Category Archives: race

Blackface is Racist. Period. Mocking Domestic Abuse is Misogynistic. Period.

So this happened.

http://jezebel.com/5952124/idiot-students-in-blackface-reenact-chris-brown-beating-rihanna-at-worst-pep-rally-ever

Yeah an almost all white school had a performance where they did a skit in blackface portraying Chris Brown beating the shit out of Rihanna to win a popularity contest. This was a skit approved by school officials, watched by staff and community leaders. And now many of the students and faculty are defending it, saying it’s not racist at all. Sadly I’m not that surprised by this but it did make me feel some things I wanted to share.

First of all, as always I love it when white people, especially white people who obviously have no cultural knowledge of the history of blackface, and have close to no diversity in their community tell me what’s racist.

‘Cause they know right? They’ve been hassled by the police. They’ve been called the n-word by people that were supposed to be their advocates. They’ve been targets of harassment where people wouldn’t believe them because of their skin tone. They’ve been assumed to be a thief, thug, stupid, animalistic. They know how much it hurts some members of the black community to see blackface, how it’s tied to a time when we were considered less than human, how it was used to mock, belittle, terrorize, and propagandize to keep a group of people from having basic rights.

Blackface is racist. The end. Any comedy that requires you to darken your skin to be funny? Relies on the characters race for humor and considering you couldn’t get a black person to play the role I’m going think that the comedy wasn’t exactly flattering. There is no reason for blackface. Why is your art relying on an archaic and problematic premise?

Prejudice is the easy joke, it’s the simple laugh. Watch any frat dudebro comedy and you’ll see, they go for the old school stereotypes about women, foreigners, LGBTQI folks, disabled people, poor people, etc. for their humor. The women are always virgins or whores there to be mocked for either decision, the POC are always thugs (Af-Am), hackers (As-Am), mocked for their misunderstanding of America (everyone), etc. and the gay characters are there to be mocked with old stereotypes that compare queer women to men and queer men to women. We’re not even going to go into that problematic binary, that’s a completely different post. The point is it’s the easy laugh. HaHa look at the outsider, they’re not like me so their funny. If that’s the only humor you can reach for, aside from being privileged and oppressive you’re just a bad comedian. It’s old, it’s tired, it’s racist, it’s no longer okay.

And I assume if they’re defending this and past examples of blackface they’ve examined why they feel the need to use blackface. They’ve delved deep into their psyche and examined why an almost all white community that has little to no contact with People of Color finds blackface so entertaining it had to happen repeatedly.  They have a really good defense and reasoning for why they did this, why educators approved it, why everyone thought it was funny, aside from their critics being stupid or oversensitive, right? They were doing some good work deconstructing race and gender and the male gaze right? ‘Cause if they don’t have any that.

It’s. Just. Racist.

This is without even going into the fact that they were recreating the act of a black woman being abused! Go to the link above, look at that photo, look at the all-white audience laughing and smiling while they imagine a brown woman being thrown to the ground in violence. I don’t care what the skit was, I don’t care what they meant by it, I don’t care for anything the students, faculty or attendees have to say that is not a heartfelt apology, an explanation why they thought this was funny, and a commitment to examine their own amusement at mocking the physical assault of a black woman. Would it have been just as hilarious if it was recreating Pamela Anderson’s abuse incident? Sharon Osbourne’s? There’s misogyny here to be sure but the racial aspect turns it into something even worse.

What is it about seeing a brown woman beaten that these white boys think will win them a popularity contest, that their community will be entertained by the misogynistic, racist spectacle?

Also I’m sure the faculty and advisers know that 1 in 3 teens report knowing a friend in an abusive relationship, that 1 in 4 teen girls have been forced into sex by a intimate partner, that 80% of abused teen girls continue to date their abuser, that almost a third of teen girls killed every year are killed by a boyfriend or husband. Given these statistics they must also know that there are likely girls in that auditorium watching that performance that are currently involved in an abusive relationship. So what message did they get from the faculty approving of this? How likely are these girls now to feel safe reporting anything about abuse to this school, to anyone in their community? They’ve effectively told all who see this that the misogynistic atmosphere of the community is the arbiter of who gets to complain, who’s pain is real and whose is a joke.

