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#MASMUJERES and the coming of age of Spanish cinema: Three films to watch

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Spain’s delayed embrace of #MeToo finds new voices, demanding more women in leading positions and defying the rules of the beauty parade

#MASMUJERES (#MOREWOMEN). Simple, clear and loud. Written in white capital letters on red fans. Artists demanding more equality in the film industry carried them onto the red carpet as they entered the Spanish Academy Goya Awards earlier this month. When the #MeToo movement abruptly landed in Europe last year, the Spanish film industry clumsily tried to emulate the vindictive tone of the Golden Globes. It didn’t work. But instead of fading-away, the movement for gender equality made a come-back this year on the Spanish stage – and it was homegrown, loud and upright.

The 33rd edition of the Goya Awards, among the most prestigious film awards of the Spanish-speaking world, was held in Seville this year. Propelled by the #MásMujeres hashtag, a positively rewritten version of #MeToo, it was a real step-up to last year’s event. The night was stolen by a highly-awarded lesbian romance on par with Call Me by Your Name, Carmen y Lola; as well as a Spanish ‘Frances McDormand moment’, with Penelope Cruz asking all actress nominees to stand up, just as Meryl Streep had done. This year’s Goyas showed that diversity in Spanish cinema is not just an aspiration, but is becoming a reality.

Carmen y Lola, awarded with best breakout director and best supporting actress, tells the story of two young women from Madrid’s Roma community who fall in love and struggle with their codified and repressive community. It is a fictional story but with a true documentary vision. It was filmed with a low-budget and a largely non-professional cast; the two main actresses are themselves Roma and have faced similar struggles to the ones portrayed in the film.

The awarded director, Arantxa Echevarría, dedicated the award to “those who are not capable of wearing other's shoes, to those who don't believe in gender-based violence”, in a clear reference to the growing far-right party Vox. The party first entered a regional parliament in Andalucia calling for a ban to same-sex marriage and the retraction of the Law for Integral Protection in Gender-based Violence, a forward-thinking regulation that was passed in Spain in 2004 in response to the high cases of violence against women.

“The maturity of a society is measured by the place where women stand”, Arantxa said in her acceptance speech, which was reminiscent to the former United States’ First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech at a Hillary Clinton rally weeks before the US Presidential Elections in 2016. Michelle Obama’s quote was also reused by Ibeyi in her song 'Deathless': “The measure of every society is how it treats its women and girls”.

The night’s momentum for female empowerment at the Goya’s reached its peak when the breakout performance actress, Eva Llorach, asked the auditorium for help: she wanted to replay what she called the “Frances moment”, the Spanish way. She was awarded for her role in Quién te Cantará (Who Would Sing to You), a film about a famous singer that loses her memory and has to rediscover her voice. Llorach asked Penelope Cruz to lead the way and stand up, as MacDormand had asked Meryl Streep. With her, all the female nominees to the awards also rose: there were 29 women versus 113 men.

“It is so difficult to be a woman. There's so few of you. I want to ask to all the scriptwriters, creators, producers, actresses that have the chance of finance their own projects to create stories with female characters, especially in those ages in which we become invisible, from the 40's upwards; in our 50's, 60's….we continue existing. We don't put ourselves in a black hole. I have the revolutionary idea that cinema can change things, that it can break the clichés that crush us; I believe that through cinema we can slowly make this a fairer and more equal world,” Llorach said.

The Grammy award-winning singer Rosalía, who is exporting a reinvention of flamenco overseas, offered a memorable interlude. She performed a dazzling act with the professional classical choir, Cor Jove de l’Orfeó Català, in an innovative mix that remastered the Spanish flamenco classic “Me quedo contigo” by Los Chunguitos.

Equality beyond women

When women demand equality, all of society can benefit. This year’s Goyas were about social inclusion in a broader sense, for minority groups of any kind who have felt underrepresented in the film industry in the past. The evening’s Best Film was awarded to Campeones (Champions), a heart-warming drama-comedy about a special needs basketball team.

“When we started the film, some called them 'people with disabilities',” the film’s director Javier Fesser said. “Then we made the evolution of just calling them 'people with different abilities'. Now we finally came up with a more accurate word: Champions.” The best breakout actor, Jesús Vidal, a philologist with a masters in Journalism, who is blind but for 10 percent vision in one eye, became the first visually impaired person to win a Goya. Vidal started his emotional thank you speech by saying: “Three words come to my mind right now: inclusion, diversity, visibility”.

The 2018 Goya’s copying of the Golden Globes didn't work because denouncing Harvey Weinstein crimes didn't immediately resonate with a Spanish and European public. The protest needed to overcome the original trigger and go beyond: more women in leading positions, equal pay, no age discrimination, transcending beauty rules. It needed to be about inclusion more generally. This year it found a unified outcry, after a historic year for women in Spain.

The #MeToo movement in Spain in 2018 had three stages. Its birth was widely celebrated in the streets with massive marches in March on Women's Day. The fury of the outcry grew in persisting protests prompted in turn by the controversial verdict in the 'Wolf-pack' case in which multiple men rapped a young woman during the San Fermin festival in Pamplona. Then there was a big win when the country’s new Socialist government became the first in the world to boast a cabinet with more women than men.

If the 2019 Goyas taught us anything, it is that you cannot simply copy-paste a social movement from one country to the next, the same way you cannot copy artistic expression. The Spanish film industry stumbled into #MeToo last year. This year, what we saw was a clear and homegrown Spanish response to the era of female empowerment in cinema. Europe is finding her own voice. And we can expect much more from the #MasMujeres movement in the months and years to come.

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