Archive for the ‘film’ Category

My head’s full of stories but I haven’t allowed myself to sit and write. The fall semester starts in less than two weeks and I’ve been obsessing over my syllabi; new courses are always a challenge, especially when the course (African Civilization) falls outside my area of expertise. I like the course I’ve designed, and keep stumbling across texts that “fit”—like this response to historian David Starkey’s racist rant on the BBC. Are the riots a result of “whites becoming black”? Did black people (and Jamaicans specifically) really teach white youth to act out violently? Nabil Abdul Rashid went straight to the Moors: “we taught you how to bathe.” He goes on to use historical events to demonstrate that violence and looting are deeply embedded in British culture, predating the arrival of Jamaicans in the UK. He even suggests that the African slave trade was a form of looting…I see an interesting class discussion following this text. I also decided to show Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” video on the first day of class as an example of how ancient African civilizations manifest in contemporary culture…

Saw two great films in the past week but don’t have headroom for a thorough review. Gun Hill Road is an important film about a Latino father who returns from prison to find his beloved son is transitioning to a young woman. Mikey (Harmony Santana) has grown his hair out and regularly performs at a poetry club as “Vanessa.” Accepted by her friends, her mother, and her mother’s boyfriend Hector, Vanessa nonetheless struggles to live as a teenage girl; she’s harassed at school, the boy she’s servicing sexually (in part to raise money for breast implants) doesn’t want to be seen with her in public, and her father—who was raped in prison—can’t accept that his son is rejecting masculinity. Enrique (Esai Morales) learns that his rapist has been released from prison and brutally exacts revenge in an alley; he then takes Mikey to a prostitute and waits outside the bedroom door to make sure his son “becomes a man.” Traumatized, Vanessa leaves home and finds sanctuary with Hector (who has also been menaced/mugged by possessive Enrique). This film is incredibly honest and Harmony Santana gives an amazing performance—her difficult sexual encounters left me with a knot in my stomach. But there are moments of tenderness in the film as well, and Enrique softens his stance before leaving the family once more. I have to admit that I left the theater wondering what would happen to Enrique—Vanessa still faces a lot of challenges as a transgender teen, but I felt more confident of her transition than her father’s. How likely is he to “become a better man” in prison? At least one of Enrique’s friends, though a petty criminal, was able to accept Mikey as Vanessa. Without that kind of support, it doesn’t seem likely that Enrique will be able to address his transphobia, nor is he likely to receive treatment for his own trauma as a rape victim.

Attack the Block also attempts to redeem predatory masculinity—like Super 8, this film follows a group of teenage boys who discover that aliens have invaded their government housing project. For the first half hour of the film I had to agree with the white female character (Sam) who, after being mugged at knife point, described the boys as “fucking monsters.” Of course, she later realizes that the real monsters are the greater threat and aligns herself with Moses and his crew after they defend her and kill one of the aliens. The best moment in this film—for me—was when Moses’ prospective girlfriend jumps into action to save his life; paralyzed by fear, Moses hides as one of his boys gets killed by the aliens, unable to repeat his heroic samurai sword act performed earlier in Sam’s apartment. His female counterparts grab a halogen lamp and an ice skate (I’m still laughing as I write this!) and disable the alien, giving Moses time to find his courage. Nonetheless, he’s saved by Sam who daringly plunges a kitchen knife into the alien’s jaw just as it prepares to devour Moses. There are witty jabs at white liberals throughout the film, and unlike the innocent boys in Super 8, the teens immediately accept Moses’ theory that the Feds (police) planted the aliens on their block just as they sent in drugs and guns to decimate the community. The film’s ending was pleasantly surprising—Moses realizes his own aggression (killing the lone female alien) is to blame for much of the chaos, and we see (through Sam’s eyes) the neglect he faces at home, which made him self-reliant by pushing him into the street. Read against the recent riots that swept across the UK, Attack the Block offers an honest and entertaining look at a multiracial, working-class “band of  brothers” who demonstrate loyalty, creativity, courage, and humility. I know it’s showing in Toronto and NYC—do go see it if you have the chance.

