Archive | Film & TV RSS feed for this section

Go See Pariah!!!

6 Jan

Title Character "Alike", dark skinned beauty, smiling with head cocked to the side

I’ve been trying to write a review for the movie Pariah for a while now but I can’t write anything that conveys what this film accomplishes. For those who need to know about the film before you see it, read Summer M.’s take and the review by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan at the Feminist Wire. Brilliant commentary (and Spoilers, FYI).

What I really want to talk about is the power of showing out up for art that creates new narratives and provides another lens on worlds that we don’t often get to see centered on the big screen. As much as I despise Tyler Perry’s films, I appreciate people’s willingness to pay for what they want to see and go out en masse premiere weekend. His audiences’ loyalty is what allows him to continue to create and branch out into other mediums like television. I want that opportunity for longevity and growth for folks who are trying to offer a different perspective. Dee Rees’ Pariah was years in the making and it took a village to raise it. I’m certainly proud to be a part of the community from whence it came and I’ve been rooting for its success for some time.

Three years ago I got an email from Beverly Guy-Sheftall, the indomitable director of the Spelman Women’s Research & Resource Center (and the professor that started me down the path of my feminist future), about a young filmmaker who was working to turn a short into a feature length film. I hadn’t even seen the short but I emailed everyone I knew based solely on the premise and the title. Pariah was a queer coming of age story with a Black girl protagonist. Nuff said.

Krys Freeman and I mobilized our respective networks and helped the film win a coveted Sundance prize that allowed it to be developed into a feature. We told folks to vote, asked people to donate money and we did! We weren’t alone. So many people were excited for this movie to exist. The opportunity to support a film for us by us was something a lot of folks could get behind.

On the CFC we offer critiques of culture but we also like to provide people with information about the things that inspire us and provide proof that another world is possible. Pariah is one of those things! Show up and show OUT for this movie! We are planning a “Let’s go OUT to the Movies” meet up in Atlanta to see the film when it premieres January 13. I encourage folks in other cities to do the same! Leave details in the comments if you’d like to attend or organize such an OUTing in your city!

2011: A Year in Crunkness

31 Dec

It’s that time of year again. Another year has come to a close, so it must be time for our second annual Crunk List! CFs offer up the books, blogs, films, etc. that get us crunk and keep us crunk!

CF Crunkadelic

It’s hard to narrow it down, but these books were really significant for me this year.

Hanne Blanks’ Big Big Love. (Revised, updated, and re-released this year)

 “Big Big Love is the only one-stop-shopping handbook on relationships, sexuality, and big sexy confidence for people of all genders, sizes, and sexual orientations who know that a fantastic love life doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the number on the bathroom scale. Covering everything from dating to sex toys to getting on top, this guide also features tips on navigating tricky topics like making peace with your belly, coping with weight-related prejudice, and creating a happy, satisfying sex life in a culture where no body is ever perfect enough.”

This book is funny, affirming, and overall plain awesome. Check it out.

 Barbara Neely’s Blanche White series.

This book series is not new, but it was new to me this year. Mystery lovers, check this series out. Blanche is an African American domestic, amateur sleuth, and all around crunk feminist who solves crimes in four entertaining and captivating novels.  (She could kick everyone’s ass in The Help). Get into this, people!

 Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun

 At first I was not sold on this book and it languished on my nightstand for many months. When I finally picked it up I was pleasantly surprised. Some of my favorite tidbits from the book are “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” and “Be [insert your name here]” (i.e., be you, and no one else). Trite platitudes, perhaps, but stuff that’s good to be reminded of sometimes.

CF Crunkista

 1. I absolutely LOVED the film Miss Representation.

“The film explores how the media’s misrepresentations of women have led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence.”

I thought it was very educational and incredibly powerful. Great for full-fledged feminists, feminists in the making, and all those that still question the value of feminism. :o)

2. Sculpture – Paige Bradley’s Expansion. I just found this sculpture to be one of the most inspiring works of art I have ever seen. It’s an amazing reminder of a woman’s strength, inner peace, and balance with the universe.

3. “Miley on Marketing” – “Why does all the girls have to buy pink stuff and all the boys have to buy different color stuff?!”

This YouTube video couldn’t come at a better time and it gives me hope that there are tiny CFs everywhere and that we can teach our children to be critical about the toys they play with.

 4. NBC’s Parks and Recreation super unhidden pro-feminist agenda. In the “Smallest Park” episode of Parks and Recreation, Andy, April, and Ron visit an Intro to Women’s Studies class. They make Feminism seem like exactly what it is – AWESOME!

5. The film Pariah.

“A rousing success at its world premiere at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, this deeply felt human drama is the feature debut of writer/director Dee Rees. Adepero Oduye portrays Alike (pronounced “ah-lee-kay”), a 17-year-old African-American woman who lives with her parents (Kim Wayans and Charles Parnell) and younger sister (Sahra Mellesse) in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood. A gifted student, Alike is quietly but firmly embracing her identity as a lesbian. With the support of her best friend Laura (Pernell Walker), she is especially eager to find a girlfriend. Wondering how much she can confide in her family, Alike strives to get through adolescence with grace, humor, and tenacity.”

 AMAZING film! Beautifully written and beautifully shot!

