Review: Get Out

*minimal spoilers*


 

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Horror is so often in the mundane—the turn, in an instant, from a walk in a pleasant suburban neighborhood to violence that can end a life. Horror movies have been built on this trope since the beginning, but it is also a potential daily reality for black America. Jordan Peele’s directorial debut underlines this point immediately, layering both classic horror cues and a situation that immediately recalls the shooting of Trayvon Martin.

Having established this metaphor—which is less a metaphor than a brutal, direct statement—we meet Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), who are headed to her parents’ estate for a weekend. “Do your parents know I’m black?” Chris asks, thinking ahead to a potentially uncomfortable first meeting. It’s a question that most interracial couples have encountered, if not always out loud. “They’re not racist,” Rose replies. “I would have told you.” The idea that Rose can see her own privilege through the veil of her place within the family made me scoff, sitting there in the theater. Chris let it go. It laid the perfect groundwork for the questions the movie would raise: about refusing to see what is in front of us, and about blinding ourselves with more comfortable or more convenient truths.

At every turn, the film explores how the sinister can be folded into the seemingly ordinary, through the specific lens of racialized interactions. As the weekend progresses, Chris attends a party thrown by the Armitages for their friends—wealthy older white people who wear Chris down with a barrage of uncomfortable comments that feel all too realistic. From an older woman who goes straight for Chris’ arm muscles, to a comment by Rose’s brother containing the phrase “genetic makeup,” there’s a growing burden on Chris to smile through it all. The premise lends itself brilliantly to horror—after all, aren’t moviegoers already primed to feel a slightly sickening sense of unease and dread when it comes to the sight of a young black man alone in a crowd of older white people? We don’t even need the context of a horror movie to know that historically, and in the present moment as well, there is potential for racialized violence there. Is the awkwardness caused by “benign” racism fueled by mere ignorance? Does it mask, like a KKK hood, the real racist beneath? Like all good horror films, Get Out heightens a particular social anxiety to the point of frenzy. In this case, it’s about accurately judging the depths of a person’s discrimination. Being able to tell the difference between an awkward social encounter and a more sinister racist depth is everything.

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It also delivers a pointed send-up of the microaggressive well-meaning white liberal, since racism is not, in fact, the sole domain of southern evangelicals. The film makes a point of emphasizing Rose’s sympathy for Chris’ situation and her father’s insistent ally-ism (including an absurdist moment where he discusses an ancestor happily losing to Jesse Owens under Hitler’s watchful eyes). Well-intentioned civility can, and does, coexist with the kind of casual cruelty and uncaring evil that will put the good of the tribe first—even among the educated and self-proclaiming liberal.

These are signs that Chris chooses to ignore, or to subsume, time and time again. In his character, we get not only a stand-in for the threatened black male body (among a white cocktail party, or on the side of the highway facing a white cop), but also a figure for the kind of accommodation that white supremacy exacts. We can get along well, the movie says in the beginning, as long as you’re willing to bend a little. Overlook moments of discomfort so that everything will go smoothly. Eventually, this is a road that leads him straight down a nightmare, as the stakes of his attrition rise higher and higher. Chris spends so much of the movie accepting his own discomfort, in situations that seem plausibly microaggressive, that he can no longer see the true nature of the threat in front of him. The other black characters at the Armitages’ house are so accommodating, genial, and blank that the audience is supposed to know something is wrong—but they’re not the only ones bending over backwards just a little too much.

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It’s difficult to discuss the movie further without giving away its biggest plot twists—but rest assured that, though the actual plot isn’t exactly subtle in the end, it is immensely satisfying. There is, as a friend noted when we left the theater, absolutely no redemption for white characters in this movie. And that’s ok. This is one movie, out of hundreds and thousands of movies, where the discussion begins and ends on the side of the black characters. The discomfort is insistent, vivid—a perfect counterbalance to the kind of palliative conversations that revolve around white supremacy and “the alt-right.”



Verdict? Five stars. Watch immediately.

