Coming Out

Coming out is not a singular ‘ah ha’ moment where you realised that you desire queer bodies but an ongoing awareness and acceptance of that attraction.

I wanted Nancy to like me so badly. I liked her handwriting, I liked the way she smelled. She always had the best snacks at breaktime, which she graciously shared with me. I loved to touch her skin, and she had the prettiest hair in the entire stream. She had deep dimples and I loved telling her jokes just so I could see them when she laughed. She had a weird tooth that she was ashamed of and would hide it in public but never when we were together. [I found it charming] She would invite me for sleepovers and would always sleep in the same bed. Long after she had fallen asleep I would lay next to her but never touching, acutely aware of her warm body. I would wonder how it would be if I put my arm around her and held her as she slept. I never did though, because even at a young age I was perceptive enough to know what would happen if I broke ‘the rules’.

As we grew older, our tastes did not align. She went through puberty and the boys did not hide their attraction. This inspired unbearable feelings of jealousy and I would throw tantrums whenever I saw her giggling with them, tantrums neither of us understood. These did not get any better once she started ‘going steady’ with a boy from whom I could not hide my disdain for. She got fed up and we got into a horrible argument witnessed by all our friends. He backed her up and got the forming crowd riled up…after a while the chants of ‘lezzo’ filled my ears and I began to cry, which only led to more jeering. She did not say anything, whether she couldn’t or wouldn’t I don’t know. Maybe it was both. I was 12.

Oddly enough it never stuck enough to be a long-lasting nickname, but I never forgot and I never ever forgave.

Being a millennial growing up in a privileged home with internet access exposed me to pornographic material sooner rather than later. Initially the internet was a rude shock, bombarding my adolescent mind with an unfiltered array of images — a case of beginners folly as I would simply type in ‘porn’ and peruse the first few links. After a while I honed in on my preferences and proceeded to scrimp and save and steal just to buy airtime for dial up to indulge the powerful urges I had. I would end up watching videos from sites with confusing underlying messages … sites that claimed to expose men who were ‘tricked’ by hauntingly beautiful Amazonian women — the trick being that they were trans — but would still have sex with the women anyway if they promised to be silent about it … of lesbians going to shopping malls, parks and other public places, picking up straight women and fucking them all afternoon only to send them back to their boyfriends in disgrace or with a condescending ‘you’ll be back’… there was always some sneakiness or deviant behaviour involved in non-heterosexual sex. Already the act of watching pornography was taboo by normal standards but I already knew that my tastes would raise a few eyebrows.

I printed out mages of my favourite moments and kept them under my bed at home. I would lay awake looking at those pics, black and white on paper but in full colour in my brain. I fabricated backstories for the women in my head, turned them from trickster to something more complex, gave them names, lives. Ii breathed life into them and in turn gave myself life, but only behind my locked bedroom door.

I managed to avoid suspicion [to the best of my knowledge] in high school, I denied it and learned early on how to play the role that was expected. I was an avid participant in the conversations over which man was attractive and which one wasn’t. Thankfully we did not have communal showers as I’d heard of in other schools, so that was an uncomfortable bridge I never had to cross.

I was friends with a few girls who were suspected of being queer but never in that way. I knew of their midnight trysts and mid term misadventures but not as a participant but from the grapevine like everyone else. I felt pangs of longing, of wanting to be included and of wanting the same for myself. When I didn’t feel any sort of special tingling after surveying the 500 plus girls in our school I told myself it was all just a phase. I read about the evils of pornography in chicken soup for the teenage soul and decided that that was what was leading me astray. I went to the chapel to pray for forgiveness and to try to find God but I ended up masturbating instead.

I distanced myself and didn’t say anything when ‘those girls’ were taken to the principal’s office to be ‘spoken to’. No one asked me what I thought and I did not give any opinion on it. I am still embarrassed when I think of them.

Mina was the first girl I kissed. After a bad breakup I was at a party trying to lift my mood but failing miserably. She told me to stop being foolish, told me how beautiful I was and basically cheered me up. In the middle of laughing at one of her jokes she pulled me close and kissed me on the lips.

I froze, terrified of what was to happen next. And then suddenly I wasn’t. It all came to me like second nature. In that moment I wasn’t afraid, I wasn’t carrying a giant rock on my neck, I was giddy and thrilled and every sense was magnified. We talked every day for a few weeks, and soon I fell in love with her. One day when I was picking out a gift for her she sent me a message saying that she was now in a relationship with another man, saying it had nothing to do with my feelings for her and that she hoped it wouldn’t change our friendship.

She remains to date the only girl I have ever kissed while sober.

Remembering the years between high school and finally coming out is painful. I am not proud of the ways I both sought out and denied myself intimacy. I know it now as internalised queerphobia but back then I had no language for it.

I was always opposed to the idea of girls nights out, due to the likelihood that someone would very likely suggest a game of truth or dare. The thought of someone half drunkenly admitting to never having kissed a girl filled me with dread because of the likely scenarios that would arise. Sometimes it was the bolder [or drunker, depending on how you look at it] of the group who would also admit the same and they would experiment together, other times it was the girls who had experimented when they were younger who stepped up to the plate. I hated both types of women. I wanted to volunteer as well, to take that step but I  didn’t trust my suppressed feelings… in my worst moments of anxiety I imagined myself unable to stop, that several years of suppressed angst would turn me into a rapist. I resented the experienced girls because they had a confidence I never knew as an adolescent girl. I hated myself for having these feelings and would dig my nails into my palms and try not to pass out in fear. After a while, I cut off ties and avoided girls nights as much as I could.

