Underground Dissects the ‘Strong Black Woman’ myth in episode 3

Ok, so I’ve been loving the new season of Underground! I’ve been committed to writing recaps (at least to the episodes that really speak to me).

Episode 3 was particularly calling because it tackled a subject/truth/myth that all black women still battle, the ‘strong black woman’ trope.

I delve all into it HERE.

Also, you can peep my recap of ep 2 HERE.

Ain’t I A Mother: Motherhood as Freedom in ‘Underground’

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WGN’s ‘Underground’

It’s been a while (a long, looong while) but I’m back with some thoughts to share, specifically regarding Underground. I love the show since the premiere and that love has required a lot of defending against haters. But now that the season has ended I’ve had time to mull over a lot of the things that struck me and one of those things is motherhood. Season one presents us with three black women who are slaves on a Georgia plantation. What’s unique about these women is their declaration of motherhood, a right not afforded to them due to their being, legally, property. That declaration of motherhood is a form of freedom as violently toiled for as physically escaping the plantation.

Toni Morrison first presented the argument for motherhood as freedom in her novel, Beloved. Morrison looks at real-life Margaret Garner and how her decision to kill her child was Garner’s defense against slavery and assertion of motherhood. I believe, in their own way, the mothers of Underground are odes to Garner and mothers alike in the age of slavery who did not allow an institution of hate and violence bar them from claiming, loving, and protecting their children.

You can read my piece on Catapult!

 

How Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ Took Us Home

“She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see” – Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

My grandmother often tells the story of her mother’s frequent returns home to Mississippi after getting married at 13. She would have her first three children in tow as she repeatedly left her marriage home in Alabama—the place she ran off to marry the 19 year old with the sweet voice. The most infamous story is how my great-grandmother stuffed her clothes in the suitcase of her sister who was visiting. When her sister returned home she was shocked to find my great-grandmother’s clothes and even more shocked when she appeared on her door-step a short while later. But however long my great-grandmother stayed away, eventually her husband would always come for her and she’d leave with him. I never met my great-grandmother, so I can’t ask her what kind of pain drove her frequent attempts to run away, neither can I ask her about the kind of resolution that drove her to return.

What I am more curious of is the type of refuge she received at her mother’s home—that mother who had a husband in St. Louis who never returned—what kind of strength and salvation was conjured between two generations of hurt women in that space? What did my great-great grandmother teach her daughter about love and forgiveness and making lemonade from the lemons life had given her?

Returning home is a theme explored everywhere from the Bible to 21st century art. It is a tradition with particular significance in the cannon of black female art and literature. Coming home isn’t a destination, it’s a pilgrimage back to the place that either defined or broke you or both. Returning to that place is not only where black women have come to rest, but to confront the things they were unable to out in the world. The thing that they are often confronting is themselves. Home is never a place to quit, but to restore and figure out how to go on from their current state. Most recently, Annalise Keating  showed us the kind of refuge home serves a black woman when the world is threatening to break our bodies and our spirits.

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At home Annalise  is not able to simply rest, she must confront the pain of her father leaving and the confusion of how her mother forgave him. There is a lesson she is meant to learn no matter how reluctant she is. The sweet is never without the bitter.

 Zora Neale Hurston blessed the cannon with her pioneering pilgrimage tale, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Beyoncé offered her own tale of returning home in Lemonade. As I watched the Queen Bey deliver her most vulnerable work to date I was struck by the similarities I found between the woman she portrays and Janie Crawford in Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Read More Here: How Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ Took Us Home

Dinner with Aunt Gladys

An overriding theme in my documentary work is family. I am specifically interested in the oratorical act of passing down family history; as a young girl I sat at the feet of my elders absorbing the stories of family members who had long passed, but whose actions led to my own existence. Recently I travelled, with the women of my maternal family, to Michigan for dinner with our eldest living matriarch, Gladys.

At 97 years old my aunt is able to call all the way back to her childhood in Columbus, Mississippi and share stories with us about growing up, going to school, and the lives of her parents and siblings. Born in 1919 my aunt Gladys was the child of sharecroppers who worked to send their seven children to school. What I found most remarkable is that my aunt looks back at a time we all find to be full of sacrifice and strife and pain with joy. “Those were some good ol’ days,” she laughs, “we had a lot of fun.” That’s not to erase the obvious difficulty of growing up at a time of racial segregation and extreme poverty, but it calls me back to a quote from Nikki Giovanni’s poem, Nikki Rosa, who spoke of her fears of a white biographer taking hold of her story:

“I really hope no white person ever has cause  to write about me because they never understand Black love is Black wealth and they’ll probably talk about my hard childhood and never understand that all the while I was quite happy.”

It’s important that we tell our stories, especially the stories of our ancestors.

The Magic Beyoncé and Melina Matsoukas Form

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Beyonce, ‘Formation’
Formation (noun) – the action of forming or process of being formed.

