By EMILY EAGLIN
A Film starring both Michael Cera & Nia Long...
...Was the pitch that gave me no choice but to see Lemon. Was this even possible before?
Lemon (2017) is a cringe dramedy directed by Janicza Bravo. The film stars Brett Gelman (as Isaac) and is an in-depth imagination of the age-old question How awful could that miserable white guy's life possibly be? At first look, the trailer may leave you asking Do we really need another one of these melanin-devoid indie films? And I know they aint got Nia Long playing no make-up artist! But, sticking with my original commitment to see this film, I discovered it is much more layered than any of that. And after watching the film, I'm relieved to tell you that a white/dude director could not have gotten away with this pitch & committed cast/production, in any era of film.
Lemon is filled with noteworthy lines such as "My sister has a black son, he's six," and signature wtf content that only women of color hear the gist of, on a consistent enough basis to write into a film. The perspective that Bravo brings to the craft of Lemon is mad special for that--you think it's one thing, then another, only to be left without any of the assumptions you originally made.
Watch Lemon for free HERE
Bravo's creation of Isaac is not imaginary or satirical, but it is a serious experiment in schemas. If I saw a guy like my guy Isaac, someone who's life experiences and demeanor are so differing from mine, I might passively imagine him to be a bird killer, a cake thrower, or give bad acting advice in his spare time. Nothing about this white guy is redeemable, which is where Lemon probably lost a lot of people, but also where it stands out tallest. We're used to seeing awful guys and/or antiheroes get their way (in life and in flicks) and at the end of the day some just don't. We're made to ask did they do anything to deserve to?
What did this dude do to deserve the likes of Nia Long?
...a question I'd not be as compelled to ask if we were operating within standard movie logic. Lemon snaps us out of this fallacy of a mindset time and time again.
Lemon was not only the work of Bravo's directing, but she co-wrote it with her husband, Brett Gelman, who plays Isaac. This dynamic gives an wider view of what went into creating Lemon, one movie as a three way synthesis of acting, writing, & directing through the work of two people. What gave me some solid insight into the creators' mindset in making such a bizarrely unique piece was this podcast episode (Earwolf's Yo is this Racist?). Even though, for me, this film was a bit of depression fodder, it was still a welcome gaze into an original cinematic world not created by a dude director.
I would be, admittedly, further head-over-heels, with the theory behind Lemon, if I was one for cringe comedy, but alas, I am one to space out my Tim & Eric binges (with months in between). Please forgive me, I don't want to lose friends on this one. Still it was a film that should be here, be loud as it is, and have such an all-star cast who so clearly see its vision. The dialogue exists in its own world, the surreal awfulness of the bulk of its characters do as well. Lemon is a slap in the face, it's the experience of sitting down to watch a *seemingly harmless* indie movie and being backhanded with the most mundane sense of monotony. It's not what you will expect it to be at all and more than you would have imagined it would be. Lemon teaches us that when life gives you lemons...
you got lemons.
BY EMILY EAGLIN
As a filmmaker & a partial worker of sanitation in the magical city of Baltimore MD, I can’t tell you how honored my life was to be worthy of “protagonist” status in a Guillermo Del Toro film, àshe. It doesn’t take a longer watch than seeing The Shape of Water’s trailer alone to realize Del Toro as one of the few ‘masters’ of cinema, still alive today (also on a basic level if your favorite color is green too you might really feel this film).
Swimming through this piece I was presented with visions of hon-era Baltimore, gods, and scenes of science fantasy grandeur. I found myself absolutely suspended in disbelief--for the amphibious creature, for the sanitary personnel access provided to top-secret research projects, & even for Michael Stuhlbarg’s death (we all know Michael Stuhlbarg will never die). There was, however, one thing present that I just couldn’t reconcile...the plot-centric canal that connected Baltimore City to the ocean.
Now, for those of you familiar enough with Maryland geography to have watched and uttered “that aint right…” bear with me. In The Shape of Water there is a canal, close to a highway or interstate, that connects to the ocean and is within a brief drive of central Baltimore. We even see a glimpse of this “ocean” and it is not that of a finite river slice, but that of a whole Atlantic Ocean pie. For those of you unfamiliar, Baltimore is a port city connected to the ocean by, over 20 miles of, the Patapsco River… So we thought.
Marylanders might easily have written this off as “geographic fictional” or “just a movie”. Or possibly local moviegoers gave Del Toro credit enough to create a realistic image of 1962 Baltimore City, but not enough to avoid research glitches. From the first intentional description of Baltimore as a “Coastal” city, I knew better than to do this.
Herein began my search for Baltimore’s ocean-connecting canal from The Shape of Water, and possible subsequent beaches, that Del Toro has likely been to and wants us to know about. Living in Baltimore, it takes no more than watching the weekly news to get hip to the fact that this City and its officials are hiding more than their average share of ‘the truth’. It could be argued that Baltimore is a city run without those at the top knowing the meaning of this word, period. What, then, would be holding them back from hiding Baltimore’s beaches, canals, and anything else Del Toro can cinematically conjure and expose?
Somebody has to know the truth. Someone knows what’s being hidden. But also somebody knows why. I began to meditate on what’s at stake here. I imagined a Baltimore city where its residents could possess some form of escape, where we could all just go to the beach and “chill”. I saw pick-up games of volleyball between sports fans and haters alike. Sand mermaids & sand rats. I saw a beach to be unveiled by the people, utilized for the people. This was no mere mistake or research overlook on behalf of Del Toro’s production, but rather, an urban conscious treasure map to a future of coexistence.
I felt alone, dumped, and abandoned at this crossroad. Was I left powerless in the face discovering Maryland's greatest innovation since John Water's Multiple Maniacs? Were there grants for this? I dug his craft, but Del Toro had never led me down such a plagued path. I sat in my car with only the company of WYPR jazz and agonized.
