Yelling to The Sky

I am a big movie watcher. I like going to the movies or renting movies or surfing Netflix. So, I will often blog about movies, I have watched. The other day, I had the opportunity to re-watch “Yelling to The Sky. “  It’s now streaming on Netflix. The film was written and directed by Victoria Mahoney.

I initially watched the film, after waiting a year  and some months, for it to be released in theaters. The film debuted at the Berlin Film Festival in 2011, then sat on the shelf.  Finally,  back in December 2012, the film was released online and DVD.  I was excited. I watched the film as soon as it was available for viewing.

I was a bit disappointed, after waiting so long to see the film.  I decided to watch it again, to see if it really didn’t live up to my expectations, the first time around.

SPOILERS!! SPOILERS!! SPOILERS!!

The  film is about 16-year-old, biracial/multicultural Sweetness O’Hara (played by Zoe Kravitz).  She lives with her older sister, black mother, and Irish father. The dad is verbally and physically abusive. The mom is mostly absent. The sister is pregnant and angry all the time.  At school, Sweetness is harassed by bully, Latonya (played by Gabourey Sidibe). Eventually, her stressful home/school life, overwhelms  Sweetness. She decides she will longer be the bullied, but become the bully.  Sweetness trades in her drab clothing and makeup free face, for more stylish clothes and bright red lips.

She starts selling drugs and harassing other kids. Sweetness eventually wins over two of Latonya’s cronies. They form their own crew.  They strut down the school hallways, daring anyone to get in their way.  I loved the premise of the film. It’s why I was so interested in seeing it. However, after watching the film two times, I still feel like something is missing.

There are some good scenes in the movie, but they never seem to quite come together. The acting was decent. Kravitz didn’t blow me away or anything, but she played a sullen Sweetness, well enough. I did enjoy the character Ola, played by Antonique Smith.  I kept thinking she looked familiar to me. I Googled her, and realized she portrayed Faith Evans, in the film “Notorious.” The film was based on the life of the late rapper, The Notorious B.I.G.

In her role as Sweetness’s big sister, Smith made the film tolerable. Her natural acting abilities, makeup for Kravitz’s bland portrayal of Sweetness.   Of course, when I watch films, I like to look at how black women are represented. The mother in the film (played by Yolonda Ross), is mostly silent.  She is routinely abused by her husband.  She often deserts her children. It’s alluded to that she might have mental illness. Other than that, you really learn nothing about her. Strangely, the abusive white father is given more air time.

The absent mother, like the Latonya character, is portrayed by a darker skin black woman.  Skin tone plays a role in the film. I am not exactly sure what the director is trying to say, with her actress choices. I know that she identifies as a biracial/multicultural woman.

I know the film is supposed to be semi-autobiographical. I understand that biracial/multicultural  girls/teens are sometimes harassed by their black classmates. Still, it was a bit disconcerting to see all the dark skin girls/women be either bullies or an unavailable mama. To be fair, the older sister (and Sweetness at times) are shown being violent, but there’s context to their violence. The dark skin girls are  bullies cuz they hate light skin girls?

The film also moves at a slow pace. My mind would start wandering, because the storyline just isn’t strong enough. Once again, something was missing. It’s still a decent film to check out. I am interested to see what the director does next. She has potential…

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Anti-sexual Harassment Stickers

Yesterday, I saw this picture on a blog:

Oakland Street Art
Oakland Street Art

The picture was courtesy of a group called Oakland Street Art.  On their website it was noted why they do what they do:  “A space to document, share, and appreciate the wealth of beautiful street art in Oakland – from murals and graffiti to stenciling, stickers and chalking.”  The caption of the picture read: Anti-sexual harassment stickers up around Lake Merritt: “Stop telling women to smile.”

I related to all of the stickers, but especially the one telling women to smile. It’s bad enough that some white folks expect you to be their Mammy and skin and grin for them, but it’s also annoying some black men expect this as well.  Now remember I said SOME black men.  I know other men engage in this behavior (obviously), but my interactions tend to be with  black men, regarding this issue.