I instead turned my focus to men, seeking the intimacy and touch I had denied myself from the women I really wanted. I would go out almost every weekend [and then every night] looking to hook up with…really whoever. I was quick to initiate sex and had no qualms about ‘body count’ or ‘soul ties’ or all that bullshit. To my enemies I was a slut, and to my friends, well probably they thought the same, but I seemed sexually liberated and [said I] practised safe sex. I wasn’t, and I didn’t care. I’d always close my eyes during sex, insisted he never say a word and leave my body behind to be assaulted by irrythmic pounding. My favourite position was doggystyle mostly because I’d be able to put my head in a pillow and tune him out. I would go through my mental slideshow picking scenes either from my own few chance encounters or my vast memory bank of erotic clips. I’d had several years experience of this and I’d climax more often than not. Every single one of my relationships with men has been formulated on this lie.

My ‘final coming out’ wasn’t an event, but a wearing down. I was exhausted from effort it took to maintain this facade. Even despite seeming like an extroverted vivacious person I was miserable and frustrated. I wanted so desperately to experience life freely and stop hiding my real self behind alcohol and substance abuse.

So I told myself every day who I was. I would stand in a mirror and tell myself I was queer. At first, I cried and tried to break the mirror like a dramatic pop star. Eventually the tears stopped flowing and I did it with pride. I stopped pretending not to look when a woman passed by. I joined Tinder, then left it, then joined it again. I wrote erotica and stopped changing the characters to ‘he’. I have female friends. We go for girls nights at least once a month. I wish there were more. Sometimes we have sleepovers, and I get to be the inner spoon.

At first, I believed accepting these hard truths to myself would be the end of that. I was not prepared for the great amount of panic that often comes, when I am convinced I’m going to ‘go back to being straight’. I sometimes feel like an impostor, unable to reach out to fellow members of the LGBQTI community.  I came out when I was involved with a cishet male partner [for real this time] I love him deeply and I am sure he feels the same. Does that make me lose some sort of queer credibility? I know I’m interested in women, but which ones? Are the ones I pursue or picture in my head as ‘ideal partners’ projections of myself or who I really want?

But there is no happily ever after, I have not yet ridden off into the sunset with my queer partner, I do not even KNOW if I want to ride off into said sunset. I’m not sure if I’m going to fall in gay love and get gay married and take gay vacations. What I do know is that I am learning about myself, meeting a version of myself that even I don’t know, and that’s the person I’m most excited about falling in love with.

The Decolonisation Project

Decolonisation! A term I got acquainted with when I first commenced my studies at the University of Cape Town. It’s rather a peculiar term that I had never heard before and I must say, I was confused at first about its meaning or significance. How do you undo something that has already manifested itself?

My idea of colonialism stemmed from the vague education system I received in high school. The chronological events of colonialism: the Berlin West African conference, the partitioning of Africa, the arrival of missionaries and the colonial administration systems. Therefore, with such a layman’s understanding of colonialism one that emphasized the course while neglecting the cause, the consequences, implications and effects I really wondered what people meant when they spoke of decolonisation. Did it mean we ought to reverse the whole colonial process? As in go back to Berlin and redraw the borders and build ships and take back all the descendants of the white man? Take back all they stole from the hinterland? It sounded rather unrealistic for me.

There ought to have been more to this, perhaps I was missing out on something and was oblivious to a more conscious understanding of what colonisation was exactly and its implications.

Exploring the concept of Colonialism

Have you ever heard of the poem “the white man’s burden”? This is a poem which grasps on the idea that the white man was burdened with the task of trying to civilise the dark continent of ‘savages’. That is what they called us. To them, civilisation involved causing a paradigm shift in the mentality of the natives. It was a doctrine that regarded the natives lost souls in dire need of redemption, education and a new language. One wonders what was to be left for the natives to take pride in.

Therefore colonialism primarily involved addressing the mind of the native in a way that would lead to a people with an inferiority complex. A people who might unconsciously disdain their uniqueness, colour, customs, culture and heritage, discarding it for the culture of the white man.

Another important aspect of colonialism was the issue of divide and rule. It all started from the macro level by dividing territory without the consent of the ethnic tribes. This proved to be problematic for it meant imposing unity among different tribes and perhaps separating tribes without any consultation with those tribes. On the micro scale, this division entailed enticing enmity among the natives, tampering with and undermining their existing customs and elevating the ‘good boys’ at the expense of the traditional chiefs which resulted in tension between the former and latter.  

Then, the most apparent aspect of colonialism was the extraction of Africa’s raw materials, which further boosted the economies of the metropolitan states of the colonisers while impeding Africa’s growth.

Therefore what does decolonisation entail?

If we are to address the issue of decolonisation pragmatically, in a way that does not make it ambiguous and cause confusion like it did for me when I first heard of it, we ought to begin by addressing the key elements listed above. This means for the purpose the article, trying to achieve decolonisation first entails deconstructing the mind-set and mentality of Africans. Dispositioning them from a state of inferiority to one of self-pride.

