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Django Unchained and Why Context Matters

6 Jan

django_unchained

Some spoilers ahead, but mostly I’m  just feeling all my feelings…

Growing up, I had to deal with my mother’s love for Westerns. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen The Outlaw Josie Wales. One of the many joys of expanded basic cable (besides the Cooking Channel, of course) is that I get Encore Westerns. Between that and reruns of Walker, Texas Ranger, I know that when my mama comes to visit she will be thoroughly entertained.

I don’t get her love for the genre. I mean, I get it on one level. I know my mother appreciates a good revenge tale and she likes it when the bad guys grovel at the end. But Westerns? Really? Then again, I unapologetically look forward to watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta and all the iterations of Love and Hip Hop, so who am I to judge? We all hold contradictions, not to mention shamtastic and raggedy entertainment choices.

So, when I saw that Django was coming out during the holidays, I thought this would be something that we could watch together. I mean, I do “enjoy” an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger now and again but I’m not sure that that counts. Django would definitely give us both something to talk about.

I did have some apprehension about watching Django, though. For one, I am not a fan of Tarantino at all. At all. Generally, I find his work contrived, overly self-conscious, and, frankly, boring. Plus, to me he’s like the worst kind of hipster racist, a grown up version of Justin Timberlake desperately trying to affirm his black card at all times, while thoroughly proving himself to be white as hell. The living worst.

But, I was still intrigued by the movie.  As a scholar of African American literature, I’m always interested in how we understand and talk about slavery today.  Besides, I love Kerry Washington with a fiery burning passion and would watch her read the phonebook.  (Too bad she had like five lines in the movie. She did have that lip quiver though. Can’t forget about the lip quiver).

Sex appeal and slavery. Hmm...

Sex appeal and slavery. Hmm…

I ended up watching the movie and it exceeded my admittedly low expectations. I won’t do a formal review here, largely because I think the film has been discussed elsewhere in brilliant ways and who needs to reinvent the wheel? (On that note, check out discussions of the film by Salamishah Tillet and The Feminist Wire if you haven’t already). What I do want to talk a bit about was my movie going experience.

I decided against seeing Django while I was spending the holidays at home in Fort Lauderdale. I anticipated that my little heart couldn’t take it. I imagined some irreverent scene involving slavery and being in a movie theatre filled the laughter of whites who, in their next breath, wouldn’t hesitate to remind me of how postracial we are and how Tarantino has every right to create art as he pleases and how brilliant he is and on and on and on. I figured I might have a slavery flashback and go Nat Turner up in there and that’s not how I’m trying to go out, folks.

Instead of that unfortunate scenario, Mama and I headed to the movies in Atlanta on a Friday afternoon. Since my mother is a stickler for time we got there early and I did a lot of people watching as the theatre filled to capacity. Our fellow viewers were Black—pretty much everyone as far as I could see—and largely grown. I’d say middle-aged and older. There were couples on dates. Clusters of homegirls and homeboys. Church sisters and ladies who lunch. Not the crowd that generally thinks Reservoir Dogs is awesome, interestingly enough.

I immediately felt at ease. I felt like I was at a family reunion where something dubious was about to happen but that, nevertheless, it was going to be ok because my auntie and my mama were there. Weird, perhaps, but true.

So we all sat there in companionable (semi) silence, watching Tarantino’s comedic spaghetti Western slavery action-comedy, cheering when racist slaveholders came to their timely and explosively bloody ends, sighing in satisfaction when Django finally got his girl, and laughing out loud at the absurdly funny scenes involving shit that is generally not funny at all.

This movie will also extinguish whatever love you have left for Leo. Sorry.

This movie will also extinguish whatever love you have left for Leo. Sorry.

Take for instance a scene involving some night riders (aka the forefathers of the KKK). The group arrives to kill Django and his white companion but before they can get to the lynching, there’s a whole discussion about how their outfits (namely the poorly shaped eyeholes on their white hoods) are getting in the way of their appointed task. It goes without saying that lynching is not funny. I mean, really. But laughter reverberated throughout the theater. Not uncomfortable, tinny laughter that rings hollow and dies quickly in your throat. But genuine “people can be so damn foolish,” “you got to laugh to keep from crying” and “ain’t this some shit?” laughter thundered, yes, thundered throughout the theater. I don’t know that I could have laughed during this moment in another theater, but I laughed heartily on that day.

When the movie was over I asked my mom what she thought about it. She said she loved it. She loved that Django went about avenging people for his wife and that all the bad people got killed, especially Samuel L. Jackson’s old Uncle Ben looking ass. For her, it was the best kind of Western. When we went out to dinner that evening she expressed several times how satisfying it was to watch racists get cut down. I could only agree.