6. I have read hundreds of articles on positive body image but there is something extra special about how this woman talks about loving and accepting our bodies.

7. The film Gun Hill Road.

This movie was one of the best films I have ever seen. It was so beautifully written and so authentic to urban transgender youth experience.

“Gun Hill Road is the story of a family in transition. It is the story of a young man exploring his sexuality in an intolerant and judgmental world and his exploration’s impact on his relationship with his parents and himself.”

8. B. Steady :o) Talented young singer songwriter…and oh sooooo cute!

9. More Princess Boy – “Five-year-old Dyson Kilodavis is a little boy who loves sparkly things: princess gowns, hot pink socks, glittery jewelry. Deal with it.”

Dyson inspired his mom to write a book about accepting difference and inspire all of us to think about what we teach our children.

CF Crunkonia

 Black women’s responses to The Help: Although the Oscar’s and The Golden Globes may not have taken heed, black women responded to this year’s white-woman-centered portrayal of southern race relations in a major way. Even though we were often speaking to ourselves, we spoke nonetheless.

Nikky Finney’s National Book Award Speech: John Lithgow called this speech “the best speech for anything [he's] ever heard.” In it, Finney names the spirits of her ancestors who stand at the podium with her, ancestors for whom literacy was once illegal. Head Off and Split is Nikky Finney’s fourth book of poetry and her long career is evidence of her brave engagement with the key historical events that center on black women’s bodies.

CF Crunktastic

 Websites:

thefeministwire.com — Launched earlier this year, this online feminist magazine offers some of the most diverse and well-written rigorous, yet accessible, articles with perspectives on everything from politics, to pop culture, to academia.

Videos:

The new “I’m Feminist Enough…” series features women of color offering fresh perspectives on what feminism frees them up to do!

Check Vol.2 here:

Amy Poehler’s “Smart Girls Have More Fun” Series. 

The future of feminism is extremely bright if Poehler’s interview with 7 and 3/4 yr-old self-proclaimed feminist Ruby is any indication. See the video here—> Smart-Girls-At-The-Party-The-Feminist-88764816

Books:

Samhita Mukhopadhyay’s Outdated: Why Dating is Ruining Your Love Life

This fresh feminist perspective on dating and relationships, written by the executive editor of Feministing.com, is a breath of fresh air, amidst the shamtastic dating and mating manuals that continue to crop up like weeds. 

Demetria Lucas’ A Belle in Brooklyn  

This Black-girl-feminist dating memoir is laugh-out-loud funny, poignant, and reminds us that when it comes to love and romance for Black women, there is still hope

Gwyneth Bolton’s Ready for Love

If you still like romance novels but wonder how they comport with your feminist politics, check out the novels of Gwyneth Bolton, which always have feminist characters and/or themes. 

Songs

Marsha Ambrosius’ “Far Away” –This song and video offered a powerful message in the fight against homophobia, particularly in communities that listen to R&B and neo-soul.

Films:

The African American Film Festival Releasing Movement

Director Ava DuVernay began this groundbreaking indie film initiative to open more avenues of distribution for quality African American films. She released two films this year to critical acclaim: I Will Follow and Kinyarwanda. Check ‘em out.

 CF Moya

Ditto on Pariah. Here’s a great post with deets!!

http://gingerfeminist.tumblr.com/post/15009672309/reblog-i-saw-pariah 

CF RaeOne

Last year an online article asked “Are Cameras the New Guns?” because Facebook and YouTube are continually flooded with citizen-shot videos of police abuse that rarely makes it to the news (and when it does, it is edited or re-presented in a way that many have argued, unjustly re-constructs the events). My vote for video of the year, answers this question with a big, crunk YES, and creates a rally cry for citizens to arm with iPhones to film the police!

“Film the Police,” a video from rapper/activist B. Dolan of Rhode Island, was released after much of the #occupy movement evictions, where reporters cried unfair media blackouts. This remake of NWA’s famous anthem “F*ck the Police” is a digital collaboration across the states: Minneapolis/Rhode Island-based rapper Sage Francis kicks off the track as NWA’s Dr. Dre. He passes the digital mic to rapper/activists Toki Wright of Minneapolis as MC Ren, and then to Jasiri X of Pittsburgh as Eazy E, over a re-made track produced Buddy Peace, also of Rhode Island. 

The video was posted on YouTube in early December, and in three days the video reached over 70,000 views. The video brings the crunk energy of rap and hip-hop activist rally cries, packaged in a remixed music video. Original content was filmed of the rappers in home cities, keyed on to television screens, and are intercut with user-activist generated content – YouTube footage of the occupy protests across the world. In my opinion, this represents the best, most crunk use of user-generated media and social media distribution of a message, packaged in a creative (see copyright criminals) hip-hop kind of way. Just watch yo’self when you aim at the police! The constitution protects your right to film for now but it won’t protect you or your gear from the pepper spray, pellets, or rubber bullets they shoot when you film!

Watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyT1buoyTnY

 CF ReninaJ

GEMS just published a book on sex trafficking of Brown girls in the US. Check it out: http://www.gems-girls.org/get-involved/girlslikeus 

CF SheriDF

I nominate the Grassroot Global Justice Alliance (GGJ) for the 2011 crunk list in the category of movements-climate justice.  It is an alliance of grassroots organizations building a global social movement to “cool the planet.”  The alliance helped organize and coordinate the international “peoples” presence at the Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in November 2011 in Durban, RSA.  This alliance brings together indigenous peoples, displaced peoples, people of color, and progressive climate justice organizations and networks from around the world to fight against greedy multinational corporate agendas–colonial projects–chopping up the world’s resources for profit.

***

Please share your own crunk list in the comments, on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter!

Thank you all for your support and love this year! Wishing you all the joy you can stand this new year and always!

Yours for the revolution,

The CFC

 

–Compiled by Crunkadelic

Somewhere Between Black Power and White Rage

25 Oct

There have been several public “events” privileging race, gender, and class during the past weeks in New York City that featured prominent Black feminists.  After the film screening of The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, the conference about Anita Hill 20 Years Later: Sex, Power and Speaking the Truth, and the Occupy Wall Street  movement based in Zucotti Park/Liberty Square, I  wanted to mark how Black womanhood and Black feminist thought are positioned.

The Black Power Mixtape, 1967-1975

The Swedish film is an incredible compilation or mixtape that chronicles the US Black freedom movement by arranging interviews, speeches, and snapshots of activists and urban Black life. The most compelling moments include Black women. There is one scene, for example, when Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) sits on an apartment floor boyishly looking up at his mother Mable.  In a “play” interview, he presses her to describe the intersections between race and class. It is a humorous, affectionate exchange that complements the defiant image of Carmichael championing Black power. Carmichael’s fiery rhetoric at the beginning is matched by Angela Davis’ cool midway through the film when she responds to a question about armed resistance. Davis recalls the 1963 Birmingham church bombings when

Picture of  four Black girls, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair who were killed by the Klan during the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama

1963 Birmingham Klan bombing that killed four Black girls

neighborhood girls Addie Mae, Cynthia, Carole and Denise were brutally murdered by white supremacists.  She places her personal recollection within a context of ongoing racial terrorism experienced by African descended people. In one story Davis reveals American hypocrisy. In one story she creates an emotional bridge to connect with the film so the audience could better understand the complexities of Black America then and now.  (The CFs in the audience echoed, “that’s Black feminism for you.”)

The Davis and Carmichael interviews are followed by a third moment, which is the most unsettling part of the film because I am left hanging, wondering what to do with a local teary-eyed young Black woman who describes how she has had to wrestle with her drug addiction after a family member sexually assaults her as a child. In the midst of the Black power movement, we are invited to read her story as part of “the ghetto” and hear the PSA-like radio voice-over about premature babies from drug-addicted mothers as hers. The film explains drug abuse by Black male Vietnam veterans who return home disillusioned, homeless and unemployed, and it illustrates gender-specific forms of (sexual) violence experienced by Black men who are tortured during the Attica uprising, but there is no commentary, no gender framework to really see her or other dazed Black women shooting up in an abandoned New York apartment. In fact, if we are to gather any meaning at all from the voice-over, street footage, and her interview, we might believe that she has failed her family and by extension the Black community—ideas echoed by the news media a decade later when audiences are re-introduced to the bad Black woman as the crack-welfare-mother.  That the director-editor, Goran Hugo Olsson, opted to let saturated images of the ghetto “speak for itself” while admittedly letting go of the archived footage of the landmark 1972 Presidential Candidate, Shirley Chisolm, suggests specific discussions about gender added an unwanted complexity to the Black power he envisioned.

Anita Hill 20 Years Later: Sex, Power and Speaking the Truth

The daylong conference began with sessions about Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation hearings of then US Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas. The Sex and Justice film excerpt and morning sessions were followed by lunch discussions about sexual harassment in the military, on the streets, and in schools, and a keynote about home with Hill herself.  Hill asked (and I paraphrase), “Is there a way to Race-ing Justice Engendering Powertalk about race that isn’t so male dominated?” Hours before Hill posed this question I asked myself, is it possible to talk about gender on a national scale that isn’t so white identified? I had come to the conference to learn more about Hill specifically and about Black feminist thought in general (as the tag was “an all day conference about race and gender identity”).  I got it even though it felt sandwiched between a kind of deracialized gender, which eclipsed the intersectionality so many women of color emphasized.  Long before Kimberlé Crenshaw reminded us about intraracial resistance to Hill and other Black women who dared to air dirty laundry, and before Melissa Harris Perry offered us her exacting critique about respectability and the reception of The Help, a New York college instructor leaned over to school the Black-girl-too-young-to-remember about the Thomas-Hill hearings. Pulling out her Black feminist good book, Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power, my informal Black feminist instructor suggested Hill had been embraced by white feminists because Thomas seemed less threatening to their social standing than the white men who systematically harassed Black women in the workplace.  From my back-seat instructor to the panelists on stage, it would appear the symbolic body of Hill was still very much in the making. At the daylong conference, Hill stood (in) as a testament to interracial feminist solidarity, “front line” Black feminist mobilization, and white feminist cooptation (for at least one sistah in the audience).