Decolonisation also entails promoting the ideology of unity and Pan Africanism. This might assist in fixing our continent which is deeply entrenched in intra conflict within states of which Politics, ethnicity and religion remain the genesis of the conflict. Decolonisation also means addressing the major problem of Africa’s resources which seem to benefit external players. We dwell in a neo colonial system that has found inconspicuous means of continuing to suck out Africa’s wealth while disguising itself as the functional global economy.

Well, is the Decolonisation Project Practical, Viable and Possible?

  • Knowledge is Power.  Addressing the mentality of the African people will take a great amount of effort on both the people instilling this knowledge and the people receiving it. With the education system pervasive in Africa, one that emphasizes primarily on making people potential job candidates, we might not reach the level we want as a continent. We need to incorporate elements in our education system where we expose students to different narratives of African literature, ones that are also intellectual and not primarily academic. Ones that do not enforce a white supremacist doctrine.  

    Now, we are forced to depart formal education with the mentality that civilization and modernisation is western and affiliated to whiteness, neglecting the fact that Africans and black people have made major contributions to the world’s modernity. So what we need is an education system that exposes the detrimental effects of colonialism and its impact today, while promoting a culture of breeding think tanks and problem solvers with solutions on how to fix the problem. Only then can we envisage the decolonisation Project’s success.
  • The problem of Unity. Unfortunately, we have not excelled on the topic of unity and we might not have taken any steps in this journey of a thousand miles.  This is linked to the previous point as our education system can also endorse the agenda of uniting and appreciating each other as Africans in our distinctiveness.
    I am also convinced that unity should not be a concept that is only ideological but should carry practicality in it. If Africa does not promote a culture of interaction between states, through regionalisation, trading and more multilateral and bilateral relations we will always remain a delusional continent. This notion stems from the neo liberal school of thought and the ‘prisoner dilemma’ notion that states are likely to cooperate together when there are institutions that promote practical interactions and trade among them. I was impressed by the recent development as there might be an introduction of the African passport. However, its implementation remains in question.
  • Thwarting Neo-Colonialism. Today,  Africa remains a continent that boasts of its mineral wealth but shies away from the fact that it remains an impoverished continent up to date This is the incongruent nature of Africa’s current affairs. Many will blame the international system for continuing to undermine Africa’s potential however I must state that the endurance of the enemy’s oppression is partly determined by our tolerance and acquiescence. The main problem remains political. Africa suffers from the cancer of unscrupulous leaders, who enrich themselves at the expense of the economies of their respective countries while serving the interests of the western and eastern giants hungry for Africa’s goodies. Therefore decolonisation in this regard will depend on the willingness of the leaders to prioritise national goals and the national and African vision above their self-interests.

Decolonisation

My next article will carry the same theme as I analyse the African Union’s contribution to the decolonisation Project.

 

Representation Matters – Part 2 : Whitewashing & Racebending

Racebending is a term used to describe a process where a character’s perceived race or ethnicity is changed in a narrative by an adapter as it is created in a new media form. Racebending also takes the name of Whitewashing when  white actors and actresses are chosen to play characters of  people of color, sometimes using make up to make them look black , asian, non -white latinos, south asian etc.  (this very offensive practice is  known as blackface , yellowface or brownface).

WHITEWASHING

One of the most recent  and criticized examples of whitewashing in Hollywood, is the movie Exodus directed by Ridley Scott. This movie is a super production that tells the biblical story of Moses and Ramses, and the flight of the Hebrews from Egypt. Despite the fact that the characters are supposed to be inhabitants of ancient Egypt and Hebrews, the main characters are played by white  actors and actresses , relaying actors of colors to secondary roles.

Exodus-Gods-and-Kings-Scene
Exodus: Gods and Kings

Another example of shameless whitewashing is the movie Stonewall, released in 2015. This movie tells the story of the Stonewall riots, considered as the starting point of the fight for LGBT rights in the USA. Those identified as being at the origins of those riots are Marsha P. Johnson, an African American trans woman and Sylvia Riviera, a trans  woman of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan origin, both Drag Queens and activists of  the gay and transsexual movement. In the movie they are replaced by the fictional character of a young white man. Here, the whitewashing falsifies history and invisbilizes the contribution of LGBT people of color in the fight for their rights,  and all of this in a society where LGBT people of color are already quite invisibilized.

In France we have the example of the movie « L’autre Dumas » released in 2010, which tells the life of the writer Alexandre Dumas, author of the famous novel « The Three Musketeers ». It’s the french actor Gérard Depardieu who was chosen to play this character.
Why is this whitewashing so insulting? Let me explain it to you : in France the History of black people is completely invisibilized, our contributions to this country and our historic role in its construction are ignored. As  author Leonora Miano writes in her book Tels des astres éteints,  “we have not been entered into the family tree of France.”

