetero, male filmmakers have a good time making their projects and she should too. And "Polite Society" is SO fun. It's funny, quirky, action-packed.

I'll end this post with this quote from Salim. While on his date with Lena, he says there is often a pressure to do a "thing". A thing that defines us. While Mazoor is a fantastic filmmaker and screenwriter, her profession does not define her. And her being Muslim is not her entire identity either. She says that people "ask what you are doing to give back. And I do believe in mentorship, but are you asking Quentin Tarantino what he’s doing to give back? Who’s he mentoring?" And just because Mazoor is a Muslim filmmaker, she's right. She is not asking to be a role model. Her simply existing and doing what she loves is role model enough. Mazoor has proven she is more. She is someone who loves Jackie Chan movies and music and guitar. She's a sister, an artist. And through "Polite Society" and "We Are Lady Parts," we are seeing that Muslim women are more than the stereotypes society has created over the years.

Shout Out!

Today I would like to give a shout out to Ladki Power by Brown Girl Magazine. Brown Girl Magazine helps uplift South Asian voices and reports on South Asian-related news, from pop culture to health and lifestyle (think of it as a Desi Buzzfeed). They create apparel, totes, stickers, etc. to show off your Girl Power while also rocking your Desi pride. Be sure to check them out for some chic and minimalist designs.

If You Liked This, You Might Also Like:

We Are Lady Parts on Peacock

Ms. Marvel on Disney +

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