Then I remembered this: In states where we, as the living, come face to face with desolation, there is only one power we can invoke for guidance. So I did what any other lost girl in the sprawling neverland of Baltimore would do.
As soon as I got home I lit a candle to the Orisha, Yemaya, Mother of all & ruler of oceans. Ancestors, Hear my plea, Help me not to make a Fool of me... Suddenly, all around me, my room was rapidly taking on water. My basement bedroom windows were lodged open and looking out of them I saw I was 9-15 feet deep under, somehow warm, palm colored saltwater. Thinking quickly I climbed to the highest point of my shared town home, nobody else was in, I found my way to the rooftop. There was a warm and coercive wind that pushed me towards the flooding waters, I watched as a fever of stingrays (possibly from the aquarium) ‘drove down’ my street, signaled left and turned out of site. I looked above, at first I thought that it was just cloudy, at a second glance I realized a steady stream of cowrie shells falling from the sky, leading me in the same direction as the wind. I dove into the water and began to swim down my street. I could see the tips of tree tops from the park of the Maryland Zoo, and that the water was gradually rising.
swam past a great white shark, penguins diving for fish, and countless floating Colt 45 bottles, not realizing that they were filled with something sacred. I grabbed one from the water’s surface and exhaustedly took a break on a nearby fire escape, its glass contained a delicate message. Written in a cryptic cursive, I could barely make out the script, “You’ve more to discover than you have to ask”. Dismayed, I realized my determined approach was wrong all along, I was not meant to ask a people, rather, I was to ask their collective unconscious. I looked at the end of the cowrie shell rain, it was at a cafe called ‘Dovecote’, one I had been to many a time. However, it was towering high as the shot tower and guarded by powerful druids guarding Yemaya’s power. In awe, my spirit grew weak, I fainted and I sank deep.
Awaking in my apartment I drove straight to Dovecote, having taken already a week off of work, I couldn’t waste my time by occupying spaces I was not being guided to. I went to order my regular Honey Pot toned coffee and a peach upside down cake and was told it had been ordered for me, and was waiting outside. Peering out of the cafe’s windows I could see a figure sitting outside who was not there before, I thanked my sis at the register and cautiously walked over.
“Where is the water?” I asked. “¿Estás seguro?” The hooded figure asked back. “Am I sure of what? ¿Que?” I tentatively took a sniff of my coffee and the figure took a sip of a Colt 45, previously hidden under the table. “That this is the question you seek to answer.” This was infuriating and I probably looked like I was straight up tripping. I couldn’t answer this question, it hit my mind like a mind-teaser, a word puzzle, a game. I tried to focus on something else, I realized that the figure’s skin was decked out in swamp colored latin text, I impulsively grabbed their hand ring absorbed hand. “Please”, I pleaded, “I just want to get to the beach.” “¿Cómo?” I asked next. “Por favor, termina.” they replied. “How do I get to the beach? How do I get to the start finding it?” The figure stood tall and distantly answered, “Más como si”. They left and I took my food to go.
The next few days I called off work and spent the daylight with nature. This was not my living to be earned but my calling to fulfill. I had to complete this mission before returning back to life or ‘business as usual’. Before this point in my search I realized that I was just agonizing over not being there, not being done with it all. I wanted to find the canal, I wanted to be on the beach, I underestimated the journey. The kiss of death for any filmmaker. So to speak, I needed to ‘write my way back’ from the beach, beginning where my plot commenced. I was so caught up in logistics and immediate gratification that I neglected the resounding lesson Del Toro has taught us throughout his filmography.
His heroes never sourced leads out of perceived labyrinth, dimension, etc.; they never ultimately needed to reconcile distractions externally to discover an answer within. I granted myself patience, I knew that the beach would come to me within its own time, and not necessarily mine. I continued my canal’s quest into myself, rather than throughout the city, I continued to do research but, in time, realized this as futile as any other approach.
Today was the breakthrough day of my search. After watching movie after movie, speaking to plant after plant, and lighting candle after sage after candle--the way came to me. I followed it amidst a cacophony of sirens, horns, laughter, and clouds, then suddenly, the body was revealed to me. Baltimore’s own beach, ocean, and its canal. I took a nap on the sand and, apologies, opted to not take any pictures. I figured concrete evidence, past this written account, could potentially deny others their own valid journey. I knew that if I had started out with a solid, visualized answer I wouldn’t have made it to this space the way that I did. Sea monsters, Russian conspirators, and cowrie shells I did not see, and though rain was in the forecast for the evening, the sky stayed clear. I stood up and walked the kelp coated shoreline, looking out into the Atlantic and asking what questions should I be asking? And why had I never asked this question before.
Long story short y’all, loved The Shape of Water, if you haven’t seen it it’s currently playing at the Charles Theater in Baltimore & leading this year’s Oscar nominations (congrats). Hope you enjoyed my review, thanks so much for reading, please peep & follow my Facebook for more where this came from: https://www.facebook.com/FilmFairy/
BY EMILY EAGLIN
Happy Friday! Welcome to my new series of Free Film Fridays, where I will be introing & linking y'all to alternative, new wave, & avant garde flicks available to stream for free. Tonight we have a double feature of futurist/sci-fi flicks, Pumzi (Kaihu, 2009) & Sunspring (Sharp, 2016). Both films run under 25 minutes and can be found for FREE using the links below:
Pumzi is a Kenyan/South African short written by Wanuri Kahiu, while Sunspring is an American short written entirely by an Ai using neural networks. Both films engage in unique ways with the tradition of futurism & sci-fi; while Pumzi is more narrative & natural in nature, Sunspring is quite the opposite with no perceivable plot at all (unless you are in a hell of a 'state of mind').
