Scaaaarrry Post!

A question I would like to pose: can a critique be positive?

In the films we watched there were notable connections from the personal to the political. The way in which you learned about social structures, stigma, and prejudice by being confronted with a living moving image of someone, is brilliant. It’s a sure way to start knocking away at the rigid categories we allow to blind us to the complex realities. Tying personal narratives to larger patterns is pretty cool. I think the play about Sommer perhaps does the best job of this even though it is the shortest film at just over 9 minutes.

I am glad that it is becoming more difficult for me to critique some of the films that we are screening. It means that I have to think more and pushes me to challenge the way I view films and by extension the world.

Janey Makes a Play

Disclaimer: My memory may be lacking when it comes to Janey Makes a Play since I watched 3 other films right before it, so if I’ve forgotten things which may at least partially counter any of these points, please feel free to make them known.

It would have been fantastic to see real conflicts among the troupe that put on the play or even the broader community. As much of a family as everyone seemed in the play, I am almost certain there are at least some conflicts sometimes, but these don’t seem to be shown much. Depicting such clashes would have complexified the people and, depending on their responses, deepened our sense of the bonds between them. Perhaps this may be why I personally felt some distance from the characters in this film and the story portrayed, despite the fact that I thought what they were doing was very cool.

While the debut of the play is certainly an example of conflict and a source of tension, it appears to be framed moreso as a common goal in which everyone is united against rather than provoking conflicts within the group and a plurality of directions in which to go.

I am also extremely curious to see how the group fares after Janey passes away. I think this could the basis of a film in itself. Will they be able to survive the absence of the charismatic energetic mover? Will they grow together in new ways or decay and splinter into many directions? Perhaps sending some toward new avenues and other not so much.

The juxtaposition between the alienating structural pressures like unemployment and other financial burdens with the sense of community and performance nicely demonstrate how our society isn’t necessarily based on what is really fulfilling for us. I kind of wish it dug more into this and how such things might be challenged.

If it is the job of the filmmaker to hone their techniques in crafting a story, then perhaps it is the duty of the viewer (and critic, if we like) to dissect what is presented and go even beyond that vision.

It may be that the way we see art is more of a reflection of ourselves than what is presented. So if we cultivate observation and openness to uncertainty, then we could also bring this investigative practice and awareness to our viewings of film and other forms of art too.

Yet if this reflective/reflexive form of critique can tell us about the social impact of film: that is, how it’s perceived and what consequences are tied with that, (more complex than determined in a linear fixed way) then that seems pretty useful! It can allow us to look more deeply and clearly at our own patterns of creating and consuming media.

I would really like to learn more about the creation of the community theater, of this new setting (Sarason 1972). How did this group figure out how to act (haha) when it first formed? How has it changed and how is it still evolving? How did other institutions and organizations respond to the community theater? Were there any conflicts? We’re told that the first 7 years sold out all of their shows and that there seems to be a rather good relation with the school and students, but there’s much more that must have happened than just that.

It seems like there is a rather zoomed in picture that maybe leaves certain more complex details out. Then again, certain conditions drove Janey to create the group. If part of the goal is to show that such different relations are possible and desirable, then showing the tougher times within the community is just as important as the good times.

American Moderate

I had some thoughts about this film too. The character here does feel a bit more real and I did experience more of a connection to her. It’s definitely useful for challenging some of our ideas and stereotypes about people belonging to certain social groups, including American political parties. It’s even good for questioning our own identities and self-inscribed categories. I enjoyed the part about feminism and also when Liz says “But…I’m a republican, I know I am…I’ve always been…”

However, I felt there were a few missing points that could have complemented the film wonderfully. The first is that it appears rather self-contained and does not locate itself within an ongoing historical context. I think this is actually a bias very present within our generation as well as our world’s media production. It would have been really helpful to bring up similar decisions which people have faced in the past within various cultures and social structures. Mentioning the past(s) while acknowledging their complexity seems doable to me.

