Monday, July 17, 2006


Activist Damage Control

This is the spittin' image of a post in my blog.

Keith Boykin has responded most astutely to LIFEbeat's recent concert endeavor. LIFEbeat is an organization dedicated to educating youth about HIV/AIDS. Wonderful, fabulous, important (life or death important) cause. This of course goes with little saying. However, LIFEbeat's choice of artist for the concert is problematic. While HIV/AIDS has ended the lives of countless gay men and women, LIFEbeat goes on to allow two acts who promote the murder of gays and lesbians. (IF we don't die one way we should die the other?)

This isn't a blog to talk about the controversial choice and how to fight it or whether or not LIFEbeat is wrong for inviting these fools (uh, yeah). My interest in this is how activism meets pop culture. We ran into the very issue Boykin is facing here in the Spelman/Nelly protest, where you have a misogynist rapper promoting a worthy cause. How can an activist comfortably speak truth to power in such a situation? Either way, the activist looks like they are 1) out of touch with the "rest" of society. 2) Less than concerned about the philanthropic issue at hand (i.e. Leukemia or HIV/AIDS) 3) Too sensitive about an issue that is less important than the above.

I am one that believes that hatred, whether towards women or Queer folk is ruthlessly pervasive, and I would venture to say that such instances where pop culture that promotes hate meets these very important health causes is not a coincidence. It merely reinforces for mainstream society the validity of misogyny, racism, and in the case of LIFEbeat, homophobia. It presupposes that homophobia is an issue that can be separated from HIV/AIDS research (hmm... tell that to folks who died of an under-researched disease called the gay plague). Or that leukemia can be separated from feminism ("Nelly, we love your sister, why don't you love ours?"). Such events make the oppressed and marginalized folk look crazed, (really who would protest against such a good cause if they weren't crazed?) Unsympathetic to the more "important" issue, and too wrapped up in their own gay/feminist agendas to see the importance of such issues.

It's called crazymaking--and just as it exists in personal relationships--it exists in the larger world as well.

The dilemma for the activist is then, how to fight your battles when you've picked them. I believe, fighting the bullshit where it is born is oh so important, but the battle is not in how one speaks about their issue (images of black women in the media or gay bashing), but how one has devised a damage control plan. The health organization or media will always jump to the assumption that the activist wants to end the good cause, instead of reading into it that the activist is calling for a reconsideration of the hateful artist. This is my damage control template:

  1. When writing first letter to organization with good cause, always stress how important the cause is to you, and how you as an activist are dedicated to the cause and would like to offer your support for said cause.

  2. Use intersectional analysis for that ass. Why the person they've blindly invited actually confuses the message of the cause, and who it needs to be sent to. (I mean really, they must assume only straight homophobic kids need to hear an HIV/AIDS awareness message. Or that gay youth are ignorant of the hateful messages these artists promote towards their well being.)

  3. After discussing the problematic speaker/star/"artist" fervently suggest an artist/speaker/star with an equally if not bigger crowd-drawing capability. A person or group with a track record of helping in this issue would be best. Stress this person. Maybe hint at why you don't even understand why they didn't think of this person in the first place. (A little crazymaking of your own.)

  4. Shake the haters off. They are like hungry rodents. Answer to few. The comments will be the same and will basically be around the theme of: "Get over it its a good cause." As if a good cause couldn't be problematic. Remind yourself of the many movements that gained increased visibility because of strife within other movements (White feminism, Black feminism/Womanism, Black Nationalism, etc.)

Have any of your own?

Thursday, July 13, 2006


"All you wonderful people out there in the dark."

Elvis Mitchell sat down with veteran screenwriter Wesley Strick for a recent episode of his KCRW radioshow The Treatment. They dicussed Strick's debut novel, Out There in the Dark, and in the course of the conversation they teased out the nature of Hollywood from the production and audience perspective and really spoke to the fraught American character.
I mean I think the mistake that everyone in the book makes is that they mistake the glittering images on the big screen for reality. Those images are more beguiling than real life. And just as Ronald Reagan ultimately conflated, and quite successfully, the roles he had played in Hollywood with his career to the point where I think most of the American public would assume that Reagan himself had been a war hero simply based on the fact that he made war pictures when he was here in Los Angeles during the forties. The fact is, and I discovered in researching the book, he never left Los Angeles. Not only did he not serve as an active member of the armed forces. He never left L.A. He didn't even go on a U.S.O. tour. He stayed in the boundaries of L.A. county for 4 years.

