Tag Archives: history

Frank Miller’s “300″ and the Persistence of Accepted Racism

by Guest Contributor Jehanzeb Dar, originally published at Broken Mystic

When Frank Miller’s “300″ film was released, I was absolutely outraged by the racist content of the film and more so at the insensitivity of movie-goers who simply argued “it’s just a movie.” Later on, I would hear these same individuals say, “The movie makes you want to slice up some Persians.” I wrote an article about the film almost immediately after it was released, and now that I’m still noticing people quoting the movie or listing it as their “favorite movies,” I’ve decided to update my original post and discuss some points that will hopefully shed some new light.

“300” not only represents the ever-growing trend of accepted racism towards Middle-Easterners in mainstream media and society, but also the reinforcement of Samuel P. Huntington’s overly clichéd, yet persisting, theory of “The Clash of Civilizations,” which proposes that cultural and religious differences are the primary sources for war and conflict rather than political, ideological, and/or economic differences. The fact that “300” grossed nearly $500 million worldwide in the box office may not be enough to suggest that movie-goers share the film’s racist and jingoistic views, but it is enough to indicate how successful such a film can be without many people noticing its relentless racist content. As Osagie K. Obasogie wrote in a brilliant critique of the film, “300” is “arguably the most racially charged film since D. W. Griffith’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’” – the latter being a 1915 silent film that celebrated the Ku Klux Klan’s rise to defend the South against liberated African-Americans. Oddly enough, both films were immensely successful despite protests and charges of racism.

Media imagery is very important to study. Without analyzing and critiquing images in pop culture, especially controversial and reoccurring images, we are ignoring the most powerful medium in which people receive their information from. A novel, for example, may appeal to a large demographic, but a film appeals to a much wider audience not only because of recent video-sharing websites and other internet advancements, but also because the information is so much easier to process and absorb.

According to the Cultivation Theory, a social theory developed by George Gerbner and Larry Gross, television is the most powerful storyteller in culture – it repeats the myths, ideologies, and facts and patterns of standardized roles and behaviors that define social order. Music videos, for example, cultivate a pattern of images that establish socialized norms about gender. In a typical western music video, you may see female singers like Brittany Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Beyonce wearing the scantiest of clothing and dancing in erotic and provocative ways that merely cater to their heterosexual male audiences. These images of women appear so frequently and repetitively that they develop an expectation for women in the music industry, i.e. in order to be successful, a woman needs to have a certain body type, fit society’s ideal for beauty, and dance half-nakedly. Stereotypical images of men in music videos, on the other hand, include violent-related imagery, “pimping” with multiple women, and showing off luxury. Such images make violence and promiscuous sexual behavior “cool” and more acceptable for males. As we can see from two studies by Greeson & Williams (1986) and Kalof (1999), exposure to stereotypical images of gender and sexual content in music videos increase older adolescents’ acceptance of non-marital sexual behavior and interpersonal violence.

Cognitive Social Learning Theory is another social theory which posits, in respect to media, that television presents us with attractive and relatable models for us to shape our experiences from. In other words, a person may learn particular behaviors and knowledge through observing the images displayed on television. A person may also emulate the behavior of a particular character in a film or television show, especially if a close-identification is established between the viewer and the character. Both theories – Cultivation Theory and Cognitive Social Learning Theory – apply in my following analysis of “300.”

In order to deconstruct “300,” I will start by (1) discussing its distortion of history, then (2) contrast the film’s representation of Persians and Spartans, (3) correlate Frank Miller’s Islamophobic remarks on NPR with the messages conveyed in “300,” and (4) conclude with the importance of confronting stereotypical images in mainstream media and acknowledging the contributions of all societies and civilizations. Continue reading

African-American Transgender History-50′s Style

by Guest Contributor Monica Roberts, originally published at TransGriot

One of the beauties of surfing the Net is that from time to time, you’ll stumble across a nugget of history or some photo that you weren’t even aware existed.

I’ve mentioned that JET, EBONY and the now defunct HUE magazines when they first started back in the day served as historical chroniclers of the Black experience in America. Google just negotiated a deal in which they will be digitizing pre-1960′s EBONY and JET magazines so that you can access their content on the Net.

One of the things I discovered to my delight is that in order to fulfill their mission of documenting the Black experience, EBONY and JET also covered events and discussed Black GLBT issues.

In addition to asking pointed questions about the Black GLBT experience, they also covered the New York and Chicago drag balls as well. Continue reading

Did Darwin Have a Different Motivation For Creating the Theory of Evolution?

by Latoya Peterson

Reader Elton sent in an intriguing article from The UK’s Telegraph. The headline says it all:

    Charles Darwin’s research to prove evolution was motivated by his desire to end slavery.

