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On Azealia Banks and White Gay Cis Male Privilege

10 Jan

Guest Post by Edward Ndopu

Azealia Banks

Rapper Azealia Banks

Recently, the media has exploded with news of a Twitter battle between rapper Azealia Banks and gossip blogger Perez Hilton. After Hilton inserted himself in an altercation between Banks and fellow female rapper Angel Haze, taking Haze’s side, Banks denounced him as a “messy faggot”. She then went on to say that she used the word to describe “any male who acts like a female”. Rumours have since abounded that Banks is being dropped from her record label as a result of her speaking out against Hilton. Rather than taking sides, I believe it is most important for us to examine the context within which this media escalation has happened. Instead of writing off Azealia Banks, herself a queer woman, as homophobic, we should instead be exploring the femmephobia and racialized sexism at play in the public’s response to this debacle.

The public spat between Azealia Banks and Perez Hiton must be understood within a larger context, beyond the binary logic of right and wrong. It is profoundly problematic that much of the cultural criticism framing this fiasco is couched in the “two wrongs don’t make a right” argument. This  narrative rests on the flawed assumption that wrongful conduct on both sides of a conflict functions on an equal playing field. The lens through which we view wrongful conduct on either side (Azealia Banks vs Perez Hilton) must take into account the overarching power imbalances that frame interpersonal experiences of epistemic violence. We cannot dislocate public figures from their sociopolitical locations. The Azealia Banks/Perez Hilton debacle has absolutely nothing to do with right and everything to do with white gay cis male privilege.

White gay cis men have cultural access to the bodies of black women and black femmes, cultural access that black women and black femmes do not have in relation to white gay cis male bodies. This cultural access allows white gay cis men to caricature black femininities, through mannerisms and voice intonations, as rambunctiously depraved and outlandish. It is a form of ontological mockery that reinforces dehumanizing narratives and racist tropes about black femininities. Perez Hilton, who personifies a homonormative politic, has systematically tapped into the cultural access to which I refer at various points in his career. Indeed, the sassy lexicon he, and so many other upper middle class non-disabled white gay cis men like him, employs rests on the commodification and appropriation of black femme identities. Hilton interjecting himself in a social media dispute between two black women, Azealia Banks and Angel Haze, precipitated the Hilton/Banks altercation, which is emblematic of his (problematic) cultural access.

Because our society subscribes to an insidiously misogynistic sociocultural paradigm, to insult someone, notwithstanding gender, is to invoke the feminine. So what better way for Banks to cut Hilton down to size than to call his masculinity into question? The Banks/Hilton feud had absolutely nothing to do with sexual identity (read: homophobia), but rather, gender power dynamics (read: femmephobia). Azealia calling Perez a “messy faggot” suggests an attempt to assert her status as a no-nonsense, hard ass femcee in a largely masculine of center dominated hip-hop industry. Masculine of center queer men, notwithstanding race, appropriate the word bitch. Very often, they use it pejoratively, and with impunity. They’re seldom called out on the ubiquity of their misguided misogyny. Yet, when it comes to Azealia’s use of the word faggot, she’s quickly characterized as homophobic, reinforcing the dominant narrative that people of color are somehow inherently homophobic, to echo Janet Mock’s recent sentiments. Although Azealia Banks is queer, she is not part of a population that would have this slur used against her. That being said, there are other words that are deeply entrenched manifestations of oppression that go unchecked each and every day. Ironically, many gay men who are up in arms over Azealia’s use of the word faggot are the same men who render femme-identified men invisible and undesirable.

Azealia Banks’ career allegedly hangs in the balance and Perez Hilton’s remains firmly intact. She’s now regarded as the ratchet, violently homophobic black woman. By virtue of his white gay cis male privilege, Hilton did not have to contend with the implications of calling will.i.am a faggot several months ago. This isn’t two wrongs make a right, but rather, one wrong is minimized, and the other, pathologized.


