Thinking about Black Women in Fim ….”Think Like A Man” and Others

Think Like a Man made $33M in revenue this weekend.

Friday I saw Think Like a Man (blog post forthcoming). On Saturday I had a realllllllly long conversation with @starfishandcoffee on Twitter about the narrow representation of Black women in films, about the pervasiveness of patriarchal narratives featuring Black women in mainstream media (Think Like a Man, Woman Thou Art Loosed, Good Hair etc…) and about the need for more nuance in the representations of Black women.

@Starfishandcoffee was upset, and rightfully so about both the pervasiveness and the ubiquity of Think Like a Man. However, from my perspective these images are not only powerful because they represent Black women in mainstream media, but they are also powerful because I believe that being able to dominate someone culturally through representations of themselves, is connected to being able to dominate them both economically and spiritually.

There is something bigger here than just going to the movies.

A few years ago I wrote “culture is hegemony’s goon” when talking about the pervasiveness of patriarchal messages in a collection of  Beyonce’s songs.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t think that the audience has agency, that Black audiences can reclaim a text and see it in ways that helps them to see their own humanity. But I will tell you this, in a cultural context where George Lucas has to pony up his own money in order to produce and distribute a film about African American fighter pilot heroes because the films were not perceived as having in financial viability, globally, then we are dealing with a very particular economic context in which Black films are being made.

Filmmaking is capital intensive, meaning that it involves tons up up front money, and people with capital tend to be incredibly risk averse. So, if “the Black mammy”, or the maid “The Black lady” and “The Hoochie mama” entail a guaranteed return on investments, why would an investor support a story containing more nuanced images?

When I asked @starfishandcoffee why she appeared to be so invested in in mainstream films offering nuanced versions visions of Black women she responded saying that if we want to reach the masses of people, then engaging with pop culture will bring them in. She also stated that it is important to engage with pop culture because teaching visual literacy and criticism to young people is important. Lastly she stated that she doesn’t expect Hollywood to do the right thing (no pun inteneded) but that folks who want more nuanced images, need to push back against what is being served.

All of which I agree with.

But would be lying if I didn’t leave our conversation thinking about Ed Guerrero’s statements in the book The African American Image in Film about the economics of film, and the intersection of race and filmmaking. He writes,

Whatever its orientation, black cinematic expression, as much of black culture has nearly always been proscribed, marginalized, exploited, and often ignored. Thus black filmmakers of both persuasions are constatnly called on to create out of an uncomprimised, forthright perspective that recovers the long-suppressed sensibilities, apsirations, and narratives of the Black world and struggles to bring them to the cinema screen. At the same time, because movie making is such a captial intensive business and is so largely depended on mass markets, consumer trends and fiasions, these same filmmakers must appeal to a broad enough  commercial audience to earn sufficient revenues at the box office to ensure their candid atvisions of the black world to be successful. And what is equally important, that there work will be sustained in a  succession of feature films. In order words, the black filmmaker must struggle to depict the truth about black life in America while being inextricabily tied to the commercial sensibilities of a mass audience that is for the most part struggling to deny or avoid the full meaning of that truth.

The last bolded section helps to explain is why I believe that there is something bigger here than simply going to the movies. When people go to the movies they are learning how to relate and how to be. I think it also speaks to the constraints that filmmakers,who want to depict Black woman outside of the controlling images, the very restrictive constraints that they must face.

Thoughts?

Moving beyond The Mammie and The Hoochie Mama in mainstream film before 2020?

10 Things I Learned from Jaron Lanier’s “You Are Not A Gadget”

I have been wanting to blog about this book for three months now. o.0

Jaron Lanier is known as the father of virtual reality. Essentially the book asks the reader to think about the design of the internet and Lanier also asks the reader  to question the idea of the wisdom of the crowds. Lastly he asks you to interrogate the role that engineers play in creating hardware and software.

I have listed quotes below. Some of them have comments that I have left. My words are italicized.

#1: On the Power that Engineers Have on the Internet

It only takes a tiny group of engineers to create technology that can shape the entire future human experience with incredible speed. Therefore, crucial arguments about the human relationship to technology should take place between developers and users before such direct manipulations are designed. This book is about those arguments.

#2 The Concept of “Lock In” and How it Shapes Software and Hardware

“Lock in” is a term that describes how older software can shape how newer software is created. He goes on to use MIDI as an example.

The brittle character of mature computer programs can cause digital designs to get frozen into place by a process known as lock-in. This happens when many software programs are designed to work with an existing one. The process of significantly changing software in a situation in which a lot of other software is dependent on it is the hardest thing to do. So it almost never happens.

#3 Why Humanistic Web Design is Important

He lists several things that you can do online to “be a person instead of a source of fragments to be exploited by others”.

His reasoning for humanistic web design is that:

Emphasizing the crowd means deemphasizing individual humans in the design of society, and when you ask people not to be people they revert to bad moblike behaviors….

….But in the case of digital creative materials, like MIDI, UNIX or even the World Wide Web, it’s a good idea to be skeptical. These designs came together very recently, and there’s a haphazard, accidental quality to them. Resist going into the easy grooves they guide you into. If you love a  medium made of software, there’s danger that you will become entrapped in someone else’s recent careless thoughts. Struggle against that!”