F@#% you, Stephen!

F@#% you, Stephen!

So, what’s my verdict on Django? It’s interesting, frustrating, (at times) funny, violent, limiting, problematic, thought provoking…it’s doing a whole lot. I don’t regret seeing it, but it’s not in my top 10 list either. I think it is inciting interesting discussion, but I’m not naïve enough to think that this will necessarily translate to a bunch of nuanced portrayals of Black folk in slavery. What I do know is that my viewing experience was connected to where I saw the movie as much as it was connected to the film’s content and that, among other things, underscores my general ambivalence about the movie.

Have you seen Django? What are your thoughts on the film?

django vengance

You Made it Happen! An Update on our Giving Campaign

14 Dec

balloons

Hey, family! We just wanted to thank you for all of your support of our giving campaign. With your generous donations we will be able to have a fabulous, energizing retreat that will enable us to continue to do the work we love and to dream up new and innovative ways to get crunk! Your contributions have made the following possible:

  • Two nights lodging in a cabin for several CFs
  • Childcare for several crunk kids (the future!)
  • Transportation for an East Coast CF to join the rest of the folks down south

And more! Special shouts out go to the Media Equity Collaborative who recently awarded the CFC with a grant. We so appreciate the work that you do and your support of our work.

Basically, it’s a love fest up in here.

Now, if y’all are still feeling generous and you have a dollar or two to share (or some Frequent Flyer, SkyMiles, or reward points) feel free to click the “donate” button at the top of the screen. Every little bit goes toward the tangible workings of our collective. Thank you!

Love,

The CFC

Video

Happy Crunksgiving: The CFC’s 2012 Giving Campaign

28 Nov

CFs Eesha and Crunkadelic talk about the 2012 Giving Campaign!

After the Love Has Gone: Some Thoughts on Radical Community After the Election

8 Nov

If you’re like me you’re probably geeked that the election is finally over.  I mean, now I can turn all of my attention back to Parks and Recreation, Scandal, and the Real Housewives of Atlanta. Finally!

Welcome back to the Wig Crypt, Crunkadelic!

But, seriously. I’m glad the election and the election coverage is over. Sure, I love a giddy Rachel Maddow gushing on MSNBC. Sure, I like the idea of chastened, sullen, defensive conservatives whining and licking their wounds, embarrassing themselves by saying increasingly stupid, pitiful, and asinine things, while all the while revealing to anyone with good sense that their ideology and policies are out of touch, retrograde, wack, and shamtastic. Their tears are delicious. So, yes, I’m not above putting the shade back in schadenfreude.

Mostly though, I’m really ready to be done with the in-fighting among the Radical Left. If you feel that Barack Obama is the antichrist because he has initiated moderate health care reform but are cool with his policies on Guantanamo and drones, I am yet lifting you up in prayer and inviting you to take a stadium of seats. Just sit this one out, boo.

Some folks voted for President Obama, albeit in a range from enthusiastic to reluctant support. Some voted for progressive third party candidates like Jill Stein, choosing to give the side eye to the binary of the prevailing two party system. Others abstained altogether, rejecting the notion that voting for the lesser of two evils is any choice at all.  The Radical Left is not a monolithic entity, but rather a diverse set of communities that approach the realization of justice in a variety of ways. I’m not suggesting that we become more alike, but I am concerned that the way we talk about our differences is not only unproductive but oftentimes a violent distraction from our shared goals.

While some folks are still popping bottles and dropping it like it’s hot to Jeezy’s My President is Black, others are shaking their heads at the complicity of supposedly progressive folks with the imperialism of the State, and, because of Sandy and now Athena, still more are just trying to get electricity and heat on in their homes permanently and aren’t exactly studying this ongoing family drama at the moment.

The past two years have been like a family reunion gone terribly wrong. Folks get drunk and start arguing, secrets get exposed, proverbial dirty laundry gets aired, people choose sides, and nothing gets solved. Then we do it all again in a couple of years. It’s not that we don’t love each other—we just got some major ish to work through. So let’s work through it. What follows is not an exhaustive list, but a few ideas to the get the conversation started.