But it was all a joke right?

No, it’s not a joke. Abuse is not a joke, racism is not a joke. I’ve been known to make the off-color joke myself among friends, true but first that is among friends and I always try to be aware of the privilege I have and how that factors into what I’m saying. I try not to be defensive if people decide to call me on what I say. It seems like this community wants none of that. They want to pretend that blackface is just make-up, that watching a woman getting an abusive beatdown is all good fun, that a community rallying to defend white boy’s right to recreate a brown woman’s fear, terror and pain as entertainment is okay. It’s not. This is not art that’s meant to inform, educate or examine abuse in certain communities which is one thing but entertainment that mocks her pain, belittles it, makes it fodder for the humor of an all-white community.

And that? Is. Not. Okay.

Advertisements

Oh Conan Yes!: Defending the new movie

Went and saw the new Conan movie last night and it was amazing!

Okay so number one a lot of people have been calling the Schwarzenegger movie a classic and “How could they redo it?” and on and on and on. So let me just say I own the first movie on DVD along with Red Sonja. So don’t try to bullshit me into this world where the original Conan is some amazing bit of film. It is camp, high camp (as if any movie with Arnold could be anything but) and not even James Earl Jones turns it into some amazing bit of art. And if I’m remembering correctly everyone dies in that version, Conan comes out the other side but not many other allies survive. Nostalgia can be a powerful thing and I like the original film but come on.

Now on to the new film. Will contain spoilers:

Continue reading

Glee, Why You So White?

So Gwyneth Paltrow singing Cee-Lo Green. For all the reasons this hurts and why it should not be even in the most hellish of nightmare worlds, go here: A Few Things About Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘F*ck You’ As Performed on Glee for an excellent, intelligent and hilarious take on why it is so not okay. I’ve dealt with a lot on Glee (I’m looking at you Matthew Morrison and your incessant need to rap) but this is the first time I’m pretty sure I won’t be getting the songs on my iPod. So the part of the post linked above that seems to be causing the most drama up and in the comments is this part:

The song is off-limits for white people
Unless! Unless you really want to match Cee Lo sound for sound. First off, the soul-pop package doesn’t mitigate this song or its message; it mainstreams it. It’s subversion on steroids, and watered down to high-school pop it’s about as subversive as Reader’s Digest. More technically, I guess there’s nothing keeping Paltrow from actually rhyming that “if I was richer/I’d still be wit’ cha,” (hello, Amy Winehouse!), but her whitening of the phrase is kind of… well, disgusting. Let’s face it: Gwyneth Paltrow singing any variation on “F*ck You” is like Pat Boone singing “Tutti Frutti,” and maybe even worse: At least he didn’t have to dance with Cory Monteith and Chris Colfer.

Okay so the inevitable response to such queries as this is to scream “If you said black people couldn’t cover white songs that would be racist, so this isn’t okay! It’s reverse racism!” Okay first of all that’s a straw man argument that has nothing to do with the initial reasons given for why it’s not okay. Second of all, racism (as many people have said over and over) is privilege plus power. Black people as a group have never had enough power to enforce a nation-wide prejudice on white people in the west which continues through media to this very day.

Ignoring that let’s address that argument as if it’s valid. See the problem is that it’s only valid if equality is the base and we don’t live in an equal society at all and Glee certainly doesn’t exist in a universe of racial equality. See when this season started I was already a little put out that football coach Ken Tanaka and glee member Matt Rutherford were written out of the show and essentially replaced with white folk. Beiste for Tanaka, Sam for Matt. This is no comment on the characters of Beiste or Sam (both of whom I actually enjoy) but to show the whitening of the show in terms of diversity, one of the things they were initially praised for.

