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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

Thinking of Happiness and Black Female Bodies

19 Jun

So over the past few weeks there has been much controversy over “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” Flaming Lips video that was edited and released without the knowledge/approval of the featured artist, Erykah Badu.  Honestly, I have mixed emotions about the video, liking some parts and disturbed by others.  Full disclosure: I found the “Window Seat” video to be a very powerful statement.  I felt it viscerally, I was both anxious and fearful of the backlash and envious of what I perceived to be free-spiritedness and freedom of Badu’s actions. But for this recent one I’m still trying to figure it out, but it got me thinking about artists that have done body work in their lyrics.  The song that is always with me is “Images,” a haunting ballad sung by Nina Simone based on the 1920’s poem written by Waring Cuney.  The lyrics are as follows:

She does not know her beauty

She thinks her brown body

Has no glory

If she could dance naked

under palm trees

And see her image in the river

She would know

But there are no palm trees

In the streets

And dishwater gives back

No image

Whenever I hear this song I think of a series of songs that support Cuney’s basic body philosophy.  I think of this song/poem because we have lots of discussions about appropriate body narratives and body visuals through popular culture, but on a basic level it feels like television is the “dishwater” and shameful billboards take the place of palm trees. We could truly benefit from some time at the river, no mirrors, no media, just nature.  In these moments of uncontrollable swirling images I prescribe “nature care,” literature, and history for your happiness tool box.

Game Over?

7 Jun

Image

When I heard that Melanie (Tia Mowry Hardrict) and Derwin (Pooch Hall) were not returning to The Game next season I must admit that I drank the Kool-Aid and tuned back in to see how their complicated love story would end.  I even saw most of the episodes I missed after taking a hiatus (during the four day, five season marathon on BET) this past weekend.  Watching episodes from five years ago reminded me of why I was a fan of the show in the first place, and in some ways, the final episode of Season 5 offered a slight, albeit temporary, glimpse of the good ole’ days.

At first The Game (on The CW) was refreshing because it was comedic, focused on friendships, and offered nuances to the characters (i.e., us learning how/why they are the way they are—from Melanie’s bourgeiose family to Maalik’s fatherless son with mama issues translated to woman issues narrative).  Unfortunately, when they returned, on BET, much of that was lost.  I continued to watch because I was a loyal “fan” and I was committed, at first, to watch The Game until the bittersweet end.

Clearly I am not alone in my nostalgia.  There is a facebook fan page, Save The Game, that is devoted to both remembering what made The Game work for the first three seasons (via “throwback Thursday images of The Game during its former glory,” and calling for corporate accountability for the new programming, via an open letter to writers and producers).

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I won’t repeat things I have already said about the frailties of the show since its transition to BET, but I will say that one of the disappointments was the way that the writers handled the characters we had all come to love.  It was as if they did not know what to do with the characters anymore, and instead of maturing them, they regressed into childish, selfish, shells of their former selves.  It was hard to like them, let alone love them.

I can say, though, that over the course of the season, it seemed, that some of the characters softened.  I must admit, while I was initially blackgirl offended at the introduction of Chardonnay as an over-the-top exaggeration of black ghetto fabulousness, she seemed, at the end of the season, to be less rough around the edges and more believable.  Tasha Mack’s character, while wildly stereotypical, showed her soft/er and vulnerable side in the last episode, in what I believe to be one of the most remarkable and memorable scenes she has had.  (What woman doesn’t want a lover who will “take care of her” when she is sick?)

Unfortunately, Tuesday night’s episode represented one high mark in two seasons worth of foolishness.  There have been so many episodes, over the last two seasons, that left me hanging, so many storylines that were not thought through or properly executed, so many things that did not make sense, that one episode where the imprudence was minimal does not make up for it.  I appreciate that we were given an ending that gave closure (in a TV series kind of way) for the characters, but it makes me wonder what is going to happen next?  In what ways is next season going to take away the temporary “good feelings” I had after Tuesday’s finale?