"In a Future with mass unemployment, young people are forced to sell blood." -H
This is the first sentence of dialogue in Sunspring, uttered by a protagonist-like character only referred to in the script as "H" (played by Thomas Middleditch). I've admittedly watched this short over and over again, especially when sharing it with others on riding the same mothership. As a species we wonder what it's like to see from our computer's perspective, Google's Deep dream is one answer to that. We wonder what it's like to create & think as a computer, Sunspring is an answer to this.
One of the geniuses in Sunspring lies in its actors, who play to the script like it makes tangible sense? Which is surreal, incredible, & lands you realizing you may be the one player here who's not in on the joke. Does this flick make sense to a computer? Will we understand this movie 200 years from now? Is the movie that advance or is creative Ai just behind our own comprehension? I'm left wondering who is catching up to who. The Ai also wrote a song, which was recorded and is played towards the end of the film, it's basically an FKA Twigs song. Five stars.
I don't mean to be a traitor to the organic, but I would watch a whole festival of these, there are literally endless ways we can feed Ai scripts, songs, genres, ideas, etc. & interpret their ideas onto screen creatively. It's a scary beginning to exciting possibilities, in my opinion. Side note: Can't wait for West World to come back? I hope those humans eat it!
Kudzani Moswela in Pumzi
Following along with thoughts on possibilities, Pumzi shows us a world where Sci-Fi as a genre can be made and set in Africa, while being about characters with a more melanated experience. There's more to spoil here in terms of plot, so I'll continue cautiously. In creating this film Director Wanuri Kahiu says she did not intend to create a Sci-Fi, she just wrote a story about a girl in the future and then was informed that this was the genre it fell under. She recounts that within a tradition of lore & storytelling, "sci-fi" and "futurism" stories have been told throughout Africa for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. A lens that rings true for me, especially growing up with stories of Anansi among others. Just, what a thought to think on!
Pumzi is visually stunning. It is a element-centric short that many would categorize as "Afrofuturist", Kahiu, in the same interview, recounts on how she views that tag.
In Pumzi, Kahiu dreams up a suppressed reality after WWIII, a time seemingly after the end of time. In Sunspring the Ai takes the driver's seat in its imagining of an amalgamated script. When viewed together, both of these shorts give us a glimpse at a true future for the genre of sci-fi. For a genre still so plagued with embodiments of regression in its imaginations for the future, in the simplest of sense, this is all I'm asking for.
"The weirdos come out at night."
BY EMILY EAGLIN
Hey fellow film fairies! Welcome to my new series Free Film Fridays where I will be introing & linking y'all to alternative, new wave, & avant garde flicks available to stream for free. First up we have the 1995 Chinese New Wave feature film, Fallen Angels (墮落天使) Directed by Wong Kar-Wai.
WATCH FALLEN ANGELS HERE, Spoilers to follow!
Fallen Angels leaves me meditating on globally chill 90's aesthetics, the manifestation of blondness, & the disposability of bodies other than one a director may identify with. We are brought into the realm of an (almost) never-ending Hong Kong night where violence & sexuality is of a pre-GTA video game quality. While the content & image effortlessly flow together, what speaks most is how it's shot. The plot, characters, & content are incrementally revealed to us as non sequitur, with us being able to only jigsaw bits & pieces together, until the very end.
Someone once said a great film will teach you how to watch it within the first five minutes. By the ten minute mark of Fallen Angels we get the whole picture & much more. After a bloody scene that will leave you exclaiming "not the fish too!", our protagonist Wong Chi-ming (Leon Lai) leaves a hit scene, only to be ambushed on a bus by an old junior high classmate who recognizes him. The scene is hilarious as a mundane extreme; when we think about it, this could absolutely happen to any hitman, killer, or thief--it's just never the part we see in a film (or have time to include). We are confronted with Wong's ability to escape a crime scene & get away with mass murder, but inability to escape his past, average upbringing, & shared reality. This was a scene so relatable, it verged on irksome, in a way that was like desperately needing to run to the bathroom & getting stalled by an old neighbor you vaguely remember... like YO I literally got sh*t ta do!
"Even an Assassin once had classmates in Junior High"
Won Kar-Wai's Fallen Angels stands out to me as a movie that's supposed to look "cool", and totally does. The cinematography, however, does not ooze that chic, superficial "cool" that we are stylistically familiar with (and often overly bombarded with) in the US film industry. Instead, we are met with an intentional cool, a misleading cool, a nostalgic cool. The color grading is straight out of a Smashing Pumpkins music video, which is bonus points in my book, and this looks only ultimately serves the surreal nature of the story.
Moving to minus points, let's talk women! I feel like the only point I might even need to make here is the Killer's agent (played by Michele Reis) & her inability to put down a cigarette in a certain scene, you will know when you are there. If you're bechdel scoring I'll save you some time, she's 2nd in casting order yet given no name. I had hope! A hope that I quickly lost due to all characters, regardless of gender, being portrayed intimately through extreme close-ups, this is often time a good sign, until you hit your first scene where it's not. I went into this scene looking for something to redeem the gaze, portrayal, etc. (that I could have readily predicted)--but was left with pursed lips. I watched it with a close friend (Zoe) who originally pointed out the agent's commitment to NOT dropping this cigarette & they had this to say:
"Is she seriously not gonna ash that thing!?" ~Zoe's points
No we found, no she will not.
This intimate scene was almost comedic in nature, like, a satire of how the dudest of dudes would direct an woman's intimate solo scene, but I don't wanna spoil too much of the fun of it for you so...moving on!