A black child attending school in France will not only learn nothing  about the important black  historical figures of France (Le Chevalier de Saint Georges, Toussaint Louverture, Alexandre Dumas, Félix Eboué etc.), but is rather likely to come across teachers who will tell him/her  that colonization did have positive effects or  that the « black code » was created to protect slaves.
Alexandre Dumas was a mixed race man  with light skin, which is obvious in the portraits that represent him. So why using Gerard Depardieu to play his role ? Following the controversy that followed the movie, some people responded  : « Alexandre Dumas is not black, he is French  ». I can not help but smile, noting once again that France loves to acknowledge its people of color only when it’s convenient, while the rest of the time this people are ostracized from this nationality and are reminded every day that they are not French enough and never will be. Alexandre Dumas was French AND black, and I doubt that his ethnic origins would have been a small detail in his life given the era in which he lived and the social environments he was part of. Furthermore, if race is of so little importance in the representation of historical figures, I look forward to seeing the actor Omar Sy playing the role of Louis XIV -the sun king,  and  the actress Aissa Maiga playing the role of Marie Antoinette. We all  know very well that this will never happen.

depardieu_dumas_illustre_4
Gerard Depardieu as Alexandre Dumas

RACEBENDING

Racebending also involves using people of color to play  characters perceived as white, in order to address the lack of diversity in movies and series. Obviously this does not please everyone as recently demonstrated by the controversy surrounding the possibility that the actor Idris Elba could play the role of James Bond. The role of James Bond is not in itself limited by race because his main characteristic is being a subject of the Queen , which means that any British actor could play this role. However,  it is clear that seeing famous characters being embodied on the screen by people of color, irritates many people. This also comes from the fact that the characters are by default considered to be white, even when nothing specifies it; so  white actors and actresses are by  default chosen to play these characters.
Recently a black actress was chosen to play the role of Hermione in a live stage adaptation of Harry Potter. This choice has raised many negative reactions, until the author JK Rowling herself tweeted this: « Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever.White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione. »  Indeed nothing in the book specifies that Hermione is a white girl.

Fan art. Black Hermione
Fan art. Black Hermione

Between blatant whitewashing and controversy caused by the choice of actors and actresses of color to portray characters perceived as white. People of color have found the solution: to write their own narratives and go behind the camera. There are many initiatives in that direction  and not surprisingly, a big part of them are taking place on the internet. We will discuss this topic in the third and final part of this article.

LINKS

Quand le cinéma français blanchit Alexandre Dumas

ReThink Review — Exodus: Gods and Kings — Whitewashing Gets Biblically Bizarre

10 Times White Actors Played People Of Color

 

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FRENCH TRANSLATION BELOW

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Le Racebending est un terme utilisé pour décrire un processus où la race ou l’origine ethnique perçue d’un personnage est modifié dans un récit lorsqu’il est adapté dans une nouvelle forme de médias.Le racebending prend aussi le nom de Whitewashing (blanchissage) lorsque des acteurs et actrices blanches sont utilisé.e.s pour jouer des personnages de couleurs, parfois en les grimant (cette pratique très offensante prend le nom de blackface, yellowface, brownface en fonction de l’origine ethnique censée être représentée).

WHITEWASHING

L’un des exemples les plus récents, les plus flagrants et les plus critiqués de whitewashing á Hollywood concerne le film Exodus réalisé par Ridley Scott. Ce film est une super production qui raconte l’histoire biblique de Moise et Ramsès, et la fuite des hébreux d’Égypte. Malgré le fait que les personnages soient supposés être des habitants de l’’Egypte antique et des hébreux, les personnages principaux sont incarnés par des acteurs et actrices blanches, relayant les acteurs de couleurs aux rôles secondaires et á la figuration.

Exodus-Gods-and-Kings-Scene
Film Exodus : Gods and Kings

Un autre exemple de whitewashing éhonté est le fim Stonewall sorti en 2015. Ce film retrace les émeutes de Stonewall, considérées comme le point de départ de la lutte pour les droits des personnes LGBT aux Etats Unis. Les personnes identifiées comme étant á l’origine de ces émeutes sont Marsha P. Jonhson d’origine afro américaine  et Sylvia Riviera d’origine portoricaine et vénézuélienne, toutes deux Drag Queens et activistes du mouvement gay et transexuel. Dans le film ces deux personnes sont remplacées un personnage fictif de jeune homme blanc. Ici,le whitewashing sert á une falsification de l’histoire, en contribuant á l’invisibilisation de l’apport des personnes racisées au mouvement LGBT, et ce dans une société ou les personnes LGBT de couleur sont déjà assez invisibilisées.

En France nous avons eu l’exemple du film L’autre Dumas sorti en 2010, retraçant  la vie de l’écrivain Alexandre Dumas, auteur du célèbre roman « Les trois mousquetaires », et qui a été incarné á l’écran par l’acteur Gérard Depardieu.

Pourquoi ce whitewashing est-il si insultant ? Commençons par le commencement : en France l’Histoire des noir.e.s est totalement occultée, nos apports á ce pays et notre rôle historique dans sa construction sont passés sous silence. Comme l’explique l’auteure Leonara miano dans son livre Tels des astres éteints, nous avons n’avons pas été entrés dans l’arbre généalogique de la France . Un enfant noir allant à l’école en France non seulement n’apprendra rien sur les grands personnages historiques noirs de France (Le Chevalier de Saint Georges, Toussaint Louverture, Alexandre Dumas, Félix Eboué etc. ), mais est plutôt susceptible de tomber sur des professeurs qui lui diront que la colonisation a quand même eu des effets positifs ou que le code noir a été créer pour protéger les esclaves.

