Dr. Who Super-Quickie

Doctor Who Series 5 episode 4/BBC 2010

So as much smack talking as I have done about Matt Smith and the rehashed plots of the first few episodes of season 5 of the rebooted Dr. Who, you know that if I am saying what I am about to say, you better take it seriously: If you watch no other episodes this season, you need to watch “The Time of Angels” and “Flesh and Stone”. The two episode story that brings River Song and the Doctor back together to face the Weeping Angels are classic Doctor Who episodes that I would argue are among the finest the series has offered overall. (In the U.S. they air this weekend and next weekend.)

The writing is fresh and compelling; even though they are bringing back old villains, there is no re-hash in this episode at all. Everything is new. The story moves both the plot and the characters forward in truly compelling ways. More than that, it reinvents certain aspects of recognizable characters in ways that honors the past, something that has been missing from other episodes, while taking a fresh new and complex look at them. I wasn’t scared of the Angels before, in fact I found them kind of boring, but Moffat’s version ratchets up the creepy in ways that will make you think twice about how you look at statues and shadow.

ibid

Matt Smith’s emotional range in these episodes continues to be spot on, and unlike previous episodes, the arrogance he brings to the character is appropriately tempered by both the gravity of the situation he is in and the return of complex concerns the Doctor has about time and human connections. Watching these two episodes confirmed for me what I thought when watching the original one this season, when this year’s cast and crew gets it right they are going to knock it out of the park and knock it out they did. Smith’s Doctor was all the right mix of strength, concern, inquiry, and compassion. Unlike other episodes where I have worried that both the lack of restraint in his acting and in the writing itself was transforming the Doctor into a morally ambiguous arrogant twat, the Doctor who stand us in these two episodes is the Doctor I think any fan would follow to the ends of time and back again.

ibid

The only place these episodes fail for me, is when Amy Pond tries to jump the Doctor’s bones at the end of the two episode story arc. For younger viewers, this will no doubt go down in the “the new Doctor is HOT!” drivel that is dominating reviews of the show; for those of us with a more critical eye, it is another attempt to make Dr. Who racy instead of just trusting the plot and the audience. Obviously, I am not opposed to the Doctor having a life or hooking up with a companion, but the feminist in me sees nothing empowering about young Amy Pond’s googly eyes at the Doctor while he backs up in farcical horror. My issue is with the tone of this scene more than its content. The actors and the director seem to switch gears from typical Dr. Who fare to a British comedy in which the actors are laughing with the audience at something none of us is supposed to take too seriously. It isn’t just a totally different direction than Davies took with Dr. Who’s relationships, its that the direction lacks any real weight or seriousness that compels us as an audience to question what Amy Pond’s desires mean for her and for the Doctor or ties into the plot in ways that can be transformative or even sexy. (I am not saying the actors lack sex appeal for many people watching, I am saying it lacks sophistication and thus comes off comedic and I think that is intentional.) And I worry about how Moffat will make the leap from his comedic leanings with regards to these characters desires to the moments in every season of Dr. Who where these desires become serious.

Far more compelling for long term viewers is the way River Song takes the Doctor’s aid for granted and wraps him up in winks and nods tied up in a “Sweetie” bow while Pond teases him about it. Alex Kingston brings her A game to these episodes and raises the bar for everyone else on set and it shows. These three characters are at their best in this episode and especially when on screen together. If this is what is in store for us with Smith’s 5 year contract, then I am finally excited and on board.

What Are They Teaching Those Kids?

In the interest of full disclosure, I need to tell you that I was once recruited by Harvard as an undergraduate. Based on my SAT scores and GPA, they promised me early admission and a full tuition waiver as long as my application materials were in order. As I was considering their offer, I received several materials from Harvard which included information about housing discrimination that encouraged me to live far away from the Harvard area and take public transit into school and campus climate information that actually made me concerned for my safety as a student and as a person moving on and off campus regularly. That material was actually the deciding factor in my decision to go to a less recognized top 10 school where the funding was less inclusive but the community was much more so.

These events occurred before many of my non-faculty college readers were born and certainly before the “formative educational years” of the student in question below. So imagine my lack of surprise when I ventured over to PostBourgie blog and saw an article about a 3rd year, white, female, Harvard Law student who argued that black people’s genetic encoding may make them less intelligent than white people and that she was then defended by members of the Harvard community.

Stephanie Grace/unattributed

While I have pasted Stephanie Grace’s controversial letter below for your perusal, for me, the more interesting aspect of this case is the opinion poll about whether or not she was in fact being racist which I discuss further down in the post.

… I just hate leaving things where I feel I misstated my position.

I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as white people under the same circumstances. The fact is, some things are genetic. African Americans tend to have darker skin. Irish people are more likely to have red hair. (Now on to the more controversial:) Women tend to perform less well in math due at least in part to prenatal levels of testosterone, which also account for variations in mathematics performance within genders. This suggests to me that some part of intelligence is genetic, just like identical twins raised apart tend to have very similar IQs and just like I think my babies will be geniuses and beautiful individuals whether I raise them or give them to an orphanage in Nigeria. I don’t think it is that controversial of an opinion to say I think it is at least possible that African Americans are less intelligent on a genetic level, and I didn’t mean to shy away from that opinion at dinner.

I also don’t think that there are no cultural differences or that cultural differences are not likely the most important sources of disparate test scores (statistically, the measurable ones like income do account for some raw differences). I would just like some scientific data to disprove the genetic position, and it is often hard given difficult to quantify cultural aspects. One example (courtesy of Randall Kennedy) is that some people, based on crime statistics, might think African Americans are genetically more likely to be violent, since income and other statistics cannot close the racial gap. In the slavery era, however, the stereotype was of a docile, childlike, African American, and they were, in fact, responsible for very little violence (which was why the handful of rebellions seriously shook white people up). Obviously group wide rates of violence could not fluctuate so dramatically in ten generations if the cause was genetic, and so although there are no quantifiable data currently available to “explain” away the racial discrepancy in violent crimes, it must be some nongenetic cultural shift. Of course, there are pro-genetic counterarguments, but if we assume we can control for all variables in the given time periods, the form of the argument is compelling.

In conclusion, I think it is bad science to disagree with a conclusion in your heart, and then try (unsuccessfully, so far at least) to find data that will confirm what you want to be true. Everyone wants someone to take 100 white infants and 100 African American ones and raise them in Disney utopia and prove once and for all that we are all equal on every dimension, or at least the really important ones like intelligence. I am merely not 100% convinced that this is the case.

Please don’t pull a Larry Summers on me,
CRIMSON DNA

Stephanie’s letter was written to clarify a discussion she had with two other female Harvard Law School students in the cafeteria, all of whom are in their last year of law school.  The conversation was about affirmative action. Both Stephanie and another student in the group opposed Affirmative Action, and at least one of the three women put forward the genetic argument about intelligence as one of the reasons they opposed what they felt was affirmative action related admission of black students into places like Harvard. In other words, one can infer that a white female student at one of the top rated institutions in this country, about to complete an advanced degree in higher ed, was arguing that black people do not deserve to go to places like Harvard because they are stupid. AND black are “stupid” because they are “genetically inferior to white people.”