  1. Let’s reject binaries: good/bad, Democrat/Republican, liberal/conservative, revolutionary/uncle Tom. I think we experience and engage politics on a spectrum and trying to take a snapshot of someone’s beliefs from one action (e.g., voting and not voting) and then running around being like, “Aha! You’re not quite right because you believe in xyz!” is neither cute nor productive.
  2. Along those lines, let’s rebuke authenticity wars. I think the most recent fissures in the Radical Left should invite us to consider the ways in which the organizing and ideology coming out of the Liberation movements of the 1960s and 70s challenge/inform/undermine our current work. I see some folks wanting to eschew the call to honor the legacy of the civil rights movement, finding such calls often mean shutting up about their concerns in order to appear legitimate. Other folks warn that if you completely abandon the ideology and action of what came before us we are doing a disservice to history and not wanting to authentically connect to the struggle. I don’t think these conversations are completely at odds, but reducing the convo down to one about legitimacy just doesn’t serve us well.
  3. Let’s reject elitism and navel gazing. We are a part of complex communities and we don’t deserve to be leaders simple because we have degrees or work at certain organizations. Yet some of us treat our family, friends, and neighbors with condescension and disdain, acting like we are radical evangelists among ignorant heathens (h/t crunkonia). That’s why sometimes the folks we work with and serve don’t like and, more importantly, don’t trust many of us.
  4. Let’s be nuanced in our discussion of respectability politics. I’m all about calling out investments in dominant notions of what is normal and acceptable as a way to harness power, especially in communities of color and among queer folk. (I’ve spent the last few years writing a book about this very thing). But, sometimes the zeal in calling out respectability politics fails to recognize the complicated, ambivalent ways in which folks adhere to and/or reject what it means to be respectable. Also, see #3.
  5. Let’s recognize that pretty much all of us have some type of privilege and we should make pains to interrogate our ish and really listen to one another. Also, being an expert on racism, for example, doesn’t mean you always get the nuances of, say, ableism. But, thankfully, you—we—can learn. Our brains are awesome like that.
  6. Let’s passionately disagree with one another without eviscerating each other’s humanity. For real.

Ultimately, my thoughts are that we need to have difficult dialogues without cannibalizing each other. Let’s embrace our diversity in the movement and not call for a unity that steamrolls over dissension. We see how the Far Right is imploding, but the difference between us and them is that they have boatloads of cash and no scruples whatsoever and we have an abundance of ethical concerns, passion, and student loans we cannot ask our parents to pay for. They will rise again, but if we become too fractured it might be a different story for us. This is a call to keep our eyes on the prize—it’s not just about being right, it’s about working together for justice.

What are your thoughts on radical communities in the wake of the election? Please share in the comments.

Returning To My First Love

22 Oct

“Once you learn to read, you’ll be forever free”

Frederick Douglass

The idea that literacy is a type of freedom might seem clichéd or even a bit earnest and naïve. Still, it’s an idea that continues to resonate with me.

Mine is perhaps a typical story. As a kid, I had an almost insatiable appetite for books. Being a poor, chubby, black girl with glasses, I knew I wasn’t what others called beautiful and most didn’t expect me to be smart either. But in books I could escape into a world of beauty, love, fantasy, and adventure where I could imagine myself as a brilliant heroine who saved the day.

I spent a whole lot of time in libraries and I read everything I could get my hands on. I moved from children’s books pretty quickly, devouring everything from Harlequin romances, to V.C. Andrews’s novels, to high fantasy series, to classics of African American literature.  I always had a book in my hand—on the school bus, at lunch, even at the dinner table—and my mama really did not play that. But I think she realized that books were a lifeline for me and she let some things slide.

In time, my love of reading became a desire to teach and write. I wrote (bad) poetry, spunky short stories, and even a novel or two.  By the time I was in high school I wanted to spend my life talking about literature, language, and grand ideas. I got a couple of degrees in English and became a professor.

And then I stopped reading.

Okay, so I didn’t exactly stop reading. I read signs, recipes, memos, e-mails, and text messages. I read (and write) blog posts, tweets, and Facebook status updates.  I read student essays and exams, and articles about Toni Morrison. What I don’t do is read for pleasure.

Yes, I confess: I am an English professor who does not read for fun.

Oh, boo hoo. You are gainfully employed and you don’t get to read for fun? Get the @#$% outta here.

That’s my inner voice. She’s pretty crunk, clearly, and she does not suffer fools lightly or approve of complaining and survivor’s guilt.

But, real talk, between my Saturn Return, then work and life and all that goes along with it, I’ve been feeling like I’m running on empty. Self-care has been a struggle for me, something I think about and write about a lot. But this time felt different. Without achieving some sort of work-life balance I was not going to bend, I was going to break. I needed something different to restore me.

It couldn’t be the things that I’ve been doing. Not cooking, watching ratchet reality TV, or sleeping late. I had to return to the source and the site of so many of my best memories. It had to be reading.

