Category Archives: media representation

For Colored Girls…But Not Really

Now I’ll fully admit that I have watched some Tyler Perry movies in the past and even enjoyed one or two. There’s a lot to discuss about Perry most especially the way women tend to be portrayed in his work. Strong but unable to be so if they continue to be single. It’s like the law of Tyler Perry movies a female character cannot just leave her abusive/mean/dismissive/boring husband or boyfriend unless there’s another man already lined up for her to lean on. There’s also the added facet that all of these women go from “professional” men to “working class” men which adds a whole class aspect to his work. The men always marry up and the women always marry down in terms of socio-economic level. And this isn’t saying that that is not a valid story for some folks but it’s less the individual movies I have a problem with as much as the overall thematic pattern of his work. The only woman allowed to be angry and strong consistently in his work is himself dressed as Madea, which is a whole essay on its own. We could also talk about the fact that those who starred in his original plays and happen to be plus size and black never make the transition to screen unless its in the background, there’s not even talk about the originators of the roles being cast which is interesting considering the to do that’s happened around other transitions like Rent and such but again point for another time that none the less informs a lot of the things that bother me about him and his portrayal of women of color.

So I was understandably nervous when he bought the rights to Ntozake Shange’s amazing choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf which is an amazing work from the perspective of eight  black women only known  by the titles: Lady in Red, Lady in Orange, Lady in Yellow,…Green, …Blue, …White, …Brown and …Black. It’s one of the most moving pieces I’ve ever read period. It interrogates the perspective of black women as they fall in love, deal with abuse, raise their children, confront their secrets, work, dance and just live their lives. It’s nuanced. It’s moving. It’s smart. It’s beautiful. These are not words I really connect to Tyler Perry or his work.

The fact that originally Nzingha Stewart was supposed to direct the film before he used his connections to snatch the film from her already did not make me a fan of  him. When it was announced that he was considering Beyonce for one of the roles I was too through. Then as things started to come together in terms of the cast I had hope: Janet Jackson (who lest people forget started in acting – Good Times, Fame and Poetic Justice), Whoopi Goldberg, Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose, Loretta Devine, Kerry Washington, Kimberly Elise, Phylicia Rashad, Tessa Thompson and more. These are all actresses I’m a huge fan of and began to balance out the presence of Tyler Perry. I also learned that rather than writing the screenplay himself he was using the the screenplay that Nzingha Stewart wrote when she was still in charge of the film which IMDb and various sources confirm. Another point in the movies favor.

And as I was watching the trailer I actually was interested.

(WordPress would not let me embed the video of the trailer, go here to watch it.)

Until the whole video ended with this:

“Written For The Screen, Produced and Directed
By Tyler Perry”

WTF? So not only did Perry snatch the film itself from Stewart but he’s taking credit for her work. Now if it turns out that what I’ve heard and IMDB is reporting is wrong then I’ll take this back but as of now I hate Tyler Perry. What a move to make? To take a story about black women’s experiences written by  a black woman, steal it from a black female director (of which there are few enough as it is) and then take credit for her work. Methinks you actually need to read some of the original work you’re adapting:

somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff

somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff 
not my poems or a dance i gave up in the street
 but somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff

like a kleptomaniac workin hard & forgettin while stealin
 this is mine/this aint yr stuff/
now why don’t you put me back & let me hang out in my own self

somebody almost walked off wit alla my stuff 
& didn’t care enuf to send a note home sayin 
i was late for my solo conversation
 or two sizes to small for my own tacky skirts

link to the entire piece

We could also have a conversation about the shortening of the name, erasing a lot of the context in terms of the lives being portrayed, but that’s a post for another time.

Fringe – Female Characters and Children

So I know I said I would watch Buffy and start blogging it but I got distracted by Fringe. Now I never watched much of the show when it first premiered but in the last week I’ve torn through the whole first season and the first few episodes of the second and it’s an interesting shows that gives at leas some answers while creating new questions, which I like. But I have one nagging question in regards to FBI Agent, Olivia Dunham.