#4 Making a Connection Between Chess and Computers

…Modern computers were developed to guide missiles and break secret military codes. Chess and computers are both direct descendants of the violence that drives the evolution  in the natural world, however sanitized and abstracted they may be in the context of civilization.

#5 How are Facebook and No Child Left Behind Connected?

What computerized analysis of all the country’s schools tests has done to education what Facebook has done to friendships. In both cases, life is turned into a database. Both degradations are based on the same philosophical mistake, which is the belief that computers can represent human thought or human relationships. These are things computers cannot currently do.

#6 The Significance of Small Spaces on the Internet

This had particular relevance to me, and my thinking about my blog as I work on new, more expansive and collaborative ideas. He has forced me to think about how I want to grow this space, on my own terms, and to be explicit about what that growth looks like.

I worry that any little special place on the internet can be ruined if it gets too much attention….

The places that work online always turn out to be the beloved projects of individuals, not the automated aggregation of the cloud….

It is the people that make the forum, not the software. Without the software, the experience would not exist at all, so I celebrate the software as flawed as it is.

Page views are not the same as community. Honestly, audience is not the same as community both on and offline. The above quote reminds me of this distinction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#7 Lack of Curiosity on the Limits of Crowd Wisdom

The wisdom of crowds effect should be thought of as a tool. The value of a tool is its usefulness in accomplishing a task. The point never should be the glorification of the tool….

…There’s and odd lack of curiosity about the limits of crowd wisdom.

#8 Rethinking Digital Economies

..instead of copying digital media, we should effectively keep only one copy of each cultural expression- as with a book or a song- and pay the author of that expression a small, affordable amount whenever it is accessed…as a result, anyone might be able to get rich from creative work. The people who make a momentarily popular prank video clip might earn a lot of money in a single day, but an obscure scholar might eventually earn as much over many years as her work was repeatedly referenced. But note that this is a very different idea from the long tail, because it rewards individuals instead of cloud owners.

This is interesting in that it discussing another way of structuring economies within digital spaces. As a feminist I am CERTAINLY interested in how this impacts both women in general, women of color in particularly. #equity.

 

#9 Online Chatter {as a Parasite} feeding off of Old Media Cultures

It is astonishing how much of the chatter online is driven by fan responses to expression that was originally created within the sphere of old media and that is now being destroyed  by the net. Comments about TV shows, major movies, commercial music releases, and video games must be responsible for almost as much bit traffic as porn. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, but since the web is killing the old media, we face a situation in which culture is effectively eating it’s own seed stock.

Honestly I had never thought about this before. I am aware that a blog can serve it’s audience OR it’s advertisers, rarely both (shout out to Rafi).

#10 The Limits of Open Source Software

Open wisdom-of-crowds software movements have become influential, but they haven’t promoted the kind of radical creativity I love most in computer science. If anything, they’ve been hindrances. Some of the youngest, brightest minds have been trapped in a 1970′s intellectual framework because they are hypnotized into accepting old software designed as if they were facts of nature….I am not anti open source…but the politically correct dogma that holds open source is automatically the best path to creativity and innovation is not borne by the facts.

He cites the fact that the iphone was created in a “closed” environment as an example of how the most significant tech innovations don’t always occur in open source settings.

Do you know Jaron Lanier’s work?

Fascinating no?

Thoughts?

Can Men and Women “Just Be Friends”?

This is the fucking impact of queer theory on my life. Dead assed.

So after sitting at the table grading mid terms and trying to figure out how to write a “statement of work” I high tailed it over to Goldy’s house for some BBQ as she had a couple of folks over.

And this is where being a Black feminist gets real for me.

So, of course Black sexual politics come up, and I am having a conversation with a guy and a lady and Goldy is off turning over meats or something.

And the lady says, “Can Men and Women Just be Friends?” And I ask a clarifying question, like what does just being friends mean? I also tell them that I write A LOT about Black sexual politics, so be forewarned. #IcomeWITHaDisclaimerNow?

So, I asked the question and the lady responded that just being friends was “not having sex.”

I thought, hmm, well if two people desire each other, the issue, for me, is that the desire doesn’t leave BUT your willingness to act on it is what changes.

And then I thought, shit gina, this goes for same sex desires as well.

Let me clarify.

It reminded  me of a conversation that I had with Moya about queer, or same sex desire. The working assumption was that people HAVE those desires, but there is a distinction between choosing to act or not to act on those desires.

I do know that sexuality is both fluid, and subjective and I leave room for self identification. My point is that I am not saying that if you do not act, I will not see you AS what you want to be seen as. Because trust, I see you. I was just tripping last night off of how respectability politics permeates Black peoples lives. Meaning “just friends” = no sex, when the reality of our lives is that it is NEVER that neat and clear.

The question of Men and women “just” being friends confounds me because the question does not aknowledge the role the intimacy plays in sexual relationships and in non sexual intimate relationships (which can be hella dangerous by the way). Sometimes the intimacy voltron is more realer than the sexual one, because the intimacy entails someone BEING UP IN YOUR bone marrow. They know your pulse throughout the day.

Honestly, I think that capitalism (attempts to) rob us of the ability to see, name or claim intimacy. By this I think that the conditions of work toling away on a computer, or in a cube, or standing on your feet all day in a hospital or in a retail space doesn’t leave you any room to figure how to stay connected the basic human shit in other people.

Thoughts?

Do you every think about sex and intimacy?

What about the distinction between having a desire and ACTING on it?