Coffee Rhetoric: documentary films
Showing posts with label documentary films. Show all posts
Showing posts with label documentary films. Show all posts

January 23, 2015

'Light Girls' - The Good, The Bad, & The Cringeworthy

Curious, but skeptical, I decided to turn to the OWN network on Monday night and watch the premiere of Bill Duke’s second documentary on colorism Light Girls, a follow up to Dark Girls—which explored the marginalization and ridicule darker complexioned Black women face. 
Light Girls continued the ongoing discussion about intraracial discrimination and presented personal anecdotes from more than 200 people on the opposite (most preferred) end of the complexion panorama; interviews with lighter- skinned Black and biracial (half-Black) women, including TV journalist Soledad O’Brien, actress Raven-Symoné, glamour model Amber Rose, and “image activist” Michaela Angela Davis, among others.

July 24, 2013

Women and Race

'The Way Home' Explores Women's Stories of Racism in America

When the topic of race is broached, we hear and read so much source material from the lens of black men and non-black men of color. Whenever discourse surrounds social justice issues, it’s often laden with ways to save black and brown men and boys from the structural inequalities that impact their lives. And while I don’t doubt that people care (sometimes I do though), conversations about the protection of the lives of young black and indigenous women and girls don't seem to prompt the same sense of urgency.

In the past, I've felt embattled about being a woman writer who's been more open about sharing my lived experience as a black woman and who's chosen to write my opinions about race, intra-racial discrimination, gender and even the arts, through my lens; as well as sharing what I've learned about the experiences of others navigating similar intersections. On occasion, my inner dialogue asks, “Why do you even bother? People don’t want to read what black women have to say. They don’t want to pay you to contribute your voice either." And I  often wonder if I'm in over my head; because it's one thing to live through certain experiences, but spilling open about them can be equally as exasperating. 

July 07, 2013

Documentary Films: Nana Agyapong's 'L.A. Woman Rising'

L.A. Woman Rising, an arthouse/experimental documentary by Los Angeles-based artist and director  Nana Agyapong (known professionally as Nana Ghana), and with original poems and narration by actor James Franco, follows 50 diverse women waking for the day in ‘The City of Angels’ and their A.M. rituals. They are not only waking up to start the day, they are rising to give life to their respective dreams. 

Through successful crowdfunding on  Kickstarter and other fundraising efforts, 
Nana Agyapong was able to complete her project: a simple idea that was inspired by The Doors’ song L.A. Woman. But Agyapong’s film seems to represent something that extends far beyond what The Doors envisioned as the quintessential Los Angelista.  

March 23, 2013

Film Review: Owen 'Alik Shahadah's '500 Years Later'

Looking for something interesting to watch this weekend or during the month of February? 

Filmmaker Owen 'Alik Shahadah's 2005 documentary 500 Years Later is a valuable exploration and dissection of racial politics, as it affects those of the African Diaspora. Written by MK Asante and directed by Shahadah, this documentary presents a global perspective on the effects of colonialism, slavery, and the need for proper education on and agency over African and Black history and dialogue.

According to the official synopsis... 
"500 Years Later explores the tragic legacy of the forced migration of untold thousands of Africans from their homeland and the unique c0 challenges that have resulted from this displacement. Through penetrating interviews with scholars and laypeople alike — and ranging from the United States to London to Barbados — this unflinching documentary sheds new light on the problems of racial inequalities, poverty and oppression."

March 02, 2013

'Dreams of a Life'- The Complex Story of Joyce Carol Vincent

A while back I came across a “semi-documentary”, written and directed by English filmmaker Carol Morley, called Dreams of a Life.  The haunting and speculative 2011 film attempts to piece together the life of 38-year old Londoner, Joyce Carol Vincent. A beautiful aspiring singer and seemingly gregarious woman of Indo-Caribbean and Afro-Caribbean extraction, Vincent’s decomposed body was found in her North London bedsit flat; having apparently died in late 2003, her remains went undiscovered for three years despite neighbors noticing the smell of decomposition emanating from her apartment. 

I recall reading about Joyce some years ago and feeling somewhat bothered by the few fleeting details reported by the media about her; never able to recall reading anything else substantive about her personal life, how she died, or even a picture of her. Her story, or lack thereof, more-or-less dwindled and disappeared from the media. Before watching Dreams of a Life, I thought Joyce’s story was cut-and-dry, and that there was nothing more to be told, beyond that of the sad life of a friendless woman with no family, who died alone and unaccounted for. I never imagined, after all of this time, this posthumous follow-up of Joyce's life would present a story far more compelling than I could have ever imagined.

