COVID-19 has demonstrated that the world we live in is deeply vulnerable. Economies are crashing, schools are at least partly online, and any sense of normalcy is difficult to maintain. COVID-19 has also demonstrated how dependent we are on each other, both for basic needs and the social interaction which is so central to our health and happiness.
In addition to mourning the losses we have experienced, many people are recognizing our mutual dependence by getting involved with mutual aid efforts. Mutual aid, in the simplest sense, is volunteering to help others with the resources that you have. In the midst of COVID-19, it could mean sewing masks for homeless people and/or those with socio-economic challenges, getting groceries for an elderly or immune-compromised neighbor, contributing to a community rent fund with your stimulus check, and more.
Born in Flames follows a documentary style, and its aesthetic bespeaks its late-70s/early-80s filming, but its New York City is highly fictionalized. In Borden’s New York City, it’s the 10th anniversary of a successful socialist revolution in the United States. The central conflict of the film is between socialist party members and journalists—who praise the equality and progress of the last 10 years—and the female and feminist activists who protest continued inequality.
Adelaide Norris is one such activist, who dedicates her life to organizing the “Women’s Army.” Although Norris is definitely a believer in the Second Amendment, most of the Army’s work is mutual aid. In one of the first and most iconic scenes of the film, two men who are sexually harassing a woman on the street are stopped by the Women’s Army – who circle them on bicycles and blow whistles until the violence stops. With these humble tools, the Women’s Army care for and protect others in their community.
The socialist society of Born in Flames is not a perfect one – sexual and physical violence against women persists, and so do economic inequality and workplace discrimination against women, LGBT people, and people of color. In many ways, the situation that the women’s groups protest in Born in Flames mirrors that of the COVID-19 economic downturn in the United States: millions of people laid off and unemployed, many women assuming even more of the domestic labors of housework and childrearing, and workers in the service industry being hit harder by the shutdown (and attempted reopenings) of the economy.
In addition to protesting these economic inequalities in the media and the streets, the women of Born in Flames work to close the gaps through mutual aid. They fight for wages for housework, but they also pitch in to feed and care for each other’s families. These conversations happen frequently in domestic spaces: kitchens, bedrooms, living rooms. Isabel, the film’s resident skeptic, describes the Women’s Army as just “a service to the community,” just “childcare and daycare centers and stuff like that,” but “not aggressive enough” to be taken seriously. What Born in Flames suggests, to the contrary, is that taking care of each other amidst inequality is some of the most radical work people can do.
#AloneTogether is one of many social media campaigns in the time of COVID-19, and Born in Flames makes me wonder what exactly that signifies in our world today. In one scene, Adelaide Norris tries to convince a friend to join the Women’s Army, but the friend insists that “I feel strong just as I am; I don’t need no backup.” Any one of us—or a friend or family member—might feel similarly invincible, unaffected by COVID-19, and exempt from social distancing. Born In Flames encourages us not just to be #Alone, but to be #AloneTogether: accepting our vulnerability and offering mutual aid. JW
Josie Wenig is a Media Services student staff member and a graduate student in Gender Studies and Theology at IU.
Ableism is defined as discrimination against people with disabilities in favor of “able-bodied” people. Its implications are widespread throughout the world and in every community. Disabled people often face systemic discrimination in the workplace, in schools, and with regard to marriage equality. In addition, disabled adults often face “coddling” and other patronizing behavior from others, even complete strangers.
On top of systemic oppression, disabled people also encounter social discrimination, often in the form of what some disabled activists call “Inspiration Porn.” This term describes a certain fascination by able-bodied people with disabled peoples’ adversities, a kind of mythologizing that overlooks their individualism, often accompanied by unwanted attention and condescension. Activist Imani Barbarin often speaks on this phenomenon, most recently in this article from NPR.
Like activists on other social issues, disability activists want to educate. They share their individual stories and other information in order to help people understand the breadth and depth of experience within the disabled community, rather than to simply serve as inspiration for “abled” people. Below I have assembled some resources for learning about ableism and how to recognize it in everyday life. (Links lead to an item’s IUCAT record.)
This interview with disabled activist and nurse Sonya Perduta-Fulginiti dives into how individuals, and the media, often overlook the possibility of a disabled person having a romantic and/or sexual life. This is an important subject in humanizing disabled people’s life experience for others, especially since disabled people are rarely represented as romantic interests in popular media.
This documentary follows five disabled artists and explores how their disabilities impact their artistic identities and work. They discuss and laugh about old stereotypes and clichés in the media throughout the film. Each of them speak of the importance of seeing disabled people represented without their disability fully overshadowing their achievements and reputations.