Both these students’ level of education and the context of their conversation are  critical here. These are not Freshman with limited access to diverse knowledge or research skills. They are people who have completed one or more undergraduate degrees, that should have provided 12 or more credits of general education (ie a breadth of basic humanities and science knowledge and diversity credits) and basic research skills and diversity education in their major. They are also on the verge of completing an advanced degree at one of the highest rat4ed education facilities in the country. Meaning, they should have above and beyond the basic research skills, theories, and data (at least legal data) to recognize outdated and statistically unsupported research like eugenicism. (For those who do not know, among the many things eugenicism argued was that racially groups are genetically different and that people of color are genetically inferior both with regards to their intelligence and capacity for civility and civic engagement; all of which, has been proven inaccurate by social science and scientific research including the genome project. Among its many discoveries, the genome project proves beyond a reasonable scientific doubt that human being are actually more genetically similar than dissimilar.)

Science aside, social norms continue to reflect eugenicist thinking. Thus, for those of us who attended high ranking colleges and universities or fill positions at them, law firms, or businesses, Stephanie and her friends’ comments about are not new. From a white supremacist perspective, people of color “unfairly” “take spots” away from white students or employees who have “earned” those spots. In other words, Affirmative Action gives unquestioningly “unqualified” people of color jobs and education that unquestioningly “qualified” white people would otherwise occupy.

Regardless of white entrenchment believes however, the majority of black students in high ranking institutions, regardless of whether they are faculty or students, represent the top 10-15% of their class while similar white students represent the top 30%. These statistics are not racially exclusive. Meaning, black students are not at the top 10% of black students but rather the top 10% of their classes, ie all students, including white ones. In the same way that white students are not at the top 30% of white students but rather of all students in their schools, including people of color. Thus the common perception that black students in the ivy league are either ignorant in general or only smarter than other black people is inaccurate.

Contrary to popular belief, Affirmative Action is also not a “black program.” The largest group benefiting from Affirmative Action is WHITE WOMEN not black people (regardless of gender). One of the largest ironies about challenges to Affirmative Action is that white women have been at the forefront of legal challenges to these programs, particularly with regards to admissions decisions, yet, they are the largest benefactors.

The failure of white female Harvard Law students to engage readily available statistical information while claiming both a right to intellectual inquiry and evidence in order to hide a racist supposition is not only racially offensive it is also poor scholarship. Rather than engaging in intellectual inquiry then these women negated it at the most basic levels in order to re-entrench themselves in racial privilege.

Yet, not only was Stephanie’s “right to intellectual inquiry” defended at Above the Law but according to their online poll (based on a review of the stats on 5/3/2010 @ 12pm):

  • 56.8% of their readers believe that no racism was involved
  • 34.4% believe there was nothing offensive about the assertion that black people are less smart than white people (including 12% who believe the statement to be true)
  • 34.4% found it “somewhat offensive”
  • 68.8% felt the comments were somewhere between correct and only slightly offensive; meaning slightly more than 30% found the comments unacceptable

Since the poll is online, it is unclear how many of the respondents are members of the Harvard community. However, one can assume that the majority of the people reading Above the Law have some relationship or knowledge of Harvard in order to know about the publication and because many of the statements in the comment section identify people as Harvard Students or alums. (Above the Law is a legal blog that covers stories about the top law schools and legal controversies in the U.S. )

Early in the conflict, Stephanie was cast as the victim. Both she and others claimed that the controversy surrounding her “innocent” questions “based on liberal politics” jeopardized her status at the school, advancement through internships, clerkships, and mentoring, and any number of other complaints as documented on multiple academic and legal message boards, blogs, and newspaper comment sections.

Some even claimed that the Black Law Student Association at Harvard was actively trying to take her internship at the 9th Circuit Court away and stirring up a maelstrom against her. These comments were recreated online (and presumably in print) by Above the Law. Yet, the BLSA denies having done anything to impact Stephanie’s internship or otherwise sanction her, and they would not have the power to do so even if they had wanted to. Such sanctions would have to come from either Harvard Law itself or from the 9th Circuit Court not an organization representing black students on campus. But in order to understand that, you would have to be thinking rationally. If, on the other hand, you process these events through the lens of white entrenchment then the fact a white student maligned the intelligence of an entire race and student organizations have no power to sanction students with regards to their academic is erased in favor of the myth that black people have unfair power in this country and wield it regularly against the aspirations of white people.

On Thursday, April 29, The Dean of Harvard Law, Martha Minow, corroborated the BLSA’s denials in an open letter to the Law School community:

Dear members of the Harvard Law School community:

I am writing this morning to address an email message in which one of our students suggested that black people are genetically inferior to white people.

This sad and unfortunate incident prompts both reflection and reassertion of important community principles and ideals. We seek to encourage freedom of expression, but freedom of speech should be accompanied by responsibility. This is a community dedicated to intellectual pursuit and social justice. The circulation of one student’s comment does not reflect the views of the school or the overwhelming majority of the members of this community.

As news of the email emerged yesterday, I met with leaders of our Black Law Students Association to discuss how to address the hurt that this has brought to this community. For BLSA, repercussions of the email have been compounded by false reports that BLSA made the email public and pressed the student’s future employer to rescind a job offer. A troubling event and its reverberations can offer an opportunity to increase awareness, and to foster dialogue and understanding. The BLSA leadership brought this view to our meeting yesterday, and I share their wish to turn this moment into one that helps us make progress in a community dedicated to fairness and justice.

Here at Harvard Law School, we are committed to preventing degradation of any individual or group, including race-based insensitivity or hostility. The particular comment in question unfortunately resonates with old and hurtful misconceptions. As an educational institution, we are especially dedicated to exposing to the light of inquiry false views about individuals or groups.

I am heartened to see the apology written by the student who authored the email, and to see her acknowledgement of the offense and hurt that the comment engendered.

I would like to thank the faculty, administrators, and students who have already undertaken serious efforts to increase our chances for mutual understanding, confrontation of falsehoods, and deliberative engagement with difficult issues, and making this an ever better community.

Sincerely,
Martha Minow

While her letter is seemingly non-committal enough that those who support Stephanie and her supporters’ assertion that she was simply engaging in intellectual inquiry can focus on the beginning of the letter to find support and those who find the lack of intellectual depth and basic research allowing for such an assertion offensive can find it in the last part of the letter, we cannot forget that Minow is both Dean and being considered for a Supreme Court nod. Her job is to protect the school’s reputation and ultimately to protect her own aspirations. At the same time, those of us who are used to writing or reading these kinds of letters can see that Minow held a meeting with black students, condemns racial disparity, and is trying to shift an increasingly tense situation toward a learning opportunity.

Another key aspect of Minow’s letter, is her reference to Stephanie’s apology for her comments. Very few articles addressing this issue have mentioned Stephanie’s apology. On the one hand, her apology at least represents some acknowledgment that she was putting forward a line of thinking that is both racially biased and unsupportable. On the other, it has become all too common to issue an apology when one gets caught saying something racist and experiences a minimum of public sanction for it; most recently, John Mayer offered one and was back to his usual self/twitter adoration in less than two weeks. In Stephanie’s case, her apology was sent not to the students whom she addressed her initial comments (who we can assume somewhat agree with them) nor to the Law School at large but rather to the BLSA. Stephanie’s comments have negatively impacted the entire law school as people question what is going on at Harvard nor were her comments directed at any specific member or leader of the BLSA. Thus directing her apology to the black student association represents 1) the narrow idea that racism only impacts black people and 2) continues the personalization of this incident so as to erase both the other people involved and the milieu that allowed to occur in the first place. Worse, her focus on intent (assuming erroneously that one has to be aware of being racist in order to commit a racist act) and her own pain at the situation (ie continuing to cast herself as partial victim in an act she committed against others, b/c she too is in pain) continue the “good person” narrative that permeates similar public apologies with limited real paradigm shifts. As such, her apology smacks of a John Mayer more than a learning curve in which she has learned anything about race and racism:

I am deeply sorry for the pain caused by my email. I never intended to cause any harm, and I am heartbroken and devastated by the harm that has ensued. I would give anything to take it back.