January 15, 2013

Revisiting 'Paris Is Burning': Sifting Through The Ashes

Paris Is Burning … a documentary I've seen countless times over the years, having watched it as recently as this past Thursday night at 2:00 A.M. to lull myself to sleep and then three times Monday night, to delve deeper for the sake of this post. It’s one of those documentary film experiences I still appreciate to this day for the candidness provided by its subjects and for introducing me to the intricacies of a subculture that often goes unaccredited for the ways in which it helped shape a lot of popular culture, music, and vernacular. It continued to leave me with lingering questions about Jennie Livingston’s approach to and motivation for culling the information during that moment in space and time; and more importantly, what happened to the subjects that shaped Livingston’s documentary and provided a quintessential work to be deconstructed by cinephiles, writers, and scholars alike, 22 years later.

While the rare inside look at the pageantry, pomp and circumstance of New York City’s underground ball culture during the 1990’s is compelling in and of itself, - (ball legend Pepper Labeija had me hooked the moment she sauntered down the aisle of a ball, draped in a gold lamé costume at the beginning of the documentary as she confidently voices over to viewers, “I’m Pepper Labeija, the legendary mother of The House of Labeija…”) - I’m always struck by the personal narratives shared by the documentary’s subjects, profound even if the discourse is, at times, troubling and a bit melancholy.

When starry-eyed, beautiful, and ambitious transwoman Octavia Saint Laurent said, “I want to be somebody, well I am somebody, I just want to be a rich somebody…” 

or when seasoned (and somewhat jaded) veteran Dorian Corey opined, “I always had hopes of being a big star, but as you get older, you aim a little lower. Everybody wants to make an impression, some mark upon the world. Then you think, you've made a mark on the world if you just get through it, and a few people remember your name. Then you've left your mark. You don’t have to bend the world; I think it’s better to just enjoy it, pay your dues and just enjoy it. If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high, hooray for you…” 

I wondered if the wearied and desirous denizens of New York’s 90’s drag balls ever attained their goals.

I wanted to know more beyond the scope of Livingston’s documentary… where the patient and influential 'House Mother’ Angie Xtravaganza or Kim Pendavis and his protégé Freddie Pendavis, had landed after Paris had burned.

What had become of the 15-year-old kid who defiantly answered that he didn't have a mother or father, stating they were “gone” and that he was living with “a friend” when prodded about why he and his companion were out-and-about so late in the evening? Some of the answers surrounding the documentary and its subjects, I’d discover, are somber.

Jennie Livingston (an openly lesbian white woman who grew up in Los Angeles and is a graduate of Yale) was given unprecedented access into the lives of a predominantly Black and Latino gay and transgender community comprised of poor and displaced gay and trans men and women, who grappled with gender-identity in an often exclusionary society, racism, and homelessness, and who found support, kinship, and camaraderie among one another when they were ostracized and ejected from their homes by their families.  Drag balls provided them escapism through interpretive performance art, where they’d often re-enact a quality of life (mostly affluent, privileged, and white) many of them yearned to live…

 “This is white America” narrates a ball participant. “Any other nationality that is not of the white set knows this and accepts this 'til the day they die. That is everybody’s dream and ambition as a minority… to live and look as well as a white person is pictured as being in America. (...) We have had everything taken from us and yet we have all learned how to survive. That’s why in the ballroom circuit it is obvious that if you have captured the great white way of living or looking or dressing or speaking, you is a marvel.”
Ball culture seemingly provided validation, freedom of expression, and rewards many of the documentary’s subjects never found outside the confines of ball pageantry. “Balls to us is as close to reality as we’re going to get to all of that fame, and fortune, and stardom, and spotlights.” said another of the film’s subjects. More importantly, Paris Is Burning showcased voices from a segment of the LGBT community, often silenced, ignored, or not advocated for. 

When Jennie Livingston infiltrated and curated her piece on drag ball cultureParis is Burning became an instant hit (despite the apprehension of distributors) and many of the documentary’s main protagonists saw this as an opportunity to capitalize on the success and fulfill some of their goals; but alas some were left feeling slighted and exploited by Livingston once the dust settled and accolades poured in...