2-17-12 Links Roundup

When I wrote about Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao last year (himself a victim of rival Mayweather’s anti-Asian sentiment), I argued that, like Lin, Pacquiao is significant not just as an athletic supernova but as a real-life hero for Asian Americans seeking one. Rarely do Asians get to see themselves in starring roles on western television, or outside of a fictional lens that might poke fun at their heritage, their families or their sexuality. See Long Duk Dong, or The Hangover’s Mr Chow, played by Ken Jeong for examples (though look to this video to see Ken Jeong redeem himself via his portrayal of Senor Chang, an Asian Spanish genius.)

Lin is familiar and unfamiliar. He embodies Asian stereotypes while exploding them: Lin did very well in school, is close to his family, and he even has nerd pride. And he has scored more points in his first six starts than any player (including Shaq and Michael Jordan) since 1976. I appreciate him because he is a basketball star, because he is an underdog, and because right now, he seems sort of superhuman.

But most of all I appreciate him for the looks of giddy, unadulterated joy on the faces of Asian-American fans in the stands, who are just so happy that he’s finally arrived.

Ms. Viola’s spread in the LA Times did feed my imagination. It did offer me a new way of seeing a Black ‘star’. And, it made me more curious about Ms. Viola. So, I’ve tuned into her interviews, paying careful attention to her fierceness. A friend called and left a message on my answering machine, ‘just saw Viola in a room full of white people, she said, “I always wanted to be somebody.” He hung up. I got it. I get it. It’s generational. Currently, the vanguard of black culture is still healing wounds from their past. Wounds that racism have created, wounds that drive you to gain acceptance in the larger culture. The acknowledgment comes in the form of a paycheck, exposure, star status, acceptance. An acceptance that is more important than our legacy. Isn’t it that simple? How else could a black woman read an inaccurate portrayal of a black maid, one of the most heroic crosses black women have had to bear in America, and take the role?

As stated, I have been watching Ms. Viola’s interviews. I want to know the answer. I want to know what she wrestled with, the questions, the doubts. I, unlike many, was disheartened when I saw ‘Doubt’. I just couldn’t embrace the character, didn’t believe it. Didn’t know when I had seen a white actress look so weathered down and had sh** dripping down her face. I was like, really, did we need all of that? What is that? Did we really need to get that far into breaking down the image of this black woman. But, I guess Ms. Viola thinks that ‘dignifying’ downtrodden black women is her calling. If Ms. Viola gets to play anyone close to Viola Davis, we will have moved forward in America. Actors, Actresses, Directors and Writers have to make the decision to commit to the truth of our legacy or keep perpetuating falsehoods. The days of, “well, there is nothing else I could do” are over. They are over. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.

During her Oscar press junket, Ms. Viola keeps bringing up Black filmmakers and writers as if our piss pour skills made her choose the Maid role. I beg her pardon. I don’t remember seeing Ms. Viola in any black independent films. She says because she is only offered “urban crack addicted mothers.” By whom? Has she ever heard of the NYU Graduate film program? Certainly, she must have. There are Black folks coming out of that school with screenplays that offer complex, interesting characters and lifestyles. How is it that she can only access screenplays about crack addicted black mothers when there are filmmakers who couldn’t write about a crack addicted mother if they tried?

James Baldwin, in his prophetic commentary on America’s twisted relationship to celebrity via Michael Jackson*, argued “The Michael Jackson cacophony is fascinating in that it is not about Jackson at all. I hope he has the good fortune to snatch his life out of the jaws of carnivorous success…” Baldwin delved much deeper into subjects of sexuality and more there, but his premise largely surrounds the crowning and crucifying we perform on those we claim to be fans of- all under the guise of love.

We never seemed to wonder if the Whitney we so gleefully championed in the beginning was authentic. We didn’t show the proper concern when we saw her unraveling and we judged her when we beheld her as more human and tangible. We joked as she, through self-medication, tried to numb it all.

