Margarita with a Straw (2014)

Margarita with a Straw
Director: Shonali BoseNilesh Maniyar
Writer: Shonali Bose, Nilesh Maniyar, Atika Chohan
Cast: Kalki KoechlinRevathySayani GuptaHussain DalalTenzing DalhaKuljeet SinghMalhar KhushuWilliam Moseley
Part of: FrauenFilmTage
Seen on: 3.3.2017

Laila (Kalki Koechlin) has cerebral palsy but the much bigger issue is that she has to share her room with her brother (Malhar Khushu). Despite difficulties and worried parents (Revathy, Kuljeet Singh), she gets the opportunity to move from India to New York for her studies and that’s just what she does. Being on her own in a foreign country prompts a journey of self-discovery that leads Laila to co-student Jared (William Moseley) and Khanum (Sayani Gupta), a young blind activist from Pakistan who lives in New York.

There should be more films in the world like Margarita with a Straw: films that feature a queer, disabled women of color as their protagonists and tell a touching, funny story about them.

There are a couple of things that I took issue with in the film. For one, Neither Koechlon nor Gupta are actually disabled and even though you wouldn’t know it from their performances, it should have been possible to find disabled actresses for their parts. There were also a couple of hamfisted moments in the script. In particular there was one instance when relationship problems are solved by having something dramatic happen instead of by talking about it and finding a solution. And the other thing was that they had to go for the “bisexual people are cheaters” trope that I could have really done without.

But the good things about the film outweighed those issues for me – by quite a lot. The fact alone that it tells the story of a bisexual woman (where it’s actually said that she is bisexual in the film. In those words) who happens to be disabled (which is never painted as tragic) and who then goes on to date another disabled woman – and neither of them are white – that is pretty damn magical.

And Bose tells the story not only with a lot of sensitivity towards her characters, but in a light-hearted, emotional way that will have you laughing in one moment and choking back tears in the next. And she very openly puts Laila’s sexual interest(s) in the film. Since disabled people are often shown to be childlike and asexual, it was really refreshing to see this – especially since it comes without obejctification or fetishization.

Generally, Margarita with a Straw is a breath of fresh air, exploring intersectionalities we rarely get to see on screen without making it the point of the film. Laila may be bi and disabled, but above all she is a young woman trying to find her path in the world.

Summarizing: I honestly don’t understand why this film isn’t bigger than it is. Because it’s great.

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