Tag Archives: film

Dear-White-People

The Producer and the Anarchist: Dear White People’s Critique and Vision of Film

by Guest Contributor Mario Fitzgerald

In one of the many footnotes in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Yunior opines:

“Rushdie claims that tyrants and scribblers are natural antagonists, but I think that’s too simple; it lets writers off pretty easy. Dictators, in my opinion, just know competition when they see it. Same with writers. Like, after all, recognizes like.”

Through the mind of Yunior, Junot Diaz expresses a core truth about writing: Despite being a tool of dissent for justice and equality, writing is also a powerful and thoroughly successful method of erasure, revision, and domination.

Through his first feature film, Dear White People, director Justin Simien has demonstrated how film can similarly be a tool for either justice or domination. Through the characters of Helmut West, a reality television show producer and Sam White, an independent documentary filmmaker, Justin Simien dramatizes the different ways in which the film industry has responded to racism and white supremacy.

Helmut West drifts in and out of the film searching for “conflicts” on the campus of Winchester University from which he can create a reality television show. Despite the title of the film directing viewers’ attention towards the many documented micro-aggressions of White characters towards the film’s Black characters, West is a Black man.

His presence raises a critique against the constant search for anti-Black racist acts committed by White people rather than manifestations of White supremacist thinking which, as bell hooks has so eloquently written, operates within us all. Continue reading

Black Punks

 

A Band Called Death, a film by Drafthouse Films, debuted Friday in select cities and is also available via digital download and on iTunes.

Punk before punk existed, three teenage brothers in the early ’70s formed a band in their spare bedroom, began playing a few local gigs and even pressed a single in the hopes of getting signed. But this was the era of Motown and emerging disco. Record companies found Death’s music— and band name—too intimidating, and the group were never given a fair shot, disbanding before they even completed one album. Equal parts electrifying rockumentary and epic family love story, A Band Called Death chronicles the incredible fairy-tale journey of what happened almost three decades later, when a dusty 1974 demo tape made its way out of the attic and found an audience several generations younger. Playing music impossibly ahead of its time, Death is now being credited as the first black punk band (hell…the first punk band!), and are finally receiving their long overdue recognition as true rock pioneers. More at Drafthouse Films…

Also, Death members, Bobby and Dannis Hackney, spoke to Huffington Post about race, punk, 70s-era Detroit and their move from the Motor City to Vermont.

(H/T Shadow and Act)

Walking on the “Wild Side”: 20 Feet From Stardom and the Black Female Gaze

By Guest Contributor Sikivu Hutchinson; originally published on BlackFemLens

In the 1972 song “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” Lou Reed evokes the paternalistic image of “colored girls” cooing in the background to a hipster tale of New York debauchery. Using Reed’s homage as its introduction, white director Morgan Neville’s bittersweet documentary 20 Feet from Stardom attempts to bring black female back-up singers into the foreground with both moving and problematic effect.

From the 1950’s to the present, white America “walked on the wild side” via the dulcet tones and searing power of black women’s voices. Then as now, black R& B music was often the “colorful” backdrop to lily white pop culture scenes of “all-American” revelry, romance, and heroism. For the white consumer of the postwar Jim Crow era, the commercial rise of rock and R&B transformed racial otherness into a more mainstream adventure; a resort vacation to unexplored vistas of self-discovery that anyone with a radio or a few cents for a 45 record could take. As the world’s most rabid consumers of black culture, white folks’ imperialist yearnings to be “black” (from Jack Kerouac to Norman Mailer to Sandra Bernhard) emerge from this grand obsession with the supposed wild, raw, unfettered, close-to-the-bone emotion and physicality of the Black woman belting out soulful paeans to life and love. Minus the racial terrorism, segregation and ghettoization, blackness has always been a sexy place for whites “eating the other”.

Black women’s back-up singing was crucial to the evolution of modern rock and R&B, buttressing songs as disparate as the Crystal’s “He’s a Rebel” and the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” by turning them into richly textured classics. 20 Feet captures the deep travesty of obscurity, marginalization and, often, poverty, that these pioneering artists faced. Spotlighting multi-generational artists such as Merry Clayton (who did the powerhouse vocal on Gimme Shelter), Darlene Love, the Waters family, Tata Vega, Lisa Fisher and Judith Hill, the film’s broad historical sweep shows both how much and how little has changed. Women of color back-up singers are still treated like expendable objects, eye candy and soulful exotics while fighting tooth and nail for recognition and a shot at center stage.

The trajectory of the fiercely talented Darlene Love is the movie’s template and touchstone. Royally swindled by famed producer and (now) incarcerated killer Phil Spector, Love was the voice of many of the 60s most hummable R&B classics. While her vocals on the smash hit “He’s a Rebel” made her a sought after studio singer, she was cheated out of the opportunity to appear in public singing her own work. Love describes the indignity of seeing the Crystals become the public face of her song; lip synching to a number one record while she battled Spector for her just due. As has been well-documented, exploitation of black artists was institutionalized in the music industry. Elvis Presley and scores of “trailblazing” white artists and producers built their careers, empires and international stardom on the backs of uncompensated and un-credited black artists. Nonetheless, the film is largely silent about the mammoth battles black artists waged for recognition and royalties. Love’s decades-long fight with Spector is its only nod to the insidious racial and gender politics that drove capitalist exploitation in the industry.