This excerpt is part of a series about disabled people in the workforce. This clip in particular follows a few different people sharing their personal experiences at work, from the hiring process to the day-to-day work itself. It offers first-person perspective on the patronizing comments and social hurdles that disabled people must face when starting new positions.
Narrated by disabled journalist Joanne Smith, this episode follows disabled student athletes at two different universities and the discrimination they faced through established university policy. It ends with a thoughtful discussion on the importance of positive representation of disabled peoples’ experiences in popular media.
Learning from disabled activists is crucial in the quest to eliminate bias and negative or misleading stereotypes. There are many clichés that may ring familiar to most of us, from people faking disabilities to the disabled being chronically helpless. These widespread assumptions, often internalized due to inaccurate or superficial media portrayals, can be difficult to recognize and eliminate. However, if people with disabilities are to be recognized for the valuable perspectives and contributions they bring as members of the broader community, identification of assumptions and “unlearning” disability bias is a necessary first step. As an “abled” person, I learned a lot from these titles (available through Media Services) and from the work of disabled activist Imani Barbarin. I hope you find them helpful as well. Happy unlearning! LA
Leah Ashebir is a recent graduate of Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. She has been a Media Services staff member for several years, and this is her final blog post for the department. We at Media Services thank her for her service and wish her luck in her future endeavors!
The month of June has already seen transformations in the United States’ public sphere this year. The ongoing Black Lives Matter demonstrations have created a wave of reforms to police forces across the country following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others. And just in time for Pride Month, the Supreme Court ruled on June 15th that LGBTQ+ individuals are protected from workplace discrimination based on their identities as promised in the Civil Rights Act. Current events would indicate that justice for oppressed groups is rapidly accelerating in the United States and beyond, in the form of legal decisions and in polls that gauge public opinion.
In reality, the two causes outlined above have far more in common than one might think. Black Lives Matter demonstrators have taken to advocating for transgender victims of violence during protests with a new chant: “Black Trans Lives Matter.” A massive event centered around Black trans women was held this month in New York City and attracted thousands of supporters in protest against transphobia and racism alike. And the modern Pride movement itself was largely born out of a racially diverse, gender non-conforming group of rioters at the Stonewall Inn in 1964. Marsha P. Johnson, a Black gender-non-conforming performer and one of the original Stonewall rioters, is now often credited as the mother of LGBTQ+ Pride.
The fights for acceptance of Black, queer, and trans lives are all intimately intertwined with one another. In this post, we look at films which explore the intersection of race, sexuality, and gender in honor of Pride Month. (Films with an asterisk [*] are available for streaming using your IU credentials.)
The late 1980s presented numerous seemingly insurmountable challenges to the lifestyles of Black queer people all over the world, but especially in the US. (This NBC News online retrospective covers the steps of the Reagan administration, and Reagan’s broader conservative base, that exacerbated the AIDS crisis.) The documentary Paris Is Burning takes place during this tumultuous time in the underground gay scene of New York City. Exploring the now legendary ball culture that has been immortalized in shows like Ryan Murphy’s Pose, director Jennie Livingston candidly and unabashedly explores the lives of some of the culture’s most iconic and enduring figures. This film acts as a primer for the vocabulary, practices, and mannerisms which made up the ball scene in New York City and beyond. Terms like “realness”, “shade”, and even vogueing were originated by the largely Black trans population of these balls.
Besides offering a rudimentary education on the culture itself, the documentary also allows these often-misunderstood figures to speak about their lived experiences in their own distinct voices. The film opens with one such queen describing her father’s statement that being both gay and Black in this world constitutes two major hurdles that may prove impossible to overcome. Pepper LeBeija is another figure heavily featured in the documentary, and she talks frankly about her difficult journey being both Black and trans in the United States of the 1980s. Another, Venus Xtravaganza, has been immortalized through the film, her frank humor and honesty an essential aspect of the documentary. Paris Is Burning does not shy away from uncomfortable and heart-wrenching subjects. Many people featured in the film would succumb to AIDS and other illnesses in the years following the initial filming period. Venus was the victim of a still-unsolved murder in New York City during the process of creating the documentary. This film remains an iconic and indispensable piece of gay culture, and the impact that Black and trans creatives had on their communities and beyond.
