Check It Out: Angels Wear White

May 12, 2018 | Revolution Newspaper |


The plot of the movie Angels Wear White (嘉年) revolves around an incident where Mia, who does all the shit work at a Chinese seaside tourist motel, witnesses evidence of the rape of two 12-year-old girls by a man with powerful connections. Mia is a teenager herself. She is one of two hundred million people driven into the teeming cities of China by the backwardness and poverty of the Chinese countryside. She survives, barely, without a legal work permit, subjected to the kind of unmitigated exploitation and lack of any rights that undocumented immigrants in the U.S. face. Her “choices” are basically to work for sub-survival wages or be pimped out in a hellish world where her virginity is a “commodity.”

Overwhelmed by the day-to-day struggle to survive, Mia looks for a way to wrench some security and advantage for herself out of the situation she lands in, even as she is pulled to do the right thing for the two young victims despite the risks to her tenuous existence. Other characters too, especially Xiaowen—one of the young victims—are drawn with complexity and compassion.

I don’t want to reduce this movie to the political and social issues it highlights. It is a deep, intense, multidimensional, heartbreaking experience that keeps the audience in rapt attention to the very end. But the underlying story is one of people—including a sympathetic attorney—going up against a brutal power dynamic that anyone with a clue as to what’s going on everywhere in this world will recognize: The grinding, vicious subjugation that oppresses women from the sweatshops of Bangladesh to the casting couches of Hollywood. The New York Times review noted “The moral rot and callous corruption depicted in ‘Angels Wear White’ has a particularly bracing effect in part because, cultural specifics aside, the inhumanity on display is hardly alien.”

But what people do not know is that this is not “human nature.” This is not “men will be men.” And this is not something that can be changed just through exposure and protest, essential as that is. This is a product of a system that has the vicious exploitation and oppression of women sewn into every stitch of its fabric.

I don’t know what the thinking was behind the filmmaker repeatedly focusing the camera on a sign saying “Serve the People” above the entrance to the police station where the victims attempt to find justice. On one level, it points to an obvious and bitter irony. But in fact, that slogan did accurately describe the defining ethos during the all-too-brief but precious 27 years when capitalism was overthrown in China, replaced by a revolutionary society and a socialist system. That revolutionary society took tumultuous first steps in tearing up the fabric of exploitation and oppression, including in the ways in which it suffocates women’s lives. Women in China, especially during the wildly slandered Cultural Revolution, were full human beings in a way they have not been since human societies were divided into oppressors and oppressed. The re-imposition of the oppression of women in China is a hellish result of the defeat of that revolution after the death of its leader, Mao Zedong, and the much vaunted (by oppressors everywhere) re-imposition of capitalism in China. That restoration of capitalism in China and the way people have been brainwashed to think it means revolution doesn’t work weighs heavy on the dreadfully low sights that afflict the thinking of people around the world today.

But the reality is that more than ever there’s no reason why the only “options” for billions of women in this world should be those emblemized in the lives of Mia and Xiaowen. Yes, people have to resist. Yes, people have to change. But if you think about how things come down in Angels Wear White, if you think about how things come down every second of every day everywhere in this world, and if you begin to engage the work of Bob Avakian, you can see that until the system that lives on and violently enforces the oppression of women is overthrown, and replaced by a completely different system, nothing is really going to change.

In Angels Wear White, we see the raw material for that revolution. The leadership exists for that: you find it all at The rest is up to us.


Angels Wear White is in Mandarin with English subtitles. It is currently showing in New York City. It opens on May 18 in Los Angeles and then will be available online.




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