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?

Brave x Beasts of the Southern Wild

 

I saw both Brave and Beasts of the Southern Wild this weekend, and I hadn’t thought about the connection between the two movies until this morning.

I don’t read film reviews (ironic no?) so I am often in for a surprise when I see a movie.

With regard to “Brave” it is interesting that the relationship between the main character, Merida, and her mother, Elinor, is central to the film.

I think that this is ironic given how many blog posts I’ve seen throughout the interwebs about whether the main protagonist was a lesbian just because she didn’t want to follow the princess tradition and get married because the stability of the kingdom depended on it. The sexual binary makes my ass itch. So, most of the film focuses on and pivots on Merida and Elinor’s relationship which was a pleasant surprise.

When was the last time you saw a Hollywood film focused on the relationship between a mother and a daughter that chronicled their struggles, pain and reconciliation? Don’t worry, I’ll sit here and wait.

This brings me to “Beasts of the Southern Wild”. I had to go see it because for the last two weeks every quirky Black girl I know has been like Allcity have you seen it, and I been like, um, no. So I went.

I don’t even know where to begin with the film except to say that it is interesting to see a little Black girl as a protagonist in a film. I think that it is interesting that the protagonist in “Beasts”, Hush Puppy, is also working with and searching for her relationship to her mother.

I think that looking at these two films together as a pair says something about some depictions of little girls in popular culture in 2012. I am not quite sure what. On second thought, I am certain of something. These girls don’t look like the typical representations of little girls in feature films. Neither are blonde and neither appear to be invested in mainstream stereotypical gendered ideas of what a “little girl” is suppose to be. Both of the characters also experience a transformation by the end of the film.

Did you see either film?

What did you think?

On the {Sexual} Politics of Viola Davis’s Natural Hair at the Oscars

It wasn’t until my homie Gisele, a Black woman and working actress pointed out to me that Viola Davis graduated from Julliard in the late 80’s, that my growing obsession with Davis began to make sense.

In Davis, I saw myself.

I saw the struggles of so many Black women who try to remain whole in the face of economic, racial, sexual and financial circumstances that threaten to undermine them, in a mainstream culture that reads them by and large as maids, hypersexual video vixens, or as invisible.

A couple of weeks before the Oscars I watched the Tavis interview with her and read two articles at Shadow and Act titled “It’s a Difficult Time to be a Black Filmmaker with an Imagination” by Tanya Steele and “A Young Viola Davis Thought Experiment” by Charles Hudson. This material helped me to flesh out my ideas around Davis.

I wanted to know, what Davis’s process for deciding whether or not to take the role?  When I learned from the Tavis interview that she thought about it for three months, that it kept her up at night, she had me.

In the bookToms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks Donald Bogle studies the history of representations of African Americans in film. Bogle contends that all of these stereotypes are rooted in entertaining to stress “Negro inferiority”. Which leads me to ask, what is the political purpose of seeing “Negros” as inferior?

You see, I believe that one of the most interesting intersections to explore is the intersection between race and cultural productions because they can teach us both about the insidious and peculiar history of race and gender. This is important because I believe that understanding history can possibly lead us to a different, equitable and just future.

As many of you know I enjoy writing about films more than I writing about rap music these days, largely because the financial and racial politics of filmmaking remains highly undertheorized in pop culture blog spaces.

Which brings me to Ms. Davis and erotic capital.

Viola Davis and Erotic Capital

I take the idea of erotic capital from Siobahn Brooks. She has done some interesting work on class and race in strip clubs in New York and Oakland.

Erotic capital is made up of the things that are used to evaluate a womans sexual desirability in the public marketplace. So for Black women, I see erotic capital as hair texture, hair length, skin color, skin hue, body shape, nose and mouth size.

If we look at Ms. Davis, against mainstream standards of beauty that says that thin, white, young, curvy and blond is the norm, then I read her desire to show up to the Oscars with short chestnut afro as a rupture in popular culture representations of beauty. At least for that moment.

In a moment, when she knew that the focus would be on her, she chose to show up wearing a hairstyle that many people, some Black women included would call uncivilized.

What does it mean to  show up to the Oscars as a Julliard trained dark skinned Black woman, who is nominated for an Oscar for playing a maid in a movie that is a mainstream/hegemonic narrative about the “Good Old South”? In 2012?

Viola Davis and Black Women’s Genius

I knew that Davis was a genius when I learned two things. The first, is that for her role in Doubt she created a thirty page report/dossier on her character because she knew she only had two scenes to nail the character.

Thirty pages? That means you are invested in your craft.

The second reason why I knew she was a genius is because of Toni Morrison’s Sula. In some ways when I read that she created this dossier, I was immediately reminded of Morrison’s Sula, and the idea of a woman without an artistic form becoming dangerous.

It was in this moment that I realized that Davis, needs to produce her work otherwise she wouldn’t be right.

What do I mean by being right?

How many broken spirited people do you know who ain’t right largely because they knew they were put here on this planet to do something, but rather than embrace that thing, they took the path of least resistance?

What does it mean in 2012 to not take the path of least resistance when your Julliard training implicitly tells you that you should expect to be doing Shakespeare after you graduate from your acting program?

What do you do when you learn that the rules for you and the rules for your peers are not one and the same?

What does it mean to be a Black woman, looking to be validated by an industry that has historically seen people like you only as being fit to play a maid?