I’ve written a lot about representation of bodies (specifically Black bodies) recently so I wanted to share some words I heard from writer/actor/director Lena Dunham during her interview with Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club. She was asked by co-host Charlamagne Tha God about her portrayal of her own body on the show – what inspires her in this regard. One of the things I love about Lena Dunham is her, shall I say, double consciousness regarding her (totally normal) form. She has an awareness of the way her particular body is viewed in a sexist and misogynistic visual culture; at the same time, she has the ability to not give a fuck (most of the time… she’s still a human being). Here’s part of her response:
“I think I had this feeling like, I need to expose a body that I know so many women have […] there was this part of me that was just like ‘see me, and don’t just see me, see all the women who look like me and understand that this is what a female body is. Because what we see is not real. And we all know that. And I think we’re moving more in a direction of people wanting to be more open about what the human form looks like … but especially when we started Girls five years ago, people had violent reactions to seeing me naked, repulsed reactions. And it’s so crazy because probably half the guys who are so horrified by this, ‘this is what your girlfriend looks like, this is what your mother looks like, this is… a body.”
It is still astonishing to me how regressive a-holes responded (and respond) to Lena’s body on film… and it says so much about them, who they are… their ugliness. Dunham’s ability to face all of that misogynistic, dehumanising vitriol (from men and women) though is magnificent to behold; truly. I cannot think of another pop cultural figure in the last decade who has challenged and subverted the gaze as much as Lena has; been regularly denigrated for doing so, but powers on anyway… and I continue to love her for that. There is a reason she gets letters from young girls (and grown women) who feel empowered by her ease with herself in the face of a visual culture that not only routinely affirms the body-loathing of girls and women, but that attacks her body specifically. The way she handles all of that is genuinely, truly, beautiful.
Some more beauty right here.
Looking forward to Season 6.
Continuing yet again on a theme! I’m still thinking about representation of Black women in various types of visual media, so was happy to come across this clip.
It is The Grapevine – “a fresh and innovative take on the panel style discussion. The show places the topics of today in the hands and minds of young game changers, artists, cultural innovators, and professionals to dissect what the impact is for this generation.” Created by Ashley Akunna.
This episode on colourism was published last year. There are new episodes (published in the last few weeks) HERE.
Loved everyone aside from the lady in the mustard sweater who thinks we should just see the light skin/dark skin thing as a “preference” (the light skin equivalent to white “colourblindness” that ignores systemic political reality and favours wishful thinking) and who wondered out loud when Black people will all get to a place of unity; the response to her query from the lady leading the discussion was good.
As someone who has experienced both light skinned privilege AND been told I was too dark, who has been bullied for being perceived as light skinned from understandably wounded dark skinned girls AND been compared by other “un-woke” Black people to lighter skinned girls, can I echo the sentiments of one of the panellists and say that the lady in the mustard sweater really needs to stop getting her back up and check her light-skin privilege. Everyone’s pain is real with regards to shade shade, but there is a bigger context here. Praise to the other light skin ladies on the panel who understand that.
My other favourite response is at the 15:35 mark; lady talks about the reality of colourism, about overt and pervasive light-skinned privilege in visual media, and how a shift is starting to occur with dark-skinned “identifiably Black” women creating shows and media that lovingly centre such women.
I really love the contribution of the men to the discussion too. But I’m really not doing it justice, so just watch it here:
“I just want you to think critically about what we do with the Black female body; why we imagine some things and not others.”
– bell hooks, during her introduction to ‘Are You Still a Slave? Liberating the Black Female Body.’
It seems appropriate to post this talk, to continue on a theme 😉 I recently re-watched this 2014 panel discussion hosted by The New School (NYU) titled ‘Are You Still a Slave? Liberating the Black Female Body’, and featuring bell hooks, author Marci Blackman (Tradition), film director Shola Lynch (Free Angela and All Political Prisoners), and author and activist Janet Mock (Redefining Realness). bell’s knowledge and provocations are great as always.