In many ways the final episode of season 5 could have been the series finale, an end to the stories that help us know that everybody is going to be okay (just like the first, though abrupt, series finale).  We get a glimpse of what tomorrow will bring for the characters that doesn’t feel jagged edged, that doesn’t feel impossible, or short-changed.  Tasha finally finds “everything she always prayed for” (in Pooky).  Jason finds his true blackgirl love.  Maalik has his second chance with his first love (football), and resigns to being himself (the arrogant, cocky playboy we learned to love); Melanie and Derwin get their “thing” back, the spark we were introduced to on the first episode of the game, only this time instead of Melanie being expected to sacrifice her dreams for her man, Derwin sacrifices his for hers.  She finally gets to come into her own, fulfill her own dreams and goals to be a doctor, without sacrificing her marriage or happiness to do it.  She gets it “all”—at least in the moment when her (gorgeous) husband comes to the airport to go with her to D.C.

I don’t know what will happen next season, and I can’t say that I am anxious to see it or that I will even watch it.  In many ways I feel like The Game has run its course.  On The CW it was entertaining to watch, but if BET is overtime, I am over it, and even when you are a fan of your team, at some point you are just ready for The Game to be over.  After several disappointing Tuesday nights, the final episode of season five is the one I want to remember it by—an episode that finally, it seems, brought everyone full circle, back to where we started.

Game over.

On the Queerness of Self Love

14 May
Tattoo on inside of someone's fingers that says "self love"

Self Love by Artnoose

While conducting a seminar with college students about self-esteem, Yolo Akili heard a young person say something that remains an important touchstone for those of us trying to do liberatory work in our communities. When talking about loving oneself, a Black woman said, “Self love? That shit’s gay!”

I’ve turned this statement over in my head a million times as it so accurately and unintentionally reveals so much about the constructions of sexuality in our culture. “Gay” has become an all purpose insult that means something is not cool, wack, aberrant, and not worth your time. How deep is it that loving yourself is a weird and unworthy pursuit? If self love is gay, what is straight? Is straightness self hatred?

I want to be clear that I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being a cis gender man or woman engaged in loving consensual relationships with cis gender women or men. Like with race in our country, the problem isn’t necessarily white people, but how whiteness as a problematic social construct impacts everyone. Similarly, I would argue that straight people aren’t the issue but the way straightness and heteronormativity operate in our culture are serious impediments to self love and self actualization.

I choose to be queer. My choosing queerness has a lot to do with the scripts that exist for straight men and women’s relationships. Take the recent box office smash, Think Like a Man. So much of what is prescribed for straight couples is for women to change themselves into what they imagine men want from them.  You can see it if you want to but it’s essentially a feature film length infomercial for Steve Harvey’s similarly titled book. It had the requisite gay jokes (for both men and women) and many a strong black woman cut back down to size. By thinking like a man, you ensure that he gets what he wants, sex, and women get what they want, a man. This reductive view on what motivates straight relationships depends on strict gender roles.

Straightness/heteronormativity sets up roles for men and women that serve a capitalistic agenda more than the building of loving relationships. The script is simple; find a member of the “opposite sex”, date, get married, buy a house, have kids and do all of this as an individual family unit. Our culture will sell you the tools to properly achieve these ends, to properly conform to gender norms that will hopefully help you attract someone to walk down the aisle with you. Buy this men’s loofa and women will be all over you, buy this lady razor and your man will love to get close to you. Selling people the idea that they are somehow insufficiently performing their  gender, and therefore not attractive, reinforces a sense of self doubt and looking externally for validation, which is great for capitalism. You have to do something or buy something to be worthy of relationship. What a queer thing to say that my relationship with myself is important and I should invest in it over and above my ability to pull a partner.

And this is why I and other queer folks are giving Obama’s announcement regarding gay marriage the side eye. Leveraging privilege for certain types of households does nothing to address systemic inequality or combat discrimination that queer folks face. Why do romantic ties afford rights and access that would otherwise be denied? And I use the word “afford” deliberately because so much of what is obscured about marriage are its roots and continued relevance as a financial institution. Love takes a backseat to the structural realities of couple privilege in our culture. Society continues to give us messages that marriage is valuable, perhaps even at the expense of our own personal safety and freedom.

Self love is awesome. It should be celebrated and encouraged, not derided because it hinders an economy that’s dependent on folks feeling insecure. If loving yourself is gay, I don’t want to be straight.

Apocalypse Now: Some Thoughts on Race at the End of the World

26 Apr



Last March, Crunktastic and I were in Atlanta for the Southeastern Women’s Studies Association conference when a man approached us and handed us pamphlets that declared the end of the world was fast approaching. In fact, the pamphlet urged us to get our affairs in order so we could be ready by May 21, 2011.