Similarly, there is only fleeting critical commentary on the sexist objectification of black women vocalists and the way in which this ultimately stunted their careers. Footage of the Ike and Tina Turner revue is used to highlight stereotypes of feral black female hypersexuality, underscoring the bind that women who wanted to be successful in the industry faced. Singer Claudia Lennear, a former “Ikette” and Rolling Stones back-up, comments on the requirement that the Turners’ back-up vocalists be scantily clad. She then limply deflects questions about her own decision to pose for Playboy. Unfortunately, the film never deepens its appraisal of sexism (especially its implications for the modern day “video ho” phenomenon, an image of black women that is one of rap and hip hop’s most enduring and degrading global exports). Reflecting on Turner and her rise to fame in her piece “Selling Hot Pussy,” bell hooks wrote “The black female body gains attention only when it is synonymous with accessibility, availability; when it is sexually deviant…Turner’s singing career has been based on the construction of the image of black female sexuality that is made synonymous with wild animalistic lust…Ike’s decision to create the wild black woman was perfectly compatible with prevailing representations of black female sexuality in a white supremacist society .” Hooks’ perspective would have been a welcome antidote to the ribald lip-smacking ignorance of USC professor Todd Boyd who comments that Ike played the role of the “pimp” to his stable of “hos” (i.e., Tina and the Ikettes). As if to confirm this, the camera cuts to a shot of Turner, Lennear and the Ikettes gyrating and bending over suggestively in micro minis and high heels at a raucous outdoor concert.

Hooks notes that Tina Turner’s image was shaped by Ike’s “pornographic misogynist imagination” and his obsession with jungle films. The subtext of the film is black women’s resistance to this brand of sexualization and the regime of the male gaze (corporate, white, ageist, mainstream). It is a narrative that develops despite the political limitations of the white director who is clearly enthralled with the “mystique” of black soul. This tension is reflected early on in the dichotomy the film constructs between mainstream cultural norms of white feminine respectability and “authentic” black femininity. Commenting on the origins of the back-up singer tradition, the narrator contrasts the restrained primness of white female vocalists with the “raw” abandon of the mostly gospel trained black female vocalists. “We called them ‘readers,’’ Darlene Love says, referencing the white mainstream method of simply singing the notes on the page without injecting passion and spontaneity into the delivery. Reinforcing the stereotype of “natural” “God-given” black soul singing talent, the film does not explore the musical training and vocal instruction some of these black women artists undoubtedly received. Nonetheless, the sheer discipline and tenacity of the back-up singers is conveyed by their testimony about marathon all-night recording sessions, demanding concert tours and exploitative conditions.

While the commentary each singer provides is illuminating, it would be inconceivable for a retrospective on white male singers to feature virtually all black women musicians, historians, technicians and producers as subject experts on their careers. However, this is the “benign” structure that 20 Feet sets up. For nearly two hours the women appear through the eyes of their mostly white male employers— rock and pop superstars like Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Sting and Chris Botti—and assorted white male subject experts. Presumably hooks, Angela Davis, Patricia Hill Collins, Michele Wallace, Joan Morgan, Tricia Rose and scores of other black feminist scholars and music historians were unavailable to critically contextualize these women’s experiences. This gross deficit makes 20 Feet From Stardom a meta-reflection of the constant struggle women of color must wage for political visibility, historical validation and culturally responsive scholarship. Attempting to evoke the social upheaval of the sixties, the film trots out stock images of the Black Panthers as well as Tommy Smith and John Carlos’ iconic raised fist salute at the 1968 Olympics to evoke black consciousness. We catch a fleeting glimpse of Kathleen Cleaver but no other black women figures or activists are evoked. It would have been powerful to hear what Cleaver, an esteemed legal scholar and feminist critic, would have had to say about Merry Clayton’s decision to sing back-up on the Lynrd Skynyrd’s 1974 song “Sweet Home Alabama,” a racist homage to Dixie. Clayton ruefully critiques “Alabama” and describes the force she put into her vocals as an act of resistance, reflecting the contradictions of an era in which black women artists felt they had to conform to visions of white supremacy in order to survive. But apparently giving this narrative a critical, scholarly black feminist voice would have been too much of a walk on the “wild side”.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars and the newly released Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels.

Casting Call: Lucy, the Mutant Human/Angel Hybrid Who Speaks with an Asian Accent (But is not Asian)

Image Credit: Schmector on Flickr

Image Credit: Schmector on Flickr

 

by Guest Contributor Angry Asian Man; originally published at Angry Asian Man

Uhhh… what the hell? Got this casting call passed along to me for an indie film called It’s Gawd!, described as an irreverent comedy about what happens when the almighty gets his own television show.


