QUICK AND DIRTY: LIVE FROM MUNICH
Terrified of getting “cancelled”, the performative House of Womxn organisation decides to change their International Women’s Day conference theme from 50/50 gender splits to “diversity”. They scramble to find panellists who will fit their checklist of diverse identities, resulting in a group of seven feminists being invited to Brandenburg ahead of the conference. There’s Flora (Jane Chirwa), the “wannabe Audre Lorde” who spends her time explaining intersectionality to white feminists; Sus (Rabea Lüthi), the ignored non-binary camera-person; Paula (Lisa Hrdina), the organiser dedicated to protecting House of Womxn’s image; Kisha (Thelma Buabeng), the black girlboss designer tired of being overlooked; Çena (Şafak Şengül), the militant immigrant with a broken leg; Simone (Minh-Khai Phan-Thi), the Vietnamese-German struggling to run a law firm and raise her child gender-neutrally; and finally Hannah (Christine Wilhelmi), the white long-time House of Womxn member who shows up unannounced to moderate. The plan is to conduct interviews with each one, but it becomes clear that there is as much diversity of opinion as there is identity.
An old joke about two leftists being locked in a room together and finally emerging with three political parties comes to mind. With Clashing Differences, director Merle Grimme shows that the same can be said for feminism. The clashing begins almost immediately, with relationship drama and family problems being thrown up between the panellists, who are all connected to each other in some way. It is politics, however, that brings everyone head-to-head. racism, gender, reparations, immigration, and tokenism are just some of the topics that come up, but they function more as weapons and armour than actual problems to be solved. These panellists represent just some of the diverse feminisms that exist today and the seemingly insurmountable differences that exist between them.
Clashing Differences is a competent, funny satire of modern feminism. The situations are so ridiculous that one can’t help but crack a smile, especially when two image-obsessed white feminists are too scared to brush an insect off of one of the panellists because it would mean touching a black woman’s hair. Its short runtime of just 72 minutes also ups the entertainment value considerably, ensuring that the film moves fluidly without any unnecessary padding. The entire thing is reminiscent of a reality television show, with constant drama and characters turning to the camera and offering their perspectives in a confessional manner. The dialogue too is as silly as it is familiar for the most part, although there were a few lines that crossed over from satire into caricature.
The film suddenly shifts tone in the final 29 minutes, when a frightening incident reminds the feminists exactly what they are facing. In the face of violence and hatred, ideological differences must be overcome as a matter of life or death. What really elevates the film, however, is that this is done with great nuance. The message of solidarity is promoted without debasing the issues that feminists clashed over earlier in the film; it simply suggests that we not lose sight of the bigger picture. Despite the satirical bite, Clashing Differences is compassionate towards the feminists it represents, and it suggests that all of them can and should learn from each other (some more than others). The problem is not any of these feminists or the perspectives they bring, but rather the bureaucratic institutions that seek to tokenise them without actually engaging.
The message is admirable, and it’s refreshing to see a critical look at feminism done from a feminist perspective, but Clashing Differences does have a few shortcomings. The song choices during key moments were painfully on the nose, and the credits scene felt both superfluous and like an incomplete conclusion, excluding the other themes of the film in favour of a blunt condemnation of tokenism. For all its flaws, though, Clashing Differences has its heart in the right place. It’s a hopeful, timely look at where feminism needs to go from here.
Clashing Differences just premiered at the 40th Munich Film Fest.