“If we are not Africans, what are we?”
It’s the question that lies at the core of “Stories of Our Lives”, the anthology film presented by the collective known as The Nest.
Based on an archive of true stories from the LGBTI community in Kenya, the film is broken down into several black & white vignettes, ably filmed, and beautifully acted. With the names of those involved withheld to protect them from possible retribution, the separate but thematically linked shorts give brief but vivid glimpses into the lives of lesbian, gay, and trans Kenyans living in a country and continent notoriously hostile towards their identities.
The BFI London Film Festival is nearly here! We’ve gone through the A the programme to find all the films staring women of colour. There are admittedly a lot more than we were expecting including Girlhood, Honeytrap and the much anticipated Dear White People.
(left to right)
Céline Sciamma (Water Lilies, Tomboy) continues her exploration of the effects of social conventions on delicately forming female identities in her triumphant third film. Sixteen-year-old Marieme (Karidja Touré) must navigate not only the disruptive onset of womanhood, but also the inequalities of being black and living in the underprivileged suburbs of Paris. Excluded from school and in fear of her overbearing brother at home, Marieme escapes into the shielding environment of a girl gang. She renames herself ‘Vic’ for ‘Victory’ and gives up on asking for the things she wants and learns to just take them. Formally meticulous, the film is divided into four distinct segments in which Marieme changes her physical appearance to suit the different worlds she must navigate (school, home, street). Each transformation magnificently captures the heavy burden that visibility and image play in Marieme’s life, whilst Crystel Fournier’s stunning photography that favours a distinctive blue palette ensures that Marieme remains a defiantly vital presence on screen even while it appears she is disappearing from society’s view. The jubilant soundtrack infuses the film with vigour and passion, from the opening juddering electro-goth of Light Asylum’s ‘Dark Allies’ to a full length lip sync to Rhianna’s ‘Diamonds’. With Girlhood Sciamma flawlessly evokes the fragile resilience of youth.
Adapted from a story by Doris Lessing, My Friend Victoria is a complex, poignant portrait of two young black women in contemporary Paris. The film follows them from childhood into adulthood, with the older Fanny narrating the story of her friend and adoptive sister. Aged eight, Victoria spends a night in the home of a wealthy white family; years later, she encounters them again and her life is changed forever. As Fanny and Victoria’s destinies take them in separate directions, the drama offers a distinctly fresh take on racial identity in contemporary France – and on questions of class, privilege and blinkered liberal racism. Superbly acted by newcomers Guslagie Malanda and Nadia Moussa, along with veterans Mouchet and Greggory, My Friend Victoria sees Jean-Paul Civeyrac returning to the LFF after his poetic, elegant Young Girls in Black (2010). His follow-up is an acutely intelligent achievement by a director whose time has surely come.
It’s a bold move to make your debut theatrical feature a modern day take on such a big theological ‘What If?’, and Debbie Tucker Green astonishes with this London-set drama, where the newest family member is neither expected nor biologically possible. Jax (Marshall) works in the welfare office, lives with tube-worker husband (Elba), and their sensitive, nature-loving son JJ who, on the cusp of manhood is constantly looking around him for cues on how to make this transition. It’s rare to see a woman on-screen who remains so taciturn in the face of inner turmoil and as Jax’s self-possession begins to frustrate her friends and family, the film ramps up the tension with Nadine Marshall’s performance creating one of the most unshakable characters in recent memory. Taking the ‘kitchen sink’ tradition of social realism to a fresh new place, it’s a film that lingers, and marks Green as an immediate new voice in British cinema.
Layla (Jessica Sula) is 15 and has been living in Trinidad. Returned to her estranged mother in Brixton, she is faced with settling into a new home and a new city with a fresh set of rules and codes. Unsupported by her mother and spitefully rejected by her female peers, she is drawn to the brooding Troy, who marks her as his ‘Trini princess’. When that fails, she takes solace in the friendship of Shaun, another admirer, but her desperate need for acceptance leads to a tragic betrayal of his kindness. Director Rebecca Johnson was inspired by real life cases and explores gang culture from a girl’s perspective. Moving beyond the headlines, Johnson gives us an intricately layered and rarely seen perspective – firmly located in the domain of a young girl becoming a woman in a hyper-masculine world. Sula’s performance here is flawless, perfectly capturing the agonising contradiction of Layla’s choice.