Alexandre Dumas était un métis à la peau claire, ce qui se voir très clairement dans les portraits qui le représentent. Alors pourquoi utiliser Gerard Depardieu pour l’incarner ? Suite à la polémique qui a suivi la diffusion du film, certains ont répondu : « Alexandre Dumas n’est pas noir il est français’’.  Je ne peux m’empêcher de sourire en remarquant encore une fois qu’on adore franciser les personnes racisées  lorsque c’est convenant, tandis que le reste du temps ces personnes sont ostracisées de cette sacro-sainte nationalité et qu’on adore leur rappeler qu’ils ne sont pas assez français et qu’ils ne le seront jamais . Alexandre Dumas était français ET noir, et  je doute que ses origines ethniques n’aient été qu’un détail dans sa vie compte tenu de l’époque à laquelle il vivait et des milieux qu’ils fréquentaient. De plus, si la race a tellement peu d’importance dans la représentation des personnages historiques, j’attends avec impatience de voir Omar sy dans le rôle du Roi soleil et Aissa Maiga dans le rôle de Marie Antoinette. Nous savons très bien que ça n’arrivera jamais.

depardieu_dumas_illustre_4
Gerard Depardieu as Alexandre Dumas

RACEBENDING

Le Racebending consiste également à  utiliser des personnes de couleur pour jouer les rôles de personnages perçus comme blancs, pour faire face au manque de diversité dans les films et les séries. Bien évidemment cela ne plait pas à tout le monde comme l’a montré récemment la polémique autour de la possibilité que l’acteur Idriss Elba joue le rôle de James Bond. Le rôle de James Bond n’est pas en soi limité par sa race car il est supposé être un sujet de la reine, ce qui suppose que n’importe quel acteur britannique pourrait jouer ce rôle. Mais il est clair que voir des personnages célèbres incarnés à l’écran par des personnes racisées irrite beaucoup de gens. Cela vient aussi du fait que les personnages sont par défaut considérés comme blancs, même si rien ne le précise; des acteurs et actrices blanches sont donc par défaut utiliser pour jouer ces personnages.

Récemment une actrice noire a été choisie pour jouer le rôle d’Hermione dans une adaptation théâtrale du live Harry Potter. Ce choix a soulevé de nombreuses réactions négatives, jusqu’à ce que l’auteure JK rowling tweet elle-même ceci : « Canon : les yeux marrons, les cheveux frisés et très intelligente. La peau blanche n’a jamais été précisée. JK Rowling adore la Hermione noire« . En effet rien dans le livre ne précise qu’Hermione est une jeune fille blanche.

Fan art. Black Hermione
Fan art. Black Hermione

Entre whitewashing flagrant et vives polémiques causées par le choix d’acteurs et d’actrices racisées pour représenter des personnages perçus comme blancs. Les personnes racisées ont trouvé la solution : écrire leurs propres narratives et passer derrière la camera. De nombreuses initiatives vont dans ce sens et sans surprise tout ça se passe en grande partie sur internet. Nous aborderons ce thème dans la troisième et dernière partie de cet article.

LINKS

Quand le cinéma français blanchit Alexandre Dumas

ReThink Review — Exodus: Gods and Kings — Whitewashing Gets Biblically Bizarre

10 Times White Actors Played People Of Color

Representation Matters – Part I: Stereotypes

French actor Omar Sy and his cesar
French actor Omar Sy and his cesar

The way that  people of colour are represented by white people has always come with a lot of negative stereotypes, even before the creation of visual communication media. You just need to open a history book to notice it.

Old advertisement for a French Brand of chocolate powder. The brand still exists and the ad too, but they removed the bananas, we are in 2016, come on …
Old advertisement for a French Brand of chocolate powder. The brand still exists and the ad too, but they removed the bananas, we are in 2016, come on …

Nowadays, even if the minds have changed a little bit, those stereotypes are still being fueled by the media. In a world where the big media corporations are in the hands of white people, the representation of people of color is a big issue, especially in movies and series.

What you don’t see, doesn’t exist, and to invisibilize people of color in  movies and series is a strategy to invisibilize them in society in general. For instance, black kids who live in country dominated by white people grow up without seeing themselves on TV and without having positive role models since the few roles given to black people are negatively stereotyped: gangster, drug dealer, abusive husband, hypersexual woman/ prostitute, constantly- happy-black- person -who –loves- to- dance -and –entertain- other- people etc. and this has negative consequences on their self-esteem.

In France for instance, there are few black actors and those who have success often play stereotyped roles. This is very noticeable in the trajectory of the French actor Omar Sy. He started with comedy shows and I really liked him back then, but since he started to play in movies, he let himself get trapped in very stereotypical roles, to the point that I wonder whether he does it on purpose, because it’s impossible not to notice. He won a Cesar (the French equivalent of the Oscar), playing the role of a poor uneducated black man from the suburbs of Paris (Suburbs = ghetto in the French common psyche, although this is a stereotype too), who starts to work as a domestic for a wealthy white man who lives in a wealthy area of Paris. The French movie industry gave him an award because this role perfectly corresponded to the most common stereotype of black men in this country. After this role, he played the role of Samba, an illegal immigrant and in his last movie, he plays the role of the <<chocolate clown >>. It would be funny if it wasn’t sad, and I am afraid of imagining what will be his next role.