 

 

 

“Zootopia” Encourages Us to Examine Our Prejudice

**This post contains some spoilers**

Zootopia continues Disney’s time-honored tradition of using animated creatures to talk about something else, whether it’s covering….Hamlet with lions or depression with walking, talking emojis (I’m talking Lion King and Inside Out here, in case you couldn’t tell). But Zootopia manages to do a little more, by drawing a charmingly insightful view of the world that still manages to talk about the prejudice and stereotypes that plague us.

Are you in it for the animal puns and inventive world-building? Sure. There are little sparks of pleasure throughout the entire movie, as the animators recreate familiar technology in an “evolved” world where animals, predators and prey, live together in a modern metropolis. How would subways accommodate both giraffes and hamsters? Do rabbits facetime? Are leopards pop-star fanboys who know how to use apps? All of your questions will be answered. (Bonus: this makes the film’s address of bigotry, racism, and prejudice even more compelling, as there’s a clear parallel drawn between Zootopia’s world and ours).

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Photo from Zootopia \\ Twitter @DisneyZootopia

Its main character, Judy Hopps, is an amibitious young bunny bent on becoming the first police officer of her species. To do so, she works twice as hard as anyone else, insisting that she’s not just a “token.” She is a creative problem-solver who works collaboratively, respects her friendships, and knows when to acknowledge her own mistakes and shortcomings. She’s a great cop who got there mostly by the dint of her own hard work, but also through the love and support of her community. She is defined more by her ambitions than anything else (and thank god there was no love story in this movie, because how would that even work…?). My cynical heart swells thinking of the young girls watching this movie who will absorb this film’s subtle, but strong message about the potential and abilities of the underestimated.

But Zootopia is more than a girl-can-do film, and its address of bigotry is what makes it one of the best and most important movies Disney has put out yet. In the beginning, Judy’s naive worldview presents Zootopia as the harmonious, “race-blind” melding of two distinct classes of animal: predator and prey. Part of her journey is through the disillusionment of that idea, and toward a concrete plan of action to remedy it. There are forces at work in the city who feed off of the distrust and prejudice that still surround “predators” and their unavoidable “biological instinct”—an early lesson for young viewers in the insidious power of coded language to shape public opinion, as Judy also learns. Through Judy’s friendship with the street-hustler fox Nick Wilde, she learns what it means to confront the lingering animosity between “predator” and “prey,” and how to forge a strong friendship from this unlikely, but very effective, partnership.

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Image from Twitter @DisneyZootopia

The film is also seeded with references for the adults or particularly savvy kids—like how the “nighthowlers” drug can be seen as a parallel to the crack epidemic, or how Judy tells another animal that bunnies can call other bunnies “cute,” but if another species does it….(you can almost hear the n-word echoing in the background). Zootopia depicts how quickly people (or animals) can fall into the traps of fear-motivated thinking, how bigotry and racism feed off of misinformation and fear. It also shows how much is lost when one’s world is circumscribed by these prejudices. And it does so in terms that both children and adults can understand and use to discuss racism, bigotry, and prejudice in the real world. That is a refreshing antidote to the hate-mongering and racism being peddled by election frontrunners—and the positive reaction to Zootopia bespeaks more than just our love for cuddly animals. Is it perfect? Probably not. But it brings the problems of bigotry right to the front and center. That’s a hell of a lot more than Disney movies used to do. We need more children’s movies like this, which are driven by interesting storylines and use world-building to open up discussions about the pressing problems of our own world.

 

Plus, this movie is just really freaking cute.

 

 

What is Gender? A Look at “The Danish Girl” and “Macbeth”

Written by I.C.

Two of this winter’s most absorbing movies emphasize the centrality of gender identity in thought-provoking ways.  The topic is more obviously central to The Danish Girl, the story of Lili Elbe (formerly Einar Wegener), the first known person to undergo sex reassignment surgery, and her wife, Gerda Wegener.  Both were painters in 1920s Copenhagen.  Oscar buzz for Eddie Redmayne as Lili was a given, due to the challenging nature of the role and his Best Actor win last year for another radical physical transformation in the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything. And he is indeed up for Best Actor for The Danish Girl.  Einar first tries on women’s clothing in order to help Gerda finish a painting when the model is unavailable.  But the act of donning female attire brings to life something latent within him, and Lili is born. Lili navigates the world at first awkwardly, then with increasing grace and confidence.  Even as those who knew Einar remain baffled, and doctors throw out diagnoses ranging from homosexuality to schizophrenia, Lili becomes increasingly certain that she has found her true identity, and is willing to endure anything to have an exterior that matches who she feels she is.