I emphatically do not believe that African Americans are genetically inferior in any way. I understand why my words expressing even a doubt in that regard were and are offensive.

I would be grateful to have an opportunity to share my thoughts and to apologize to you in person.

Even beforehand, I want to extend an apology to you and to anyone else who has been hurt by my actions.

Equally telling, is that her apology denies that she has ever supported the idea that black people’s genetics make them less smart than white people even though that is exactly what is implied by the letter she initially sent. Or to be more precise, the language of her original letter implies that someone else at the table, who has emerged from this controversy unscathed in the pursuit of erasing large context and milieu, put forward the idea that black people were ignorant b/c of genetic inferiority; Stephanie then decided that she was willing and able to agree with the idea that black people were intellectually inferior after thinking it over. The sad thing is, at some point in the conversation that predated the email in question, Stephanie likely argued against a genetic argument hence why she felt she needed to clarify she was open to the idea later. Again, as this story is fleshed out, I think it would be wrong to forget that this conversation involved other people, had a larger context of racist discourse, and that the pressure to align with whiteness at Harvard was enough to encourage Stephanie to change her mind in writing and to believe that doing so would not lead to any social sanction should that email surface. While that pressure seems to have shifted as national level concern has been raised about Stephanie’s comments, we cannot forget that the internal pressures Stephanie felt were decidedly in a different direction. Nor is the national level concern and the Dean’s own statements about inclusively supported by the poll cited in this post which shows the majority of respondents overwhelmingly unconcerned about the racism of the comments Stephanie made or the conversation as a whole. Moreover, Stephanie and her pro-genetic argument colleagues involved in this conversation are not first year undergraduates with limited access to knowledge about diversity and/or basic research skills, they are third year graduate students in a Law School with considerable knowledge about how to do research.

As far as I know, despite the victim stance of Stephanie’s supporters, Stephanie retains her lucrative admission to Harvard and all of the intellectual, social and economic capital it represents and her clerkship with the 9th Circuit Court and access to all of the doors of power such a clerkship will ultimately open for her. Her fellow students, involved in the conversation against Affirmative Action, have escaped without critique or seemingly-socially-forced apology. While no one should question their right to stay in school based on their comments, I do think we have to question their internships as well as their overall contribution to the law. After all, their thoughts about black people’s intelligence, genetics, and right to higher education certainly raise concerns about what they will contribute to an already biased legal system. Their commitment to a genetics argument about racial intelligence, certainly casts doubts about why they have been given opportunities, like interning at the 9th Circuit, over other students with a wider breadth of knowledge and a deeper capacity for basic research.

The irony in this debacle is of course that were Stephanie and her friends reading a story about a black Harvard student who engaged in a line of questioning that could easily be addressed by looking at secondary data and reading around the subject, they would likely use it as proof that Affirmative Action, and not qualification, had gotten that student admission to Harvard. Given what we know about the largest group benefiting from Affirmative Action in the U.S., it’s hard not to throw Stephanie and her friends’ thinking right back at their feet.

Go Ask Alice II (SyFy Channel Movie Review – Spoilers)

In Part I of my “Go Ask Alice” posts, I suggested that your money might be better spent renting the SyFy Channel’s update of the Alice in Wonderland story called Alice and waiting to see Tim Burton’s version on cable.  While I enjoyed much of Burton’s film, I honestly have no faults with the SyFy version (though the lyricism of the original is gone from the latter). Those familiar with SyFy Saturday film offerings should be reasonably skeptical here, but unlike those z-rate bad CGI throwaways, Alice is a medium budget film, has both new comers and accomplished actors and actresses, and a well written script.

James Dittiger/SyFy

Like Burton’s version, SyFy’s Alice also stars a grown up main character in a Wonderland set in the far of future from the time of the original story. This time the mid-to-late 20 something Alice lives with her mother and believes her father abandoned them when she was just a girl. She is drawn into the world of Wonderland through the capture of her boyfriend and potential fiance Jack, who is seemingly kidnapped by the White Rabbit. Thus begins an adventure that is more 1960s 007 than Victorian classic in which Alice holds the key to restoring both Wonderland and the lives of enslaved human beings.

At the center of the plot for SyFy’s version of the classic tale is a sort of Brave New World dependence on drugs to make the Wonderland population docile and obedient. To quote Director, Nick Willing:

“What I was interested in was [the idea of] being able to manufacture your emotions. One of the things I fear may happen to us is that we swap genuine emotions for something that is given to us. We cry at the television commercial and think that those tears are genuine. I was fascinated with, not so much in how these things could be addictive, but how we are slowly constructing a world where we swap genuine emotions or something which is manufactured cheaply. Wonderland seemed to be a good place to set that in because the Queen of Hearts has that kind of personality in the book.” (SyFy)

In this world, the “soma” comes from the milking of human emotions against their will and without their knowledge. The White Rabbit, an organization of henchmen trained to serve the interests of the Queen of Hearts, use the Looking Glass to enter the human world and steal unsuspecting humans for the procedure. These humans, called “oysters” because of the “precious pearl” of emotions inside them, are then put in a trance state and sent to the Casino where neurotransmitters in the floor collect their emotional responses to sexual stimulus, success at gambling, and other similar emotions. Like the oysters in the original Alice and Wonderland, the humans are entirely consumed by the people supposedly caring for and keeping them safe. Their emotions fuel a legal drug trade that is robbing Wonderland of its sanity, strength, and sense of purpose. Among those in charge are the re-imagined Walrus and Carpenter who are in control of the emotions extraction science and who, in the case of the Carpenter, ensure Alice’s import to revolution.

Standing against the tide is the resistance made up of a series of human versions of anthropomorphised animal characters from the book.

Animals

white rabbit/Dittiger/SyFy; white rabbit promo event/unattributed; Mad March/Dittiger/SyFy

There are no animals in Alice, unless you count the completely erased Cheshire cat. Instead, each of the characters has been re-imagined as human on both sides of the war. As I’ve already said, the White Rabbit is no langer a bunny in a top coat but instead a white haired man in a full suit with two ponytails down his back like rabbit ears. Alongside him, and his fellow henchmen who wear the mark of the White Rabbit organization, is Mad March (the hare). Willing’s March is a goon straight out of Goodfellas with a heavy accent and a pension for violence. A previous accident has left him without a head, so in keeping with the animals as human theme, Mad March’s head has been replaced by a porcelain rabbit head.

Tim Curry as Dodo/Dittiger/SyFy

The “animals” on the resistance side are no less imaginative. Dodo has been transformed from a bird into a cunning leader of the resistance played by Tim Curry. Where the original Dodo and the “caucus race” highlighted the problems with governmental caucus during  the late 1800s, the re-imagined Dodo questions the efficacy of a resistance in which winning matters more than the people for whom one fights. Tim Curry’s Dodo is willing to kill both oysters and Wonderlanders to overthrow the Queen of Hearts and he is willing to do so without consulting the rest of the resistance leadership. Moreover, at one point in his struggle with Hatter, he tells the members of his cell (also animals in the original) that they will not have to live in the basement any longer, implying that his real motivation is his own personal power over the political system of Wonderland. Whether you read Dodo as a beleaguered rebel who has sold his idealism for the follies of power over others or as a dogmatic leader who was really never as interested in the people as he was being at the helm of the cause, this re-imagining is a powerful though brief critique of politics on the left.