 

Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street has been characterized as white middle class rage against the capitalist machine. Prior to the Harlem march where folks from Liberty Park joined activists of color to protest the stop-and-frisk policies that disproportionately targeted Black and Latino persons, communities of color insisted the “occupiers” reconsider language (e.g., replace occupy to decolonize) and reconsider tactics, such as voluntarily camping in spaces that displaced homeless persons.   The first time I went to Liberty Park, Black folks peppered the space. We were mainly on the margins, taking up space on the steps and the stone parameters of the blue tarp makeshift community.

The physical make up of the protestors at the Park and on the street during the Manhattan marches appeared to be the same, yet the meetings and talks I attended attempted to be inclusive and intentionally anti-racist even in the absence of a lot of colored folk. (See Greg Tate’s Top 10 Reasons Why So Few Black Folks Appear Down to Occupy Wall Street.) And just like I stayed at the Hill conference, I came back to Liberty Park because I wanted to hear an amazing Black intellectual, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, explain capitalism’s connection to group exclusion, criminalization, and racialized labor. When Gilmore evoked CLR James,  she reminded me of another Trinidadian thinker, Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), that I had seen weeks earlier in the Black Power Mixtape. Immediately after Gilmore’s talk, I walked upstairs to see a remarkable scene for which I still have no meaning.  To my left, Rev. Jesse Jackson was surrounded by a small group of men with studio cameras and a spotlight.  To my right, the actor Rev. Billy began his popular street performance as the crowd circled. Onlookers held up camera phones to record the spectacle of the Black-led choir and the Reverend, who dramatically preached about the evils of consumerism. Each had a platform at Liberty Square to talk about economic justice, however, their messages were digested and distributed differently. Jesse was on my left, Billy was on the right, and Ruth (or Ruthie if you know her) was somewhere in between…

Watch out for the Big Girls: Some Thoughts on TLC’s Big Sexy

15 Sep

One of TLC’s latest unscripted shows, Big Sexy, has been hailed by some critics as a “plus-sized Sex and the City.” The show follows five fluffy friends who live in New York City and work in the beauty industry. Viewers get to tag along as the ladies traverse the ups-and-downs of careers, romantic life, and sisterhood in the Big Apple.

 Despite a premise that didn’t seem to completely insult my intelligence, I was pretty ambivalent about watching the show. Now, let’s not get it twisted. Like some of my fellow CFs, I’m not above watching a little reality TV to pass the time. Catch me at the gym and I might just be keeping up with the Kardashians or some similarly inane E! show.  (Most of my favorite shows are on Food Network or the Cooking Channel and the last thing you want to do while you’re sweating to the oldies is watch Ina Garten make some truffle mac and cheese). Plus, I’ll admit it: one day I got sucked into watching a marathon of Ice Loves Coco. While those are hours that I’ll never get back, I have to say that I was mightily amused. That should count for something, right?

But, I digress. Despite my questionable reality TV show choices, I was not planning on catching Big Sexy. Although the advertisements were fairly innocuous in a world hell-bent on fat shaming (they featured confident plus-sized women sashaying arm-in-arm down glittery NYC streets, proclaiming that the world better “watch out!”), I feared a fetishization of fatness, at worst, or a 60-minute PSA on how “fat people are just like us!” at best. So, while we’re myth busting, let me make some other startling revelations: black people read books, men cry, and gay folks are not out to “convert” straight people. Likewise, Bigfoot (also known as “Sasquatch”) is not real…although there was a brotha I dated for a while in ATL that sort of fits the description…but, that’s a story for another day.

 In other words, I couldn’t forget TLC’s generally shamtastic and rather dubious, exploitative, and ableist lineup of “educational” shows that display a fascination with multiples, little people, and “medical anomalies.” Suffice it to say, I was ready to dismiss the show and avoid it the way I avoid the Basketball Wives franchise.

 But, one night I was flipping through the channels, lamenting that the new season of Parks and Rec was not on yet and I stumbled into watching Big Sexy. And, after all my shit talking, the show was actually kind of decent. The women were smart, funny, and genuinely seem to like and respect one another. (In fact, they are so nice to each other that I fear this show will not last more than one season for lack of “drama”).

 I appreciated that the show’s narrative talked about their careers in fashion in a way that was not dismissive but instead emphasized the women’s creativity and ambition. One woman, who works as a plus-sized model, frankly discussed her frustrations with body image and her agent’s push for her to lose more weight in order to be more marketable. Another woman launched a bikini fashion line that catered to busty women (D cup or higher) who often struggle finding bathing suit tops that don’t look either matronly or super risqué. I especially appreciated the episode when one of the women experienced a breakup; her girls rallied around her, buoyed her spirits, and then they painted the town—as your girls should do. When one woman suggested that they all go to a Big Beautiful Woman (BBW) party, they mostly balked. One complained that only “snaggletoothed” dudes attended such events. Another woman affirmed that mostly men with “fat fetishes” frequented these parties. Remembering a fateful BBW party that Crunktastic and I attended in 2006 or so, I laughed heartily and had to concur.

 Now, I might seem to be gushing about the show, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s perfect. I mean, it’s a show on TLC, so there’s that. It’s not a show that can/will be all things to all people. Still, I did give the side eye to a few things. It’s super-heteronormative, for one. Big girls are on all parts of the sexual continuum and it would be cool to reflect that. Also, I do find it interesting that there are no African American women on the show. (The show features three white women and two Latinas). Considering all the public chatter about black women and our weight, I think it’s an interesting choice that the producers of the show have made. It would also be interesting to see some Asian and indigenous sisters too. You know, big girls do come in all shades and ethnicities.

