Friday, 30 October 2015

"She Called Them Anti-Seed": How The Women of Mad Max: Fury Road Divorce Violence From Strength

Imperator Furiosa and the Five Wives look down upon the Citadel (Mad Max Fury Road)
Imperator Furiosa and the Five Wives look down upon the Citadel.

"Strong female character."

It's a phrase we hear over and over in pop culture, usually in reference to a female character in an action movie who has lots of guns. "Strong female characters" know how to fight, know how to use weapons and they best all the boys in confrontation. "Strong Female Characters" are effectively measured by their capacity for violence and their competence in the theatre of war.

But what does it mean when we equate strength with violence on a cultural level, and especially in relation to women's place in society?

In Mad Max: Fury Road, the "strong female characters" are notable specifically for their aversion to violence. The film portrays its women as emotionally strong people who engage in violence only in self-defense, and only against the system that oppresses them.

The film is set in a post-apocalyptic future desert wasteland where women have been reduced to various forms of slavery and their value is determined by what their bodies can produce. Whether it be breastmilk or babies, women's position in this world is determined by their physical utility to the oppressive system they occupy. Furiosa is the notable exception, an Imperator who has presumably worked her way up the ranks of Immortan Joe's highly patriarchal and hyper-masculine cultish new social order.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

How To Be A Bad Bitch Who Recognizes The Intersections Of Amber Rose's Feminism

Amber Rose's new book How To Be A Bad Bitch dropped yesterday and already the white girls are circling, having taken issue with some of the advice Amber gives in the book. While I do think that some of the excerpts from the book are troubling (or at least, don't speak to me), it bothers me that mainstream feminism (read: white feminism) always seems to reserve this kind of intense scrutiny for women of colour. It took conservative media outlets to call Lena Dunham out for the problematic passages in her recent memoir (while feminist publications defended them) and white feminists are still passing around the deeply racist quote from Tina Fey's 2011 outing, Bossypants as a self-empowerment mantra.

Now I'm not saying that Amber shouldn't be criticized. She should. Feminism has never meant that women shouldn't be held accountable when they fuck up. Sometimes we as women make mistakes and I consider it our duty as fellow women in the feminist struggle to help course correct each other when we stray. But we need to be consistent about holding each other's hands to the fire. It's just another unfortunate side-effect of the racial divide in feminism that sees us demonize women of colour when they fuck up, but grasp at every straw imaginable to give white women a pass.

At the very least, we should try not to condescend to each other and try to give criticism in good faith. Refinery29's review of Amber's book took an incredibly nasty approach, upbraiding Rose for what they saw as feminist failings. The intro to the piece discloses that Amber abruptly cancelled a scheduled interview with the publication, and it's hard to see the harsh language as anything more than retaliation for the inconvenience.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Do You Feel Obligated To Support Television Shows With Diverse Casts?

The new fall television season is in full swing and it's been making me think a lot recently about how many new shows this season are noticeably more diverse than previous seasons. The new spate of diversity is encouraging and it's been making me consider that oft-discussed question of whether people of colour are "obligated" to support television shows and movies with people of colour leads.

Obviously there's nothing technically compelling us to watch, but ratings show again and again that black people in particular, and black women specifically watch disproportionate amounts of television, so our viewing choices obviously matter. Gene Demby of NPR's Code Switch made the case that black twitter is directly to be credited for Viola Davis' recent Emmy in and the larger general trend in diversity over the last couple seasons, specifically because we not only watch tv, but because we watch it live, and we talk about it on social media:

Among black female viewers between 35 and 40, Adalian wrote, the show [Empire] is literally the equivalent of a Super Bowl," with one episode "exceeding the rating of some NFL championship games this century."
"As a viewer of both, I can tell you that watching and laughing along with millions of strangers is kind of central to the experience of these shows. Black folks show up and watch like it's a responsibility."

So my dilemma is this: since I'm so fucking fly that my television viewing habits are winning Emmys and shit, do I have a responsibility to support shows with diverse casts in order to signal to the "powers that be" that diversity is something we want to continue? And does that mean slogging through bad shows just because I want to "show up for the cause?"

Case in point: Shondaland. I personally genuinely enjoy all of Aunty Shonda's shows (even Grey's Anatomy!) so watching is not a burden for me, but I'm also fully aware that Scandal went off the rails ages ago and How To Get Away With Murder never made a damn lick of sense, so I don't begrudge people who no longer watch. Conversely, I didn't watch American Crime because it struck me as preachy and mean, and I couldn't get past the pilot.

But Regina won her statue anyway.

For this season, my personal rule has been to at least watch the pilot of each new show starring a PoC lead or with a diverse cast. I'm allowed to drop whatever I don't like, but I have to give everything at least one chance. I struggle with the idea that really great diverse television shows will flounder due to a lack of viewership because their difference somehow makes them novel. (RIP Cristela...) But I also know that I watch upwards of 45 different shows a week depending on the season; I can't singlehandedly save every show I love.

On the other hand, this policy has led me to a lot of great shows that I might not have given a chance otherwise. Shows like Fresh Off The Boat and Jane The Virgin might have completely escaped my notice had I not committed myself  to giving television shows with a diverse cast a chance. And I'd never have become the great evangelical Jane The Virgin fan that I am today.

So far this season I've already dropped the Morris Chesnut led Rosewood and I'm waffling on whether to keep watching Ken Jeong's Dr. Ken. However, Quantico, the first network show starring a South East Asian lead, has completely drawn me in.

I genuinely believe that Scandal can be credited with the noticeable increase in the number of diverse shows that are available today. Suddenly everyone was trying to get a piece of the ratings pie that Shonda was baking, eating and selling all by herself. I mean, do you think it's a coincidence that Empire and Black-ish are on at the same time? Without Scandal's impact we probably wouldn't have Jane The Virgin, Black-ish, Fresh Off The Boat, Minority Report, Sleepy Hollow, American Crime, How To Get Away With Murder, Quantico, Devious Maids or Being Mary Jane. We showed up and showed them that we wanted to see ourselves.

So how should we approach this sudden dearth of options? How do we find the balance between supporting diverse casts without filling up on shows we hate just because the lead character is black?