While to a foreign observer, it may seem that only life necessities matter in conflict zones like Gaza, the Palestinian struggle here is more than a fight for liberation or survival; It is also a struggle to reclaim those moments in life that give reason for relative contentment, make life worth living, and somehow convey to the world the humanity of a frequently dehumanized and misunderstood part of the world. Shadi Abu Shahla, who is a member of a Gaza band called Watar says, “I hope that the outside world that says we are terrorists, weapons, destruction, death would see that we’re not like that … If only they’d look at the positive side, they’d find Gaza beautiful.” Watar, which was launched one month before Israel’s war on Gaza in 2008/2009, is comprised of five university students who trained themselves to play musical instruments in the absence of music schools and consider themselves to be part of the Palestinian non-violent resistance as they sing for peace and the Palestinian cause.

As incongruous as it may seem to outsiders, some of the pioneering talents in Gaza are in music and sports, while art and information and communication technology are also thriving in the coastal strip.

“I am deeply sorry for any pain that the character I portrayed brought to my communities,” Chan wrote on her Facebook page, as first reported by the Angry Asian Man blog. “As a recent college grad who has spent time working to improve communities and empower those without a voice, this role is not in any way representative of who I am. It was absolutely a mistake on my part and one that, over time, I hope can be forgiven. I feel horrible about my participation and I am determined to resolve my actions.”

Both Chan and Hoekstra received widespread criticism for the ad. National GOP consultant Mike Murphy called it “really, really dumb.”

“It’s just always been about contradicting a lot of the negative stereotypes and misunderstandings about Muslims and our religion, as well as about Muslim females; there’s a whole lot of other negative stereotypes that go with that,” says Lymas at the launch, in the Rare salon on Church Street. “We can walk on the runway, we can wear colours, we can do things independently of our husbands … It breaks down so many misunderstandings, even regarding nationalities of Muslim women; it’s a religion that’s international.”

In fact, arguably, much of the fashion that has been shown so far in New York for autumn/winter 2012 would be perfectly at home on a Muslim model, with hats, high necks and long sleeves all crucial trends. One guest at the event, Ismail Sayeed, a Harlem-born blogger and artist otherwise known as The Calligrafist, argues: “Those things are incorporated into western fashion. People who are not Muslim can cover and still be fashionable. If you look at the runway a lot of models are covered, and designers especially play with veils.”

The owner of Rare, Fatima Sheikh, agrees. “When I met Nailah, I didn’t even realise she was wearing hijab. It just looked so hot that I was like, I love what you’ve got going on!”

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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

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  • Msjuliemango

    It’s great that there is an agency for Muslim models in New York now, but it’s hardly the world’s first. There is one in Egypt (for models wearing hijab), founded by a woman, and it wouldn’t surprise me, if there are more across the Muslim world – but then, when people say “the world,” they usually mean “the West”…

  • Anonymous

    And on Whitney, this should serve as a wake-up call if there ever was one to take care of ourselves and each other! So many are leaving us prematurely whether from addictions, chronic disease, and from not being mindful of our health both physically, mentally, and spiritually. I am seeing this in the celebrity world, but also in my own life as people in the oldest generation are leaving and those behind them begin to die off prematurely from not living healthy lives. Whitney was younger than my mother, and though my mother is generally healthy her mortality and my own are becoming more vivid as those in her generation and younger are dying unnecessarily. Let’s take this as a new warning to watch out for others and ourselves.

    • Wanderinglady123

      I was just thinking the same thing — we have to take care of ourselves and each other!  I’m a couple of years younger than Whitney Houston, but when I read the posts on Facebook about how many people from my high school days and younger have passed away, I’m shocked and saddened.  

  • Anonymous

     If Ms. Viola gets to play anyone close to Viola Davis, we will have
    moved forward in America. Actors, Actresses, Directors and Writers have
    to make the decision to commit to the truth of our legacy or keep
    perpetuating falsehoods. The days of, “well, there is nothing else I
    could do” are over. They are over. Don’t believe anyone who tells you

    A good point.  But where is the audience for this truthful, non stereotypical  black cinema?  Who is going to watch Viola Davis playing someone close to Viola Davis in any significant numbers? Large swaths of the black moviegoing and television watching audience are undeterred by, and in fact embracing, the never ending barrage of neo-blackface “entertainment” being created.  The decision to commit to the truth of our legacy rests as much with the audience as it does with the creators.  Both Lisa Chan and Viola Davis had choices.  You see the decisions they made.  Lisa Chan apologized for her decision.  Viola Davis is rationalizing hers.