I think the inclusion of similar instances from the past would have framed the individual indecisiveness and uncertainty in a very nice way and allowed viewers to possibly begin taking a more critical view at and start questioning our political institutions, society and culture. To start asking questions like: why have we been divided into two groups? Were things always this way? How did they get this way and who benefits from and works to maintain it? I understand this may be beyond the scope of the film and the maker’s intent, but these are the kinds of new avenues that begin to open up when we take a longer view of the issues affecting us today. If you think about it, doesn’t majoritarian democracy inherently foster social relations rooted in antagonism and domination (“winner” take all!) over compassionate understanding and collaboration?

Which brings me to my next point: beyond voting.

People may challenge their perceptions of one another but I do not think this is enough. Small steps toward breaking down prejudices are certainly necessary, crucial even, but they do not go far enough on their own because they don’t have to change our fundamental social relations. We also need to challenge the systems that manufacture and thrive on these types of divisions. The fact is that people gain and maintain power through these divisions. Those who command the majority of the planet’s wealth and resources were never voted in, and they’ll never be voted out either. Whether it’s by pitting megacorp employees against those subservient to ultracorp, people living in other countries, or even each other, the divisions perpetuate the hierarchy.

As Ken Knabb points out:

“The side that takes the initiative usually wins because it defines the terms of the struggle. If we accept the system’s own terms and confine ourselves to defensively reacting to each new mess produced by it, we will never overcome it. We have to keep resisting particular evils, but we also have to recognize that the system will keep generating new evils until we put an end to it.

By all means vote if you feel like it. But don’t stop there. Real social change requires participation, not representation.”

I truly wish that a question had been raised at the electoral system and voting itself. And whether there is legitimate social activity beyond this and who decides that.

Why do we vote for these teams? And why do we vote for others to make whatever decisions they like and think it represents us? And why do we want someone else to represent us or think we need it?

Heh, it sort of makes me think about films. Do we really think they can or do represent reality? Perhaps by seeing them as representations and stories we can better pick them apart and be less attached to them. Then we might even enjoy them more, without becoming stuck as easily in the narratives and assumptions they (re)produce with us. Which means we can participate in the creation of our own lives and worlds.

Can love of a character cause us to challenge these ideas? Can empathy for another portrayed in film enable us to reevaluate assumptions?

Maybe, but the conclusions we leave with can vary as much as our assumptions going in. If we bounce our assumptions off of what we view and project our existential experiences onto others, we can easily view someone like Liz and feel validated in our uncertainties or become more open to and aware of the lives of others. However, in neither case does this necessarily result in us going deeper and questioning where these realities stem from and how they are formed. It can become a way of seeing how others do not really know either, and stopping there. It can also serve as a way of thinking that we just need to try to make our decisions well without questioning the context and strategy laid out for us. Thus, the dominant answers, the narratives which we swim in, continue as if they were natural laws, eternal and immutable.

I do not think we can present a story without our own influence. The only thing that varies is the nature of that influence. Whether we contribute questions or hold off on them, select dialogue, framings and frames, cuts and edits, audio or silence, or present some things or leave things out, these are all a part of the web that our creation contributes to and is made up of, which it impacts and is also shaped by and perceived through. This social fabric woven by so many different forces.

Whether we like it or not, what we leave out, neglect to mention, contributes to the context and content of what we put forth. If we do not challenge what people bring to bear, what they carry along with them, then we cannot entirely say “well, they just see their reflections” as if it were the only possible result. Without challenging the lens people bring how can we expect things not to be refracted through those lens? Film is sort of like substituting one lens (of the camera and creator) for that created by any other source that inevitably filters information. So can we shatter one lens without simply replacing it with another? Or rather, can we change the relationship one has with their lens—the ways we look at and with them?

Positive vision is needed, but that almost never means going along with all of the already accepted ideas, assumptions and norms. We must be inspired by the opportunities for change and visions of where to go. This means seeing the problems for what they are, openness to complexity and discomfort, and a willingness to do everything to change them! It means to critique and go beyond, to use strategy and determination together.

