Newly named Caine Prize winner Namwali Serpell says that her “act of mutiny” — as she calls it — was premeditated. The literary prize, awarded annually to just one African writer for a short story written in English, comes with a hefty financial reward — just over $15,000. The Zambian writer says she’d dreamed up her mutiny days before the Monday ceremony: If she should win, she’d split that sum with her fellow nominees.

“It’s such a wonderful group of people, such a cohesive group of writers,” she says in an interview with NPR. “And it just felt weird and sad that we were now going to be pitted against each other in some kind of battle royal. I think, for the writers obviously, literature’s not a competitive sport.”

Caine Prize Winner: Literature Is Not A Competitive Sport

Image: Namwali Serpell, this year’s winner of the Caine Prize. (Courtesy of the Caine Prize for African Writing)

Reasons why Jupiter Ascending is one of my favorite movies

The cast is actually diverse.

Could it have been more diverse? Hell yeah. But let me present you with two very important minor characters: Famulus and Diomika Tsing.

Despite the fact that the constitute as background characters, they were well developed and enjoyable characters. They weren’t simply background faces - both had clear characters and were portrayed as very strong characters throughout, in very different ways. These are both women of colour with wonderful roles and characterizations. Do I want more? Yes. Though we did have a non-Western European lead in Jupiter (Mila Kunis is Ukranian, which I believe is Eastern-European), I feel like we could have had more. But this is a good step in the right direction!

The movie switches the traditional male and female relationship roles

Throughout the movie, it was Jupiter that was making the romantic advances towards Caine. Hell, this is even depicted in the movie poster:

Here we have Caine in the background, standing behind a forward-facing and determined-looking Jupiter, his eyes on her and not the camera. She is placed in front of him - her focus is ahead, focusing ahead, while his attention is on her. She carries the drive that is typically placed on a male character, while his drive seems to focus purely on Jupiter. Typically, it’s the other way around.

Further, Jupiter was the one who approached him, the one making hilarious and awkward come-ons (“I love dogs”), the one with the deliberately sexual innuendos (“Do you want to bite me?”), the one presenting the idea of a romantic or sexual relationship with Caine. And Caine got to play the conflicted party. He didn’t make advances on her - which leads to another vastly important part of this film.

Jupiter is the dominant half in her relationship with Caine.

Caine, as we can all clearly see, is not the leading force in their relationship. Everything is on Jupiter’s terms. She initiates the relationship, she determines her actions and his, and she acts as a leader. Caine, though a very strong character and individual, isn’t dominant. He’s subservient to Jupiter consistently. She calls the shots, and he follows. In this way, he’s almost her sidekick. When Caine saves her from a marriage to Titus, he doesn’t do as he pleases and shoots the Abrasax heir - he asks Jupiter to “Please let me shoot him”. When she denies him, however, he relents. Despite the fact that he wants to shoot Titus, when she tells him no, he listens.

It also helps that in almost every shot of the two of them, Caine is positioned angled behind her, clearly in a supportive role.

Jupiter takes the role of the “chosen one” as opposed to Caine

We saw this problem in movies such as the Lego Movie, Disney’s Atlantis, and many more: the male is a “chosen one” taught by the woman who is the top in her class, and yet he miraculously overpowers her in order to save the day and take his place as the Hero.

Here, we have the opposite. Jupiter is the chosen one with no fighting experience - no formal training, nothing. Caine is the trained soldier. Jupiter is an outsider with no glimmer of knowledge on how this space hierarchy works - and yet she learns, practically overnight, the nuances of this worlds laws, and successfully uses them to her advantage against Titus Abrasax. She goes from an outsider to a main player.

She goes from a person with no particle fighting experience, to a fighter. Granted, she’s going up against Balem, who isn’t exactly a fighter himself, but she kicks his ass regardless. She defeats the main villain, using her abilities, where for all intents and purposes Caine was the most well-outfitted to perform that task.

Caine was more sexualised - not Jupiter

We had an entire sequence where Caine had his shirt off for seemingly no reason other than “he forgot to put it back on”.

Meanwhile, Jupiter was always fully covered, and never once was she put into a deliberately sexual stance/display. The fewest clothes we ever see her in is when she is in the hospital gown at the beginning of the movie: and then, she is definitely not painted sexually. It would have been so easy to do this - Mila Kunis is already a highly sexualized actress - and yet they managed to avoid doing that.