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don’t look down

One of the things you learn as a New Yorker is how to navigate the streets safely. You need to be aware of your surroundings at all times, and you should be prepared to encounter things that are unpleasant and/or unexpected. At least once a week I find myself stepping around a pool of vomit—sometimes it’s on the subway stairs, sometimes on the train itself. I’ve learned to keep moving: watch where you step, but don’t linger. Closer inspection will only make the sight and smell of it that much worse.

On Wednesday a friend and I went to see Jumping the Broom. It was pouring rain when we left the theater and so we didn’t conduct our usual post-film analysis over dinner, but here’s a hint: before the film even ended, Rosa turned to me and said, “Ready to go?” Staying an extra ten minutes didn’t do anything to improve my overall impression of this film. The next morning I woke up thinking that blogging about Jumping the Broom was a lot like looking too closely at vomit on the street. It’s a mess. You know it’s a mess. So don’t waste time trying to analyze the mess. It’s not YOUR mess, so don’t waste time trying to tidy it up. Leave it alone.

Rosa and I met up again yesterday to see the Elizabeth Catlett exhibit at the Bronx Museum. Every so often we’d find ourselves recalling yet another problematic aspect of Jumping the Broom. Why did the African American groom work for Goldman Sachs, the firm that played a significant role in the current economic crisis? Why did the ditzy light-light-light-skinned bride wear a bra and panties or skintight clothes the entire film–and why was there no evidence of the 500K her parents supposedly spent on her education (or her high-powered job in China)? Why were the dark-skinned women totally effed up—terse and frigid if she’s rich (Angela Bassett) or coarse and mouthy if she’s working class (Loretta Devine)? Why were there so many gratuitous bikini shots? Why was the chef digging for clams onshore in hip-waders and no shirt? Why do black women actors allow themselves to be cast in these roles? Why did I pay $9.50 for that crap when I didn’t get off my behind to go see recent indie films like I Will Follow and Night Catches Us? That’s really the only question that matters.

The art of Elizabeth Catlett is stunning. And I’m reading an interesting novel, Ancestor Stones, by Aminatta Forna. And on Wednesday I was interviewed by a class of 5th graders at Thurgood Marhsall Academy Lower School—SO bright and inquisitive and thoughtful. My student guide, Jaden, informed me that he plans to become a writer and is interested in this guy named Tolkien…all of which is to say, “Don’t look down. Look UP!”

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This is one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen recently—about the life of Zimbabwean dancer Nora Chipaumire:

“Nora” is based on true stories of the dancer Nora Chipaumire, who was born in Zimbabwe in 1965. In the film, Nora returns to the landscape of her childhood and takes a journey through some vivid memories of her youth. Using performance and dance, she brings her history to life in a swiftly-moving poem of sound and image. The result is a film about family dramas, difficult love affairs and militant politics, which moves back and forth between the comic and the tragic, the joyful and the mournful. It is a film about a girl who is constantly embattled – struggling against all kinds of intimidation and violence – but who slowly gathers strength, pride and independence. Shot entirely on location in Southern Africa, “Nora” includes a multitude of local performers and dancers of all ages, from young schoolchildren to ancient grandmothers, and much of the music is specially composed by a legend of Zimbabwean music – Thomas Mapfumo.

And here’s a video I found on You Tube about the making of the film:

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I’ve tried—I really have tried to decolonize my imagination.  But try as I might, I just can’t seem to keep the British out of my head!  It doesn’t help, of course, that I watch Britcoms on PBS and Masterpiece Theatre every Sunday night, and Mystery, and Doc Martin, and BBC news is on the television right now…I write with the TV on (bad, I know) and the other day I gasped when I re-read some of my novel and found that my characters sounded BRITISH.  As much as I fuss about having to read The Phoenix and the Carpet when I was 8, I now find that MY magical talking bird sounds a lot like Nesbit’s snooty bird.  Sigh…then this afternoon I went to see The King’s Speech and it felt like indulging in a guilty pleasure.  All I needed was a cup of tea and a butter tart and my betrayal would have been complete! (Rosa did provide a raspberry jam thumbprint cookie, which is close enough)  Some days I wonder if I even have a choice about the things that I love; sure, I was conditioned from birth to admire all things British, but I’m no longer a child.  Is there a way to appreciate those things without ambivalence?  I guess that’s the postcolonial quandary.  Anyway, the writing’s going really well (nearing 18K), I accepted an exciting teaching opportunity for this spring, and I have an out-of-state interview next week.  It’s snowing again, but I’m ready to write: just filled up on leftover Indian food and there’s a pint of ice cream waiting in the wings…

