When Fragile Citizenship Flies Away

Sunday was actually my first time watching When the Levees Broke. It was a powerful experience for a lot of reasons, and one I wished I had had ten years earlier when it was first released. The testimonies about Katrina and how it personally affected so many people drove me to tears several times. The most powerful moment for me, however, was when a citizen of New Orleans who was relocated after the storm commented about how offensive he thought it was to call the people of New Orleans ‘refugees.’ He asked the question: “Did when the storm hit our citizenship fly away with it?”  I floored by this. Noimages-1t because I thought it was an exaggeration of the situation, but by how demeaning and unhelpful the American people were to the residents of New Orleans. I don’t have a clear memory of the aftermath given my age at the time but I never imagined that the help the people of New Orleans received was so poor someone would think to question whether they were a citizen or not. The fact that these residents were receiving so little help from FEMA and their government in general that the media would have the audacity to call them a refugee is sickening.

Unsurprisingly, the people who were suffering the most in the aftermath of the hurricane were minorities, specifically Blacks, and many of these people were low-income. This being said, the argument can be made that the local and state governments’ views on the people of the Lower Ninth ward and surrounding areas already was questionable. When I say questionable, I mean that no one group of people get to that level of poverty without the state deeming it okay. Therefore, if the state deemed it okay for those residents to live so close to the levees (which we find out were never built properly) then they also thought it was okay for those people to suffer the most if a disaster ever did happen. The citizens of the Lower Ninth ward already had their citizenship questioned by the state, because the state had them in danger. The aftermath of Katrina only confirmed the government’s views on wealth and who deserved to be protected who did not. The interviewee’s line really stuck with me and maybe always will, because citizenship “flies away” all the time for the disadvantaged in this country. Whether it be with the police, a store owner, or a in a natural disaster.



Crooklyn and #blackgirlmagic

I saw myself in, Troy. Crooklyn at times was hard to watch because she reminded me so much of myself when I was growing up with a rowdy brother and in a neighborhood full of rowdy boys. She was the outlier and she did a pretty good job of navigating that mostly male space, but still stood out.  Growing up I used to wear my hair like hers, in tight bzelda-harris1raids (with no hair extensions), and this made me look a little more androgynous then I would have liked. It was hard being the small, not yet developed into a woman’s body, girl with short hair in braids. You do not exactly fit into societal standards of beauty– and you’re often told that by your peers (mostly the annoying boys you live with.) Troy compensated for this by being good at sports and quick to combat insults with even wittier comebacks. I know this act and it is a tiring one to perform sometimes.

Prior to this film I used to not like to think about my appearance during the ages of 9-12. It was a rough time for me, in my opinion. But actually watching Crooklyn changed that for me. Watching someone on screen that reminded me so much of myself, and seeing the beauty in a girl like Troy, made me see the beauty in my childhood self. I know this sounds incredibly cheesy and kind of annoying, but it is true. Crooklyn helped me actually become more accepting of my Blackness, and find beauty in myself. Growing up I always wished my hair wasn’t in tight, short braids, or that I had bigger breasts, or I wasn’t so dark. Watching Troy on screen, however, made me realize that there is beauty in being that little Black girl. The one that is pretty but does not fit into the mold of being “pretty” by American television standards (light skinned, long straight-ish hair, physically bigger.) I think it is awesome that Spike Lee chose an actress that is not your typical American TV star, because those girls exist too and they’re magical in their own way.


The Impact of a Few

My 8th grade history teacher once said, upon teaching about an earthquake that occurred in the Philippines, that “when one person dies it is a tragedy, when 100 people die it is a statistic.” While this is a fairly dark statement for a middle school teacher to make, it has always stuck with me and unfortunately has proven to be true the more I come to understand the world. The death of a few people in a particular tragedy seems to always attract more grief and widespread condolences than an event were many people die. This might have to do with people being able to see themselves in one or two people but not in fifty or more*, so when a mass murder or deaths happen most people cannot even come to envision themselves or their loved ones in that tragic situation.