One of the parts in question is a character called Lucy, “a mutant human/angel hybrid who speaks broken English with a strong Asian accent.” But she apparently isn’t Asian, so the part is open to actors of all ethnicities… except Asians. Wait, what?

Yeah, I don’t get it either. Here’s the full breakdown:

IT’S GAWD!
Feature Film
Wow and Flutter Post / Wow and Flutter Media
SAG-AFTRA (SAG terms) – Pending
Producer: Ryan Rees, Gerald Brunskill
Director: Gerald Brunskill
Casting Director: Jennifer Birn
Interview Dates: 6/17-6/20
Callback Dates:
Shoot/Start Date: 7/11/13
Pay Rate: SAG-AFTRA MLB
Location: Los Angeles area
SUBMIT ELECTRONICALLY
IF POSSIBLE, PLEASE SUBMIT ACTOR’S ONLINE DEMO CLIPS ALONG WITH EACH
ACTOR SUBMISSION.
Currently casting ONLY these two roles:

[LUCY] Mid 20s. Funny, quirky, and cute. Shorter is better! Lucy is a mutant human/angel hybrid who speaks broken English with a strong Asian accent. She is not Asian in appearance so all ethnicities (except Asian) are welcome. Childlike and innocent yet has a sharp tongue that can appear harsh at times. Very facially expressive.

[BUDDHALICIOUS / BRAWD] 20s-30s age not as important as ability to be “bigger than life in every way.’ All ethnicities welcome. Must be a plus-size female who is bigger than life in every way. Uninhibited by her size. Funny and loud. Speaks urban slang and although appears to be a cliched stereotype she is actually a wise, all-knowing being.

LOGLINE: Desperate to save the world (and his job), the creator of Earth journeys to the planet to reconnect with mankind — via a nightly variety show.

“Buddhalicious” sounds like a laugh riot too. This does not sound good. Damn, are you telling me that Asian actors don’t even get to do the fake accent anymore? We used to run that. So unfair — us Asians never get to play the mutant human/angel hybrid thing. (Thanks, J.)

Issa Rae, Jaleel White tapped for Hansberry biopic

If you are among the folks not feeling Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone, perhaps you’ll dig the High Priestess of Soul as awkward black girl. Shadow & Act reports that a biopic about the legendary author of A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry, is in the works, featuring none other than Awkward Girl creator Issa Rae as longtime Hansberry friend, Simone, and Jaleel White as James Baldwin. Billed as a nontraditional biography, the film is being developed by Hansberry’s grand-niece, Taye Hansberry, and Numa Perrier, and cast by Will Stewart, casting director for Scandal.

Above: Nina Simone sings “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” her 1970 song in memory of Hansberry, whose posthumous play by the same name debuted in the late 1960s.

Open Thread: The Great Gatsby

By Latoya Peterson

Gasby Movie Poster

Gasby Movie Poster

So I haven’t done a movie review for this site in forever, and I probably will never again.  That’s because before I started this gig, I watched movies like this:

 

Because Michael Jackson picked good movies.

Because Michael Jackson picked good movies.

And now I watch movies like this:

 

No one is impressed with this film. McKayla and Barack agree.

No one is impressed with this film. McKayla and Barack agree.

But the other Knights wanted to go, it looked pretty, Hova did the soundtrack, and I was hoping it would be as much fun as Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. (Huh? Plot? We ain’t got time for alla that. That’s what the book is for.)

So, Gatsby was fun–as one of my friends noted, it’s “Art Deco Porn.”  But of course, there’s also race things.  Some quick observations after the jump. *SPOILERS TOO!*

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Sex On Screen: An Intro To The Hella Brown Series (NSFW)

By Guest Contributor Crunkonia; cross-posted from The Crunk Feminist Collective

[Watch Racialicious for the first interview in this series coming soon.]

Porn is what’s hot in the streets (a.k.a halls of the academy) now.

There are brilliant scholars who historicize and build upon black feminist participation in conversations about pornography. And there are others who simplify the argument into a false then vs. now paradigm that presents our foremothers as prudes, not as the women who made it possible for us to talk about sexuality in the ways that we do today. I believe these others wish for the day when black women can talk about sex as if they were white men, with no cloud of controlling images over their heads.
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Cloud Atlas Review: Yellowface And Orientalism

By Guest Contributor Jennifer; originally published at Mixed Race America

This post is the second installment in a three-part review. See parts one and three.

There are many people who have written about the phenomenon of “yellowface,” which is the Asian version of “blackface”–having white (although at times there have been black) actors and actresses portraying Asian and Asian American people in Hollywood films.  Racebending.com has a particularly astute and thorough accounting by contributor Michelle I.  I recommend reading her piece, “Yellowface: A Story in Pictures,” to familiarize yourself with the looooong history of yellowface in Hollywood cinema.  But I think this photo of Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany‘s probably says it all:

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