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ending the denial

Doesn’t this sound like an amazing film?  It’s definitely a story that needs to be told, and yet this filmmaker has been denied support from the major cultural institutions in Canada.  If you’ve got a few bucks to spare, please consider donating to this film project—they’re hoping the “crowdfunding” method will work, and you can contribute any amount here.  Learn more about the filmmaker and his project here.

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Mario Van Peebles has made a short documentary called Bring Your A Game, which you can watch here.  The film features Chris Rock, Spike Lee, Ice Cube, Kevin Powell, and other famous black men giving advice to the 50% of young brothers who drop out of high school each year. I’m going to lead with what I like.  I like that this film is real about what the future looks like without an education.  I like that there are a range of black men talking about their failures, close calls, and triumphs.  I like that some of the men talk about humility—taking a crappy job and doing it expertly.  And I think I spotted at least two gay men in the film.  There aren’t any women, however, and I think that’s a missed opportunity.  It reinforces the idea too many young men already have: women have nothing important to say.  And most of the successful men seem to be wealthy—the “how to become a CEO” message is popular with young men, but I think we need to question the drive for wealth.  What about all the other ways to be successful and happy in life?  What about personal fulfillment?  What about giving back to your community?  What about taking a job that gives your life meaning?  How come no one in that film talked about becoming a public school teacher?  I’m glad they urged young men to reconsider the rapper/baller fantasy, but our young people need to really DREAM without limits—imagine a future that isn’t determined by how many records or hoodies you can sell.  In my family, the message was ministry: find a way to serve.  SERVE.  Not sell.  What do you think?

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There’s a lot of discouraging crap in the news these days—namely Glenn Beck’s ridiculous rally to “restore honor” in government and “take back the Civil Rights Movement.”  Because I guess it’s been “hijacked” by black people, right?  And our “racist” black president who hates white folks.  For analysis, check out Jon Stewart’s breakdown of “Professor Beck” and his step by step directions on how to be a patriotic, God-fearing, independent thinker…

Many thanks to Tarie for pointing out some GOOD NEWS—Racebending.com has reason to celebrate: their advocacy led to a major shift in the casting of Marvel’s multiracial comic, Runaways…unlike The Last Airbender, THIS film adaptation will cast Asian characters with Asian actors…

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The thing about being an HSP is that you fill up pretty quickly.  Some folks think we’re shy and withdrawn, but really, we’re just trying to make sure we have enough room inside our minds.  Take today, for instance: I woke before dawn, went to the garden, soaked up all the sights and sounds and scents there, ran my errands, met kind people, and now I’m back at home.  It’s only noon, but I need time to recover—to drain the cup a little—before I venture back out.  And most days, that would be it—I wouldn’t even GO back out!  But there’s a drumming demonstration at the library at 2, a lecture on drumming in Brooklyn at 4, and then a lecture on Weeksville and Octavia Butler at 6, followed by a screening of Pumzi at 8.  Will I last that long?  Not likely.  I *want* to do it all, but I know that’s not a good idea—especially since I have to be “on” all day tomorrow.  So the HSP in me is going to take a moment and purge, hoping that will leave more room for all the stimuli that’s still to come…