On the contrary, since he started a career in the US, he played an X-man and a successful cook. I am not saying that the US is the perfect country when it comes to the representation of people of color, but on those issues this country is ahead of the others, at least on the discussion about the representation of people of colour in the cinema industry (e.g the recent Oscars controversy). In France we are far from having a controversy or even a conversation on the subject.

In her speech when she won an Emmy award for her role in the series How To Get Away With Murder, Viola Davis said : <<You can’t win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there>>. This statement is not completely true, before her black women have won awards, but for stereotyped roles (slave, domestic worker, single abusive mother etc.). On the contrary, Viola won her Emmy for the deep and complex role of a sharp lawyer and law teacher, in a series that is produced by Shonda Rhymes, a black woman known to produce series with interesting roles for women of color (she’s also the producer of the series Scandal).

Viola Davis et son emmy, you go girl !
Viola Davis et son emmy, you go girl !

This shows us that the stereotypes about people of color are often due to the fact that the people who write the scripts and produce the movies and series are white, and hence perpetuate-consciously or not- old racist and colonial stereotypes. When they are obliged by the quotas to put people of color in their series and movies (at least in the US), they create uninteresting and shallow characters, like the character of the only black guy in the series New Girl.

People of color in the movie industry exist, they are many and they are trying to write, build and produce their own stories and narratives, far away from stereotypes. But they are rarely given opportunities because those who own this industry are not willing to change the way they see people of color and the way they want them to be seen.

The case of the movie <<Bande de filles >>

The actresses and the director of the movie Bande de filles. I had the same look on my face when I watched the movie.
The actresses and the director of the movie Bande de filles. I had the same look on my face when I watched the movie.

Bande de filles is a French movie that features 4 young black women in the leading roles, which is very rare in France. When the movie came out , it was promoted as a progressive and revolutionary movie just because the actresses were black (except that in France in 2015, having 4 black actresses in leading roles is not being progressive but being late, just my opinion).

Since I am used to stereotyped roles and since the (white) director appeared on TV bragging and congratulating herself for making a movie with black women, I had my doubts about that movie even before seeing it. Guess what? I was right. The movie went way beyond my expectations: it is so full of stereotypes to the point that it becomes ridiculous. It is the classic White Gaze* about the suburbs: a poor black girl teenager is mistreated by her older brother, has no parental presence in her life and ends up selling drugs.

This is the trap of representation: when the movie industry doesn’t invisibilize people of color, it pretends to be progressive when the only thing it does is reinforcing well established stereotypes. However, there is something maybe more insulting than stereotyping and invisibilizing people of color in movies and series. It is what is called <<whitewashing >>, which consist in casting white actors to play roles made for actors and actresses of color. And this will be the subject of the second part of this article.

*Having a White Gaze is seeing the world with the eyes of a White person. 

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FRENCH TRANSLATION BELOW

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Omar Sy et son césar
Omar Sy et son César

La façon dont les personnes racisées sont représentées par les personnes blanches a toujours comporté beaucoup de stéréotypes négatifs, avant même la création des supports de communication visuelle. Vous avez juste besoin d’ouvrir un livre d’histoire pour le remarquer.

Vieille publicité pour une marque française de chocolat en poudre bien connue. La marque existe toujours et l'annonce aussi, mais ils ont enlevé les bananes, nous sommes en 2016, voyons .
Vieille publicité pour une marque française de chocolat en poudre bien connue. La marque existe toujours et l’annonce aussi, mais ils ont enlevé les bananes, nous sommes en 2016, voyons .

Aujourd’hui, même si les mentalités ont un peu changé, ces stéréotypes sont encore alimentés par les médias. Dans un monde où les grands groupes de médias sont dans les mains de personnes blanches, la représentation des personnes racisées est un gros problème, surtout dans les films et séries.

Ce qu’on ne voit pas n’existe pas et invisibiliser les gens de couleur dans les films et les séries est une stratégie pour les invisibiliser dans la société en général. Par exemple, les enfants noirs qui vivent dans des pays sous domination blanche grandissent sans se voir à la télévision et sans avoir des modèles positifs car les quelques rôles donnés aux personnes noires sont stéréotypés négativement: gangster, trafiquant de drogue, mari violent, femme hypersexualisée/prostituée, personne-noire-toujours-de-bonne-humeur-qui-adore-danser-et-faire-rigoler-les-autres etc. Cela a des consequences négatives sur leur estime de soi.

En France par exemple, il y a peu d’acteurs ou d’actrices noires á succès, et ceux qui en ont jouent souvent des rôles stéréotypés. Ceci est très visible dans la trajectoire de l’acteur français Omar Sy. Il a commencé avec des spectacles d’humour que j’adorais á l’époque, mais depuis qu’il a commencé à jouer dans des films, il s’est laissé piéger dans des rôles très stéréotypés, au point que je me demande si le fait exprès parce que très sincèrement, c’est impossible de ne pas le remarquer.