Alice, Caterpillar, & Jack/Dittiger/SyFy

Perhaps the best re-imagining of an animal character is the Caterpillar, who is now the eccentric head of the resistance. While he is visually stunning in his velvet smoking jacket that resembles the actual animal, gone is the seemingly nonsensical wisdom and condescending majestic of the character. Instead, this Caterpillar knows exactly who Alice is and why she is needed. Though he still seems to float outside of both worlds, he lets Alice know in no uncertain terms what is at stake in the struggle for Wonderland. Like Burton’s White Queen, he also asks Alice to choose the burden she must bear, but unlike Burton’s White Queen, he comes across as both compassionate and burdened by the struggle around him. As the alternative face of resistance, he both contextualizes why Dodo would have grown weary with his underground machinations and why real activism requires a commitment to The People (both the oppressed and those who have not yet learned that oppression exists) as much as the ideas for social justice to be successful.

While all of these characters are truly innovative and seeing how they translate is its own kind of magic, the absence of the Cheshire Cat illustrates what is lost in the SyFy version. Instead of the magical disappearing creature who is both wise and wily, we get an ordinary cat who walks through one scene in order to direct Alice’s attention to where she must go. In the original the animals provided both the biting critique and the whimsy of the text, their poetry and lyrical deconstruction of words and ideology was essential to the wonder in the land. SyFy’s Alice has neither lyricism nor much non-human magic, in fact, in a very literal sense, magic is replaced by technology. For die-hards of the original, the absences here will be a major stumbling block and yet, as some one who loves the lyricism and what it represents in the orignal Alice in Wonderland, I can’t say this version is worse, rather it is unique and intriguing despite its key differences. (I would also add that Willing’s Hatter is in some ways the way I would imagine the Cheshire Cat as human. His spikey hair, humor, and ability to move between the Queendom and the resistance with guile, is very similar to the dual agent I assume the Cat would be in Willing’s Wonderland, and yet, I think Willing really should have put his immense imagination toward transforming the Cheshire Cat as a character in his own right.)

You will also note that the absence of animals also means the absence of comment on the treatment of animals.

Women and/or Feminism

The conflict in SyFy’s Alice is between the resistance and the Hearts. Men outnumber women on both sides of the conflict, and in fact, the resistance is almost exclusively populated by men versus the Hearts which have some key female players. This is obviously problematic; what kind of new world will Wonderlanders have if there are no high ranking female resistance fighters? Nevertheless, the women on all sides of the conflict represent intelligent, savvy, and self-directed characters who do what they want to get what they want.

In the real world, Alice is a martial arts expert with commitment issues. One of Willing’s most subtle comments on gender politics, is the way he consistently blocks the characters in fight scenes so that the men of the resistance try to position Alice behind them but ultimately Alice must come from behind to protect both herself and them. Time and again, it is Alice who rescues them from impossible odds with her physical strength and bravery. Though, like the original, she often marches into situations without a clue how she will handle them, she also comes up with some of the best plans to rescue her father, her friends, and the humans.

Alice and Jack/Dittiger/SyFy

Where her feminism may falter, is in the fact that Alice is motivated by her heterosexual love affair with Jack. All though she will not go with Jack when he invites her to meet his mother, she follows him through the Looking Glass when she thinks he is in danger. Her decision is far from lovestruck, she actually falls into the Looking Glass while demanding the White Rabbit agent tell her what he has done to Jack. Nevertheless, she does not go to Wonderland out of curiosity or interest but rather to find her boyfriend.

Despite all of the stories about the oppressive reign of the Queen of Hearts, during the first half of the movie Alice cares very little about the oppression in Wonderland. Instead, she continues to redirect everyone to her quest to save Jack. When Hatter tells her that she has inspired him to join the resistance in earnest and fight for his people’s freedom, Alice actually gets upset because she is starting to like him and his decision for the greater good means he can’t spend all his time following her around. This is hardly revolutionary sexual politics here. All though her motivation changes near the end of the film, toward saving all of the humans, her story still ends with the kind of family romance tale of patriarchy’s past. (And just to be clear, it is a romantic tale in which I too rooted for the man Alice chooses and was swept away by their reunion, but it is still problematic that Alice’s story ends with “alas dear reader, I married him.”)

Queen and King of Hearts/Dittiger/SyFy

The Queen of Hearts in Alice is true to the original in her myopia and her cruelty. Unlike Burton, who reduces the Queen to a differently-abled meglomaniac whose psychosis is a direct result of her “laughable” physical difference, Willing gives us a Queen drunk on power. She runs the kingdom with a heavy hand not because she is unloved, the King loves her, but because she is easily bored and does not tolerate incompetence. Her commitment to the mining of human emotions is also more complex than simply oppressing one group of people (humans) in order to oppress another (Wonderlanders); in this version, the drugs keep Wonderland’s economy booming and an economic depression at bay. Much like Dodo then, the Queen is a commentary on investment in power by any means necessary.  Like Thatcher, the Queen of Hearts uses the master’s tools to run the Queendom and those tools are based upon and honed in oppression. For those who support a feminist narrative invested in female leadership at any cost, the Queen of Hearts has done her part. She employs a vast amount of the population, works to keep the economy prosperous, has ended overt war, and is respected as the most powerful person in the land and yet, she is a violent, slave-owning, leader who spies on and terrifies her people and revels in the psychotic aspects of her rule. Hardly the woman anyone would want in charge or representing the face of feminism.


The Duchess/ Dittiger/SyFy

Rounding out the female cast is the Duchess, Jack’s fiance. I must admit that what I love about her is that she looks like she was torn from the pages of Barbarella with her long tresses, heavy eye make-up, and go go boots. As implied, where Alice represents female brain and braun and the Queen of Hearts represents corrupt female leadership, the Duchess is all female sexual power. While many will dismiss her as just another pretty face in a short skirt, the Queen of Hearts tells us the Duchess is one of her best operatives. Not only is she good at getting information and manipulating men around her, but it soon becomes clear that the Duchess is no coquette. Instead, she understands that in the largely male world of Wonderland her survival depends on the ability to both manipulate men and align with powerful women. Like Alice, in the course of the story, she never compromises her own integrity for power. And while she does feel considerably jealous of Alice, Willing makes sure not to play up unilateral violence or internalized sexism between the two women beyond the Duchess’ reducing Alice with a glare. There is something wonderful about how Willing allows the Duchess to work while still making Alice the object of desire in the room; in lesser hands, these moments would have come off as trite, useless female infighting, or simply a game of who is prettier (which they do play but only until everyone’s motivations are finally on the table).

The Duchess, Jack, and Alice/ Dittiger/SyFy

While I would not say that these characters are all feminist or even that the majority of them are, they are far more complex than either the orignal Alice in Wonderland or Tim Burton’s film make women out to be. I liked that each one of the main female characters had both positive and negative characteristics, that they were motivated by both individual feeling and larger structural issues, and that at no time did the script degenerate into a “cat fight” that demeaned one or more of the women involved. Instead Willing’s directorial eye seems to treat each of these women with respect even as he remains true to the critique of the Queen and her Queendom.

This is not to say that film is without unnecessary eye candy. The casino is populated by Vegas Show Girls and mini-skirted black jack dealers whose job is to look pretty and keep the peace. Most of these girls have no names and no lines and are simply background. And while the femme in me revels at the Duchess’ outfits and thinks they are appropriate for the role she plays, some will likely take offense to how much skin she shows and that her major power comes from seduction.