Beyoncé understands the power of visuals. In 2013 she graced the world with an entire visual album and forever changed the way artists release music. So when she prepared Saturday, February 6, 2016, to be the day she’d return to scalp the globe with her pro-black anthem she knew she would need a video to capture the track’s grit and gutter. It would only make sense that she’d turn to Melina Matsoukas, the woman whose directed over 10 of Bey’s visuals.

While known for her vibrant colors, vintage flair, and ingenious direction, Melina does not shy away from controversy; her visuals have often either been banned or come under heavy scrutiny, but that doesn’t seem to stop the NYU and AFI alumna from creating thmelina-matsoukas-video-maven-w-magazinee most stunning videos at a time when narrative music videos seem to be declining. In her latest collaboration with Queen Bey she delves into the spirit of Southern Goth and New Orleans to bless viewers with a healthy dose of #BlackGirlMagic, #BlackExcellence, #BlackEverything.

“I got hot sauce in my bag, swag”

‘Formation’ opens with Beyoncé dressed down in a red and white calico inspired fit and black boots. She is standing atop of a partially submerged New Orleans Police squad car as the late Messy Mya states “bitch, I’m back by popular demand.” Immediately you know that what you are about to witness is unlike anything you’ve ever seen from the Beyoncé and Melina catalog. Flashes of scenes from Abteen Bagheri’s (@abteen), That B.E.A.T., give you just enough time to brace yourself before being launched into a space where the past, the present, and the future intertwine at the picturesque plantation home. Inside is Beyoncé in various Southern garb as she recites her linage:

“My daddy, Alabama. Mama, Louisiana. You mix that Negro with that Creole make a Texas Bama”

It is then that you realize Beyoncé is leading you to a place of no return. For years she has subtly distanced herself from the mainstream media that once kept her in a commercialized box. ‘Formation’ is where she breaks her silence. What we hear, and see, is a Beyoncé who is unapologetically black, who likes her “baby hair with baby hair and afros,” and her “negro nose with jackson five nostrils.” Blue Ivy Carter stands before us, her afro a glorious halo, with all of the grace and confidence that make up her celestial DNA. Melina cuts back and forth between Mother and Daughter conjuring up a spirit, a tangible feeling, so visceral and magical it belongs in a Toni Morrison novel.

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Formation’ is an homage. As Beyoncé sits in a sparse room in a corset, twirling an umbrella, pictures of her ancestors behind her, Melina has expertly woven generations together illustrating the shoulders upon which Beyoncé, Blue, and all black women stand. One of the most powerful moments is the performance scene in the middle of the home’s hallway. Beyoncé and her dancers are clothed in maroon leotards with deep necklines and dancing fiercely as Bey declares:

“I dream it, I work hard, I grind ’til I own it.”

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Amidst those walls where Bey, and crew, dance with a dominant strut are the spirits of the women who once walked those halls as servants, violently stripped of the ability to work toward any dream, let alone own it. Women who were incapable of any agency over their own bodies and sexualities. No one captures that spirit with the same poignancy as Melina who places one of the most powerful women in spaces that once existed as oppressive structures for black bodies and souls, thus, reforming the image–reclaiming power and restoring dignity to what we’ve too long been made to feel ashamed of. 

While managing to insert her signature vibrant color schemes Melina continues to push the envelope as she makes some of her boldest statements yet. As the black boy in his hoodie dances before the line of SWAT officers, and the NOLA squad car submerges, and
the graffiti demanding “stop shooting us” pans across the screen, we see Melina brilliantly tackling police brutality and the incessant violent assault on black lives and bodies. This is not solely Melina’s boldest move, it is also Beyoncé’s. For a womantumblr_o25mci3Bo51qf29nao2_500 who is so calculated  and strategic with her image Beyoncé needed a vision she could trust to handle the most controversial moment of her career with grace. Melina is who Beyoncé trusts. Time and time again these two forces prove that when combined they are nothing short of Magical.

“Ok, ladies, now let’s get in formation.”

What I’m Watching

Netflix (or any other preferred streaming service) isn’t the only place to find quality content. As a self-proclaimed web-series/docu-series aficionado, YouTube is my biggest resource for quick, engaging, and innovative content. Here’s a look at what I’ve been watching.

Mic.com’s new digital docu-series, The Movement

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“[…] there are the stories we choose to tell in media and those we ignore. It’s easy to locate media accounts highlighting social ills, but less available are narratives of progress and transformation. Mic‘s newest original series,The Movement, is an attempt to fill in the gap.”

Mic.com senior correspondent, Darnell L. Moore, hosts “The Movement,” and takes viewers where CNN, FOX, and any other major news media outlet won’t. So far “The Movement” has highlighted the prejudicial divide of Zip Codes, Young Individuals re-imagining Baltimore, and A Camden NJ non-profit organization committed to revitalizing the community.