Shirin breaks up with Maxine, clutching only a strap-on dildo as she storms across Brooklyn. It’s hardly what polite society would deem appropriate behaviour – which is precisely what writer-director-star Desiree Akhavan sets out to challenge in her fearless feature debut. There isn’t an aspect of life that her protagonist, a twentysomething bisexual Iranian-American, can’t overcomplicate and sabotage, be it cultural, professional, sexual or emotional. Veering from desperate bed hopping to disastrous kindergarten moviemaking classes, Akhavan spares herself – and us – nothing of Shirin’s solipsistic neuroses. So it’s all the more impressive that her bracing honesty (‘You can’t keep playing the Persian card’ Maxine scolds) and deft, witty characterisations make for such engaging, empathetic company. The setting, subject and lack of inhibition virtually guarantee Lena Dunham (Girls) comparisons, but Akhavan’s ethnically and sexually specific search for identity onscreen marks out a topography and artistic voice very much her own.
On the run from her traditional Pakistani family, 17-year-old Laila, along with her boyfriend Aaron, has fled her home for the imposing landscapes of the Yorkshire Moors. As the couple attempt to forge an anonymous existence, unbeknownst to them two groups of men are on their trail, intent on catching up with the young lovers and exacting a brutal punishment at the orders of Laila’s father. Working with famed cinematographer Robbie Ryan (Fish Tank, The Angel’s Share), who captures the vast expanses of the Pennines to stunningly ominous effect, and boasting a devastating central performance by newcomer Sameena Jabeen Ahmed, Daniel and Matthew Wolfe’s hugely impressive debut is a complex and challenging piece of work. In many ways evocative of a British social realist take on John Ford’s The Searchers, with a near-noirish sense of pessimism and bleakness, the film’s observations on family dynamics, race and class are both brutally nihilistic and poetically affecting.
7. August Winds
The setting of this haunting debut feature from Gabriel Mascaro is a remote village on Brazil’s northeast coast. Shirley (Dandara de Morais), a young woman from the city, has moved there in order to look after her ageing grandmother. She starts dating Jeison (Geová Manoel dos Santos) and gains employment from a local farmer. Filming his actors and the landscape with an unhurried, watchful sensitivity that reflects his documentary background, Mascaro creates an atmospheric portrait of life in this remote community, in particular charting Shirley and Jeison’s heady romance with seductive sensuality. He also introduces a note of disquiet with the arrival of a researcher (played by the director himself) to record the sounds of the changing coastal winds. It also becomes apparent that the village is facing the devastating consequences of global warming. A melancholy and visually sumptuous reflection on a threatened way of life.
Trouble is brewing at prestigious Ivy League Winchester College. The sole black-only fraternity is to be diversified, to the disgust of firebrand campus DJ Sam White (caustic host of ‘Dear White People’). So when Sam accidentally becomes hall president and word spreads of a rival white college’s ‘African-American-themed party’, she and her fellow black students must reassess where they belong in an alleged ‘post-racial’ Obama nation. Whereas many films that tackle issues reduce their characters to mouthpieces, Justin Simien’s razor-sharp satire makes all his protagonists thrillingly nuanced and conflicted. Visually inventive (the fourth wall regularly takes a pummelling) yet controlled, it’s in the idea stakes that Simien really lets fly, nailing cultural preconceptions of all colours. Early Spike Lee comparisons – notable School Daze and Do The Right Thing – are inevitable and somewhat courted, but Simien passionately makes his own case for provocative, relevant filmmaking: we’ve gotta have it.