 

When the date rolled around I called up my mama and when she answered the phone I let her know I was disappointed that she hadn’t got caught up in the Rapture. We had a good laugh and chatted about these pitiful somebodies who really thought the world was going to end. All jokes aside, I did feel sorry for the (admittedly silly) folks who gave up all their worldly positions, alienated friends and family, and generally acted a fool all in hopes to depart this world for what seemed to them a much better place. And, truth be told, I myself was raised to believe that the days were being shortened for the elect’s sake and that we should live like Jesus was about to beam down on a cloud and take us out of Babylon at any moment.

 

What I mean is last year’s apocalyptic fervor is far from isolated. There have been numerous claims throughout the centuries that warn about an impending doomsday and I know I’m not the only one who experienced some version of doomdayism growing up in the Black Church. Yet, despite the perpetual fixation on the end times humankind seems to have, I’m finding this particular moment of great interest. While the majority of folks may scoff at Harold Camping’s followers from last year’s fiasco, many of those same people believe that the U.S. is headed for doom, economic collapse, and general annihilation, and often resort to using thinly-veiled references to the looming specter of black and brown bodies here and abroad as evidence of the rapid decay of society–despite the fact that this “civilization” largely exists because of the unpaid and underpaid labor of black and brown folk. How, then, are we the root of the chaos?

White evangelical Christians in particular have been pretty hardcore about looking for Jesus’ return, and while most of them would perhaps agree that humans cannot predict the day or the hour, that hasn’t stopped many folk from wildly speculating about these here end times. Their mantra goes something like: The end is near! The Antichrist (President Obama) is a socialist who is trying to create a one-world government and we won’t have our freeeeedom! Also, black and brown people are super scary so we need lots of guns to protect our property from them!

 

Damn, Mike Seaver. Not you too.

Not unlike the bestselling Left Behind series, the shows Doomsday Bunkers and Doomsday Preppers also reflect a growing anxiety about modern society. While the former spends a bit more time talking about the science of how bunkers are constructed, both series are exposés about a rising subculture of folks who are “preppers.” Preppers spend thousands of dollars squirreling away food, clothing, and weapons, while also creating hideouts and bunkers for the impending apocalypse. These preppers are almost always white (so far, to my knowledge, a handful interracial families and one Latino family has been featured on the shows) and middle class. Now, some of the show’s participants fear reasonable events like nuclear war, global pandemic, peak oil, and so on. Other participants have more, shall we say, unorthodox views—preparing for the imminent eruption of super volcanoes, cataclysmic polar shifts, the devastating emergence of Planet X, or the looming end of the Mayan calendar. In any event, a theme appears in both series: week after week, these shows profile white preppers battening down the hatches and racking up stores of food and guns to protect their families from the “gangs of roving marauders” that will inevitably appear once civilization crumbles.

I swear, whenever someone utters that phase or one like it, they begin to describe riots and looting that are usually associated with people of color, like the Rodney King riots or the mayhem during Katrina. Maybe it’s just me, but when I think of gangs of roving marauders I think of folks arriving in a place unannounced and uninvited, who then strip the land of its resources, violently engage the inhabitants, and generally act as inhumanely as possible. Oh wait, maybe I’m thinking of imperialism. Never mind.

Funny how it’s not the end of the world when young black men can get gunned down in their gated community for looking suspicious, or when trans sisters are imprisoned for fighting off their attackers. There’s no national apocalyptic fervor when young brown girls are repeatedly gang raped. Yet, some folks are so scared of a moderate Negro in the White House that they are stocking up on a year’s worth of beans to stave of the apocalypse. My Lorde. Something is very wrong here. Let’s recognize this particular moment of doomdayism for what is: desperate cries from a “post-racial” nation hellbent on preserving its hegemonic power relations by any means necessary. 

Quite frankly, this is the only apocalypse I’m interested in:

The RuPocalypse!

Share your thoughts on doomsday fever in the comments.

‘Dos and Don’ts

5 Mar

The summer of 2000 I went to my hairdresser and said, “I want you to cut all of this off,” pointing emphatically to my badly-damaged permed hair.  She asked me if I was sure and I told her I was–and off went four or five inches of angst onto her linoleum floor. What was left was less than an inch of cottony soft dark brown hair.