The only woman on the side of the resistance, besides Alice, is a mouse; literally a woman playing what was once a mouse in the original text. She dresses like a 1950s housewife and squeaks her way through her role. However, when she believes the resistance is threatened she steps up, showing a steely resolve that is otherwise absent from the character.

Race

10 of clubs/dittiger/SyFy

Willing also does a great job of taking a film originally set in England and remembering that it can populate it with anyone. While there are no people of color in major roles, there are two in recurring ones. Both the Nine and Ten of Clubs are played by men of color, one Asian-Canadian and one Latino. Both of these characters are high ranking officers in the Queens court and empowered to put even her son and her spies in check when they are not following the Queens demands. The Nine of Clubs, played by Alessandro Juliani, formerly Commander Gaeta on BSG, is so important that the King of Hearts stays his execution when the King orders him killed in a rage.

There are no major female characters of color in Alice. However, Carmelina Cupo, who is 1/2 Italian and 1/2 Latina, plays the only dealer in the Casino with a speaking role. Like the men of color in the Queens court, Cupo holds a position that is seemingly interchangeable and yet integral to the running of the entire Queendom. Cupo also tries to stand up to Alice when Alice begins the overthrow of the Hearts.

The near absence of women of color calls the Duchess’ role into question. As the femme fatale, her blonde-haired blue-eyed, alabaster skinned, presence as the woman everyone wants reaffirms white hegemony through sexual desire. Not only is she Barbie but she is a Duchess to Cupo’s black jack girl. And yet, in a world in which woc are absent, Willing really does take the Barbie as beautiful myth to task by making Alice the center of everyone’s attention and desire and recasting Alice as a dark haired, intelligent, and physically strong woman. Ultimately, the critical eye he takes to white women does not negate the need for more women of color in this film.

It is always easy to excuse away why there are no characters of color in fantasy or sci-fi, especially when the material was written in the past. What astounds me about how easy it is, is the fact that people are willing to accept talking animals, singing plants, or even aliens and twenty tentacled demons before they are willing to ask why there are no people of color or queer folk in fantasy land. While Willing doesn’t offer us major poc characters, or any queer ones, I for one am grateful he at least tried.

Ability

Frewer as the White Knight/Dittiger/SyFy

As I said in my review of Burton’s Alice and Wonderland, the ableism of that movie is entirely invented when it comes to physical difference. Willing therefore neither needs nor uses similar devices in his plot. In fact, he has stripped Hatter of his supposed madness, which readers of the book will know was more of a disguise than an imbalance anyway, and replaced it with cunning and know-how.

There is one character who is clearly “mad”: The White Knight. Matt Frewer, who usually delights, was grating as the seemingly unstable man who has taken on the White Knight persona in lieu of there being any surviving Knights from the war. His madness however is indistinguishable from his actual psychic abilities and pure luck. In many ways, Willing offers us a character whose abilities are more in keeping with the idea of people, regardless of ability, as differently-abled; while the sane characters in his script are prone to inexplicable behavior, the mad man in Alice is often able to use his “madness” to get the job done. When he fails, he fails due to cowardice not mental instability.

Conclusion


What Alice lacks in whimsy and lyricism, it more than makes up for in intrigue and innovation. The story is compelling from beginning to end. Instead of giving us trite and transparent venues and flat characters, Alice and it’s Director, Willing, gives us a vibrant, three dimensional, reimagining in which each and every character is complex. (Though I didn’t spend time on them in this review, It should also be noted that Potts does a superb job as Hatter and the re-imagining of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum as mindbending torturers for the Queen is inspired.) Willing also retains both the class critique of the original and adds to it a critical eye to modern societal issues and what they mean for who we are becoming. His criticism of leadership and his subtle exploration of resistance are far more powerful than much of what we get in this world of blogging, twitter, and headline news.

My only criticisms are that the Cheshire Cat is missing and the White Knight is truly annoying. When Frewer is centered in the scene, I literally found myself holding my head and looking away. But other than that, I did not want to miss a minute and neither should you.

If you didn’t see it on cable in December, you can rent it at your local video store, check it out through Netflix, or buy it for fairly cheap on both itunes and local video stores. I guarantee you that in comparison to the over-hyped and underwhelming Burton version, you will think it is money well spent.

Please Don’t Forget Haiti

I promised to tweet on the first of every month reminding people to stay vigilant in their support of Haitian recovery and relief. I set aside the following post to do the same, but it did not post when scheduled, so here it is now:

As the media turns away from Haiti, Haitian children become even more vulnerable to coerced immigration, Haitian women become more vulnerable to the military and prison industrial complexes that seem far too prevalent in the relief efforts, and the Haitian people become even more vulnerable to exploitation born out of centuries old retaliation for daring to take back their freedom. If you can, please consider giving more money to Haitian relief and making sure that where you give is actually serving in a decolonized and intersectional way. If you don’t have the funds to give, consider spending some time this month re-raising awareness about Haiti, re-energizing your communities for Haiti’s relief and recovery, and re-committing yourself to being a global witness to ensure that Haiti is not re-colonized b/c nature provided the tragedy necessary for an unnatural disaster.

Mud Mothers

AFP/Getty/Unattributed

the children of haiti
are not mythological
we are starving
or eating salty cakes
made of clay

because in 1804 we felled
our former slave captors
the graceless losers sunk
vindictive yellow
teeth into our forests

what was green is now
dust & everyone knows
trees unleash oxygen
(another humble word
for life)

they took off
with our torn branches
beheaded our future
stuck our breath up on pikes
for all the world to see

we are a living dead example
of what happens to warriors who―
in lieu of fighting for white men’s countries―
dare to fight
for their own lives

during carnival
we could care less
about our bloated empty bellies
where there are voices
we are dancing

where there is vodou
we are horses
where there are drums
we are possessed
with joy & stubborn jamboree

but when the makeshift
trumpet player
runs out of rhythmic breath
the only sound left is guts
grumbling

& we sigh
to remember
that food
& freedom
are not free

is haiti really free
if our babies die starving?
if we cannot write our names
read our rights keep
our leaders in their seats?

can we be free
really? if our mothers are mud? if dead
columbus keeps cursing us
& nothing changes
when we curse back

we are a proud resilient people
though we return to dust daily
salt gray clay with hot black tears
savor snot cakes
over suicide

we are hungry
creative people
sip bits of laughter
when we are thirsty
dance despite

this asthma
called debt
congesting
legendarily liberated
lungs

- Lenelle Moïse

Lenelle Moïse hailed “a masterful performer” by GetUnderground.com, is an award-winning “culturally hyphenated pomosexual” poet, playwright and performance artist. She creates jazz-infused, hip-hop bred, politicized texts about Haitian-American identity and the intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality, spirituality and resistance. In addition to featured performances in venues as diverse as the Louisiana Superdome, the United Nations General Assembly Hall and a number of theatres, bookstores, cafes and activist conferences, Lenelle regularly performs her acclaimed autobiographical one-woman show WOMB-WORDS, THIRSTING at colleges across the United States.

····
Moïse will be featured at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, March 10-13, 2010, in Washington, DC. The festival will present readings, workshops, panel discussions, youth programming, film, activism – four days of creative transformation as we imagine a way forward, hone our community and activist skills, and celebrate the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for social change. For more information: info@splitthisrock.org.

Please feel free to forward Split This Rock Poem-of-the-Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this email, including this request. Thanks!