Born to a South African freedom fighter mother who fled from the Apartheid regime to Namibia under self-imposed exile, Edward (Eddie) Ndopu is a politically conscious (dis) abled queer femme Afro-politan living in Ottawa, Ontario. Named by the Mail and Guardian Newspaper as one of their Top 200 Young South Africans, he is a social critic, anti-oppression practitioner, consultant, writer and scholar.

The Summer We Got Free: A Book Talk with Mia McKenzie

20 Dec

The Summer We Got Free is Mia McKenzie‘s first novel and I was honored to be asked to write a blurb for the back. I wrote:

Mia McKenzie’s The Summer We Got Free answers Toni Cade Bambara’s question “do you want to be well?” with it’s own. Do you remember what I was like when I was? The novel won’t let you go as it surges forward with truth only fiction can tell. I was eager for answers as I followed a trail of not bread crumbs but whole pieces of toast slathered in butter that makes you moan or as I did, read passages aloud and neglect sleep for want of the next savory morsel. The Summer We Got Free is the product of a girl child grown up in the stories of June, Alice, Zora, Pearl, Gloria, and even Octavia, told in palimpsestic time where McKenzie’s own life doesn’t overlap with her characters but it doesn’t even matter. Ava is the black girl who reminds us that we are the ones we’ve been waiting for, to the delight of some and the displeasure of others. McKenzie’s masterful weaving of narrative belies an inaugural effort yet it is clearly an afrofuturistic vision of healing transformation and an affirmation that we have what we need. The text is saturated with an effortless queerity and a brush of magical realism that show what’s possible when you focus off center. I’ll be thrusting this into the hands of everyone I know as I return to it myself to remember I can get free again.

The Summer We Got Free Book Cover— Mia McKenzie

This interview with Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous is the first in a series of talks Crunk Feminists will have with people we think are creating the world we want to see. We do a lot of critique on the blog but in the new year we want to do more to highlight the folks who are doing the work of fostering activism and alternatives now! CF Crunktastic describes the project as a “Crunk Digital Salon.”

I mean salon both in the sense of the kind of intellectual gatherings that Madame CJ Walker and Georgia Douglas Johnson used to preside over in their homes during the Harlem Renaissance, but also in the sense of beauty/barber shop talk and politics, and the level of community, candor, everydayness and humor that one finds in those spaces.

CF Crunkonia characterizes it as a kitchen table.

I like the kitchen table for reasons involving my love for Paule Marshall. I also miss MHP’s old blog with the same name. And although the kitchen table may not mean to our generation what it did to Marshall’s foremothers, couldn’t we play with the whole digital age meets the kitchen thing because the kitchen table may double as an office desk for many of us? A play on women’s work?

CF Chanel reminded us that a cypher invokes our initial inspiration and connections to hip hop feminism.

I’m moved by the tumblr practice of Signal Boosting, of lifting up important messages that we want spread and that we want people to hear by reblogging them and asking others to do the same.

As we continue to work out what we call this thing, please enjoy our first offering. Get Crunk!!!

CFC Feminist Care Package for Dr. Robin Turner

30 Nov

Dear Dr.  Robin Turner,

Thank you for being! We at the CFC would like to send you love and support as you are being attacked for doing the work that we believe is necessary for changing our world. When we ask our students to understand that everyone is not white, male, heterosexual, we have then begun to challenge not only systems of power but also the deeply ingrained identity constructs through which folks understand themselves. Unfortunately, sometimes we are caught in the crossfire of students’ reactions to being challenged. It is easier to react than to respond.

We hope you elevate your practice of self-care in this moment, that you reject the implicit demand evident in this student’s temper tantrum that you do the emotional labor around his privilege(s) that he is unwilling to do. Our hope is that you are enveloped in a community of supportive colleagues, administrators, friends, and family members, and that you know that your extended network has your back. We love you!

With Crunk Support,

The CFC

P.S. As you take time to care for your self in this moment, we offer the links below to bring a smile to your face or comfort to your heart!