And, speaking of race, the dating episode did have an interesting tidbit about black folk—black men, in particular. All of the women remarked that mostly black men approached them and that white men very rarely did so. Then the ladies hosted a BBW party that screened out the busted and digusted and they came up with about 20 or so generally attractive black and Latino brothas. By the end of the party, most of the women had multiple phone numbers and were calling the night a success. Now, I wasn’t sipping haterade as I watched the show (it was  margarita), but I did think, “See, all these women are beautiful, but they are all lighter than a paper bag and, despite what we might have said in the 90s, light-skin has never been out of style.” Now, I certainly don’t expect TLC to discuss issues of skin-color privilege on this light-hearted show, especially considering how volatile the issue is (let’s not forget last year’s conversation on colorism on the blog was like a feminist death match), but I did think that fact complexion is often a significant factor in dating is worth remembering.

 So far, I think Big Sexy is fun and I’ll probably add it to my arsenal of procrastination programming. I look forward to seeing a variety of shows that more accurately reflect diverse body types without simply relegating full-figured folks to shaming or punchlines. I mean, can a big girl get some love?

 

Irene, Erykah and the Stuff after Storms

2 Sep

When Irene whistled, I listened to Erykah. Curled on a daybed in the dark, I rummaged for ways to salvage stuff in the midst of a hurricane when Badu pleaded to the self-proclaimed bag lady on a drained battery to let it go.

This summer, I returned to my Virginia hometown to weather a different kind of storm. Separated from my partner and seeking a homeplace to complete research for my “tenure” book, I found myself searching in a cardboard box—a time capsule, which housed old academic awards, articles, and origami-folded, water-stained yes-no-will-you-go-with-me love letters that date back to the 6th grade. I sifted through old things to seek some form of validation or affirmation after being told by faculty unfamiliar with women of color knowledge production that my work was too little, and being told by my partner familiar with yes-man women that our relationship was too much. Retreating home to recover and write felt right until I had no electricity and I began bumping into that box and all of the baggage that I brought back with me.

And then, the hurricane came. The hurricane came when I realized the amount the stuff I carried. There was the physical stuff dispersed in offices, storage facilities, my car, my “hobo” purse, and other folks’ houses; the virtual stuff that needed constant attention lest I risked losing data or (meaningful) connections; and, the psychic stuff of growing up poor, black and female and feeling the pressure to do more and be more so that others would see me as equal.  The weight of stuff seemed to be all-consuming.

Our stuff is a product of living in a consumer capitalist culture, which encourages us to accumulate things to feed the economy, and to feed our feelings of alienation and dissatisfaction. Shows, such as Hoarders, Storage Wars and Pawn Stars represent a new genre of reality television that captures how we deal with it in our lives. After experiencing one day without electricity, my father fueled a generator for a few hours to power deep freezers, a George Foreman grill, and a portable television because we didn’t want to lose the already thawed food or the chatter that cut the silence when we ate dinner. We sat together, yet we experienced emptiness.  It was as if the room had to be filled with something other than ourselves.

Before Irene, it would have been difficult for me to imagine voluntarily moving to a new space with a single suitcase. Today, I am abandoning the bag lady for the kinda (self) love that Badu, Bambara and Crunkadelic said would make life better. It might not be the easiest thing to do, but shedding some of the stuff that I have held onto for years might make handling life’s unexpected disasters lighter.

Power restored.

Confessions of a Reality TV Junkie

18 Aug

What began as morbid curiosity and harmless voyeurism has turned into somewhat of an obsession.  Reality Television has become a habitual part of my nightly routine and something that I am not particularly proud of.  As I spent the weekend clearing out my DVR, which was full of reality tv shows I missed while being out of town, I realized that perhaps I have a problem.  Why else would I secretly watch rerun marathons of Real Housewives of Atlanta all damn day when I have already seen the debauchery?  Why else would I DVR Basketball Wives and mentally if not verbally take sides about who is “in the circle?”  Why else would I be so invested in who wins the challenges and/or prizes at the end of Food Network Shows that there is often a tightening in my belly before the announcement (Chopped, anyone, lol)?  Why else would I have done a happy dance at the re-emergence of Project Runway?  I do believe I have a problem!

As a feminist, I find it troublesome that so many of these shows represent women in problematic ways.  And while I have written about the nebulous position of being a critic and fan, or what Henry Jenkins calls an “aca-fan,” I feel the need to justify my over-consumption of other people’s “made for television” lives. 

Truth is, I don’t always watch these shows for “research” or entertainment.  Sometimes I watch for the same reasons I recorded The Jerry Springer Show when I was a college student.  I watch for the temporary escape from my own life and the reminder that no matter how bad things are (in my own life) they could always be worse.  I watch so that I can get on my proverbial high horse for 30 minutes to an hour and judge someone else’s life without being judged in return.  One of the appeals of reality television is the one-sided view.  I can watch someone else’s life, make claims about how I might have handled a situation better or differently, complain about the choices or representations, challenge the authenticity, participate in virtual and actual conversations about the characters with other consumers, and then turn off the tv.  Reality television makes me feel better about myself and it allows me to have conversations with other viewers or track comments online, laughing and/or nodding and/or shaking my head at other takes on what I saw with my own eyes. 

