Race, Environment and the Post-colonialism – Orange Is The New Black

blm

In this post I will explore Bell Hooks’ thoughts on loving blackness from the chapter, ‘Loving Blackness as a Political Resistance’ in her book, ‘Black Looks and Representation’ in relation to the last 2 episodes of the fourth series of Orange Is The New Black, which features the death of a major character and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Netflix Originals are known for breaking boundaries. The majority of the cast and crew in Orange Is The New Black are women, people of colour and different sexual orientations other than heterosexual. Bell Hooks takes a feminist approach to racism by stating “Moving away from the notion that an emphasis on sameness is the key to racial harmony, aware feminist activists have insisted that anti-racist struggle is best advanced by theory that speaks about the importance of acknowledging the way positive recognition and acceptance of difference is a necessary starting point as we work to eradicate white supremacy” (Hooks, 1992: 13)

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement started trending worldwide on social media as the hashtag #blacklivesmatter after George Zimmerman was found not guilty of shooting Trayvon Martin in 2012. #BLM raise awareness of the hundreds of young black people who are killed, usually at the hands of the police, every year. There is no head of the movement; it is a global movement which have had marches, mainly in America, to protest the killing of young black people that happens too regularly.

Since the movement’s popularity arose, it has been mentioned and been a big part of the Netflix original Orange Is The New Black, especially the latest season. The latest season finale was met with praise and controversy when one of the main and fan favourite character, Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley), was accidentally killed by a security guard at the prison she is a prisoner at.

While Washington was being suffocated, she repeatedly said the phrase “I Can’t Breathe” which Eric Garner, an innocent man who got killed by the NYPD in July 2014, said repeatedly, which also became a viral hashtag and had a massive impact on social media.

The heads of the prison had a televised announcement where they did not even mention Washington’s name, but just referred to her as an inmate at the prison. After the announcement, Washington’s best friend Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson (Danielle Brooks) exclaims “they didn’t even say her name”. Taystee then lead a protest through the prison chanting “no justice, no peace”, similar to what BLM supporters chant at marches.

After Sandra Bland was unjustly arrested in 2015, she was found dead in her cell, which was ruled as a suicide, but other’s had conspiracies that the police killed her and staged her suicide in her cell.  After her death, #SayHerName trended worldwide too, adding Sandra’s name to a long list of woman who had been killed by police but swept under the rug.

With sensitive subjects such as this being explored in a popular television programme, it was risky and needed to be researched thoroughly before even being scripted. With post-colonial subjects, films can address important but nasty truths which push forward representations of marginalized groups. There is a thin line between addressing important truths and making fun of these groups by seeming to stereotype them as ‘others’ or ‘non-western’ or ‘mysterious’.

Washington’s death affected a lot of fans, and it was needed. As the show educates a lot of people, in unconventional ways, about topics such as appropriation, gender, sexuality, life of women in prison, a death at the hands of someone who is supposed to care for you was needed to raise awareness of what is happening in the world right now.

 

 

Bibliography

Hooks, B. (1992) Black Looks and Representation. South End Press. London.

Filmography

Orange is The New Black. Prod. Jenji Kohan. Netflix. 2013. Television.

The Body, Whiteness, and the Human Subject – #OscarsSoWhite

oscars-pic-x

In this post I will be discussing Whiteness in relation to a chapter in Richard Dyer’s book White: Essays on Race and Culture “The Matter of Whiteness”. I will be talking about Dyer’s opinions and applying them to the recent controversies regarding the Academy Awards’ lack of diversity from 2015 onwards.

The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite started trending a few days after the nominations of the 2015 Oscars were announced. Many people were astounded that, even though Selma (A.DuVernay. 2014) a film about Martin Luther King was eligible for a nomination, not a single actor, actress or directors of colour were nominated. The Oscars have not had a completely white nomination list since 1995, which celebrated the films on 1997.

Dyer talks about how white people have been normalised in history and how they never have to be specified in certain situations. They are never ‘othered’. For example, Dyer states how in films that have token people of colour, they are described as “Skinhead Johnny and his Asian lover Omar set up a laundrette” or “Feature film from a promising Native-American director”. (Dyer,1996: 2). But you never hear anything being described as “Teacher Janet and her white friend Keith build a bowling alley”.

Unless it is a Bollywood film with a majority of an Indian cast featuring a single white actor, who is vital to the story.