What in the hell is the point of her sister and niece?

No, really.

They do nothing.

This is not to disparage the actresses at all but to say that the roles themselves are useless in terms of plot  BUT not in terms of gender construction. I have a theory. This all goes back to Agent Dunham (played by Anna Torv) who is an emotionally damaged, waifish young woman with a mystical destiny. Some say Anna Torv is simply not the best actress and is wooden in some spots. While I can see their point in places I overall think this is actually an aspect of the character Olivia Dunham.  Dunham is damaged in so many ways and that is how Torv is playing her, as someone who deep down is sort of wooden, whose happiness is a bit sharp and sudden and fades fairly quickly. That’s a hard thing to play and play well and its an assignment rarely given to women’s characters.

So what’s up with Olivia’s niece, is she just another Cousin Oliver? In a way but not quite.

I think she’s there to make Olivia Dunham more maternal and acceptable to the viewing audience as a female badass. As I said the character of Olivia is broken, messed-up, full of rage, thinks before speaking, and is a prophesied savior, that’s a lot for a character and it’s more to work with than women actors usually get. So I think the niece was put in so that Olivia could interact with her lovingly and therefore reassure the viewing audience that she does have the softer emotions that make her “believable” as a woman.

Audiences have issues with strong female characters or more perhaps honestly executives believe that audiences have issues with strong female characters and one way to mitigate this in their eyes is to show her character in ways that are more traditionally conceived as female spaces/norms. So basically the only time we even see the niece is when Olivia is cuddling with her in bed or refusing to stop reading to her or praising her drawings or any other number of “maternal” actions that are presented to prove that she’s not just a hardcore FBI agent but also a “real” woman. And of course they couldn’t give her a daughter and show a single mom being badass and such (which would’ve actually been really interesting) because that would anger some of the audience with the idea that she could die and leave her child alone. So a niece is perfect, shows her maternal side while also having another support system.

But  like I said it’s just a theory. Who knows once I push farther into the second season the niece and her mother will actually have things to do and become interesting rounded characters?

I somehow doubt it though.

Appropriative Racial Politics VS Pseudo-Liberalism in Glee

So I am addicted to the new tv series Glee. I talk about it with friends and never miss an episode. Last night’s episode was…interesting in terms of racial identity.

Warning Spoilers Ahead

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So Close Yet So Far!

So I’m obviously not as plugged in as I thought I was because until last night I had never heard of the Emmy-winning web series Satacracy 88. Twenty-four episodes were done in ’06 and ’07 and they are all viewable on hulu. Now the pluses are complex, interesting Woman of Color protagonist, plenty of People of Color,  passes the Bechdel Test, gotta support indie art and the plot is pretty interesting and grabby.

I stayed up late last night watching the whole thing, each episode is only 3 -5 minutes and I was loving it until I reached the end. Now I’m not gonna ruin it for anyone who is going to head over and watch it but I found it anti-climactic and boring and just plain annoying.

This time though I can’t really blame the creators or the showrunners for the badness. See, Satacracy 88 comes to us via ItsAllInYourHands.Com where at the end of each episode the protagonist is left torn between two possibilities and the audience vote decides which way they go. It’s like a group census Choose You Own Adventure Book!

They have two other shows on their webpage and on hulu.com but I’m too burned on how Satacracy 88 ended to put myself willingly into mob rule television again anytime soon. I would recommend people go watch it if only so I can have someone to discuss some of the possibly problematic elements I recognized. One of which was Satacracy 88’s origin story which I put under a cut so as not to spoil:

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Talking Amongst Ourselves

Now something I’m sure most folks who are knowledgeable about anti-oppression politics and discuss them in their everyday life have seen is the attitude that you only hold those beliefs to be politically correct or to be argumentative about “the way things are”. I know when I’ve told people that “No, I talk about these things all the time because they effect my life everyday.” I’ve gotten disbelieving looks or right out accusation that I don’t discuss race when I’m with other People of Color, etc. Now anyone who knows me, has talked to me at a convention or has hung out with me for more than a few hours can tell you that’s bullshit but the attitude is always there, that thought that you only talk this way or feel this way because of the company you’re in or whatever other outside factors. First of all it’s straight out insulting to insinuate that I can’t form my own opinions or that my opinions are so ludicrous that there must be some outside force exerting pressure on me. Secondly it’s just untrue. 

