Browse Tag: spectra

Not (Just) Another Queer Movie: My Afrofeminist Review of Pariah

Originally published at Racialicious.com

Wait a minute, not all lesbians in movies are white, rich or middle-class with no bills to pay? You mean “life” doesn’t get put on pause so that all gay people can experience the thrill of coming out at summer camp? And, there are other LGBT issues worth talking about besides marriage? Gasp! And Hallelujah for Spike Lee protégé Dee Rees’ Pariaha film women of color (and other marginalized groups) can truly relate to.

On the surface, Pariah is a coming of age story about an African-American lesbian, Alike (pronounced “Ah-LEE-kay”) in Brooklyn. But dig deeper, and you’ll see a smart and layered tackling of gender, sexuality, religion, and even class — an essential layer of complexity needed to accurately portray the diverse experiences of queer people of color, long been absent from mainstream LGBT films. Rather than depicting homophobia as the only kind of oppression experienced by the LGBT community, Pariah’s world is a varied socio-cultural landscape in motion featuring an all-POC cast, led by Nigerian actress Adepero Oduye’s performance as 17-year old Alike.

Pariah’s urban setting almost eliminates the need to discuss race at all (or, as in popular case of experiencing race through white characters, explain it). The audience is plopped, un-apologetically, right in the middle of a story filled with black characters, making way for intersectional observations about class and gender roles within the story’s cultural context.

SPOILERS UNDER THE CUT

The film opens with an unfocused, low-level street shot of baggy jeans, dangling belt chains, hard-soled shoes, and the dirty pavements of Brooklyn. We hear the sound of women socializing, and then some unexpected song lyrics:All you ladies pop your p-ssy like this. We’re immediately placed in the scene of a nightclub, in front of a stripper who is somehow managing to slide up the pole, and slapped in the face by Rees’ over-the-top interpretation of coming of age as a young lesbian of color: loud club music, a hyper-sexualized social environment, a group of tomboys (“studs”, “butches”, “aggressives”) throwing money at a stripper in a bothersome (yet, admittedly, amusing) re-enactment of heterosexual masculinity, while a small voice in our heads may be wondering if we’re supposed to be down with all of this.

But just as we are beginning to question what we’re doing in the theater, we meet Alike and see that her world is upside down, too, literally. The frame is rotated upright to reveal a slender Alike, dressed awkwardly in a wide-striped, oversized polo, black do-rag, and fitted lid, staring at the pulsating pelvis of the stripper, and doing so with a confused, yet curious expression on her face.

Her discomfort is made even more apparent when we meet her best friend, Laura (Pernell Walker), a huskier and much more aggressive tomboy (who claims to “get more p-ssy than yo’ daddy”), acting as Alike’s enthusiastic chaperone in this bizarre rite of passage. Dressed in a red lid and popped-collar track jacket, Laura embodies masculinity more confidently; after she finally gives up trying to get Alike to “get that punani“, she proceeds to grind with a heteronormatively feminine (“high femme”) black lesbian in a gender-polarized mating dance.

Conversely, as Alike heads home on the bus alone, we see her vulnerability exposed under fluorescent lights: she begins to slowly strip herself of the masculine lesbian identity she’s hiding from her family. She reluctantly slides the lid and do-rag off her head to put her natural hair (twisties) in a ponytail, pulls off the over-sized polo to reveal a fitted tank top hidden underneath, and finally, puts a pair of earrings back on her ears in a heart-breaking act of gender conformity.

Despite the nuanced depiction of gender and class, Pariah doesn’t hit us over the head with analysis: the characters don’t explain why they each dress differently (urban streetwear to preppy to chic, and more), why they are of different financial circumstances, or why their accents are different; they just are. Alike, for instance, is evidently a “softer” tomboy as described by some girls at her high school. She’s also an aspiring writer, and (most likely due to the part of the city in which she was raised) has very different diction from Laura, whose vernacular is filled with slang, curse words, and the N-word as a term of endearment. In turn, Laura’s friends behave in a manner that’s very similar to cisgendered masculinity: they wear all men’s clothing, drink beer, play poker, and (of course) have beautiful girls sit on their laps as trophies. Yes, lesbians can be sexist too, but Dee Rees’ thoughtful character development steers the screenplay away from the danger of telling a single story.