I was both relieved and scared. I didn’t even remember what my natural hair looked like and I’d never had my hair cut so short. That very day I went to the mall and bought a whole bunch of big hoop earrings so that I “wouldn’t look like a man or a lesbian,” as my mother suggested I would and as I secretly feared. Oh, the internalized patriarchy.

It didn’t take long, though, for me to enjoy waking up every day and looking cute, taking just a few minutes to get ready, and generally having healthy hair. The stylistic change also helped to bolster my already burgeoning crunkness around gender representation. After I got my mind (and my hair) right, I never looked back.

So, when I saw Viola Davis rocking a natural ‘do on the red carpet at the Oscars’ last week, I thought, “She looks great. And she’s working that dress out.” Now, I was still giving her the side eye about The Help and her conversation with Tavis Smiley, but I hoped the sister would get an Academy Award for her trouble.

 I was also pleasantly, but warily, surprised at the generally positive review of her ‘do in the mainstream media. Giuliana Rancic over on E! News positively gushed about Davis’ hair and I read more than a few articles praising Davis’ “bravery” for wearing her natural hair. Now, I know better than to think that the status quo regarding “good hair” had been changed overnight or anything, but I did appreciate the seemingly expanded range of what is being discussed as “beautiful.” That being said, it’s a hot mess when someone is considered brave for wearing their hair pretty much as it grows out of their head.

There’s always a hater though, isn’t there? So, after all of this gushing, television personality and self-declared wig connoisseur Wendy Williams went on record saying that Viola Davis’ look was not formal enough, in addition to some other disparaging remarks.

Really, Wendy?

Now, ain’t nobody really studying Wendy like that and I’m pretty sure Viola Davis isn’t crying into her soup about this either. However, just thinking about all the crap women of color, and black women in particular, get about our hair, Wendy gets the supreme side eye for this. The thing is, all that Wendy has said is what you hear in barber shops, beauty salons, and on the streets.  Her ill-informed opinion is, all too often, not the exception, but the rule.

When I googled "Viola Davis hair" this medley of wigged out hairstyles appeared under the label "Viola's Best Hair." I'm sort of digging numbers 2 and 9.

And before the chorus of “It’s just hair!” rings out, as Britni Danielle over at Clutch recently suggested, “For centuries, our bodies, our hair, and our being have been up for public discussion and display and we cannot deny the fact that sometimes hair is political.” Let’s not get it twisted.

Between the weather running amok, Republicans trying to get all up in folks’ vaginas, and other general shamtastery, we have big fish to fry. Still, that is not to say that the politics around hair don’t matter or can’t hurt. I know I’ve seen the pendulum swing in the other direction, with folks with naturals questioning the politics of progressive folk with straightened or chemically relaxed hair, wigs, and weaves.  Really? Does the revolution have a dress code? At the end of the day, the choices around hair and representations of feminine beauty are complicated–indeed, as complicated as the folks who rock the hairstyles. If we could remember that, along with remembering that folks just want respect, we can help shift the conversations at beauty salons, among our friends, and in our families. So, with the abundance of foolishness going on I just want to send out some love to sistas rocking wigs, weaves, blow outs, tiny afros, kinky twists, locs, baldies, and any other manifestation of crowning glory. With so much surveillance over bodies (and our minds), seemingly simple acts like confidently rocking a fro or skipping down the street in a lacefront take on all types of social significance.  I’m not suggesting that we forget that, but I am saying ‘do you, boo.


Feminist Care Packages: Healing Love for Hard Times

23 Feb
Image of a brown paper package tied up with string

CC Licensed from LethaCollen on Flickr

“Thrown away where? The world is round.” – Luciente

This month we’d hoped to talk about love and relationships but a lot of terrible things have been happening in the world. Whitney died. Too Short gave some terrible advice. So did Not So Very Smart brothas. and there’s a thread in these narratives about black women and girls bringing things on to themselves when really the deadly combination of heteronormative masculinity is to blame.

The binaristic gendered scripts we set up for people are killing usLiterally. The conversations that blame feminine people for the violence they experience but some how miss the role that masculine of center people have in that violence is beyond me. Yolo reminded us that most often, what survivors want is for the abuse to stop. They don’t want to get rid of the person who is hurting them; they just don’t want to fear for their lives.

