For Kathleen Collins With So Much Joy: A Syllabus for the Losing Ground Film Screening Saturday July 18th 2015 @AFI Silver Spring

On Saturday I along with some friends will be attending a screening of Losing Ground (1982) directed by Kathleen Collins and you are welcome to join us.

I LOVE this movie. I saw it earlier this year at Lincoln Center as a part of the “Tell it Like it Is” program featuring Black film in New York from 1968 – ’86. I also saw it in 2011. I wrote about it on my blog here and in my book.

I’ve befriended Collins’ daughter Nina Lorez Collins, and I sent her a copy of the book on some ZOMG I LOVE YOUR MOMMA BUT YOU KNOW YOUR MOMMA BETTER THAN ME SO YOU KNOW WHY I LOVE HER.

Girl. The movie features a Black woman philosophy professor searching for the ecstatic experience. A Black woman hunting for ecxasty in the passionate sense, in the religious sense, in the embodied sense.

The colors are rich, and luscious, the writing is funny, and we get to see two heterosexual Black married creatives sort the through the messiness of being Black, creative, quirky, and artistic.

I didn’t find Ms. Collins. She found me. I am so grateful this opportunity. Join us if you can on Saturday or try and catch the film before it leaves AFI.

Of course I have background reading because that is what I do. So here is a little syllabus for her screening.

The Kathleen Collins Syllabus:

I thank Carmen Coustat for making sure that a 16MM version of the film was available for me to find, had I not located it there, I would not have found this work when I did. (Ironically I sent her an e-mail thanking her for providing access to the film last week right before I learned about this screening. #WatchGod.)

In the spirit of my old posts, I’ll end with a few questions:

1.  If you like Black women filmmakers have you SEEN Beyond the Lights? Girl. Get up on that work. It will speak to you.

2. Haven’t you noticed the shift in terms of Black women being centered as both protagonists and directors in pop culture in a way that WAS NOT the case as recently as five years ago. So many sacrifices have been made for this historical moment. I am excited about this work! What have you seen lately that you like?

3. Is you rollin’ on Saturday?

Ms. Viola Davis and the White Beauty Industrial Complex

SGHI For Project._New Font

Viola Davis looks like the women in my family. ~My friend, and African American Playwright

So.

Alessandra Stanley called my friend* Ms. Viola Davis “less classically beautiful”.

Let me be clear. As a scholar my work is on Black women’s sexuality in popular culture. So I’ve been keeping a keen eye on the images of Black women being deployed in mainstream spaces (Scandal, Belle), in alternate baby mainstream spaces (Peace to Hello Cupid and Roomie Lover Friends, Almost Home) and on the film festival, alternative indie theater circuit (Pariah, Into the Night).

I wrote a while ago that when Viola Davis showed up at the Oscars wearing a short chestnut colored afro, in the age wind swept blond locks, fair skin, taught slim bodies, I saw myself.

I didn’t see myself because of the aesthetic beauty affirmation. You can go to pretty much any city mid sized or large city in 2014 and SEE yourself as a natural Black girl.

What I am saying here is that I saw myself in that I saw a person who took her craft as seriously as I take mine. Lip game. Eye game. Dress colors…popping.

It is incredibly powerful to see your reflection when you live in a culture that simultaneously sees you as brilliant and abnormal AND hypersexual and subhuman, but #Blackgirlsarefromthefuture.

Like a woman with a form she became dangerous. (**See Morrison’s Sula).

Which brings me not only to Viola Davis, but also Beyonce Knowles Carter, Lupita Nyong’o  and Rihanna Fenty.

When Black girls construct desire in mainstream media the matrix quivers because we are not suppose to hold space, and we certainly aren’t suppose to be desired.

We ain’t suppose to stunt, flaunt or fly.

If you think about the various conversations that have been had about the aforementioned women over the last year, there is a subtext of “go sit down, you are taking up too much space”.

But here is the rub, for me, it makes sense that this historical moment is happening with representations of Black women’s beauty and representations. Every since 2009, I’ve been documenting and marking the consumption and images of Black women in mainstream spaces (Precious, Pariah, For Colored Girls, Good Hair).

It appears that we are manifesting on the smaller screens tablets and televisions, rather than the silver screen.

It makes sense, Black girl stories are profitable.

The technology supports the evolution of our stories into these spaces (smart phones with video bandwidth, Kickstarter campaigns, the rise of Black and Sexy TV and Issa Rae’s production company, Black Girl Twitter on Scandal Thursday’s). An entire ecosystem of Black girl stories has emerged AND they are focused on sustainability; this is key.

