‘Who are you to forbid me?’
For me, this is the penultimate line of Mina Shum’s charming and thoughtful 2018 film Meditation Park, which centres around a devoted wife’s life-altering discovery of her husband’s affair.
Meditation Park is crucial on many levels, not least because it tells the story of the kind of woman it is easiest to forget—elderly, immigrant, isolated by language and culture. It is a film that forces the audience to question why the stories of older women are rarely told. It’s both refreshing and jarring to witness a story from the perspective of a woman in her 60s, especially in this youth-obsessed culture. Meditation Park begs you to see beyond the faces so often ignored to recognize a life story instead of merely a hunched-over woman plucking bottles from an alleyway garbage. The film forces us to face the reality of growing old and invisible in a culture that already places even young women as second-class citizens. Furthermore, it confronts the cross-cultural norms that keep many women prisoner to their home duties, their children and, especially, the patriarchy.
Watching Cheng Pei Pei’s subtly beautiful performance as Maria grieving the life she let slip her by, one is reminded that every person yearns to break free from the bonds that hold them to the expectations of family, culture or career. Watching Maria go from obsequiously asking her husband for money to defiantly saying ‘Who are you to forbid me?!’ is a beautiful and powerful thing and also a clear metaphor for women as a whole right now, challenging the norms that have seen us bear the lion’s share of caregiving and even today catch us beneath myriad glass ceilings.
Meditation Park emphasizes the importance of community, belonging and of pride in one’s path. It is a reminder that the stories of women are gorgeous, heartbreaking and complicated and don’t end when one is no longer lit by the fleeting glow of youth; they do in fact, become increasingly complex and interesting.
It’s time to tell more wide-reaching tales of women’s lives in all their beauty and complexity. Who are they to forbid us?