I would like to preface this post with a disclaimer: I am a Kristen Stewart fan.
And it has nothing to do with Twilight.
I think that Kristen gets a super bad rap because of a poorly written and poorly made young adult franchise that skyrocketed into a global obsession (for whatever reason) and she is not given nearly enough credit for many of her other, excellent roles. (As Joan Jett in The Runaways, for example. But we’ll get to that later.)
So, I was strolling through new releases on Netflix the other day and I saw a thumbnail of Kristen Stewart in army fatigues and was immediately intrigued. The film turned out to be Camp X-Ray, made in 2014, in which Kristen’s character Army Private first-class Amy Cole is placed as a guard at Guantanamo Bay detention center 8 years post-9/11.
I don’t think it’s a secret that KStew thrives in gritty roles and that she’s an actress much more suited to play a grungy tomboy than the girl next door, and in my opinion she was cast perfectly as a tightly-wound servicewoman in an environment that can only be described as slightly better than hell. Long story short, she develops a relationship with a Muslim detainee who has been declared innocent of all crimes and yet is still forced to live out the rest of his days in the purgatory that is Guantanamo.
There are a crapload of heavy topics that are covered in this movie: terrorism, white supremacy, misogyny, sexual assault in the military, religious prejudice, human isolation, and the true definition of an enemy. I found this to be an incredibly satisfying watch, at first quiet in its contemplation and later gutting in its awareness. So much of the story was told through body language and facial expressions and Kristen truly carried the film on her back. She is constantly criticized for her lack of expression or emotion, and yet she perfected the nuanced physicality necessary for the telling of this story to succeed.
Although this film was made and released several years ago and it’s directly connected to 9/11, it still feels deeply current and relevant to the complexities of racial & cultural oppression that we’re experiencing as a country. It examined tolerance, or lack thereof, and human connection across massive boundaries: including the literal cement walls that protected Cole from the “dangerous detainee” Ali Amir, the figurative boundaries between two feuding cultures, and the extreme power dynamics that exist between inmate and guard.
Despite these barriers, Cole was able to form a bond with Amir as they discussed poetry and puzzles and Harry Potter, and brought small snippets of joy into the void around them. This movie could easily have slid toward an unbelievable, sensationalized, and sugarcoated feel-good ending that could not have been taken seriously. Thankfully, it managed to stick closely to the truth of existence in this very real place.
I don’t want to give away how the story concludes, but viewers are definitely left with the knowledge that this one connection between two people had no effect whatsoever on the inevitable trajectory of their lives. This was not a story of revolution, of resistance, or of justice. Rather, it was a small peek into the complexity of human connection in a very specific setting, for a very specific amount of time. Take from that what you will.
Having watched this movie, my love of Kristen Stewart was that much more solidified, and again I felt a wave of rage that some of her most incredible performances go unknown or unappreciated.
For example, the 2010 indie-drama Welcome to the Riley's where she plays a hard-ass teenage stripper who bonds with a couple who have lost their daughter. Again, Kristen thrives as a cold, gritty, and tousled character.
Another often overlooked role of Kristen's was her portrayal of Joan Jett in The Runaways, a film immortalizing Jett's successful all-girl rock band of the 70s -- also starring the fabulous Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie. My love of this movie is far too deep to fully encapsulate here in a few sentences, but I will say that it's a peek into a very specific world in a way that is just as raw as it is weird and amazing. Kristen is about as close to the perfect Joan Jett as you can get without actually being Joan Jett and she should get some gosh darn props for this role, and all of the others, that prove she is a talented and hardworking actress who should be respected as such.
So please, for all that is good and holy, throw out your misdirected and outdated judgments of this top notch actress and hop on Netflix or Amazon or anywhere you have to in order to see these movies and appreciate the Kristen Stewart that I am unapologetically obsessed with.
Watch the trailer for Camp X-Ray here.
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