CFC’s Favorite Things: Crunk Holiday Gifts

21 Nov


So it’s that time of year again where conspicuous consumption, The United State’s favorite pastime, goes into overdrive. Here at the CFC, we’d like to counter the external pressure to buy the latest expensive gadget that will be obsolete by the next manufactured buying push, by suggesting you gift differently. Last year, CF Crunkista got this tradition off to an excellent start and we are building on that work this year. Basically, boo capitalism but if you are going to spend, here are some awesome products, people, and projects to support this holiday season.

  1. ProductsThe Summer We Got Free Book Cover— Mia McKenzie
    • The soon to be released, The Summer We Got Free by Black Girl Dangerous Mia Mckenzie is some of the best fiction out there. If you are able to read this book, you should and so should everyone you know! The kind of seeds this will plant in minds will be the most delicious of strange fruit!
    • Danielle Henderson turned her Feminist Ryan Gosling tumblr into a book! Buy it from the feminist bookstore Charis and you are doing two great things at once!
    • A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara and What Makes A Baby by Cory Silverberg are great children’s book for any little ones in your life.
    • If you just have to have an e-reader, get a Kobo and support independent bookstores in the process. They’re the only e-reader that promises not to share your secret copy of 50 Shades of Grey with the Feds.
    • A toy that encourages little girls to be engineers. :o) Goldieblocks…yes, I know “goldie” but its an awesome idea. For a less whitewashed toy try Roominate, created by three women (1.5 of color) engineers designed to help spark girls’ interests in STEM.
    • For beautiful, hand-made art, Chicana feminist scholar and folk artist: http://www.etsy.com/shop/calaverasYcorazones
    • For the Queer satorialist on your list, try Malakni, Marimacho, The Andy Moon Collection, and Distinguished Cravat. For fat fashionistas, support Fat Fancy Fashions.
    • Your favorite childhood book– the actual print version from your childhood that you find at a used bookstore or online.
    • A nineties-celebrity-turned-ordinary-citizen autograph. Last I heard, Devoe was selling real estate in Atlanta. Surely he would sign a shirt for Moya for $20 (please!!!). Also, I know some people who know some people who know the members of The Boys (Dial my Heart). And if you want to get CF Crunkonia a gift, please track down at least one of the girls from Visions (Ooh La La) and get them to sign something.
    • More Music ideas – For music to gift, buy music from some great indie (self-distributed artists):
  1. People
    • Support the people of Palestine! Buy some good Palestinian olive oil, donate money to important Pro-Palestinian organizations and efforts.
    • Support a local person who knows how to do something. Even if this person isn’t marketing their services, pay them to give you and your friends a workshop. For instance, get one of your best dancer friends to teach a session on twerkin. Do you have a spoken word artist in your kinship circle? Get them to teach the tools of spoken word that may just help you in your daily tasks. Do your own Shawty Got Skillz Share or invite the shawties to teach you something!
    • Are you trying to understand your life and the reason you keep encountering different versions of the same person over and over again? Raising a little one and want to adapt your parenting to fit their emotional needs? Give the gift of an astrological reading by the one and only Yolo Akili.
    • Do you know a desperate graduate student or organization that needs some editing post haste? Buy them some editing hours from Summer McDonald.
  1. Projects

We know you have ideas too, dear readers! What’s on your list to give and receive this year?

On Anger…

1 Oct

This post does not contain images because I don’t want to animate the stereotype, but in Google image searches for “Sapphire” and “Angry Black Woman,” Michelle Obama was prominently featured.

In a brilliantly provocative paper at ASALH this year, Dr. Gwendolyn Pough invited us to rethink the black woman stereotype of Sapphire, the emasculating black bitch who’s always ready to fight. Pough notes that the “angry black woman” is the least investigated of the stereotypes of black women and the one people are most likely to assume is true. Pough’s paper was a jumping off point for a lively discussion about the political utility of black women’s anger and the questions it raised reverberate in my mind. Beverly Guy-Sheftall, also had the uses of anger on her mind and wrote a piece for Womenetics, imploring black women to get angry and use their intellectual gifts to create the world we want.