In the case of the movies we just watched, both 4 Little Girls and Chi-Raq are centered around tragic deaths; however, one movie is made clearly to evoke tears and the other is more nuanced in its approach because of the element of satire. It is not that I think Spike Lee does not want the audience to cry while watching 4 Little Girls and not during Chi-Raq, but one the strategy in presentation of the murders is different. In the beginning of Chi-Raq the viewer is shown statistics on the screen that compare the number of deaths in Chicago to those in the Middle East since 2002. There have been so many people murdered in Chicago that the viewer upon seeing those numbers does not even really get a chance to let them soak in. The number is almost too large to be comprehensible, and because of this the audience begins the film with a different mentality than 4 Little Girls. My theory for this is that four deatimgreshs is easier to swallow and immediately emphasize with than 7,000+. It was interesting to hear the class discussion after both films because while they both center around murder and the loss of Black life, one conversation was outwardly more grievous than the other. I wonder if Spike Lee had that in mind while making Chi-Raq after 4 Little Girls, or if even he himself could not swallow the amount of murders that happen in Chicago and turn the epidemic into something other than a satire, and also why he chose to focus the main plot of the movie on the murder of one little girl.

*That was an arbitrary number to prove a point. In no way am I trying to quantify the importance of life or what should be considered a “mass murder.” I just picked a number substantial higher than two to illustrate a difference in how people might respond in a given tragedy. All life is important.

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Chi-Raq: A failed satire if there ever was one

As Chicago native it’s hard for me to look at any piece of creative work that is inspired/about the city of Chicago without a critical eye. It is my hometown and in my opinion the greatest city on earth. Therefore, when I first heard back in November that Spike Lee was making a movie about the violence in Chicago based on a Greek tragedy I was skeptical, but open minded. I knew that Lee was a cerebral film maker and a lover of the advancement of Black people, so while I was a little nervous about how the project would pan out I still had hope that it would a solid film. A month later the trailer came out and twenty seconds into it I was both appalled and disappointed. It appeared that the movie’s humor and message focused less on all the institutional problems that perpetuate the violence in Chicago and more on a trivial storyline about women using sex to stop (institutional and systemic) violence– yeah, okay.

I have two major issues with the film. The first, is that I think it did very little to highlight and expose the issues for why there is such widespread violence in the city. The second, is that I think its objectification and sexualization of Black women was both over the top and pointless. In summary, I found the whole movie to be inappropriate. There were times were a character, mostly the Father Mike Corridan’s (based on the preacher and activist Father Pfleger) made good points about why the violence was so bad what needed to be done to stop it. In the beginning of the film when Corridan is giving a speech about why little Patti was murdered, he touched upon subjects like how the black market for guns is discriminatory in the neighborhoods it targets, how the lack of affordable housing causes Black families in high concentration of poverty…. etc, and these were all the reasons why the South side was a hotbed for gun violence. This sermon was the most redeeming scene in the movie. It actually informed the viewer on why the violence in Chicago was so bad, and why it needed to stop. The rest of the movie going forward was a serious regression in topic.

I understand that Lee was using satire to make a point. My issue is what point was he trying to make exactly? I feel like the satire in the film achieved nothing in exposure of the systemic violence in a city I love so dearly. I don’t know what contribution this film made to making the lives of those who live in neighborhoods like Back of the Yards, Englewood, Austin, and Woodlawn better. There was a wake up call at the end of the film, reminiscent of School Daze, but what it was about I can’t say. It seemed like the message the film was attempting to portray at times was that Blacks need to start loving and respecting each other more, and that will solve the violence. While more self-love and self-care in the Black community would not hurt, it cannot solve the systemic violence that currently persists. What is happening in Chicago and other urban centers is a the apex of institutional racism that has existed in the American government and its treatment of African Americans since the Emancipation Proclamation. So sorry, Spike, your clever idea about relating the violence of Black men killing other Black to the Peloponnesian war didn’t quite hit the mark. You failed to expose the problem and deliver any real advancement to the people who are constantly being screwed over by this violence.


