Category Archives: authenticity

Embracing Precious: The nuances and truths in the individual and collective stories we tell

by Guest Contributor Imani Perry, originally published at Afronetizen

Precious Poster

These are strange days indeed. We are firmly into the 21st century, and yet the 80s are haunting us. For African Americans it is yet again a decade of dream and deferral.

Back in the ‘80s, for the young Black and college educated, the doors of corporate America and other professions opened up and broadened the spectrum of the Black middle class like never before. But also, back in the ‘80s, crack cocaine and the aftermath of deindustrialization crippled areas of concentrated blackness in major urban centers.

Now in the 21st century, a new Black elite floods the popular imagination as Capitol Hill, the president and his administration become more and more colorful. But also now, in the 21st century, the recession hits Black communities hardest, and at the intersection of devastating rates of imprisonment, joblessness, and inadequate education lie a critical, hurting, mass of Black Americans.

Then came Precious.
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Cultural Appropriation Can Win You Olympic Medals

By Sexual Correspondent Andrea (AJ) Plaid

I guess there are days when I’m thankful for having been an ice-skating fan in my younger days, though I was absorbing some floaty, dreamy, and cornball heteronormative crap against the white-ice backdrop.  So, as much as I did enjoy figure skaters Oksana Domnina’s and Maxim Shabalin’s technical excellence, I can honestly say they should have applied all that technique—and subsequent press–to another routine that didn’t involve offending people of color.

Here’s their original routine, if you missed it:

Bev Manton, a Worimi woman and chair of the Aboriginal Land Council, sums up the outrage:

From an Aboriginal perspective, this performance is offensive. It was clearly not meant to mock Aboriginal culture, but that does not make it acceptable to Aboriginal people. There are a number of problems with the performance, not least of all the fact both skaters are wearing brown body suits to make their skin appear darker. That alone puts them on a very slippery slope.

Australians know only too well the offence that can be caused by white people trying to depict themselves as black people during performance pieces. Last year’s domestic and international furore over the blackface skit on Hey, Hey it’s Saturday’s Red Faces is a recent case in point.

That said, I don’t think it’s the most offensive part of the performance. That honour belongs to some of the claims by Domnina and Shabalin that have accompanied it.

They are not, as they state, wearing “authentic Aboriginal paint markings”. They are wearing white body paint in designs they dreamed up after reading about Aboriginal Australians on the internet. The designs are no more “authentic” or “Aboriginal” than the shiploads of cheap, “Aboriginal” tourist trinkets that pour into our country from overseas.

This is not a particularly difficult concept. For art to be Australian, it must be painted by an Australian, and for art to be Australian Aboriginal, it must be painted by an Australian Aboriginal. Russian art is not painted by Italians, and I doubt Russians would be impressed if someone tried to pass it off otherwise.

And just as the designs are not Aboriginal, nor is the music to which the dance is being performed.

I acknowledge that Aboriginal people do not own the sound of the didgeridoo. That is one of our gifts to the rest of the world. Everyone is free to use it. But that does not mean it should be sampled and then presented as something it is not — traditional Aboriginal music.

Al-Jazeera English reports :

“The dancers have defended the routine, saying it’s not intended to represent Australian culture, but a mélange of ethnicities.”

Before anyone starts in with “but Domnina and Shabalin are racially ignorant exceptions” or that they don’t “get” racism because they’re Russians (or globe-trotting sportspeople), I’d say that, like many other human societies, Russia isn’t an othering-free country, though people of color in that nation may not call what they’ve experienced “racism” as how USians understand it:

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Quotable: More on South Africa and Film

By Special Correspondent Arturo R. García
Hudsonmandela1

In reading the discussion about Morgan Freeman playing Nelson Mandela, it’s interesting to note that South African actors have been protesting the casting of Jennifer Hudson in the title role of a biopic on Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

“This decision must be reversed. It must be stopped now,” Oupa Lebogo, the union’s secretary-general, told The [UK] Times. The story also quoted a friend of Madikizela-Mandela’s, Udo Froese, as saying,: “There’s a lot of good local talent, why not use them? Winnie herself is not involved in this, and in no way has given any sort of green light.”

At a Dec. 5 press conference, actor John Kani and the Creative Workers Union of South Africa called for tighter regulations on foreign projects, and said the issue wasn’t Hudson personally, but a bigger problem:

“Every time there is a movie that tells a South African story, it is done by someone who must be taught the right way of pronouncing Sawubona. Enough it enough.”

He said if local actors were to be included in such films, they had to be given serious roles to play.

ANC Women’s League deputy president Nosipho Dorothy Ntwanambi said as a struggle veteran, she knew and understood why South African stories had to be portrayed by people who lived and knew them.

“One can’t read a book about our history and claim to know our way of living,” she said.

The Associated Press ran a story Monday quoting two more union officials upset with Hudson’s casting.

“It can’t happen that we want to develop our own Hollywood and yet bring in imports,” the union’s president Mabutho Sithole said in The Citizen newspaper.