Fallen Angels is a film of two 'main course' protagonists & they're female 'sides'. Usually in this case the male characters, being so central, are the best written, but we'll get to Charlie later. Through its cast and background actors, identity is also central to this film. Kar-Wai presents Chinese identity as existing between the unforgettableness of whiteness and the disposability of any others (we mainly view this through the lens of Black bodies, but also a Japanese character named Sato-san (Toru Saito). Our secondary protagonist, (He Zhiwu played by Takeshi Kaneshiro) is self-described as half-Asian, half-European & his hair magically turns blond at the end of the film and it's, like, a good thing?
"Guess why I became a blonde?...So nobody will forget me"
Going along with things getting weirding & folks getting wackier, we meet an impulsively manic babe that the film refers to as blondie, punky, & baby (Karen Mok), this quote above is what she has to say on her specific impulse to bleach her hair. How the film relates to a bright sense of whiteness & a dark, shrouded sense of Blackness really intrigued me. I was astounded by the film's ability to drop a solid "N" bomb within its first fifteen, (but can we ever be truly surprised by this?). At the same time I also tried to gage the heaviness of that term being used in 1990's Hong Kong (as I am unfamiliar with what its Mandarin equivalent would be) and derive a neutrality out of that. Anti-blackness is anti-blackness wherever you go, I just wonder how hip the writer/director was to this fact in using it as a tertiary character-building tactic, but I'm just thinking out loud here... I digress.
This bomb was brought up in relation to Wong's "wife", who he tells us was actually just a Black woman he paid $30 for a picture with to show to folks for misdirection. Sweet? Disposable? Racist in its context? I'll let you watch, let you decide, I don't know where your bar is with these things. The only other time we see melanated folks is in the form of irate African customers caught on VHS. It's all very stereotypical, unsurprising, & I don't feel the need to go deeply into it except to acknowledge it is there and a plot non-necessity & a major point deduction for the film as a whole. A disposable damn shame.
And while female sexuality was portrayed shamelessly, all I could help thinking was Dude director, Dude director, Dude director. All the tell-tale signs are there, you will see them clear as the day that was not present in this film. Voyeuristic angles, unrealistic direction, & cringey acting.
But speaking of acting this acting was top tier. It followed a realist tradition of aloofness & I found it mad genuine. There was, however, no performance I enjoyed more than that of Charlie Yeung as "Charlie". Just as the film almost begins to lose you, my girl Charlie is on a phone, going full-on Love & Hip Hop on an engaged side chick. It's not a total left field for the film, as we have already been beaten over the heads with the male equivalent of this (including multiple scenes of ice-cream force feeding & coerced hair cuts).
But, truth be told, I immediately was in love like "Yes, who is she? Give me more of her now!". Now why was this? The bitter girlfriend, manic "alt" girl, trope rarely speaks truth to power! But watching Charlie we see that girl we saw last week across the street in West Baltimore, and at a look closer that girl was our girl. A friend you don't recognize at first because their behavior creates a greater distance than that street, but you know that her 'last straw' pop-off behavior is justified. And it's like GIRL, what is the story here!? Fallen Angels takes you across the street to that friend who is Charlie & totally along for the ride. I truly do not want to spoil that ride so, Imma leave this parked here.
All in all this film acts as a portal into another space & time, a reminder that we all got a little Charlie in all of us, & a force that says nah to daytime scenes. I really dug the experience of watching it & hope you take the time to view it! It's beautifully shot and free to watch. As a movie in Mandarin, with English subs, it demanded my attention by default, but it ended up demanding my attention in many other ways (none of which I'm mad at). Yeung's performance is what makes this film mad memorable, because my girl acts her braids out & balances over-the-topness with realness, all at once...ASHE!
By the end, I found I was debating myself internally on the ethics & morals this world lies within, but externally I was sutured into the setting, I couldn't look away or hang up. This film ruined peace & massaged my mind like a pig.
BIGGEST LINE: The night is full of weirdos
BIGGEST QUESTION I'M LEFT WITH: How does one lose their voice by eating canned pineapple?
BIGGEST REASON TO WATCH THIS FLICK: *It's a tie* Cinematography & Charlie,
BIGGEST GUEST FOR DIRECTOR: A dude. ✔
But, ask yourself, what has the city done up to this point? Are we still consciously aware this is an ongoing issue?
If other countries know this is an issue, what will it take for us to work towards community policing & us-based solutions? This is not a cause that ended with Rosa and Claudette. It didn't end with Angela or Kathleen. In fact, the only American violences to rival the lynchings of their eras since are weekly/daily these instances that seed uprisings.
Until our policing is coming from within our communities (and not surrounding counties), these children will remain unsafe, their futures will remain unpromised, and the city will not be able to unite and rise. This is all by design. No matter who you are, be weary, & be awake! Civil Rights is not over for those in so many communities, the fight is alive & the love is power!
Rest in Power Pepper.
BY EMILY EAGLIN
If there's a part of my identity that's ever left me 'othered' in the absolute greatest variety of company it has been my lack of religious belief. I've been everything from brushed off in casual conversations to held hostage at a Rite Aid by a zealot who was just supposed to be giving me a flu shot.
I've grown to accept my secularism without craving anything more than an "agree to disagree" & I even have great pride in my journey (ask any of my friends how wild my secular family cookouts are). There's this sick misconception that every time an non-theist (also known as atheist) speaks out on their lack of religious identity it is to convince theists of something, and hopefully one day we will get to the point where I don't need to make this disclaimer to be heard but...
The Black church aesthetic is so strong and on point that I have no idea what a Black nonbeliever aesthetic would look like (a septum ring? a Childish Gambino t-shirt?). The Black experience is already one that is to some degree rootless, but we know our values, our homeland, and our various aesthetics—the Black secular experience is one that is so unrepresented we can't even put our finger on where its roots would lie. But most of us have a clear/strong schema (even if negative and trolly) of a white atheist. This lack of visualization is a struggle and makes it even harder to create a strong community of Black unbelievers.