In the past, the dominant movie narrative that existed for lesbians on screen, for many, depicted an unrealistic social context: all lesbians are white and heteronormatively feminine (AKA “lipstick lesbians” like Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly in Bound), they have sex by making a performance of moaning the same way the women in straight porno films do (too many to name, but the most annoying sex scene for me comes from indie flick Chloe — an extended makeout session, really?). Meanwhile, no one seems to have any money problems as they can throw huge weddings they don’t even show up to (Imagine Me and Youthe infamous L Word non-wedding) and 2-dimensional side characters with no real lives of their own, exist simply to react (whether negatively or positively) to the “lesbian” issue (a la the saintly and unfortunate husband archetype in The Hours).

In many of these films, homophobia (besides the expected relationship drama) was often presented as the singular obstacle to the main characters’ happiness. Thus, the combination of the afore-mentioned archetypal elements and the perpetuation of single-issue hurdles for LGBT characters, for me, wove together a series of feel-good lezzie flicks that all said the same thing: “Please leave these two pretty and privileged white girls who just want to fall in love and live happily ever after in their color-blind world (which, by the way, contains no people of color) alone, okay?”

Considering what the film industry was like even just a decade ago, most people would concede that in the face of Hollywood’s focus on hegemonic straight relationships, movies that featured gay or lesbian characters at all were pushing the envelope. Indeed, many of us queer women were thrilled when The L Word came out. After all, it was on Showtime — widely accessible to our straight friends, who we eagerly organized viewing parties with so we could watch them experience what our lives as lesbians were like, sort of.

We didn’t all wear high heels and runway dresses; the lesbians at the clubs I went to certainly didn’t sport that level of Hollywood glam. Many of us were puzzled by the main characters’ financial means to spend lavish amounts of money eating out at fancy restaurants, throwing parties in LA mansions, and getting married, but we tuned in every week to follow the lives of a group of rich white feminine lesbians, because there weren’t any alternatives. Plus, sitting through a film with gay characters was a sure way to test a reaction from your friends before you came out. The show’s false sense of reality gave us hope that if we were to come out to our friends and decided to live our lives openly as gay people, life would remain relatively normal; we’d have girlfriends, get married (that’s what all gay people want to do, right?), adopt children, experience the occasional awkward family dinner, but ultimately, live happily ever after.

This is what sets Pariah apart from (white) singular-narrative LGBT films; it debunks the myth that life begins and ends between the point of self-acceptance… and a wedding.

The movie’s skillful orchestration of empathic story-telling and strong performances enables us to move beyond the scope of Gay and Lesbian 101 to tackle other kinds of oppression, including the further marginalization of LGBT people of color. Alike’s family lives comfortably, allowing her to spend most of her time socializing and pursuing her interest in the arts. But Laura, who is the same age as Alike, was forced to drop out of high school when her mother kicked her out, and works overtime to help her sister (who she lives with) pay the bills while studying for her GED. Through Laura’s narrative, the audience is given a glimpse into the experience of many LGBT youth, who are forced to seek refuge and community outside of their families, risk being homeless for being themselves, yet, must keep on.

It’s a sad observation, but then again isn’t it high time that gay films which grab major distributor attention do more than just perpetuate extremely tragic or fairytale conclusions to a now-engaged and curious public, and present LGBT stories in all their diverse manifestations, which does include the narratives of people of color, working class people, homeless youth, and sometimes, people who are all of the above? It’s no wonder thatPariah — along with peer releases Circumstance and Gunhill Road — has received critical acclaim for its much-needed exploration of LGBT people of color living life at the intersection of many types of societal challenges.

But don’t get it twisted. Pariah is definitely not a sob story. In fact, the movie is filled with timely and endearing moments of humor and awkwardness that make the hold-no-punches backdrop easier to swallow; the familiar sibling banter that ensues when Alike’s younger (and brattier) sister threatens to tell on her for having a “gross” flesh-colored dildo, a cringe-ful dinner table scene during which her parents describe how they “hung out on prom night”, and Alike’s frequent and ill-timed giggle spells whenever she’s around the girl she likes. The film’s strong undercurrent of family and relationships guarantees that there is something in it for everyone (no need to fear the discomfort of watching a lesbian sex scene with your parents either — Dee Rees keeps it PG).

Dee Rees has created a motion picture that the larger LGBT community can be proud of, and in which people of color can see themselves carefully and sensitively projected. She may be the black lesbian Tyler Perry (in a good way). Let’s hope we see more of her.

My Labor of Love Turns Five in August: Queer Women of Color Week 2011

Hey Everyone,

I’ve been MIA because I’ve been buried neck-deep in QWOC Week 2011 planning. If you live in Boston (or near enough) and support my work then please forward on the information below to the appropriate outlets. It’s been five years since I started organizing around women’s and LGBT issues in Boston, and founded QWOC+ Boston. I’m really proud of all of it, and can’t wait to share the work of so many dedicated and passionate volunteers to this mission with all of you this summer. Come one, come all!