This poem is reprinted from Split This Rock’s blog–where you can find other great poems and poetry news <http://blogthisrock.blogspot.com>

FAT

Today as I was closing down my office and getting ready to leave, I witnessed a student being called a “fat ass loser” by her own father, a large man with a beer gut. Not only were his comments abusive in general, they were incongruent with both the realities of his own body and hers; moreover they exposed the gendered nature of the cult of thinness in our culture and how it is mobilized, even in situations in which bodies and body size have no relevance, to demean and control women and girls. While his actions were done on an individual level, meant to police her physical and educational mobility, they relied on a growing fatphobic culture  that depends on blaming individuals for the shape of their bodies while ignoring intersecting structural inequities, real mental and physical health, and multiple industries that profit off of both the existence of “fat” people and the fear of fatness ( defined in ever expanding ways to increase said profit). Popular media (like celebrity and obese dieting shows) and presidential foci (from Reagan’s presidential fitness plan to the present) combine to send the message that “overweight” is a universal and natural term that shows a Calvinistic lack of discipline and represents an undue economic burden on the nation; from public spaces to private conversations, despising the “fat body”, whether simply thick or morbidly obese, subsequently becomes normalized and emotional, physical, sexual, or economic (ie refusing to hire) violence against the women inhabiting them becomes ok.  In other words, the discourse surrounding “fat” produces seemingly justifiable fatphobia because it argues that all people really need is

  1. self-control
  2. to choose healthy food
  3. exercise

While these are all things that lead to healthy bodies, they are not as simple as one might think. On the one hand this trinity of health assumes access to healthy food and exercise that is not as ubiquitous as implied and on the other, they assume that people with large bodies are over eating and under exercising when this too is not always the case. In fact, many large people are starving b/c they are caught in yo-yo diets and the fear of being seen enjoying even the simplest meal in public spaces.

Some of the structural issues this mantra of “health vs Sloth” ignores (and therefore fails to confront):

  1. each year our portions get larger
  2. our modified food gets less real (ie manufactured or modified ingredients outnumber those found in nature)
  3. the number of preservatives, salt, butter, and sugar in foods that need none of these continues to balloon
  4. medications whose primary or secondary side effect is weight gain constitute a considerable portion of the medical market
  5. research into correcting thyroid problems is stagnant
  6. starving yourself or yo-you dieting can lead to massive weight gain b/c your metabolism slows down
  7. most jobs are sedentary and being sedentary most of the day can lead to weight gain espec. when coupled with emotional issues or lack of sleep
  8. insurance either does not cover or does not encourage thyroid testing and people are not taught to ask questions related to thyroid health
  9. gyms are generally not set up to be ADA compliant beyond the basics – meaning equipment, trainers, classes, etc. are unavailable, harmful, or simply inaccessible
  10. some low income neighborhoods, particularly black ones, have no access to grocery stores in their own neighborhoods and the kwikimarts don’t sell fresh produce or produce at peak
  11. “organic” produce has become a niche/lifestyle market, that has grown up alongside the fatphobia industry, and thus is priced out of most low income family budgets
  12. organic produce is seldom available in working class neighborhoods and the stores are often not inviting to working class or poc customers
  13. while a burger at McDonald’s costs 99 cents, an apple at Whole Foods costs $4 or more; when you are on a limited budget cost matters
  14. exercise equipment and playgrounds in low income neighborhoods and most communities of color are inadequate or unsafe even in schools
  15. Stress, which is generally higher among parenting families, working class and subsistence level families, and traditionally marginalized people is a leading cause of certain kinds of weight gain

The list goes on. And when we stop to interrogate the difference between the individual decision-making model of the cult of thinness and the realities of an industry that perpetuates itself through the dual arms of negative industries (like fast food and diet pills) and “positive industries” (like organic produce and “green” gyms that are priced out of most people’s budgets, located outside of most working class and poc neighborhoods, and designed to attract middle class white liberal shoppers over working class, rural, or poc shoppers) we cannot help but witness how the myth of undisciplined, intentionally slovenly or sloth-like, bodies masks intersecting oppressions and punishes individuals regardless of body type. So while there really are things each of us can do to be healthy, the discourse of “healthy bodies” or “fat bodies” relies on self-hate and increasingly blatant hatred and discrimination against large bodies regardless of whether they are healthy or not, or who has conspired to make them unhealthy when they are so.

One counter point comes from young, large, girls themselves in the form of the body positiveness exemplified by Oscar nominee Sidibe to the “Fat Dinosty” series introduced to me by @biancalaureano when I tweeted some of the specifics of the hallway incident at the top of this post:

The next time you are inclined to affirm the myth of the doughnut guzzling super-sloth through fatphobic comments or thoughts, consider some of the things on the list above or simply how fatphobia is breaking down the self-esteem of both thin and thick girls all over this nation. Our bodies do not come in one size fits all, but one sure sign that you are thinking through the lens of oppression is when the ideas you subscribe to do.

BHM: Lucille Clifton

Today’s Black Herstory Month post is both in honor of an amazing poet and a sad announcement that Ms Clifton died early this morning.

Lucille Clifton wrote her first book of poetry, Good Times, while still employed as a social service worker for the state of New York. Despite critical acclaim for her premiere collection, she stayed with the state for 2 more years out of a commitment to doing social justice from within.

In 1971, she became a full time poet and frequent artist in residence. She was part of a contemporary African-American and black poetic re-imagining that posited a black aesthetic into poetic form. Thus she used a number of free form and “unconventional” techniques to centered the lives, language(s), and vision of black people in her work and also combined several spiritual traditions from Christianity to Hinduism to Yoruba. The radicalism of her first collections, especially Good News, led some white reviewers to conclude that she “hates whites” rather than to see her complex confrontation of racism and her hopeful positing of poems about black leadership and religious figures as a way to over come them. Her collections also centered women’s lives and women’s issues. Two such collection, The Good Woman and the Two-Headed Woman were nominated for Pulitzer Prizes. She also received several female poet awards, local artist awards, and two fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts. The Good Woman in particular addressed many of Clifton’s personal triumphs and tragedies as a woman, wife, mother, daughter, and sister. Many of these poems also addressed mental and physical disabilities in her family and the way they intersect with the women in her family’s lives. In her collection Quilting, she uses the quilt forms often associated with black female quiltmakers to tell a story of black female history from unnamed slaves, to Fannie Lou Hamer, to Winnie Mandela, embracing the diasporic identities of black women around the globe and highlighting specific liberation struggles. Her poems to her uterus and about menstruation are oft-quoted amongst feminists and women’s groups as well.

Clifton reading her poem “Homage to My Hips”

She was also a prolific writer of children’s books geared toward African American children and showing them in a positive light in literature. Among these books was her Everett Anderson series that centered the adventures and life lessons of young black boy living in the inner-city. Everett Anderson’s Goodbye won the Coretta Scott King Award in 1984. Her collaboration on adaptations of her books led to an Academy Award. Her children’s books about women and girls often centered black girls lives but also included a story with a white female protagonist showing Clifton’s commitment to the progress of girls across the color line. Among my favorites is The Lucky Stone, that shows three generations of black women made who have been blessed by possession of a wish granting stone; each generation of women has used the stone wisely to enhance their community and the position of women, at the story’s end the stone is passed on to the granddaughter with the hopes she will carry on the tradition.

Whether speaking about her poetry or her children’s books, Clifton’s thematic issues remained largely the same. She was deeply concerned about inequality based on both racial and gender prejudices in N. America. She often wrote characters and poems that directly challenged images of women and people of color as predatory, evil, impotent, or constant victims, refusing to take on either the vilification or victim stance often required of women’s and ethnic lit/poetry by publishers and instead gave us characters and poems that were complex and independent. While her focus was often on the racism and sexism experienced by black women, she also made important connections to Native Americans, Asian Americans, Indian women, and the black diaspora in general. One such poem connected Gettysburg, Nagasaki, and Jonestown. Her words worked to highlight the interconnections of women and girls even in conflict and to celebrate the resilience of women and black people even as the scathingly critiqued racism and sexism.