Anger has been a really tough emotion for me to grasp. When I was little, my anger wasn’t valid because I was a child. As I got older, the sapphire script was something I actively avoided. It seemed that as a dark skinned black girl, I was always already being told that I was angry. I smiled a lot. I learned to self silence to the point that I don’t even always tell friends when little things hurt my feelings. I didn’t express anger, opting for sadness with no tears, as opposed to righteous indignation.

On a recent flight from Ithaca to Atlanta, I was subjected to additional searching. This included the TSA officer taking my lunch, a burrito, out of the paper bag it was in and swiping the chemical detection cloth over the paper bag and foil covered burrito, putting the burrito into the small tray for wallets and pocket change and running it through the conveyered x-ray machine two times. Needless to say none of the other passengers I saw who had food were subjected to the same. I was livid. Ithaca has a small airport and all the other passengers on my flight witnessed this extra search of my things. I was so flustered, I dropped my hat and it was the other black passenger who pointed to where it was. I was hot with anger and embarrassment but I didn’t say anything. I called a friend and we discussed the incident briefly, coming up with non-confrontational things I could have said like, “Wow, so people are trying to hide things in food now?”  I couldn’t think of anything in the moment. I swallowed the incident down and boarded the plane.

I worry about this now default reaction of mine when confronted with moments like this. While the incident itself wasn’t physically violent, I felt it in my body. I got hot; my stomach churned. I had some kind of internal reaction the incident that left me feeling unwell. This doesn’t happen every time of course but microaggressions are sometimes so frequent, it’s hard to gauge their impact. There are black women and other women of color in my life who have had bouts with or sucumbs to cancer that I link to this swallowing down of the daily assaults on our personhood. It adds up and that ish is toxic.

Sheri Randolph, a panelist with Pough, also mentioned colorism as it related to anger as the people mentioned in the talk, Melissa Harris Perry, June Jordan, Audre Lorde were all lighter skinned Black women whose anger erupted in the public sphere. Was/is there more room for their anger than mine? I try to think of dark skinned black women’s anger in public and how it is read and what seems to be different is the assumption of anger initially. Michelle Obama has perhaps never lost her cool but is always already assumed to be angry. But as an audience member in the room said, “Anger darkens,” meaning any expression of anger moves you further to the dark side of the color line. Both Jordan and Lorde died of cancer though, so whatever room they had was not enough.

One audience member during the session reminded us that because even speaking directly or pointedly as a Black woman is read as anger, many of us hold back and suppress feelings in general. This silence won’t protect us but it seems like it is harming us as well. This blog is a safe space for my anger but I need more than this corner of the internet to unfurl my tongue and release my truths.

Starting With A Guide: New models of collaborative scholarship

10 Sep

Back in July, I attended nerd camp, THATCamp CHNM. I learned about the visualization tool Viewshare, created by the Library of Congress. I’m happy to announce the launch of Dr. Stephanie Evans’ “SWAG Diplomacy,” a project I helped her build in Viewshare.

SWAG Diplomacy, as described by Dr. Evans, “maps locations of 200 African American autobiographers who wrote international travel memoirs.” You can click on any country and see all the famous African Americans who wrote about traveling to that place. You can click on a person and discover the places they traveled. You get a sense of the amazing places that Black folks have been and the cross-pollination of cultures throughout the Diaspora. Students can “Start with a guide” and learn more about these prominent historical figures and hopefully be inspired in the process.

Dr. Evans specifically designed a project that would be free and open to the public with the expressed intent of having it used in K-12 classrooms as part of a multi-pronged curriculum. She even made sure that it met the Georgia public school curriculum requirements and consulted other teachers along the way. This is the kind of academic work I want to produce. As we think about how to address the crisis in U.S. public schools, I wonder how projects like this can be a model. How can we create more collaborative spaces across the various levels of educational institutions? I am very proud to have been a part of a project that integrates theory and practice so well.