Upon looking at the make-up of nonbelievers in the U.S. one will notice a huge discrepancy, 82% of atheists are White and mostly men, while only 5% of Black people identify as secular (Belgrave, 2014). In a society dominated by White supremacy and patriarchy, I was left to ask what affects do the power dynamics of non-belief have on real life success or social standing? Do Black people not have access to the same information or freedom of thought that their White counterparts have or does it have more to do with a stagnant culture?
Though there is a lack of research on Black secularism—possibly due to how taboo the discussion of it is—I am familiar with several active communities online that deal with examining those issues (Black Atheists, Black Nonbelievers, and African Americans for Humanism). From my experience I’ve seen that younger Black men and women tend to look at secularism more subjectively and with an observational lens. Despite these views, Black religiosity is not on route to change or decrease anytime soon, after seeing a strong resurgence in the 1980s its numbers suggest that it’s here to stay.
As mentioned, while only 5% of the Black community identifies as non-religious, compared to 12% of Whites, (Belgrave, 2014), Black women are proven to be the most religious demographic out of any other race/gender combination (Gorham, 2013). Whereas White men run the vast majority of American society (in terms of government and economics especially), there is almost a sort of inverse power dynamic at play with Black women and religiosity. Not to argue, by any means, that correlation equals causation—there are too many factors at play here. But Black women tend to seldom be at the top of the totem pole (getting paid less than White women and with even less of them rising to positions like CEOs). After my initial research I am still left asking if the relationship is cultural or religious, or both.
For this reason I decided to interview three Black women who consider themselves “religious”, in order to ascertain a perspective of secularism from a non-secular point of view (a non-bias affirming approach as is called for by our dearly beloved scientific method). The participants’ were aged 18, 58, and 75, with the older two living in Arizona and the youngest living in North Carolina, majority conservative states. All three of the women have ties to my family, however only two of them are related directly to me.
These questions serve to focus on Black religiosity in the form of Christianity and these women are all Christians. I split up my study into the categories of environment, personal outlook, and history. My results turned out to positively support my hypothesis more than I had expected them to, with each individual’s experience varying from generation to generation for most questions.
If you were an (Atheist), that foundation (would be) lost.” Her argument was that slavery and Black genocide could not be justified and/or reconciled unless it was a part of God’s plan. This tends to be a universal line of thinking worldwide for those who experience the greatest of injustices. But does it suggest that those of us without religion lack a quintessentially & required Black "foundation"?
Thinking of past injustices, our dark history, and the bleak future ahead under a godless light is terrifying for many and may make the struggle seem futile, I often think of this as one of the biggest reasons for Black religiosity—an explanation. In a YouTube video made by Black Public Media entitled “Black Folk Don’t: Do Atheism” Melissa Harris Perry, NBC correspondent and host at the time, expresses a similar sentiment, “…That idea of atheism, there is no divine that can give meaning to the experiences of inequality and oppression does seem to be (representative) of something that is not Blackness.” While I was religious I always found myself asking could my Blackness exist outside of religion?
Going along with this idea of blackness versus simply “Not blackness”, the middle-aged participant also seemed to think that atheism was simply not a “Black thing”, saying, “Atheism and humanism are European (Greek) concepts. We are more than our brains.” At the risk of editorializing this piece, I want to push back against this notion, like many things in this world evidence shows that even secularism has roots in Africa.
The youngest participant, however, saw religiosity not as a foundation or a “non-European concept”, but something that has gone historically hand in hand with the black experience, stating, “I think religion is often tied to black culture. They go hand in hand with much of our music, traditions, and even food.” The difference in these answers that stood out the most was the youngest’s use of historical backing versus opinions to express the relationship between the Black church and the black experience. There was, however, no historical lens present of why religiosity was ingrained into us or historically used against us.
When asked about the stifled progression of famous Black free thought leaders such as Frederick Douglass, Langston Hughes, etc, The oldest and youngest women expressed the concern of the community only wanting to listen to certain perspectives that maintain the status quo, seeing this stifling as a negative thing. The oldest wrote, “We have become too complacent and willing to accept the status quo. There is more of what can I do for me instead of what can I do for us.” While the youngest wrote “Putting such an import reliance on the church has in a way inhibited those who speak out against it.”
None of the participants seemed to think that those who were secular/non-church attending in the Black community were missing out on anything irreplaceable, this came as a surprise to me due to the church being one of the (agreed upon) most important aspect in the Black experience (Belgrave, 2014). None of the participants had the experience of discussing secularism or free-thought with their family growing up, this lack of perspective or discussion on views unlike their own from a young age could explain why less Blacks question the existence of God, many were not presented with the option to.
When asked about the strength in their personal beliefs the older two women expressed a strong positivity in “knowing” their God, whereas the youngest one rated her belief as an 8/10, saying “We won't know until we die I suppose!” citing the need for evidence as her uncertainty. This generational difference from a subjective internal belief in God to an objective evidence based belief in God mirrors the trend of younger Americans becoming more agnostic and religiously skeptical.
When asked about church attending people that are closeted nonbelievers—an estimated 10%-15% and even higher for some Black churches—all participants viewed these members non-judgmentally, the oldest stating that many come to church for the sense of community more than the religion and the youngest saying “I believe people go to church for a variety of reasons. For some people it's about the bible and the word of the Lord, for others it could just be an emotional release and reflection time.”