“The story of six young Indians who assist an English Woman to film a documentary on the extremist freedom fighters from their past, and the events that lead them to relive the long forgotten saga of freedom” – the synopsis of a Bollywood film, Rang De Basanti (R. Omprakash Mehra 2006) from IMDB. The fact that it’s a Bollywood film but they had to stress that the story was about Indians was unnecessary.

Dyer argues how “whites are people whereas other colours are something else” PAGE 10. Relating to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, people of colour, especially but not only black people, felt alienated in the academy, and felt they were not being appreciated. Especially when Selma being eligible for a nomination, a film about one of the most important black Americans in all of history, did not get nominations for best actor or even best director.

Here is an infographic from http://www.indiewire.com/2014/02/the-diversity-gap-in-the-academy-awards-in-infographic-form-29628/  that shows the diversity in the Academy Awards. 2014.

Academy Awards Infographic 18 24 - V3

Dyer explains how an old school white comedian will start off a joke by saying “There’s this bloke walking down the street and he meets this black geezer”. He does not specify the race of the “bloke”; we just assume they’re white (Dyer, 1996: 2). We assume everyone is white we hear about is white until stated otherwise. It’s been argued that people align themselves with people of their own races, but if they are told to imagine a person, there is a very high possibility they are imagining a white man. As an Asian girl, whenever I’m writing a script, screenplay, character traits or imagining a fictional person, 100% of the time, I am unconsciously picturing or writing about a white person.

In a book I am currently reading The Good Immigrant, a book with chapters written by a number of different British ethnic minorities, mostly actors and journalists, about how they feel about their experiences living in a multi-cultural Britain, there is a chapter written by Darren Chetty entitled “You Can’t Say That! Stories have To Be About White People”. Chetty is a Year Two teacher who encourages his students including many multicultural kids, to write about more than just white people, and he succeeds in doing so. When I read about 6 year old children being encouraged to not write about just white people, but to enforce their culture into their work, it reminded me of how Dyer is trying to make ‘whiteness’ a race as it is constantly enforced everywhere, it is also somehow invisible at the same time.

Bibliography

http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/trending/oscars-2015-thousands-boycott-academy-awards-over-lack-of-diversity-1.2966913

http://www.cbc.ca/newsblogs/yourcommunity/2015/01/oscarssowhite-twitter-calls-out-lack-of-diversity-in-2015-academy-awards-nominations.html

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0405508/

Dyer, R. (1996) White: Essays on Race and Culture. Routledge. London.

Shukla, N.  (2016) The Good Immigrant. Cornerstone. London.

 

Filmography

Selma. (2014). Directed by A. DuVernay. [Film] USA and UK: Paramount Pictures

Rang De Basanti (2006) Directed by R. Omprakash Mehra. [Film] India: UTV Motion Pictures

Senses and Affect – Whiplash and Black Swan

whiplash-drums

In this post I will be discussing Eric Shouse’s  “Feeling, emotion, affect” and relate it to Whiplash (D. Chazelle. 2014) and comparing some scenes and themes to Black Swan (D. Aronofsky. 2010).

Shouse starts by differentiating what we mean by feeling, emotion, and affect. Briefly, feeling is recognising and understanding something because you have experienced that sensation before. Emotion is when an individual displays the labelled feeling, through facial expression or by using words. Lastly, affect is the physical reaction that comes naturally and unconsciously to one when confronted.

The narratives of Whiplash and Black Swan are similar to each other as they are both about achieving an end goal and letting nothing stop them. Both of the films deal with people in a high position, teachers, thriving to make their pupils, our protagonists, strive, and doing so by pushing many boundaries. Nina (Natalie Portman) in Black Swan wants to be the Swan Queen, the lead role, in her play and Andrew (Miles Teller) in Whiplash, wants to be a core drummer in the best jazz band in the country. Nina and Andrew both go to extreme measures to reach their end goal. Nina starves, self-harms, and has to put up with her controlling mother and mentor, has illusions and ends up stabbing herself. Andrew does not go to this many extremes however; his display of pain does increase throughout the film, but not as visually and viscerally as Nina. This is partly because Black Swan is a psychological thriller and Whiplash was just a drama, and psychological thrillers are usually gorier.

In the last scenes in both the films, we get a rush of relief when our protagonists get what they worked for for the last 2 hours or so of our lives. Black Swan has a more tragic and closed ending because Nina stabs herself thinking it was her rival, but does not die until after her one and only perfect performance as the Swan Queen. In Whiplash, Andrew gets humiliated and storms off the stage but when he comes back, he nails his breath-taking performance that goes on for nine, short but so long at the same time, minutes. The film cuts to black after Andrew and his abusive teacher Fletcher exchange a questioning look, leaving the ending wide open for the audience to interpret.