In the midst of this look at the guest stars they’ve had on the show so far: Eve, Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, Neil Patrick Harris, Barry Bostwick, Meatloaf, John Stamos, Johnathon Groff, Britney, Olivia Newton-John, Josh Groban, Cheyenne Jackson and now Gwyneth Paltrow. With the exception of Eve they are all white and Eve doesn’t even get to sing during her entire one episode appearance. How many songs has Kristin Chenoweth had on the show so far? More than Tina, one of the “main characters” that’s for sure.

So why can’t we have some Broadway legends of color? Some Jennifer Holliday, Stephanie Mills, Rita Moreno, Lea Salonga, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Audra McDonald, Taye Diggs. Shoot at this point I’m willing to accept Carol Channing’s sketchy claim to some black heritage and cheer for her as a guest star. Or even some actors/musicians of color? Jennifer Hudson, Halle Barry, Jennifer Lopez, Janet Jackson, Enrique Iglesias, Lenny Kravitz. You could just prop Whitney Houston up in the corner and have her bust out some ‘Greatest Love of All’. Shit, why couldn’t Cee-Lo himself play the substitute teacher and sing his own damn song?

I’ve watched Mercedes get slowly pushed aside, until she is the only glee club member without any kind of romantic interest, or urge at all if the show is to be believed. The relationship between Tina and Mike crosses the line from cute to stereotype so many times it makes my head spin and the treatment of Santana, especially in this last episode with the whole Puck/Artie storyline has drifted far into the overly sexualized latina stereotype.

The way the characters of color end up sidelined so much has resulted in many, many songs by artists of color being sung by white characters on that show. The reverse is hardly ever the case. When Mercedes is given a whole song to sing it is most often a song already done by a black female artist. She doesn’t get to cross that barrier ever (with the exception of Rocky Horror which she got crucified online by Glee fans) while characters like Mr. Schuester and Artie do so on a regular basis. This is not a case of there being a basis of equality that has suddenly changed. This is a case of people beginning to notice that the show is getting more and more white and monolithic in terms of race.

Glee does not rest on a base of equality, just as the world itself does not. To argue the charge of reverse racism you basically have to prove that all things being equal the world isn’t already slanted against People of Color and other oppressed groups. I’m not saying that individual members of an oppressed group cannot be prejudiced but the charge of reverse-racism is erroneous and detracts from the overall question I’ve started to have with Glee, a show I love and would like to continue too love, Glee why you getting more and more white?

And don’t even get me started on the conflation of white, young boy and gay that happens on the series, that’s another post that will be going up later this week.

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.

Racism as Involuntary Manslaughter?

The verdict has come down in the Oscar Grant trial as Involuntary Manslaughter. Not unexpected but still disappointing and hurtful. They say he meant to pull his taser though he pulled it twice and put it back before pulling his gun. I am told once again that my life does not matter that it can be thrown away. I sit here in my apartment downtown and my city explodes around me.

There are outside SWAT teams with snipers in my city.

There are Homeland Security vans in my city.

There is a sound cannon in my city.

There is tear gas in my city.

The response to police brutality is more intense brutality and fear.

Are riots the answer? Despite the anger and rage I can feel in me I hold onto the idea that violence is not the answer.

But what is? We’ve been shown time and time again that authorities care little for our lives. I now know that anytime I ride the BART I may be shot in the head and if the person that does it is wearing a badge they will very likely get away with it. This is a fear I’ve always had and it only increases with the continual evidence that my life is worth little to the world at large.

People gather and it is called unlawful assembly.
We are told to keep it peaceful but the police are never told the same.
Property damage means more to people that lives lost.

Do I condone the unfocused destruction? No.
Do I understand it? Yes.

We cannot rely on the system and we cannot gather to have our voices heard. People see no recourse. I am not leaving my house because I’m afraid of some mythical ravening hordes of mostly People of Color. I am afraid of the authorities. I am afraid of what they will do, what they have planned to do.

The media tries to present this as a riot waiting to happen. From what I’ve seen of the gathering from people who are there they were mostly peaceful. Meeting a force with police is not the way to diffuse a situation but instead a way to douse it in gasoline.

The system does not work.
And there are no easy answers.
All I know is a young boy is dead.
We are in mourning and my city is exploding.

Why do they keep letting M. Night make movies?