- I understand Janet Mock’s perspective that there is power for her in using glamour to affirm herself in the world, particularly as a Black trans* woman. But I am completely skeptical about her assertion that this is not done for “the male gaze” (when so much about the aesthetics of heterosexual femininity is about that. If heterosexual men and women found some flamboyant body adornment truly off putting, for example, I am skeptical that Janet and other women into feminine glamour would embrace it; we should acknowledge this). It should also be noted that in the past before publicly coming out as trans*, Janet was rarely read as a trans* woman unless she disclosed that she is; so adhering to the “standards” of cisgender femininity was also about safety, comfort, “passing”.
- I’d like to point out how stupid it is to not have a dark-skinned woman in this conversation; without it the conversation is skewed and incomplete.
- The Beyoncé TIME ‘Most Influential’ cover discussion – wow. The first time I watched this, I admit my reaction to bell’s use of the term “terrorist” to describe the images Bey puts out into mass culture was to immediately dismiss the hyperbole. But the context here is important; bell was talking about the impact on young girls (and their relationship to their own bodies). There is no doubt, for example, that Beyoncé benefits from colourism and her cultivated physical proximity to whiteness. What impact does this have on Black girls, experiencing racism in the overall culture and colourism in their own communities?
- bell’s point that the major assaults on feminism and women come from image making and visual media is TRUE. I appreciate her call for genuinely liberating image making (I am going to be hated for this, considering how problematic this person is, but Lena Dunham’s representation of her own body in HBO’s ‘Girls’ is liberating for a great many girls and young women because it is unheard of for a woman with her body type to be centred on a television show. She shows herself naked, she shows herself struggling to run, she shows herself compulsively snacking, she shows herself dancing, she shows herself having sex, she shows herself being loved by others… imperfect and real as she is. And she cops grief for it – see how much hateful and vitriolic abuse she gets for daring to be seen at all. She is a white woman and yet I find her representations 100 times more liberating than Beyoncé’s – even though I enjoy Beyoncé).
- I LOVE this from Shola Lynch, which I will just loosely transcribe, because it nails everything that I want to do:
“There’s a term that I discovered in college that is so relevant these days, it’s a feminist term for media studies, called ‘symbolic annihilation’. It is two things: one, not seeing yourself, and two, only seeing yourself denigrated, victimised, et cetera, and what that does to you. And I think that we can talk about all the things that denigrate us, but I’d rather shift the camera, shift my gaze, and look for the images and the people and places that feed me. The more we create our culture – cultural images, the books you write, the films we make, the alternatives – these are artefacts that live, and they speak to people whether we are there or not. Bodies of work, that’s critical. [Shola tells a story of her young daughter, obsessed with blonde princesses and battling her naturally big hair, becoming proud of her “Angela Davis hair” after repeat viewings of her Angela Davis film]. So the more we create the alternative universe… which then creates the universe…” [end of comment]
- bell hooks talks about how the journey to freedom is also the journey of imagination; the capacity to imagine yourself differently… counter-hegemonically. Creativity and the uses of the imagination is what led each of the panellists to freedom and a self-defined life path; I love that.
- I love what Janet says about imagining she is worthy in a world that tells her she is unworthy; imagining that she deserves to have a book published, to be heard and seen, to take up as much space as she wants and to share a stage with bell hooks! Creating a foundation of self love and esteem in the face of adverse circumstances is both healing work AND a creative act. If you have to create a larger persona that you will eventually grow into, that is absolutely a creative act (I’m thinking of an interview I saw with Sampa the Great, an anti-hegemonic force if I ever saw one, who said her stage name was something she gave herself to grow into. She’s so dope.)
Last word from bell hooks:
“the incredible power of images. Image changes something. Little girls read ‘happy to be nappy’ and it changes something. We have to be about that work of creating the counter-hegemonic image in order for that transformation to take place.”