...Best of all having not even left L.A. during the war, he would talk in interviews after the war, "when I came back." He would say, "Jane and I had a hard time adjusting when I got back." Back from Culver City? Exactly what was he talking about. Back from Burbank?
He couldn't have better elucidated how the artifice of Hollywood and by extension mass media entertainment, permeates and confuses identities and realities. It's not a game when activists protest, speak out, abstain from consumption of Film, TV, Music, etc. or when organizations Boytcott networks that refuse to represent America in their programming. It's strategic, politically, and defensive, even a question of self-preservation, psychologically which leads me to this B.S.:
Jolie to play widow of journalist Daniel Pearl
Thu Jul 13, 2006 4:28 AM ET

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actress Angelina Jolie will star in a movie as the widow of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, trade paper Daily Variety reported in its Thursday edition.

"A Mighty Heart," adapted from Mariane Pearl's memoir of the same name, will begin shooting within the next five weeks, the paper said. The book details Pearl's search for her husband, who was abducted and beheaded by militants in Pakistan in early 2002.

"I am delighted that Angelina Jolie will be playing my role in the adaptation of my book," Daily Variety quoted Pearl as saying. "I deeply admire her work and what she is committed to."

English filmmaker Michael Winterbottom, famed for such war-based films as "Welcome to Sarajevo" and "The Road to Guantanamo," will direct. Jolie's boyfriend, actor Brad Pitt, will serve as a producer of the project, which is set up at Paramount Vantage, the art-house arm of Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures.© Reuters 2006.
What better example of our (and by "our" I mean people of color) erasure from the big screen. I remembered seeing a picture of Ms. Pearl and recognized her to be a woman of color. I was a little aghast at her ecstatic reaction to Jolie's casting but figured she was undoubtedly flattered and honored that an actress with her box office draw would be playing her but after Googling her I can see why Pearl, according to the above report, is unconcerned that in a disturbing ahistoric turn a white woman is playing her colored behind.

With regards to Ms. Pearl's ethnicity: her father was Dutch and her Cuban mother, Marita Van Neyenhoff's ethnicity is obliquely accounted for in this feature for Glamour magazine,
"She grew up with a father who was a handsome mix of Cuban and Chinese, and who, one day, decided to stop talking altogether, although he wasn't mute. Her mother, meanwhile, was a hard-core gossiper who spent the entire day with rollers in her hair and loved nothing more than makeup, clothes and sexy jokes."
It is unlikely that Van Neyenhoff's father was the descendant of a mainland Chinese and a "Cuban". I suspect that he was the product of a Cuban of Chinese descent and a Cuban of African descent. Notice the decision to refer to race with regards to the non-Black lineage and nationality with regards to the Black lineage, a choice that obfuscates her own visibly dusky descendancy. I do not know if Pearl has discussed the Black part of her ethnic make-up and being that she is a French citizen with Latin American parentage it is understandable why she doesn't want to go there since both cultures, for decidedly unprogressive reasons, don't like to talk about Blackness. I honor the right of all people to honor and live in the fullness of their complex idenities but the diminishing of her Blackness is annoying if expected given enduring and virulent anti-Black racism. Maybe that is why she was so crunk upon having Angelina Jolie play her in an upcoming adaption of her memoir, A Mighty Heart. Wouldn't Thandi Newton be better? Salli Richardson, Carmen Ejogo, Michael Michele, or the host of talented bi-racial, black and Latina actresses of her complexion (and notably, in a number of the stated cases, lighter with less kink in their hair) who can't get a job to save them from the black Church play circuit or greasy Playboy spreads? You think Eva Mendes would ever be cast as Nancy Reagan? What about Lucy Liu as Teresa Heinz-Kerry or Salli Richardson as Anna Wintour? Colorblind casting generally ensures people of color won't be in movies even to play characters of color. It scarcely works vice versa. Still if not for the few times a casting agent cast Don Cheadle for a role (as a cop or a crook) written for a White he'd barely break even. All the actors are White, all the movies are wack and some of us are dead tired of the whitewashing of our consciousnesses and imaginations. I can't wait for the day M. Night Shyamalan enacts his vision with American actors of South Asian descent but damnit noone, not even South Asian Americans, would probably watch. Folk wouldn't be so eager to pronounce his name correctly. He'd be comparatively broke. He woudn't be in American Express ads. I know he threw Sam Jack in Unbreakable and even underemployed Sarita Choudry in his new pic but the Sam Jack casting doesn't count on account of his horrible flat top wig.

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