Framed as a video project by director and star Cheryl Dunye, The Watermelon Woman offers commentary on Black women’s roles in film, the lesbian experience in America, and the complex intersections between race and sexuality. At times hilarious, desolate, and grippingly romantic, this film is a testament to the power of queer narratives in cinema. The titular Watermelon Woman is a fictional amalgamation of nameless Black actresses who were relegated to “mammy” roles in the early days of film. Our protagonist, Cheryl, goes on a journey to identify a (fictional) actress and give her the recognition she was never allowed during her own life. Along the way, she finds a newfound love with Diane and a jealous conflict with her friend and filmmaking partner Tamara. Her research into the “Watermelon Woman”, whose name in the film is Fae Richards, reveals an underground lesbian culture which remained a guarded secret in the actress’ life. This fictional character’s experiences mirror some of the lived experiences of real-life lesbian actresses. Cheryl comes into contact with her mother’s lesbian friend and Fae’s own partner in the pursuit of information on her life and legacy. Cheryl’s own struggles with her sexuality and race mix with the narrative of Fae’s life and career.
This film was the first directed by a Black lesbian to come to prominence and is considered a landmark moment in the New Queer Cinema movement. In order to craft a narrative about Black queer women in film, Dunye had to create the Fae Richards character. Her passionate pursuits of creating alternative histories in the lineage of Hollywood film is due in part to the lack of representation that still plagues the film industry today. Her humorous and biting observations about this reality create a thoroughly entertaining as well as educational film experience that is timely during this Pride Month and beyond.
For a more comprehensive look at lesbian filmmakers specifically, check out Lavender Limelight*, available via our Films On Demand streaming access.
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017) by David France
Marsha P. Johnson, referenced above, is a legendary gay rights activist that rose to prominence following the Stonewall Uprising in New York City. She is a significant and famous figure in the lineage of LGBTQ+ heroes. What is less well known, however, is the tragic story of her death. Following a gay pride parade in 1992, Johnson’s dead body was found floating in the Hudson River. The NYPD quickly ruled the case a suicide, citing her history of mental illness. However, many did not concur with the suicide ruling and argued that it obstructed investigation into the true circumstances surrounding her death. Sylvia Rivera, a close personal friend of Johnson’s, was just one of many queer voices to rise up in an attempt to bring justice for Marsha’s untimely death.
David France’s The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson is an account of this period in the gay rights movement. Blending archival footage of Rivera, Johnson, and other key figures in the Stonewall movement with present-day interviews of Johnson’s chosen family and friends, France paints a compassionate and powerful portrait of one of the most tragically misunderstood figures in the modern Civil Rights era. Trans pioneer and domestic violence counselor Victoria Cruz is followed by France as she continues to fight for justice for Johnson more than 25 years following her death. In the process, the film uncovers the touching details of Johnson’s life including and beyond Stonewall. Though Marsha P. Johnson is known today as a gay liberation revolutionary, she was also a real human being with triumphs and tribulations that are just as important as her acts at the Stonewall Inn. France’s film explores her multi-faceted life with care, love, and pride. It is yet another incredibly important film that explores the complex and often tragic interactions between gender, race, and sexual discrimination in America.
For more on Marsha P. Johnson, access the streaming version of Pay It No Mind: Marsha P. Johnson* via Media Services and the Alexander Street Press streaming service.
Pride Month is intended as a celebration of the activists who made it possible for queer people to live life with the same rights and dignity as others. It arose during a time in which that idea seemed impossibly remote. Many of these pioneering figures were not only gay or trans, but also Black or otherwise non-white. Given the Black Lives Matter protests happening across the country today in pursuit of justice and freedom, it is timely to turn attention to the ways in which racial and queer marginalization are so often linked to, and compounded by, one another. These films provide an honest look at the intersection of these issues in the United States, and they are an excellent way to celebrate Pride this year. TC
Guest student blogger Tanner Chaille has been a Media Services staff member for over a year and is active in media matters of all types on the IU Campus and beyond.
Juneteenth is a holiday that has at least some legislative recognition, in the form of a statute or official statewide observance, in 45 states and the District of Columbia. Considering its significance, Juneteenth is not as well known or widely observed among the general US populace as one would think, especially in comparison to the Fourth of July. The annual observance of Juneteenth commemorates the public reading in Texas on June 19th, 1865, of General Order No. 3, announcing that all slaves had been freed. If you’re doing the math between that announcement and the issue date of the Emancipation Proclamation, the latter occurred a full 2-1/2 years prior, on January 1, 1863. The reasons for the long stretch between the two are numerous, but many historians agree that the delay was due at least in part to Texas slave owners’ desire to reap the benefit of slave labor through one more cotton harvest.
Through IU Media Services department’s streaming platforms, you can use your IU credentials to access an in-depth documentary on the life and writings of Ellison, entitled Ralph Ellison: An American Journey (available through Alexander Street Press). TL:DR: watch a moving excerpt of that same documentary via Films On Demand’s Master Academic Collection entitled “Ellison’s Unfinished Work.” This 7-minute segment shows Toni Morrison doing a public reading of a passage from Juneteenth in which Ellison explores the complex relationship between Black women caregivers and the White babies they nurtured. Ellison eloquently captures the fraught changes in those relationships as the children grow up to assume a position at the top of the racial hierarchy.