In the deadbeat Iranian ghost town of Bad City, a lone female vampire stalks the streets at night searching for prey. One of the town’s residents is Arash, who through a series of events involving his junkie father, a prostitute and a drug-dealing pimp, encounters the enigmatic bloodsucker and an unlikely love story begins to unfold. Plot may well be secondary to the striking visual language of Ana Lily Amirpour’s arresting debut; its deliberately enigmatic narrative allowing for a superbly ambitious exercise in style and atmosphere. With its stark black and white photography, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is in many ways evocative of the works of Jim Jarmusch, although ironically it bears the strongest resemblance to his early masterwork Stranger than Paradise than it does his own recent vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive. But while Amirpour’s influences are clear, in her effortless blending of multiple genres and monochromatic evocation of a matriarchal underworld, her voice as a singular and exciting new talent is undeniable. If you only see one Iranian vampire western this year, make sure it’s this one.
10. Difret (TW: Rape)
An affecting feature debut, Difret details the traumatic experience of an Ethiopian girl accused of killing a man who sexually abused her. On her way back home from school, 14-year-old Hirut (Tizita Hagere) is kidnapped by a gang of men and forced into marrying their leader Tadele. She is beaten and raped but manages to free herself, escaping with the rifle she uses to shoot her abductor. Arrested and charged with murder, local justice requires that Hirut is executed and then buried with her victim. However, on hearing about her case a courageous lawyer (Meron Getnet) decides to defend her – at great risk to her own career. Difret, which means ‘courage’ in Amharic, is a delicate yet impassioned story that offers empowerment and hope to countless women all over the world.
Tickets go on sale at 10am on Thursday 18th September. You can see the full listing (and any films we missed) as well as information about how to buy tickets on the BFI London FIlm Festival website.
this is so beautiful
"The opening lines of the chapter, in which an Operation Rescue activist yells ‘Don’t kill me, Mommy’ felt eerily similar to an ad campaign undertaken in 2012, in which a little black girl’s face was plastered on billboards with the lines ‘The most dangerous place for an African American is the womb.’ While Faludi largely framed the reproductive struggle through the lens of working-class and evangelical white women, today one particularly conservative and virulent strain of the abortion rights debate is the closing of clinics in places like Texas and Mississippi that serve largely Latina and African American populaces, respectively. In New York City, black women have more abortions than any other demographic of women, and the number of abortions now exceeds the number of live births.
The rise in documented cases of legal abortion by black women is striking not only because black women are demographically quite socially conservative on the moral question of abortion, but also because this shift in black women’s reproductive practices must be attributed to the full-scale rollback of the social safety net that has also marked the last 25 years or so. Thus I struggle to reconcile the logics of an attack on reproductive rights that have given black women more control over reproduction and reduced the black birth rate and the fact that the right is no friend to black children, black mothers, or black families.
But Faludi’s larger point, that attacks on reproductive rights are always rooted in an attempt by men to control the sexual agency and romantic choices of women through the mechanism of controlling reproduction, resonates. Women’s sexuality in general, and black women’s sexuality in particular, are at the heart of continued national anxieties over both America’s moral sense of itself as a place with traditional family values and a nation that still has deep puritanical conflicts about sexuality. Rush Limbaugh’s verbal assault on then-Georgetown student Sandra Fluke, calling her a slut and a prostitute for advocating for birth control access, is the clearest example that birth control in the hands of women means that women’s sexuality is not in the hands of men.
And it is this core misogyny, Jeff, that is at least partly to explain for the difference in the gay rights struggle and the women’s rights struggle. Though in the contemporary moment, a good deal of the push for gay marriage is centered on the optics of gay families of color, the struggle was originally framed around white families, and in particular the rights of white men to enjoy all the privileges of white masculinity undisrupted by queer sexual practices. Some feminist scholars call this slotting of gay families into an otherwise normative nuclear frame ‘homonormativity,’ and it is why more radical LGBTQ activists remain skeptical of the marriage equality movement, for instance.
The American Cyanamid story remains hard to take, but it also reminds me that the forced sterilization of women is a long-standing practice, particularly in the lives of black women. Next year, North Carolina will begin paying out reparations claims to over 7,600 victims or their families who underwent forced sterilization at the behest of the North Carolina Eugenics Board, roughly between 1924 and 1976. Most of the victims were black women, and the N.C. Eugenics Board allowed employers to petition to have their female employees sterilized.”
