“At the center, a kind of care”: PJ Raval on intersectional storytelling

In November 2018 the Block Museum of Art welcomed documentarian PJ Raval for a conversation on his award-winning feature documentary Call Her Ganda.  The film following the 2014 murder of Jennifer Laude, a transgender Filipina woman killed by an American Marine, and the struggle for justice waged by her family, friends, lawyers, and investigative journalist Meredith Talusan. Confronting homophobia, colonialism, and the unjust laws of jurisdiction enjoyed by American armed forces in the Philippines, Call Her Ganda tells a powerful story with ingenuity and compassion.

Raval was joined in conversation by Julian Kevon Glover, PhD Candidate in the Department of African American Studies, as well as a representative from GABRIELA National Alliance of Women. In a post-screening talk the panel discussed the challenges, perspective, and care involved in telling Jennifer’s story.

The screening was co-presented by the Block Museum with the Northwestern University MFA in Documentary Media, the Northwestern University Women’s Center, Northwestern University Gender & Sexuality Studies program, the Northwestern Asian American Studies Program, and GABRIELA National Alliance of Women.

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From the Interview

Julian Kevon Glover: I just want to say thank you for giving us a really nuanced, complex story that at the center of it is a kind of care…Christina Sharp, one of my favorite authors, talks about care as the anecdote to anti-black violence. We can think of care here through a decolonial lens. How then would you say that you approached this project with a kind of ethics of care? An ethics of care for Jennifer, for Jennifer’s mother, for all of Jennifer’s given and chosen family?

PJ Raval: We had a lot of conversations about why I wanted to make this film, what my interests were, and also my apprehensions of not wanting to come in and impose my US perspective. If the film is going to be about colonization and imperialism, I don’t want to colonize the story or the way of making the film. So, I said, okay, well, one way to do it is I’m going to embed myself more into what’s happening here and think a lot about the approach. What is the story about?

The story for me isn’t whether or not Joseph Scott Pemberton is guilty. I’m not interested in that. What I’m interested in is telling the story of these women who are pursuing some kind of accountability for a crime that’s been committed and their experience going up against a foreign superpower, essentially.

PJ Raval: As someone who is part of the queer community, I do feel a lot of the times our plight, our issues, our politics are curtailed. It’s about, “Oh, you’re fighting for marriage equality” or “you’re fighting for this law.” No one ever thinks about it as basic human rights. I really want to embrace this concept of intersectionality. Why was Jennifer killed? Is it because she was poor? Is it because she’s trans? Is it because she’s a woman? Is it because she’s an alleged sex worker? It’s probably all these things. I wanted to look at it from a really comprehensive and complicated lens. It deserves that. Being able to explore what the subjects are all doing in terms of their own lives and personhood, that’s a way to get across the story without making it sensational or without it making about my perspective, but more about their experience.

About Call Her Ganda (2018)

Call Her Ganda premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival followed by an international premiere at HotDocs in Toronto, Canada. The Hollywood Reporter hailed the film “As suspenseful as it is moving”, Now Magazine in Canada gave it 4 N’s and called it “Unflinching and eye-opening”. Call Her Ganda opened in theaters fall of 2019 earning over a dozen Grand Jury Best Documentary and Audience Choice Awards as well as several critics’ awards and nominations including a 2019 GLAAD Media Award, 2019 Gawad Urian Filipino Film Critics Award, and a 2019 Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences Best Documentary nomination. The film recently aired on POV reaching millions of PBS viewers across the US and continues to make its way into classrooms and community screenings across the world.  

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