Glowing in the Dark: Being Feminist At the Movies

12 Jun

Last night, we went to see Jumping the Broom, but this is not about that movie. I don’t have energy to waste on telling Salim Akil to do better (again); I don’t have enough energy to show the ways in which Tyler Perry and T.D. Jakes are cinematic bedfellows, conspiring in the dark to teach black women how to get and keep a man with the help of Jesus.

 I’d rather talk about what happens when six feminists walk into a movie theater or any other space that would render us silent.  We laugh. We pass popcorn. We call “bullshit” when appropriate. We notice similarities to relatives and point them out to our neighbors. We drink smuggled wine. We talk too loud. We fume. We remind ourselves and those listening that we are absent from/ offended by this film. We have side conversations about which child star has grown into his face, about which male lead may or may not have dentures. We resist. We glow in the dark.

That we managed to have fun after (maybe during) two hours of a prosperity gospel sermon with pictures is more than a miracle; it’s a daily practice of society’s despised and dispossessed. Pearl Cleage, in an essay called “Beverly’s Boots” wrote about such practice. In the aftermath of the Bush/ Quayle election, the city of Atlanta exploded with black feminist energy. Hanging out with sisterfriends, Cleage almost forgot to remember that she had just been politically dispossessed and the remembrance almost depressed her: “All of a sudden, I felt my blues coming back strong and that’s when I saw Beverly’s boots.” They were cowboy boots that “didn’t give a damn about George Bush.” For a few hours the other night, we didn’t give a damn either.

Let me be clear; we didn’t have to stay in that theater. In fact, if faced with a similar situation in the future we will probably leave. But the truth is that there are other spaces we don’t want to leave. We talked last night about the academy, about the politics of negation that play out, about the silencing that goes on and the frequent dismissals. But I don’t want to leave. I take my daughter to church to wear the dresses bought by her relatives and I wonder what tools I need to give her if decide to stay; I can’t smuggle in wine or call “bullshit” when I hear it. There are other institutions and groups that would rather I disappear and still I glow in the dark.

 I often think about what CF Ashon wrote when the news of Eddie Long’s sexual abuse surfaced. He wrote, “The ability to have pleasure in the spaces that try to make it impossible is important… We have the capacity to withhold in us a certain consent to the theological, emotional, psychical violence we are made to endure. And having the capacity to withhold, we have something in us that persists.” I hope I am not abusing his meaning when I say that in withholding consent to violent messages, we are also creating ways to find and make pleasure in the space(s) of negation, to play (with ourselves) in the dark.  

It is a lesson I have learned by living in this body that is already coded with meaning, with darkness.

Darkness is alive, creating light/ life. It is more than empty metaphor, imbued with meaning by those who have named themselves namers. We laugh in the dark. We dance in the dark. We gossip, whisper, plot and plan. We soothe each other, we build fortresses, we organize, we recycle love and expand it. We won’t be negated, silenced, erased. We withhold consent. We glow.

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7 Responses to “Glowing in the Dark: Being Feminist At the Movies”

  1. sheridf June 13, 2011 at 11:11 AM #

    CF Asha, this is why I love you and your way with words. Thank you for affirming our gathering and our cultural work of dissent. I literally felt guilty for having suggested that we see Jumping the Broom, but I am so thankful that my dominant memories are our reactions to the ridiculousness rather than the ridiculousness itself. Feminist movie going can be fun and the debrief is even more exciting…especially reflecting on the moment when the bottle hit the floor. That bottle is a reflection of us–Not Easily Broken–even when they try to tell us that we don’t exist, need to change, are not good enough, are to blame for everything, or that success is “mo money” than is ever necessary. I certainly have what I need in my crew in real life regardless of the fact that our lives are not worthy of reflection on the big screen. My crew “talks back” and I love it.

  2. KT June 13, 2011 at 12:55 PM #

    I know that you (explicitly) said that you didn’t want to dissect “Jumping the Broom,” but I would love to hear your opinions about the film. I would have liked to see more discussion of the class tensions between Paula Patton and Laz Alonzo’s families, but I think that the film accomplished what it meant to accomplish (i.e. a light, not-heavy-or-analytical summer film about the virtues of black heterosexual marriage).

  3. Qalil Little June 13, 2011 at 3:06 PM #

    Forgive me for saying this (yes, a polite way to segue into what I really want to say) but if you had watched other Salim Akil’s work and found it to be lacking, or understand the message of Bishop Jakes and Tyler Perry (which has never changed or wavered) were you expecting a different reaction to the movie? Did you go in on a dare?

    I would like to suggest that it is probably part of the darkness that you say comes with the body you possess. And I am not speaking about the shade of your skin, but the actual darkness that understands that you will be dissatisfied with the quality of work and its presentation and ultimate message. That you delight in the darkness because it breeds the kind of mirth that exists in the “reaction to the ridiculousness”.

    Okay. I got stuck there for a moment. Believe me, I do not condemn you for your actions. I used to watch Survivor & So You Think You Can Sing.

    (Just FYI I understand your comparison to sitting in the theatre watching a movie you knew was going to be bad to taking your daughter to church. Just didn’t get the why….)

    Qalil.com

    • sheridf June 13, 2011 at 8:47 PM #

      @Qalil. I can honestly say that I did not know it was a T.D. Jakes film until it flashed on the screen and my money had been spent. I saw the trailer at the last black movie I saw and loved “I Will Follow.” Had I known ahead of time that it was a Jakes film I would not have purchased the ticket or organized the viewing. In many ways I think many of us made the best of the situation.

  4. ashoncrawley June 14, 2011 at 10:52 AM #

    yes yes yes!

    i mean, i’m so thankful i was able to see the film WITH you all because it made it not only bearable, but enjoyable [the wine, of course, did its part ... lol] …

    it’s something about being there – together – that was so very profound and moving. we were hella loud … we were a mess … in such a great sorta way!
    :-)

  5. Linda June 15, 2011 at 6:47 AM #

    This takes me back to the early 70’s when being “impolite” to men gave me such pleasure, and when being a woman in a crowd of women who joked about how a fish didn’t need a bicycle really meant some underground power to be self-determined. The giddiness that goes along with co-conspiracies to midbehave is hard to match – certainly men in drag and mega-churches can’t match it.

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