References

Knabb, K. (2016, October 26). Beyond Voting. Retrieved October 31, 2016, from http://www.bopsecrets.org/recent/beyond-voting.htm

Sarason, S. B. (1972). The creation of settings and the future societies. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Thoughts on Callahan’s “American Moderate” and “Janey Makes a Play”

Screencap of "American Moderate" by Jared Callahan.

Screencap of “American Moderate” by Jared Callahan.

I don’t want to speak for everybody in class when I say this, but the energy that filmmaker Jared Callahan brought to class when he visited was both refreshing and endearing, especially in comparison to the personalities we had become accustomed to in our guests. Although I didn’t get a chance to ask this in class, I was really curious about the greatest length of production for any of his films. This question came to mind because the other filmmakers who have visited our class thus far have all worked on projects for years at a time, so I wonder if perhaps they were simply more jaded and have experienced more of the filmmaking process that may unintentionally mask their passion for the field.

I think my favorite of the three films was “American Moderate” on the sole basis that the content was so relevant. Upon watching it, I immediately wanted to share the film with friends, especially those back home in Palo Alto, CA who have most likely never been exposed to American citizens like Liz and her family. The film did a particularly good job at inspiring a greater understanding of the logic used by Trump supporters, which in turn allowed the viewer to perceive these individuals as more than “deplorables.” I especially liked the fact that Jared pointed out that a viewer’s perception of Liz speaks more to the viewer’s opinions and values than it does Liz’s. This film also felt very authentic in that it gave off a “homemade” vibe, which I hope isn’t perceived as an insult. For example, when Liz says that she has never perceived herself to be a Democrat, the camera awkwardly pans to her quiz results which indicate that she sides with Democrats on most issues. As jerky and unfocused as this moment was, it added a spontaneous comical spin on a film that was laced with ironies. Jared indirectly addressed this when he said that people tend to excuse quality issues in documentaries, and I think that’s the case because the messiness adds an element of rawness that invokes a sense of reality we expect to observe in documentary film.

Promotional material for "Janey Makes a Play."

Promotional material for “Janey Makes a Play.”

I also really enjoyed “Janey Makes a Play” because my first official foray into film was through a mini documentary about the making of/behind-the-scenes of my high school’s spring play that I created for the online component of my school’s newspaper. Throughout the film, I was wondering where Jared found such a peculiar woman, and for a reason I can’t explain, I was a little disappointed when he revealed that Janey is his grandmother. I think we tend to fantasize the hunt for a story because of the perceived expenditure of effort that comes with exploration into unfamiliar realms, but as Jared proved, often times it’s advantageous to delve further into areas in which we feel comfortable because we may be granted greater access.

The Burning Short Preview – Thoughts

The person that I feel like I really connected with was Yasmine, the single widowed mother with her two little kids. She was just really likeable and the entire aspect of her life really felt visceral and on top of all that has happened to her she still wants to take care of her kids. Her little boy unfortunately needs surgery but she cannot afford it and that also just really hits home as an audience as you get so sucked into their lives and you truly want to know what will happen. With regards to her I thought the song that she sang to her son was particularly important as it basically is a song about a butterfly trying to escape people ho are trying to trap it, another really cool parallel to the migrant’s stories as they try to reach freedom and a better life.

One of my favorite instances in the short preview would definitely have to be the startling scene with the knocking on the door at Yasmine’s apartment with the blackout where her Moroccan landlord makes sure she has no “white” visitors, as they are not allowed in that area. I was so immersed in the clip that the actual knocking and blackout really struck me with regards to my viewer experience. Another favorite scene that was really moving and touching was the scene with the donkey in the middle of now where with its tongue out trying to breath and a tear dripping down its face. With that shot I really drew a parallel between that poor donkey and the stories the immigrants recounted about the horrors of trying to cross the Sahara to get to Morocco.

Another moment in the preview that struck me was the sentence uttered by the African woman working at the UNHCR who wants to help the kids. She said something along the lines of the ocean and the forest are eating the Africans and I just thought that was so compelling and true!

