Blog No. 5 Representation Matters: A Week of Black Thought

For much of the first week of May, there was something going on almost every day or every evening to check out…Looking back, much of the week revolved around the importance of black thought in varies industries. In order to evolve, our stories, and our voices must be heard; that’s definitely happened this week.

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During the first week of May, there was something going on almost every day or every evening to check out. For those that may not have been around, there’s a lot that you missed out on. But it’s all good, ’cause I’m here to fill you in. From films, panel discussions, and festivals, the spring season appears to be off to a good start.

On the evening of May 1st, the month was kicked off with a film at Winnipeg Cinematheque put on by Black Space Winnipeg for the documentary, Free Angela: and all Political Prisoners. On May 4th-7th, the Spur Festival took place in Winnipeg which I was asked to be a part of as one of the volunteer photographers. Then, Saturday, May 6th, the week was finished off big as both Black Space Winnipeg and QPOC Winnipeg helped to sponsor an event with Dr. Angela Davis speaking here in Winnipeg at Knox United Church.  Looking back, much of the week revolved around the importance of black thought in varies industries. In order to evolve, our stories, and our voices must be heard; that’s definitely happened this week.

On Monday, May 1st, the month started off with a special double-screening of the new documentary film, Free Angela: and All Political Prisoners. The double-screening, sponsored by Black Space Winnipeg and hosted at the Winnipeg Cinematheque, was about the famous scholar, writer and political activist Dr. Angela Davis. The film covers the series of events in the 1970’s during Dr. Davis’ career as a professor at UCLA, followed by the social revolution she inspired during her imprisonment and trial. In-between the two screenings, a panel discussion took place about the importance of social activism in black and racial identity.

The panel featured the founder and host of Soul Unexpected Adeline Bird, two University of Winnipeg professors Dr. Jenny H. Willis and Dr. Paul Lawrie and myself. Our discussion, hosted by Black Space Winnipeg founder Alexa Potashnik, revolved around the importance of awareness regarding social issues, what it means to be engaged and in what ways have things either changed or remained the same since the events of Angela Davis’ trial. It was an enriching and important conversation that I was thankful to be a part of. Sharing the panel with academic scholars and enlighten minds fuels my energy; it reminds me how much we can achieve working together.

Much of what we discussed touched on the importance of visibility in our communities as POC. Some of the questions from panel host Alexa are included in the following audio,

Panel Discussion Audio (Click Here)

Unfortunately, the audio cuts out near the end when I give my thoughts on the importance of allyship. We mainly discussed allyship between marginalized groups but I also wanted to address allyship with those who hold forms of privilege. With my take on the subject, I wanted to address some of its shortcomings that may not always be talked about.

I should preface this by saying that I think it’s important we all do what we can to reach out to others. We can learn and grow from those we don’t always identify with and we can be supportive allies when and where possible. Also, privilege is not something only held by those who are white. Myself as a heterosexual, cisgendered and able-bodied male hold levels of privilege in society even while being a POC. The issue becomes when we as allies become oblivious to our own privilege and put ourselves in a position that takes up space in ways that harm the cause we claim to support. We take up room on a platform that could have been occupied by someone within that community. The power of a movement is in its voice and those who speak need to be champions of that community from its community.

The way I see it, allyship isn’t when you get up on stage and speak into the microphone. Allyship is when you’re willing to help set up the sound equipment. It’s about being useful where you’re needed the most and not where you’ll be seen the most – the platform is there for the people you’re claiming to support – not you.

Allyship isn’t when you get up on stage and speak into the microphone. Allyship is when you’re willing to help set up the sound equipment.

As for the film, Free Angela, it highlights the prosecution of Angela Davis’ and the way the system of white supremacy was built to silence her despite being a renowned scholar. Her academic teachings, criticisms of the US capitalist system and work as a social activist all helped to be one of the biggest inspirations for modern day identity politics. However, it was also what feed a fuel of hatred towards Angela that went all the way to The White House during the Reagan administration. Now, in the modern world of social media, grassroots activism is more connected and able to form real dialogue around identity politics. It’s during this new digital age that some ask what responsibility does this young generation play in furthering the conversation around identity politics?

What has become apparent is that as minority groups become more active in forming their voice for equality and representation as a people, there comes a growing concern around freedom of speech. Those opposed to identity politics have created this notion that marginalized groups that are using the internet to confront systemic oppression, are now dampening the first amendment and right to free speech. The conversations around many of theses social issues have now been turned into whether or not young people have become overly sensitive to their surroundings and just needs to toughen up.

This rhetorical narrative occurs even in the midsts of widespread outrage around instances of racialized discrimination. Recent instances such as the police shooting of unarmed black teen, Jordan Edwards in the US, along with the funding of an Appropriation Prize via twitter by some of Canada’s most established journalist and editors. It’s where instances such as these that the black, indigenous, POC communities and allies must come together to combat the ignorance and racism sadly still prevalent today.

…theses important social issues have now been turned into whether or not young people have become overly sensitive to their surroundings and just needs to toughen up.