The piece explains:

Science historians Adrian Desmond and James Moore have compiled compelling new evidence which reveals Darwin was passionately opposed to slavery and this was the moral impetus behind his work.

Private notes and letters uncovered by the pair reveal that Darwin’s opinions on slavery were far stronger than had previously been believed.

Notebooks from his five year voyage on HMS Beagle, during which Darwin first began to form his famous theories on natural selection, detail his revulsion at the slavery he witnessed in South America.

The historians have also discovered letters written by Darwin’s sisters, cousins and aunts that reveal the family as highly active abolitionists. Darwin’s grandfather and uncles were also key members of the anti-slavery movement.

The pair claim in a new book that Darwin partly chose to highlight the common descent of man from apes to show that all races were equal, as a rebuttal to those who insisted black people were a different, and inferior, species from those with white skin.

When Elton sent in the link, he noted:

    A big theory of mine is that the whole “intelligent design”/natural selection debate is deeply rooted in the struggle between those who would seek to extend the white Christian hegemony and those who would seek to dismantle it through science. Unfortunately, the media always portrays it as some dense philosophical debate, without any implications for social power structures.

Thoughts?

WWD Documents the Funeral for Dr. King

by Latoya Peterson

Women’s Wear Daily published a “From the archives” feature on the funeral of Dr. King.

While about half of the piece documents the atmosphere and who was there, it also allows a glimpse into the bewilderment and confusion that happened after Dr. King’s assassination.

Amidst the shallow attempts to get a glimpse of the headliners was a very deep sadness and anger. King, a decided pacifist, was often criticized by others in the civil rights movement for being too soft. “They killed the wrong man,” one man said. “Love didn’t work. It’s gonna take some violence now to make these people understand.” So, the opening to Abernathy’s eulogy, broadcast over a loudspeaker perched atop the church, was apropos: “Where do we go from here, chaos or community?”

After his speech and several songs, a procession began from Ebenezer Baptist, passed the Georgia state capitol and ended at Morehouse College. There, Abernathy was joined at the podium by then-Presidential nominee Robert Kennedy, Nelson Rockefeller, George Romney and John Lindsay to speak about Dr. King. By the time King’s casket actually arrived at the cemetery, his funeral had been going for nearly seven hours. He had famously said in February of that year, “I don’t want a long funeral….I want you to say I tried to love and serve humanity.”

According to WWD’s reporter, it took a lot of time to say that.

(Photo Credit: Women’s Wear Daily)

Ballad of the Magical Half-Negro (by Baz Luhrmann)

by Guest Contributor SLB, originally published at PostBougie

I could never be a real militant. Because there’s no way a real militant would’ve sat through Baz Luhrmann’s latest epic, Australia, which clocks in at a superfluous 3+ hours, and dug it as much as I did. It’s a film rife with knee-jerk infuriation potential. It’s got everything to rankle the revolutionary: racial slurs, a brother taking bullets for Hugh Jackman, an abusive white-on-black relationship, the phrase “I’m as good as Black to those people out there,” and even a little blackface for good measure. But I’ve yet to mention the race-baiting facet that receives the brightest spotlight: the magical Negro (and Half-Negro, as it were) archetype.

From the first frame, a puerile, adorably accented voice works overtime to endear you to what will inevitably be another racist tale of White colonists winning the day. But even so, the charms of that voice are hard to resist–especially when you see the chocolate-drop face it belongs to. Nullah (Brandon Walters) is a biracial pre-adolescent (maybe ten? eleven?), happily living on rundown property called Faraway Downs with his aboriginal mother, a few other servants, and a villainous White rancher named Neil Fletcher. Aboriginal mom, villainous White rancher… you probably already see where this is going.

Enter Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. All you need to know about them is that, by the second hour of the film, Nullah is in their custody and by the third hour of the film they’ve lost him to the desolate Catholic mission camp where all mixed-raced Aboriginal children in a priest’s or policeman’s plain sight were herded, after being stolen from their secure, healthy Aboriginal households. Will the stubbornly feuding, but madly in love Kidman-and-Jackman reunite to reclaim their “creamy” boy, Nullah, by the film’s
bombastic ending?

This is a Baz Luhrmann flick. Come on, fam. Continue reading

Native Land, Youth, and The Future

by Special Correspondent Jessica Yee

Much of what people know about historic Native issues has to do with land on some level. Indeed, much of what we are about today has to do with our land also. Our Mother Earth is the ultimate living entity, something that sustains life and guides us as a people. They say that without our land, we are nothing.

