Genarlow Wilson

Back in April, I organized an event in support of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.  I hosted a film showing of NO! The Rape Documentary.  The film looks at sexual violence/assault in the black community.  I believe it’s important to give space to how  black women  navigate differently around this issue. Whether folks want to admit to it or not, there is a lot of sexism/oppression of black women/girls in the black community.  There are many black women who willingly thrown themselves under the bus in favor of black men, when it’s often not reciprocated.

This has never been more telling, than in the recent case of Genarlow Wilson.   I learned about the case from one of my favorite blogs, What About Our Daughters.  I have been keeping tabs on the happenings of Genarlow Wilson, via the website. Recently, the blogger posted more detailed information about the assault of  the 17-year-old black girl, that Genarlow Wilson participated in (from WAOD website):

LM, went to a party with her fellow athletes and when she fell unconscious, possibly after they drugged her, Genarlow Wilson and his buddies raped her, repeatedly and video taped it. That’s not what I say, that’s what the Georgia Court of Appeals describes in Wilson vs. State of Georgia.

A group of teenagers rented adjacent rooms at a motel and held a raucous, unsupervised New Year’s Eve party.  Among the participants were 17-year-old Genarlow Wilson, 17-year-old L.M., and 15-year-old T.C.   The next morning, L.M. reported to her mother that she had been raped.   Police were notified, and the motel rooms were searched.   During the search, a videocamera and videocassette tape were found. The tape showed Wilson having sexual intercourse with an apparently semiconscious L.M. and T.C. performing oral sex on Wilson. Wilson v. State.

I was floored after reading this.   I had tears in my eyes. It’s disturbing to me what happened to these young women. It’s not only that the black community has turned their backs on these young victims, but that Genarlow Wilson  has been given support and perks not available to his victims. While he has been able to make the media rounds, his victims can’t even show their face in public. While he was given a free scholarship for college, they probably fear going on a college campus. While he gets praising articles, they are written with scorn and disregard. 

Some folks say, well he was a young kid too. He made a mistake. Sexually assaulting an unconscious young woman, is not a mistake. Genarlow Wilson and his friends, videotaped the incident. Ain’t no mistake in that. Also, the fact that Genarlow Wilson doesn’t seem apologetic about it. If he were more genuine in his horror of his behavior/worked with other young men about this issue/offered some of his perks to his victims, than maybe one wouldn’t be as disgusted.

I lamented on the WAOD website what can we do to support these young women? She stated by helping her get the transcripts of the Genarlow Wilson case. She wants to make a film about this incident from the young women’s perspective.  Please donate if you can:

http://www.gofundme.com/genarlowwilsontranscript

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Kenyan model Ajuma Nasenyana fights skin lightening

There has been an ongoing agenda in mainstream/black media to wipe out images of darker skinned black women. In the 70’s and 80’s dark/brown women were frequently featured on magazine covers, television, and in movies.  Who woulda thunk that in 2013 representations (or lack of) of dark/brown women, would be worse 30-40 years later?    There has been a white supremacist push to encourage people of color to lighten their skin. As I noted in a previous post, the lightening of black women celebrities, is disturbing. It’s not just women, though:

Reggae artist Vybz Kartel lightened skin
Hip Hop artist Vybz Kartel lightened skin
Sammy Sosa lightened skin
Sammy Sosa lightened skin

“They” have worked diligently to make us hate ourselves. It takes a consistent conscious effort to resist being colonized mentally. It’s worse for black women,  because women in general, tend to be judged/have more valued placed on their looks. Since black women are regularly placed on the bottom of the lookist social ladder, it creates an urgent need to be accepted, even if it means bleaching one’s skin.

That’s why I was happy to read these comments from Kenyan model, Ajuma Nasenyana:

“It seems that the world is conspiring in preaching that there is something wrong with Kenyan ladies’ kinky hair and dark skin,” Kenyan model Ajuma Nasenyana told the Daily Nation. Nasenyana wonders why European skincare companies that push lightening creams are entering Kenya marketing the European standard of beauty. “Their leaflets are all about skin lightening, and they seem to be doing good business in Kenya. It just shocks me. It’s not OK for a Caucasian to tell us to lighten our skin,” she said.

Ajuma Nasenyana
Ajuma Nasenyana

Read the rest of the article at Clutch Magazine: http://thegrio.com/2012/06/27/kenyan-model-ajuma-nasenyana-fights-skin-lightening-and-european-standards-of-beauty/

Mo’Nique

Recently, a photo of a slender Mo’Nique (actress/comedienne/Oscar winner) made it’s rounds on (black) blogs:

Mo'Nique 2013
Mo’Nique 2013

Folks noted that she’s now the evil skinny woman, she used to make fun of in her stand up routines.  Many stated she probably feels ridiculous that she used to clown skinny women. How it was disingenuous of her to have led “fat women astray” about loving their weight, but then goes on to lose weight herself.

I disagree. I hope Mo’Nique stands strong on her earlier resistance  of being pressured to look a certain way.  I think Mo’Nique was making a cultural observation about how it was okay for folks to make fun of “fat” women, but folks got all defensive when she poked fun at skinny women.  In the Hollywood Industrial Complex, I’m sure as a full-figured black woman, Mo’Nique had to deal with people taking issue with how she looked/not taking her seriously as a budding actress.