Now the documentary U People which I’ve been desperate to see for months and is now up for free in it’s totality on Logo Online explores the conversation people have within their community. Hanifah Walidah a poet, rapper, actress and black lesbian was filming the video for her song Make A Move where she recreated a house party. Now black GLBT folks have a long history of house parties that stretches back for decades. It arose out of a number of factors but a major one was the racism they tended to encounter when they tried to enter GLBT watering holes and forming a vibrant community outside of that hostile environment. Since they couldn’t go to the limited number of GLBT bars/clubs at the time they made their own parties and clubs in each others houses. Some of the parties were exclusively for men or women and some were mixed. And this is not a tradition that has died out, it’s still alive and strong – moreso on the west coast than anywhere else but the legacy is all over.

Anyway, while Hanifah was filming this music video she heard the conversations that were happening all around her and decided that those were just as important as what was going to end up in the music video. She calls it an accidental documentary for just this reason but go and read about it in her own words at the website linked above.

But there it is: a group of 30 People of Color, mostly lesbian women and a couple of transfolk (I also believe there are two or three straight women who talk about being straight in a majority lesbian environment) talking amongst themselves. Talking about gender and the “definition” of woman, talking about coming out, talking about the intersection of race and gender, and all of it to each other, with each other, about each other. It shows not only the complexity and differences among the supposed monolithic horde of “you people” but is also a chronicle of community and the way we form it around ourselves.

Go check out U People even if you don’t think you’ll learn anything from it because it is a touching, smart and funny documentary that shows a segment of society so exceedingly overlooked by the mainstream.

Even leaving aside the personal connection I feel to this documentary despite not being a lesbian – because in so many ways these are the women I grew up around and connect with very well – it’s an amazing film. Now if only I could see black./womyn.:conversations sometime soon. 

We Don’t Get This.

So while I was rejuvenating last week and re-finding inspiration and all that hippy-dippy shit I saw something that made me angry. It was this:

Now let’s ignore for the moment that this latest in the way too long line of “Seth-Roganesque/40-Year-Old-Virgin/SuperBad/socially-awkward-boy-meets-beautiful-intelligent-articulate-girl-who somehow-falls-for-his-dumbass/storyline-that-was-already-done-and-done-better-in-the-eighties/just-playing-to-socially-awkward-guys-who-live-in-their-parents-basement-to-try-and-convince-them-that-no-really-totally-smart-funny-with-it-girls-are-just-waiting-for-you-to-drag-them-to-the-depths-of-mediocrity-really-would-we-lie?” films shows that we’ve reached a point where even the illusion of diversity is totally unnecessary. Watch that trailer. Try to spot a Person of Color anywhere in the cast or background. I saw it 20 times this past week and I couldn’t see one but I might have missed it, so please let me know if you spot one because it seems to me as if there are no People of Color in that weird pastiche of the 70s/80s/90s these movies are all set in. Okay *deep breath* leaving that behind. What really annoys and angers me about these films is that People of Color don’t get to have these narratives.

