Motion picture films are used for entertainment and most often as a vehicle to convey messages or express a particular belief about society. An emerging genre in popular culture is queer film. As a feature in Kingston’s Reelout Queer Film and Video Festival, First Period, directed by Charlie Vaughn approaches the classic plot line of two girls trying to climb the social strata latter of high school to become friends with the socially superior group and win a talent show competition. While First Period attempts to make comic relief of its plot, the film exploits the idea of feminism, equality in sexual orientation and race, through the characters and their relationships with one another.
Feminism is completely overlooked in the film. Cassie and Maggie, the protagonists played by men, are suggested to identify as heterosexual females. Two of the antagonistic “mean girls” identify as heterosexual females. Contrastingly from Cassie and Maggie, the antagonistic girls, “The Heathers” are both tall, thin, and scandalously-dressed. The proportions of their bodies are exposed and they wear make up. The Heathers have the “ideal” and “most attractive” boyfriends and are at the top of the social strata. This distinction implies that a woman must look perfect and have the ideal life to be considered the “coolest”, apart from her personality, values, or beliefs. At one point in the film during the “Female Anatomy Class”, the strict, unwelcoming, and careless male teacher is seen inappropriately touching one of the Heathers. The film does not address consent but Heather seems to be okay with what is happening. This relationship suggests that in order to be noticed by a man, a woman must show off her body, be passive to inappropriate behaviour, sexually receptive, and subordinate to men, displaying emphasized femininities. Later on in this relationship, the male teacher writes on a piece of paper “WE’RE OVER” and throws it at the Heather. This action is particularly repulsive because it shows the man of the relationship as the dominant centre, which is an example of androcentrism.
There is a contradicting inequality of sexual orientation within the film. Throughout the relationship between Heather and the male teacher, Cassie and Maggie were often shown sitting together innocently in the back. The male teacher would frequently threaten them and accuse them of “funny business” implying they would participate in sexual relations with one another. What is inappropriate about this is that the teacher assumed they were homosexual and accused that of being a bad thing that they would be punished for; meanwhile there was nothing considered socially unacceptable about his relationship with Heather. Whether or not it was a form of suggested homophobia, the teacher did not treat Cassie and Maggie like any of the other students in the class and even thought of Maggie as a “coat rack”. His assumptions about their sexual orientation made them inferior and subject to punishment. What is contradictory about this inequality is that by the end of the film, gay relationships are made public and socially acceptable, as well as the fact that First Period is a queer film directed by a gay individual. Perhaps the inequality is supposed to be understood lightly as a joke but the line between humour and intention was definitely unclear and crossed.
The film shows a lack of race equality and diversity in its selection of characters. At one point, Maggie participates in a “rap battle” with the only African American character in the film. The film racialized the African American character by using him to portray a rapper and derogatorily he is told that he is going to be “raped” several times over. The fact that the character is threatened by a Caucasian individual is an example of white supremacy as he is the minority of the group and treated unequally. Apart from the African American individual there is not one character who is not Caucasian. The film inaccurately depicts modern day high school because of this considering North America is a very diverse continent, and yet not one person of any other ethnicity is included. The film does not accommodate to race differences and instead gives into the marginalization of race ethnicity by Caucasian hegemony.
I felt extremely uncomfortable while watching First Period. It made me feel as though my rights as a a woman who strongly believes in equality for gender, sexual orientation, and race, were being ignored and violated. To shed light on what was plausible in the film, the plot line was a creative idea and there were some comical features such as the scene with Cassie and the Guidance Counsellor, and Cassie’s confident and ambitious personality.
Technically speaking, the film followed a steady pace. Transitions from different scenes were notable because an animated, sparkly, pink motif flashed across the screen. The film did not use scores or a soundtrack, nor did it incorporate any special effects or stunt scenes. The scenes were shot from many different angles. None of these traits effected the content or message of the film directly. The plot line was relatable to viewers as the goal of trying to fit in and be “cool” in high school is something many teenagers alike face personally.
I attended First Period on a Friday night with three of my friends. I had never been to the Screening Room before and as a private theatre, it was very different from the typical Cineplex. I left the film feeling a little more cultured in terms of my adventures in Kingston and in my field of gender studies. Although I am not certain about my preference towards the film, that does not mean that someone else would not enjoy it. I recommend this film to anyone whether they’re in a gender studies course or not because, along with my feminist beliefs, I believe that every experience shapes who we are as individuals and and helps us learn a little bit more about ourselves. I do not regret attending First Period and applaud everyone who contributed to the production of this film for endeavouring in such a large project.