Many believe that communities who are mis- and/or underrepresented across media should support financially any and all content by our kin even if they consist the same problematic depictions peddled by those outside of our communities.
Yeah, I’m not feeling that, but that’s not what this blog really is about.
I have spoken to this time and again and probably will continue to reiterate why I don’t believe that a rising tide lifts all boats and that it’s actually harmful to not challenge stereotypical and other simplistic representations simply because they are made by one of “us” rather than one of “them.” At one point, I certainly would like to elaborate on how we should handle these conversations so that they’re constructive. That first entails, however, that I push myself further on how to critique with compassion.
And that’s what this blog is partly about.
It’s in part about the spiritual downside of having the necessary gift of a critical mind. Necessary meaning that every one can and should cultivate the ability to question reflexively and liberally use it. Gift ‘cause your girl here is a natural.
Today’s confession is about my resentment toward people in my industries who prosper, I believe, without accountability for the images they produce, their intentions for producing them or their unwillingness to use their success regardless of intentions to create opportunities for others. You know, expecting your people to show up for you when you’ve got something to sell but missing them when you have a chance to pay it forward. I grapple with this *Eddie Murphy-as-Dexter St. Jock’s voice* cohn-stahnt-lee.
On the one hand, I do harbor a sense of righteousness that shit‘s awry when so many people committed to both creating the transformative images our communities need to see en masse and radically altering the way they do it so that the creative process shifts away from the reinforcing hierarchy, scarcity, competition and other facets of oppressive individualism and toward a praxis recognizing abundance, community and other liberatory principles struggle to produce and distribute their content. You know, priding myself on being one of ‘em and all. I very much cling to this righteousness and, yes, entitlement because dammit, I know I’m on the side of justice here. Full awareness that my ego is the culprit behind these thoughts and feelings and that attempting to reframe my perception might make them dissipate rarely eradicates them. Honestly, I don’t want to be completely free of them because they fuel me in very good ways even with the troubling side effects.
[Sidebar: this isn’t about knocking anyone else’s hustle. This is about unapologetically knocking someone’s privilege as well as the willful blindness to it. Let’s settle this now: hustle and privilege can co-exist so perfectly – especially in the worlds of media - that the latter often shadows the other in an alignment so precise it can remain undetected by even the most discerning.]
One the other hand, I don’t like this propensity to judge people I don’t know and content I have yet to see. People are complex, and I damn well wouldn’t like assumptions about my intentions even if I do expect it and actually welcome gut-checks based on my track record, especially in those instances where I might have failed to walk my talk. I know that as I’m pointing one finger at someone else, there are four pointing right back at me, and that even if my suspicions and critiques are one hunnid, the fact that I need to make them says some things about me that are not so endearing that I could stand to spend more time examining and addressing.
The latest trigger occurred this past Friday when I discovered that a team of male filmmakers was launching a project to tell women’s stories yet did not feel any obligation to hire women to write or direct any of them. Yes, I’m being purposefully vague, and it’s not so much about not giving the project attention as much as tempering my very tendency to criticize since ironically that is partially what this post is about. It certainly was more that the mere concept that got me bent, but to delve into that would be more of the same that I’m trying to release and doesn’t contribute to my ultimate point.
After some offline commiseration with a few sisters who shared my thoughts and feelings, I knew that it did not matter if I believed I was right (and * Oprah-as-Sophia-voice * God knows I do.) Being right offered limited service. I scoured my email to a link to a video by Marie Forleo that I return to time and again when I find myself in this space.
Even though I know instinctually that resentment more accurately captures what I feel than jealousy, Marie’s advice was spot on (as it consistently is.) I took a moment to actually follow it before retiring Friday night, and that’s why I’m able to be so transparent and accepting of my vices this morning.
But the real magic – the one that inspired me to right this blog – occurred this morning.
Next week is the New York City premiere of Mosquita y Mari, the feature debut of writer/director Aurora Guerrero. Aurora is a friend so I know that she is at once gifted and a gift. I have and continue to bare witness to the ways in which she is devoted to not only creating transformative images of Latinas in film but also transforming the ways that film is made away from top-down to all-together. A prime example was her successful Kickstarer campaign where in multiple ways the MyM team took crowd-funding to the next level: community-building.
Rather than attempt to elaborate on this, I urge all of you to read Aurora’s own words in interviews or, even better, experience her speaking in person. (If you’re in New York City on Thursday, August 2nd, she will talk about her campaign at La Casa Azul Bookstore in East Harlem. (Don’t worry if you’re nowhere near the Big Apple. I will be live tweeting Aurora’s talk using the hashtag #MyM.) Then go see Mosquita y Mari that same weekend and spread the word rest assured that you’re not just supporting a Latina filmmaker only because she’s Latina. You would also be supporting a quality project that deserves the price of your movie ticket and Milk Duds and signaling to the gatekeepers, “Fuck a insert the name of the Latino film that makes you cringe most rah
here, I wanna see more of this kind of visual storytelling.”
Then a divine thing happened as I set about to complete my day’s tasks, one of which was to spread the word about Mosquita y Mari. I inadvertently came across the New York Time’s preview of the film, and to the right saw that it was playing at my neighborhood theater. My heart filled with so much joy that I began to cry. One of my dreams is to see quality films both by and about people of color – the Mosquita y Maris, the Girlfights, the Raising Victor Vargases, the Love and Basketballs, the Saving Graces, etc. – play in independently owned theaters located in the communities that most need to see them instead of being confined to the expensive, downtown art houses for elite audiences. I don’t know if this is a dream that I was destined to manifest (surely I would need to do it in collaboration with others), but to see it realized in this small way felt like the universe hugged me and whispered in my ear, “You take small, consistent steps towards your dreams like Aurora did, and I’ve got your back.” How odd to think now as I write this that even though my childlike anticipation of the release of Mosquita y Mari has put Aurora and her accomplishment at the front of my mind, neither occurred to me at all when I was fuming over this male-dominated “women’s” project. Hell, I was having such a hard time refocusing on my own game, I never glanced at her lane.
This experience also reminded me that, no, there’s no unrepentantly mean-spirited hater lurking beneath my critical faculties for I’m reveling in and being inspired by not only what Aurora has achieved but also the way she stayed true to herself and her multiple tribes in achieving it. Si, se puede. She did. I can do it, too, regardless of what anybody else is or is not doing that I might support or suspect.
Now here’s the kicker and where I fully put myself on blast. It turns out that what I saw was not what I thought I saw. When I rushed to inform Aurora that Mosquita y Mari was playing in my ‘hood, she had to break to me that it had to be some mistake because she only knew it was screening at Cinema Village. Sure enough, when I investigated it, I had made the mistake of assuming that “playing near you” was associated with the preview I found. In reality, no matter what film-associated article I’m viewing at newyorktimes.com, that window will display the titles, locations and showtimes of any and all movies playing near the zip code listed under my account.
Alas, I still have to travel downtown (happily) to see Mosquita y Mari next weekend, but the message and elation of that misperception persist. In fact, the sensation is so resounding, it may be incorrect to label it a misperception. I saw what I needed to see – the possibility of a dream come true – when I was having serious doubts that the universe supports people with visions like mine. Even if the industry is populated with people whose motivations and actions I question, the universe is a friendly place. All it takes to see it is to revert my attention from their actions back to my own mission.