Il a remporté un César pour le rôle d’un jeune homme noir, pauvre, sans éducation, de la banlieue qui commence à travailler comme domestique chez un homme blanc, riche, du centre de Paris. L’industrie du cinéma français lui a donné cette récompense car ce rôle correspondait parfaitement au stéréotype le plus commun sur les hommes noirs et la banlieue. Après ce rôle, il a enchainé avec le rôle de Samba, un immigré sans papier et dans son dernier film, il joue le rôle du clown << chocolat >>. Ce serait drôle si ce n’était aussi pas triste et j’ai peur d’imaginer ce que sera son prochain rôle.

Au contraire, depuis qu’il a commencé une carrière aux États-Unis, il a joué un Xmen et un cuisinier succès. Je ne dis pas que les États-Unis sont le pays parfait quand il s’agit de la représentation des gens de couleur, mais sur ces questions ce pays est en avance sur les autres. Du moins en ce qui concerne la discussion sur la représentation des personnes racisées au cinema (exemple : polémique récente sur les Oscars). en France on est loin d’avoir une polémique ou ne serait-ce qu’une discussion sur le sujet .

Dans son discours de victoire aux Emmy award, récompense qu’elle a gagné pour son rôle dans la série Murder ; Viola Davis a déclaré: << Vous ne pouvez pas gagner un Emmy pour des rôles qui sont tout simplement pas là >>. Cette déclaration n’est pas complètement vraie car auparavant les femmes noires ont remporté des prix, mais pour des rôles stéréotypés (esclave, travailleuse domestique, mère célibataire abusive etc.). Au contraire, Viola a remporté son Emmy pour un rôle profond et complexe, celui d’une avocate et professeure de droit, dans une série qui a été produit par Shonda Rimes, une femme noire connue pour produire des séries avec des rôles intéressants pour les femmes de couleur (elle est aussi la productrice de la série scandal).

Viola Davis et son emmy, you go girl !
Viola Davis et son emmy, you go girl !

Tout ceci nous montre que les stéréotypes sur les personnes racisées sont souvent dus au fait que les personnes qui écrivent les scripts et produisent les films et les séries sont blanches, et donc perpétuent-inconsciemment ou non – de vieux stéréotypes racistes. Et lorsque celle-ci sont obligées par les quotas à mettre des gens de couleur dans leur série et des films (du moins aux États-Unis), ils créent des personnages inintéressants et peu profonds, comme le personnage du seul noir dans la série New Girl.

Les gens de couleur dans l’industrie du film existent, ils sont nombreux et ils écrivent, construisent  et  essaient de produire leurs propres narratives, loin des stéréotypes. Cependant, leurs opportunités sont limitées car ceux qui possèdent cette industrie ne sont pas prêts à changer leur façon de voir les personnes racisées et de la façon dont ils veulent qu’elles soient perçues.

Le cas du film << Bande de filles >>

Les actrices et la réalisatrice du film Bande de filles. Je faisais exactement la même tête en regardant le film.
Les actrices et la réalisatrice du film Bande de filles. Je faisais exactement la même tête en regardant le film.

Bande de filles est un film français qui a 4 jeunes femmes noires dans les rôles principaux, ce qui est très rare en France. Lorsque le film est sorti, il a été promu comme un film progressiste et révolutionnaire juste parce que les actrices étaient noires (sauf qu’en France en 2015, avoir 4 actrices noires dans les rôles principaux ce n’est pas être progressif, mais être en retard, c’est juste mon avis).

Puisque nous sommes habitués à des rôles stéréotypés et que la réalisatrice (blanche) est apparu à la télévision s’autocongratulant d’avoir fait un film avec des femmes noires, j’ai e eu mes doutes sur ce film avant même de l’avoir vu. Et devinez quoi? J’avais raison, ce film est allé bien au-delá de mes attentes: il est tellement rempli de stéréotypes que cela en devient ridicule. C’est le classique White gaze * sur les banlieues: une pauvre adolescente noire du ghetto est maltraitée par son frère aîné, n’a pas aucune présence parentale dans sa vie et finit par vendre de la drogue.

Voilà le piège de la représentation: quand l’industrie du cinéma n’invisibilise pas les personnes racisées, elle fait semblant d’être progressiste alors qu’elle ne fait que renforcer des stéréotypes bien établis. Cependant, il y a quelque chose de peut-être plus insultant que le renforcement des stéréotypes et l’invisibilisation des gens de couleur dans les films et séries. C’’est ce qu’on appelle le << whitewashing>> ou le blanchissement, pratique qui consiste à utiliser des acteurs blancs pour jouer des rôles faits pour des acteurs et des actrices de couleur.

Ceci fera l’objet de la deuxième partie de cet article.

* Avoir le <<White gaze>> c’est voir le monde avec les yeux d’une personne blanche.

The Weight Of Clarity

Guest Post by Anonymous

I’m depressed.

The internal chaos caused by my self-doubt, the naysayers, the teachers, friends and family that told me I couldn’t do one thing or another got to me. I broke. It has been feeling like they were right about me all along, that my attempts to prove them wrong are laughable.

A month ago it was too much for me to handle. I tried to kill myself.