Meanwhile, Caine has a very hyper-masculine gait about him - he walks and moves in a very animalistic manner, no doubt attributed to his spliced genetics - but it’s not hard for people to put together that that tends to be a real gear-greaser for gals and guys. Look at Spike, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or even Edward Cullen and Jacob Black from the Twilight Saga. Though different, these fan-favorites are all closely linked to animalistic behavior and descriptions. Girls eat that up - and in this case it’s clear that Caine is fanservice to those girls. And meanwhile…

Jupiter saves herself more often than Caine saves her.

In the beginning, yes, Caine does have to save Jupiter. And he has to save her a few more times after that - but then the major fight comes. Does Caine jump in and handle her fight for her? No.

(above gif belongs to vyragosa)

Though Caine helps her, he doesn’t save her - not the way things generally go down. They’re both fighting, side-by-side (but not literally so). Jupiter takes on Balem. Caine takes on the role of saving her family. Jupiter is still pitted against the “big bad”, the main threat, and Caine takes on the lackeys. Jupiter saves herself every time it counts, and when she’s done defeated her biggest threat, Caine arrives to take her to safety.

Jupiter defies traditional gender stereotypes

Balem uses Jupiter’s family as a bargaining chip to get Jupiter to abdicate her throne. And Jupiter almost falls for it - she is moments away from signing away all her rights to Earth and the people on it. 

(above gif belongs to vyragosa)

Most people would expect Caine to bust in and keep her from making that decision - in fact, that’s what I was waiting for - but instead Jupiter makes that call for herself yet again. People claim that woman can’t make tough choices - that their emotions, their ‘womanly nature’ will get in the way of thinking logically. But here, given the emotional choice and the logical choice, Jupiter defies that. She pulls away. She says 'not today’.

Jupiter stands there and is ready to let not only herself, but her family - who matter to her beyond all other things - die. Because she knows that if she doesn’t, then all the people of Earth will be harvested. She knows that in the grand scheme, her family versus the billions of humans on earth, that this is the lesser sacrifice. 

Jupiter wasn’t a prize for Caine - Caine was a prize for Jupiter

This doesn’t need much explanation. In the end, Jupiter returns to her life. She has renewed love for her family, despite their less-than-stellar situation (which she can easily change, now). There is a new affection there, and she gets to have that, and then she walks out to her new boyfriend. He is her carrot on a stick - her prize for all her running around.

(above edit by gentlesleaze

All of these facts point to one very important thing: Jupiter Jones is the ultimate female power fantasy done right. Jupiter is everything we’ve been asking for in a character, done so wonderfully well with characters that are so wonderfully nuanced. Are there some faults with the plot, and the logic and the reason? Yes. And I’m sure someone else will readily pick that apart for you. But Everything else about this movie is so incredibly important - so incredibly subversive - and so well done, that it’s completely reasonable to overlook some of the logical fallacies.

TL;DR: Jupiter Jones is fucking amazing and we probably don’t deserve her.

Jupiter Jone’s Agency: Character Development and Non-Violent Strength

I’ve wanted to write this as a full-fledged meta for quite a while and having just re-watched the film recently, now seems like a good time. 

LOTS of people have already commented on wether Jupiter Jones is a “strong” character or a “Mary Sue” or somehow “detrimental” to women’s attempts at positive representation in film. This is my own take on the issue, which can basically be summed up in two main statements: 

Jupiter Jones has a great deal of character development throughout the film. 

Jupiter Jones prizes violence only when it’s to defend herself or others. 

As I move through Jupiter Ascending, I want to focus in on these two points, as well as point out the numerous places where Jupiter demonstrates agency. I honestly believe that Jupiter appears “weak” to many viewers because she represents a type of female strength we’re not used to seeing on the big screen.  

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Today in Book News: Pakistani writer Jamil Ahmad, who published his debut novel, The Wandering Falcon, when he was 79, has died “after a long illness,” his publisher said. He was 83. Ahmad spent decades as a civil servant in the country’s tribal northwest, experiences he drew upon for the book, which was shortlisted for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize. He wrote the novel in the 1970s, but in his words, it “hibernated” for 40 years before finding a publisher.Ahmad said he wrote it because “I want people to understand that tribes are not savage." 

Also today, Kenyan author Okwiri Oduor has won the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing with her story ”My Father’s Head.“ And scandal is afoot in the small (yet mighty) poetry community of North Carolina. Gov. Pat McCrory appointed a self-published state employee as the new poet laureate, prompting significant pushback from the state’s literary community. 

Read more here.

I read Okwiri Oduor’s short story that won the Caine Prize and have been mulling over this since:

Everyone has people that belong to them.” 
The old man laughed. “Only the food you have already eaten belongs to you.”

I sometimes think we are obsessed with belonging. With owning (people… things…). I truly wonder why.