Much Love,
Spectra

(Note to Press: You can download the full content of this press release HERE + Fact Sheet + QWOC Week Flyer)

Register for 4TH ANNUAL Queer Women of Color Week (QWOC Week) in Boston, MA  on Eventbrite

For Immediate Release:
Queer Women of Color Week Uses Art, Performance, and Dialogue to Address Segregation in Communities of Color

“QWOC Week is important because it’s the only event of its kind…It recognizes, cherishes, and celebrates my WHOLE identity.”

Boston, MA, July 18th — Join Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston) for their 4th annual week-long pride festival, QWOC Week, taking place this year from Saturday July 30th – Saturday August 6th.

This year, QWOC Week, known for its eclectic back-to-back schedule of innovative art, discussion, and community-building events, is focused on increasing solidarity between LGBTQ communities of color by creating space for a myriad of affinity groups. A highly anticipated annual spoken-word and live music showcase, OUTSPOKEN — The BLACKOUT Edition, will feature an all-black lesbian performer lineup this year, including nationally reknowned black lesbian poet Letta Neely, and reigning local slam poet, Porscha (who will also be competing at the National Poetry Slam taking place in Cambridge the following week).

Founding Director, Spectra A. I. Asala says that whatever the theme, OUTSPOKEN always attracts all kinds of people who are eager to learn about issues impacting queer and transgender women of color in general. “The performers are unapologetically loud and proud, and it’s refreshing, especially since the experiences of LGBTQ people of color are often over-politicized as hot button “issues” or trivialized via “at-risk” statistics. OUTSPOKEN is an empowering celebration of who we are as LGBTQ people, but as women of color as well.”

The intentional focus on women is clear. QWOC Week’s opening panel, “Trans Women of Color Speak” hosted in collaboration with TransCEND and Mass Transgender Political Coalition, brings forth an important conversation about the role of transgender women of color in stonewall in light of their subsequent marginalization within the gay movement. The event encourages both queer and trans communities to work together towards creating safe spaces for transgender women of diverse cultural backgrounds.

But women aren’t the only affinity group being highlighted during the week. This year, QWOC+ Boston has teamed up with Mass. South Asian Lamba Association, Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (QAPA) and MAP for Health to address the lack of visibility of Asians/Asian-Americans within the broader LGBTQ community of color. “At my school, I’ve seen first hand how the queer Asian community is deliberately passed over and seen as ‘the other’, even when they are the most vocal in the LGBT POC community,” remarked Wellesley student organizer (and 2011 Point Foundation scholar), Erika Turner. Turner, who is also part of the planning committee for Family Day in the Park — an all-ages, youth- and family-friendly event in Stony Brook, JP, credits her commitment to creating supportive spaces for LGBT women of color to the positive experience interning with QWOC+ Boston in 2010. “QWOC Week is important because it’s the only event of its kind,” she says, “It has been the only Pride I’ve experienced that recognizes, cherishes, and celebrates my WHOLE identity.”

QWOC Week is being planned and executed entirely by a grassroots group of volunteers and dedicated community supporters. Collaborators include The Network/ La Red, an organization dedicated to ending partner abuse in LGBTQ communities, Black and Pink, a prison-abolitionist organization, The Bisexual Resource Center, and many others.

“All our events are open to everyone, regardless of race, gender, or sexuality, hence the wide range of collaborations,” says Asala, “Plus, they’re fun! There’s something for everyone, whether you’re new to Boston, artsy, political, love the outdoors etc. We want our friends, families, and allies to be part of this amazing week.” For more information about QWOC Week, including the full schedule, visit http://www.qwocboston.org/qwoc-week/ or the official registration page at qwocweek2011.eventbrite.com.