We don’t get to have the fun summer of growing up film, we don’t get to show our childhoods on screen unless they are somehow tragic. In discussing this with one of my housemates she said the closest film she can think of is Roll Bounce – I’ve never seen it (How many of you have? Or even heard of it? I remember hearing a little bit of something and then it was gone like a whisper in a wind storm) but from what she told me about it it does sound like what I mean. Now obviously that means that sometimes the story does get lit for production, one could maybe argue that Love Don’t Cost A Thing (a remake of 80’s Can’t Buy Me Love) fits the mold as well. But overall the stories of Youths of Color tends to center on Boyz In The Hood  or Hustle & Flow where the story can be about how bad the ghetto is and how hard it is to try and rise above that and we almost inevitably end up dead or right back where we started thereby allowing the audience to feel sympathy for us and at the same time not have to deal with the idea of relating with a Person of Color on an equal level.


(In this one there’s at least a couple of Asian side characters)

And it’s not that the story of the ghetto and the particular intersection of  -isms that result in ghettos don’t need to be explored or aren’t true for some people but that should not be the only stories we get. I want the wild night out story of our own. I want to see the spectrum of People of Color experience on the silver screen. I want to be able to see a film that has the growing up story of a young middle class Latina girl, one where she’s not sexually assaulted, abused, arrested, demonized. I want to see a movie with an all Asian cast but that’s not about overachieving drug dealers (Better Luck Tomorrow) hell we can’t even get an Asian cast when the actual people the story is based on are Asian (21).

Now one could argue there’s no market for these films but that’s a massive oversimplification that ignores the critical and box office success of such films as Waiting To Exhale, Eat Drink Man Woman, Harold & Kumar, Soul Food, Like Water For Chocolate and Independence Day. Now the last may seem like a stretch from what I’m talking about but it fits as well because when I say “We Don’t Get This.” I’m not only talking about the frat-boyish/awkward-teen/buddy-buddy movie genre. I’m talking about the fact that we don’t get a huge diversity of characters so to have a Sci-Fi film where the two heroes are and African-American man and a Jewish man was a huge deal. In all of the movies I list Actors of Color were allowed to play roles that are usually not written  for them and they received praise for their portrayals.

So why don’t we see more films like those?

Because audiences are taught not to expect anything but tragedy from films featuring People of Color. We are conditioned by society in general and media depictions specifically to accept that People of Color can only fall into one of two roles, the ridiculous sidekick or the tragic hero who dies winning/lives on without any changed circumstances/without fulfilling their dream. Even when we prove that stories about us can be hits, that we can be a box office draw it doesn’t seem to open the door for other films that stretch the perceptions of People of Color. It doesn’t get us our own Sleepless in Seattle or When Harry Met Sally. We still get the occasional non-sterotypical role green-lit but it doesn’t happen that often and when it does happen it rarely gets the promotion or press coverage that it deserves. Yet, I could not turn around without seeing a commercial for the hot-crap-on-screen that is Adventureland.

The movies I listed are exceptions (excluding for Like Water For Chocolate which is definitely a tragedy in my mind) but simply look at the movies that People of Color as actors win Oscars for – Sidney served as labor for some German nuns for no pay. Halle had to play the tragic poor beat down by life black woman and Denzel had to die in war and play a crooked cop, Whoopi was the comic relief/fake-psychic. And I’m not at all saying that they did not deserve the awards they received what I’m trying to get across is that audiences are more comfortable praising us and awarding us accolades is we play a certain role. If anything the actors mentioned deserved to win more than one Oscar a piece for other fantastic roles that stretched their acting prowess.

The sad part is that I like these kinds of films. I would almost definitely enjoy Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist if I were to see it. But I can’t help but wonder when we get to run around Manhattan all night having a good time? When do our crappy summer jobs get chronicled?

Critiquing Joss Whedon

Joss Whedon created – Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Serenity and the upcoming Dollhouse. Now I have issues with a lot the shows listed, I’m also a huge fan. My problem isn’t entirely with the shows but also in the way a lot of of fans perceive Joss. He gets a lot of cachet from certain segments of fandom – about how he loves strong women, how he describes himself as a feminist, his population of diverse women.

