Afghanistan Unveiled (airing on Tuesday, November 16 on PBS) makes much of its powerful backstory, and with good reason: the documentary is the first film “about Afghan women, by Afghan women,” says one of its fourteen native filmmakers, a graduate of an international program that produced the country's first newly trained women journalists in years. The doc's conceit will win it politically obligatory kudos, which is a bit of a shame – the film is mostly slight and unchallenging, hitting the dual notes of women's empowerment and oppression with passionate, yet emotionally unmoving, obstinacy.
The image is familiar enough from Japanese woodblock prints: two women in casually erotic disarray, kimonos slightly askew. One tips her head back into the hands of the other, who is working through the thick hair, her plump fingers and sloe-eyed expression revealing a lazy intimacy.
But instead of an elaborate geisha coiffure, the woman seems to be putting in … braids? And there's none of the stark-white makeup favored by the beauties depicted by Utamaro and other ukiyo-e masters; both women are in blackface. Dark foundation covers their bodies, save for the creamy border of their natural skin tone right around the hairline.
The village in Ousmane Sembene's masterful Moolaadé is dominated by two eerily beautiful structures: a spirit-possessed anthill and an ostrich-egg-crowned mosque, which echo each other in both their stalagmite contours and in the ways they symbolize the pull of differing traditions. Over the course of this vibrant protest film, a third hillock rises up in the central square -- a heap of radios the male village elders have confiscated from the women. These three mounds become Moolaadé's thematic axes, each a dynamic symbol of the process of carving communal meanings out of a bewilderingly complex world.
Watching people write about Jacques Derrida -- his theories, his passing on October 8 -- has been a fantastic sight, much like watching a man shinny shimmy up a rope while simultaneously trying to unravel it with his legs. Because how does one write about the so-called father of deconstruction, who helped unmoor text from authorial intent and dismantle notions of black-and-white absolutes, and whose insistence on reading against the grain of a piece yielded unnerving contradictions and unseen possibilities for interpretation? Writing about Derrida can be a treacherous exercise: You are writing, but also reading against yourself, trying to pick out echoes of trace meaning; you are writing, but also aware that you are being erased from the very text you are creating.
Perhaps there's a hole in the fabric of the space-time continuum that I didn't know about, but what could possibly account for a show like Desperate Housewives (Sundays at 9 p.m., ABC), desperate to lampoon the evils of what scarcely exists anymore -- a plastic-perfect suburbia?