I have had black men get angry with me, because I wasn’t cheesing. Never mind the fact I might’ve had a bad day, singing my favorite tune in my head and didn’t notice them, just realized I didn’t have enough to get a caramel mocha from Starbucks, whatever the case might be.  It doesn’t matter, I am a woman, and I am expected to make their day.

I remember one time, I was sitting outside enjoying the sunny day.  I was starting off into space, loving the warmth on my face.  A guy walked by and told me to “smile.” I was confused because I had been daydreaming.   I guess I didn’t respond fast enough for him, because he said angrily, “smile, damn!” I looked at him like he had two heads. I wanted to say something smart, but just decided to ignore it. The truth is, you never know how some men are going to react, when you try to defend yourself.

Speaking back against street harassment has been deadly for women, especially black women. Too many men think they have a right to black women’s bodies. It’s because our bodies tend to be degraded in mainstream and black media.  It’s also because people have learned you don’t have to respect black women (after all, we are just crackheads, baby mamas, hoodrats, crazy, loud & angry, etc). Men of color who verbally attack black women on the street, would be hesitant to do so to white women.  It’s a combination of having colonized minds and fear of the police getting involved (it’s been proven that men of color are more likely to be arrested for assaulting white women, than women of color).

The video Black Woman Walking is dedicated to Adilah Gaither.  She was a young woman who was shot and killed because she wouldn’t give a boy her number. Street harassment is a real and serious issue. Some folks don’t see the big deal in a man telling you to smile. They figure it’s better than him calling you a “bitch.” The problem is, if you don’t react the way they think you should react,  it’s not long before you become a bitch, hoe, cunt, etc.

Baggage Claim

Wow, looks like black movies are coming up. Instead of one film a year, we are getting two-three, yea! Too bad most of them tend to be mediocre. I understand the desire to see black love stories, as there are virtually none in mainstream media, but these films can be so boring/cliche. The films also tend to be obsessed with putting the professional black woman in her place.   I know folks love romantic-coms (these movies usually clean house opening weekend), but I am sooo over them. Plus, Taye Diggs has lost all of his appeal, after making several  disparaging remarks about black women. I can keep my money in my pocket, homey. Anyway, I know some folks enjoy these kinds of movies, so here ya go:

Gimme the Loot

I love slice of life films. So, my curiosity was peaked, after reading a review  for  Gimme the Loot.  It’s rare  that we get good black films these days, let alone about black teens. However, my eyebrows were raised after I watched the trailer). I wondered why so many young white women in a film about black teens. I researched the  writer-director Adam Leon, and turned out he’s a young white director. The film has also been endorsed/presented by Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme. It made more sense that two white male directors  would feel the need to incorporate whiteness into black folks lives. To be fair though, the young white women do serve a purpose for one scene in the film.

SPOILERS !!! SPOILERS!! SPOILERS!

The two young actors (Tashiana Washington (Sophia) and Ty Hickson (Malcolm) were amazing. They portrayed Bronx teens, pretty convincingly.  I am especially looking forward to more work from Ms. Washington. While her role was the cliché loud/foul mouth black girl, you understand why. As a young woman in the male dominated world of graffiti/taggers, she has to make folks take her seriously.  Actually, that might have made it a more complex film, looking at her life from the perspective as a young woman tagger.  There are a couple of sweet moments for Sophia, but overall, the character is the  standard sassy black girl. I also didn’t care for seeing the black female character lamenting about possibly not being seen as beautiful as the white female lead.

My other concern was that Sophia and Malcolm engage in a lot of criminal activity.   Okay, I’ll backtrack a bit. The storyline revolves around two best friends, Sophia and Malcolm, who are also graffiti artists.  They decide they want  to leave a mark on New York City (NYC), in a big way.  The two teens set their sights on tagging a big apple, that pops up, every time a home run is made at  Shea Stadium. In order to do this, Malcolm has arranged for them to pay $500 dollars to a security that works there, so they can get into the stadium. Of course, they are teens with limited funds, and need to get money anyway they can.  So, there is context to their criminality, but I still didn’t care for it. The first scene starts off with them stealing from a store and progressing to a potential robbery .

