Anita: Still Speaking Truth to Power

Anita: Speaking Truth to Power, a beautiful new documentary by Academy Award-winning director Freida Lee Mock (Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision), is a history lessonImage for some audiences and a site of memory for others.

Millennial girls and women who didn’t witness firsthand the spectacle of sex and race during the 1991 Senate Judiciary Committee hearings to confirm Clarence Thomas for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court get to bear witness to Anita Hill’s testimony, an act that changed American perceptions of workplace sexual harassment.

Continue reading at Ms.blog

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Black Girls in Paris

Black Girl in Paris filmKiandra Parks’ film Black Girl in Paris, based on Shay Youngblood’s novel of the same title, airs on HBO this February and March. The 20-minute short was Parks’ grad thesis project at NYU. Parks’ film follows an alternate path mapped out in Youngblood’s novel and focuses on the relationship formed between the protagonist Eden (played by Medicine for Melancholy‘s Tracy Heggins) and Luce (the brilliant Zaraah Abrahams), a fellow black girl in Paris surviving on luck and hustle. In this way, the beautifully shot film is for Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room what Looking for Langston is for … well, for Langston. At the same time, the film pays homage to “black girls” like Josephine Baker, Ada “Bricktop” Smith, Marpessa Dawn and others who looked for the city to transform them in savvy cosmopolites and erotic subjects. That transformation, especially for black girls, is not always easy or glamorous, the film reminds us. But the experience of adventure is usually worth the price of the ticket.

 

“We do not believe what they say”: Viola Davis at Texas Southern U

We do not worship them

We do not worship what they have made.

We do not trust them                                                                                                            

We do not believe what they say.  

                                       — Alice Walker “Each One, Pull One”

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Photo Credit: Chron.com

Viola Davis’ recent talk at TSU made me think back to Walker’s “Each One, Pull One,” especially the line “We do not believe what they say.” In a conversation with Deborah Duncan, Davis told the audience that in order to redefine herself, she had to go through a period of dispelling “everything everybody ever told her about being a black woman, because it was a lie” (Davis; emphasis mine).

Davis’ words resonated with all of us whom white supremacist-classist-racist-homophobic-sexist culture tells we aren’t good enough, we will never be pretty enough, we are too dark, too feminine, too skinny, too fat, too masculine, not “man” enough, not the right “kind” of black.

The fifth-born of six children, Davis grew up in abject poverty in Central Falls, Rhode Island. In spite of the rats that scurried across her cold floors, “big dreams were born in that house,” Davis recalled.

ImageDavis was introduced to the “craft” after seeing Cicely Tyson star in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. In Tyson, Davis said she saw a woman who looked like her mom. By providing that source of identification, Davis said Tyson “gave [her] permission to accept [herself].”

Achieving self-acceptance has been critical for sustaining herself as one of a handful of dark-skinned black actresses in Hollywood. Davis spoke candidly about the narrow scope of roles afforded black actresses in general and those who are dark-skinned in particular. While her fans (including this one) would like to see her play a love interest or rock a sexy role, none of us could name a dark-skinned sista in her 40s recently cast in a love story.

ImageDavis also spoke candidly about not wanting to play a maid. Asked if she knew the impact The Help would have, Davis exclaimed, “Yes! I knew–and not necessarily in good ways–I knew all of it! I knew white women would love it and the black community would be outraged. I was very conflicted about taking that job because I’m constantly aware of my responsibility to the African American community.” Davis said she ultimately accepted the role because it was one of the best scripts she got. She also welcomed the challenge to play a character who wasn’t “beautiful” or “flashy” and to make that character “work.”

The success of The Help has opened more doors for Davis. Her and her husband Julius Tennon (pictured above) are working on a biopic of the late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, who was an alumna of TSU. Davis, who will play Jordan, said she looks forward to transforming into someone who was so “iconic” and “an American hero.” I look forward to Davis transforming the iconic hero into a complex human who not only championed political causes and broke down doors but also loved, erred, felt pain, and showed vulnerability.

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