Ride or Die

Ride or Die ★★★★½

[Disclaimer 1: I’m amab queer nb. Make of that what you will.]

[Disclaimer 2: I read the original manga that this film is based off of, Gunjō by Ching Nakamura. It felt like a good idea to do so to help inform my thoughts. I won’t link it here, but it is very easy to find and read online, should you wish. I recommend it, it’s very good.]

[Disclaimer 3: Please do not take any of my thoughts as me imposing my opinion on others or telling people how they should feel. I mostly want to open a conversation on the parts of queer experience, and especially queer poc experience, that aren’t easy to talk about but have merit being reflected in film.]

[Disclaimer Final: Please, please read the reviews of Christie, Lily M, and Lizzy as well, as they put into words some of my thoughts far better than I could.]


With that all out of the way, I feel like we should talk about actually talking about queer experience. To be honest, I don't really feel represented in the vast majority of queer films I watch. Many tend to be from a very Western, very American perspective. Many tend to be from the perspective of privileged, wealthy individuals. Many tend to broach potentially-risque topics, only to then pull back for fear of actually saying something concrete. And this is honestly fine, it really is. I know that while I may not see myself in these films, many others do and get something meaningful out of them. I'm genuinely happy for the existence of these films, and I do not think these should stop being made.

And that's why it's upsetting to see that films which highlight different experiences, which represent the ugly, painful things we go through and sometimes do to ourselves, which aren't sanitized for the sake of easy heterocentric consumption, get lambasted because they don't adhere perfectly to (mostly white-) American neoliberal queer values.

I urge anyone who isn't a lesbian who condemns this film for being directed by a man to rewatch it. For those who weren't already aware, the two writers for this film are both women, one of which is the creator of the manga this is based off of who also is a queer woman of color. The director is a man, but as Christie has already mentioned, the majority of the creative force behind this film are women and to dismiss the film for the sole reason that it is a man directing a wlw story is a mistake which erases the role of the actual women behind this project, which demonstrates you care more about virtue signaling than you do about critically thinking. Please re-read that last sentence if you are not a woman.

The vast, vast majority of the film depicts the two leads as far more human and far less sexualized than many of the lesbian films I see championed on this site. Yes, they are sometimes naked, but being naked does not equal sexualized. And the few moments they are come from their own intent to do so. Humans are allowed to be sexy, to use sex and sex appeal either for themselves or as a tool; it is just bad when this is all a character is in a film, but they most demonstratably are not for nearly the entire runtime.

The infamous sex scene at the beginning which many walk out of is hard to watch, yes, but this scene which stands in stark contrast to everything else in the film is, in my opinion, one of the best depictions of compulsory heterosexuality I've seen on screen. It is unfortunately common, especially in non-Western countries, to coerce oneself into engaging in sexual acts with a person of a gender you are not attracted to, and the camera never depicts this scene as anything but cold, inhuman, ugly, and wrong. I understand not liking this, I really do, but at the same time I'm thankful that there are films which actually attempt to seriously engage in the messy, hard-to-look-at side of queer experience. If you want a happy, comfort-food gay movie, there are plenty of good ones to watch, but don't expect every single queer movie to be so sterilized.

There are also many people who are hung-up over a line spoken towards the end. This is unfortunate because it's partly an error of poor translation, but also an error of cultural ignorance. The actual Japanese spoken line is a statement of observation and not the potentially-lesbaphobic text that is the English subtitle. However, Japanese is also a heavily-gendered language and it is very common to express one's romantic love in terms of gender and gender roles. This can come across as questionable to foreigners, but it is simply how the language and culture is. Perhaps it would be better if it wasn't this way, perhaps not, but it is genuinely shocking for me to see so many people condemn this queer Japanese film dealing with queer Japanese experience in a queer Japanese context, and expect it to hold up to their Western-centric scruples. If you expect every queer experience around the world to match up with yours, then please: try to learn a second culture. As a queer poc, I love seeing white queers on this site push their narrow set of values onto everything they touch and use their queerness like some sort of bandaid to cover up their blatant xenophobia, because then I know who believes they can't be racist because they gave Get Out five stars.

I want to end this by reiterating that I am not saying you must love this movie, must hate happy gay movies, must be comfortable when uncomfortable things happen on-screen. That's absolutely understandable and I genuinely get the aversion to this sort of thing. But I ask that when you watch a movie dealing with the ugly side of queer experience, that you keep in mind the importance of meaningful representation and film-as-catharsis. Especially when it comes to queer poc.

P.S. – Definitely do check out the manga when you can.

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