“This decision must be reversed, it must be stopped now,” union secretary general Oupa Lebogo said in The Times. “If the matter doesn’t come up for discussion, we will push for a moratorium to be placed on the film.”

The Times also noted that both the film’s source material (the book Winnie Mandela: My Life) and director (Darrell J. Roodt) are local.

Another South African publication, the Daily Maverick, is concerned less about Morgan Freeman playing Nelson Mandela in Invictus – which, the Huffington Post says, features an almost completely South African cast – than , but about how it holds up as a rugby film:

Can Graham Lindemann really demonstrate the awesomeness of Kobus’s arrival at a ruck? Can Rolf Fitschen throw a lineout ball as straight as Naka?

The answer, of course, is no. And because the answer is no, there’s likely to be much sniggering when the film gets released here this month. In fact, the sniggering has been gathering momentum for a while already – honestly, what was your first reaction when you heard that Matt Damon was cast as Francois Pienaar? Did you tell your mates that the guy was born for the role?

100% Cablinasian: Getting the Race Facts Right on Tiger Woods

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

Update: You can find a follow-up, clarification and response to the comments on this post here.

Thanks to Carmen, Andrea and Latoya for helping me flesh out my thoughts!

One night last summer, my Vietnamese friend Winston began recounting the number of top world athletes who also happen to be Asian. “Manny Pacquaio…Yao Ming…Ichiro Suzuki…Tiger Woods…”

“Hey wait,” another friend interrupted. “Can Asians really claim Tiger Woods? What, just because his great-grandmother is Asian he’s proof of Asian superiority?”

“Are you kidding?” Winston responded. “He’s more Asian than anything else.”  Immediately, multiple super phones were put to work verifying this.

This is what Tiger Woods’ Wikipedia page says:

Earl, a retired United States Army lieutenant colonel and Vietnam War veteran, was of mixed African American, Chinese and Native American ancestry. Kultida (née Punsawad), originally from Thailand, is of mixed Thai, Chinese, and Dutch ancestry. This makes Woods himself one-quarter Chinese, one-quarter Thai, one-quarter African American, one-eighth Native American, and one-eighth Dutch. He refers to his ethnic make-up as “Cablinasian” (a syllabic abbreviation he coined from Caucasian, Black, (American) Indian, and Asian).

As you know, I am not a fan of referring to mixed race people in terms of percentages and fractions. But I was startled to discover that
1) Tiger Woods is in fact more Asian than anything else.
2) Tiger Woods’ parents are also mixed race – both of his parents can (and probably do) identify as people of colour.

Actually, Tiger Woods is just as Asian as I am.  I was stunned by this information. Why had I not known this? I always assumed that Tiger Woods’ dad was black and his mom was white, and that his Asian connection was a little more indirect, a la Barack.

It seems like I’m not the only one who misconstrued the complexity of Tiger’s roots.  By now we’re all familiar with the outrage around Tiger Woods’ racial taste in women.  Newspapers, blogs and Twitter feeds have blown up with commentary that Tiger’s apparent penchant for white women is just more evidence of how he tries to create distance between himself and black folks.  In essence, because he chooses to bed white women instead of black women, Tiger is not a real black person.

I’m not going to talk about the fact that it is absurd and small-minded to try and mandate the lovelife of an individual by threatening them with explulsion from a racial community.  What I am bothered by is that in all this race vetting, folks can’t even bother to get Tiger’s race right.

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Why are Black Americans Playing Roles Meant for Africans?

by Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem

“Invictus,” a film about Nelson Mandela’s efforts to unify post-apartheid South Africa through rugby, opens Dec. 11. The film stars Matt Damon as captain of South Africa’s 1995 rugby team and Morgan Freeman as Mandela.

I’ve little interest in seeing this film, but the commercials for it caught my attention when I noticed someone attempting what I considered to be an atrocious South African accent. That someone was Freeman, an amazing actor, no doubt, but not convincing to me as a South African. A quick trip to the IMDB.com thread on the film, and I realized I wasn’t alone in my criticism of Freeman.

A thread devoted specifically to Freeman’s accent in the film began:

“HOLY CRAP…. Morgan’s accent sucks!! Not even close…. did he even try? Didnt hear to much of Matt but wow Morgan really missed the boat.”

And another poster followed up, “I came here to say the exact same thing after having just seen the commercial. Holy horrible. It sounds like Morgan Freeman in every movie he’s ever been in plus a hokey accent that couldn’t possibly be attributed to any ethnicity or area.”

After pondering how Freeman speaks in the film, I wondered why a South African wasn’t cast in “Invictus.” With Clint Eastwood as director and Damon in a starring role, would it have been that much of a gamble to cast an unknown in the role of Mandela? Then, I thought about other films set in Africa—“Hotel Rwanda,” “Cry Freedom,” “The Last King of Scotland” and “Sarafina!” All feature black Americans in starring roles as Africans. A recent exception would be 2006’s “Blood Diamond” in which Djimon Hounsou has a starring role.