After completing the project, the fine folks at the Library of Congress were interested in how we created our map. Dr. Evans and I were interviewed about the project and you can read the interview in full at The Signal, The Library of Congress’s blog. It’s work like this that gets me excited about the possibilities of the academy. I got to collaborate with Dr. Evans, fellow Crunk Feminist and Women’s Studies colleague Whitney Peoples, and create a map that has application beyond colleges and universities. This is scholarship!

What projects are you excited about and what’s on your radar as a cool innovative tool for the work you are doing in the world?

Claressa Explains It All

24 Aug

Claressa Shields wins Gold as the ref holds up her hand in victory!

I’ve always been ambivalent and maybe even a little skittish about sports. They seem violent and remind me of The Hunger Games, particularly with the amount of POC presence and the injuries athletes incur. I wasn’t invested in the Olympics until my tumblr friends started pointing out the racism, sexism and nationalism in NBC’s coverage and Cruntastic’s two pieces about the ill treatment of Gabby Douglas.

Now the games are over and Gabby’s on a cereal box, a mural in VA beach and has appearances on fancy shows. I’m super excited for her but as I got caught up in the Olympic fever, there were other athletes who I want to see on TV. In particular, I wonder why there hasn’t been the same level of love and adoration for Claressa Shields.

Her story is ultra compelling, a hard knock life, a survivor, just 17 and she’d only been defeated once in her entire boxing career before the Olympics! She won gold, defeating someone much older than her! She even got in trouble for repeatedly sticking her tongue out at her opponents (na na, na na na). In her own words, “she’s bad!” But how come Claressa can’t be in the spotlight with or like Gabby?

First, Gabby and Claressa’s sports are different. Gymnastics is elite and elegant. It’s appropriately feminine too. People have a different idea about boxing, and women’s boxing at that. Claressa is already de-feminized by the sport she plays. The way that the sports are classed also maps on to the way both Gabby and Claressa speak. Claressa’s Flint inflects her every word.

For all the talk of Gabby’s hair, Claressa’s showed the wear of the work she put into getting her gold. Gabby can be a black girl hero, someone to aspire to, someone whose hair matters in sub plots of black respectability and heteronormative desirability. Claressa gets a pat on the head and a good job. She’s not a credit to the race or gender, not someone we want our daughters to look up to and emulate.

No shade to Gabby, but damn it, Claressa is my hero. She don’t take no stuff and chose boxing because she was tired of people seeing black girls as an easy target. Everyone knows a good defense starts with a good offense and she’s got a killer left-handed jab (I know, I’m mixing sports metaphors). Claressa’s prowess can not be understated. Her physical, mental and emotional commitment to her sport have inspired me and have me looking for boxing gyms in my area. Who’s with me?

America breeds terrorists. And they are white not brown.

20 Aug

My heart is hurting. I am grateful for this platform and disgusted as I try to help amplify voices that shouldn’t need to tell their sad stories.

America breeds terrorists. And they are white not brown.

Wade Michael Page, Sikh Temple Terrorist

Wade Michael Page, Sikh Temple Terrorist

My parents grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, in the 60’s. They were 16 when four little girls were bombed in church. In a Christian church… on a Sunday.

Terror is being scared to go to your place of worship because someone might try to kill you there.

Terror is being “confused” with another more “deserving” target of violence.

Terror is watching the news say that a terrorist made a “mistake” and that you were the intended and implied fair target of deadly violence.

Terror is eight incidents of violence in eleven days that are willfully being ignored and not connected.

Terror is attacks on your communities not being called terrorist attacks.

Terror is knowing that the cops killed your son and having to rely on the (in)justice system for justice.

Terror is being shot dead by the cop who hit your 4 year old daughter with his motorcycle.

Terror is being incarcerated for defending yourself when you were attacked.