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Image via Twitter @danishgirlmov

As good as Redmayne is in the role, critics have also been at least as impressed by Swedish actress Alicia Vikander as Gerda.  2015 was Vikander’s year.  I loved her performances in the 2012 Danish film A Royal Affair and in a small part in that year’s Anna Karenina; in 2015 she gave me chills with her haunting performance as a conscious robot in Ex Machina and broke my heart as WWI-era pacifist and feminist Vera Brittain in Testament of Youth.  In The Danish Girl her radiant performance, for which she has been nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, turns the movie into not only the story of Lili but the story of an extraordinary marriage.  Gerda begins as a free-thinking, somewhat bohemian painter, married to a fellow painter whose work gets more acclaim.  As Einar becomes Lili, Gerda loses a husband but gains a muse: her paintings of Lili become hits in the art world.  Her simultaneous confusion, frustration, and devotion to the person she loves are beautifully portrayed.  When Einar tells a doctor that he believes he is a woman inside, and Gerda says, “And I believe it too,” it’s a powerful moment of alliance.

The film also subtly suggests that the Wegener’s love was never confined by conventional gender roles in any case: while Einar was sexually attracted to Gerda, Gerda was always the bold one, and when they first met she took the romantic initiative with the shy Einar. In portraying their relationship, the film carefully balances a recognition of sexual fluidity and the constructed or performative nature of gender with an emphasis on the individual right to claim what one feels to be one’s essential gender identity.

***

On the surface, The Danish Girl, a tasteful biopic, would seem to have little in common with a visually arresting and brutal Shakespeare adaptation.  Yet they address similar issues.  In the first scene in which Lady Macbeth appears in Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth, she is praying to the powers of darkness for exactly the thing that causes Lili so much pain: a disjunction in gender between her body and spirit.  She wishes for a man’s spirit in her woman’s body, as her battle-hardened culture has led her to equate masculinity with the ruthlessness she deems necessary to achieve her ambitions:

Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse….

Come to my woman’s breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature’s mischief! (Act I, scene v).

 

She is soon taunting her husband with lack of manliness for his qualms about murdering King Duncan; at this point, he has a much more morally grounded view of masculinity, saying: “I dare do all that may become a man; /Who dares do more is none” (Act I, scene vii).  In other words, to do something so evil as murdering his king would be “unbecoming” to a man, and in fact make him less of one.  He recognizes a masculine ideal in Banquo, who “hath a wisdom that doth guide his valour/ To act in safety” (Act III scene i).

But his wife continues to insist that manliness involves hard-heartedness and violence without remorse; she says:

When you durst do it, then you were a man;
And, to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more the man. …
(Act I, scene vii).

She is unprepared, however, for how fully her husband will ultimately embrace this toxic view of masculinity. As Macbeth’s mind crumbles under the effects of post-traumatic stress, his moral sense also crumbles, and he takes his wife’s idea of the conflation of masculinity with violence further than she ever did.  If before King Duncan’s murder she fears her husband is “too full o’ the milk of human kindness” (Act I, scene v) to perform the deed, in later scenes she is dismayed by his ruthlessness. As Michael O’Sullivan’s review in the Washington Post points out, this film’s Macbeth is “far madder than his wife… whose descent into derangement is one of the most tired tropes of the theater.”  Michael Fassbender brilliantly portrays Macbeth’s unraveling, as his moral uncertainty gives way to anguish, and then to ferocity.