A limited number of spaces for press (and community leaders) to attend the closing reception on Saturday August 6th are available. Please send all inquiries to pride@qwocboston.org, or contact Spectra at 617.871.0431
——-

List of Collaborating Organizations

BlackandPink.org
Bisexual Resource Center (BRC) (Gold Sponsor)
Boston GLASS
Emerson College, Office Multicultural Student Affairs & GLBTQ Resources
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC)
Mass. South Asian Lambda Association (MASALA)
Mass. Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC)
Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (QAPA)
Salacious Magazine
Suffolk University, Office of Diversity Services
Suffolk University, President’s Commission on the Status of LGBTQ Faculty, Staff and Students
Suffolk University, President’s Commission on the Status of AHANA Faculty, Staff, and Students
Power Lesbian Network (PLN)
Spectra Events
The Network / La Red (TNLR) (Platinum Sponsor)
Transgender Care and Education Needs Diversity (TransCEND)

 

QWOC WEEK 2011 SCHEDULE

*Please check the OFFICIAL website/event page for any last minute changes
Website: http://www.qwocboston.org/​qwoc-week
Ticketing: http://qwocweek2011.eventbrite.com/

NOTE: All events are open to the public (i.e. everyone) except where specified.

Saturday July 30th 2PM – 5PM
A Discussion about Open Relationships & Polyamory in Queer/Trans Communities of Color
In collaboration with The Network/La Red & The Bisexual Resource Center
Harvard Democracy Center | 25 Mount Auburn Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Facebook Event |

Sunday July 31st @ 3PM – 7PM
Old School Meets New School T-Dance
In collaboration w/ Spectra Events’ Power Lesbian Network and Boston Black Women’s Health Initiative
Redd’s | 4257 Washington Street, Roslindale, MA 02131
Facebook Event

Monday August 1st @ 6:30 PM – 8 PM
Opening Panel – Trans Women of Color Speak
In collaboration with Transgender Care & Education Needs Diversity (TransCEND), Mass Trans Political Coalition (MTPC), and Suffolk University Offices of Diversity Services.
Suffolk University Law School (Sargent Hall Function Room) | 120 Tremont Street, 1st floor
Facebook Event |

Tuesday August 2nd @ 6 PM – 8 PM
Building Bridges: Queer Asian Experiences in LGBTQ Communities of Color
In collaboration with Mass. Area South Asian Lambda Association (MASALA), Queer Asian Pacific-Islander Alliance (QAPA) & MAP for Health
MIT Room 32-112 | STATA CENTER 32 Vassar Street Cambridge MA 02139
Facebook Event |

Wednesday August 3rd @ 6 PM – 9 PM
Activism & Karaoke: The International Edition
In collaboration with Black & Pink and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC)
(Drop Off for Week-Long Survivor Kit Drive for The Network/La Red)
CLUB CAFE | 260 Summer Street, East Boston, MA
Cost: Donated Item or $10
Facebook Event |

Thursday August 4th @ 7 PM – 1 AM
OUTSPOKEN – The BLACKOUT Edition produced by Spectra Events
Queer & Trans People of Color Spoken- Word & Live Music Showcase
Co-sponsored by Salacious Magazine
OBERON | 2 Arrow Street Cambridge MA
Facebook Event | Tickets ($10 Online, $15 at the Door)

Friday August 5th @ 7 PM
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTIVISM: QWOC Film Night
EMERSON COLLEGE | 150 Boylston Street (1st Floor), Boston MA 02116
Facebook Event |

Saturday August 6th @ 12 PM – 4 PM
Family Day at Stony Brook Park
Supporting Organizations: Boston GLASS and Greater Boston PFLAG
STONY BROOK PARK | Jamaica Plain, MA
Facebook Event |

Saturday August 6th @ 8 PM – 1 AM
QWOC Week Closing Ceremony and Dance Party
In collaboration with Spectra Events
The Midway Cafe | 3496 Washington Street, Jamaica Plain, MA
Cost: $5-10 Online, $12 at the Door
Facebook Event | Tickets ($5-8 Online, $10-12 at the Door)

We Will Not Be Unwritten: Preserving Queer Women of Color History

A few weeks ago, the Fenway Women’s Health Team posted a blog on Bay Windows about their upcoming 2nd annual women’s health fair. QWOC+ Boston had organized and tabled at this event for the past three years. Yet, written in an authoritative third person omniscient voice was the line, “Thanks to the dedication of a single woman, Fenway Health is proudly hosting its 2nd Annual LBT Women’s Health Fair…”

The women’s health fair wasn’t in it’s second, but third year, and long before the dedicated efforts of a single woman, an entire community of queer women of color, myself included, had worked with Fenway Women’s Health Team via a series of conversations and community-building initiatives to delimit access to health resources for queer people of color. This ultimately led to the planning and execution of the first health fair, appropriately titled, “A Little Less Talk, A Lot More Action,” and hosted collaboratively by Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston), Queer Asian Pacific Alliance (QAPA), and Somos Latinos (now Unid@s, under the umbrella of Boston Pride).