- Brittney C Cooper, Ph.D., “And Now, the Abortion Chapter”
some women survive
by growing claws on their skin
pinching whomever comes
before cutting their claws off
to be liquid love.
don’t curse them
for when the attacker came
she was first liquid
she has just learnt her lesson.
some women survive
by creating walls
big walls, guarding their hearts
and you say,
“let them in”
she has been covered in regrets
crawled on all four for her salvation
don’t curse them,
for when her attacker came
there she was, loving
she has built her walls
brick by brick
guarding against parasites.
Don’t blame her.
some women are broken
not ready to be healed
some women are broken
not ready for love
and that’s alright,
Let her find herself
Let her crawl if she must
Let her tear herself apart
Let her question all she knows.
Let her become her own sun.
|—||Ijeoma Umebinyuo. (via theijeoma)|
Latest commissioned piece…Original and version with digital color and design
The black women were also murdered by police. #ferguson #mikebrown
|—||A German journalist in response to the water supply shortages caused by the incessant airstrikes. (via transparent-flowers)|
The number of white people and people of color who are currently attempting to maneuver the conversation in a way that ensures the justification of Michael Brown’s death by the hands of a police officer astounds me.
What astounds me even more is their suspicion toward and distrust of people…
The Howard alumni who was shot in the head made a speedy recovery and she was able to tell her side of the story. The police said that it was a drive by conducted by a group of black men and that it was fatal. They didn’t expect her to survive and talk.
The Violence That Black Trans Women Face
[content warning: transmisogynoir] Tiffany Edwards, 28 years old, is a Black trans woman who was shot to death in Ohio. Cemia “Ci Ci” Dove, 20 years old, is Black trans woman who was stabbed to death and her body was further brutalized in Ohio. Mia Henderson, 26 years old, is a Black trans woman who was killed and her body experienced “severe trauma” in Maryland. Brittany-Nicole Kidd-Stergis, 22 years old, is a Black trans woman who was shot to death in Ohio.
They are just a (recent) sampling of the young Black trans women who face astronomical rates (such that most homicides among LGBTQ people are of trans women of colour, particularly Black trans women) of violence and homicide because of anti-Blackness, racism, sexism, misogyny, misogynoir, colourism, classism/economic violence, for some, misogynoir specific to sex work, and transmisogyny in general. There are so many intersecting oppressions and one that is regularly eclipsed when violence on Black trans women is discussed is anti-Blackness itself, which alludes to the ways in which the socially acceptable hatred and oppression of Black women in general amplifies for Black trans women. Even in death, as anti-Blackness never allows death to be the final act for Black people, these women are misgendered and immediately associated with crime, versus their gender and humanity honored and their lives respected. Blackness alone, let alone their other intersecting oppressions guarantees that the latter is unlikely.
Whenever street harassment, domestic violence, sexual assault, police harassment, police brutality, extrajudicial violence/execution and State violence are discussed, Black trans women’s experiences have to be included. Whether the violence is intraracial (re: what Laverne Cox explained about this, not as arbitrary Black pathology but inherently occurring because of the impact of anti-Blackness, White supremacy and more on gender for Black people), interracial (as some violence occurs to Black trans women just for existing, as with CeCe McDonald, while some is related to transmisogynoir and sex work), extrajudicial or State violence (such as the consistent willful violence from the police as in what Monica Jones experienced, healthcare and legal systems), Black trans women’s experiences have to be included. (And there’s much to be said about the impact of oppression on Black trans women and mental health since almost 50% Black trans people, in general, have attempted suicide.)
Information on violence against Black trans women and structural factors that contribute to this (some includes other LGBTQIA populations):
- NCAVP Report: 2012 Hate Violence Disproportionately Target Transgender Women of Color
- National Report on Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Communities Released Today
- Injustice At Every Turn: A Look At Black Respondents In The National Transgender Discrimination Survey
- "Black Trans Bodies Are Under Attack": Freed Activist CeCe McDonald, Actress Laverne Cox Speak Out
- Blogs: Trans Griot and Janet Mock
Devastating to regularly encounter these stories. This is also violence on Black people. Tiffany’s, Cemia’s, Mia’s and Brittany’s lives mattered. Black trans women matter.