‘The fact that they co-host the same show yet only one has been the subject of pointed attacks in the media makes it hard to argue that the problem, from the perspective of long-term TV insiders, isn’t one of race.’
– from ‘Why you should care about the casual racism on television‘; comparing the reaction to Waleed Aly’s Gold Logie nomination to the reaction to colleague Carrie Bickmore’s.
Back in 2010, I wrote this post titled ‘People like us: media representation and social cohesion’. In short, the post is about the importance of seeing the full diversity of a country’s population reflected in the cultural media landscape; how good storytelling and media representation can foster understanding and respect for fellow citizens, and a sense of belonging and inclusion for otherwise marginalised people.
In that post, I quoted something Waleed Aly (whom I have been critical of on various occasions) said in his interview with Andrew Denton on program Enough Rope – about the importance of positive Muslim “role models” and icons in the media and public life, at a time when mistrust and marginalisation of Muslim people had taken root in Australia:
“I think we like to see reflections of ourselves in the public space and Muslims have been really short on role models in the public space in Australia or even in the western world. We’ve had some very successful Muslims. John Ilhan, the late John Ilhan’s a very good example of that. But at the same time his real name was Mustafa and he had to become John to become a success.”
“And when you see him [Bashar Haoli, first top grade Muslim AFL player], out there, and you see him do that, you suddenly for a moment have this belief, this realisation that I could do that, if I had the talent. But the thing that’s stopping me is that I’m no good, not that I happen to be a Muslim or that I come from a Middle Eastern background, and that’s incredibly powerful. It’s so powerful, I don’t think people who don’t have that problem who have never encountered not being represented in the public space in some way understand how debilitating that can be.” [emphasis mine]
Fast foward to April 2016, and public intellectual+professional print/radio/television broadcaster of many years Waleed Aly – along with broadcasting veteran and avant garde icon Lee Lin Chin – have become the FIRST EVER non-white Gold Logie nominees (in a list that includes 6 people). The Logie nominations are awarded based on a popular vote by citizens who care enough to cast votes in this popularity contest.
The response from media gate keepers and segments of the (white) media establishment to the announcement that these two public figures were on the list was… incredibly telling. Karl Stefanovic, 2011 Gold Logie winner who has attempted with some success to put himself forth as an enlightened person in regards to Indigenous relations and gender equality, couldn’t help but betray a sizeable blind spot he has in this pathetic Today show exchange with two other well-paid white public figures:
Ben: “Where is Lisa Wilkinson’s Gold Logie?”
Karl: “Lisa’s too white.”
Ben: “Is that it?”
Karl: “That’s it.”
Lisa: (laughing) “I got a spray tan and everything, still didn’t make it. What can you do?”
Karl: “Logies controversy. Boom.”
In the segment later defended by the host network as not about race, Stefanovic also joked that despite being white “on the outside”, he was “dark on the inside”; then was hailed by co-host Ben Fordham as a trailblazer. Meanwhile, the usual suspects in the media establishment reacted to the announcement of the two highly accomplished non-white broadcasters being nominees as if a political leader had tried to steal an election.
New Matilda published this rebuttal pointing out the rank hypocrisy, inconsistency, racism and Islamophobia that characterised the bizarrely heated (but not surprising) reactions to Aly and Lin Chin being nominated. I just want you to ponder, for one minute, what it might be like to live as a brown-skinned person in a country in which one of the only public figures who looks like you, and that you may identify with – an accomplished, law-abiding centrist intellectual – is attacked based only on his status as a non-white man.
Regardless of what other privileges of citizenship you have, do you think it does an individual’s or community’s psychological state any favours to live in a context in which any success that non-white (or non-majority) people enjoy is denigrated, mocked and blamed on the ego-preserving concept of “reverse discrimination”? Or blamed on affirmative action – an often necessary policy approach to redress well-established pro-white hiring and selection bias? Even when the non-white people in question were actually selected based on popular public vote?