I didn’t die but I feel even worse than I felt before. If anything, my dark thoughts have become even more morbid for the stigma attached to mental depression is truly horrible. My family has barely talked to me, my so called friends don’t know what happened but haven’t spoken to me, my girlfriend has tried to support me but even for her, it’s too much. She doesn’t know this person I’ve become. I am irrational, emotional, vulnerable, paranoid and empty. My self-confidence is at an all-time low, my ego non-existent and, even worse, when I am honest about how I feel it kills those around me.

Being a man in African society, you are meant to be strong. Nobody expects me to be honest about my vulnerabilities, I’m not meant to feel that way. I’m meant to be strong for her, for my family. I’m supposed to ignore the pain, I’m supposed to keep it in. I’m supposed to pretend that I have it all figured out. But I do not have it figured out. Alcohol no longer dulls my senses, I can no longer run away from the pain. I have to live with it, deal with it. But it feels like I have nobody I can talk to because they are all gone or they are on their way out of my life as I speak. I am just lucky that through all this I have had great support from my mother.

I wish I was a great writer, that through my words you could feel my pain. I know a lot of people out there are going through something similar. They, just like me, are unable to talk about it because of the stigma attached to it, because they know they will lose a lot of their so called friends. They know they will not find support. I’m asking you to be there for those people who need you, the signs are there, listen to them. Its hard for anyone to understand what could ever drive one to kill themselves. Its unthinkable that one could be so hopeless, but you don’t have to understand, just try to empathize. And for those in pain, talk to somebody, don’t try harm yourself because it only causes more pain. You hurt those that care about you and in the end, you hurt you.

“Suicide sometimes proceeds from cowardice, but not always; for cowardice sometimes prevents it; since as many live because they are afraid to die, as die because they are afraid to live.”
– Charles Caleb Colton


Follow this link for information on a Kenyan mental health and suicide prevention helpline.

Compliments That Matter

Mirrors are actually one of my favourite things. No philosophical reason behind this, I simply like how my face looks. I love the way my skin glows softly. I like how my eyes slant ever so slightly. Even the beauty spot on my collar bone is looked at adoringly. I know I am pretty and I enjoy that fact. I spend a ridiculous amount of time deciding what colour of lipstick complements my complexion. When I am going out somewhere, I take the extra effort to look my best and on such days, the amount of selfies I will take is dangerously close to infinity. Simply put, I love my face.

Don’t get me wrong. I may be vain but I am not foolish enough to assume that the best thing about a person should be based on how they look. If one day I was stripped of my looks, you know what would happen to me? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Without my looks, I am still me. I still have a brilliant sense of humour, I am eloquent and I am intelligent. I do my best to treat others with respect and I make an effort to be open-minded. My looks do not determine my character, my outward appearance is not a determinant of the kind of person I am aiming to be.

When I read this, I finally saw in the simplest way, the thoughts I had been formulating on beauty. I know people who are gorgeous and others who are plain. Some have extra beautiful features and others aren’t conventionally beautiful. Some have body shapes that deserve to grace the catwalks and others have bodies that are going through life. Now, should we as a society sit around and figure out a way to compliment people on their looks so that they can feel worthy of being who they are? Should we tell someone that despite the fact that they are making an effort in school or with volunteer work or with their friends that at least they have nice eyes? Should we tell someone, that the only time anything will matter about them, is when their looks will redeem them? If I may ask, if a person is ugly does it matter? If a person is fat, does it matter?

Pause. Take a minute and ask yourself, should a person’s looks matter this much?

I do not deny the fact that when I see a pretty person I will be awed. I will appreciate and think “Wow”. However, I won’t go out of my way to befriend or value this person more because of how they look. If a person is ugly, I will notice but I won’t think, “Damn it, I cannot be bothered with this person. Look at them, they must be horrible”

Moreover, we always look at people and insist on comforting them about their looks.

“One day, someone will love your face….one day, someone will hold you and they will look past your big nose and love you”

Ok, you know what this person is saying. That people need to forgive you for your looks in order to love you. Someone should sit down and redeem your looks with their love. Do you seeing the utter ridiculousness of this? Why should someone need to do this?

Why can’t you say “My goodness, someone is going to love your cooking or I envy the person who gets you, you are so funny”

I know what you are going to say, that people are attracted to what they see. However, I am not talking about immediate attraction. I am talking about love and respect. Things that take long to be formed, things that grow with time. These things can come about based on who you are and not how you look. And if someone only loves you or respects you based on how you look, you are not the problem. They are.

Society has forced upon us unnecessary standards of beauty that very few people can live by. We look at each other and dissect ourselves on an unwritten universal rule book as if we are toys in a factory. So, why don’t we try to be better? Why don’t we shed these standards and start appreciating each other for our experiences, for our contributions, for the memories we create and maybe when we start making it a habit, people would realise that they are so much more than their looks. And with that we may come up with a society that is based on character rather than looks.

Let us start giving compliments that matter. Tell someone you love how they remember minute details about people. Tell your friends you like it when they laugh at their own jokes. Tell that random classmate that you think it is absolutely brilliant the way they make an effort in school. Let us figure out ways to show people that they don’t need a pretty body feature or the perfect waist to matter. Let us stop placating each other with our looks and start raising each other up based on our characters.

As the prose aptly put:

“What’s beautiful is that you can make anything happen. Stop being beautiful. Get ugly. Go be alive”