“Girl Hood”

“Girl Hood” is a documentary film directed and produced by Liz Garbus that follows two teenage girls, Shanae and Megan, over the span of three years, from the time they are in the all-girls juvenile detention center at Thomas J.S Waxter Children’s Center in Laurel, Maryland, to when they are out in the real world. The film opens with the title card, “In the United States, during the last decade, the number of young girls committing violent crimes has more than doubled”. Footage of the two girls is then followed along with more title cards that give insight into the crimes they have committed. At twelve years old Shanae was involved in a fight that ended with Shanae stabbing and killing a young girl. Megan, 16, was also involved in a fight and was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon. The primary objective of the film is an exploration into the social implications for the increase of crime committed by young women such as Shanae and Megan. “Girl Hood” was released in 2003 and since then has won many awards. Shanae and Megan’s story has reached a large audience and even caught the attention of talk show host Oprah Winfrey, however, many are critical of its overambitious attempts and lack of direction. “Girl Hood” has been praised for it’s informative content and for raising awareness on a number of issues young people in detention centers face on a daily basis and how their lives lead to a life similar to their parents. On the other hand, “Girl Hood” creates an uncomfortable comparison between Shanae and Megan and their relationship with their mothers. Because the film does not incorporate the juvenile system that fails Megan and others like her, the focus of the film becomes on the distinction between mothers who neglect their children and mothers who do not. One perspective on the film “Girl Hood” is that it is a highly informative documentary film in which the director does a spectacular job revealing to the world the issues young women such as Megan and Shanae face on a daily basis. Issues such as child neglect, failure of the foster care system, alcoholism and drug abuse. The film is also said to be informative regarding the significance of the relationship between mothers and daughters.

An alternate perspective of “Girl Hood” is that it is a film that tries too hard to achieve an ending on a positive note. For example, the filmmaker emphasizes Shanae’s growth since leaving Waxter. Additionally, the film has been criticized for having the drama move the film along. For example, once the girls are out of Waxter, we see Shanae is doing well in school and even goes to her prom. The film then changes focus on Megan and her deteriorating relationship with her mother. After Megan and her mother have falling out and are no longer speaking, the film again shifts focus to Shanae, who has now just lost her mother to heart failure. Additionally, the film has also been criticized for ignoring the workers at Waxter. The relationship between staff and the young women at Waxter is for the most part warm and friendly. The relationship between staff and the young girls is also essential to how the girls grow and move forward with their lives. However, the film ignores their concerns regarding the young girls and regarding the system.

The film is misleading from the beginning when the opening title card introduces the audience to the fact that the number of crimes committed by young women has risen. One assumes that this is a documentary film exploring possible reasons for this statistic. However, this is never again mentioned in the film or why it is significant in relation to Shanae and Megan’s story. Additionally, once the girls are out in the real world, their lives change drastically. Megan’s relationship with her mother worsens and her relationship with her foster mother is nonexistent. Shanae returns home to a supportive mother and father and is able to come to terms with the responsibility of her actions. She even admits feeling remorse for having taken someone’s life, unlike before when she said her victim was the lucky one. Additionally, Shanae is able to go back to school and even attend prom. Megan’s life after juvenile detention against the backdrop of Shanae’s life creates a comparison between the two girls and their circumstances. It places great significance on the relationship between mothers and daughters/parental figures as the driving force for the behavior or misbehavior of youth. Although, to some extent the relationship between children and parents is important, there are other factors that play into the reason Megan is unsuccessful outside the detention center. One very important factor is the juvenile system responsible for failing Megan. The film fails to look into the system and why it has failed girls like Megan who do not have a supporting family to welcome them back into society. The film simply shows the audience the tangible, present and convenient reasons for Megan’s unsuccessful re-integration back to society, her relationship with her mother. As a result this creates a polarization between Megan and Shanae’s lives. The film has many positive attributes, such as it is raw and informative; however, it lacks depth when it comes to looking deeper into the juvenile system, the statistics in opening title card and the relevance of this statistic to Shanae and Megan. Nevertheless, it is an import

Call Me By My Name: Stories From Calais and Beyond

This week I looked at the project Call Me By Name, an exhibit run by the organization The Migration Museum Project that focuses on issues of migration and British nationalism. The exhibit’s goal was to share the lives of the thousands of refugees living in the Calais camp with the world.  Through a multi-media, multi-perspective, multi-cultural platform, Call Me By My Name shook it’s viewers with it’s art work that displayed what life really is like as a refugee. From painting,to sculpture, to photography, and written works and auditory pieces performed by the refugees themselves, Call Me By My Name acts as a visceral representation of the migrant experience.