Currently, New York City has been under fire for its Stop & Frisk law.  The concern of racial profiling of black & brown folks, especially young folks, is very real. There have been several instances of unjust harassment of young people of color by the NYPD:

NYPD Commanding Officer Caught On Tape Ordering Cops To Stop And Frisk Young “Male Blacks 

How ‘Stop and Frisk’ Is Too Often a Sexual Assault by Cops on Teenagers in Targeted NYC Neighborhoods

I know it’s just a film, but it made me uneasy to see young folks of color casually stealing, robbing, and selling drugs. It’s not an image that needs to perpetuated, when there is so much intense racial profiling, in areas like the Bronx.  Leon does try to show the racial and class disparities in NYC, with Malcolm and the white female character, Ginnie (Zoe Lescaze ). It’s  during the scene with Malcolm, Ginnie, and her white girlfriends where you feel for Malcolm (and Sophia) and understand how their lives have been framed, so much differently from these  upper-class white girls.

I did enjoy watching the two charismatic teens zig-zag around their neighborhood. It was interesting to see all the many characters they interact with, during their harrowing weekend. The ending scene was also very heartwarming.  It will be interesting to see other folks of color thoughts on this film.

Charles Ramsey: ‘Take that reward and give it to’ the kidnap victims

Most folks have heard about the heroic efforts of Charles Ramsey. If not, here is a quick recap: 

On Tuesday, Mr. Ramsey  was eating at a McDonald’s in Cleveland, when he heard cries for help. When he went to investigate,  he noticed a young woman screaming for someone to call 911, and trying to kick down the door of her house.  It turned out the young woman was Amanda Berry. She had been kidnapped over ten years ago.  There  was also two other young women that had been held captive with Berry–Gina DeJesus & Michelle Knight. The young women suffered years of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.  It was the speedy actions of Ramsey (he eventually kicked down the door), that helped save the lives of all three women.

Of course, Mr. Ramsey became an instant media sensation. He was just an everyday guy having lunch and got involved.  It was amazing, because there have been countless stories of folks that have literally stepped over a person dying on the sidewalk.  Mr. Ramsey obviously is an old school guy, and presented himself as such. His words “I knew something was wrong when a pretty little white girl ran into a black man’s arms,” is going down as the soundbite of 2013, trust me. There have been several articles written about Mr. Ramsey’s lively personality, and how it came across on the national news :

http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2013/05/07/181982154/are-we-laughing-with-charles-ramsey

http://guyism.com/humor/charles-ramsey-rescues-three-women-gives-greatest-interview-in-the-history-of-television.html

http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/05/07/charles_ramsey_amanda_berry_rescuer_becomes_internet_meme_video.html

Some folks thought Mr. Ramsey’s heroic efforts were being mocked, because of his quirky personality. I have to admit, I chuckled when I heard Mr. Ramsey say what he said. I thought he was being raw and honest, and I got what he was saying.  I wasn’t laughing at him at all. I am a black woman who comes from a black family sprinkled with Charles Ramseys. Like Ms. Sweet Brown before him,  they represent themselves as they are, because they are not ashamed of who they are. Why should they be? They should not be defined by their dialect or that they have a head-wrap on their head or that they don’t give bland responses.  Of course, there are those that are going to run with these images  (memes). However, from what I can tell on the (black) blogs, black folks have much respect for  Mr. Ramsey, and nodded their heads knowingly at his words.

I wish Mr. Ramsey well…

The Whitening of Black Women Celebrities

Yesterday, on my favorite entertainment blog, images popped up of celebrities at the  MET Costume Gala 2013. Most were jokes about how terrible everyone looked. I mean the point is they are supposed to look outrageous, not a hot mess :)…But, what really caught my eye, was this photo of Nicki Minaj:

Nicki Minaji @ MET Costume Gala 2013
Nicki Minaji @ MET Costume Gala 2013

I was shocked at how pale she looked. It’s obvious she has been lightening her skin. It seems par for the course these days, that black women can no longer look black in the media. I wrote a bit about this in my latest zine issue. In the piece “the destruction of the brown skin diva,” I looked at the marginalization of the  black female soul singer, in favor of white ones (e.g. Adele).  Besides their music, black women are being white washed in other ways, and that’s how they look. They now have to be the white standard of beauty.  I have nothing against black women wearing blonde, changing hairstyles/colors, because some black women can rock the style. But, it’s a bit disconcerting when the majority of our black women celebrities, are blonde. It’s also disturbing so many are whitening their skin.

