Popular Reads: “The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi” by Peter Popham

                 The Lady and the Peacock by Peter Popham is a timely book as Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) takes hesitant steps towards democracy. Popham explores the life of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s most famous former political prisoner, and the unusual circumstances which brought her into the spotlight of the fight for democracy in Myanmar. Popham’s easy journalistic style of writing makes the book accessible to the larger public, and his book is well researched and thought-provoking.

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The Lady (2011) Trailer 

I watched the film in my class, after we discussed The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi by Peter Popham. The film has given me a lot of feels, so here they are. Spoiler alerts, possibly.

The trailer pans this film out to be political, with instances of family life shown. I was disappointed to see that, especially in the latter part of the film, the viewer was led over and over through a heart wrenching journey over her family (love) life. I mean, I will be honest. When we were discussing this in class, many of my peers pointed out that the emotional aspect of the film is what gets the viewer to empathize with the figure of Aung San Suu kyi, but the film seemed so heavy on her family life (with empty detail) that I think the film took away her political agency, and not just in that aspect. We see her thrust in to this movement by other men, there is a remarkable lack of Burmese feminine presence throughout the film, especially feminine political presence. Her mother is portrayed in the beginning of the film, but she is shown as an invalid, without agency. Aung San Suu Kyi is herself portrayed as someone who was pushed into this decision by men, she is constantly surrounded by men, and except for one or two political speeches by her, we never really see her political activity. There is an absence of Ma Thanegi, who recorded diary entries of Suu Kyi’s activist life when she first began in 1988. The only other real female presence that we see are Dr. Aris’ sister in law (I think she is his sister in law? Or perhaps sister), and Daw Su Kyi’s maid who stayed in her house through her mother’s illness and house arrests. Both of them are still devoid of any real agency - Dr. Aris’ sister in law is around and the only reason she is there is for the concern of the family. Outside of that, she seems to have no concern. Same for Daw Su Kyi’s maid. All she does is bring letters to Daw Su Kyi or announce her visitors. She is not shown to have any feelings about politics (except when NLD won by a landslide), and that’s it. For a film that is about a huge female political figure, I found female agency considerably lacking in the film. 

It was also really annoying when at the end (serious spoiler alert now), the Saffron movement is portrayed and the monks all simply march to her house and start chanting her name. That was not the Saffron movement. The Saffron movement was not about Aung San Suu Kyi, and though a long line of monks did pass by her house, and she did come by her gate to greet and bow to them, they did not simply collect in front of her house and chant her name. That was a gross misrepresentation of a political history in the making, and it was so, so annoying.

I also think that Burmese oppressive history under the junta was also oversimplified, but I will give concession here that perhaps the filmmaker and scriptwriter did not have adequate film space to portray that. But the whole emotional conflict she seems to be constantly having in the film (what to choose, family, or country) was, I think, just over played. The film maker too away not only Daw Suu Kyi’s political agency, but a lot of political agency of many worthwhile Burmese activist in this saga, both male and female. I hope when the next movie comes out to portray Daw Suu Kyi, it delivers better. 

Here’s the New York Time's review if you are interested in reading other opinions

"Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man’s self-respect and inherent human dignity. It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man."

— Aung San Suu Kyi (via homininae)