In some ways, the critique of Shonda Rhimes and my push back is also about giving respect to the worlds that Black girls make. (When I say Black girls, I mean Black women and girls, and the spirit of our playful Black girl hand clap, braids with a jillion multi-colored beads and  summertime double dutch games that last into dusk. These manifestations of our creativity reminds me of the  space that many of us inhabit before the world forces us to crunch that part of ourselves up in order to survive. Our quirky selves, our out the box selves).

I can’t end this without looking at Allesandra Stanley’s article on Shonda Rhimes. In this article Stanley examines the cultural space that Rhimes has been able to build within primetime telvision using the archaic and sloppy trope of the angry Black woman. She attempts to contextualize the characters that Rhimes has created by creating a historical timeline of Black women in primetime television, for example she mentions Claire Huxtable’s role amongst others. She also situations Rhimes’ place/legacy within archive of other show runners such as Aaron Sorkin and Aaron Spelling.

However, as many have said, the article, at times comes across as heavy handed, tone deaf and light weight insulting to Rhimes’ and Davis’ fan bases across race.

To say that Davis is “less classically beautiful” operates at three levels, at least that is what I am thinking about now.

It is an attempt for Stanley to describe a Black woman, who doesn’t fit the Beyonce beauty aesthetic OR the mainstream beauty aesthetic (and let me be clear here, they overlap) within a journalistic space.

It is an attempt to mark the power of White beauty standards without mentioning White beauty standards.

It is an attempt to mark the significance of the space that Davis is currently taking up in 2014 without explicitly saying why it is disruptive.

Davis embraces her beauty and takes up space in a main stream culture that says that she needs and  doesn’t have permission to do so. Venture capital cats talk about disruption; they have no idea.

Stanley wrote, she stumbled, Black women got pissed, but the long and short of it is that these stories are here and I am here for them.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. -June Jordan, 1978.

For more reading on Black women in film and video see the following:

Black Women Film and Video Readers edited by Jacqueline Bobo

The Black Lady by Lisa Thompson

Black Looks by Bell Hooks

Dark Design and Visual Culture by Michelle Wallace

Some Black girl fundraising campaigns that you can support, in the spirit of this post because “Black Girls Been Creating (Sub)Cultures”.

Reagan Gomez: Project Title: Surviving the Dead

Marquette Jones: Project Title: “Forgiving Chris Brown”  <— Dear Friend

Lisa Marie Rollins: Project Title: CALLALOO Literary Journal’s 2014 Writing Workshop<—Digital Sister

Latisha Fortune and Felicia Pride: Project Title: After the End Again h/t @arieswym

Also follow my tumblr Black Girl Funded, which features Kickstarter campaigns as well.

So less classically beautiful?

Did you actually think that show would launch without some kind of blow back?

White beauty industrial complex? Too far or just right?

A version of this essay will appear in my forthcoming book “Black Women’s Sexuality in Pop Culture”. Sign up here to receive updates. I will never spam you:)

Black Girls Are Certainly From the Future…Book Update…(Tentative)Table of Contents List

Strap in your seat belts, because this list is a doozy and it is completely me, and a record of our long relationship as a community!!! Can you believe that it is happening!?!?!
Race
1. On the Steve Harvey Industrial Complex (Blog Post)
2. Twerking, Ratchet and the Politics of Black Respectability: What Exactly Can We Teach Black Girls About Black Women’s Sexuality? (New)
3. Ta-Nehisi Asks If for Colored Girls is a Classic, My Response (Blog Post)
4. Gabby Douglass, Black Women’s Natural Hair and Standing Straight in a Crooked Room (Blog Post)
5. The Miseducation of All City: An Essay  on Race, East Oakland and Prep School (New)
6. A Black feminist Response to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In (New)
7. Thinking About the Possibilities and Limitations of Teaching Black Girls to Code (New)
8. The Politics of Teaching Kids of Color How to Fail (Blog Post)

Digital Creativity

1. How I Used the Internet to Find My Voice, Claim My Tribe And Build My Brand (New)
2. 5 Key Business Points for Artists: 5 Minute MBA for Your Brand (New)
3. Rafi Kam x Okay Player x Community (Blog Post)
4. In 2009 I asked ‘Is a Black Web Browser Racist’? What About Algorithims in 2013? (Blog Post Revisited)
5. Black Women, Digital Creativity and Entrepreneurship (New)
6. On Claiming My Voice as a Writer and Business: The Politics of Getting in Front of Your Story (New)

Pop Culture

1. Whitney Houston and Genius (Blog Post)

2. Are Black Men Really That Homophobic? Thinking About Conversations on Kanye’s Attire (Blog Post Revisited)

3. Arielle Loren Asks Whether Beyonce is the Contemporary Face of Feminism: My Response (Blog Post)

4. Viola Davis’s Natural Hair At the Oscars (Blog Post)
5. And You Even Licked My Balls: A Black Feminist Note on Nate Dogg (Blog Post)
6. Yes Black, White, Asian and Latino Men: Feminism is Here for You Too! (New)