I started reading at night before bed and I even got myself a Kindle.  Let me tell you, though, reading was really, really difficult. Try as I might, I could not quiet my mind. I would read a paragraph and then it would go something like this:

Did I respond to such and such’s email? When is the 18th? I should just go on ahead and pay that Sallie Mae bill. They don’t just want money, they want my first born. If I have the time to read before bed I should probably just grade those papers. Damn, I’m tired…

And on and on.

It was hard to read more than a sentence or two without being interrupted by my incessant multitasking brain. At some point it was actually painful to continue to be present in the moment and allow myself to let go and be free.

I am in the process of reprogramming my mind and my body, giving myself permission to indulge my own desires without feeling guilty. It’s a process, but I’m slowly returning to my first love.

Right now I’m reading, yes reading, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and it’s awesome. And I feel just a little closer to being free.

Fam, have you experienced this sort of struggle with being present in your own life? Share your experiences in the comments.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some classic R&B.

A tarnished ring on a tarnished chaaaaaaaain

Avant & Keke Wyatt, for the youngins

 

Throwback Thursday: In the Meantime–Some Thoughts on Voting

6 Sep

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a progressive in a political world that mostly recognizes the binary of Republican and Democrat. Now that the Democratic National Convention is in full swing–especially after rousing speeches by First Lady Michelle Obama and former president Bill Clinton–the questions concerning the role of those of us on the far left in mainstream politics seem more pressing than ever. So, for this Throwback Thursday, I wanted to revisit a post I wrote in 2010 about voting.  What is your take on those with radical politics voting in our decidedly imperfect political model? *****************************************************************************************************************************

This was originally posted on November 4, 2010  

 

Though the gains the Republicans/Tea Partiers/general all-around fools have made this past Tuesday should be no surprise, they are, nonetheless, disheartening.  Living in Alabama where the electoral choices seem to be conservative candidate A v. ultra-conservative candidate  B, it’s hard for this crunk feminist to feel good about her choices. ‘Cause let’s be real: when you choose between the lesser of two evils, you’re still choosing evil.

Nonetheless, with a heavy heart, I went down to my local voting spot to exercise my right and, to be honest, to show my damn face.  As I walked toward the entrance, there was a trio of law-abiding black folk sitting exactly thirty feet from the front door. One called out to me, saying, “My princess, here’s a sample ballot.” (Side bar: I don’t think I’ve ever been called “princess” in my entire life, but I’mma let that one slide since the sister was an elder and trying to do her civic duty). I noticed they were handing out sample ballots to every black person who crossed their path. I also noticed that they were getting some serious side eye from some melanin-lite voters. Sigh. 

I entered the building feeling a lot more sad than I did two years ago. Not that I was jumping up for joy in 2008 either, but I digress.  Once I got inside I noticed lots of black people voting. Like, a whole lot. Like, most of the people in the room.I’ll admit it. I had a sort of kumbaya moment seeing everybody.  Standing behind a sister, we exchanged greetings. I asked how she was, and she replied, “Blessed, really blessed. Happy to be able to do this.” She said this with a simple grace and dignity. All I could do is nod in reply.

Herein lies the rub. Black folks in Alabama have not the opportunity and safe conditions to vote in for all that long. The politics here are so retrograde that driving through this state sometimes I feel like I am not in the 21st century at all, but in some strange time warp. So, I can’t dismiss the mere right and opportunity to vote as something that is not particularly significant. At the same time, in a place like Alabama (and increasingly across the country), those of us on the left–shoot, even moderates!–are getting shut out as the Right/Wrong has a very successful political temper tantrum. So, what does it mean when 1) you have to choose between the lesser of two evils and 2)your “lesser evil” has no chance of even remotely winning. Let’s be clear, while fools like Palladino are dismissed in New York (for now), candidates in his vein (who are ridiculous, uninformed, and who spew hateful nonsense) summarily thrash their more moderate opponents in my neck of the woods.

In other words, what does exercising the right to vote mean when the system is so ridiculously effed up? I guess what I’m trying to figure out  is, what are the strategies those of us on the left (can) employ in the face of such rapidly encroaching/re-entrenching conservatism, both locally and nationally? For while I see the most efficacy in battling oppressions in our local communities, the fact of the matter is national de jure sanctions do affect the everyday lives of Americans. For example, I remember reading about so-called welfare reform as a kid in my social studies class and not soon after experiencing its effects in my own home, so the notion of opting out of the national dialogue does not ring true to me at all. At the same time, I’ve been known that hope is not a political strategy and that we are going to need more rigorous and radical applications for justice and social change. I’d love to hear your thoughts on voting, the election, and the state of progressive politics.