Despite the fact that I am disgusted and oftentimes troubled by the ways in which Black women on these shows represent themselves and treat each other, and the ways that women are characterized and caricatured in general, it does not keep me from turning on the tv and shopping for a show.  And since reality television is not going anywhere, I feel the need to justify my continued fixation.

I do, however, try to temper my addiction.  I don’t watch Big Brother or Dancing With the Stars, or any reality shows featured on network television (hm… could it be they are not scandalous enough) and I always critique and discuss what I see/think/feel in order to emotionally justify my curiosity.  I mean am I just that damn nosey?  Am I a masochist?  Is my life so routinized that I get off on other people’s drama?

I have decided that while reality television has its evils, it is not the devil.  I think that reality television shows offer important social commentaries about the hegemonic bullshit that oftentimes goes unchecked or unnoticed.  For example, The Bachelor(ette) and all of its various versions demonstrate the problematic notion of a fairy tale, both through its unrealistic portrayals (including the embedded classism, racism and heterosexism of the show/s) and un-happily-ever-afters.  And it is also contentious that the Real Housewives franchise includes many single, divorced or never-married women who are simply bourgeois, rich, privileged, and attention-starved.  (I am continuously confused by the titles—Basketball Wives should perhaps be called Basketball Exes…but I digress).  What I am getting at is that I think reality TV offers a platform for interesting opportunities to have conversations about issues that we should be talking about anyway, issues that influence the female image. 

Take Teen Mom, for example, the spinoff of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant.  I found the latter show by accident but was immediately immersed into and fascinated by the documentary of 16 year old girls who are unexpectedly expecting.  The show chronicles the lives of young girls who negotiate the very REAL issues surrounding teen pregnancy, from contemplation of abortion and adoption, to the realities of motherhood, unsuccessful relationships with the fathers of their children, challenges to their relationships with their family and friends, domestic violence, intergenerational privilege or poverty, etc. I remember watching the series and feeling impacted by the reality of it all.  My initial impression was that this show would discourage young girls from having unprotected sex (a good thing) and garner public attention and discussion about how to care for young girls who find themselves in the undesirable position of being unexpectedly pregnant (another good thing—the call for care, not the unexpected pregnancy).  The general response, however, is varied, and some people feel the show encourages risky sexual behaviors.  I read some time ago that some girls were trying to get pregnant so that they could be on the show L.  Perhaps the drawback of any reality television show for young and impressionable young women is the illusion of fame as a permanent or positive position.

When I realized that they were doing a follow-up series, Teen Mom, to follow the teen mothers on their journeys through parenthood I began watching religiously.  I watch for a few reasons.  First, because reality television has conditioned my interest and fascination with characters to be more ongoing (16 & Pregnant chronicles a different girl every week while Teen Mom follows the same group over a longer period of time).  I also watch to see if the criticisms of the show are fair, if it really glamorizes teen pregnancy or offers a realistic purview into the sacrifices and struggles that are inherent in the everyday life of teen mothers.

I realize that my perception as a grown ass woman who did not face teen pregnancy is one that is limited by my own experience(s).  While I have never been pregnant, I witnessed teen pregnancy from the outside looking in.  When I was a teenager I knew many girls who found themselves pregnant and had to make difficult, permanent adult choices when they were barely past puberty.  And that is a feminist issue worth troubling—unlike the more superficial points of many reality shows.

So, while I cannot justify all of my reality-television watching, and I confess that I need to wean myself away from my hours-long binges, I hope to utilize some of what I learn and see to initiate conversations about social issues and not just good gossip.  VH1’s catch-all phrase, popularized during their hot-ass-mess Flavor-of-Love days, “watch and discuss,” prevails here.

(More) Love for Awkward Black Girl

11 Aug

 

Image of Issa Rae of Awkward Black Girl looking awkward in an Awkward Black Girl tank top.

I was writing a pretty depressing piece for today about why I’m not voting for Obama in 2012 but I’m still a bit skittish about comments post Kreayshawn so I need another month or two to mentally prepare for what I anticipate will be some serious backlash. Plus, I’m tired of being sad and overwhelmed by what’s happening in the world so I thought I’d spotlight something that makes me smile!

I’m talking about The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, an amazing web series that we’ve mentioned several times on the blog, facebook and tumblr!  Writer/director/actress Issa Rae plays J, an awkward black girl with a penchant for writing violent rhymes to blow off steam, a deep and abiding hate for spoken word, and the ability to clock and interrogate racism with righteous precision and be hilarious while doing it!

The cast and crew were worried that they’d have to stop the show because they had run out of money so they started a Kickstarter and have raised over $50,000 with an initial $30,000 goal!

The success of the show and the fundraising effort comfort me and suggest that the announcement of a possible Tyler Perry TV channel doesn’t have to mean that the apocalypse is upon us. It is possible for independent awesomeness to survive and thrive if we are willing to support it and it looks like we are!

Hail to the…Naw!