Jessica Johnson and Digital Humanities

Professor Johnson talk about digital humanities and its relation to postcolonial history and legacy within the U.S. made me think of the ideology of the fourth wall and how individuals perceive/interact with other individuals through a screen or some sort of barrier. The ideology of the “Fourth Wall” comes from the idea of an audience and its relation to actors/actresses in a play. If you think of a play set of having three traditional walls and then the part of the stage that is facing the audience is open for the audience to view the characters, then this open space between where the stage ends the audience begins is theoretical boundary. The boundary is not a physical but yet it exists between audience and performer.

I believe when learning and understanding history comes through a digital lens that this fourth wall theory in many ways applies to this new learning. An individual is learning about a people and a story through a lens that is not quite physical yet also not personal. Digital humanities has the capability to connect people from the 21st century to individuals who lived in the 19th century because the internet has given allowed for a enormous amount of information to be put online. We can now learn personal details and histories that would once only exist in a particular library in a particular city. Digital humanities is that powerful fourth wall in modern day education and learning. Professor Johnson’s talk evoked  a sense of connection to the between students and historical events such as the middle passage and slavery. People of the 21st century can now partake in the lives of others digitally through their writing, music, and art.

Babyface back at it again with the lyrics

The opening sequence in Get on the Bus was accompanied by a Michael Jackson song that I had never heard before. I consider myself to be one of Michael’s biggest fans so after listening for the first thirty seconds and realizing that I wasn’t familiar with the song I immediately Shazamed it. After leaving the screening I googled “On The Line,” and found out that it was written and co-produced by Babyface with Michael, and was made for the movie Get on the Bus. The song was released in 1996 but not on any of Michael’s own albums or greatest hits collections. This blew my mind because I fell in love with the song instantly and I didn’t know why such a good song, even if it was made for a movie soundtrack, wasn’t technically apart of his body of work. Especially because other movie soundtracks have produced major hits in the past. For example, Whitney’s Houston’s The Bodyguard gave us “I Have Nothing” and “Run to You.” While “On The Line” is tailored to fit the movie, its universal message of strength and perseverance far extends past its original movie purpose.


Something that is also noteworthy about this song is that Spike Lee had Babyface and Michael Jackson co-write it. I think there is something to be said that two of the greatest song writers, and arguably the greatest performer of all time, came together to write a song for a movie about Black men coming together to fight for civil rights and justice. There is an inherent beauty in the conception of this song. Babyface was in his songwriting prime in the ’90s, writing songs for Mariah Carey, Tevin Campbell, Boyz II Men and many other superstars. I believe for him to take the time to write this song for Lee is his own personal  form of activism and homage to the struggle and legacy of the first Million Man march that happened in 1963. The song “On the Line” is layered with significance both in its conception and its delivery within the film. Beginning the movie with song produced and co-written by two superstar Black musicians for the purpose of said movie sets a precedent that the film is meant to make people stop and pay attention to its message.


No sense pretending its over
Hard times just don’t go away
You gotta take that chip off your shoulder
It’s time you open up
Have some faith

Nothing good ever comes easy
All good things come in due time
Yes it does
You gotta have something to believe in
I’m telling you to open mind

Gotta put your heart on the line
If you wanna make it right
You’ve got to reach out and try
Gotta put your heart on the line
If you wanna make it right
Gotta put it all on the line

You see yourself in the mirror
And you don’t like what you see
And things aren’t getting much clearer
Don’t you think it’s time you go for a change

Don’t waste your time on the past, no, no
It’s time you look to the future
It’s all right there if you ask
This time if you try much harder
You’ll be the best that could can be

Gotta put your heart on the line
If you wanna make it right
You’ve got to reach out and try
Gotta put your heart on the line
If you wanna make it right

If you wanna do it now
You gotta learn to try
You can make it right somehow
Let love come free
And that’s just so easy now
You gotta go for what you want
You gotta do what you got to do

Gotta put your heart on the line
If you wanna make it right
You’ve got to reach out and try
Gotta put your heart on the line
If you wanna make it right

[Repeat and fade out]