There are not many feature films that reference Juneteenth, but Miss Juneteenth is scheduled for release in conjunction with Juneteenth 2020. A character study within a pageant film, the story, directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples, “explores how Black women and girls support each other in a world that often fails them.”
Juneteenth Productionsis a real-life effort to foster that same type of support. Launched by Emmy-award winner Judith McCray, the Chicago-based company focuses on educational and documentary media resources in support of social justice. McCray is also on the faculty of DePaul University and producer of the podcast Zebra Sisters: Crossing Racial Boundaries for the Chicago Sun-Times.
National Holiday/Local Observances
There have been numerous attempts over the years to make Juneteenth a national holiday, and the idea seems to be gaining traction as more US citizens come to understand the significance of the observance, its importance to the Black community, and its symbolic value as both a symbol of hope and a challenge to manifest the ideals of freedom proclaimed centuries ago. One of the most visible activists in the push for national holiday status is Ms. Opal Lee, a 93-year-old who has been walking in her home state of Texas and in many other states in the nation, many times accompanied by a crowd of supporters, to draw attention to the importance of Juneteenth.
Indiana University and the City of Bloomington have local traditions for celebrating Juneteenth, and though the pandemic is having its effect on in-person observances, Bloomington Black Lives Matter is hosting a safe, physically distanced event with the following guidelines: Please remember that this is a Black Community event! We will be giving priority to Black Community members. You can learn more on BLM B-town’s home page, including how to register for food and space.
Juneteenth events large and small are happening all over the country. Here are a few more that offer entertainment, education, and sometimes both. All events are either cost-free or offer a cost-free option:
Nnenna Ogwo is a classically trained pianist and teaching artist dedicated to engaging listeners with her lush, richly layered performances. Her unwavering commitment to programming the music of under-represented composers is rooted in the belief that we can’t be what we can’t see or hear. This commitment is reflected in her various projects and collaborations with other musicians of color in presenting music of the African Diaspora and beyond.
If you want to learn more about Juneteenth itself, check out the Juneteenth Jamboree series from KLRU-TV, the PBS affiliate station in Austin, Texas. From the inaugural episode in 2008 to the present, the annual Jamboree shows can be searched by topics such as Performing Arts, Community, Food and Dining, and History.
All of us at Media Services wish all of you a meaningful and joyful Juneteenth! HS
Heather Sloan is the Media and Maps Assistant at Herman B Wells Library. In conjunction with her library work, she is a scholar of Afro-Caribbean percussion traditions. Ongoing projects include studying the effects of deforestation on African diaspora drum-making traditions in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and Haiti. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Library Science with a specialization in Digital Humanities at IU and was a 2019-2020 HASTAC Scholar.
Welcome to the launch of Media Services’ 2020-2021 blog post series, “Media, Democracy, and Justice.” Every two weeks, the department will devote its Media Beat blog space to issues and ideas at the intersection of media and justice. In conjunction with IU’s Fall 2020 Themester topic of Democracy, Media Services is committed to promoting discussion of issues fundamental to democracy and featuring strategies for engaging with democracy. Because there are so many thought-provoking films in our collection that explore a wide range of perspectives on—and approaches to—media and justice, our series will extend beyond Fall through the end of Spring 2021.
Our inaugural post, “Black Lives Matter: Past and Present Protests,” was written by a number of Media Services student staff members, who are dedicating the post to 38-year-old former IU football player Chris Beaty, who was shot and killed on May 30th at a protest in Indianapolis.
OUR WORLD TODAY
Protests have erupted around the world following the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis who was arrested after being suspected of using a counterfeit $20 bill. After being handcuffed, police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes while two other officers restrained the rest of his body. Two medical examiners ruled the manner of Floyd’s death a homicide, though there are inconsistencies in the cause of death. As a result of the protests, Chauvin’s charge has been upgraded to second-degree murder and manslaughter and the other offices involved have been charged with aiding and abetting murder.
Floyd’s case is only one of many killings of unarmed African Americans in recent years. As a consequence of his death and the deaths of others, such as Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in order to demand change in the criminal justice system. Although most protests have started peacefully, some have included looting and property damage to some nearby businesses. As a consequence, curfews have been imposed, policing has increased, and police tactics have escalated.
IU’S PLACE WITHIN THE MOVEMENT
Indiana University is no stranger to student activism. National issues have regularly been addressed on campus, and that practice continues to this day. Student participation in protests at IU has at times been met with administrative resistance and negative public response. From the 1967 Dow Chemical Sit-In to the anti-war protest that accompanied the next day’s visit by then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk, up through present-day activism, response to student protests shapes the historical record. The Dow Sit-In was met with police brutality while the protest accompanying Rusk’s visit was not, and each prompted different levels of sympathy and backlash on the part of the general public. These responses contribute important information about what constitutes “acceptable” protest. Since public and institutional perception are defining factors in how such events are memorialized, they are worth examining critically.