Throwback Thursday: The Twilight of Good Sense

9 Aug

On this Throwback Thursday I wanted to go back to one of my earliest posts. With the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey, I got to thinking about what’s up with the fantasy of having a rich white man controlling you. It’s not like many of our realities are that different. I’m just saying. In any event, here are my thoughts on Twilight and the popularity of similar stories.


Yes, this is a post about Twilight. Well, sort of. If you break out into hives at the mere mention of the series (ahem, “saga”) that has tweens, some of their older sisters, and a lot of their mamas enthralled, keep it moving.  I understand your pain.

I was anti-Twilight from the jump. I remember seeing the cover and thinking it was interesting.  (Whoever designed the eye-catching covers for the series is brilliant). Then I read the jacket flap and saw that it was pure crap. In fact, this happened to me a couple of times; I’d see the cover and think, great design and then when I opened it I saw it was the same crappy book. I know the axiom about not judging a book by its cover (or, in this case, by its jacket flap). In fact, I remember going to a book store and seeing the striking cover for asha bandele’s memoir The Prisoner’s Wife and being immediately intrigued. I read the jacket flap and was like, I don’t know if I’m up for this. Fast forward more than ten years later and it’s one of my favorite books and I’ve taught it several times. But, let’s keep it real, Stephanie Meyer is no asha bandele.

And lest you think I’m a sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal romance hater, I’ll let you know I’m not. I grew up reading all of that, in addition to a healthy dose of Harlequins, Danielle Steele, and V.C. Andrews. I devoured Terry Prachett, Piers Anthony, Anne McCaffrey, random sword and swashbuckling dragon-fighting novels, and anything that was about mythology or folklore. I read X-Men comics (and watched the cartoon), I was addicted to Batman: The Animated Series, and I watched all of the Star Treks. To this day, Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown is one of my favorite books. (How I managed to sneak in some Jane Austen and Toni Morrison is rather surprising, in retrospect).

I mention my sundry literary history to say that I’m what you might call an Afro Nerd. (And that’s Dr. Afro Nerd to you in the back sniggling). Point is, I know my weird. But just as I was spreading my feminist wings in high school, I began pushing away from the sci-fi. I was reading all this stuff about knights and ladies and traveling into space and I was not seeing myself reflected in the pages. Eventually, I stumbled on Parable of the Sower and it changed my life. I still gave sci-fi the side eye for its racism, sexism, and imperialist fantasies, but I was so happy to find a black! woman! writing! in the genre that I loved.

Anyhow, with my nerdtastic credentials I can smell paranormal bullshit (i.e. Twilight) a mile away. But, when Crunkista said, “Watch Twilight, you’ll enjoy it,” I couldn’t just cast her recommendation aside. I mean, Crunkista knows her stuff. So, I rented the movie and you know what? I laughed my tookus off. I know it’s not supposed to be funny, but that’s half of the fun—guffawing at the ridiculous high school angst and the corny lines, all the while admiring RPattz’s blush and eyeliner, not to mention Taylor Lautner’s abs. (He makes me feel like an old dirty lady, but I digress). I have even read the “saga.” (All I can say is I can never get the hours back that were sucked away by thousands of  cringe-worthy pages. They were good for a guffaw or two, I will say that. Anything to not grade papers).

So many others have rightfully lambasted Twilight (see here, for a start), so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, as it were. I do want to give a shout-out to some good fantasy/sci-fi/speculative fiction, works that don’t feature vapid, listless, uninteresting protagonists who cannot live without a man and that don’t feature characters of color as the animal attachés to a set of heroic whites. How about Octavia Butler’s Fledging (a great twist on the vampire novel), or Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories (black lesbian vampires, ftw!), or if you want to get a little more fluffy, check out the Vampire Huntress series by L.A. Banks, which features fierce vampire hunter Damali and her on-again/off-again vampire beau, Carlos Rivera.

I’ve been thinking a lot about CF Chanel’s post about meeting girls where they are. Like other crunk feminists, I see the efficacy of using what girls are watching, listening to, and reading as a way to engage them. And as Chanel and others have suggested,  we need to show them (and ourselves) that there are choices. And if they haven’t read a novel or story that features the world as they (would like to) see it, they should, as crunk foremother Toni M. suggests, write it. I wonder if when we see our sisters, cousins, daughters, and/or friends reading New Moon or what have you, if we can’t also just slip them a copy of The Gilda Stories (or a blank notebook and a pen) and see what happens. I’m just saying.

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