I understand that casting African American film stars likely makes movies about Africa more marketable, but would African Americans be as accepting if roles designed for them were given to whites to increase a film’s marketability? Judging from the uproar surrounding Angelina Jolie starring as Mariane Pearl in “A Mighty Heart,” I think not. So why aren’t more people speaking up about the tendency of African roles to go to black Americans?

On IMDB.com, a poster who challenged the assertion that Freeman was born to play Mandela, arguing instead that an “actual South African” be given the role, received this response:

“There isn’t any South African actors that have Freeman’s acting skills though. Just because someone is from a particular country doesn’t make them automatically better for the role.”

I don’t know the ethnicity or nationality of the person who wrote this, but the idea that South Africa has no quality actors is ludicrous. But, say, we take the poster at his word. South Africa having no actors with the chops to play Mandela shouldn’t rule out the possibility of an actor from another African nation playing the role. Nigeria, for one, has a $250 million film industry, which puts it in the Top 3 film industries in the world, along with India and the United States. Clearly, Africa has its share of actors to go around. So, when will Hollywood shine the spotlight on them, and when will black Americans demand it?

Are you an authentic American?

By Guest Contributor Madhuri, originally published at Restore Fairness

“Police officers giving drivers $204 tickets for not speaking English? It sounds like a rejected Monty Python sketch. Except the grim reality is that it has happened at least 39 times in Dallas since January 2007….All but one of the drivers were Hispanic.”

Reporting on the issue, a New York Times editorial asks the question – is racism alive and kicking in America? If this were a one off incident, it could be an aberration. But 39 times makes it a growing pattern of injustice.

So how does one question who or who is not an American? Does it have to do with language, race, ethnicity, how long one has been in the United States – or is it about the more legal aspect of possessing citizenship.

Recently, an incredible achievement by Meb Keflezighi’s, winner of Men’s NYC Marathon, kicked off a number of doubts about whether this is truly an “American” achievement, or one imported in from outside.

“Meb Keflezighi, who won yesterday in New York, is technically American by virtue of him becoming a citizen in 1998, but the fact that he’s not American-born takes away from the magnitude of the achievement the headline implies.”

Comments from a CNBC Sports Business Reporter who half apologized in a post the next morning.

“Frankly I didn’t account for the fact that virtually all of Keflezighi’s running experience came as a U.S. citizen. I never said he didn’t deserve to be called American.”

Keflezighi came to the United States when he was 12 from war torn Eritrea. Is that enough time for him to be an American? Ironically the last American to win the marathon was also born in another country – Cuba. Alberto Salazar’s comments from a New York Times article are insightful.

What if Meb’s parents had moved to this country a year before he was born? At what point is someone truly American? Only if your family traces itself back to 1800, will it count?

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Chimamanda Adichie and Single Stories

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

A writer friend of mine working on a novel about his Indian experience has lamented to me about a particular response he keeps getting to his work in progress. His non-Asian peers tell him that he can’t write his particular story, because it’s already been told by say, Rohinton Mistry, or Arundhati Roy.

I also get hopping mad when I hear about this. What about the 5 gazillion stories of middle class white family struggle that dominate libraries and schools across this country?

Centers of power who feel political pressure to include the Other in their ranks rarely make room for more than one Other. TV shows like 30 Rock and the Daily Show don’t have room for more than one or two black characters (and they are all men.) Once a publishing press has released one book by a Latin@, they won’t release another one – they’ve already done the Latin thing. And often this kind of dynamic sets up vicious competition between members of marginalised groups vying for the single position allotted to their entire demographic – and people who should be allies become opponents.

Because of all this, I love this talk by novelist Chimamanda Adichie. Adichie talks about the real consequences of only allowing one voice to represent thousands, and makes a very beautiful argument on how the single story impoverishes our lives.

PS For those who can’t access the audio, hit the subtitles button!

Casting & Race Part 1: The Tension [Essay]

by Guest Contributor (and frequent commenter) J Chang, originally published at Init_MovingPictures


Ever since news of The Last Airbender’s casting broke, there’s been a lot of commotion in the Asian American community about casting and how it seems that Asians are losing to white people in playing Asian characters. Now, there are issues present in the overall casting scene that people are picking up on here, but before I go further in depth on how race fits into casting, I want to lay down some groundwork for the discussion so that we know how to properly frame the arguments.

The Actor’s Craft

First and foremost, we need to acknowledge what the actor’s job is. As an actor, I’m aware of the theoretical paradox that we are placed in when playing a role. An actor is essentially taking on the role of someone that they are not. This artifice even extends to the rare case when an actor is playing themselves, as they are still “playing” a character on a stage or in front of a screen, rather than being themselves in real life.

In acting, even core identity matters such as sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, of the actor, shouldn’t matter. Only that of the character. The actor’s job, their craft, is to play a character that is certainly not themselves. I’m not saying that an actor’s actual identity won’t influence the way they play their character, but that ideally, a talented actor will overcome their own identity to play the character believably.

But this is speaking only of the actual job of acting and not the negotiating between the actor, the audience and the medium.

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