Think about how the reaction to these two media figures might mirror the marginalisation of unapologetically non-majority people in Australian society at large. And I use the term unapologetically in a positive sense. Both Aly and Lin Chin have been on our screens for ages. Lin Chin has endured much abuse for her ethnicity, voice, looks and style over her career; yet continues to kick ass as an avant garde icon. Aly has endured a lot of racist abuse, but continues to speak out against racism and a range of social abuses.
Perhaps the “issue” unconscious racists are having is not that mild-mannered Aly and non-political Lin Chin are not white – I can imagine the same people and news organisation wholeheartedly embracing and supporting a non-white person who attacks others who speak out about racism, cultivates a conventional style and uncritically supports the status quo and nationalism (they gave one such person her own column and regularly consult her for these kinds of opinions).
Maybe the real root to the aversion to Lin Chin and Aly is that they have not shed the things that make them ‘the Other’ in many people’s minds – whilst simultaneously owning their identity as Australians. As it should be.
Interesting fact: the proportion of Australians born overseas has hit a 120-year high (March 2016 ABS statistics) and Screen Australia recently announced a research project to ascertain just how diverse cast and storyline diversity has been in Australian television drama over the last five years. I’ll write about this in an upcoming post.
And I’m sorry this post was late – it’s been a crazy, but intensely creative, week.
A few of my posts so far up on the Stella Mag blog:
Jennifer Baing-Waiko has channelled her passion for preserving traditional food systems knowledge into a fantastic new show ‘Cafe Niugini’.
Julia Mage’au Gray reflects on the joys & challenges of reviving & protecting traditional tattoo designs in a globalised world.
PNG-Australian artist & educator Ella Benore Rowe invites you to explore identity & healing through her mask making workshops.
Childbirth death is still alarmingly high in PNG. Today we look at one way we can improve maternal care for our mothers.
As Managing Director of GiDi Creative, Papua New Guinean-Austrian entrepreneur Grace Dlabik is using her talents for social good.
I will post some substantial essays here on ‘Just the Messenger‘ soon. Nothing much to report right now: writing, screenwriting, learning and living simply, as usual.
I hope you are well.
Hey look at this – the first post of the year! Hope you are well 🙂
Just writing, screenwriting and working in (arts) communications & publishing this year – which affords me time to tinker with organic and simple living (really my main hobby, other than ‘Whatsapp’-ing with my enormous family in PNG) and to prioritise nurturing my health. I am also now considering pursuing a gender research opportunity – specifically, I am considering whether I can bring something of worth to this particular task.
Anyway. Just wanted to share a couple of things to kick off this blogging thing for 2015.
‘SISTERS FOR WEST PAPUA’ IN ISSUE 13 STELLA – ON SALE NOW!
As mentioned late last year, I wrote a 6-page feature article on Nattali Rize, Petra Rumwaropen and Lea Rumwaropen for the latest ‘Entertainment‘ issue of Stella Magazine (it’s the cover story for this issue) – which features fantastic articles on some amazing talent coming out of the Pacific! Here are some words from the Editor:
“If we’ve learnt anything from this issue, it’s that we love to entertain. And with the region brimming with so much talent, we are excited to share the stories of some of the most flexible, resilient and inspiring entertainers of 2014.
In this issue, meet the artists who’ve established unique voices in Australia, New York City, Israel, Fiji, and Tahiti. Working in music, film, literature, fashion, and dance, these artists share an interest, not in fame and fortune, but for social reform and social justice.
As much as we like to be a source of positive media for the Pacific Islands, injustice and exploitation is an ongoing challenge for us as we strive to decolonise our lands and our minds.
With our Pacific Youth being anything but pacified, we are excited to announce the launch of the Stella Pacific Writing Prize, a chance to make some noise about something you care about.”