While her prolific publishing rate in a declining market and her endless list of awards and accolades help to credential her, it is her poetry itself that matters most.

Sisters

me and you be sisters.
we be the same.

me and you
coming from the same place.

me and you
be greasing our legs
touching up our edges.

me and you
be scared of rats
be stepping on roaches.

me and you
come running high down purdy street one time
and mama laugh and shake her head at
me and you.

me and you

got babies

got thirty-five
got black
let our hair go back
be loving ourselves
be loving ourselves
be sisters.

only where you sing,
I poet.

L. Clifton

19th Annual Women’s Memorial March Tomorrow

In 1991, a woman was murdered in downtown Vancouver, BC. She was one of 500+ estimated indigenous women to be killed in the Vancouver area of Canada while the authorities did very little to stop them. These women were written off because they were indigenous and assumed to be sex workers, poor and drug addicted. Their lives were seen as less important and their deaths did not warrant a serial killer investigation. The truth is that all of these women mattered and that many came from diverse economic, employment, and addiction/addiction free backgrounds. Even if they hadn’t, the murder of women should have warranted investigation and care.

18th Women’s Memorial March/ Blackbird/Flickr

In 1991, the death of a beloved family member and friend to many in the First Nation communities in Vancouver, acted as a catalyst for community organizers to take awareness and investigation into their own hands. That year marked the first Women’s Memorial March in honor of the lives lost, the families and friends left behind, and the importance of standing against violence against women. The March has taken place every year since on February 14, drawing attention both to the deaths of Indigenous women and the number of DSV incidents that occur on or near Valentine’s Day.

This year’s march represents a continued commitment to memory and equality of indigenous women in Canada but also an attempt of First Nation feminists and women’s groups to use reclaim safe space for Indigenous women during the Winter Olympics, which has already displaced many subsistence level women and families and left them vulnerable to exploitation and harassment. While this move represents a powerful feminist push to harness international attention in the name of women’s safety and indigenous women’s humanity, the event remains primarily a memorial for the dead.

18th Women’s Memorial March/ Blackbird/flickr

Should you actually be allowed to cross the border, unlike yours truly, please consider standing in solidarity with the community activists and families organizing this event by attending this event. (If you go, remember that the voices of those impacted are central and that you are there in solidarity only.)

The March schedule is:

  • 12pm Meet-up at corner of Hastings and Vancouver @ the Carnegie Community Center Theater
  • 1pm March begins @ corner of Main and Hastings
  • 3pm Healing Circle at Oppenheimer Park
  • final meal at the Japanese Language Hall

Do You See What I see?: The Black Herstory Month Edition

Updated Post Below:

Vanity Fair is coming under fire for their current edition, that would be the February edition or the one that falls on black history month, due to the editors blatant tunnel vision about who represents “Young Hollywood.” Can you spot what is wrong here?

Still don’t see the problem? How about the inside fold out for a little extra help:

Not only are these images devoid of diversity, but they are also trading on traditional images of N. American-ness (see image one) and gentile/civilized society (see image two). Thus the images tell us a tale of race-class-and-gender that automatically preclude the inclusion of women of color as they are always and forever outside of both constructs. More than that, while Vanity Fair is happy to highlight the cast of Precious in a short piece about the film and its abuse narrative, or to highlight America Ferrerra’s turn as a working class Latina struggling to “over come” the poverty of her community, these stories don’t challenge the belief that women and girls of color inhabit alternate worlds of violence and sex that none of our corn-fed fresh faced Hollywood girls would ever find themselves in. Never mind that Leibovitz eye transforms actresses who play women and girls who are sexually manipulated and manipulative, viciously clique-y and elitest, and self-abusing in the name of absent boyfriends into high society, a role reversal that would never be offered the actresses of color they have so keenly chosen to ignore. For one group, the fiction is taken as truth, for the other it is a sign of their acting chops.

While Vanity Fair and its supporters claim that the problem is not them but Hollywood itself, several break out performances and consistent appearances by actresses of color this year place the onus on both parties. As does this description introducing the first young actress they chose

The Cupid’s-bow lips, the downy-soft cheeks, the button nose: 27-year-old Abbie Cornish has those Ivory-soap-girl features we’re so familiar with, and yet hers is a face it’s hard to stop staring at … (Vanity Fair)

For all the apologists out there it seems none have tackled the eugenicist inspired descriptions that accompany the actresses they chose, precisely because of the ways that underline the racial decision making behind the cover.

To drive the message home, however we need only think of actresses of color with similar or competing credentials to the all white cast of Vanity Fair‘s cover. Here are some the most obvious choices Vanity Fair ignored:

Zoe Saldana alone starred in two of this summer’s biggest blockbuster hits: Star Trek and Avatar.

Gabourey Sidibe just got nominated for an academy award in her role as Precious.

AP Photo

Kristin Kreuk whose film career is off to a rocky start but whose guest appearances on various shows this year has universally boosted their ratings

Devon Aoki has been making a strong splash in edgy and comedic films for some time, working with likes of Frank Miller

Vanessa Hudgens who got her start on High School Musical, just released an album, and has been making the rounds on the Disney Channel launch pad that basically owns the tween market

America Ferrera whose work in film and TV is critically acclaimed & whose tv show cancellation no doubt spells the launch of a serious film career

symons & thompsett/pacific coast news

Sara Ramirez (who granted @ 34 is pushing it for “young hollywood”) is one of the stars of one of the most watched shows on television right now

Mia Maestro who has been one of my personal favorite actresses since her powerful and thought-provoking turn in Secuestro Express; she has been a consistent presence in Latina film for years and is now poised to take on leading roles in English/ N. American film

Granted none of these women appear on the CW, except for Kreuk, or True Blood, which seems to be where Vanity Fair culled most of its list. So let’s look at the young actresses of color who work there but were also all over looked:

Katerina Graham plays part of a family of powerful black female witches/psychics on the Vampire Diaries, one of the hottest new shows in the tween market this year

Jessica Lucas, who is being wasted on Melrose Place, has been in acting since her early childhood, and has co-starred in such summer blockbusters like Covenant and Drag Me to Hell, raved about hipster films like Cloverfield, and groundbreaking tv like the L Word; her Canadian credits include launchpad series like Edgemont, Life as We Know it, and my personal fave 2030 CE

unattributed/LA Confidential Magazine

Stephanie Jacobsen whose turn as Jesse on Terminator SC heated up the screen and the ratings, is now also being wasted on Melrose. She is a scene stealer in both small roles (like her turn on BSG) and large ones, and after an acclaimed career in hit-or-miss Aussie shows she too is set to take on Hollywood

Rutina Wesley, fresh of her starring role in How She Move and up and coming enough for the Screen Actor’s Guild to invite her to present at the award show, she plays the racially problematic but still central character of Tara on True Blood, one of the highest rated shows on HBO

So even on the whitest channel for teens and tweens in N. America (even Disney tries harder than CW lately) and a show that features a Klan rally in its opening credits, there were people of color for Vanity Fair to choose from.

One of the actresses highlighted by Vanity Fair’s Young Hollywood edition came from the influential Twilight series, and while she is getting the critical attention she deserves for her varied acting career, she was not alone in garnering that attention for her role in the films.