Too often in this culture, safety means the survivor has to leave. We haven’t yet figured out how to create accountability that doesn’t look like recriminalizing the survivor by restricting their movements or demanding that the abuser be held accountable in a way that supports the survivor’s needs. We blame their choices and actions because honestly we can’t seem to wrap our minds around the massive collective fail that didn’t keep someone safe. We point fingers at the survivor and try to believe that perpetrators are uniquely bad people, not logical products of a culture that rewards aggression and violence directed at those who appear weaker. How does one ever make sense of what types of violence are and are not ok when the state enacts violence on communities and the planet all the time?

We can’t throw away people. Not into prison, where they come out years later more hardened than they were when they went in. Community service and anger management don’t come close to undoing a lifetime of social conditioning that supports masculine folks thinking that abusing feminine folks is only bad if you get caught or leave marks. Abusers live in our communities and our gender scripts recreate them everyday. There is no security in locking people away when we actively create these ideas about how to relate to each other in our society. If the culture is toxic, a quarantine is not an effective solution.

In trying to make real the transformative justice we desire for both survivors and perpetrators of gender based violence, The CFC, FAAN Mail, and Quirky Black Girls present Feminist Care Packages*. The CFC has been sending feminist care packages to each other in our times of need but the project of care goes beyond our collective. Feminist Care Packages are public offerings for healing and justice, invitations to survivors, perpetrators, and community to create a new narrative for the world we want. They include a letter to the person and a list of resources that may help them on the road to resilience. These are open outpourings of hope and possibility.

We are not naive enough to think that these suggested resources are enough to shift centuries’ old ideas about behavior but we hope that they begin conversations that have a greater capacity to hold the complex reality of human existence. By holding folks accountable and giving them tools to see their world differently, another world is possible.

There will be a series of Care Packages but in light  of recent events, the first Feminist Care Package is for Too $hort.

*Shout out to Mark Anthony Neal for giving this idea to Moya several years ago.

Tu(r)ning to Black Love

20 Feb

Whitney Houston with her mother Cissy

This past week, I found myself swept in an emotional whirlwind witnessing Whitney’s homegoing while remembering that she was not even in the ground before the Fox-affiliated shock jocks called her a babbling idiot, bag lady, and a crack ho that should have died years ago. From AM talk radio to morning cable television, a Fox News anchor “jokingly” told Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) to “step away from the crack pipe” to squash her criticism of a racist conservative right.  And right as I prepared myself for the first Valentine’s Day unhitched in years, I heard more misogynoir (i.e., hatred of Black women) news from the pimp-like-rapper Too Short who “advised” middle school boys to “turn girls out” in a video posted to the XXL hip hop website.

Where is the love?

This past week, I would have been a Black woman undone if I did not turn to other women of color to savor the soul-stirring, love-filled acts of solidarity in a month that has been so soured by hate.[1]

While folks are giving kudos to a masterful, out-of-character performance by actor Tyler “Madea” Perry, I want to remember Kim Burrell’s loving act to her sistah-friend. The Texas-born gospel singer transformed a song that could serve as the title track for the civil rights movement; she changed Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come to one that not only spoke about Whitney as a daughter, friend, and mother, but it spoke to the lived reality of countless Blackgirls who watched her metallic casket and mourned for the Black girl we know (inside) and for the Black woman she/we dared to be. I believe Burrell’s spirit-driven interpretation will stand as a counter-narrative against the lusty, flesh-bound and career-centric monologues offered by some menfolk. (Side eye to you Clive.)  Kim Burrell might have singlehandedly replaced my Denzel dreamscape and my cinematic memory of Malcolm X’s assassination with her lifting tribute to a fallen (but not forgotten) star.

This past week ended with the debut of a self-proclaimed Black feminist in her cable show simply called, Melissa Harris-Perry.  Let’s just say if Oprah is America’s honorary mother, then Prof. Harris-Perry is slated to be our teacher because she was schooling a national audience about intersections of race and gender, and she provided a much-needed Black feminist perspective, which is often offered by Black men (if included at all). When I tuned in to her show, she warned her audience that we’d enter “nerdland” or the place where political commentary is spliced by definitions, old videos, and graphs to add context to oversimplified, hot-button topics. After an emotional whirlwind, it feels lovely to say I will be (at) home on the weekends where folks can hate (yes, I’m looking at you Cornel West), but I can turn on and turn to Black women-centered love.