There is also within this issue a little contributor profile on me, in which I admit to enjoying Katy Perry. If all this doesn’t convince you to SUBSCRIBE TO THE MAGAZINE BY CLICKING HERE, I don’t know what will.
Check out the strong cover for Issue 13 HERE.
CONTEMPORARY PACIFIC ARTS FESTIVAL 2015: ‘OCEANIA NOW’
The Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival (CPAF) this year will be held from 9-11th April 2015, with workshops being run during March and visual arts exhibitions running until May!
CPAF 2015 will explore the spiritual, physical, cultural and political dimensions of contemporary Pacific identity – situated in the present, the medium between honouring the past and authoring the future. Oceania Now. A space of pure potentiality and agency.
Stay tuned to the CPAF site for updates and ticketing information for workshops and the Symposium. This years festival will include:
5 different Art and Creative Workshops. Including Pacific Photobook Project, Bilum Weaving with Vicki Kinai, Pacific Bling Weaving Workshops, Pacific Fashion Runway Workshop, and Hula Fitness Workshops.
Community Day. Featuring a FREE concert headlined by Radical Son, Children’s Area (a creative village for children and young people with workshops and activities running throughout the day), face painting with artist Ella Benore Rowe, the Craft and Weaving Tent (with Sounds of Polynesia), Interactive Art with Naup Waup (Naup will create work and display his own creations, as well as cultural artefacts from Papua New Guinea), and the Pasifika Fashion Parade featuring participants from the two day Pacific Fashion Runway workshop. There will also be a marketplace with stalls selling a variety of goods.
Traditional Tattooing with Julia Megeau Gray. She’ll be an artist in residence over the three days of CPAF (including Community Day) to demonstrate live tattooing. Julia will be working on individual pieces, and will be available to work on people at FCAC on the 9-11 April.
Woodcarving demonstration with Fono McCarthy. This carver and multi-disciplinary Samoan artist will create an 8ft free standing responsive sculptural work made of native wood titled ‘Gafa Fa’avae’ over 3 days of the CPAF festivities – the work will be completed during the CPAF Community Day.
‘Resonance’ Exhibition. Curated by Chuck Feesago, and featuring work by Naup Waup, Cecilia Kavara Verran, Dan Taulapapa McMullin, Kirsten Lyttle, Chantal Fraser, Chuck Feesago, Leuli Eshraghi, Anna Crawley, Eric Bridgeman.
‘Construction Piece Scores’ Exhibition. CPAF Artist in Residence Ann Fuata will collaboratively develop a work based on ancient intercontinental ocean floor highways that are thought to stretch across the entire Pacific Ocean.
Fiafia Bar – The Festival Bar. 6pm-10pm for the three days of the festival. Step into the Fiafia Festival Bar and witness a Pacific collision of island culture, dance, song, circus and all flavours of contemporary entertainment.
CPAF Symposium. 9-10th April. 25 speakers, 6 chair persons, the PK-CPAF presenters and our keynote speaker Ema Tavola will be progressing a lively and focused discussion on issues relevant to contemporary Pacific arts practice in both an Australian and international context.
I’m looking forward to seeing Stella Magazine Editor Amanda Donigi chair the panel ‘Entrepreneurialism in Pacific Arts’.
A two-day pass or one-day passes are available. To book your place in the audience, CLICK HERE.
And stay in the loop by liking Stella Magazine on Facebook here.
After a year-long article writing hiatus, I wrote a piece for the next issue of Stella Magazine, Issue 13 – a profile on Nattali Rize, Petra Rumwaropen and Lea Rumwaropen of the band Blue King Brown, and their relationship to the struggle for human rights in West Papua. Blue King Brown use their music to raise awareness in their audiences about the cause – a very personal one for the Rumwaropen sisters, who came to Australia as political refugees.
In addition, all three women live their politics and values in their day-today lives. We talked music, family, faith, the magic of performance, global resistance and freedom. It was a pleasure to interview them.
So make sure you grab a copy of that one too 🙂