(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

HIDDEN LETTERS is almost definitely going to be confused with HIDDEN FIGURES, and it is true that both focus on women of color who are marginalized by men. But HIDDEN FIGURES is a narrative film about the American space program, and HIDDEN LETTERS is a documentary about Nushu, a secret script developed by women in China several hundred years ago. Few original Nushu writings survive, and the documentary shows how attempts to preserve it fall prey to attempts to make it of interest to tourists, or to commercialize it as a brand name. Currently very few people can read or write Nushu, and they all learned it as a scholarly exercise rather than organically. And the both the Nushu Museum and the Center for Nushu Cultural and Research Administration seem to be controlled primarily by men.

The result is that we see men treating women writing Nushu as decorative objects (explicitly commenting on their looks), and men unveiling the sign for the Nushu Cultural Exchange Center (and knocking it over in the process), and men pushing the idea of having Nushu brand potatoes.

There is also a contrast between a "Princess Camp" which somehow is supposed to be celebrating Nushu and scenes of women washing clothes in the river, drawing water, carrying loads, etc. Whether these are supposed to represent the only positions open to women or not is not clear.

HIDDEN LETTERS will run on PBS on March 27, 2023.

(If you think pronouns should be straightforward, try reading a review with the main character being a woman named "He Yanxin", He being the family name, and hence how she is referred to. In other words, "He is a "she/her.")

Released theatrically 09 December 2022. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Film Credits: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt15503562/reference

What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/hidden_letters

					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2023 Mark R. Leeper