Q&A With Cody Campanale, director and writer of Jackie Boy

Edward Charette, left, as Kal and Alino Giraldi, right, as Jack in Jackie Boy

Jackie Boy is a recently-released Canadian drama written and directed by Cody Campanale, starring Alino Giraldi and Shannon Coulter. It tells the story of Jack (Giraldi), a self-destructive womanizer in a working-class Canadian town, who tries to change his life when he meets and falls for Jasmine (Coulter). Unknown to Jack, however, Jasmine has a hidden agenda.

Cody Campanale is an Ottawa-based director, writer, producer, and filmmaker. Jackie Boy is his first feature film.

Adina: There seems to be an implication that Kal is attracted to Jack, but it is never confirmed or fully articulated. Was Kal trying to keep Jack from changing, or trying to keep Jack for himself? Or is that implication simply not true?

Cody Campanale: I think Kal’s in love with Jack, but he’s too confused and frustrated by his own distorted notions of masculinity to comprehend that his admiration of Jack’s ‘manliness’ is actually a closeted love he feels for his best friend. With this in mind, many of Kal’s actions in the later part of the film can be seen as those of a jealous lover. A lover completely rejected by someone they never saw themselves living without.

A: Throughout the film, I noticed that the men tend to deny the severity of the violence the women face. Jack and Kal excuse Jack posting photos of Sasha without her consent, Jack tries to dismiss Jasmine’s fear after Kal chases her, and so on. Was there a deliberate point you were trying to make about this?

C: I would define the characters in this film as emotionally disconnected youth living in an emotionally disconnected landscape. This emotional disconnect allows all the characters to act in ways that are insensitive, violently destructive and just plain nasty. I chose to focus our lens on the men because I wanted to further explore the dangers that living in this emotionally disconnected landscape can have on ‘conditioned’ male notions of masculinity when left unaddressed.
Also, one could probably argue that throughout human history, great destruction and harm has come from the actions of men. This is a pretty scary thought and something I think influences my work as a filmmaker to some degree.

A: Were you afraid that the brutality and explicit nature of the ending would turn any viewers off? If so, why keep it in the movie?

C: We always knew the ending would be polarizing. And to be honest, I rather enjoy films that tend to have polarizing endings. It’s important to note, as difficult as the ending was for people to watch, it was just as difficult for us to shoot. The actors were emotionally drained and destroyed after each take (and there were very few takes). The crew members who were on set when the cameras rolled, left the set in tears. It was one of the most difficult things I ever had to create. While writing it, I kept asking myself if the scene in question was needed to articulate the film’s ideas and I kept concluding that it was. I could have written another ending, one that was less violent perhaps, or possibly more optimistic, but it wouldn’t have captured the ideas I wanted to get across with this story. I believe the destructive nature of these characters is a big concern, and by witnessing the full extent of their behaviour and the lack of awareness they have, an audience can understand how dangerous this emotional disconnect really is.

A: Would you consider the movie a feminist piece, or at least a film with a “message” of some kind? Are you okay with others making those assertions? What might that “message” be?

C: I wouldn’t consider the film a feminist piece, and I don’t suspect a lot of people will. However, I do consider it a critical view of conditioned masculinity in modern times. I think the film examines the conflicting and destructive ways that men cope with insecurities surrounding their own male identity. Beyond this examination, I think the film explores many other thematic ideas, such as: man’s inability to change, the removal of personal agency, and the using of others for pleasure or personal gain.
A well-made film should ask lots of questions and demand that the audience draw their own conclusions to those questions. I’m very happy if audiences see different things or ‘messages’ in my film. It means I’ve made you work, and good art should make you work a bit.

Shannon Coulter as Jasmine in Jackie Boy

A: In the film, Liz and Tony are the only ones who seem to have even a semi-healthy relationship, however this also breaks apart. Are the problems of these characters individual issues, or was this a commentary on the state of modern relationships in general?

C: I think the tragedy in Liz and Tony’s relationship comes from Tony’s self-defeatist attitude. He’s incredibly self-loathing and blames all his own problems on his surroundings, rather than attempting to change his environment or his attitude. Instead, he lives in that feeling of being ‘wronged’. In his mind, he did nothing to deserve what he got from life. It makes me sad, actually. Of all the male characters, Tony probably had the greatest chance of escaping his personal hell. He was so loved and supported by Liz, but didn’t know how to reciprocate that love. It truly is tragic.
I’m not sure I would consider this relationship a commentary on the state of modern relationships. It’s definitely a commentary on a particular type of relationship.

A: Jack undergoes a serious change in the film, at least from the audience perspective. However, he never makes an effort to make amends to Sasha or any of the other women he has presumably also hurt over the years. Does this mean that his general attitude toward women hasn’t really changed at all?

C: Interesting point you bring up here. If the film didn’t take the nasty turn it does in the last act, perhaps Jack would have shown more growth and decided to right his wrongs. Or, perhaps, he would not have had the courage to…that’s really for the audience to decided. Having said this, in the film I presented, I don’t think enough time passes for Jack to grow to the point that he would want to correct those wrongs.

A: Was any part of the film based on your own life or experiences?

C: Not exactly. I mean, I knew people with similar attitudes and patterns of behaviours, but not to the same extent or to the level of meanness portrayed in my film. Also, while writing the film, I was close to the age of these characters so I was living in a similar landscape, or in a ‘hookup culture’ if you’d prefer to call it that. I think a lot of the film came from my interest in exploring masculinity or the challenges with understanding your own masculinity.