The spring and summer seasons are when the annual Spur Festival takes place across Canada. This national festival is held across several major cities in the country with the Winnipeg Spur Festival going from May 4th-7th this year. With the Winnipeg Spur Festival, it showcases scholars, artists, live music and discussions around a broad range of topics focused on a central theme. This year’s theme was RISK – the risk in various industries such as artistry, journalism, and politics. Scholars were invited to the events to attend and ask questions to the guest speakers. I was thrilled to see so many from Winnipeg’s black community actively involved in a number of events.

Many black artists, musicians, and scholars contributed to the festival this year including young talented singer/ songwriter CISHA, published writer and scholar, Chimwemwe Undi, and scholar Milan Orridge.  I was also involved as part of the Winnipeg Spur Festival photography team.

 

On Thursday, May 4th, Spurs’ first day of the festival featured the documentary Giants of Africa. The documentary film covers an NBA inspired basketball program by the same name that takes in a select 50-60 young men to enhance their skills in the sport. The program takes place across several countries in the continent including Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and Rwanda. The screening was held in the Muriel Richardson Auditorium at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and was introduced by QPOC Winnipeg founder and former Team Canada women’s basketball player, Uzoma Chioma along with associate producer for CBC Indigenous, Lenard Monkman.

Black Space Winnipeg hosted a panel on Friday for the Spur Festival – Risk, Race & Afro-Canadian Cultural Production. The discussion revolved around the struggles and significance of black artistry in mainstream media production, writing and film.

Saturday morning, Spur Festival also held Living With(in) Risk. Living With(in) Risk was a live discussion at the downtown Manitoba Hydro building. The discussion was with Manitoba immigration lawyer Bashir Khan, writer and lawyer Tom Denton, and refugee claimant Asha Ahmed. The group spoke to the audience and CBC moderator Karen Pauls, about the issues, and the myths, around the refugee crisis and its impact on Canada.

With events like these, it’s clear that efforts to be visibly represented and engage in authentic diversity continue to spread across numerous platforms. Despite ongoing discrimination, we have profound leaders. However, there is still lots of work to be done for making our voices heard; building our own platforms to speak from and tables to sit at.

 

However, it was Black Space Winnipeg and QPOC Winnipeg on Saturday, May 6th that ended the week off big. They sponsored a sold-out event with Dr. Angela Davis, speaking at Winnipeg’s Knox United Church.

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Check out BlackSpaceWpg.ca and QPOC-International.com to check out more about the event and about both amazing organizations.

Continue to support the community.

Much love,

Kelechi A.

Visual Director, Co-Founder of ÉZÈ STUDIO

 

Blog No. 4 Sunday Chat w/ JustLatasha

Last Sunday, Niasha and I were fortunate to have a chat via Skype with filmmaker, vlogger, and content creator, Latasha Mercer. In our discussion, we learned about Latasha’s passion behind filmmaking, the challenges with making a web series on a limited budget, and the importance of black representation and storytelling in film. We also got to talk about Jordan Peele’s new film, Get Out and it’s impactful depiction of the horrors of racial oppression.

Last Sunday, Niasha and I were fortunate to have a chat via Skype with filmmaker, vlogger, and content creator, Latasha Mercer. Latasha is known more commonly on social media as JustLatasha, with over 10,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel of the same name. Latasha was born in  NYC where she currently lives and is filming her web series titled Sit Black & Relax. The show follows its main character, Maya, a black woman whose story is inspired by elements of Latasha’s real-life as a woman of colour. In the series, Maya deals with issues of race, gender, sexuality, and relationships while navigating through adulthood in New York. In our discussion, we learned about Latasha’s passion behind filmmaking, the challenges with making a web series on a limited budget, and the importance of black representation and storytelling in film. We also got to talk about Jordan Peele’s new film, Get Out and it’s impactful depiction of the horrors of racial oppression.

Question No.1:

What inspired you to get into vlogging and to make videos?

“I wanted to talk about our issues but on a bigger scale,” Latasha explains. “So, I did the web series because it came from a very personal place.”

Latasha told us that much of the issues on race that she covers in her YouTube channel are based on actual arguments she’s had with her white friends in the past. She feels that making creative content can be useful for explaining her point of view about race. She even said her channel has become a useful tool for both black and white people she knows. Her videos have helped them and others to make a positive influence; learn how to build better relationships with one another.

Question No.2:

What are some challenges with being an independent filmmaker?

“Honestly, asking people for favors – your friends, your network, everyone becomes really integral and important to helping you get your resources.”

Latasha was candid with us about the struggles to find funding and the ways she’s problem solved production issues to create her web series. She also talked about some people’s willingness to work for free so long as they feel your show is an opportunity for them to showcase their talent(s) and be part of a film project they believe in.

SitBlackAndRelax_01
Scene from web series Sit Black & Relax Episode 1: “Eggplant”

 Question No.3:

Visibility vs. Representation.

In your experience, who/what do you see that authentically depicts black people in television and film?

This was a topic we talked about with Latasha at length on our Skype chat. Visibility vs. Representation was the concept I used to express my observations to her on how black characters are often portrayed in TV and film. 