7. Thinking About Need, Desire and Politics of Naming Beyonce a Feminist (New)

8. Musing on Makode Linde and That Cake (Blog Post)

The Black Girls Are From the Future & Friends Meet and Greet is in the final planning stages for July 20th, 2013. Sign up here to receive an invite. I will never spam you 🙂

This is an epic undertaking. However I knew it was possible last winter when I began to COMPILE the blog posts, and I was able to see, in Black and White,  how much I had written. The issue then became, not the process of writing but actually conceptualizing what this book would look like, how I would organize the various essays and creating a process and space to get it done.

Thank you for traveling with me. Leave a question or comment below.

Love,

Reneens

Black Women’s Sexuality Documentary: Can Black Women Reclaim Deviance?!?!?!?

Over the break, I was going back over my old posts and I saw that in two thousand and eight that I wanted to make a documentary after seeing Byron Hurt’s Barack and Curtis. In fact, I stated that I wanted to do FLOTUS and Nicki Minaj.

When I met with Boss Bear yesterday and told her what I wanted to do she asked me “What was I doing that was new?”, “What was my question?”, “Why a documentary?”.

She then zeroed in on my Byron Hurt inspiration, which is here. I would never think of doing anything around a binary in terms of Black women’s sexuality, because the binary is violent in terms of how/who it erases. However, knowing what I don’t want to do, doesn’t tell me what I am want to do.

I went on to say that I was using Nola Darling y Bryon Hurt’s doc as a point of departure for my new project…She challenged me as to WHY I was centering Black men’s voices but implying the influence of Ava Duvernay, Dee Rees, Gloria Naylor….

Naming is important. Peace to Quvenzhané.

I had no defense and simply said I was wrong and that I was thinking. I clearly know better, but it is important to see how we can not be aware of our own assumptions.

I went to sleep early, because I knew that I would wake up early processing the data. Before I went to sleep I re-read some work on Marlon Riggs, and I saw precisely what I needed to do, which was be brave and follow the heat.

The lesson, be careful who you use as a point of departure because you will be caught in the framework of their logic in your work. Choose deliberately.

But first, you have to learn that their logic. You can’t be in conversation with someone that you don’t understand, or whom you haven’t read.

I am not invested in a binary system of Black women’s sexuality or Black women’s gender, in fact it is why I am addressing the fact that Black Women’s* sexuality has an asterisk, because their are some Black female bodied people who do not identify as women.

Creating a project and coming up with questions entails a lot of sifting, and lot of condescending and doing what I call “looking for the heat energy.” Like where is the heat, where is the hot shit in this work?

Beep was clowning me because she thought I was talking about making a doc, like I was making a sandwich. She has an MFA, and so I respect and understand that folks need to have their work and time invested taken seriously.  In some ways, I was on some sandwich making in that I had not thought clearly about the narrative arch, and what I wanted to get out of the data. This distinction became clear yesterday in that boss bear made a clear distinction between getting a group of folks into a room to talk being a focus group, but what I was talking about was a narrative which answers a question.

#sandwichmaking. I like that.

So, I woke up with reclaiming deviance as a subtopic.

Why did I pick reclaiming deviance? Well, with reclaiming deviance, the politics of respectability is challenged head on, and  want that, I need that. Also, in my interdiscplinary paper, I talk about “ho tapes” and I talk about how ambivalent I am about “reclaiming deviance”, but ultimately, I knew this this would be the subject for the first video because I remember the conversation that I had on my blog. I remember seeing Pariah and the Black women responding and being like “what the hell do you mean by reclaiming deviance” and I know that the “what the hell do you mean” is what I want to dig into.

The other question lurking in here is that if Black women, reclaim deviance, what are the costs!?!?!

I will still engage Nola Darling, The Steve Harvey Industrial Complex, and MSNBC’s/The Washington Post and other folks investment in our dating lives, but my point of departure will be deviance, not these otro narratives.

Reclaiming deviance is about representation, power and Black women as subjects, as contradictory dynamic human beings and I am all about that. #fuckaBinary.

#Excited.

#Scared

#StillTrying

 

Love and Hip Hop Atlanta and Carol’s Daughter Transitioning Kits: Some Preliminary Feminist Thoughts

 

I have watched the last four episodes of Love and Hip Hop Atlanta, while taking notes, fractured wrist and all, because I knew that culturally this show represented a kind of shift in Black women on reality television.

Furthermore, I knew that I needed to commit to watching the show. I was at a dinner party and a friend who works in television told me that the wages that women earn in reality television are stratified by race, meaning White women tend to earn more than Black women. My jaw dropped. This is particularly relevant to Love and Hip Hop Atlanta because of the popularity of the show with a crowd that has historically been tech savvy, consumption hungry yet lacking broad representation in mainstream media; middle class and affluent Black women.

According to an article in Newsday VH1 has recently realized  ow much of an untapped audience African Americans are,

“All of a sudden, the network is starting to look like how the world looks,” said VH1 president Tom Calderone, who views the network’s airing of “Hip Hop Honors” in 2004 as the “watershed” moment in realizing there was an untapped audience. Series such as “Love & Hip Hop” are a reflection, he added, of what networks need to do to remain relevant: “We’re creating new celebrities. ‘Mob Wives’ are new celebrities. ‘Basketball Wives’ are new celebrities. I think our role is to put a mirror on pop culture and influence pop culture — that’s important.”

So this post will be about three things. First, why is the show popular and what does it’s popularity mean. Second, what are the differences between what Black women and White women earn in reality television spaces. Third, I will connect the Carol’s Daughter “transition kits” to my ideas around LHHA.

Several other folks have written about Love and Hip Hop Atlanta. Bianca Laureno wrote, “Abortion, Reality TV and Women of Color”, Jamilah Aisha Brown wrote “Love and Hip Hop and Transphobia” and Akiba Solmon has written “Love and Hip Hop Atlanta Shouldn’t Embarrass Brown and Black Women”. #readthem.

As I watched the shows over the last few weeks, I saw image after image of Black women in pain, which is legitimate because many of us are in pain. However, what became clear to me after seeing two weeks straight of grown women confronting each other (Joseline and Mimi; K.Michelle and Karlie Redd) I thought, why are public displays of Black women in pain so attractive and lucrative?

Given how lucrative Black women’s pain is in this context, how does this show impact how people interact with us on a day to day basis? Black girl pain is real and legitimate.

We also have to consider that Atlanta and it’s geographical context. DMV and Atlanta contain the two largest concentrations of high income earning African Americans in this country.

Which brings me to the money. According to a post on Radar Online, for White women working on the Real Housewives of Orange County,

Vicki Gunvalson is the top earner, bringing in a cool $450,000 a season. Hot on her heels is Tamra Barney who commands $350,000, followed by Gretchen Rossi with $300,000, Alexis Bellino is paid $200,000 and at bottom of the list is newcomer, Heather Dubrow at a paltry $30,000.

Now keep in mind I know that this is a small selection of earnings from one show, however it is important to note what some White women earn for a hugely popular show. Here is a list of the highest earning reality tv stars, with the highest being Kim Kardashian at an estimated $6M. However this number includes not only her show earnings but her earnings from endorsements as well.

Furthermore, according to the Radar Online article, Nene Leakes earned $750,000 per season on Real Housewives of Atlanta. At nearly a million dollars a season, the racial, cultural and financial significance of these shows must be considered.

I am not certain how much the women on Love and Hip Hop Atlanta earn, however a blog titled Love and Hip Hop Atlanta which doesn’t have  any supportive links, states that Stevie J earns $30,000 per episode and it is set to rise to $95,000 per episode. This is interesting. I wonder how much Mimi and Joseline earn. I wonder also how much the advertisers pay Viacom to advertise on the show.

Nearly two weeks ago when I started thinking about writing this post I had just learned that Carol’s Daughter started selling $40 transitioning kits. Like reality television, Black women’s hair care is a lucrative industry, as it was valued in 2008 at 1.8B.

I guess what is bizarre to me is that the kit represents how Black women’s natural hair has been commodified on a whole other level. By commodified, I mean something that we see everyday that is now packaged and sold for a profit. I am of two minds about this transitioning kit. On one hand, if you don’t know how to do your natural hair, then having a kit may be useful. Reading the product review comments is a testament to this fact. On the other hand it speaks to me as a lack of imagination and creativity and a willingness to explore.

Think about it, part of me believes that a huge part of going and being nappy is about a path of self discovery and a willingness to experiment, mixing and matching, making concoctions at home, trying out styles that you have seen in a magazine or a blog. What makes a corporation the authority on what grows out of our heads?

Both the existence of these transition kits and the popularity of Love and Hip Hop Atlanta reminds me that Black women can make corporations a lot of money (I also understand that there are Black women earning substantial wages from reality tv and from the hair cure industry.)

However, given the fact that Black women have been rendered property, I find the show and the kit illuminating and peculiar.

So, I have three questions:

What do we have to believe about Black women in order for this show to make sense to us?

And if it doesn’t make sense to you, what do you think that other people have to believe about Black women in order for it to make sense to them?

Is the transition kit weird to you too? Did you use one? What did you think?