What does it say that belief in God might be experiencing a decrease for Black churches, but membership is constant and in some cases even increasing? To me it says that the actual robust culture of church attending and the subsequent community built around it is becoming more important to some of us than what it is there for, worship. The church is giving members an experience so rich they feel that they cannot substitute it anywhere else or that they succumb to social pressures of still showing up despite their belief.
It seemed that the participants had a positive understanding of those factors, overall they maintained this non-judgmental view of non-belief, with the youngest one seeing secularism as the least negative and the oldest two still being accepting of a sense of spiritualism. The middle participant said, “To me the premise of becoming spiritual is like ice becoming water.” This transition from organized religion to spirituality is something on the rise all over the US, but especially by those in the Black community looking for connections to their roots.
My question began to become less of ‘why aren’t Blacks as pulled to secularism?’ and more of ‘what is the Black church doing that the Black secular community isn’t’? How do we create these spaces for those nonbelievers who are still part of our family & our Black experience? In an article for pathos.com, Peter Mosley uses data to analyze these racial discrepancies and states,
“Atheist movements (and White churches, for that matter) tend to talk about how much they NEED black people... White atheists seem obsessed about showing black people that White atheists need/honor/appreciate black people.” From what I have experienced from knowing secular communities this rings true, they are very open and welcoming to all different sorts of people."
Mosley continues on to say
“Seldom do [white atheists] seem to ask the question of whether black people have reason to need/honor/appreciate White atheists... They are not holding a candle to the black church.”
Can I get an AMEN!? It's also because we know we don't need to honor/appreciate white atheists. This also rings true and the history of the Black community with the church (especially in associating it with civil rights progress) is not something that can just be emulated or substituted by modern-day free thought (although free thought did play a role in lesser-known Black nationalist movements).
As I would have expected all three women did not express the need to enforce their religious views onto others, but had grown up in environments in which other people had pushed views onto them (with the youngest one having the most expressed freedom and acceptance from those around her).
The culture of church attendance and community is becoming more important to our community than the staunch and unyielding religiosity of yesteryear that says, “I need Jesus, You need Jesus, the world needs Jesus”. It may seem counterintuitive but this is, in fact, a very Christian approach, to quote from Romans 14:1, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.” The gospel these women were preaching was one of live and let live, a notion that did not seem to sway their beliefs or Christian values, but in a way it served to reinforce them.
For me, I take it upon myself to be the change I want to see in the world, which means speaking out more about what being a nonbeliever has done for me & my worldview. I derive so much of my activism and line of thinking from the thought that maybe right now is 'all there is', so I want to make everyone's 'all there is' a worthwhile one, without making a promise I am unsure of. Being a nonbeliever has to do with not having the answers, admitting that you don't, and living in curiosity in order to seek those answers out. Much like the women I interviewed, this reflection on my own secularism has reinforced my personal values & I am grateful for that. In the meantime I'll work on speaking out more and developing the most beautiful of aesthetics to back my worldview, an aesthetic that is not only hella Black & hella secular, but quintessentially me. I hope that looking at these times ahead we can all work across the various identity-based barriers that separate us on a daily basis to make a just world 'all there is'.
Cited Belgraves Reading:
Belgrave, Faye Z., and Kevin W. Allison. "Chapter 10 - Religion and Spirituality." African American Psychology: From Africa to America. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2014. N. pag. Print.
Gorham, Candace R. M. The Ebony Exodus Project: Why Some Black Women Are Walking out on Religion--and Others Should Too. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print. 2013.
BY EMILY EAGLIN
DISCLAIMER: A lot of positive, productive, fun things happened at yesterday's demonstrations worldwide! :) This is not an article about those things. Y'all know me better.
This is a message from me to my fellow cis-sisters in response to the Women's March yesterday. Please put your freshly knit pink pussy hats down and take a seat, we need to talk.
Y'all know better.
Y'all know better than to equate vagina having people to women. Y'all know better than to refuse to take intersectional approaches to this movement. I don't know if you were too busy catching up on the latest Season of HBO's Girls to realize this, but 2nd wave feminism has come, its time has gone. I'd like to think that we are on the 3rd wave, and hell, some of us are certainly on the 4th.
Now obviously when I say "y'all" I do not mean "all of y'all", but y'all know who y'all are.
BUT! ME!? I'M A "GOOD" CIS ALLY, MY BEST FRIENDS ARE NON-BINARY :'(
It's so difficult for ciswomen to see through our bubbles of privilege I don't even know how we can call ourselves allies, especially when we make a women's march about a vag-of-honor & hold up the signs that we did at yesterday's march. There's no way we could ever act like we understand the constant threats of violence & ignorance waged against trans/non-binary people everyday, so much so that there's likely no such thing as a good cis ally. Fellow cisters, if yesterday was any indicator, we all have hella work to do, on various fronts.
After the "successes" of yesterday's march in the eyes of the media (and the fascist in chief himself?) I found myself asking if women as a whole would have to sacrifice POC intersectionality and trans-inclusionism for this movement to "make it" somewhere or to be "accepted". Why would women of color and/or non-cis women ever agree to this deal? We're asked to move to the back of the parade time and time again.
And so much of it really is in the language you guys stay using. Maybe you were too busy watching re-runs of Inside Amy Schumer to brush up on inclusive language, but not only is trans-exclusionary language objectively incorrect, it's dangerous. We live in a world where transwomen of color face statistically probable violence/discrimination, a world where even Black Rights Activists wont include them in a greater narrative.
VIOLENCE AGAINST BLACK WOMEN? VIOLENCE AGAINST TRANSWOMEN? THE PROTEST WAS PEACEFUL!
Okay, and if you think for one second the police would have responded peacefully if the crowd had looked any other way y'all got me effed up.
NOW IF WE'RE TALKING ABOUT A WOMEN'S MARCH, WHY ARE YOU BRINGING UP OTHER PARTS OF IDENTITY?