Certain events in university history encapsulate IU’s place within the BLM movement. The Afro-Afro-American Student’s Association (AAASA) formation in 1968 by sociology graduate student Clarence Turner encouraged member participation in activism on campus. AAASA led student activists to stage a sit-in inside the stadium where Little 500 was set to occur later that day. From this display of activism, IU President Elvis Stahr was persuaded to issue a statement to all Greek chapters on campus to remove racially discriminatory clauses in their national charters.
In that same year, The Black Market on Kirkwood Avenue opened in collaboration with black students and faculty and featured books, clothes, records, and artwork celebrating black culture. On December 26, 1968, the store was firebombed, destroying the premises. This racially motivated attack was met with protest by students who used the event to speak to greater outrage about race relations on campus and in Bloomington. The incident highlights violent and continued racism in Indiana, and student activism in the face of community and institutional resistance.
Historically, IU students have taken an active role in protesting violence, inequality, and racism. IU’s current and increasingly diverse student population continues this tradition. IU Bloomington’s student population is large enough to exert considerable influence and effect significant change, whether on university policies, within the local community, or as part of the work toward a more equitable and free society. (Total degree-seeking enrollment across all seven IU campuses is over 91,000 students)
MEDIA RESOURCES ON PROTESTS AND RACIAL INEQUALITY
Although we cannot yet open our doors to the public, there are still many resources Media Services provides online! Here are a few films that help illuminate the history and present-day root causes of racial inequality in the world today:
If you are interested in learning more about how the Black Lives Matter movement started, check out this documentary. The film explores how Black Lives Matter started out as a hashtag and grew into a movement as part of a new era of civil rights activism.
Whose Streets? follows the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, Missouri, one of the most influential racial-justice uprisings in modern history. It began as a response to the murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson PD, but the film also relates police brutality to the prison industrial complex, the politics of protesting, and socioeconomic barriers for Black Americans. Nominated for the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, among numerous other accolades, Whose Streets? amplifies the voices of local protestors in a fight for civil rights.
A revered classic, Do the Right Thing follows rising tensions in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, due to issues of gentrification as well as overt racism. The film’s commentary on these issues is cleverly delivered in comedy by director Spike Lee. Released in 1989, this film is as relevant in 2020 as when it was released and is dedicated to victims of police brutality.
From the imdb.com synopsis: In White Like Me, anti-racist educator Tim Wise explores race and racism in the US through the lens of whiteness and white privilege. This is a great resource for those yearning to understand the perspective of people of color in the US.
Many American cities are considering major reforms to police tactics that would have seemed highly unlikely just a few years ago. This documentary follows the Newark Police Department in New Jersey and their journey to reform after being ordered to do so by the Department of Justice. This film addresses topics of policing and race.
Free Speech is Threatened on Campus: A Debate(IUCAT)
Peaceful protests have become more commonplace on college campuses in recent years. Students have protested issues ranging from white supremacy to climate change. However, some colleges have struggled with creating an atmosphere that allows for free speech but at the same time does not promote intolerance. This film features a debate about freedom of speech on college campuses.
MORE FILMS TO WATCH
Here is a list of other films related to the topic. These and more are available to stream using your IUB credentials. Check out more films at iucat.iu.edu, Kanopy, and SWANK.
IU Media Digitization & Preservation Initiative in 2017 digitized The Afro-American in Indiana radio broadcast series (1971-1983). In this collection, hosts Fr. Hardin and Sister Jane Schilling promote black history and explore a range of topics from medicine, law, labor history, colonialism, and finally Indiana-specific history.
MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES
Although it’s important to stay connected and informed, the trauma and confusion related to unfolding events, on top of the persistent pandemic, can be overwhelming. Here are some accessible online resources you can utilize if you need to talk or otherwise process:
IU has counseling resources that you can access online or on the phone! Schedule a 30-minute session at 812-855-5711 or call the crisis line 812-855-5711 for an emergency session. Remember, each enrolled student has two free CAPS sessions per semester, so take advantage!
There are also numerous websites that aggregate contact information for therapists specializing in inclusive therapy for marginalized and intersectional communities, most if not all of whom have lived experience with the particular issues that arise from marginalization and/or exclusion. There are also reduced-fee and even FREE therapy options available. This is another article to help you find affordable therapy, whether you have insurance or not!