Whiplash draws on pain to create particular affects by the use of cinematography as well as the script that you can rely on for new uses of swear words and other profanities thanks to J.K Simmons’ character, Terrence Fletcher. Visually, the film is very dark, with very little use of colour. Splashes of a dirty yellow are thrown around in the practice room consisting of the lighting and the instruments themselves, but that is as colourful as it gets.  The use of close ups on the students and musicians playing their instruments as well as Andrew bleeding all over his drum kit are used to affect the viewers, to shock them of the intensity that goes in to playing instruments. Fletcher’s use of language is used to make the viewers fear him, as he is a very unpredictable character who can go from praising a student one minute to throwing a chair at their head the next.

The use of cinematography to depict Andrew’s unhealthy ongoing pain in order to win Fletcher’s approval and Nina’s ongoing struggle to win Thomas’ approval in order to bring out the Black Swan is done perfectly in both films.

In Whiplash we see close ups of Andrew’s hands covered in blisters from drumming, his hand going through a pitcher of ice and ultimately we see Andrew get into a car accident minutes before a big performance, which he brushes off and attends, covered in blood anyway. All of the incidents make the viewers physically cringe or gasp as you can almost feel the ice hitting you skin when Andrew does the same.

whiplash ice gif.gif

Black Swan mirrors this but to another level. As Black Swan is a psychological thriller, it is partially dependent on its ability to scare and have a physical impact on the viewer. Examples of this are when Nina peels the skin off her finger, an unforgettable scene that anybody who has ever seen Black Swan can name, purely for its grotesqueness and how we can somehow feel the skin coming off our fingers too.  As the audience we feel what our protagonists feel because of how the scene is shot. Firstly we see the thing that makes us react, then we see our protagonist reacting to said action, and because we are placed with our protagonists for the whole film, we feel what they feel.

Bibliography:

Shouse, E. (2005). ‘Feeling, Emotion, Affect.’ M/C Journal

Filmography:

Whiplash (2014) Directed by D. Chazelle, USA: Sony Pictures Classics

Black Swan (2010) Directed by D. Aronofsky, USA: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Spectatorship beyond the Male Gaze – Desperately Seeking Susan

dss

In my last post I discussed spectatorship and visual pleasures, in this post I will be looking beyond the male gaze and Laura Mulvey’s views by looking at spectatorship from females’ points of view, with Jackie Stacey’s theories in Star Gazing: Hollywood Cinema and Female Spectatorship and Desperately Seeking Difference from Visual Culture: The Reader by Jessica Evans and Stuart Hall. I will be applying Stacey’s theories to Desperately Seeking Susan (S. Siedelman. 1985).

Stacey argues about Mulvey’s theories of spectatorship being outdated by stating, “These accounts of female spectatorship in the 1980s provide important contributions to understanding the pleasures of Hollywood cinema beyond the rigidity of the model of the voyeuristic and fetishisitic gaze of the masculine spectator. They extend and challenge the Mulveyian model of the male gaze in ways that open up the meanings of sexual difference and the pleasures of cinematic spectatorship” (Stacey, 1993: 27)

Desperately Seeking Susan is a film about a middle class housewife Roberta’s (Rosanna Arquette) fascination with a technically homeless woman Susan (Madonna) who she finds out about through a newspaper column where Susan communicates with a mystery man named Jim (Robert Joy). In a weird series of events, Roberta searches for Susan, buys her jacket from a shop where Susan exchanged it for a pair of shoes and ends up getting amnesia and then convinced that she is Susan.

Roberta’s fascination with Susan was perceived as an innocent and pure young woman who was trying to get a glimpse into this wild woman’s life who she felt she knew as she had been following her messages to this mystery man Jim through a newspaper column for a while. When Roberta decided to go to where Susan said she’d meet Jim, She sits next to Jim not knowing who he is, then follows him once he spots Susan. In the chapter ‘Desperately Seeking Difference’ of Visual Culture: The Reader, Jessica Evans and Stuart Hall write:

“At certain points within Desperately Seeking Susan, Roberta explicitly becomes the bearer of the look. The best illustration of this transgression of traditional gender positionalities occurs in the scene in which she first catches sight of Susan. The shot sequence begins with Jim seeing Susan and is immediately followed with Roberta seeing her. It is, however, Roberta’s point of view which is offered for the spectator’s identification. Her look is specified by the use of the pay-slot telescope through which Roberta, and the spectator, see Susan. In accordance with classic narrative cinema, the object of fascination in Desperately Seeking Susan is a woman- typically, a woman coded as a sexual spectacle.” (Evans and Hall, 1999: 58)

Throughout Desperately Seeking Difference, Evans and Hall compare the two characters of Roberta and Susan against each other, describing them as binary opposites. Roberta is a quiet, lonely, conservative, married, “asexual” young lady, whereas Susan is an outgoing, loud, bold, confident, sexualised character, which appears Roberta strives to be. The relationship between Roberta and Susan is almost homo-erotic, and Roberta is even questioned whether she is a lesbian, but this is the only time their relationship is seen as anything more than just fascination between one stranger to another. If Roberta was a man, the fascination would definitely seem inappropriate, because a woman following a woman is friendly but a man following a woman could be seen as harassment.

Although Mulvey’s theories are a bit outdated, it does still apply to the film. For example, Mulvey explores how women are placed in films to be looked at and are usually the cause of problems. In Desperately Seeking Susan, Susan is displayed as a sexual character who is always being shown as a sexual object through the camera, and through her costume. On the other hand, Roberta is a nuisance because she creates a problem by following Susan in the first place; getting her jacket and then amnesia and being convinced she is Susan, creating confusion for Dez. This shows that women are still being used as distractions on film and women still have a long way to go in the film industry where eventually and hopefully, their roles won’t only consist of being the distraction or the problem.

 

Bibliography

Stacey, J. (1993) Star Gazing: Hollywood Cinema and Female Spectatorship. Routledge. London.

Gamman, L. (1999). Desperately Seeking Difference. In: Evans, J. and Hall, S Visual Culture: The Reader. Open University: Sage Publications. 57-61.

Filmography

Desperately Seeking Susan. (1985). Directed by S. Siedelman. [Film] USA: Orion Pictures.

Psychoanalytical Film Theory – Vertigo (1958)

vertigo-2In this post, I will be applying Laura Mulvey’s theories from Visual Pleasures and Narrative Cinema to Vertigo (A. Hitchcock. 1958).

“In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female figure which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness. Woman displayed as sexual object is the leit-motif of erotic spectacle: from pin-ups to strip-tease, from Ziegfeld to Busby Berkeley, she holds the look, plays to and signifies male desire. Mainstream film neatly combined spectacle and narrative. The presence of woman is an indispensable element of spectacle in normal narrative film, yet her visual presence tends to work against the development of a story line, to freeze the flow of action in moments of erotic contemplation.” (Mulvey, 1975: 11)

Mulvey’s essay is all about how woman are looked at and displayed in cinema, which is pretty much what Vertigo is about. In a nutshell, Vertigo is about an ex-cop, John “Scottie” Ferguson who falls in love with a woman he is supposed to be looking out for, Madeleine Elster, just by watching and observing her. She then dies and he tries to recreate her and bring her back to life through another woman, Judy Barton. The whole film is about watching, voyeurism, spectatorship, and scopophilia.

Based on the narrative of the film, Vertigo is about the male gaze. Laura Mulvey argues that there are three looks in films; the look of the camera or director, the look of the male protagonist, and the look of the spectator. Vertigo is all about watching. Scottie watching Madeleine, Us, the spectators, watching Scottie, and Hitchcock, controlling how we watch it all.

In Mulvey’s Visual Pleasures and Narrative Cinema she uses the term “to-be-looked-at-ness” which she uses in the context of women are in films to be looked at or displayed. They are passive characters who don’t really serve any purpose but to cause trouble for the male protagonist to clean up. For example, Madeleine’s purpose was to be watched, as she was just playing an actress who was trying to get Scottie into trouble.

We see the whole from Scottie’s perspective apart from one scene in Judy’s flashback. We see Judy and Madeleine talking to other people once or twice but we don’t hear them, they only ever talk to Scottie in the whole film. We are positioned with Scottie throughout the whole film.

The first time Scottie sees Madeleine in Ernie’s restaurant, she walks towards the camera so we, the audience and spectators, get a really good look at her too, as she is the focus of the whole film. She walks towards the camera and pauses and we get that infamous side profile shot.

vertigo-side-profile

Scottie is a peeping tom throughout the whole film, and because we are positioned with him, so are we. The whole film is an example of Scottie being a peeping tom. Arguably, it starts during the first following sequence when Scottie follows Madeleine around a flower market, a church, a hotel and other places.