Melissa Harris-Perry and Sister Citizen book cover

Melissa Harris-Perry and Sister Citizen book cover copied from blacktieandflipflops

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[1] This past week I was able to trade trash talk and blackgirl giggles, remember-when stories, love-strong hugs, eye-to-eye recognition, and women of color wisdom with Stephanie Troutman, Bettina Love, Elaine Richardson, Elizabeth Mendez Berry, and Joan Morgan. I am enriched by your generosity and your creative, intellectual and politically-grounded work.

Confessions of a Swagga-holic

9 Feb

My name is Crunkista and I am a swagga-holic. I am under swag’s spell. It is my kryptonite. In fact, the only thing that saves me from this powerful vice is my feminism. I have found myself in some very sticky situations because of my addiction and have too many embarrassing stories to tell as a result of it. For instance, I once flew across state lines just to see a woman whose swag caught my eye at a club. Her swag was intoxicating and I needed more. The night we met, her unfortunate friend tried to kick it to me and it became a whole night of matrix maneuvers trying to get to her while letting her friend down gently. We exchanged numbers and I flew back home the next day.  A few weeks later I was flying back to her city, trying to get my next fix. It did not work out. Sadly, the only thing that was there – was my addiction and her supply. Had I not had that little feminist voice in my head screaming “get the hell out of there” with each and every red flag, I would have found myself in some serious trouble. She was so damn cute though.

Speaking of beautiful women, I recently came across one of the “Shit Black Lesbians Say” videos and was pleasantly surprised when the protagonists were women of color. It turns out that they were promoting a new web series called “Between Women.” I really don’t know much about the web series business and was only recently introduced to them by fellow Crunk Moyab’s admiration for Awkward Black Girl. I am now a fan of both.

“Between Women” follows the lives, trials and tribulations of a group of friends living in Atlanta, Georgia. So far, only five episodes have aired. It has been quite refreshing to see the characters develop and the story lines become progressively more complex. Episode three features a powerful domestic violence plotline, followed by a PSA that I really appreciated. We don’t talk about the domestic violence that often plagues LGBTQ communities and I commend them for taking on that story.

The show features some really interesting characters. I enjoy watching the quirky, awkward and lovable, Sunny Walker, the youngest member of the group “navigating her way out of the closet.” However, (due to my addiction) my absolute favorite character is Miller Harris, the ever so dapper “successful marketing director.” Miller is pretty much delectable and an unapologetic womanizer. She oozes swag and it just ain’t fair. I am under her spell and I like it. Will this be a reformed bad boi story? I sure hope so.

I really enjoy watching the show and thoroughly appreciate losing myself in the lives of these women. It is incredibly comforting to see women of color desiring and loving other women. As much as I enjoy watching the show, however, I will admit that it is not without its flaws. So far, I am not a fan of what sometimes seem like stifling butch/femme dichotomies being promoted where the women who present themselves on the more “masculine” side of the spectrum continually disrespect, cheat on and basically play those who present on the more “feminine” side. I fully understand that it is a drama, and that the writers need to portray stories that hook an audience. But I do expect more.

When I think of the work that remains to be done in our LBGTQ community, I always think of Good Asian Drivers’ performance of Queer Nation. Kit Yan puts it beautifully,“[…] but the truth is that we screw up too. See, we still haven’t found our groove on the outskirts of society. We’re still using old blue prints with bad foundations.”

Check it.

I have high hopes for this series especially because of the way they presented the domestic violence plot in episode three. Given that it is a web series, they depend on the donations of its viewers. I pledge to donate to them and will continue to tune in with the expectation that they depict a healthy romantic relationship and at least one butch/stud/boi who respects women and isn’t a womanizer. A girl can only dream.

“Between Women” is now on episode five but the third episode is incredibly entertaining. Please show your support.

 

Why I’m (Probably) Not Watching “The Game”

26 Jan

Last year I posted on the return of The Game (yes, it has been a year since it (re)debuted on BET) and offered a critique of the ways in which the characters morphed to fit BET programming, which compromised the integrity of the characters that fans had fought and petitioned for.  After The Game came back on I was disappointed in the ways in which originally nuanced characters had been re-written as the typical black tropes: women who are angry, ghetto, untrustworthy, money-hungry, vindictive, and promiscuous.  And men who are selfish, ghetto fabulous, wreckless, and drug-addicted.