Christian Serratos plays Angela in Twilight and got her start on such career launching shows as Hannah Montana and the critically acclaimed 7th Heaven

Nikki Reed (who is 1/2 Native American) won accolades for writing and co-starring in the critically acclaimed Thirteen (a film which highlighted the acting talent of one of Vanity Fair‘s actual choices, Evan Rachel Wood), also had a recurring role on an immensely popular WB show, the OC, and has been a source of much discussion amongst Twilight Fans

Worse, Vanity Fair felt more comfortable choosing up and coming white actresses from outside the U.S. rather than highlight a few actresses of color from inside it (note there is at least one woc on this list who is not N. American but does make her home here and has for some time). And while these actresses may be on the move to the U.S. they have very little if any Hollywood credentials compared to some of the women Vanity Fair left out. More importantly, the issue is less about what acting credentials qualifies the women that Vanity Fair ultimately chose and instead what seems to be the critical deciding factor in who they decided did not count.

While one needs only look at the difference in career trajectories between the white women highlighted by Vanity Fair and the women of color listed here to see how Hollywood shapes careers launched on the same shows or by the same studios differently based on race, the fact remains that there are women of color in Hollywood with the same or similar credentials to that of the white women chosen. Clearly, Hollywood is notoriously white and the tween market is often littered with white actresses/singers who have engaged in racial or homophobic “mistakes” during their careers (Miley, I am talking to you), however the fact that Vanity Fair overlooked not only an Oscar nominee but the handful of young woc on the channel and movie that seemed to dominate the workplaces, or former workplaces, of the actresses they did choose leaves little doubt that the problem was also theirs. Equally important, many of the faces on their list are not nearly as recognizable as Nikki Reed, who spent most of her recent acting career in Anglo disguise, and Zoe Saldana, who spent her biggest role covered in blue paint. Don’t tell me Vanity Fair actually thinks Saldana is blue because if responses to Avatar are any indication it is easier for mainstream audiences to embrace the struggles of oppressed “minorities” when they are blue as opposed to Afra-Latina.

In closing, this behavior is hardly new or shocking. It is what it is in a post-racial aka still racist N. America. However the decision to help whitewash Hollywood during black history month was just one of those things I didn’t think we should let go, especially not in a year when young black women are making huge strides in Hollywood.

(If you are unclear on what those strides are this year, I have outlined them in the comment section, but have also cut and pasted that piece of my comment below:

  • a young black actress was nominated for both best actress @ both the SAGs and the Oscars
  • a young black actress starred in the 2nd highest grossing film of all time
  • a young black actress had starring roles in 2 of the highest grossing films this year
  • a young black actress plays one of 4 main characters on one of the highest rated new shows this year
  • a young black actress plays one of 4 main characters on The People’s Choice Award for Best New Show

and

  • a film about a young black girl was nominated for best film at both the SAGs and Oscars)

BHM: More than My Hair

To start this year’s Black Herstory Month (BHM) posts, I thought we would keep up the tradition of doing a puzzle of a famous and groundbreaking person.

click image for puzzle

Melba Tolliver was the first black woman to anchor a network news channel. She did so in a 5 minute segment called “News with a Woman’s Touch” centering women’s opinions of key news stories. Unfortunately, that job required Tolliver to cross a week long picket line by broadcast journalists. Though she was already working for the network at the time of the strike, this promotion still made her a scab.

Tolliver has over 30 years of journalism experience and during that time the bulk of her writing has been on women’s issues including breast cancer, covering the Houston Women’s Conference, and the controversy inducing invitation to the White House to cover the Nixon wedding. She also did numerous guest spots and articles addressing race, key black figures, and racial consciousness.

Tolliver is best remembered for the controversy surrounding her hair. In 1967 she made the decision to stop processing her hair just weeks before she was supposed the Nixon wedding. Despite having one of the strongest followings on local news, Tolliver was taken off the air until she either processed her hair or committed to covering it with a hat or a scarf. Her refusal sparked national conversation about black female beauty and the offensive stereotypes and racist stereotypes surrounding the enforcing of straight hair as good hair in our society that cast black women with natural hair as ugly, barbaric, and unsuited to middle class jobs. Unlike the discourse that surrounds hair now, the conversation hinged on the idea that this hair hatred did not come from within the black female community but rather from colonialism turned post-slavery economic and sexual policing of black women and that internalization of these stereotypes was a direct result of survival techniques in the black community that understood that white employers with middle class job openings were only willing to hire women with processed hair in the most blatant version of liberal bigotry which had white people hiring black people against the unspoken proscriptions but only if they “didn’t make them uncomfortable” just like today.

While the Tolliver hair controversy helped increase conversations about black as beautiful, encouraged women to embrace the features they were born with and celebrate them, it also overshadowed Tolliver’s journalism career. Despite her tremendous body of work and her firsts as a black female journalist, she is often still reduced to her hair.

You can read more about Tolliver at Heats Up! and The Maynard Institute or read her blog Accidental Anchorwoman

Women’s Organizations for Haiti

AP/unattributed

As images of armed men grabbing up food and water in Haiti start to surface, I think it is critical to support not only the general organizations listed in my previous post about ways to donate, but also to think about giving specifically to women’s organizations. (I also think it is important to remember all of the images of fathers, brothers, lovers, and other men who actively helped women escape from the rubble or reach medical help that are being erased by the images of machetes.)

Here are a list of women’s organizations I know of working in Haiti and run by Haitians and/or joint efforts between Dominicans (including those of Haitian descent) and Haitians:

  • MUDHA – an org I have worked w/ in the past (site is in Spanish)
  • Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees call (718) 735-4660
  • Global Fund for Women: will be giving aid through Haitian Women’s Organizations with whom they are partnered see list here (click red icon on their page to give)
  • Madre
  • Quixote Center

UPDATE ORGS

  • http://www.SendaNurse.org (gives money to get volunteer nurses to Haiti)
  • http://www.NationalNursesUnited.org (if you are a nurse & want to help, register here)
  • Charity Water is sending donations via Partners in Health on Tuesday – they are taking feminine hygiene products (along w/ blankets, tents, basic meds, & water) DONATE IN PERSON 200 Verick Street New York

Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees is accepting the following donations at their offices in New York

- Ace bandages, gauze pads, bandage & tape
- Water purification tablets & Rehydration salts
- antibiotic and antifungal (Mycology) creams
- anti-allergy medication (i.e. Benadryl)
- anti-parasite medication
- Tylenol; children’s Tylenol
- cold and cough medicine
- diarrhea medication
- eye drops
- insect repellent
- hydrogen peroxide
- skin disinfectant spray
- Toothpaste and tooth brushes
- soap and deodorant
- sanitary napkins
- brand new under wear – adult (small & med.) and children sizes
- Nutritional bars, fruit & nut bars, cereal bars (NO CANNED FOODS PLEASE)
- Tea Light candles & quality batteries (AA & D)

EVENING DROP-OFF HOURS ARE MON. & WED. 6:30-8:30 P.M.

HAITIAN WOMEN FOR HAITIAN REFUGEES
335 Maple Street, 2nd Floor, Brooklyn, NY (this is not a mailing
address) (718) 735-4660
Please use rear entrance on Lincoln Road between Nostrand and New York
Avenue. Enter through St. Francis Church parking lot

DAYTIME DROP-OFF HOURS ARE MON. – FRI. 11:00-4:00 P.M.
@ FLANBWAYAN HAITIAN LITERACY PROJECT
(718) 774-3037 208 Parkside, 2nd floor, Brooklyn, NY 11226