On last night’s episode of “Big Brother,” 22-year-old Aaryn Gries was given the boot by her fellow houseguests and, as is customary, sat down for her live post-show interview with host Julie Chen. Over the past two-and-a-half months, Aryan Aaryn, as she’s jokingly been called online, has said a number of offensive and ignorant things about people of other races, all of which were caught on tape by the show’s 24/7 live feeds. She’s not the only one — almost half of the initial 16 houseguests have said one or more highly questionable things about race, gender, religion or sexual orientation. Under pressure from viewers to show what was really going on in the house, CBS finally made a point of addressing offensive statements in their edited episodes, with Aaryn’s remarks receiving the vast majority of the attention. So, when Aaryn emerged out the front door, to a subtle chorus of audience boos, and sat down next to Julie Chen, I expected that the topic would be addressed, but only briefly as Aaryn is now a member of the “Big Brother” jury and will continue to be sequestered from the outside world until the season has come to an end. That usually means continuing to be kept in the dark about what’s going on outside the house — including how she’s being perceived.
But I was wrong. Chen went there last night, actually reading some of Aaryn’s worst remarks aloud. Aaryn — who, in fairness, was not completely clueless that she was being seen as racist — was flustered, saying she didn’t remember saying those things. She initially made excuses about being from Texas and not meaning the things she said and blah blah blah. The audience laughed at her over and over. Aaryn teared up and looked utterly crushed. It was awful. And awkward. I was uncomfortable. Keep reading »
Everybody has feelings about Jenji Kohan’s “Orange is the New Black.” I have all the feelings. Since the show’s debut, we’ve tossed opinions back-and-forth about the cast of characters and the powerfully written narratives that reveal the unseen lives of American’s imprisoned women. But of the many conversations that have surfaced, the most discernible for me is of the legitimacy of Piper Kerman, the memoirist about whom the show was made.
In brief, after getting involved with an international drug dealer, Kerman (a white woman) was indicted for money laundering and spent a year in a woman’s prison – you know, the usual account of a well-to-do white woman who graduated from Smith. She subsequently wrote a best-selling memoir, which was adapted for Netflix. You can watch all of season one there now; I finished it in less than a week.
The show follows her into prison and tells the backstory of several other inmates, many of them women of color. The storyline is emotionally riveting. We’re met with race-related segregation, which mirrors the actual prison experience where racial categories and separation are often strictly enforced. Piper’s race and class privilege are checked in the first episode when it’s revealed that she “read up” on prison etiquette before she arrived. One inmate gives birth in prison and comes back to her bunk child-free, showcasing the reality that two-thirds of incarcerated women are mothers and busting the myth that women who labor in prison get to keep their babies. As a birth justice activist, I wished they’d shown the inhumane way in which many prisons shackle women during labor. Keep reading »
For the last several years, natural hair “trends” have been on the rise for African-American and other women in the U.S. Just last week, Oprah graced the cover of O Magazine donning an enormous Afro, much bigger than the one she wore in the late ’70s when she first started on primetime. Oprah’s gesture pays tribute to the millions of women who have tossed relaxers and weaves to the side and embraced their own hair — their natural hair.
As I wrote last spring, women of African decent, and some others too, sometimes use a product called a perm to make their hair “more manageable.” These began as a trend in the 1920s so blacks (both men and women) could more readily assimilate into white culture and evade the detriments of racism. If you’ve ever read or watched The Autobiography of Malcolm X, you’ll remember the scene in which he dunked his head in a toilet bowl to find reprieve from the smoldering “conk” (what a perm used to be called) he was using to straighten his hair.
Oprah’s hair was a wig designed by lock guru Andre Walker but the idea of it still persists – Afros, and other natural hairstyles are here to stay … or are they? Keep reading »
Everything you’ve heard about “Fruitvale Station” is true. The biopic, which won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for U.S. dramatic film at Sundance, explores the final day in the life of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Black man from Oakland who was shot and killed by a BART officer on New Year’s Day in 2009.
The movie flashes between the past and the present, exploring Grant’s relationship with his four-year-old daughter, his mom, and his girlfriend, who was with him on the night he was shot. After a scuffle on the BART, Grant and his friends, who are all people of color, were detained on the platform. Numerous witnesses filmed the incident with their cell phone cameras, including the moment when Grant, who was unarmed and being restrained by several officers, was shot in the back. That cop claimed he had meant to reach for his Taser; he served less than one year of prison. My three friends and I legitimately bawled for the last 10 minutes of the film. Keep reading »
It’s safe to say that Netflix’s latest original series, “Orange is the New Black,” is nothing short of binge-worthy. I devoured the entire first season in under 96 hours (seriously). Groundbreaking on many levels, the show openly displays queer female sexuality and features a uniquely complex portrayal of a black transgender woman (played by the brilliant black trans actress Laverne Cox). What’s more, the vibrant cast of diverse characters offers viewers a rare exploration of what privilege is and how it works. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the show’s main character, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a perfect lesson in privilege.
I can’t stand Piper. I find her whiny, entitled, possessive, incredibly self-obsessed, an emblem of unchecked privilege. But I actually think that’s intentional; Piper would be the character we all root for, when in reality, she seems to be one of the least liked. As Salamishah Tillet noted over at The Nation, the main character of “Orange” probably had to be white and college-educated for the show (and memoir upon which it’s based) to get picked up, and this is a valid point. But with Piper, we’re also forced to come face to face with her privilege, and we can’t stand what we see. [Spoilers after the jump!] Keep reading »
The film industry is one that desperately lacks female influence, so Cheryl Boone Isaacs’ election as President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a particularly cool victory. In its 86-year history, the Academy has only had two other female presidents — the most recent being almost 30 years ago. Cheryl Boone Isaacs is also the first ever African-American president for the Academy. Keep reading »
“The Sapphires” is reportedly one of the very best films of the the year. It’s won all kinds of awards! But the DVD cover is … problematic. The flick stars Chris O’Dowd as the manager of a ’60s girl group in Australia comprised of four Aboriginal women, including “Australian Idol” runner-up Jessica Mauboy. Based on real events, “The Sapphires” is a love story that also tackles the racism these women faced in their native Australia. Alas, the U.S./Canada DVD cover for the film (above) plops O’Dowd front and center while the four women — their darker skin tones appearing blue along with the graphic design — smaller, behind him in the background. Keep reading »