Racism cannot be ended until sexism is, for more on this topic please see Bell Hooks' Killing Rage (maybe when you finish up that Taylor Swift album you could think about purchasing this book? Probably not). Going along the same line of thinking I highly doubt that the fight against Donald Trump's brand of Pussy-Grabbing Misogyny™ will be won by trans-exclusive ciswomen who don't understand that not every woman has a pussy to grab (and not everyone that does have one is a woman). Hence, y'all's gender essentialism is really ruining it for the rest of us.
This is truly it! (Check out Jamie's Blog: https://medium.com/@jamiegalexander)
I GET IT I'M PROBLEMATIC AF, BUT WHAT CAN I DO TO DRAW ATTENTION TO WOMEN'S ISSUES?
Step up your definition of what being a woman is. Here are some helpful, simple steps for ciswomen (especially white women) out there who genuinely want to do better (but will you?):
When it comes down to it, a lot of y'all are simply not saying what you mean & not realizing that this conflating of rhetoric is putting others directly in harm's way. One thing, before you put that pink pussy hat back on, if y'all are patting yourselves on the back for a day of "non-violent protests" after using the same demonstration strategies as BLM activists but without similar police involvement, give that pat & that hat back to white supremacy. Y'all got more to work on than I can even begin to articulate.
Source: (@AmirTalai) https://twitter.com/AmirTalai
BY EMILY EAGLIN
DISCLAIMER: I am a filmmaker who frequented the Bell & am speaking from this perspective. This is my story of the Bell & of my campaign, it is a reflective piece for healing & moving forward. It does not necessarily reflect the experiences and feelings of everyone involved with this space & is just one story.
On a Saturday night in Baltimore, I am partying with my friends, falling in love with a community, & working the door at an event. I can dance without judgement, I can eat freshly made pizza, & I could be amongst other queer identified POC & creatives, activists, loved ones, amongst the underground. This night and nights like it seemed too good to be true. I'm unable to describe the fun and the laughs--it was much like the dance parties I'd have with my family at a young age. Free of judgement & amongst those I consider to be "my people". Good times experienced in a place of power & safety.
The following Monday morning they shut the venue down. Though Bell meant something of paramount importance to me, my mind was not with myself, but with the artists, activists, and others who could not access their belongings, studios, or even their pets. They were given an hour to vacate (many even less). I sat on my phone (getting ready to go to a class) in absolute horror as they were denied decency & humanity in this eviction.
The past two weeks have taught me so much. I admittedly stayed sad & hopeless for half an hour. I found myself outside of city limits and feeling unable to do anything at all. But then it hit me, I hadn't been 'activisting' all this time for nothing, it was time to put my indie filmmaker skills & protest training to the test. I contacted a friend, Qué Pequeño, at the Bell & immediately got to working on an urgent GoFundMe page & call-to-action before I got to class. Not knowing if we would hit our goal of $5000 within the next week, or even month, if people had my friends futures on their minds, or if my efforts were pointless--I went to class.
By the time I got out of class we had surpassed our goal, with certain artists donating up to $2000! Realizing that I had so effortlessly fallen into the grips of the myth that one woman can't make a difference I felt a mix of shame, pride, guilt, hope, love, & basically everything else. I underestimated my power & how much our community, and the world for that matter, cared about (as well as who's lives the Bell Foundry touched). Our campaign garnered the support of some of my favorite musicians and artists of all time: Abdu Ali, Future Islands, Lower Dens, Tegan & Sara, Al Rogers Jr., Dan Deacon, DDM, & more.
You Know TF Where & Me
My partner in crime on the campaign was mainly Qué. He made You Know TF Where what it was in its ability to be anonymously lit, a place for POC, & simultaneously found by those who needed it most. On this & our campaign he had this to say:
I'd personally like to thank everyone who has so far donated to the GoFundMe. This clearly shows the support people have for DIY urban spaces that marginalized groups can find refuge in. To condemn the Bell Foundry is to condemn the spirit of those who thrive despite being underrepresented, but they can't break our spirits. (Qué Pequeño)
Qué Pequeño (Photographed by Audrey Gatewood)
A Thank You
In addition to all of you who donated to our campaign, the credit of its success (in my eyes) goes to the artists, activists, creatives, and bad asses who made the Bell the space it was. I want to thank the Bell for doing everything from throwing the most lit of parties, to showing my films, to being a resource for volunteer jail support, to being a refuge for those in the trans and non-binary community. Many of these stories are still untold & though the Bell is being hailed as Baltimore's underground hub for DIY culture, its activism should not be forgotten. And while I suppose it's rare to see the masses show up for places like Baltimore's Bell (or Denver's Rhinoceropolis), to date, this is how my GoFundMe dash looks:
That's right, we've raised over 20k (and counting). And while fighting back with our pockets is extremely important, we must not forget about this deliberate act of violence on the part of the city. We creative/queer/DIY/Black/Brown/unheard artists/activists need our own spaces in a city like Baltimore & officials shutting down the Bell in the cold of Winter (versus other 'privileged' warehouse spaces under similar conditions in Station North) serves as a direct attack on our community.
SIDE NOTE: I also want to thank all the legal representatives who have reached out to me and offered their help in fighting back. I want to thank everyone who had a part in Tuesday Night's Benefit at the Metro Gallery (which raised $2000), shouts out to Kahlon & DDM for hosting it.
(Check out my archive of Bell Foundry pics, that I projected at this event, here)
I promise that this is not the last you will see of me & my fundraising/organizing efforts. And I'd like you to promise me your continued investment in the fate of these Bell Foundry Evictees. As the press moves away from these issues, we need to move towards solutions. More privileged warehouse spaces with similar (or even more plentiful) code violations will continue to exist in Baltimore, the city has promised us that the Bell will not. In these targeted instances a prime motive is to split communities up, dispersing, displacing, further gentrifying--it all serves the city at the end of the day, not the people.