22 Jul

Summer's Eve Hail to the V logoSo Summer’s Eve has a new marketing campaign for their line of “feminine” washes and deodorants called “Hail to the V!”  And, just to be clear, that “V” is for vagina!  If you visit their website you can take a quiz to “ID the V” and get your hands on a “Vagina’s Owner’s Manual.” In case you thought this was some kind of corporate altruism, you can also learn more about Summer’s Eve’s products which, after you take the quiz and read the manual, you will know you need to keep “Lady V” on the right track!

Wait! I think I’m hallucinating so I hit the refresh button… No, this is for real.  In a world of sub-par sexual health education I’m all for some public knowledge sharing about women’s reproductive health.  And in a world that denigrates women and routinely uses “pussy” and other vaginal references to indicate somebody’s lack of courage or general inferiority I am all for shouting out and offering a big up to the vagina.  But this campaign is neither educational nor complimentary; it’s sham.  A sham masquerading as education, homage, honor and respect.

Take their commercial “The V” for example, in which a properly ambiguously female and European voice-over tells us “It’s the cradle of life.  It’s the center of civilization.  Over the ages and throughout the world, men have fought for it, battled for it, even die for it.  One might say it’s the most powerful thing on earth!”  First, it sounds like the marketing team for Summer’s Eve just finished reading some of the vintage works of Brother Cleaver (All Hail  the Power of the Pussy!!!).  Second, the honor that Summer’s Eve asks us to bestow upon our All Mighty Vagina is that of cleanliness and not just any cleanliness but one that smells like a

Picture of Summer's Eve Feminine Wash in "Delicate Blossom" for Sensitve Skin

What exactly does a "Delicate Blossom" smell like anyway?

“Delicate Blossom” or “Morning Paradise.”  In other words, your “wonder down under” stinks and you need to fix it!  This, of course, panders to the same old ideas that the vagina is inherently unclean and its processes are also unreliable and suspicious.  Bringing to mind “dirty” words like discharge, yeast, bacteria and menstruation. Of course, they do offer a scent called Naturally Normal  but who the hell said all our “normals” smell the same.  Not to mention the very idea that you can somehow bottle and sell normality!

Finally, to call “it” the most powerful thing in the world and to talk so romantically about its supposed influence and power ignores the very real ways women find themselves marginalized and made vulnerable at the site of “it”.  How women access adequate health care, navigate sexual assault or the threat of sexual assault, the right to have an abortion, the right to have a baby all demonstrate the ways in which the mistreatment of vaginas has nothing to do with how clean they are but with where they are situated in the matrix of power, privilege and disadvantage. But this commercial, this campaign would have women believe that all we need to do is tap into the Power of the P, most quickly done through washing it with Summer’s Eve, and, like Beyonce says, we could run the world!  Pause…Side Eye!  So yes, let’s talk about what it means to recognize, honor and respect our vaginas! But let’s not allow that conversation to be tethered to the sale of products.  Let the conversation be about what feels good, what feels right, what feels necessary and what feels healthy.  Until then, as my homegirl Tiffy Rose said when she saw these commercials, “Hail to the Naw!” Summer’s Eve, you can keep your faux celebration of my vagina right along with your overly-perfumed washes, spray deodorants, cleaning towelettes!

 

Hateration, Holleration

11 Jul

I’m not trying to be the grammar police, but I really think some words just need to be retired.  Take, for instance, “swagger,” or simply “swag.”

I mean, once a word becomes connected to a scent that your grandfather used back in the day, it might be best to let that go. (Sorry, PawPaw).

“Hater” is another word that I think should hang up its jersey in the slang hall of fame. True enough, it hasn’t become quite as corny as swag, bling, or jiggy (don’t act like y’all didn’t say that word back in the day!), but it has been used so much that it really doesn’t have much meaning.

I’ve been thinking about “haters” a lot recently. Helping to run a crunk feminist blog and being a crunk feminist teacher means that I’m frequently in the business of bringing up uncomfortable truths, considering difficult issues, and holding myself and others to pretty high standards that reject bullshit and shamtastery.

And I’m frequently called a hater.  

Now, there are lots of things that I do despise: willful ignorance, racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, intolerance, muggy days, frogs (they jump at you, not away from you!), that asinine song by Rocko… I mean, the list goes on. But when I, or any other thinking individual, respectfully disagrees with someone else, calls someone on their ish, or generally acts like they’ve been cultivating their good sense, that is not hating, hateration, or holleration. It’s none of those things in this dancery!

Seriously, we all it get it wrong sometimes. And sometimes it’s painful or even embarrassing to be disabused of our cherished notions. But this inclination to dismiss any kind of critique as hateration is more than side-eye worthy. (We see you, Tyler Perry). It’s an indication that not only is your shit not tight, one, but also that you know it, and you are trying to pull the okey doke on folks. No sir, no m’am!

Respectfully holding each other accountable should be recognized as a loving act, especially in progressive communities who claim to be working for social change. Falling back on some old tired, “Stop complaining, [insert: raggedy social movement, musical artist, filmmaker] is out there doing their thing. You are just hating” is just that–tired.

I am not suggesting that we just talk to one another any old kind of way.  But I am suggesting that we remain open to hearing each other out, learning from one another, and not being mired in comfortable ideologies that simply affirm what we already think is true. 

Let’s throw “hater” a retirement party. It definitely deserves it.