Such critical, nuanced, and engaging material is neatly packed in a 5-8 minute clip.

i-D Magazine’s new web docu-series, “Relocate”

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“VW presents a four part series that explores the hopes, dreams and realities of moving abroad. New Year, new start, new city? DJ, producer and radio presenter Nabihah Iqbal is questioning whether London is still the city for her and she’s not alone. 323,000 emigrated from Britain last year and with spiraling costs of living, contrasted with the perceived better quality of life elsewhere, it’s easy to see why. […] Is it really that much easier to be a young artist elsewhere? To what extent is this dream a reality?”

I was always obsessed with the travel channel as a child. This docu-series takes you into the Arts, Music, and Culture scene of three European cities. Though short, it is beautifully shot and gives viewers insight into new places.

 

Nike Women’s web-series ‘Margot vs Lily’

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“Two sisters—total opposites—make a bet that pushes them both way
outside their comfort zones.”

I’m not ashamed to admit that I hit the “skip” button on every ad before a YouTube video, but this time I’m glad I didn’t. Although it’s only one episode in, ‘Margot vs Lily’ is not your typical gimmicky advertizing series–although there is some heavy product placement. There’s a story here that will get you invested, even if you aren’t a Nike fan.

5 Web-Series to Keep You Laughing

Issa Rae sparked something with her Akward Black Girl series. Created out of the paucity of material that reflected awkward black girls, Issa set out to change that—and that she did. Now the producer has a book, not to mention a show due out on HBO, and a series of other internet content.

But Issa isn’t the only black woman making hilarious web content. Check out these five web-series created by, and starring, black women that will keep you laughing:

1. Clench & Release 

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“Clench & Release is an original series that follows Charla, an up-and-coming comedian, as she navigates the frustrating, clench-worthy situations that inspire her stand-up.”

Such clench-worthy events include being “chicken-shamed” by another black co-worker, snorting cocaine with a homeless man, trying to buy a Plan B pill at a pharmacy in Harlem, and explaining what a celiac allergy is to a chef at a fish and chicken take-out spot.

This web-series is created by Charla Lauriston, who is a stand-up comedian and writer for Tina Fey’s Netflix series, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. By the end of season 2 you will see why Fey hired Lauriston, she’s hilarious!

Start your clentch-worthy binge here: Clench & Release

2. Downtown Girls 

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“Downtown Girls is the story of four girls, Abney, Alex, Sam and Zo, who recently graduated from New York University and impulsively decide to start a business after an over-achieving college friend pays them a visit and challenges their party, do-nothing lifestyle.”

In an attempt to “revolutionize” the way their peers party these four besties decide to create an app that locates the hottest house-party. The catch is they have to come up with over $100,000 to pay for the creation of the app, so they turn their once do-nothing lifestyle of partying into a do-the-most lifestyle where they turn their house into a club and charge party-goers for everything. ECM: everything cost money—even the amount of toilet paper one uses.

Follow the wild and hilarious journey of these four girls trying to follow their dreams: Downtown Girls

3. Ackee & Saltfish 

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“A comedy that explores the everyday interactions of the two friends. The series was inspired by the desire to capture the small, random, golden and banter-filled moments between friends”

Rachel and Olivia are two friends whose constant bickering and joking will remind you of your bestie. Plus, you can’t afford to miss the intense debate on back-bread—do you eat it or do you not eat it.

The series is created by fierce visionary, Cecile Emeke, who has black women from every side of the pond laughing.

Join in the fun here: Ackee&Saltfish

4. I Love Lucy & Bekka 

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“A comedy web series about two best friends. this is a fly on the wall experience of hanging out with them.”

I Love Lucy & Bekka will have you laughing out loud and clutching your heart at the hilariously tender moments Lucy and Bekka share in their closer-than-close friendship.

The web series is created by writer/director, Rachel Holder.

Become a fly on the wall here: I Love Lucy & Bekka

5. Vocation 

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“A twenty-something writer with 0 skills must find an occupation that doesn’t require leaving her living room.”

Serie is the twenty-something who, like many of us, is  in that interim period of trying to figure out what the heck she’s going to do with her life! Watch Serie try out several careers from actress to stylist to beat-maker.

The web-series is created by writer/actress/director Shelby Coley.

Follow Serie’s hilarious series of career changes and learn more about how not to be a LinkedIn whore: Vocation

The web continues to prove that it’s a viable place for quality, and hilarious content. Each one of these web-series and creators deserves to be supported, not just because they’re black women, but because they’re HILARIOUS!

***this post was originally published on my tumblr site.

A Conversation with Black Women on Race

“Being Alive, Being a Woman, Being Colored is a metaphysical dilemma I have not conquered yet,” is a standout quote from Ntozake Shange’s, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide /When the Rainbow is enuf. In this poignant quote, as well as the poems/plays, Shange succinctly illustrates the complex way race and gender intertwine for black women–neither is mutually exclusive and both inform not only the perception of us, but the way we self-identify.

Haitian director, Michèle Stephenson, along with husband, Joe Brewster, offer a poignant visual conversation with black women on race in their documentary for the New York Times.

Check out the five minute clip below.

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=100000004050379