As for Lady Macbeth’s own mental deterioration, some might argue that it is due to her inability to shed her womanliness as she had hoped to do. With a silent but crucial opening scene, the movie finds a way to reconcile the text’s emphasis on Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s childlessness with Lady Macbeth’s statement that “I have given suck, and know/How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me” (Act I, scene vii), and in another pivotal scene, she takes the death of another woman’s children very hard.  It seems to me, however, that it is her humanity rather than her womanhood that she’s unable to shed, and that she is increasingly distressed at her husband’s loss of his.

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Image via Twitter @macbeth_movie

The emphasis on Macbeth’s increasing inhumanity also makes this film feel more nuanced in its portrayal of his wife, who in this film is no mere scheming temptress.  Marion Cotillard’s subtle performance also helps; I have yet to see this actress in anything in which she is less than sublime, and her work here is no exception.  Her rendition of the “Out, damned spot” speech is spellbinding.  There’s no wringing of her hands in that scene—the camera focuses on her face, and she is seated, quite still, with her hands kept deliberately out of the frame.  Her eyes are fixed on something the viewer only sees as she finishes speaking.  This scene erases any doubt that she is as tragic a figure as her husband, and her tragedy is in large part her embrace of traditionally “masculine” values that have ultimately proved dehumanizing.

Both of these films grapple with questions of gender and identity in a way that feels new and significant.  More generally, they deal with what it means to be an authentic, integrated human being, at home in one’s body (as Lili seeks to be) and in one’s mind (as the Macbeths, after their initial crime, can never be again).

At The Movies: Carol (2015)

Some spoilers.

What does falling in love look like? As Todd Haynes’ film Carol reminds us, it often looks quite boring, looking from the outside in. Lives are brought together and broken apart in the most ordinary of settings—a rather depressing department store, a diner where the porcelain is thick and ungainly, a motel with ugly bedding. People with beautiful cheekbones and deep, startling gazes must still remember to pay their coffee bill and deal with traffic.

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Image via Twitter @carolmovie

In some ways, not much happens in the movie. Two women meet in 1950s New York, exchanging glances and a joke or two over a toy counter. They fall in love, suddenly and without warning. One of them is Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), the kind of woman who matches her coral lipstick to her nails perfectly, the better to veil her repression. The other is Therese Belivet, an aspiring photographer who shies away from others (Rooney Mara). What ensues? A couple of visits, a road-trip to flee Carol’s estranged and pushy husband Harges (Kyle Chandler), sex, and finally, a confrontation that sends them spinning away from each other and then back again.

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Image via Twitter @carolmovie

In other ways, the stakes of the film are much higher. Vibrating underneath these events is a tension more meaningful than a shared cup of coffee or kisses exchanged on a motel pillow. In an era that could not brook the love between two women, or even call it by its name, Carol’s struggle to fit both her family expectations and her personal needs into a single life is a bitter one. She and Therese strive to fully realize their desires and selves. From the 1950s until now, that struggle for the right to occupy mundane space, even peacefully and beautifully, without intrusion and judgment, can ring true and familiar.

Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel The Price of Salt, the source material for the film, was long considered a literary footnote—after a surge in popularity at the time of its publishing, it fell to the wayside. It was, in fact, daring and important in many ways. Not only did it take lesbian love as its central theme, it broke the convention of “lesbian pulp fiction” to give its lovers a happy ending and a modicum of hope. The Price of Salt also precluded that other famous love story of the 1950s, Lolita, in its use of transgressive sex and the open road to explore the morality of American sentiment and loneliness. Both versions of the story celebrate the seemingly small but in fact monumental choice of self-satisfaction in the face of censure. In Carol, the driving force of a beautiful love story unfurls, whisper-soft but sweet.

Feminists Watch: Documentaries (Great Ones from 2015)

By I.C.