I tuned in a few weeks ago for the new season and I watched again last week (not because I was particularly interested, but it was pre-set to record on the DVR.  I watched it over the weekend because there was nothing else on TV while I was waiting for playoff football games to start).  Every week I am hopeful that the writers will fix what is not working—but these characters have no character.  (SN: I was not impressed seeing Nene Leakes on BET—Bravo is plenty!)  You can tell that things have completely turned upside down when the “deepest” character on the show is Jason Pitts (not sure how I feel about his newly discovered blackness—but at least he is being reflexive and somewhat responsible.  Last season he quit his job in order to focus on fathering his daughter, and this season he seems to be having an epiphany about his racial identity, and the issues surrounding it—his conversations with his “new black wife” sound like therapy sessions).  Meanwhile, Melanie and Tasha are at each other’s throats, Derwin has gone from charming choir boy to selfish superstar, and Kelly is M.I.A.  Maalik’s mommy issues tend to always lead him into detrimental relationships that are doomed from the start.  His tryst with the bosses wife has landed him on the bench and nearly bankrupt, and his infatuation with the model (did we even know her name?) had the Robin Givens-esque vibe of unreciprocated interest. And then there’s Tasha, I didn’t think the sexy Sapphire could get much louder or overly-dramatic.  I was wrong.

The newly emergent female characters are flat, at best, and those that are rounded out with a background and personality only serve the purpose of furthering problematic black woman representations.  One of the newest Sunbeams from last season, for example, is a former stripper groupie turned football wife who’s largest contribution to the group has been teaching the women how to shake their asses for their men (not to mention suggesting threesomes–because of course sex is what gets and keeps a man–side eye).  Then, we discover in this week’s episode, thanks to Tasha’s nonchalant and retaliatory comment to her, that she doesn’t have custody of her children (can you say Jezebel stereotype?).  Brandy, (or should I say Chardonnay) the newbie this season, seems to fit the sassy Sapphire stereotype (with the ghetto, named after alcohol name) who’s anger and attitude make her a younger version of Tasha Mack.  Her purpose seems to be to help Jason get over his fondness of white women and get in touch with his “black side.”  Smdh. 

I am clearly not the only one disillusioned and ambivalent about The Game.  In the article, “The Game Doubles Down on Melodrama, Eliminates What Fans Loved,” Tyler Lewis states: 

“If Mara Brock Akil and BET want to make a black nighttime telenovela where the cast never interacts with one another, where the relationships established in the first three seasons are thrown out in favor of separate, unconnected, over-the-top storylines for each of the five leads, then it should decide on what kind of show that is and settle on a consistent tone.  Because I do think the ship has sailed on any hope that The Game will be the show that folks wanted to be brought back. I think the audience has accepted it (and, likely, moved on). The producers should commit to it.”

Their ratings have dropped significantly, from 7.7 million viewers when they re-launched last January, to 5.3 million for the season 5 premiere on January 10, 2012.  This week’s show only garnered 2.88 million viewers.  I suspect that the downward trend will continue… how many episodes and chances will fans give before they find something else to watch on Tuesday nights? (I for one will be tuning in to White Collar, I have a hella crush on Neil Caffery). 

None of the characters have the same innocence and likeability they used to.  Perhaps if they weren’t already rich in previous seasons I could believe that money changed them… or perhaps the writers are trying to depict the extremes of newfound celebrity and the ways in which it can go to your head and dismantle your relationships (clearly possible and realistic, look at T.O. )—but would this be true of everyone?  I understood Jason’s arrogance–and Maalik’s personality was already eccentric and extreme, but it seems like no one gives a damn about anybody else anymore, and given the previous relationships they had with each other, that is not only unbelievable, it is unfortunate.  Watching The Game has become like watching Basketball Wives (Miami or L.A.), or some other petty reality show that glamorizes selfishness, opulence, and fame for fame’s sake.  

Is it BET?  Do the writers need a re-up?  Does Kelly Pitts need to make a return (I’m not really feeling Brandy)?  Am I naive for thinking we could go back to the way things were?  I’m not sure what the remedy is, but there is definitely a problem.  I guess time will tell if the season and show is salvagable.

I am not going to say that I will never watch The Game again (there is a reason reruns and marathons show at insomniac hours), or that I am not hoping it somehow survives (the actors aren’t writing the scripts, and they have to eat), but I damn sure erased it from my DVR recording schedule.

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