The project humanizes the refugee situation and creates more than sympathy in it’s viewers.  Each piece encourages deep community engagement and reflection and binds the viewer and subject in a way that sensitizes us and nurtures basic human connection. Each piece urges us to show humility, engage with the material, and think critically about the big issues surrounding immigration.  The subject’s voices speak through the art work. One young child living in the Calais camp draws his father and brother drowning during their crossing to the camp.  His drawing is part of Safi’s larger piece that displays work done by Calais’ children.

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-11-49-31-pm

Another aspect of the exhibit is the many workshops and discussions held in the art space.  One such workshop took children from refugee backgrounds and American children and had them come together to talk about these issues.  This sort of deeper engagement prevents someone from thinking they have done their part by simply viewing the artwork on display.  I think this unique overlap between subject, viewer, artist, and community allows for the farthest reaching social impact without undermining the integrity or rights of those being “looked at.”

This honest representation of the refugee crisis with a continuing education component really sets this exhibit apart.  Below are some of the most impactful art pieces on display:

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-11-55-36-pmNikolaj Larsen creates the sculpture, Wanderers to display the reach of this crisis.

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-11-56-11-pmSarah Savage created an impactful piece titled The Dignity of Life. This part of the exhibit shows lifejackets that mark the journey these refugees take to get to the Calais camp.

These pieces just offer a taste of the rich exhibit.  With a hugely positive reception, Call Me By My Name goes beyond a rigid discussion of immigration, and rather poses larger questions of human rights, ethics, and humanity.

Can You Dig This?

Delila Vallot’s Can You Dig This, with John Legend as the executive producer, released in 2015, tells the story of “Gangster Gardeners,” a group of people living in threatening South Compton and Watts neighborhoods, who aspire to change both the physical and atmospheric aspects of the nearby projects. By transforming the dead dirt into a landscape of green beauty, they hope to give life to the crime-infested area of the projects.

After first watching the trailer, I was already hooked by this newly-discovered “hobby” in such corrupted neighborhoods. It’s almost enigmatic in the way in which these people can change not just the physical landscape within the community, but also their personal lives. It was inspiring to watch these people feel at home in these gardens, and even desire to stray away from the ways they grew up, and go past the crime and gang life they grew up in. I cannot imagine going to a middle school located in-between the gang territories of the Crips and the Bloods. To think that some of the people went through that, went through going to jail on several occasions, and are still able to literally “grow” out of that and become something entirely different is incredibly uplifting.

Others who walk by these gardens in Southside Compton are amazed at the beauty that erupts from them. Someone walked by once, pointed to a sunflower and asked, “Yo, son. Is that real?” “Renegade Gardener” Ron Finley, who has become somewhat of a green thumb extraordinaire, claims that the garden is about “letting people get into the dirt and see what it does,” and that it can “transform lives.”

Ron Finley’s Garden. After receiving several citations for growing his own food, he went to court and took it up with the legislation to allot gardening on walkways, and to keep his food growth.

Finley has become so well-known as coming out of the Projects to do expand this urban gardening movement, that he was featured on a TED Talk, and now travels throughout the country to show screenings of this film and spread this message’s seed.

Mychael “Spicey” Evans, another gardener, had been gang banging since middle school, which was geographically in-between the Crips and the Bloods. Arrested on several occasions, Spicey says,

“dreams ain’t nothing but thoughts to me… I don’t even use that word.”