January is always a time for looking backward as well as forward, and as 2016 gets underway I’ve been reflecting back on the cultural events that defined 2015 for me.  One of the things that strikes me is what a great year it was for documentaries.  I am an avid fan of documentaries, and, as 2016 opened with Netflix’s documentary miniseries Making a Murderer as the year’s first pop cultural obsession, I’m clearly not alone. In recent years the genre has become particularly effective at combining entertainment with vital insights and even the capacity for inspiring activism and real social change. (See: The Paradise Lost films about the West Memphis Three, spanning 1996 to 2011, or 2013’s Blackfish.)  Following this trend, some of 2015’s most acclaimed and compelling filmmaking came from this genre.  So here are four of the best from 2015, in case you missed them, with a synopsis and also a suggestion of what these documentaries offer particularly to a feminist viewer. Whether you’re looking for eye-opening insight or a chance to funnel righteous indignation into action for a cause, these films have something for you. Continue reading “Feminists Watch: Documentaries (Great Ones from 2015)”

Alien Others and Selves

Starting off the new year with some good old-fashioned American paranoia!

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Via @5thWaveMovie

by E.L.

There is an episode of The Twilight Zone in which a normal American neighborhood is thrown into violent chaos by the appearance of a strange object in the sky. The fear that alien invaders might be masquerading as a human family causes neighbors to turn with suspicion on those they’ve known all their lives.

Like so many Twilight Zone episodes, the true monster here is Man. The lesson is that the enemy’s best weapon is the seed of paranoid doubt we harbor against those closest to us. It is a not-so-subtle commentary on McCarthyism’s hysterical campaign to root out the communist threat by encouraging citizens to denounce their friends and allies.

The communist, like the aliens in The Twilight Zone, is so dangerous precisely because its otherness cannot be easily recognized. Soviet sympathizers can look exactly like everybody else, and the possibility of their presence among us is so terrifying because it challenges our confidence in our own capacity for self-recognition. The identity of friends, spouses, teachers, and politicians cannot be trusted precisely because they look just like us. Familiarity itself becomes suspect as the mask of a dangerous otherness.

Continue reading “Alien Others and Selves”

Gothic Horror, Female Emotion, and Crimson Peak

The fear that you are going crazy, that you are imagining the things that wound or haunt you, is one our culture is always ready to confirm in women. We have been culturally conditioned to distrust our own minds, our own responses to the world around us. The writers of Gothic narratives have always understood this…In any situation of intense pain or fear, whether medical or domestic, being told repeatedly that you are imagining things or “making them up” creates a hell of Gothic isolation.

One need not be a chamber to be haunted,    

One need not be a house;       

The brain has corridors surpassing   

Material place.

-Emily Dickinson

 

Near the beginning of Guillermo del Toro’s new horror movie, Crimson Peak, a group of Victorian socialites describe the heroine, a young, aspiring American novelist named Edith Cushing, as “our very own Jane Austen,” cattily adding of Austen: “She died a spinster.”  Edith replies, “I’d rather be Mary Shelley,” adding, after a pause, “She died a widow.”

Beyond this exchange’s underlying dialogue of marriageability, Edith’s preference for Mary Shelley situates Crimson Peak in the genre of Gothic terror which runs from Anne Radcliffe to Shelley herself to Charlotte Brontë to Daphne Du Maurier and beyond.  Edith’s rejection of Austen implies that this movie is not a send-up of the Gothic genre, as Austen’s satirical Northanger Abbey is, even when the film self-consciously trots out the most worn conventions of the genre.  More subtly but even more importantly, Edith’s preference signals the film’s distance from the worldview that produced Austen’s satirical novel: there will be no shaming of the female protagonist’s overheated imagination here, as there is via a pedantically mansplaining male figure in Northanger Abbey.  In Crimson Peak, all the heroine’s fears are confirmed—along with some terrors that never occurred to her before they were revealed, though they probably occurred to the viewer with any experience of Gothic tales.

In the Gothic tradition, female feelings and fears are central.  Continue reading “Gothic Horror, Female Emotion, and Crimson Peak”

Alternate Titles for Spectre

You forgot there was a James Bond movie coming out, didn’t you? Me too, until I found myself in theaters watching it. Minor spoilers for tone and the teensiest of spoilers for plot, but…you’re not watching this for the plot anyway, are you? Don’t.

