Thursday, September 1, 2011

Media Justice Mash-Up

cross posted from my Media Justice column

The past 5 weeks of sharing notes from my Human Sexuality course (read all 5 parts here) meant I wasn’t writing about what was going on in our communities for a bit. A media mash-up seemed like a good place to start as there is so much going on and being discussed! But more importantly, there is a lot of action around things that folks believe are connected to injustice.

Gun Hill Road in Theaters
The film Gun Hill Road was released in NYC (and soon LA) a few weeks ago and there has been a ton of media attention for the film, as there should be. Not only is the film one of the first independent movies to get such acclaim and notice in theaters, it also shares the story of a young transgender Latina from the Bronx and has cast a young transgender Latina from the Bronx to portray this character! The film introduces Harmony Santana who plays Vanessa (who is also called Michael in the film). Harmony has been interviewed numerous times since her role and speaks about her experiences preparing for the film, her experiences with her family, and what she is planning to do today.

Check out the trailer below

Here’s an interview with Harmony at the Sundance Film Festival this year (sorry, no transcript).

It took me a few weeks to watch Gun Hill Road in the theater, but when I did, I was glad I did. You may read my review here, where I share some questions that still remain for me about this film and include some areas that were deeply uncomfortable and triggering. If you’ve seen the film I’d love to hear your thoughts. To see the next cities Gun Hill Road will be at visit the official website.

Reactions to “The Help”
Another film that is receiving tons of attention is the novel turned film “The Help.” I’ll admit I have not seen this film, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to before it leaves theaters (mainly because the next time I go to the movies I really want to see Attack The Block!). Yet, I do remember seeing the trailer for it when I went to see Bridesmaids and sharing my initial reaction then. Many folks are not happy about the film and the Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH) has released a statement to all fans of the film stating their concern to be:
Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism.
A lot of talk among women of Color and those who did/not see the film has flooded my social media! One good friend of mine has posted a list of historical readings to help folks challenge the representations of the film and provide a more inclusive experience of Black domestic workers. Even Latina Magazine jumped on The Help bandwagon reminding us of 10 Latinas Who Have Played The Help (and they thought this was a useful article!) Most recently, Jamia Wilson, has written about the film from a different perspective, one that is positive. Wilson argues that the film “made us talk about race.” She shares how her father encouraged her to see the film and she left agreeing with many critics, but not hating the film. She writes:
But I confess: I didn’t hate The Help. It has sparked a rare and much-needed public dialogue about race, something very few blockbusters ever do, and has given a platform to a powerful cast of black women actors to showcase their talents, expand their audiences, and possibly snag some Oscar wins.
If you haven’t seen the trailer I’ve posted it below, and if you haven’t read Amplify columnists' reviews of the film I encourage you to do so as well.

Nivea Advertisement Targeting Men
Another August media image that has resulted in action, is Nivea’s ad targeting racially Black men and their grooming products. In the foto you see a young Black man dressed in a v-neck sweater, button down white shirt, and dark jeans with a low cut hairstyle and no facial hair. He is in a position to throw a head that he holds by the hair. The head is of a racially Black man with a long afro hairstyle and goatee facial hair. The text next to the image reads “Re-Civilize Yourself.” In a text box on the upper right hand corner the comment “Look like you give a damn. Nivea for men. Face Body Shave.”

Many folks have found this advertisement offensive for multiple reasons. Not only does it argue that natural hairstyles and full facial hair is undesirable, gives the impression people do not care about their appearances, and are “sloppy,” but it also brings into the conversation colonial and ethnocentric ideologies connected to physical features, class, race, ethnicity, and gender that are a part of a larger system of oppression. One system of oppression you may be more knowledgeable of would be that of US slavery. Others would be the extensive discussions of Eurocentric standards of beauty, and ideas of cleanliness and decency as they are tied to religion and class status. All of these are a part of a larger history of colonization which has used terms such as “primative” and “civil” to assign to people into a dichotomy of what is right/wrong, un/desirable.