Nowadays, the news that is frequently dispelled from our communities if you are involved in any left-learning circles are about things like land claims, environmental degradation and destruction, and the suffering and plight of our people as a result of our Mother Earth being taken away from us. While this is all true and essential to acknowledge that we need land for the people, we also need people for the land. I know for myself that whenever I enter an activist space of some sort, I’m constantly being asked about whatever land struggle that is currently going on in some Native community, to which I’ll often reply “I work in sexual and reproductive health. Do you know the latest statistic on AIDS in Aboriginal communities?”

People ask me this I think for maybe a few stereotypical reasons (like they think that we all know everything about each other and send smoke signals the other way to find out), but mostly because it would appear that these are very key issues for us to be involved in, and in reality, we do need this place for the prophecies of our next 7 generations to come true. While I am still a learner when it comes to subjects like environmental justice and food sustainability, I know I cannot separate myself from my community whatsoever, and these are the simultaneous realities we must deal with when even discussing things like sexuality and violence prevention in our communities. I have to be informed.

We cannot pit one issue on top of the other as being more pressing; it’s all affecting us somehow. Continue reading

Who is Responsible for Your Healthcare?

by Guest Contributor Jessica Yee

One of the best kept secrets in American health administration is the existence of Indian Health Service.

Unbeknownst to many outside the Native community, our healthcare is actually delivered by the military.

Oh sure, they call themselves the “Public Health Service Commissioned Corps” which is just a nice way of saying they don’t carry guns, but you can bet that you will more than likely receive care from someone dressed in full-out camouflage gear who indeed works for the U.S. Uniformed Services.

How did this all get started? Well for lands seized (read: stolen) the government has a federal responsibility to provide healthcare to Native Americans. After assimilating us and annihilating our culture, the War Department had this duty in 1849. Which was then overseen by the Bureau of Indian Affairs who was responsible for the many abuses and mistreatments that occurred under their umbrella until 1955, when the government thought it would then be a good idea to turn it over to the Department of Health and Human Services.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not really comfortable going to see a doctor wearing army boots in a non-war torn country. Last time I checked, they haven’t exactly been our best friends in the Native community (forcible removal to attend Residential Schools, reproductive trauma from military testing anyone?) I’m also less than pleased being the only race whose healthcare comes like this. Continue reading

What am I supposed to do?

by Guest Contributor Cheryl Lynn, originally published at Digital Femme

Long ago, when I was much younger than I am today, my aunt purchased a VHS tape of cartoons for my cousins and I to watch. She quickly removed the plastic wrapper, slammed the cassette into the VCR, and promptly left the room in order to tackle the long list of chores she had that day.

My cousins were toddlers. I was a small child.

I’m sure that my aunt believed that what she had set us down in front of was harmless. And it initially was. My cousins and I laughed at silly cartoons of goofy animals. The images were dated, but still quite funny. And watching them made me feel good.

Somewhere around the middle of the tape, the images changed. The animals vanished. There were no longer quick-witted bunnies or dim-witted pigs. There were black people. Black people that were designed to look like animals. Gargantuan lips. Inhuman noses. Blue-black skin.

Images all based on caricatures designed to ridicule the features of black people. Images that I saw before me.

I cried. I actually cried until I made myself physically ill. But I wouldn’t tell anyone what was wrong.

A few days later I approached my mother and told her that I didn’t want to be ugly anymore. I told her that I wanted to be white.

My mother looked at me and smiled. She told me if I waited in the bedroom for her that she would make me white. I waited, and after a few moments she entered with a bottle of lotion. She spread the lotion out in a thick layer on my legs as if she was icing a cake. My chocolate brown skin began to slip from view.

She stopped after a few moments and looked at me.

“Doesn’t that look silly?”

I nodded as she bent over to wipe the lotion from my legs.

“See? You’re not supposed to be white! You’re exactly how God made you to be. You understand?”

I understood perfectly. God meant for me to be black. He meant for me to be ugly. And I believed that for a long time. Because that’s what the images I had seen had taught me to believe.

I’m actually terrified to have kids. Because it’s inevitable that my children are going to come across the same type of caricatures that I did as a child. Why? Because comic and cartoon fandoms cling to these caricatures and cherish them. They create new ones based upon the older incarnations. They place these images above the basic human dignity of black people. They tell black people that nostalgia is more important than their humanity.

What am I going to tell my child when he or she comes across these images? How am I going to rebuild his or her spirit when the images break it? Because my mother’s initial approach? Did not work. And fandom simply isn’t going to let these images go. They don’t respect us enough to do so.

So, what am I supposed to do?