But he still gardens, as it gives him a moment of peace in a surrounding community of gunshots. Throughout the film, others with a variety of motives for gardening show their compassion and optimism for growing up and away, just like the seeds they spread.

This documentary has won several awards and continues to spread its message. One negative aspect that I thought this film fell towards, was self-promotion and profit– one has to pay to see the screenings, and there was not a direct mention of the movie’s intent. It did not specify whether or not it was just an observational piece or if it had an impact, using Finley’s program.

On Food Inc. and Individual Accountability for Change

In the 2008 documentary Food Inc., director and producer Robert Kenner explores the workings of the United States’ domestic industrial agriculture sector in order to uncloak the intricacies of one of the most secrecy-shrouded industries in the United States. Combining heart wrenching, vérité footage of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) with interviews from nutrition, environment, and agriculture experts, and narration from Michael Pollan, a leading author on food sustainability, Food Inc. is emotionally riveting and scientifically grounded. One of the highest budget and best received films of its kind, Food Inc. stands out in a sea of consciousness-raising documentaries about different parts of American agribusiness as a film-festival and box office success and a true inspiration for change in the diets of Americans everywhere.

Food Inc. is broken into three parts: one that explores animal confinement and the inhumane practices used to raise meat and dairy animals en masse, a second that documents the environmental and economic damage inflicted by subsidizing commodity crops like corn and soy for animal feed, and a final segment that investigates the legal and political apparatuses that enable the industry to grow unchecked by public or political restraint and oversight. It is in its detailed and broad-reaching perspective that Food Inc. finds its voice; its exposé is well-rounded, supported by data and expert testimony, and thorough in its review. It is both academically diligent and emotionally charged. Food Inc. is in every sense an excellent documentary.

Yet, like so many documentaries, Food Inc. falls prey to the perils of consciousness-raising as a political strategy, which becomes particularly apparent in the film’s exploration into agribusiness as an industry that thrives off of its ability to displace the burden of choice and responsibility onto consumers. As Food Inc. dives deeper and deeper into the multifaceted and well-crafted social and political contraptions that enable agribusiness to succeed, industry experts and interviewed farmers alike explain that the agriculture industry’s control over American diets is cemented by its ability to displace blame and shield itself from criticism. By promoting social messaging through advertising and the manipulation of federal and state laws and guidelines, the agriculture industry has created a trap for consumers. Government policies constantly lessen and deny the industry’s responsibility for the obesity epidemic and climate change while increasing costs and burdens on consumers through taxes and misdirected subsidies. With the additional promotion of salient social narratives that fault individuals for not making healthier choices, the food industry derives much of its power from its ability to constrict individuals’ choices by making unhealthy food the most cost competitive option and then blame those individuals for making “bad” decisions. It is in this process of shifting blame onto consumers that agribusiness turns critical eyes away from its practices and towards the dietary habits of the public, suggesting that things would be better and the world would be healthier and safer if only people chose differently.

These narratives that fault consumers for mass environmental and health-related damage are toxic. Not only do they place the social burden of public health and environmental crises on low income and minority populations who are the least likely to be able to afford to use their limited purchasing power to “make healthy choices” in revolt against agribusiness, they also divert attention from the unsustainable and inhuman practices of the ever-growing agriculture industry itself. It is at the ends of such conclusions, that Food Inc.’s consumer focused approach to change seems misplaced. After a 94 minute testament to the danger inherent in investing the power of social change into a constricted and largely uninformed public (despite the film’s attempt to shed light on the secrecy that surrounds factory farming), Food Inc.’s final call for people to “vote three times a day” to change the system by making different consumption choices rings out uncannily similar to agribusinesses direction for consumers to do the same. Food Inc., ironically, pushes viewers further into the trap laid by factory farming in directing them to assert more agency of their choices, all the while acknowledging that those choices are limited and predetermined by agribusiness. Food Inc.’s call to action is nothing more than an impetus for grassroots efforts to work harder for demand-side reform of the food market, a market so large and politically protected that demand seems to have little to do with it.