Terror is white people comparing you and your struggle to their right to have guns in a library.

Terror is being brown, black, immigrant, non white, non straight, non cis, in a culture that will kill you for it.

These recent tragedies are not random, nor senseless. They are the product of an ethnocentric culture that assumes white and might are right. I see opportunity for solidarity across communities of color and faith in the wake of this violence. I hope that these tragic points of connection can be the impetus for new alliances across differences.

Throwback Thursday: Living Single

26 Jul

Today’s Throwback Thursday has me digging up a piece I didn’t claim as mine before. I don’t like to get personal on here because some of y’all don’t know how to act. Also, I’m still working out the importance of emotions and expressing them. This may be a lifelong process.

I wrote living single at a time when I was thinking about how I do relationships of all kinds and if its sustainable. Many concerns that I raised remain but there are also updates.

Mia and Stacey made it to the Bay and have been documenting the very real and hard work of seeing what is on the other side of dreaming. They are also doing work to spread communication skills to their community to help folks strengthen their relationships. I’m also energized by the amazing toolkit produced by Creative Interventions that provides practical resources and practices for dealing with interpersonal violence without the state. Both of these projects remind me that the communities we live in have an important role to play in how we do relationships. The stronger our communities, the better our relationships, romantic, platonic and in between.

__________________________________________________

Living Single TV Show Female Cast

I hate the term single. Despite the fact that most of us come in to this world by ourselves and leave that way there’s an expectation of partnering in the interim. And while you are granted a bit more of a reprieve from single shade* in queerdom, there’s still a palpable partner privilege that operates. Couples only hang outs, automatic invites to your partner’s friends’ functions, less unwanted amorous attention because you’re read as off limits, more respect for your time as it’s obviously being impacted by another person, etc. I’ve had the unfortunate but not uncommon experience of losing friends to relationships, only to be heard from again in the equally unfortunate but not uncommon instance of the break up. As a non-partnered person I also feel some pressure when hanging out with half of a coupled couple. I sometimes sense suspicion of my intentions. It seems non-partnered people are read as a roving threat to relationships. There’s always some pop culture plot point where a generally good person, usually man or masculine, is tempted by an evil single seductress who doesn’t give a damn about the existing relationship. Y’all saw Obsessed right?

As I age, I am curious about that moment when singlehood switches in peoples’ minds from the willfulness of youthful independence to tragic pathological existence. I think that timeline is too short maybe even non-existent for straight women and while there’s a bit more leeway in queer community, there comes a point when casual dating isn’t cute anymore or perhaps even possible because folks are booed up. It has me wondering if there’s room to maintain a single life as an older person, like still dating in your 50’s and 60’s? And how do you find folks to date if all your peers at that age are married or partnered? I mean the Golden Girls had it rough but they’d all been married before. I really struggle with this as someone who is ambivalent about romantic relationships, particularly as constructed in this society.

Co-dependent love is constantly represented as the ideal.  “I can’t sleep/think/ live/function without you, romantic partner” leads to the inevitable crash of despair when things don’t work out because you’ve set up someone else to meet the impossible expectation of completing you. “Forsaking all others” doesn’t just imply sexual partners but in a nuclear model of family, seems to also speak to friendships and extended family. Why do mother-in-laws stay getting a bad rap?

And yet, there’s something really real about co-dependence in a culture that doesn’t value interdependence. A romantic partner is expected to be there, in “sickness and in health” in ways that we don’t demand of friendship. Subsequently, a spouse or partner has legal and social rights that a friend does not. For queer folks this is particularly important when unsupportive biological family can legally trump chosen family. Our legal system actively limits who we can call on which reflects and exacerbates social beliefs about relationships.