Nicki Minaji just a few years ago:

Nicki Minaji 2008-2009
Nicki Minaj 2008-2009
Nicki Minaj 2008-2009
Nicki Minaj 2008-2009
Nicki Minaj 2008-2009
Nicki Minaj 2008-2009

Nicki now:

Nicki Minaj 2013
Nicki Minaj 2013
Nicki Minaji 2013
Nicki Minaj 2013
Nicki Minaj 2013
Nicki Minaj 2013

As an almost forty-year old woman, sometimes it’s hard for me not to get suckered into this white supremacist imagery. So, I can only imagine the impact it’s having on young black women/girls. Our Lauryn Hills, are far and few these days. As a 90’s high schooler/young adult, I remember all the popular dark/brown women singers, at the time. Brandy, Monica, Tanya Blount, Brownstone, Jade, Total, etc. I remember when Lil Kim, was a cute brown girl. Their style was attainable to me, because they looked like me.  Because of the whitewashing of black women celebrities, black women must work even harder to provide alternative images for our young women.

UPDATE: just saw this new single cover for Tamar Braxton…sigh

Tamar Braxton
Tamar Braxton

Racist Commercial Las Vegas 2013

I’m sure most folks have heard/seen this racist ad courtesy of Las Vegas.com…If not, here ya go:

The Sapphire stereotype is an image mainstream media loves of black women. They can project all of their hatred of blackness/women on this caricature. The loud black woman rolling her neck with long acrylics at her customer service job,  dehumanizes black women who work in these positions .  The Sapphire stereotype has been around forever.

As noted on the website, For Harriet: celebrating the fullness of black womanhood:

“Hard, strong, emasculating, overbearing and controlling are all characteristics of the traditional Sapphire stereotype.  Sapphire was created to threaten the power of the black male and to place a negative gaze upon any black woman who dared to critique the horrible conditions black women had to face.  The Sapphire stereotype was popularized by the character, Sapphire Stevens, in the mid 20th century television show Amos ‘n’ Andy. Today Sapphire has evolved into the angry black woman.  This stereotype is probably the most popular characterization of black women today.  This woman is always yelling, starting fights, and insulting men.  Reality television is perpetuating this stereotype more than ever by highlighting fights between black women and failed relationships with black men.  This stereotype has become such a popular way to view black women that our first lady, Michelle Obama, who exudes grace and class has been classified as a modern say Sapphire.”

http://www.forharriet.com/2013/02/from-mammy-to-sapphire-reincarnation-of.html 

I agree with the blogger’s sentiment. It’s obvious the images of black women have grown worse due to the presence of Mrs. Obama. There seems an urgent agenda to degrade and tear down the self-esteem of black women/girls. They can’t have other black women/girls thinking they can achieve all that Mrs. Obama has, now can they? Mrs. Obama was also initially portrayed as an angry black woman/Sapphire. The early criticisms included: her not smiling enough, her words “for the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country,” and her insistence on being viewed as equal to her husband. It’s not surprising that Mrs. Obama has now been regulated to background status. Now she is loved by the masses, because she no longer posses a threat. It’s obvious she has been forced/coerced to soften her style. White feminists have criticized this change, but it just show that  they have failed yet again, to look at the complexities of women of color lives. It’s a thin line Mrs. Obama teeters on, as the first black First Lady. While I wish she would do more, I understand. In any case, this commercial shows that black women must be diligent in resisting these stereotypes. These images are being put out there to  destroy and colonize our minds.

 

Angela Davis and Assata Shakur’s Lawyer Denounce FBI’s Adding of Exiled Activist to Terrorists List

Democracy NOW!

http://www.democracynow.org/2013/5/3/angela_davis_and_assata_shakurs_lawyer

An Open Letter from Assata Shakur: ‘I Am Only One Woman’

http://colorlines.com/archives/2013/05/assata_shakurs_open_letter_i_am_only_one_woman.html