The Bell Foundry, and spaces like it, made Station North the Arts District that it is. And Station North gets to keep this name in its shadow. New fancy restaurants that artists, like myself, can't afford to eat at will continue to pop-up and pour salt into these fresh, open wounds. Promise that you won't forget these times, when prices were driven up & creatives were driven out. I promise I won't & I promise to keep fighting back once the city's investigations lead to the conclusion that this raid was "justified", "lawful", "untarnished". I promise to keep making films that address these issues. I promise to keep turning up in the faces of those who want to see us fail.
More than anything I promise you to keep the spirit, love, and art created at the Bell alive. And there's no amount of fighting back that can beat the Bell still living within all of us. All those involved with my campaign and the Bell will continue to make art, to be there as a resource for anyone marginalized by the system, and to fight back by living! This living lives on in the weekly meetings had about the Bell. This living lives on in the countless friends willing to lend a hand to those without studio space. This living lives on in parties & events (such as Water, 12/17/2016) that were scheduled to be at the Bell & now are planned for the near future.
If you donated, but (IRL) do not take an active role in supporting spaces of power for artists & venues like the Bell existing, existing safely, and with the ability to profit powerfully (like they have the potential to do). We will start seeing these spaces dissappear. Warehouse culture is underground culture. As much as you may glamorize this DIY scene be warned: they always come for the underground first. With a new administration coming into power that is rooted in hatred & fear, we do not have the time for y'all to be passively supportive. This passiveness also comes into play in underestimating yourself, your power, and your influence, as I almost idiotically did.
I created the campaign as a broke film student who was starting to feel hella helpless in the wake of these events. At the end of the day I just wanted to help out my friends & all the amazing artists at the Bell that I admire and love. The helplessness lasted for about an hour on that Monday and then I knew it was time to get to work. I had lots of success on GoFundMe with funding my films in the past & I figured I would give it a shot. Nows the time to ask: what do you have in your aresnal? I'm writing this article not only for healing, but for anyone out there who might make the same mistake I did. I questioned whether it would even be worth it to create this campaign, I even hit up my friends and asked if it was worth doing. For anyone out there who sees an issue & questions if their help would make the difference; now is not the time to think twice. Now is the time to know.
Myself alongside local musician/organizer/friend Abdu Ali (Photographed by Audrey Gatewood)
SYNOPSIS: A precocious six-year-old switches places with her young mother for a day to discover the true meaning of working twice as hard for half as much.
BY EMILY EAGLIN
A few weeks ago I was presented with the chance to speak about Feminism by MTVU. The segment of Take Note was entitled "5 Ways to Encourage Feminism on Campus". In filming my 'definition of feminism' I not only was able to happily vent to college campuses all across this nation, but I also was able to surprisingly vocalize an original, more personal, brand of feminism/womanism.
Aux Cord Feminism ™.
You can watch the MTVU video here.
This brand of feminism makes moves in addressing the uprising of this blatantly sexist, art-based, exclusion and is also applicable in non-musical arts (see here). This is not only an issue in music but it's a plague in the rap & hip hop community, in example how many women did we see in 2016's Freshman XXL Class? Mmhm. Men stay not wanting to acknowledge women artists/rappers for the fear of what? Being perceived as effeminate or emasculated?
Myths. All of them.
So where does this lack of taste, socialization, and all-around decency come from? In the past, women were at the top of Hip Hop (y'all have a short memory span). I'd argue that, artistry-wise especially, we still technically are. We could easily attribute this to modern day fragile masculinity, but I also think it's become just a norm and a habit. I find that at a lot of parties guys try to use the excuse of "I don't know any female rappers". If you want to join up with the league of aux cord feminists, be prepared to hear this excuse first. Since we can rely on these aux cord bros not doing their research it is upon us to do ours, be fully at the ready, and even introduce them to non-male identifying alternatives (they'll likely dig)! So, y'all better have your female/non-binary/non-gender conforming/non-male identifying artists at the READ·Y for that Spotify play queue.
(See soundcloud links below).
One night, a particular aux cord DJ had the audacity to only bump the dick jams at my own house, when I kindly asked him to play some non-male artists he, of course waited for me to leave, then told everyone I was "sexist" for it. Truly, I had to, and did, pull the plug & hack the bluetooth signal of a nearby speaker and blast him out (yes, this is something that you can do). I got the aux cord justice that I saw fit. And the issue isn't just that they won't play non-male artists, it's that they refuse to acknowledge the existence of anyone else in the game.
Sure, you might be seen as a radical feminist "kill joy" in the moment, but it's worth assessing who's joy you're killing. What you're asking for is nothing extreme and nothing radical. There are just so many everyday instances where an egalitarian approach is needed & spaces where women are intentionally left out, aux cords are one of these spaces (in my opinion). The industry might be rigged but let's not let it trickle all the way down to our house parties, birthday gatherings, wedding receptions, etc. We, the consumer, have a say in the matter and the power to stop it. Regardless of gender identity we need to all stand together and fight this. If you're personally heartbroken by this article (because all the musicians you like just happen to be male) ponder this: If you think women aren't worth being on your playlists, why should we think to show up to your parties at all?
The destruction of aux cord sexism requires us to not let fragile masculinity ruin a party. I get that it might not be comfortable for mosts, but what's worse is letting these wanna be MC's feel comfortable enough with even thinking to not include us. Call them out. Make requests.
And if you gotta, pull the plug.
"Do not let them get away with making the Aux Cord a Boys Club."
XXL 2016 Freshman Class