I have a more playful, flirtatious way of thinking about intimate relationships which usually rubs up against (and not in a good way) a social expectation for monogamy. I have romantic friendships that are not quite platonic, sexy time friends that aren’t quite lovers, close kindred spirits that should really be on my insurance before a romantic partner. And while pop culture flirts with poly possibilities, it never quite goes all the way. There are an endless number of songs that reference men cheating or women cheating on their boyfriends b/c of the supposed sexual prowess of whomever is singing/rapping the hit. So while there’s a tacit tolerance of cheating, intentional polyamory remains off the table. And even with an occasional “my girl’s got a girlfriend” and “ain’t no fun if the homies can’t have none,” women are tools for male fantasies, heterofying homosocial sexual behavior.  Folks are more into the illicitness of affairs and the freakiness of multiple sex partners than building articulated intimacy with more than one person. I digress…

I want to live in a world where there isn’t a hierarchy of relationships, where romantic love isn’t assumed to be more important than other kinds, where folks can center any relationships they want whether it be their relationship to their spiritual practice, kids, lovers, friends, etc. and not have some notion that it’s more or less important because of who or what’s in focus. I want to feel like I can develop intimacy with people whether we are sleeping together or not that I will be cared for whether I am romantically involved with someone or not.  I want a community that takes interdependency seriously that doesn’t assume that it’s only a familial or romantic relationship responsibility to be there for each other.

I didn’t just dream this way of relating to each other up. Other cultures and communities throughout time have had more options in terms of how they construct connection. And we are doing it now. Folks are creating interdependent relationships and community that disrupt popular perceptions of appropriate partnering. I just wonder what it will take to get more of us to honestly evaluate the realities of our love and determine whether we are actually getting what we want. Love is abundant, not scarce. Why would we ever want to limit or narrow its flow?

Asking for a Lift …From the Bathroom TOSD from Mia Mingus on Vimeo.

Sincerely,

Living single

Hat tip to Zachari C. for bringing their brilliance to the piece.

*Single shade – the general social derision of single people and singleness

 

 

 

 

Man or Beast?: Revisiting the White Male Gaze

17 Jul

By Andreana Clay
Originally Posted on Queer Black Feminsist 

“I’m the man!” the little girl screamed at her father in a climatic scene from Beasts of the Southern Wild, a new film by Behn Zeitlin.  My dear friend Holly and I checked it out tonight in downtown SF. It’s a film I’ve been wanting to check out for a while. And, it did not entirely disappoint. In fact, it did something else.

Beasts made me sick, literally. This has happened to me once before, because of the way the film is shot and our proximity to the front of the crowded theater, I became nauseous and had to run to the bathroom. I’ll spare you the details because it wasn’t pretty, but it was a nice break from the dizziness. Not just from the camera work, but also the storyline and overall flow of the film. I don’t want to imply that it wasn’t good. There were great things about it. For instance, Quvenzhane Wallis, the young woman who plays Hushpuppy, is breathtaking. In a word. Her voice, stories, screams, and strength infect every inch of this film, which was the the intent, as narrators often do. But, Wallis goes beyond this. You feel everything–every word she utters, every adventure she embarks upon, and her extreme isolation, relaying that she can count the times she’s been held in her short life on two fingers.  If I could stomach it, I would watch this film over and over again just to see her. She is devastating. I don’t care if she never acts in another movie again, this was it. The same is true of Dwight Henry, who plays her father. He’s stunning.

So what was it, aside from the camera angles, that made me sick? Nothing, really. It just felt uneven, rushed, and, as its touted, fantastical. This film is loosely based on Lucy Alibar’s play, Juicy and Delicious, which I know little about, but it also–given it’s story location in the Southern Delta and Zeitlin’s love for New Orleans–is reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina. Because of the similarities, the fantasy/magical element of the end of the world feels off to me. I don’t know that Katrina is far enough “behind us” to make this kind of movie–one that touches upon, but doesn’t really delve into the “truth.” I won’t give away spoilers, but I think it’s difficult to make a fantasy movie about a natural (and social/cultural) disaster that most of us haven’t seen the full scale of. Many of us have put out of our mind the flood victims, mostly Black, who were forced to leave their home city and still haven’t returned, lost their homes to flood damage and “lost paperwork,” and lost their lives due to a slow moving federal response. Remember Kanye’s (he’s mentioned way too much on this blog) George Bush doesn’t care about Black people comment? That was true.