  1. How much abuse can a middle-aged body take?
  2. A good soundtrack makes all the difference
  3. It’s about THE DATA DAMNIT
  4. This is definitely not an obsolete franchise, nope
  5. The world’s cybersecurity problems boil down to a personal grudge, surprise!
  6. Never neglect a German child
  7. This guy again
  8. What do you mean this is an outdated sensibility
  9. Here we are in North Africa living a beautiful khaki imperialist dream

    ABSOLUTELY THRILLING
    ABSOLUTELY THRILLING, OBVIOUSLY. PLEASE TELL US MORE

Suffragette Ad Campaign: You’d Rather Do…What Now?

Feminist films, you can do better.

The new film Suffragette will be released next weekend, October 12. Starring Meryl Streep and Carey Mulligan, the film is receiving a lot of buzz as a raw and “unfeminine” depiction of the women’s suffrage movement in WWI-era London. As an Americanist and African-Americanist, I do not have the knowledge to say much about the historical accuracy of this film. But as a smart-ass female grad student of color who has read and re-read enough slave narratives and who is consumed by the issues of race, gender, sex/sexuality in media representation, I’m bound to inject my opinion into an ad campaign like the one below.

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My immediate reaction:

Rich white women donning t-shirts with the word “SLAVE” on them = hell no. Meryl Streep GRINNING like a fool wearing a t-shirt with the word “SLAVE” on it = double hell no. On a purely visual level, the whole thing bums me out.

Hmm, I’m also having issues with the wording.

When I take the word “slave” to its most obvious (for me) referent, that of a black person abducted from Africa and forced to work for free in American plantations, the phrase makes no sense. Why can’t one be both a rebel and a slave? There were plenty of slave rebellions that prove that one could. Does a rebellious slave cease to be a slave? Does resisting the status quo remove your legal status as property of another person? To whom exactly is this t-shirt referring?

Ok, let’s back up. Why is this my reaction? Well, I have a friend…

One time a black female friend of mine told me a story. She has told me lots of stories over the years, but this one is relevant: she went to a white female friend’s house for dinner. As other women complimented the host on the food, she laughed and yelped, “It better be good. I’ve been slaving away in the kitchen all day!” My friend repeated that line and my stomach immediately tensed. I knew that feeling. TFW you are the only person of color in an all-white space and someone makes a joking reference to slavery and you have no fucking idea how to react. Do I frown? Do I pretend I didn’t hear it? Do I laugh? Do I get on my soap box? Do I make an awesome clap back joke in response? I’m sad to say that I’ve responded with silence more times than I can probably remember. The moral of this story is that if you are a white person, unless you are presenting a well-researched paper on slavery or quoting a black person, avoid analogizing yourself to a slave at all costs.

But it’s not just personal. This phrase raises important historical questions about the relationship between white men, white women, and black people pre-and-postbellum that a t-shirt cannot answer.

It is irresponsible to publicize this image without a nuanced historical context. I may not know much about British history or the suffrage movement in England, but I know that there is a long history of white men and white women in America using the word “slave” and slave allegory/analogy to promote their own freedom movements. And people in England would have been all too familiar with this trend. The forefathers of the 18th century referred to themselves as ‘slaves to the King’ during the American Revolution, white women in favor of temperance (which was closely bound to anti-domestic violence activism) wrote about alcoholics as ‘slaves to the bottle’, and white American women fighting for the vote certainly spoke of themselves as ‘slaves to men’, bound to a system in which they had no political stake. But they weren’t referring to themselves as black slaves. Shudder to think!

Our forefathers and all of these groups knew that if they used the “slave” analogy as a way to demonstrate for their own freedom they might imply that this same rhetoric held true for African slaves. And then white people would be forced to reckon with the wild hypocrisy of asking for rights while enslaving and disenfranchising an entire group of people! Of course, some of them were forced to do such reckoning. White men panicked plenty and publicly about the possibility that they might not be so different from slaves. White men like Thomas Jefferson, who devotes almost all of Query XIV “Laws” in his racist-as-all-hell Notes on the State of Virginia to the topic of slavery. In this Query, Jefferson explains how America is establishing laws that will be different from the ones that they lived under as subjects of the British empire. Jefferson must insist upon the overall inferiority of black people in order to solidify his place above them :

“…among the Romans, their slaves were often their rarest artists… But they were the race of the whites. It is not [African slaves’] condition then, but nature, which has produced the distinction.” (237)[1]

Ugh, fucking Jefferson. Anyway, white women took note of these exclusionary tactics when raging against the patriarchy.