Yeah I kind of scoff at all of that. First of all I will never understand why men who choose to treat women decently get a fucking medal, that should just be par for the course. I know it’s not and we as a society need to work on that but handing out cookies to these men and not allowing them to be critiqued or not critiquing them just allows them to get away with a lot of bullshit – that without the cachet of being a “feminist man” or “pro-feminist man” they would be torn to shreds for.

While I love Buffy & Firefly. (Angel I’m kinda *meh* on) the first thing that I notice is that Joss likes a certain type of woman to be strong: they have to be skinny and white and ever so traditionally beautiful. Not really that feminist to me. I’ve had a lifetime of reading comics where skinny  women become superheroes all the time. Buffy was little different from them to me. I liked her sarcasm, her determination but didn’t truly see her or the show as ground breaking…wait rephrase perhaps it was ground breaking for the medium of television specifically. But it seemed to me that everytime there was a feminist moment of fabulousness it was always within this very narrow view of women so that no ground was actually gained in my eyes. If it was anything it was the feminism he ascribed to was this prevalent “girl-power” pseudo-feminism. Yes, it was great to see girls and women being strong but you know what I would have loved? If we could have seen women of different colors, sizes, abilities, classes being just as strong without fucking up and killing someone innocent (Faith) or dying (Kendra).

And so often the shows fell into stereotypes and tropes:

The destruction of Angel’s life through Cordelia’s rampant sexuality and yes we find out she was possessed and it wasn’t really her but that whole excuse was way muddled and not thought out. 

I would have loved for Gunn (the only recurring POC in his first two shows) to just be able to be smart without a mystical intervention.

The dead lesbian – Tara

The breakdown of women without a male partner or when the male partner leaves – Buffy, Anya, Willow and on and on – in a way where we rarely if ever saw the reverse with Xander and Giles.

There’s a way in which Joss likes to consistently pair physical strength in girls with emotional weakness or fucked-up-ness, almost as if they have to exist side by side and that’s what pissed me off more than anything.

And yes we can’t say that Joss had a hand in all of those, he was the creator but he did not write every episode but as the creator he sets the tone, the pace and the message of the show. None of the show writers are going to write a character completely out of the character that Joss has set. It’s a trickle down effect.

Also I think most of us can agree while Joss might have an inkling of feminism he’s really bad at race…really really bad. Yes, in Firefly we have a mixed crew – which I love – but there’s a way in which River and Inara never have their heritage brought up and the complete absence of Asian folks in this Asian inspired show could be a whole post in and of itself. Just plopping down some folks of color is not good race politics you have to explore it at least a little – and I know he only had 12 episodes. Also the gender politics in Firefly/Serenity weren’t the best. In fact cracked.com listed Hollywood’s 5 Saddest Attempts at Feminism- River’s at #3.

I want to talk about these things, I want to talk about his consistently really bad race politics in all three of his shows. I want to talk about the co-opting of feminism by the mainstream into this whole “girl power” movement where there’s not real critique of power structures and the similarity of this “girl power” movement to the Republican ideology of “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” without any discussion of the continuing hierarchies and how difficult that can make it. I want to talk about all of that and how that’s filtered into Joss’ work but all too often I’m completely shut down by calls of “He’s a feminist!” as if that gives him a free ride to do whatever else he wants.

I own: all 7 season of Buffy, Firefly, Serenity & the first two seasons of Angel so it’s safe to term me a fan but I know that Joss has issues that crop up as do all creators. Shoot I know my own work probably has issues but I would hope that no one would give me a pass, that folks would tell me imy issues so I could be aware of it and either acknowledge it as a problem that had to exist in the work or apologize and try and do better next time. When we don’t allow for these critiques and questions to be voiced then we’re doing a disservice not only to the work but to the creator as well.

There might be posts later that focus on these shows and specifically their race politics when I get the time because:

Buffy – So. California town with little-to-no People of Color?

Angel – Only representation of POC is the trope of ghetto-gang-hustler?

Firefly/Serenity – The already mentioned absence of Asian folks coupled with the complete appropriation of their culture.