Beyond therapy, it’s also important to take the time to unplug from social media and the news. Everything happening in the world is at our fingertips and easy to consume, so remember to take steps to keep yourself from getting overloaded.
CALL TO ACTION – (BLOOMINGTON AND ABROAD)
There are so many ways that students can contribute to social change. Education is important in fueling and focusing energy and making sure the changes we make are lasting. There are lots of ways to incorporate what we learn into our civic involvement and action.
If you are interested in learning more about the Black Lives Matter movement specifically and the fight for racial justice within the criminal justice system more generally, the Bloomington BLM chapter’s website is a great place to start. The group lists a wide variety of ways to get involved with BLM itself or with other community groups and events. Protests, petitions, and donations are typical ways to contribute to the community, but there are many other options as well.
In the continuing tradition of social change and advocacy at IU, there is also a conversation about the role of the IU Police Department on campus, and the possibility of creating a police accountability board.
What do YOU hope future IU students will say about our generation’s place in IU student protest history?
As an exhausted senior, I constantly think and dream of change: moving to a new city, starting a new job, meeting new people—there are so many exciting moments and experiences ahead. But of course, change isn’t exclusive to any one point in time. Life is defined by continuous change and is often comprised of ones that you can’t anticipate.
I was recently introduced to a show that well captures the constant change that characterizes life: Fleabag. It’s about a woman referred to as Fleabag (yes, Fleabag) navigating life after loss and in between a whole lot else. The circumstances of her life and relationships are always changing in tragically hilarious ways. She owns a cafe, has a carousel of men at her disposal, and navigates intense family relationships. Fleabag’s dry, dark sense of humor clocks the otherwise tragic narrative and disguises it as a very clever comedy. The show is as painful and awkward as life itself.
What makes Fleabag so unique is that not only do we see the circumstances in Fleabag’s life changing, but we also see how they influence her interactions with others in her life. One of my favorite dynamics is between Fleabag and her sister Claire, because it’s probably the most erratic on the show. A self-described “cold” woman, Claire is certainly an opposite of—and foil for—Fleabag. She’s a high-powered international lawyer with great acclaim, an impressive office, and a recent promotion. To Claire’s dismay, however, she still manages to have a life that’s just as messy and crazy as her sister’s. This just goes to show that no matter how solid a hold you think you have on the course of your life, there will always be something beyond your grasp.
A key part of the show’s narrative is Fleabag’s use of asides within the story. When she breaks the fourth wall to make comments to viewers and/or herself is often when we see the most vulnerable and witty side of her. I believe there’s a lesson there; it’s important to contextualize the immediate events of your life into the the main overriding themes of your life: your relationships, your goals, and your fears. And of course, the main lesson from Fleabag is that, even when you wish to keep things constant, there will always be something unexpected around the corner, whether you like it or not.
Even if we can’t anticipate change, we can choose to look at it in different ways. Fleabag chooses to look at change with a self-deprecating humor, which is what makes the story so tragically hilarious. Even if she doesn’t deal with pain in the best way, there’s definitely value in being able to smirk in the face of adversity.
Note that this show is only for mature audiences, as it contains a lot of sexual content. There are conflicting reports on whether or not there will be a third season, but creator & lead actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge seems ready to leave Fleabag behind in pursuit of other creative ventures.
Waller-Bridge’s self-deprecating humor and wit form part of a great tradition in British comedy, and there are many films and shows in the Media Services collection emblematic of that same classic British comic style. The entire original British series The Office, on which the American version is based, is available for check-out, as is another dry British series, Absolutely Fabulous, which follows a group of friends having a good time and making bad decisions. Be sure to ask our Media Services staff for these titles upon your next visit! LA
Leah Ashebir is a senior majoring in Finance at Kelley. She enjoys watching Katherine Hepburn movies and the 2000s TV series Smallville in her spare time.
The Academy Doesn’t See Color And Gender. That’s Their Biggest Problem.
It’s a new year, a new decade, and a new world of cinema. Recently, the Academy released their list of nominations for the 2020 Oscars. This year’s broadcast of the Oscars is predicted to have a large viewership due to the number of groundbreaking films released last year and the large increase in diversity on the big screen. However, as predicted, with their nominations the Academy has once again failed to acknowledge that diversity (for a sampling of the widely discussed lack of nomination diversity, see USA Today, The New York Times, Forbes, CBS News, and BuzzFeed).
