Month: February 2017

Still-Vital Radical Black Queer Poetry

For the final day of black history month 2017 (I’ll miss you, black history month 2017), I’d like to share a couple of poems by Pat Parker, an African-American Texan lesbian feminist who died of breast cancer at age 45 in 1989. (Hooray, being black and being lesbian are both factors that make it likely you won’t get appropriate early medical intervention, although I can’t say whether that was the case with Parker or just bad luck.) She was amazing. There’s a poetry award named after her.

Even though her poems are 30 and 40 and 50 years old, they feel completely contemporary. The glass half empty side of that is: we haven’t come far enough in confronting the problems she railed against decades ago. The glass half full side is: sometimes you can write a poem that is truthful and unswerving and it still cuts to the heart of someone many years after your death, confronting a problem that needs your knowledge.

This one is called “For the white person who wants to know how to be my friend” and it is from 1978 (from a collection called Movement in Black) but lord if it doesn’t sound like it could be on a blog talking about the women’s march or cultural appropriation, with perfect concision. It’s cutting and funny and kind.

The first thing you do is to forget that i’m Black.
Second, you must never forget that i’m Black.

You should be able to dig Aretha,
but don’t play her every time i come over.
And if you decide to play Beethoven – don’t tell me
his life story. They made us take music appreciation too.

Eat soul food if you like it,
but don’t expect me to locate your restaurants
or cook it for you.

And if some Black person insults you,
mugs you, rapes your sister, rapes you,
rips your house, or is just being an ass –
please, do not apologize to me
for wanting to do them bodily harm.
It makes me wonder if you’re foolish.

And even if you really believe Blacks are better lovers than
whites – don’t tell me. I start thinking of charging stud fees.

In other words – if you really want to be my friend – don’t
make a labor of it. I’m lazy. Remember.


The other poem you should read today, the day of President Trump’s first address to Congress, is “Where Will You Be,” also from Movement in Black (1978). It’s long, and so I will link to an external site. It includes the stanzas:

Citizens, good citizens all
parade into voting booths
and in self-righteous sanctity
X away our right to life.

I do not believe as some
that the vote is an end,
I fear even more
It is just a beginning.

A 40% Drop in HIV Transmission

This is what one person can do, with no money and no special knowledge.

“He and his friend Alex spent a few weeks building the website, gathering as much information as they could, and including a simple click-to-buy button that linked through to the pharmacies in Asia that sold and shipped the generics. They called it”

– “Meet The Man Who Stopped Thousands Of People Becoming HIV-Positive” by Patrick Strudwick for BuzzFeed UK

Greg Owen was an inexperienced AIDS activist working part time at a bar. He wound up changing the health landscape of Europe.

Neighborhood Watch

Given that we know U.S. mosques and jewish cemeteries are being targeted by vandals and arsonists, and these are in our communities, it seems like a pretty good time to start up a neighborhood watch, yeah? It doesn’t have to be anything formal.

If you’re a runner, you check google maps and adjust your jogging route to loop by a graveyard or community center, and you keep your eyes open.

If you’re a night owl, you develop a newfound interest in the Pokemon Go craze and keep checking in at a conveniently-located gym at odd hours with your cameraphone that has the number for the local police station on quick dial.

If you’re a commuter, you take the scenic drive some days.

Hopefully, you never see anything. But maybe you ID or deter somebody. I’m of the school of thought that it’s better to talk yourself into being maybe helpful than to decide you’re helpless. Maybe this helps. It’s such a small adjustment.

Casey Affleck: Unspecial Sleazeball

I know it’s been a couple days, but I’m still slow-burn mad about the Oscars. I’m unbothered by the envelope mixup, since all’s well that ends well: Moonlight got the Best Picture award it deserved, and La La Land did just fine for itself throughout the night. Both movies ended the evening with a lot of audience goodwill, and I’m guessing a lot of people vowed to watch them – which is the point of the show, really.

My Oscars outrage is reserved for the Casey Affleck best actor win. Guy’s a creep. Been accused of sexual assault and general WTFery by multiple female filmmakers, widely reported – and bear in mind that I’m a female filmmaker who spends a lot of time in Boston, so the gossip I hear extends beyond what’s reported in industry mags and makes me unhappy with my local film community.

Clearly it’s totally necessary that Brie Larson, high-profile advocate for sexual assault survivors, had to hand him an Oscar. Women are too sensitive about this stuff and should grow a pair if they want to work in this industry which definitely requires testicles. We sure know Casey Affleck has testicles. He’s made sure to show that off to his coworkers.