So I’ve talked about the whitewashing of films before on this blog and about The Last Airbender specifically. I’m especially bitter about this whitewashing because I’m so in love with the source material and by shifted something so important about the protagonists identity (and also the fact that they’re surrounded by POC as if their whiteness just dropped from the sky and that the only POC in the film are the F*&KING villains!) seems like nothing less than pissing on the fans of the original cartoon. An aside – all 3 seasons of the show are up on Netflix watch instantly so if you have it check it out.

Imagine my joy when the reviews for the movie started to come in. There was a struggle to find someone who would give it two stars. Now that’s pretty bad. Roger Ebert opened his review of the film with:

“The Last Airbender” is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented. The laws of chance suggest that something should have gone right. Not here. It puts a nail in the coffin of low-rent 3D, but it will need a lot more coffins than that.

Oooooh BURN! He gave the film half a star.

And in one of the funniest reviews I’ve read in a long-time, maybe ever, Charlie Anders over at io9.com has a lot to say about it but my favorite part is probably:

This is the part where I would insert a quick plot synopsis of the film, but it’s really unnecessary – Shyamalan has boiled every epic heroic story of the past 20 years down to its most basic, primal soup-y essence, so he can spray it all over the audience, in a kind of Hero’s-Journey bukkake. You will be finding chunks of Joseph Campbell’s calcified spooge behind your ears for three days after watching this film, no matter how many times you bathe.

And it goes on from there, love it!

So all these bad reviews and such led me to ask the most confusing question in the universe. Why is M. Night Shyamalan allowed to still make movies?

The Sixth Sense was a one-shot wonder, once you know the twist the movie’s not nearly as interesting or groundbreaking. In fact it sort of stretches out it’s one gag into this hour long angstfest when it could have been a short film of 20-30 minutes.

Unbreakable is actually what I consider his best film, a very interesting look at the whole superhero mythos.

Signs is kinda meh and predictable.

The Village made me want to punch him in the face! It wasn’t a twist ending so much as withholding information from the audience and keeping them ignorant until the last minute. Also if I’m promised monsters? You damn sure better give me some monsters!

Lady In The Water

The Happening just made me go: Really? REALLY? Aren’t you just ripping off The Day of the Triffids but with less of the making sense?

And here’s the thing I’m not alone in this thinking. Most of Shyamalan’s post-Sixth Sense work has received pretty lackluster reviews so why is he allowed to keep making movies? I’m not asking this to be mean I’m actually really intrigued by this. In a business that will kick you to the curb for one “meh” film and start giving you lower and lower budgets why does he constantly get to make these big-budget movies? Does he have dirt on all the studio heads? Has he kidnapped their families and now has them suspended over vats of acid?

He’s like Uwe Boll, he just will not go away. And actually I can handle Uwe Boll and his horrible game-based films quite a bit better because they’re not supposed to be staggering works of amazingness. They’re just a fun, popcorn fare and even if they fail on that level I never leave a Boll film feeling bamboozled, I know what I’m getting into but society conspires to make us think Shyamalan’s a genius and I just can’t see it.

And I’m not even gonna respond to most of Shyamalan’s ridiculous defense of his whitewashing of The Last Airbender except to say (1) No Mr. Shyamalan we all realize you’re a Person of Color that actually makes it WORSE and (2) having a bunch of POC in the background or as villains does not make your film diverse, it’s the same bullshit Hollywood has always pulled, they are happy to have us as long as we’re silent or showing our evil ways.

Quick Post! – Transcript Published

Attending WisCon this year I participated in a conversation (among mostly fans of Color) about RaceFail’09, the ramifications of that, the confluence of race and science fiction and race in general. Portions of the conversation were transcribed (with full permission asked and granted of all participants) and appear in the new international peer-reviewed journal Transformative Works and Cultures, Vol 3 (2009). Really good conversation around race and being a fan, check it out if you get the chance:
Pattern recognition: A dialogue on racism in fan communities
Second year of grad school is still kickin’ my ass but hopefully things will slow down after the next couple of weeks and I can get back to blogging more regularly.