Mulvey also argues that women are the product of a fetishization, objectification and sadism. Scottie fetishizes Madeleine and when she dies, he tries to bring her back to life through Judy. He objectifies Judy by taking away her humanity and turning her into an object for his enjoyment. He does this by ignoring Judy’s pleads to stop buying her clothes and shoes that she doesn’t want. Scottie consciously make these decisions to change Judy’s image to recreate Madeleine and it is sadistic because he enjoys making her over, which is making her miserable. This is an example of our male protagonist asserting his dominance, which he can and was acceptable in the 1950s because of the patriarchy.

However, because it is not the 1950s anymore, clearly, Laura Mulvey’s theories are a bit outdated because women have power now, with better roles in films, which are not exactly equal to men’s roles, but we are getting there, slowly. I will discuss that more in my next blog post.

 

Bibliography

  • Mulvey.L (1975) ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ Screen, 16(3) pages 6-18

Filmography

  • Vertigo (1958) Directed by A. Hitchcock, USA: Paramount Pictures

 

 

 

 

Ideology – The Riot Club (2014)

The Riot Club douglas booth sam claflin max irons

In this post, I will be discussing Louis Althusser’s theories on ideology and relating it to the film The Riot Club (L. Scherfig. 2014). I will mostly be basing this post on the trailer for the film, as well as picking apart a scene or two.

In the first couple of frames into the trailer, you can already tell it is a film that focuses purely on class. Based on the gender, race, and costumes of the people in the frame we can tell it is going to be a film about filthy rich spoilt rotten young white men. However, this is the narrative of the film. I will be looking deeper into how classes and genders are divided in the film through ideologies Marx and Althusser have explored in their theories.

On the surface, The Riot Club has minimal or poor representations of other parties other than privileged, white, young men. This gives off the impression that people cannot be successful if they are not white or rich or a man, in other words, a WASP. The film is also set in one of the most prestigious university in the world, Oxford University.

“What is represented in ideology is therefore not the system of the real relations which govern the existence of individuals but the imaginary relation of those individuals to the real relations in which they live” (Althusser, 2001: 37)

The main ideology that is apparent in this narrative is that of Capitalism. The young men in the Riot Club believe they can destroy any place anywhere and pay their way out of their troubles. This issue is raised when the owner of the family-friendly pub, Chris (Gordon Brown) where the club have booked a room confronts them by saying that they can’t buy their way out of everything, while money can fix the pub it won’t fix the permanent psychological damages to the landlord and his livelihood. Alistair (Sam Claflin), who the property owner is trying to reason with, then shouts that he “hates poor people” and begins to beat him to death. The club’s problems with Chris lie with the fact that he is older and poorer than they are, and that he has more authority than them because they are on his property.

“All ideology represents in its necessarily imaginary distortion not the existing relations of production, but above all the (imaginary) relationship of individuals to the relations of production and the relations that derive from them.” (Althusser, 2001: 37)

Getting into The Riot Club is perceived as achieving the American dream. Two new students have to go through rounds of initiation to get into the club, focusing on their knowledge on a range of subjects that only higher-class males would know, or that is how it seems. Once they are a part of the most prestigious club in the most prestigious university, they are invincible and can get away with anything.

One of the only female characters in the film is Charlie (Natalie Dormer), an escort who the boys hire to perform oral sex on all of them. Charlie refuses to do so, being a subversive character and not conforming to the boys’ needs. Charlie then runs out after the boy who hired her, Harry (Douglas Booth) throws a tantrum, reminding everyone that filthy rich white boys are not extinct.

In Performance Analysis: An Introductory Coursebook Althusser argues that ideology is an illusion that provides a distorted view of us, as well as our place in the world, and everyone is put in place by an elite class. It re-enforces that elite classes exist rule and to be separate from the working class. This is pretty much the narrative of The Riot Club, as club is the most elite “class” in the university; they believe they can get away with “ruling” everyone who is not in their class, like the Chris, the pub landlord and Charlie, the escort.

 

Bibliography

  • Althusser, L. (2001) ‘Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses’ (extract).In Counsell, C. and Wolf, L. (eds.) Performance Analysis: An Introductory Coursebook. London and New York: Routledge

Filmography

  • The Riot Club (2014) Directed by L. Scherfig, UK: Universal Pictures International

Webography