Sex, Scripts, & Single Ladies

23 Jun

I’ll admit it.  When VH1’s scripted dramedy Single Ladies premiered a few weeks ago I had very low expectations–so low, in fact, that I forgot it was even coming on that night. It wasn’t  until I logged on to my Facebook and saw a bunch of statements like, “OMG!” “He said what?” “Stacey Dash is how old?” “Why does LisaRaye always play herself?” that I realized the show was on. So, I flipped the channel to VH1 to see what all the buzz was about. To tell the truth, it took me a minute to even find VH1 because a channel whose claim to fame is messy-ass shows like Basketball Wives and Love and Hip Hop is generally not on my radar.

Anyway, my first impression of Single Ladies was that it was an over-the-top soap opera in the vein of Dynasty and Melrose Place, replete with rich, beautiful people and sudsy, paper-thin plot lines. And while I thought it had the potential to be some escapist fun, the raggedy acting, flat characters, and reliance on tired stereotypes had me giving the show the side eye. I will say I had great fun Facebook-critiquing it and decided to keep watching the show for the moment, if only for sociological interest…okay, and the eye candy, too, let me not front.

April, Val, and Keisha out on the town. Is it wrong for me to wonder if April shops at the same wig shop as Kim Zolciak?

My Facebook friends ran the gamut of reactions to the pilot episode. Some vowed that Single Ladies took two hours of their lives that they can never get back. Others decided that they would stick it out, at least for a few more episodes.

In thinking of my own mixed reaction to show, I decided to check out what critics had to say. Let’s just say that reviews have been less than kind, to say the least.

Hank Stuever at The Washington Post wrote:

This is a series for people who found “Sex and the City” too quick-witted and “The Wendy Williams Show” too intellectually stimulating.  It’s the TV equivalent of a beach read with no words.

I’ll admit it. I died and was later resurrected when I read that. Ooop!

Brian Lowry at Variety wrote:

Although VH1 bills “Single Ladies” as a romantic comedy, this hourlong show is really a soap–basically a scripted version of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” seeking to fill a niche among African-American women largely abandoned by broadcasters since “Girlfriends” went off the air. Still, it’s not a particularly inspired serial, replete with tired situations, stiff dialogue and male characters possessing less dimension than those populating “Sex and the City,” if that’s possible. It’s not easy for a series featuring beautiful women to harbor zero appeal among men, but these “Ladies” thread that needle.

Hmm. I can get with the first part of the comment, but I must admit that one-dimensional male characters were the least of our concerns in Sex and the City. You mean to tell me that those women went all around NYC and they couldn’t find more than like three people of color to put in the whole series (Sonia Braga, Blair Underwood…who was the third, y’all? Help me out…). So, no, the fact that we did not learn Big’s first name until the last episode of the series has not kept me awake at night.

By the same token, of all the critiques to make about Single Ladies, and there are plenty to make, the lack of fully realized male characters is not at the top of my list.  Because the show is a soap, the scenarios are definitely over the top.  Still, having lived in Atlanta for five years, I know that the dating scene there is often off the chain, with folks doing the most and achieving the least, much to  many sisters’ chagrin. Case in point: I dated a beautiful, smart, and gainfully-employed brother who thought the same stupid shit as Val’s sexy chef did in episode two: giving head is just not “manly” but receiving head is “natural.”  It’s true, folks, there are still people out there in the twenty-first century who think black men shouldn’t do cranial maneuvers! It is not a myth like unicorns and leprechauns; they actually exist. (Yes, I know there are brothers who do it and do it well, but y’all might want to take your fallen brethren under your wings, ’cause they are tripping).  So, seriously, I’m not hating on the show because some men (read: some straight men) ages 18-45 don’t like it. #kanyeshrug

How about the fact that the show only has one token gay male character, when we know good and hell well that Atlanta has a vibrant and diverse queer community? How about the fact that almost all the women on the show can pass the paper bag test? Riddle me that. Now, I’m not suggesting that a soap opera on VH1 has to be all things to all people. But with Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit productions at the helm, I think it’s fair to ask for a bit more. C’mon, Khadijah, we need ya!

At the end of the day, I do find the show interesting on a few levels. Real talk, sometimes after teaching and writing all day all I want to watch is something that doesn’t require a lot of brainpower. I also do enjoy seeing a city I love represented, especially as I toil in the confederate wilderness of Alabama. Looking at Stacey Dash and LisaRaye McCoy makes me vow to drink more water and get more sleep because they make 45 look really, really good.  Some of the situations that the women have encountered around men and dominance have been surprisingly interesting. In fact, I had a great conversation the other day with my girl Crunktastic about the whole dinner scene with the pompous professors, which tickled me especially as a sister with working class roots who went to Emory for graduate school.  Despite the fact that all the profs were caricatures, I did think the class dynamics of the scene was fascinating and I definitely laughed out loud when the words “hypersexualization” and “objectification” made it onto the show.  Let me mess around and find out that some folks at VH1 have taken women’s studies…

Bottom line for me: the show is not great, but it does prompt some interesting questions about race, class, gender, and sisterhood, in addition to having a slew of foine—yes, foine—guest stars and an easy, breezy plot. I’ll be watching, with a crunk feminist critical lens of course, for now.

What is your take on Single Ladies?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 102 other followers

%d bloggers like this: