Thursday, 31 December 2015

Things I Love: Top 5 Movies Of 2015

I had planned to try to get a couple posts done for today but with all the work I've been doing I haven't had time. But I wanted to find some way to send 2015 neatly on its way, so here I present to you, my favourite movies of 2015. They may not be the best movies, or the most critically acclaimed, (though granted, most of them are) but they are movies that made me enjoy being at the movies, and gave me the movie-watching experience that I hope for every time I step through the double doors and into the theatre. Looking at the list, I can confirm what I've suspected all year; I really like the science fiction genre, and I wish I hadn't felt so unwelcome within it as a child. Give me a killer robot or a dystopia and I'm there. In any case, here are my five favourite movies of 2015, presented in no particular order.

I initially didn't realize that Creed was a Rocky sequel until closer to the film's release. All I knew was that my bae Michael B. Jordan looked hot and ready in the trailer, and I was going to see it to make up for the abysmal Fantastic Four movie. What I got was so much better. I'm not particularly familiar with the Rocky franchise (it's about boxing, Stallone is in it, there are some stairs he runs up that one time?) so I was able to watch this film and enjoy it on its merits. The great cinematography, the great casting, the solid, emotional performances from MBJ and Sylvester Stallone specifically, but also the quiet and resonant performances from Phylicia Rashad and Tessa Thompson. The incredible soundtrack and a plot that didn't plod or pander, but told a rich, fulfilling story of a young man trying to prove his worth to himself and the world while standing in the shadow of the legacy of a father he never knew. It was amazing all around and I can't wait to see it get showered with awards.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Announcing Bitch Media's Newest 2016 Fellowship Writer: Me!

via Bitch Media

I'll cut to the chase. I'm incredibly happy and proud to announce that I've been selected as one of the four inaugural Bitch Media Writing Fellows. I almost can't believe that I get to write those words. I have been holding my breath and stalking the Bitch Media twitter page ever since I submitted my application because I was so nervous and so sure that it was a long shot. But by some miracle (and I guess, my writing...) I was accepted! It's such great news at a time when I really needed great news. When I was younger, my dad taught me a lesson that has served me incredibly well to this day: "The worst they can say is no." It's been a mantra that has given me the courage to try new things when I was afraid to fail. Even if I did fail, I'd be no worse off that I was before. I'd been saying for a while that I wanted to get serious about my writing and this fellowship was a great opportunity. After all, no one can say "yes" if I never ask. So I asked. I submitted my application, full of nervous energy and doubts, and hoped for the best. And Bitch Media said yes!

The fellowship program will be running in quarterly increments and I'll be working from April 1 to June 30. My focus will be pop-culture criticism, so I'm very excited to be able to write about what I have loved writing about for the last couple years. Mostly I'm excited to be properly edited. Like most artists, I can be a little defensive about my work, but the few times I have been well edited, I have always left the experience feeling like my writing had substantially improved. With that said, I don't have much else to add (too busy eating ice cream and happy-sobbing) so instead of rambling on, I'm including the cover letter I submitted with my application. It explains why I wanted this so badly, and why I'm so incredibly proud that I've been given opportunity. 

Pop culture is political. In my opinion, pop culture has the innate potential to be either one of society’s greatest benefits or one of its greatest ills. It is a reflection of the way we as a society see ourselves and of the values that we tolerate and cherish at any given point in history, and that’s precisely why it’s so important to me.

Image and representation is an issue that’s close to my heart because of the way we see its effects ripple through society. Whether it’s the negative repercussions of poor representations of women or the symbolic annihilation of minority people through their absence in pop culture all together, popular media is an fertile breeding ground for germinating the seeds of social change and that’s why I spend so much time immersed in it; highlighting the things that improve us as a society, and critiquing the things that don’t. We have seen time and time again that attitudes that are widely represented in pop culture can have a profound effect on what a society believes to be true. Continued negative representation has successfully been used in the past to demonize entire groups of people, and justify violence against them. The repercussions of pop culture representations run deeper than we give them credit for.

This is especially true as it relates to the stories that we tell about women of colour. Mostly we don’t tell them at all, but when we do, we steep them in antiquated stereotypes that diminish their humanity and position them as disposable. As a black woman living in a Caribbean country that imports 99% of its content from the West, I’m sensitive to the connections that can be drawn between dismissive representations of women who look like me, and the corresponding way news stories are framed when we are victimized.

I’m not an American, but I’ve grown up on American media. I’ve situated myself through exposure to what I was not; thin, white, blonde and blue-eyed. I’ve come through the fire; first loathing myself because I did not exist, then questioning myself when the existence I saw did not match my reality, and finally finding myself anew when I began to understand the wider forces at play when it comes to the export of Western ideals to the global South. Through my writing on pop culture I’ve been able to explore all the ways our identities and intersections influence the way we see the world and through my current graduate study program in Mass Communications I’ve been able to explore more informed perspectives about how the media we experience is created, distributed and consumed, up to and including portrayals of rape in television; the subject of my final thesis.

Reading Bitch Media online over the last year has shown me that I’m not the only person who understands these larger functions, and being able to work with you would enable me to further develop my understanding of the importance of pop culture and write about the way it wends itself into everything we know about ourselves. I honestly believe that I would be a great fit at Bitch Media, and I truly hope that we will be working together soon. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Rape, Consent and Race in Marvel's #JessicaJones

Marvel's Jessica Jones is the latest, best example of white feminist fiction: excellent on sexism, terrible on racism. There are a lot of great things about this series that speak directly to the ills that women face on a daily basis. Kilgrave, the central villain, is chillingly terrifying, specifically because the only difference between him and your garden variety abuser is his total power to enact his will. The examination of male entitlement in ways both large and small (by contrasting Kilgrave and Simpson for example) are excellent and poignant. But as I watched the 13 episode first season, I was struck by how callously black people's lives were treated on the show, rendered into convenient plot devices in service of the white female protagonist's character development. As a black woman viewing the show, it was easy to see that the active pursuit of liberation from abuse was not a struggle that this show believes includes me (an ongoing struggle for Marvel). Ironically, the best parts of the show are its treatment with its villain, while the worst are its treatments with its female anti-heroine.

While I do have several critiques of the show, there were a number of things that I thought were handled exceptionally well. Firstly, this is a show driven by women about the fears and terrors that women must navigate in the world shrunk down to a micro-level, enabling us an intimate look at the various levels of abuse women routinely endure. The contrast between Kilgrave and Simpson is genius, as it helps demonstrate the full scale of abuse that men knowingly and unknowingly enact on the women around them. The two men are flip-sides of the same coin. While Kilgrave simply takes what he feels he is entitled to by means of his powers of enhanced persuasion, Simpson intially takes a less forceful but no less sinister approach, exemplified in his treatment of Trish after he realizes that Kilgrave has compelled him to murder her. As Stephanie Yang writes in a Bitch Magazine review:

The warning signs are there early on. Under Kilgrave's control, Simpson assaults Trish inside her own apartment. Once Kilgrave's control wears off, he's wracked with guilt and comes back to apologize. The problem is that Trish doesn't want Simpson's apology; she wants him to just leave. Trish doesn't want to be reminded that she was attacked in her own home, or feel trapped by her own high-end security system while her attacker lingers outside. But Simpson is insistent, sitting in her hallway and talking to her through the intercom. Simpson makes his apology about his needs and his absolution, not about Trish's needs, safety or mental health. It's entirely understandable, but it's still wrong. 
Simpson and Kilgrave certainly have different motivation for their destructive actions. But as Jessica points out, intent doesn't matter. Their actions and consequences are what matter. That's an important distinction that needs to be made at a time when courts and media alike dismiss many real-life cases of abuse because the abuser "couldn't know" what they were doing was wrong. Violence is a symptom of a culture that indulges bad behavior as being inherently and unavoidably part of masculinity, or even a romantic expression of desire and protectiveness.

I would go a step further and name Simpson's insistent apologies to Trish as outright abusive on their face, specifically because they prioritize his need for absolution over her need to heal. Trish is the victim in the situation, and yet Simpson manages to find a way to center himself in the story of this trauma. As with Kilgrave and Jessica, Simpson's abuse is rooted not in a cartoonish hatred of women as we are often led to believe, but rather in prioritizing his own will and desires over Trish's.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Where Are The Women Of Color?: On Marvel's Problems With Race

It’s no secret that Marvel has a diversity problem. With every new release in film or television, the problem becomes larger and more noticeable. However, many of those that criticize Marvel’s diversity problems, tend to highlight the wrong thing. The large majority of criticism stems from the lack of representation of “women” in the MCU, and while there’s a bit of truth to that condemnation, it’s also another conversation that falsely centers white women.

In Film
Over the course of the last 7 years, there have been 12 films in the MCU, starting with 2008s Iron Man through to this year’s release, Ant-Man, and there is at least one white woman (or a woman that presents as white) in every single one of them. Many of them are exhibited as love interests first and foremost, which is the primary point of contention of the female fan base. But while there are very few female superheroes, none of which have headlined a film thus far, women do exist in the MCU even if they play supporting roles, and nearly all of them are white.
Women of Color and Marvel's Race ProblemWhat’s missing from the conversation is what is always glossed over and forgotten about, when we talk about “women”: Women of Color. To date, there has been exactly one WoC character of note with a name and speaking role, out of all 12 Marvel films: Dr. Helen Cho. Dr. Cho makes her appearance in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and thankfully she is not bogged down with the usual tropes and stereotypes that surround Asian women in our media . She is not simply relegated to a love interest, and she does play an important part in the creation of Vision, but her contributions are overlooked by the rest of the characters. She is not what I would consider a “hero” in the traditional sense, and she is primarily a secondary supporting character, with no backstory or development, unlike every single other female character in the entire franchise.

There were two other female characters that appeared alongside Helen Cho, both of whom are white: Black Widow and Scarlet Witch. Both women would fall easily into the “hero(ine)” category. In fact, most of the women in the MCU do in one way or another (eventually at least), whether they are super-powered or not. With the exception of Helen Cho, Jane Foster, and (arguably) Pepper Potts, the women in Marvel films all have fight scenes in which they demonstrate that they can more than handle themselves, even if they may pull double duty as love interests. And even those who are not shown to physically fight, are all in positions of power (Helen Cho and Jane Foster are world leading scientists in their respective fields, and Pepper Potts is the CEO of Stark Industries) And whether with wit or brawn, none of them are entirely helpless (Peggy Carter, Sif, Maria Hill, Hope and Janet Van Dyne, Gamora, Sharon Carter, Frigga, & Nebula).

So really the problem for white female fans is not lack of representation, or even the kinds of representation (because most present the “Strong Female Character” archetype everyone says they’d like to see), but that there has yet to be a Marvel film lead by a woman. And while that is certainly a valid complaint, I can’t help but point out that there are exactly zero WoC (or non-Black MoC) heroes in Marvel films at all, and there have been exactly zero MCU films lead by a Person of Color thus far (and no, Gamora does not count as a WoC because while Zoe Saldana is an Afro-Latina, Gamora is not, nor does she code or present that way. And if you were thinking of a joke about her as a “literal WoC” because she’s green, smack yourself in the face for me).