There is a myth in white feminism and with black folks, that heavier women are adored in the black community. While black women are able to get away with more voluptuous bodies than white women, there is still a disdain for “fat” women in the black community, just as there is in the white community.

In a lot of black folks minds, it’s one thing to be “thick” like a Beyoncé or numerous video dancers, it’s another to be “fat” like the old Mo’Nique or Gabourey Sidibe:

Gabourey Sidibe 2013
Gabourey Sidibe 2013

I have read/heard people say some foul mess about Gabourey (Gabby). Folks want her to feel ashamed about how she looks. They think it’s appalling that the Hollywood Industrial Complex likes to use black actresses that look like Gabby. Why not slender black women like Megan Good? To a certain extent, I understand what they are saying. Racist Hollywood loves to use full-figured/dark skin black women as a way to make the black woman the joke or make her a “Mammy” caricature. However, the truth is skinny black women fair no better in racist Hollywood.  They just get to  play the crackhead or “hoe” roles.  It’s not about how black women look, it’s the fact that racist Hollywood simply doesn’t care about the representations of black women, whether they are “fat” or skinny. All the black women in Hollywood could get down to a size two and would still be regulated to stereotypical characters. Why is there a lack of well-rounded, complex roles for black women in mainstream AND black movies?  That’s the question black folks should be asking.

Whatever the reasons why Mo’Nique  decided to lose weight, it doesn’t make her fake. She just used her talents to counter the oppression she faced, as a full-figured woman in a lookist industry/society. She made the jokes, because she didn’t want to BE the joke.  I think she had sincere intentions and truly wanted to empower other full-figured women.  In any case, Mo’Nique is da bomb, no matter what she looks like.

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.

Baggage Claim

Wow, looks like black movies are coming up. Instead of one film a year, we are getting two-three, yea! Too bad most of them tend to be mediocre. I understand the desire to see black love stories, as there are virtually none in mainstream media, but these films can be so boring/cliche. The films also tend to be obsessed with putting the professional black woman in her place.   I know folks love romantic-coms (these movies usually clean house opening weekend), but I am sooo over them. Plus, Taye Diggs has lost all of his appeal, after making several  disparaging remarks about black women. I can keep my money in my pocket, homey. Anyway, I know some folks enjoy these kinds of movies, so here ya go:

Gimme the Loot

I love slice of life films. So, my curiosity was peaked, after reading a review  for  Gimme the Loot.  It’s rare  that we get good black films these days, let alone about black teens. However, my eyebrows were raised after I watched the trailer). I wondered why so many young white women in a film about black teens. I researched the  writer-director Adam Leon, and turned out he’s a young white director. The film has also been endorsed/presented by Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme. It made more sense that two white male directors  would feel the need to incorporate whiteness into black folks lives. To be fair though, the young white women do serve a purpose for one scene in the film.

SPOILERS !!! SPOILERS!! SPOILERS!

The two young actors (Tashiana Washington (Sophia) and Ty Hickson (Malcolm) were amazing. They portrayed Bronx teens, pretty convincingly.  I am especially looking forward to more work from Ms. Washington. While her role was the cliché loud/foul mouth black girl, you understand why. As a young woman in the male dominated world of graffiti/taggers, she has to make folks take her seriously.  Actually, that might have made it a more complex film, looking at her life from the perspective as a young woman tagger.  There are a couple of sweet moments for Sophia, but overall, the character is the  standard sassy black girl. I also didn’t care for seeing the black female character lamenting about possibly not being seen as beautiful as the white female lead.

My other concern was that Sophia and Malcolm engage in a lot of criminal activity.   Okay, I’ll backtrack a bit. The storyline revolves around two best friends, Sophia and Malcolm, who are also graffiti artists.  They decide they want  to leave a mark on New York City (NYC), in a big way.  The two teens set their sights on tagging a big apple, that pops up, every time a home run is made at  Shea Stadium. In order to do this, Malcolm has arranged for them to pay $500 dollars to a security that works there, so they can get into the stadium. Of course, they are teens with limited funds, and need to get money anyway they can.  So, there is context to their criminality, but I still didn’t care for it. The first scene starts off with them stealing from a store and progressing to a potential robbery .

Currently, New York City has been under fire for its Stop & Frisk law.  The concern of racial profiling of black & brown folks, especially young folks, is very real. There have been several instances of unjust harassment of young people of color by the NYPD:

NYPD Commanding Officer Caught On Tape Ordering Cops To Stop And Frisk Young “Male Blacks 

How ‘Stop and Frisk’ Is Too Often a Sexual Assault by Cops on Teenagers in Targeted NYC Neighborhoods

I know it’s just a film, but it made me uneasy to see young folks of color casually stealing, robbing, and selling drugs. It’s not an image that needs to perpetuated, when there is so much intense racial profiling, in areas like the Bronx.  Leon does try to show the racial and class disparities in NYC, with Malcolm and the white female character, Ginnie (Zoe Lescaze ). It’s  during the scene with Malcolm, Ginnie, and her white girlfriends where you feel for Malcolm (and Sophia) and understand how their lives have been framed, so much differently from these  upper-class white girls.

I did enjoy watching the two charismatic teens zig-zag around their neighborhood. It was interesting to see all the many characters they interact with, during their harrowing weekend. The ending scene was also very heartwarming.  It will be interesting to see other folks of color thoughts on this film.