I was not surprised when Nivea pulled the ad and issued an apology. Or when I heard that there was an ad geared towards racially white/lighter skinned men which has a man with low cut hairstyle and limited facial hair standing in a full suit holding a head of a lighter skinned person with long hair and full facial hair. His ad says “Sin city isn’t an excuse to look like hell.” See the difference in phrasing?

Femmes Of Color Symposium Keynote
And it’s from this advertisement of standards and expectations of bodies and beauty that leads me to this next piece of media. If you were in the San Francisco area you may have heard of the Butch Voices and Femmes of Color Symposium. Mia Mingus, a “queer disabled woman of color korean adoptee working, creating and loving towards wholeness and connection, love and liberation” was the Femmes of Color Symposium keynote speaker. Mia’s speech titled “Moving Toward The Ugly: A Politic Beyond Desirability” is stunning. I saw many friends tweet parts of her speech while she was orating and was all too happy when she published the speech in full on her site. Highlights for me, a person who identifies as femme, include the following:
“To me, femme must include ending ableism, white supremacy, heterosexism, the gender binary, economic exploitation, sexual violence, population control, male supremacy, war and militarization, and ownership of children and land.”

“It seems so basic in our communities, but I think we need to stop making assumptions about each other’s identities and make distinctions between how someone identifies verses what someone’s lived experience is. We need to make the distinction between descriptively femme and politically femme.”

“As femmes of color—however we identify—we have to push ourselves to go deeper than consumerism, ableism, transphobia and building a politic of desirability. Especially as femmes of color. We cannot leave our folks behind, just to join the femmes of color contingent in the giant white femme parade.”

“If we are ever unsure about what femme should be or how to be femme, we must move toward the ugly. Not just the ugly in ourselves, but the people and communities that are ugly, undesirable, unwanted, disposable, hidden, displaced. This is the only way that we will ever create a femme-ness that can hold physically disabled folks, dark skinned people, trans and gender non-conforming folks, poor and working class folks, HIV positive folks, people living in the global south and so many more of us who are the freaks, monsters, criminals, villains of our fairytales, movies, news stories, neighborhoods and world. This is our work as femmes of color: to take the notion of beauty (and most importantly the value placed upon it) and dismantle it (challenge it), not just in gender, but wherever it is being used to harm people, to exclude people, to shame people; as a justification for violence, colonization and genocide.

If you leave with anything today, leave with this: you are magnificent. There is magnificence in our ugliness. There is power in it, far greater than beauty can ever wield. Work to not be afraid of the Ugly—in each other or ourselves. Work to learn from it, to value it. Know that every time we turn away from ugliness, we turn away from ourselves. And always remember this: I would rather you be magnificent, than beautiful, any day of the week. I would rather you be ugly—magnificently ugly.”
(emphasis in original)
Freeing Ourselves: A Guide to Health and Self Love for Brown Bois
Released this summer at the Sister Song National Conference, The Brown Boi Project is making revolutionary media. They have released a new health guide by and for transgender men of Color and masculine-identified women of Color. The press release shares that
“Freeing Ourselves”
serves as an exciting new tool for empowerment, as transgender men and women on the masculine spectrum continue to face a health sector in which they are largely invisible. For people of color in these communities, who are often uninsured, these challenges are often compounded; high levels of unemployment, discrimination in public service delivery, and income inequality are the norm, not the exception.
The book is available for purchase online and don’t be shy to request that this book be purchased at your school or local library. It’s also a useful tool to have if you are a part of a health center or group working with the population targeted in this book.

FREE College Guide E-book
The Black Girl Project’s Guide to College is the first e-book featuring advice directly from The Black Girl Project (BGP) participants! You may remember my interview with (BGP) director, founder, and media maker Aiesha Turman when she discussed her film (of the same name) and the work she is creating. The e-book is FREE and just in time for back to school. If you or anyone you know is interested in advice in preparation for college please check this book out. It’s accessible and less than 30 pages. It’s also FREE!

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