Visibility refers to how certain film companies may cast black actors but don’t fully develop their characters, or how companies develop their black characters around harmful racial stereotypes. Their appearance on screen gives the perception of diversity. However, their character has little depth or complexity and often reaffirms common racial prejudices.

London actor, Idris Elba, has talked about his career often being cast to play the same drug dealer or thug-type characters in numerous film projects. In an interview on the CBC News show The National, Idris was asked about some of his most famous roles and if he’s been limited to roles that can only be played by a black man. Idris responded by saying how some of his roles are more complex characters than what some may seem to realize and are not simply “black characters”.

Idris Elba_interview

Actor Idris Elba talks about the complex characters he portrays and why they aren’t simply black stereotypes – CBC News

Representation is about characters who are played by people of colour that are more developed and display the complexities of their racial identity. These characters may also undergo certain experiences of marginalization in a way that mirrors the marginalization of that same environment or time period.

With Latasha, we talked about how there were certain black entertainers who we worried were being misunderstood or mocked for their performances in front of white audiences. Using the example of SNL cast member Leslie Jones, Latasha explained that she, at times, has struggled to watch Leslie do her work.

“…She’s authentic to us in our space. When white people give her a stage and a platform, I don’t know if they’re laughing with Leslie Jones or at her and that makes me upset…I really want to support her and I really want to see her win but I don’t know if they’re receiving Leslie in the way her comedy is supposed to be received.”

Latasha is not the only one to have shared this sentiment. In 2006, Dave Chappelle went on the Oprah show where he shared a story about a similar experience from working on The Chapelle Show. While in costume, a white crew member laughed at Dave in a way that he said made him feel very uncomfortable. That moment made him realize that certain people are watching his show who may only understand its comedic antics. However, they may not notice or understand the underlying commentary that the show makes on race relations.

Leslie Jones SNL
Comedian Louis CK (left) guest stars on SNL with cast star Leslie Jones

However, Latasha does believe artists and filmmakers such as Barry Jenkins, Donald Glover, and Issa Rae have recently stood out as shining examples of black filmmaking in mainstream Hollywood. Their shows and movies tell authentic stories of what it means to be black in various ways that are also engaging for all audiences. Barry Jenkins, director of Moonlight, won at this year’s 89th Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay as well as Best Picture.

Question No.4:

Has there been any feedback from your followers that has helped you improve your content?

Making a mistake on social media can be embarrassing. Latasha told us she’s had her fair share of mistakes while on YouTube and her subscribers are always there to let her know when she’s messed up. At times, her audience has corrected her on certain videos she’s made regarding issues of racial identity and intersectionality.  Her followers have taught her throughout her journey as a content creator and help to expand her boundaries of knowledge. She says, “They’re teaching me too – my [YouTube] audience teaches me just as much.”

Latasha’s willingness to stand corrected has helped her to build a loyal following of viewers who feel they’re being listened too.

Jordan Peele’s Get Out: An Analysis

(No Spoilers)

Earlier this March, Niasha & I saw the movie Get Out made by actor, writer, comedian, and now director, Jordan Peele. The film, which was released Friday, Feb. 24th, was filmed on a $5 million budget and, in less than a month, has already reached over $130 million in box office sales. This makes Jordan Peele the first black writer-director to have a film earn over $100 million in its box office debut. We ask Latasha about some of the observations she made while watching the film herself.

Question No.5

GASLIGHTING

We asked Latasha,

What was something in the film that stood out to you as something you’ve experienced?

She admitted there were far too many (I can say the same for myself as well) but the first one that stood out to her was a scene in the beginning of the movie. The beginning of the film has main character Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya, packing for a trip with his girlfriend Rose, played by Allison Williams, to visit her parents outside of the city. In the scene, Chris asks Rose whether or not she’s told her parents that he’s black. He suggests that this should be something worth telling them and Rose responds to him by mocking the idea; sarcastically dismissing it as something irrelevant. Latasha explained to us how Rose’s response here sparks an ongoing trend between the two characters throughout the film: Rose constantly gaslights Chris.

She noticed, at several times, Chris would bring up concerns to Rose about how he is being treated or how he feels while at Rose’s parent’s estate. Each time, Rose would fail to comfort Chris, often questioning Chris’ feelings and making him second guess himself. This puts the burden back on Chris and makes him choose to either ignore the issue or just get over it and not let it affect him. This is just one example of the many subtle and overt race issues Jordan Peele addresses in the movie.

justlatasha_getout
@JustLatasha Get Out: The Dissection (SPOILERS)

 There was much more we discussed on the movie but I don’t want to go into any spoiler territory. If you haven’t already, go see Get Out and then go watch Latasha’s deep dissection of the film on her YouTube channel – spoilers and all. Follow Latasha on YouTube, Instagram (@JustLatasha), and Twitter (@JustLatasha404), and be sure to watch her web series Sit Black & Relax.

Much love,

Kelechi, Visual Director of ÉZÈ STUDIO

 

Cited:

Idris Elba on Stepping Away from Stereotypes – http://www.cbc.ca/news/thenational/idris-elba-on-stepping-away-from-stereotypes-1.3273513

Chappelle’s Story – http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/chappelles-story