This year in the performance categories, only two people of color are nominated: Cynthia Erivo (for her portrayal of Harriet Tubman in Harriet) and Antonio Banderas (for the role of Salvador Mallo in Pain and Glory). Most major news outlets had at least one piece on the many snubs of actors of color and women this year (see links above or Google “Oscars 2020 snubs”). Among actors of color, the snubs included Lakeith Standfield for his role in Uncut Gems, Lupita Nyong’o for her groundbreaking role in Us, Nora Lum (aka Awkwafina) for her role in The Farewell, and Jennifer Lopez for her role in Hustlers. There are many great performances that are snubbed this year, but these were arguably the most notable. For decades now, the Oscars have been very “white,” and increasingly, it has been a topic of discussion each year when the nominations are revealed. According to the history of the Academy, since the first Oscars in 1927, fewer than 20 black people have won an Oscar for a performance, and only three Asian actors have won. According to the Washington Post, in the last 25 years, there have only been 16 nominations for Latin/Hispanic actors. Diversity has historically been a huge issue for the Academy and at this point, if the Academy is working on becoming more inclusive, it is not showing in the Oscar nominations (as the New York Times put it, “The Oscars Tried to Diversify. Somehow Diversity Didn’t Follow” (see article link in the first paragraph)).
On the topic of gender, the Best Director category has historically been dominated by men. Since 1927, there have only been five women nominated for Best Director, with only one of them winning the award (Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for The Hurt Locker ). This year, the situation is no different: for the 2020 Oscars, all the nominees for Best Director are men. Many news outlets remarked on the slap this represented for all the great films directed by women this year (see article links in first paragraph). Lulu Wang, director of The Farewell, Lorene Scafaria, director of Hustlers, Claire Denis, director of High Life, and Céline Sciamma, director of Portrait of a Lady on Fire, were all snubbed. Given the history of the category, these omissions are quite disappointing but not surprising.
We are now at the beginning of the third decade of this millennium. Judging from the increasing amount of vocal backlash in response to the Academy’s nominees, the frustrated modern consumer and struggling filmmaker are fed up with the lack of diversity at the awards. If the Academy pays attention to the backlash and begins to acknowledge a wider array of film cultures and genres, the awards ceremony may continue to draw a sizable audience. If not, the Academy’s relevance will likely diminish as the 21st century unfolds, as audiences find other means of recognizing the filmmakers and actors they value. DH
Here are some of the many great films that were snubbed this year that are available in our collection at Wells:
As winter darkness drags on past the holidays, some folks combat the bleakness with weapons of coziness. Others relish the continued spookiness of the short days and dark nights. Still others strike a balance by watching eerie movies while snuggling up with warm apple cider and fluffy blankets. As your guest blogger and movie guide this week, I know a film that is the perfect blend of creepiness, comedy, suspense, and romance, with some great music thrown in for good measure.
It is hard to find someone who has not at least heard of the 1993 film Hocus Pocus. It is my favorite movie to watch with a warm drink and some fuzzy socks. Why? It’s got everything!
This movie is crammed with creepiness! There are multiple deaths within the first fifteen minutes, which ramps up the creep factor to at least an eight before we even meet the main character. Also, there’s an eyeball on a book, the cover of which is made of skin. I mean, come on!
The suspense is more subtle, but the uncertainty woven into the plot keeps the tension high. Children possibly walking towards their doom, dead people being brought back to life—these things keep you on the edge of your seat!
The comedic timing and script are all genius, and are an integral part of what makes this movie so great! Winifred’s sass. . . spicy! Max’s skepticism and quick thinking. . . on point! Allison’s bratty yet clever personality. . . amazing! This dynamic, and the kooky cameos, lend themselves to great dialogue and lines that stand the test of time. Truly iconic!
Some people want romance even in the spookiest of stories, and this film fills those needs. While the romance is present and memorable, it in no way distracts from the central focus of the plot, which is crucial in a movie like this. Having a strong, female love interest that is helpful to the plot is one of the film’s strengths, and it is nice to see playful banter and even antagonism between the pair before their relationship blooms.
The amalgamation of all these thrills and delights makes Hocus Pocus a movie that will continue to be a go-to for years and years to come. If you have not seen it, come check it out from Media Services at Wells Library, and let us know if you agree! SM
Have a favorite wintertime movie of your own? Let us know in the Comments section!
Guest blogger Sydney Morrow is a third-year Choral Music Education major. She likes to spend time reading and watching musicals, Law and Order SVU, or the Hunger Games series!
Since making waves at the Cannes film festival and unanimously winning the Palme d’Or prize (the first film to do so since 2013), South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite has been getting hype worldwide as the best movie of the year. Artistically shot, with an all-too-relevant social message for today’s times, full of symbolism and messages delivered in morse code, it is easy to see why Parasite is topping film nerds’ Top 10 blogs. However, what really makes this film stand out is that it doesn’t allow these cerebral conceits to take away from the fun of the movie. Like many other movies in the recent trend of “social thrillers”—think Jordan Peele’sGet Outor Boots Riley’sSorry to Bother You—Parasite defies genre categorization, jumping between witty comedy, family drama, and high-octane thriller in a matter of moments.