I like the art of some real jerks. If you want to make the case that a performer isn’t his off-camera behavior, I can show up for that. But you can’t give me that argument with Casey Affleck. Dude has been turning in the same one-note performance for a couple decades, and it was boring the first time.

In general, a standard I use for evaluating whether I like an actor’s work is: If I do an imaginary recasting of their part, is the movie better, worse, or pretty similar? I don’t just mean in an individual movie, which is succeptible to “well, sometimes they phone it in” or “well, they were miscast.” I mean more broadly.

For instance, I’m not always a Nicole Kidman fan, but if I try to think of somebody else in The Others – even the magnificent Cate Blanchett – it doesn’t work as well. Speed doesn’t work without Sandra Bullock, Imagine Kate Winslet in there, no. Margo Martindale, no. Got to be Sandy. By the same token, I’ve seen a lot of Batmans and a lot of Batman’s non-criminal girlfriends, and the only one who ever made an impression on me was Maggie Gyllenhaal. These are good performances, whether or not they have prestige moments. I know because other very skilled people couldn’t pull them off.

I think of Casey Affleck performances, and I could stick Jared Leto in them. I could stick Ben Whishaw in them. I could stick Michael B. Jordan in them. I could stick Jonathan Rhys Meyers in them. I could stick Michael Keaton in them. (Ignore the age. This isn’t about availability. This is about interrogating alternate performance choices.) Casey Affleck does ok – he doesn’t usually sink a film – but what he does, other actors could do, often in ways that would interest me more.

Carol Anne says: Just to clarify, last year’s Best Supporting ACTOR gives the award to this year’s Best Supporting ACTRESS; and vice-versa. So next year, Emma Stone will give away the Best Actor award. And Viola Davis will give away the Best Supporting Actor award. And Casey Affleck will give away the Best Actress Award next year. Too bad for that actress, hopefully she will take the Oscar from him without getting too close to him.

Romie: That’s always struck me as a little weird, the gender swap there, as though it would be worrying if there were too many men or women on the stage at one time. Maybe it’s to make sure there is always a pretty dress to look at? I’d want to get my award from the person who got it last year, not the person who got the other one, like “Welcome to the club! I have been in the same place as you recently!”

Carol Anne: Yeah, I would like to get it from the actress, as a sort of passing of the torch thing. Maybe the whole reason for the gender swap is so that there HAS to be a hug and a kiss between the presenter and the winner? If so, especially in this case, ewwwww.

Future Utopias

We’re nearing the end of 2017’s black history month, so why not simultaneously look backwards AND forward by reading a marvelous essay by SF author Phenderson Djèlí Clark about early African-American utopian speculative fiction and the ways it tried to help readers and authors process and move forward from historic racial trauma?

I am particularly intrigued by Clark’s description of a serial which Pauline Hopkins wrote and published in 1902-03, Of One Blood; Or, The Hidden Self:

“Raised on the racism so pervasive in America, Briggs has come to believe in his own inferiority and has little concern of the black past. This changes when he travels to Ethiopia and finds the lost 6000 year old ancient city of Telessar, which uses futurist technology based on crystals, suspended animation and a means of telepathy.”

Sounds pretty great.

Haircut Threat Level

More ambiguous than defcon levels, and simultaneously not: Today I got mad enough at work that I cut off my hair during lunch break.

It was not a full Empire Records shaved head, so there is clearly cause for optimism.

It’s more Vidal Sassoon, official hairstyle for fighting fascists.

But also kind of Jed in The Night Manager, because my hair is my hair and therefore swoopy on its own agenda. That’s less semiotically ideal, but anyway it looks good. I’d take a picture, but it’s dark in here. Use your imagination.

Caroline says: I’m really interested in what a hairstyle for fighting fascists may look like.

Romie: Vidal Sassoon, the hairdresser who did those shiny angular bobs that were popular with mods in the 60s, was also a member of 43 Group, a secret society started by British Jewish ex-servicemen who battled fascist political orgs that tried to mobilize in England after WWII, by direct conflict and by infiltration. In my favorite story, Sassoon showed up at the salon with a black eye after a street battle and claimed he had gotten it by tripping over a hairpin.

Joseph: Didn’t Rosemary go to Vidal Sassoon?

Romie: Yes indeed. Although Mia claims that she didn’t, just the character. Which makes sense. That pixie’s not so Sassoony.

Carol Anne says: Whenever a female character cuts off her hair in a book, play, or movie, she’s about to kill herself or somebody else.

Romie: Mostly true, but occasionally she’s about to run away and form a secret identity.