But, if you’re one out of the 55,000 people that follows Bay Windows, firmly established as New England’s largest LGBT newspaper, you wouldn’t have known any of this.

A Brief History Lesson: The inaugural health fair took place on Thursday April 30th, 2008, exactly three years ago, during which various organizations tabled at the event, presenting a plethora of resources from free breast cancer screenings, safe sex toys, HPV vaccination information, and acupuncture. The main part of the event, the panel on the impact of stress, addressed health disparities between women of color and white women, from varied perspectives, including public health, mental health, socio-economic status, and more.

Additionally, the inception of the first health fair happened almost four years ago at the inauguration of QWOC+ Boston’s Pride Festival — QWOC Week — during a panel focused on health issues in WOC Communities. The QWOC Week Panel featured inspiring and touching personal stories and perspectives from an older generation of Black Lesbian activists (a few of who are my mentors/sheroes — Lula Christopher, Jacquie Bishop, Reverend Irene Monroe), Lisa Moris, a local community organizer in housing development, and was moderated by Dr. Konjit Page, then a Psychology PhD candidate focused on the mental health of queer women of color. The room was bursting with inspiration and empowerment when the panel ended. So much so that Reverend Irene Monroe even published a piece about it called Sisters are Doing It For Themselves

The chronology of these dates, collaborations, and events are important to note as they weave together an important part of history for Boston’s queer women of color community, highlighting the actionable steps that we took together to improve access to health resources for queer and transgender communities of color.

Yet, in one line, history had been omitted, or in this case, un-written.

It is also important to note that even though our initiative had originally set out to empower LBTQ women of color, the language that had been previously used to indicate a conscious targeting of this marginalized group had been dropped completely, however inadvertently, under the umbrella of empowering all women.

Given the context around the origination of the health fair (at a queer women of color festival), and its subsequent success — a small but important piece of history — you must imagine my deep disappointment at the ability of a single blog post to completely erase almost four years of hard work that had actually resulted in a tangible benefit for LGBT people of color.

But let me be clear: I don’t for a second imagine that this near erasure of history happened intentionally. The blog about Fenway’s Women’s Health fair sought simply to highlight the efforts of their team to preserve the health fair in the face of funding cuts and limited resources. And, for that, they have my deepest gratitude and support. Without their hard work and dedication, there would be no women’s health fair at all, and the future we’ve worked so hard to create would dissipate right in front of us.

Still, as our community continues to push against the walls of oppression, whether funding cuts, racism and homophobia in the health system, and other social justice fronts, we must remember that preserving the stories of our past is just as important as fighting for a better future; history is the only way the world will ever know about the many battles we have fought, about the battles we have won, and most importantly, the only way we can leave a clear path for the generation behind us to follow. In the words of Audre Lorde, “ It’s a struggle but that’s why we exist, so that another generation of Lesbians of color will not have to invent themselves, or their history, all over again.”

It is from this place that I could not stand by while the contributions to the improved livelihood of queer women of color in Boston by community members — including my own mentors, women whose shoulders I am proud to stand on — were at risk of being erased, and not just due to an inadvertent error with dates. Perhaps Fenway failed to appropriately contextualize the event, but Bay Windows’ carelessness (or complete absence of) fact-checking, and the general callousness that I find in mainstream media outlets when covering issues affecting women, people of color, transgender people etc., isn’t a problem that I see going away any time soon.

So, as a leader I have to acknowledge my own role (or lack thereof) at arriving at this juncture i.e. my neglect for the past five years to formally document gains QWOC+ Boston has made as far as increasing visibility for queer people of color and the movement of embracing diversity we’ve created in Boston, save this blog.

As LGBT people (esp. members of marginalized groups: women, people of color, transgender, disabled etc), we all need to do a better job of telling our own stories, and in effect, writing ourselves (back) into history. As I learned from this experience, we’re not just at risk of being completely ignored by mainstream media, but about having our history being talked over, our pronouns mixed up, our hard work being told in passive voice i.e “It happened.” We do a disservice to each other when we fail to affirm the actions of the generations closely following behind us, when we fail to let them know that “We were here,” and as such, that they can do it better, and get further down the path to equality than we ever imagined possible.

I can’t say this enough: Get to it. Start a blog. Create a Youtube channel. Write a book — you can self-publish. Support organizations like the LGBT History Project who work tirelessly to record our histories (orally if need be). But whatever you do from this point, remember the words of Audre Lorde, “Your silence will not protect you,” or the words of my mentor, Letta Neely, if you like your wisdom plain, “Write that shit, down!”

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