I saw a bunny today in the garden.  Did you know that bunnies are disappearing in NYC parks?  And no one knows why…I saw it on the news or heard it on the radio, and had just told Edi about how I hadn’t seen a bunny in the garden in ages.  Then today I was walking in the grass when I saw the tiniest bunny munching on some clover.  This post is really about my childhood, I suppose, and how I feel some days that I may never fully decolonize my imagination.  Like why do I say “bunny” instead of “rabbit”?  Because I always wanted a bunny when I was a child, and I was used to seeing little British bunnies wearing jackets and shoes—come to think of it, didn’t I once have a Peter Rabbit bowl?  I still use the silver spoon I ate with as a toddler–my “boze,” as I called it because it has an engraved ribbon bow at the tip; it was part of my great-grandparents’ wedding silver, I think.  I have the nursery rhyme cup I drank from as a child, I now have the mittens I wore as an infant…have I ever really grown up?  I think writing is a way of playing with time—you revisit stories, or recall certain characters, because they take you back to a moment that was simpler somehow; a time when little things could bring great joy.  I saw that bunny today and immediately thought of writing a story about the last bunny in Brooklyn…and lately I’ve been thinking of writing a poem about the mermaid who lives beneath the Brooklyn Bridge.  I’m doing another series of poetry workshops (courtesy of the BPL—support your public library!), and want to get the kids to think of places they can find magic in the city.  I meant to go to a botanica today; Genna would naturally go there in search of magic, I think.  But I went to the deli and got soy ice cream instead.  See how I’m all over the map?  And now I want to talk about Robin Hood, and how I sat through that rather long but decent film last week all the while recalling the time when I would rush home from high school to watch Robin of Sherwood on TV.  I sat on the floor of our damp basement, the dehumidifier gurgling and grumbling beside me, and completely lost myself in the endless conflict between Guy of Gisbourne and Robin of Loxley—Normans versus Anglo-Saxons!  And, as I’ve said before, I went on to study medieval history in college—and when I spent a semester abroad in England, I dragged my friends to Nottingham—yes, I’ve actually been to Sherwood Forest.  And that trip was only slightly better than our trip to Dover (guess what? you can only see the white cliffs when you’re not actually IN Dover).  So many misguided notions…sometimes I feel sorry for my younger self—what an oddball!  And so easily sucked in by these narratives that yet have a hold on my imagination.  What’s a girl to do but make use of the stories somehow…

On the back of this photo I wrote, “Merry Weirdos of Nottingham—that’s us!”  You can’t see my desert boots, but notice my super-fried, super dry hair turning orange (and not a black hairdresser in SIGHT!).  Rachel, on the left, worked in the kitchen of the manor house where we stayed; most of the Brits couldn’t stand the American students, but Rachel took a shine to me and Kara because we were Canadian…

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Nnedi Okorafor just posted this article about a Kenyan sci-fi film on the Carl Brandon Society listserv—if you’re interested in sci-fi stories coming out of Africa, check out Pumzi:

PUMZI (the Kiswahili word for breath,) is a dystopian film set in South Africa and Kenya. The story follows an East African woman as she leaves her isolated community 35 years after World War III to plant a seed in the barren earth that has been plagued by drought and deforestation. In her vision of the future, “water wars” have forced East African communities to live in complete seclusion. The plot touches upon concepts such as climate change and the recent droughts in Kenya, which make the subject matter extremely relevant.

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I hope you check out Doret, Alvina Ling, Randa Abdel Fattah, and the other great kidlit community members who are filling in for Justine this month…and now it’s my turn.  Stop by Justine’s blog to read my thoughts on race and reviews:

I must confess that lately, the only white-authored books I read are those about people of color. I sometimes feel obligated to read these books in order to ascertain whether or not black people are being misrepresented by white authors who mean well, but don’t really have a clue. I generally expect white authors to get it wrong, but sometimes they do surprise me (Liar would be one example; Octavian Nothing Vol. 1 is another) so it’s important to keep an open mind. Mostly I just wish white authors would leave people of color alone. I appreciate their desire to be inclusive, but statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center show that there are more books about African Americans than by African Americans. This brings to mind a documentary I saw on PBS not too long ago about the white anthropologist Melville Herskovits. His contribution to the understanding of black culture and identity formation was significant and lasting, but this white Jewish man became “the” expert on black people at the expense of qualified black scholars who lacked the same privilege and access to resources. That said, I can imagine how desolate my childhood might have been without the picture books of Ezra Jack Keats. Yet it’s hard to fully appreciate the efforts of well-intending white authors when I know that authors from my own community are being shut out of the industry altogether. And, ultimately, being able to write about anyone from anywhere is a privilege reserved primarily for whites.

On a related note…Ishmael Reed is hardly my favorite person, but here’s his take on why the film Precious is so popular with white reviewers.

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