While this dilemma is easily identified in Food Inc. and its associated impact campaign, similar complications in documentary’s efficacy as a tool for social change writ large are intrinsic to the medium’s form. Documentary can be powerful, moving, informative, and stimulating. But its power cannot stretch beyond its ability to move audiences. And while a vast, public audience may be a filmmaker’s dream and a necessary ingredient for broader change, it is ultimately insufficient if documentary cannot direct that audience’s efforts towards the heart of problems. While film may motivate people to act, to act in what way is an often unanswered or poorly answered question. In the case of Food Inc., the film paints the picture of a problem fraught with political protection, yet fails to answer the questions it raises about how to change the subsidy system, alter laws that restrict people from reporting on factory farm practices, or lower the costs of organic and sustainable foods. Food Inc. settles for the “do what you can with what you have” approach that agriculture relies – the very structure of demotivating the public that many exploitative and oversized industries like fossil fuel markets and pharmaceutical practices rely on.

While Food Inc. is an important contribution to the discussion about how to reform the food supply chain, it must be taken in critically, and with a cautious refusal to simplify the solution to a growingly complex problem down to “making better choices.” Until governments and markets start demanding differently subsidy and regulatory frameworks, agriculture corporations will maintain a monopoly over political power, even while consumers fight them with the full might of their spending power. Thus, in light of Food Inc., the public should reconsider not what the film demands of them, but what they should demand of those with agency over the supply chain. It is not enough to just ask the right questions to viewers. In response to Food Inc. and other documentaries that encourage us to change, we should ask ourselves the important question of what is within our power to affect and what is not. And with the knowledge that many decisions have been removed from our hands, we should be motivated to ask the right questions of the right people, forcing accountability onto those who should bear it, refusing to accept blame for a problem individuals alone did not cause.

Bushman’s Secret

American’s have been engrossed in their image and use many methods to obtain the standard beauty. Women especially have been held to a higher standard in that they are viewed as a prize or “trophy” to their mate. Women straighten their hair, wear makeup, waist trainers, but recently weight loss pills have been a trend. Celebrities such as the Kardashian sisters and even Jennifer Hudson promote these alternatives to working out. But where do these successful pills come from? A factory in the US? In Rehad Desai’s documentary Bushman’s Secret we find that these pills originate in Africa.

In the Kalahari Desert, lives the San tribe, also known as Bushmen. They are seen as the village doctors who use plants to heal the sick. Hoodia, a cactus used by Bushmen for centuries, has caught the attention of many big pharmaceutical companies in America. The plant has nutritious properties to heal but also suppresses the appetite. This secret was unveiled the pharmaceutical companies in America and they now profit from the plant leaving the Bushmen with nothing. Desai’s film is impactful in that it shows the Bushmen being taken advantage of by Americans. It raises awareness that these methods Americans take to better themselves is making other suffer thousands of miles away. While the pharmacists are profiting from the plant continue to live lavishly and the Bushmen’s healing resources are becoming limited.

“First Position” by Bess Kargman

My midterm essay was on a documentary film by Bess Kargman called First Position. This documentary explores the lives of several young dancers who participate in an internationally known, highly prestigious ballet competition, the Youth America Grand Prix. Through this film, Kargman set out to defy certain stereotypes about ballerinas and educate a larger audience on what it really means to be an aspiring professional dancer, exposing the blood and tears that are shed in the process. Through her use of characters from different backgrounds and identities, she illustrated that not all ballerinas are white, not all skinny ballerinas are anorexic, and not all male dancers are gay. She sheds light on existing racial and socioeconomic differences and captures the most mundane aspects of these dancers lives. She shows the pain and struggle these young dancers endure and unveils the realities of this overlooked community.

