Author: Sasha

Economy of Spike Lee’s Joints

photo-original

Towards the end of the semester, we spoke about the economy of Lee’s films, and all the other kinds of things he has to produce in order to maintain his independence and his ability to produce films on his own terms. That there are people who disparage him for this was upsetting and unsurprising to me: the logic of artists suffering/starving for their art is a lot more of a reality for marginalized people creating art, and so it’s more distressing to the establishment when someone challenges that model.

In that vein, I remembered hearing that Lee had financed his last movie, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, over Kickstarter. The campaign page is pretty interesting, especially the FAQ that Lee set up. I encourage everyone to go check it out: it offers some interesting insight into Lee’s understanding of himself in the Hollywood economy.

Celebrating Black Women

enhanced-6542-1461959251-8

One of the more frustrating things about Lee’s filmography this semester has been his treatment of black women. Going from film to film, he often reifies and reinforces the kinds of negative stereotypes about black women that plague the media and the popular American social imagination: hypersexual black women, angry black women, deviant black women. Rarely do the women in his films get to be at the center of attention for anything other than their bodies, and when they do, rarely do they get to push back against the limited and limiting spaces Lee puts them in. Chi-Raq promised so much, putting Lysistrata front and center on posters, on-screen, and in the plot, and then fell so far: Strata’s body and sexuality were featured as her most important attributes for a long time, the site of her power only her vagina and the denial of access to it.

Crooklyn was, in this respect, a breath of fresh air – focusing on Troy and her childhood, her subjectivity, her girlhood – and I can’t help but wonder how much of that was influenced by Joie Lee being one of the co-writers of the script, and Spike Lee a producer. I would say more, but Dani over on Blog 4 has written a beautiful post on why Troy and Crooklyn matter, and I encourage everyone to read it.

I also encourage everyone – and here I come to my main goal in this post – go to watch Lemonade. If, like me, you have grown frustrated about Lee’s portrayal of black women, or if you’re curious about what a raw, powerful, redemptive, honest, urgent, reclaiming, and human look at black women would be like, please go look at Lemonade. I could go on and on, but frankly I am not the person to speak about Lemonade – please click on any of the articles I linked to in the previous sentence, where amazing black women have written highly important pieces about it (thoughtful, potent engagements and critiques) – and please, if you can, go watch it (on Tidal’s free trial, because I know we’re all broke college students) for yourselves.

Lee’s Children v. Superpredators

maxresdefault.jpg

Lee’s caring, considerate portrayal of children as children, entitled to childhood and mischief, speaks directly to the rise of the term”superpredator”. Coined in the mid-1990s, the theory was that America was on the verge of being terrorized by “feral youths devoid of impulse control or remorse” – coded, institutionalized language meant to inspire fear in the hearts of white people about black youth. Look to Hillary Clinton using this same language as she campaigns for Bill Clinton’s crime bill, in which she says “we must bring them to heel,” referring to black American youth. This bill would go on to create, in large part, the prison industrial complex as we know it today: everyone should watch this video of a Black Lives Matter protestor crashing one of Clinton’s private donor lunches to confront her.

It’s worth noting that Hillary’s use of the term superpredator is nothing new – in fact, it comes from a long, historical, racist tradition of white people imagining black people as superhuman and monstrous, as something inhuman, as incapable of feeling pain or demonic. This kind of racist imagination begins its language in the colonial encounter,  and stretches throughout the history of America from slavery into the present day.

Many of the films we’ve discussed in class were being made at exactly this time, as the idea of the superpredator inspired a nation-wide fervor and got mobilized by various governmental and social entities to criminalize and dehumanize black children. Lee has never shied away from being political, and so the preeminence he plays on portraying black children and adolescents humanely, kindly, and lovingly stands in direct opposition to the language of the superpredator and the personhood that that term denies.

I quote a New York Times article above, which for the most part lays out some weak points about the myth of the superpredator, but ends on a note that I wanted to share with all of you:

“As for superpredators, not everyone has abandoned the notion. In the ‘90s, Mr. DiIulio called those youngsters “remorseless” and “impulsive,” describing them as unburdened by “pangs of conscience.”

Hmm, said Richard Eskow. Or words to that effect. Mr. Eskow, a senior fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future, wrote for The Huffington Post two years ago that he knew a group of people who matched those very descriptions. They were, he said, the reckless bankers and Wall Street high rollers who almost brought the United States economy to its knees a few years ago.”

I know some of the articles I link to are rather long, but they’re definitely (besides the NYTimes one) worth reading! Let me know what you guys think.

 

Sing Our Rivers Red

 

The Sing Our Rivers Red exhibition and poetry reading was a powerfully moving experience. I and the audience, in the words of Hannabah Blue, bore witness to the to painful and resilient stories of native women. I was made aware of how powerful the act of bearing witness can be, when the narratives are being actively silenced and swept under the rug. Abandoned. Ignored. This spoke, again, to the importance of cultural narratives: to their power in writing and re-writing memory, and in creating a space for healing. I thought about the role of art – poetry, painting, film, etc – in affording hope, and power; in bringing people together; in creating conversation.

I encourage everyone to check out the Sing Our Rivers Red project and learn more about the amazing work they do.

Jessica Johnson | Matana Roberts & Embodying History

“What role do items in slavery’s archives play in the drive for data and the embodying of a politics in which all black lives matter?

How do we use the ephemerality of social media in the service of history/memory that does not reproduce humans solely as data?

What does it mean to do a hypertextual history of a people who did not leave any texts?

How do we capture humanity in these mediums without detaching from it or over-emotionalizing it?”

(more…)