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Watching Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale

Hulu’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

The Handmaid’s Tale is based on the 1986 novel of the same name by the famed Canadian writer Margaret Atwood. The premise is that the government of the United States has been abolished, along with the constitution, and replaced with a fundamentalist Christian dictatorship known as the Republic of Gilead. Our narrator is Offred, a Handmaid, whose sole purpose in Gilead is to act as a surrogate for high-up officials and their “barren” wives. In addition to showing us Offred’s daily life as a we also see flashbacks to the world before, and the transition between the world we now know and the one of the show. By switching back and forth between flashbacks and the present narrative, The Handmaid’s Tale both sets us up into a terrifying dystopia, and shows us that it’s not so far removed from our own world. Throughout the episode, we see direct references to things of our time: the morning after pill, Tinder, Scrabble, Uber, the Handmaid’s Tale is constantly reminding us that we are not so far off from any of this. Indeed, Atwood herself has repeatedly claimed over the years that part of the point of The Handmaid’s Tale, is to show just exactly how it could really happen. ”You could say it’s a response to ‘it can’t happen here.’…But what could happen here?… if you were going to do it, what would you do? What emotions would you appeal to? What groups would you utilize? How exactly would you go about it? Well, something like the way the religious right is doing things. And the ultimate result of that process would be the union of church and state.”  

The frequent flashbacks to the “before” time to show us how the world came to shape. In the episode “Late”, we see a time after the government has been taken out by a supposed terrorist attack and the constitution abolished, but before the Republic of Gilead has fully taken shape. Offred is simply trying to live her life. She goes out jogging, she goes to work, and so on. Offred continues to try to live her life as more changes take shape, as women are forbidden from owning money and fired from their jobs. Eventually, all the changes have come together to create the present that Offred lives in. As Offred thinks in “Late”, “That’s how we let it happen…Nothing changes instantaneously. In a gradually heating bathtub, you’d be boiled to death before you knew it” And while Offred’s facial expressions as she learns of her new reality reveals the horror and terror of it all, in the current timeline she just seems bored by it all, with the facets of her daily life appearing more monotonous than oppressive. Aunt Lydia herself says it best: “I know this must feel very strange, but ordinary is just what you’re used to. This may not seem ordinary to you right now, but after a time it will. This will become ordinary.”

The show is also brilliant for its insights on the state of our current world. For example, one of the most brutal parts of the show is the treatment of rape. On the one hand, Aunt Lydia makes a point of forcing Janine to talk about being raped and saying that it was “her own fault”, and forcing all the women around her to point at her and say it that is was her own fault, over and over (also there’s a brief cameo from Margaret Atwood herself, who appears briefly in the background and compels Offred to join the rest of the women in blaming Janine). Not to mention the fact that Aunt Lydia is preparing the women to engage in what is tantamount to state-sanctioned rape. And yet, Aunt Lydia is the same woman who later encourages the handmaids to beat a convicted rapist. Janine, heavily pregnant at this point, stands aside but watches with pleasure as the rapist is beaten to death. We see in Gilead whose bodies are valued, and whose are not considered worthy.

This attitude, of condemning rape when convenient, while shaming victims of rape when it is not, may be, horribly enough, one of the most realistic parts of the show. True, he actions that take place are fiction, but the attitude is a very real one we see today. Throughout his presidential campaign, Donald Trump claimed that Mexicans were “rapists” and made a show of parading around women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault and harassment. He even called for April to be sexual assault awareness month. And yet, he himself bragged on tape about harassing and assaulting women and has been accused of sexual assault by multiple women. Not to mention, in the new health care bill that he has been so proud of, being a victim of sexual assault is actually considered a pre-exsisting condition.

From the cover of 1986 edition of Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

With each instance of humiliation, violence, and oppression of women, we can find some type of real-world example or historical precedent. And that is the point. The novel and the show aren’t painting a dystopia that “could be” if we’re not too careful, they are painting what we are already on the road too.

Abortion rights and access to contraception is being rolled back under Republican control. One in every four women the US is a rape victim. Right-wing Christian fundamentalism, as seen in the extreme in The Handmaid’s Tale, is not only rampant in the US, but has taken over state legislatures and members of Congress.

I spoke on the phone with my mom about it, who described reading the novel when it came out during the Reagan years, when the threat of Christian fundamentalism overrunning the US seemed immediate and pressing. Now, she says, the situation is actually worse.

No, the Reagan administration wasn’t executing gay people, but they were allowing hundreds of thousands of them to die of AIDS. No, the Trump administration doesn’t have secret “eyes” like in The Handmaid’s Tale running around making everyone suspicious of each other, but they have publicized a pre-existing hotline to report on undocumented immigrants, who are often so afraid of deportation that they don’t call for help from domestic violence. The Republicans, both in the 1980s and today, aren’t forcing fertile women to act as handmaids, but they are attempting to roll back abortion rights and prevent women from accessing contraception or even proper sex ed, and are attempting to classify everything from sexual assault to pregnancy as a “pre-existing condition” that could prevent many women from accessing health care or getting to make their own informed decisions about their bodies.

This is the effectiveness of The Handmaid’s Tale, and why it is so particularly relevant now. We aren’t seeing a possible warning of what may happen in the future, we are seeing the logical extension of what is already around today. Each humiliation, each violation, and each injustice faced by Offred is based on what we are already seeing. To use Offred’s metaphor, we’re already in the bathtub. Now we have to keep ourselves from boiling.

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