During slavery, white female suffragettes in America used abolition to equate their position under men with that of slaves under whites. However, this was always a fraught relation. Once black people were freed, white women largely changed their tune. After slavery ended in 1865, white women fought for the right to vote on a strategy of exclusion like that of Jefferson. During Reconstruction, the brief period in which black men gained the right to vote, white men and women played upon racist fears of the mythical “black beast rapist” invading white homes to miscegenate the population. Similar myths about “black nature” were disseminated about black women as hypersexual prostitutes. Although these racist myths worked to erect a public image of white women as helpless victims—and therefore maybe not the best candidates for voters—they also, directly and/or indirectly, worked to raise the public profile of white women. The rhetoric went, ‘If white women are getting raped by black men, white men may need a woman’s touch in the voting process to prevent such things from ever happening again.’ In other words, white women found opportunities to gain freedom on the backs of black men and women.

Editor’s note: Don’t forget, white women also made the argument that they should be enfranchised to overwhelm and “cancel out” the black vote, since there would be more white women enfranchised than both black men and women combined. 

Alright, that’s a lot of stuff. But one more problem: I don’t need an intellectually complex context, but can I get any context at all?

Where did the phrase, “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” even come from? According to the few news outlets who reported positively on the ad campaign, the quote is from a speech that Emmeline Pankhurst (leading suffragette played by Meryl Streep in the film) made at a London rally in 1913. This speech is nearly impossible to find online so I do not know how anyone has verified this information. As someone who likes to have a full text to work with, I want to find the actual speech and see what the context may have been for this phrase.

For now, let’s do some math and add up what we know about the impact of this ad in the present:

  • There’s a movie about a largely white movement for the right to vote coming out called Suffragette
  • White celebrity women (who may or may not identify as feminists) wear a t-shirt that says “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave”
  • Most white women for whom the ad is probably intended, who may not know the context of the quote, embrace the obviously intended “badass” message as in favor of girl power and all that jazz, just as this blog thatsnotmyage.com did:

‘I’d rather be a rebel than a slave,’ is what Emmeline Pankhurst said at a London rally in 1913. ‘Emmeline Pankhurst chained herself to the railings so you could vote,’ is what my mild-mannered mum said, when at 18 and first eligible to vote, her lazy, idle, good-for-nothing daughter couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed, to do so.

Even a generous reading such as this leaves me cold. It still doesn’t address the modern-day racial ties of the word “slave.” Given the subject of the film being advertised, it is likely that “slave” means “woman as slave of man.”

Let’s not forget that as this film comes out, riding a wave of support for feminism in pop culture, the conversation is still really exclusionary. Celebrity white women have been speaking out about the gender wage gap in America in ways that continue to shut out women of color (see: Patricia Arquette’s Oscars speech  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-EmDy3w1X8 and post-Oscars speech https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhlYwwRY96c)

MATH: Uncomfy visual + poor phrasing + lacking historical awareness or nuance = a thoughtless ad campaign

Will I see this damn thing?

A promotional campaign for a film centered on the rights of women that fails to take the perspective of people of color into account is not exactly making me want to run to my nearest movie theater on October 12. But, I will probably still see Suffragette for research purposes. Or… maybe I will torrent it for being-petty purposes.

[1] http://jefferson-notes.herokuapp.com/milestones/laws

Which Addams Family Misandrist Are You…?? (A Quiz)

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Image via Sony Movie Channel

With the scent of pumpkin spice and school supplies in the air once more, I finally feel justified in offering a guide to the Addams women. Go rewatch Addams Family Values not only because it’s a case study in sequels that trump their originals, but also because it gives the world the misandrist triumvirate of Wednesday Addams, Morticia Addams and Debbie Jellinsky.

Continue reading “Which Addams Family Misandrist Are You…?? (A Quiz)”