Forgotten Warriors and Excuse My Gangsta Ways explore the gendered dimensions of women’s experiences of wartime and street violence. Forgotten Warriors is a fascinating documentary that focuses on a little-known set of events that affected thousands of women during the Korean civil war (1950-1953) and for decades beyond. The women, now in their seventies, met in prison in the 1950s, and come together in the film to reflect upon their experiences as Communist Party comrades who were captured, tortured, raped, and jailed in South Korean prisons by the right-wing anti-Communist party forces (the side of the war on whose behalf the United States government entered). The film shows us the day-to-day lives of the former prisoners in contemporary South Korea as they care for their families, bury their comrades, travel to rallies in support of re-unification/repatriation, and share memories of their experiences as partisans, soldiers, and prisoners.
In their beautiful and humane ways, we hear the women provide critical feminist analyses of the particular experiences of women in war, such as menstruation (running through the mountains to escape the enemy wearing “rough” pieces of cloth for hygiene), sexual slavery, pregnancy, mothering, breastfeeding (walking to evening meetings suckling an infant to maintain silence so as not to be detected by the enemy), and the difficulties of urinating in the woods while soldiering with men. The former long-term prisoners mourned being forced to leave babies behind with family members in order to carry out armed struggle.
The film also raises contradictions: even as food and cooking are prominent in their narratives, the women claim that married life is easier under partisanship than patriarchy because marrying a comrade means that men and women share ideals around equality. The Communist women explain to us that, for women, it is “double warfare”: fight the enemy but also fight to be on equal footing with male comrades. This documentary would be very useful in the classroom in a variety of Women’s Studies, Asian Studies, Political Science, History, and Sociology courses.
Instructors examining girls’ violence in a contemporary U.S. context may consider screening the short (fifteen-minute) documentary collage Excuse My Gangsta Ways. The film tells the story of a young Chinese-American woman, Davina Wan, who grew up in the Lower East Side in New York City in the 1990s. Her mother worked twelve hours a day, and her father lived and worked in New Jersey, only coming home on weekends. Davina basically raised herself, and when her family fractured through divorce, her broken heart led her to the streets. Hers is a familiar contemporary story of girlhood across the globe in disenfranchised urban settings. Although not everybody in her young life did, Davina survived violence, gang life, loss, and sadness. She comes out strong and, as the film ends, is working closely with younger gang-involved youth, brokering peace in the streets, and on her way to law school.
The documentary, which may possibly be a first effort or youth-created media, tells Davina’s story with images of her family and neighborhood that may be familiar to many viewers. Given the intensity of her biography and the setting, however, the documentary lacks the tension, vividness of image, and the possibilities for discussions in the classroom that could be provided if it more explicitly delved deeper into the issues of violence, racism, sexism, and poverty that contextualize stories such as Davina’s. When screened in conjunction with other biographies of girls growing up, such as Girls Like Us,1 5 Girls,2 or Girlhood,3 Excuse My Gangsta Ways will complement a contribution in the Women’s Studies, American Studies, Asian Studies, Social Problems, Urban Studies, or Sociology classroom.
Laurie Schaffner (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an associate professor in the Sociology Department and the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies in the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her latest book, Girls in Trouble with the Law (Rutgers University Press, 2006), is based on observations and interviews with one hundred young women in detention in the U.S. juvenile legal system.
1Girls Like Us, directed by Jane C. Wagner and Tina DiFeliciantonio (New York: Women Make Movies, 1997).
25 Girls, directed by Maria Finitzo (Chicago: Kartemquin Films, 2001).
3Girlhood, directed by Liz Garbus (New York: Moxie Firecracker Films, 2003).