The film dropped at the same time as Scorsese fans and Marvel fans debate the role of film in contemporary society.* Throughout film history, people have argued about what movies should do for people: should they, as any other art medium, constantly strive to evolve and challenge the viewer? Or is it okay that Marvel puts out massive blockbusters that rake in millions, epics that people love to watch again and again, even though they all blend together and can feel like the same movie over and over again? Are movies a tool of enlightenment or escape? The obvious answer to this is “yes.” We can have both types of movies and let people enjoy what they want, how they want. In fact, I’m not sure how the either-or film argument has persisted for so long.
What is so special about Parasite is that it expertly fills viewers’ desires for enlightenment and escape: it is simultaneously a “smart” movie and a “fun” movie. The comedy and action, along with the heart-poundingly tense scenes scattered throughout the movie, are expertly blended with the symbolism, social message, and evocative dialogue, such that in one fell swoop the film invalidates the entire “smart vs. fun” debate. This is likely why Parasite is getting so much buzz and winning so many accolades: it feels like a real breakthrough. Along with the other “smart thriller” films mentioned above, it represents fresh new cinematic territory, and I hope we see a lot more of it in the coming years. JB
Our guest student blogger Joey Bassett joined the Media Services staff this year. This is his second contribution to the department blog.
*In reality, Martin Scorsese’s contribution to this debate is more nuanced than “fun” vs. “smart” and centers on the effects of corporate monopolization on the film industry. Read more about his thoughts here.
The films of “Classic Hollywood”—the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s—are fun and fascinating to watch, especially for their glamorous aesthetics. This era of cinema was also filled with period pieces, many set in the ancient world of the Mediterranean. When classic Hollywood took on the classics—ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt—the results were often spectacular, dramatic epics. The sumptuous costumes and grandiose art deco sets make for a very different picture of the ancient world than contemporary adaptations like 300 orTroy.
Cecil B. DeMille’s epic drama, depicting the life of the biblical figure Moses, is a visual treat regardless of religious affiliation. The film is nearly four hours, but every scene is filmed in striking VistaVision and packed with colorful detail. At the time of its production it was the most expensive film ever made, and it won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
Charlton Heston plays Moses, who struggles against the Egyptian pharaoh Rameses (played by Yul Brynner ofThe King and I) for the freedom of enslaved Israelites. Filmed on location in Egypt, the epic follows the story of Moses and the Israelites searching for the Promised Land for forty years.
Media Services recently got a special edition of The Ten Commandments,which includes the 1923 silent film as well. Come check it out! (Click on the title link above. All title links connect to the item’s IUCAT record.)
Another Cecil B. DeMille classic, Cleopatra jumps several centuries forward in history to depict the famous story of Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, and Marc Antony.
Claudette Colbert plays the powerful, glamorous and seductive Cleopatra, who is vying for power over Egypt and throughout the Roman Empire. Cleopatra follows the political and romantic intrigue between its titular queen, Julius Caesar (Warren William), and Marc Antony (Henry Wilcoxon)—but like The Ten Commandments, the visual spectacle of the Egyptian costumes and set designs is just as exciting as the plot.
Because it was made just before the enforcement of the “Hays Code,” the film is a bit more risqué than other black-and-white films of the period. Still, it was a smash hit: nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, it took home the award for Best Cinematography.
Available in the Media Services Teaching & Research section.
Helen of Troy (1956)
Jumping back to 1100 B.C., my next pick is the 1956 Warner Bros. film Helen of Troy. The film stars Jacques Sernas and Rossan Podesta, and is loosely based on Homer’s account of the Trojan War and the “face that launched a thousand ships.” Brigitte Bardot appears as Andraste—at 22, this was her first American film!
For a change of pace, check out the 1995 documentary film The Celluloid Closet. The documentary is broadly about the history of LGBT representation in Hollywood. Filled with 90’s stars and narrated by Lily Tomlin, it tracks progress from stereotypes in early Hollywood, to covert representation in the Hays Code era, to emergent representation in the 90’s.
In the documentary, Gore Vidal shares a fascinating story about his contributions to the script of the 1959Ben-Hur, which sets Charlton Heston in ancient Jerusalem. Vidal reports that, unbeknownst to Heston, he wrote the characters of Ben-Hur and Messala as former lovers. While Heston denies the story, it is an interesting take on the subtext of the campy Hollywood classic.
The Celluloid Closet is available in Media Services’ Teaching and Research and Browsing Documentary sections. JW
Josie Wenig is a PhD student in Religious Studies, studying early Christianity, philosophy, and transgender theory.