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In the ninth installment of Las Movies, the space that El American dedicates to analyze the cultural impact of audiovisual productions, Ignacio García Medina talks about the famous British film Billy Elliot (2000) and its unusual way of going against leftist ideologies.
At first glance, Billy Elliot could easily pass for one of those films with social content, typical of the progressive and woke movement: a family of pro-union mineworkers, whose son decides to break away from the family’s vocation and pursue his own artistic inclinations–all in the era of then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
“It has all the ingredients to be another ‘woke’ movie,” comments Ignacio. “But it’s not. In my opinion, it is quite the opposite”, because taking advantage of the same context usually used by films with a woke theme, Billy Elliot refutes all the stereotypes and Marxist ideas that this type of film usually exudes.
A victory on foreign soil
The plot of Billy Elliot takes place in a fictitious town in England, in the mid-80s, in the middle of one of the many mining strikes that shook the Thatcher government. Its protagonist —played by Jamie Bell— is an 11-year-old boy living in poverty, with a widowed father, a grandmother with dementia and a troubled teenage brother.
“Far from whitewashing or sweetening the workers’ struggle, as usually happens in this type of film, it paints it as quite violent and aggressive,” Ignacio tells us. The pro-union protests are shown as violent riots. Law enforcement does not play the role of oppressive thugs, a role that is often given in progressive movies. These officers actually protect workers and respond to the violence of the rioters.
Billy’s father —played by Gary Lewis— of course, wants his son to follow his family’s example and practice boxing, a “man’s” sport while he reaches the age to work in the mine. Challenging his dad’s wishes, Billy takes an interest in the dance classes taught at the same boxing gymnasium.
By doing so, Billy represents a challenge to his family, which along with its leftist ideology and union violence, begins to play an antagonistic role, and starts taking dance classes, which is considered by his dad to be “girls’ stuff.”
Between stereotypes and vindications
However, the role of Billy’s father is also carefully exposed. Ignacio explains that the script makes it clear that the loss of his wife was a moment of great pain and defined to a great extent his bitter and aggressive attitude, which helps to show the character as a victim of his own circumstances.
Another victory that, according to the host of Las Movies, is reflected in the film is that — despite being interested in dance and having an extremely subtle and delicate body expression — the script makes it clear that Billy is not gay. In that sense, it breaks with another common category of the LGBTI theme in the movie industry, although it does defend sexual diversity very tactfully through Billy’s best friend, who is gay.
So, it cannot be said that Billy Elliot is a homophobic or sexist film, but neither is it an ode to sex diversity or a progressive pamphlet aimed at deepening the class struggle. It is quite the opposite: a balanced audiovisual work.
In fact, Billy’s father’s character also undergoes a metamorphosis when he sees his son dancing (with his gay friend, by the way) and, instead of reacting violently, the scene makes him reflect. It is then that the film ends up breaking all the stereotypes on which it took shape from the beginning.
The happy ending precisely focuses on the father’s vindication: he accepts his son’s decision to devote himself to dance, approaches the instructor to evaluate how to support him financially, sells his late wife’s gold jewelry and even abandons the strike and goes back to work in the mine.
For Ignacio, the film is a “perfect metaphor of how these Marxist ideas poison your head”, fostering resentment, envy, and “bring out” the worst in humanity. “If you turn your back on them, as Billy’s father did, things start to get better: you have the option to fight for your dreams, fulfill them and progress in life.”