Bess Kargman (center) with two of her film’s subjects, Michaela DePrince (left) and Miko Fogarty (right)

Her characters each have their own unique stories. One is an adopted war orphan from Sierra Leone whose parents were killed by rebels right before her own eyes. Another is a Colombian 16-year-old who moves to New York by himself in order to pursue ballet professionally and raise money for his family back home. Amidst these and other characters, Kargman still manages to include what we would perhaps consider your typical ballerina: a tall, blonde American whose favorite color is pink. First Position truly reveals the diversity that exists within the ballet world and how this worldwide art form touches the lives of so many different youth. I appreciate the ways in which Kargman makes the film not about the competition itself but more about her subjects and how the competition affects them and brings them together. She stays away from too much dramatization and conflict and rather films what these dancers go through off stage.

Through film, Kargman does a beautiful job of portraying the realities of dance to an audience that may not know much about the art form—a job that, as a dancer myself, I find can be rather difficult. However, that being said, Kargman focuses only on one facet of the dance world. Dance as competition can vary greatly from dance as art, and in this case the film is about dance as competition. This does not in any way undermine dance’s value, and in my opinion dance in either form should be both appreciated and respected. However, some people do in fact look down upon dance as competition. Although Kargman’s objective was to expose this one specific subculture of dance, I only hope that non-dancers are aware that competitive dance does not dominate all dance forms and that this film was in fact more about the grueling lifestyles and struggles of being an aspiring professional dancer and not as much about the competition or about dance itself, since dance comes in so many different styles and modes.

Feminism can’t be reduced to a “trend”

I decided to do my midterm essay on H&M’s new ad campaign, the video of which can be found here: H&M’s New Advert

Honestly I came across this advertisement on Facebook, as it was part of an article that was actually critiquing the extremely popular and praised ad. The article was by Gemma Clarke who founded this website called “Global Hobo,” which is described as “a space for writers to share original views on destinations, experiences and social trends. Our aim is to open our readers’ minds to fresh perspectives, show them new parts of the world and have a good laugh at ourselves and each other.” Clarke’s article can be found here: Gemma Clarke: Don’t Fall for the New H&M Campaign

Ultimately, H&M created an utterly badass video that people have said is redefining the way we view femininity and ideals of what it means to be “ladylike.” The ad includes a wide and diverse range of models, all of whom go against the social norms of what it means to act like a lady. It’s phenomenal, and if it weren’t for all of the underlying, deep-rooted issues with H&M as a company and their morals in general, I would be just as obsessed with this ad as everyone else is. But Gemma discusses quite a few points that raise the question – does H&M truly stand for women, or are they simply taking advantage of this new wave of feminism as a marketing strategy? Staff exploitation, child labor, and stores failing to actually stock a plus-size range are some of the issues she talks about. How can a company preach one thing but act in a completely different way? Well I guess that’s actually quite easy but it’s also disturbing and disheartening. H&M had the opportunity to do something truly remarkable here, but it seems as though they are just trying to capitalize on the current “trend” of feminism for their own profit.

Honestly, it just blows my mind. It blows my mind that huge companies, famous individuals, and people with such a great deal of power just sit silent on the sidelines. The people whose voices could be most heard are the same ones who fall discouragingly quiet. And I’m not going to generalize that statement to everyone with a great deal of power, money, or following, but for the most part, I’m afraid that this is our sad reality. It’s just so unfortunate because those that could actually have the most impact fail to stand for something bigger than themselves. H&M is just one of many, many examples, but if the company actually cared about gender equality and women’s rights, wouldn’t you think they would first make some fundamental shifts in their morals and actions before presenting this image of “we love all women” to the world? I guess that’s just me being idealistic but I thought, as humans, we were better than that.

I spent 6 weeks this past summer in India, among the most genuine, kind-hearted, compassionate, and selfless group of individuals I’ve ever met – the Tibetan monastic community. Those 6 weeks helped me gain a lot of perspective and gave me some insight on what it being to simply be a “human being.” It’s absolutely crazy to think of the millions, probably billions of people that don’t go about their days in the same way – with a genuine and compassionate heart for every individual that crosses your path. Again, I’m being idealistic and I know how remarkably unrealistic that thought it, but is it really that difficult? Is it really THAT hard to just be a good person? Sometimes I swear I keep myself up at night thinking about things like this, because all of the hate, injustice, anger, and violence in the world just doesn’t make any damn sense.