But, that’s not really the case here, or at least that’s not what troubles me about the movie. The Black folks, though ‘magical’ at times, are the most interesting characters. It’s the white people in the film that tweaked me a bit. They are effectively “poor white trash.” The lines the white characters are given and their overall buffoonery–one guy is so drunk/disheveled that he opens the door of his house, doesn’t realize there are no steps and walks right into the water. It’s supposed to be a kind of funny, sweet and sympathetic scene, I think. But then we get inside his “house,” and his large, female counterpart (wife?) is passed out under the table, wakes up, and says something about “trying to touch my titties.” Outside of Hushpuppy–can’t stand these kinds of nicknames for little Black girls and there is no context as to why this is her name, more of the fantasy–all of the characters feel one dimensional. I think her character may have been written one-dimensionally, but her acting transcends it. In any case, there’s something about her magical quality, her strength that feels half written and insincere against a backdrop of bumbling, incompetent, but kind of lovable, poor white people.The distancing that had to/has to happen in order to portray those characters in that way demonstrates a false alignment with our heroine. And it’s an alignment, a solidarity that’s necessary to make this movie believable.

Benh Zeitlin is a white male filmmaker–as are most that gain attention–and I don’t fault him for that. He (and Alibar) have created one of the most beautiful Black characters to come along in a while. However, the portrayal of white people in the film represents a distancing between his whiteness and theirs that allows his privilege, his gaze to remain invisible. He is not a part of them.  It’s not like the white people are racist in the film, which we collectively assume to be true when we view white + Southern, they’re just poor. And poverty, as a state, is something that it looks like he knows little about. Or he has constructed it in some way that he hopes filmgoers will go along with. But, it’s a representation that strips them of their humanity. And how is stripping the white people of their humanity when you’re trying demonstrate the super humanity of a Black girl whose mother deserted her and her father (which felt very Disney/Pixar, I must say and whose truncated body was sexualized in ways that didn’t go outside of the gaze whatsoever)? What does it say when the only other white people in the film are officials who force their way into people’s homes, try to break up families, and hold down the violent Black male body? Hushpuppy’s strength comes with much sacrifice, which is a story that gets told over and over again about Black women.  But, in the end, she’s ok, she’ll be ok. Like all the others. That’s troubling to me in this current moment of openly celebrating the white male gaze.

Or, really, the white male.

If you follow this blog, you know that I watch a good chunk of TV. And I’m currently gearing up for Sunday night’s premiere of Breaking Bad (unless my DirectTV scrambles AMC, which will make me go all Walter White on folks). I also watch and am a fan of Mad Men. Both of these shows are in total celebration of all things white, male, and heterosexual.

So, what’s the problem? 1) All of the people that are killed or evil onBreaking Bad are people of color, mostly Mexican with one or two other Latinos thrown in for good measure. Walter White gets away with murder (literally) every season. He’s ruthless and, as the story goes, will do whatever it takes and whatever white guys are supposed to do, to protect his family. 2) Don Draper on Mad Men doesn’t trust women whatsoever, makes angels out of some and “whores” out of others as do all of the male characters on the show. This was explicitly the case this season when Joan and Peggy played both roles literally and figuratively by “betraying” his idea of them. I’d say this was all nostalgia or more fantasy, if it wasn’t coupled with Daniel Tosh’s recent “rape jokes,” George Zimmerman’s second release from jail, and the “beast or man” comments made about Serena Williams and Brittney Griner this week. A celebration. An all out arrogance.

While Beasts doesn’t exactly celebrate, it doesn’t feel in solidarity either. It feels defeatist. That’s the uneasy feeling it left me with. But there are scenes from the movie that will stay with me for a long time. Unfortunately, some of the scenes are the disenfranchisement of the already disenfranchised.

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