Yelling to The Sky

I am a big movie watcher. I like going to the movies or renting movies or surfing Netflix. So, I will often blog about movies, I have watched. The other day, I had the opportunity to re-watch “Yelling to The Sky. “  It’s now streaming on Netflix. The film was written and directed by Victoria Mahoney.

I initially watched the film, after waiting a year  and some months, for it to be released in theaters. The film debuted at the Berlin Film Festival in 2011, then sat on the shelf.  Finally,  back in December 2012, the film was released online and DVD.  I was excited. I watched the film as soon as it was available for viewing.

I was a bit disappointed, after waiting so long to see the film.  I decided to watch it again, to see if it really didn’t live up to my expectations, the first time around.

SPOILERS!! SPOILERS!! SPOILERS!!

The  film is about 16-year-old, biracial/multicultural Sweetness O’Hara (played by Zoe Kravitz).  She lives with her older sister, black mother, and Irish father. The dad is verbally and physically abusive. The mom is mostly absent. The sister is pregnant and angry all the time.  At school, Sweetness is harassed by bully, Latonya (played by Gabourey Sidibe). Eventually, her stressful home/school life, overwhelms  Sweetness. She decides she will longer be the bullied, but become the bully.  Sweetness trades in her drab clothing and makeup free face, for more stylish clothes and bright red lips.

She starts selling drugs and harassing other kids. Sweetness eventually wins over two of Latonya’s cronies. They form their own crew.  They strut down the school hallways, daring anyone to get in their way.  I loved the premise of the film. It’s why I was so interested in seeing it. However, after watching the film two times, I still feel like something is missing.

There are some good scenes in the movie, but they never seem to quite come together. The acting was decent. Kravitz didn’t blow me away or anything, but she played a sullen Sweetness, well enough. I did enjoy the character Ola, played by Antonique Smith.  I kept thinking she looked familiar to me. I Googled her, and realized she portrayed Faith Evans, in the film “Notorious.” The film was based on the life of the late rapper, The Notorious B.I.G.

In her role as Sweetness’s big sister, Smith made the film tolerable. Her natural acting abilities, makeup for Kravitz’s bland portrayal of Sweetness.   Of course, when I watch films, I like to look at how black women are represented. The mother in the film (played by Yolonda Ross), is mostly silent.  She is routinely abused by her husband.  She often deserts her children. It’s alluded to that she might have mental illness. Other than that, you really learn nothing about her. Strangely, the abusive white father is given more air time.

The absent mother, like the Latonya character, is portrayed by a darker skin black woman.  Skin tone plays a role in the film. I am not exactly sure what the director is trying to say, with her actress choices. I know that she identifies as a biracial/multicultural woman.

I know the film is supposed to be semi-autobiographical. I understand that biracial/multicultural  girls/teens are sometimes harassed by their black classmates. Still, it was a bit disconcerting to see all the dark skin girls/women be either bullies or an unavailable mama. To be fair, the older sister (and Sweetness at times) are shown being violent, but there’s context to their violence. The dark skin girls are  bullies cuz they hate light skin girls?

The film also moves at a slow pace. My mind would start wandering, because the storyline just isn’t strong enough. Once again, something was missing. It’s still a decent film to check out. I am interested to see what the director does next. She has potential…

Anti-sexual Harassment Stickers

Yesterday, I saw this picture on a blog:

Oakland Street Art
Oakland Street Art

The picture was courtesy of a group called Oakland Street Art.  On their website it was noted why they do what they do:  “A space to document, share, and appreciate the wealth of beautiful street art in Oakland – from murals and graffiti to stenciling, stickers and chalking.”  The caption of the picture read: Anti-sexual harassment stickers up around Lake Merritt: “Stop telling women to smile.”

I related to all of the stickers, but especially the one telling women to smile. It’s bad enough that some white folks expect you to be their Mammy and skin and grin for them, but it’s also annoying some black men expect this as well.  Now remember I said SOME black men.  I know other men engage in this behavior (obviously), but my interactions tend to be with  black men, regarding this issue.

I have had black men get angry with me, because I wasn’t cheesing. Never mind the fact I might’ve had a bad day, singing my favorite tune in my head and didn’t notice them, just realized I didn’t have enough to get a caramel mocha from Starbucks, whatever the case might be.  It doesn’t matter, I am a woman, and I am expected to make their day.

I remember one time, I was sitting outside enjoying the sunny day.  I was starting off into space, loving the warmth on my face.  A guy walked by and told me to “smile.” I was confused because I had been daydreaming.   I guess I didn’t respond fast enough for him, because he said angrily, “smile, damn!” I looked at him like he had two heads. I wanted to say something smart, but just decided to ignore it. The truth is, you never know how some men are going to react, when you try to defend yourself.

Speaking back against street harassment has been deadly for women, especially black women. Too many men think they have a right to black women’s bodies. It’s because our bodies tend to be degraded in mainstream and black media.  It’s also because people have learned you don’t have to respect black women (after all, we are just crackheads, baby mamas, hoodrats, crazy, loud & angry, etc). Men of color who verbally attack black women on the street, would be hesitant to do so to white women.  It’s a combination of having colonized minds and fear of the police getting involved (it’s been proven that men of color are more likely to be arrested for assaulting white women, than women of color).

The video Black Woman Walking is dedicated to Adilah Gaither.  She was a young woman who was shot and killed because she wouldn’t give a boy her number. Street harassment is a real and serious issue. Some folks don’t see the big deal in a man telling you to smile. They figure it’s better than him calling you a “bitch.” The problem is, if you don’t react the way they think you should react,  it’s not long before you become a bitch, hoe, cunt, etc.