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Moonlight

“Moonlight” (2016) is a film about growing up poor, Black and gay in the US, in particular in Miami’s Liberty City, where it was filmed. It was the first all-Black film and first LGBT film to win an Oscar for Best Picture. Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris and Janelle Monae appear as supporting characters. Barry Jenkins directs.

Cast: Not a single White person that I can remember appears in the whole film. Some of the kids at school might be Latino, but all the speaking parts are given to Black characters.

Production: The film was directed by Barry Jenkins, who wrote it with Tarell Alvin McCraney, on whose life it is loosely based. Both are Black. The production company, Brad Pitt’s Plan B, is White. It is the same company that gave us “12 Years a Slave” (2013).

Ali and McCraney also won Oscars,

Our story: It shows Chiron, the main character, at three stages in his life: as a boy, a teenager, and a man (pictured above). His mother is a crackhead. We are never told where his father is. Growing up Chiron is constantly picked on and bullied – he is gay but does not know it till halfway through the film. The rage in him builds till one day he does something that lands him in prison. He comes out of prison a man.

Mahershala Ali finds Chiron hiding in an abandoned house in the first scene. He and Janelle Monae show him more love than his own mother, Naomie Harris. But Ali is the one who sells his mother crack! Janelle Monae was a ray of sunshine in a grim film.

Cinematography: It was beautifully filmed, in the style of Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai. But maybe too beautifully for its own good: Chiron hardly says anything! I watched this film having just read Janet Mock’s “Redefining Realness” a month ago. That was also a story of coming of age as a poor, queer Black person in the US during the Crack Era. But in Mock’s book we know everything she is thinking, how she comes to terms with what makes her different. Chiron is more an object of study. Does he even say the word “I”?

The best thing about the film: It shows what homophobia is like from the receiving end. If you did not know what needless, life-scarring suffering it causes, you know now.

The worst thing about the film: It strengthens the racist tropes of Black homophobia and Black pathology. I cannot help but think that is part of why it became the first all-Black film to win an Oscar for Best Picture. You know, given the history of the Oscars and all.

Realism: “Moonlight” is not a true story, but it could have been. It is not unrealistic in that sense. But it follows too closely well-worn Hollywood stereotypes: Blacks take drugs, Blacks sell drugs, Blacks are poor, Blacks are terrible parents, etc.

After all, how many all-White films about homophobia take place in Methlandia?

– Abagond, 2018.

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Black Panther

Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, the Black Panther.

“Black Panther” (2018) is the first Hollywood blockbuster action film to star a Black superhero: T’Challa, the Black Panther. It features all-Black-everything Afrofuturism, special effects, shoot-outs, fight scenes, a chase scene, a battle, and even a rhino charge. Loads of PG-13 violence, no real love story. Ryan Coogler, who gave us “Fruitvale Station” (2013), directs.

Box office: It cost $200 million to make – and has already brought in $404 million worldwide after its first weekend. It looks set to become the first film with a Black-majority cast to break a billion. The highest grossing Black film to date is “Coming to America” (1988), which brought in $595 million (in 2016 dollars).

Cast:

  • Chadwick Boseman: T’Challa, the Black Panther, king of Wakanda
  • Michael B. Jordan: Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, the main villain (pictured below)
  • Letitia Wright: Shuri, T’Challa’s kid sister and tech whiz (pictured above)
  • Lupita Nyong’o: Nakia, spy, old girlfriend of T’Challa’s
  • Danai Gurira: Okoye, head of the Dora Milaje (Wakandan special forces)
  • Angela Bassett: Ramonda, the Queen Mother
  • Forest Whitaker: Zuri, a wise, old, trusted adviser
  • Andy Serkis: Ulysses Klaue, South African arms dealer
  • Martin Freeman: Everett K. Ross, CIA agent

The last two are White, the rest are Black.

White power structure: The director and writers are Black, but the producer and studio (Marvel) are White. Marvel wanted Ava DuVernay to direct but she did not agree with their ideas for the film. Coogler apparently did.

Representation matters: Joe Robert Cole, who wrote the film with Coogler:

“As a kid I played a lot of make-believe and I would change every hero to black, so instead of James Bond I was James Black; instead of Batman, Blackman.

“Little brown kids, including my own, don’t have to do that. That’s amazing to me. This is the movie I wish I’d had to look up to.”

That is the great thing about the film.

Also great is the Dora Milaje, an all-female elite fighting force. It was great to see them in action.

Not so great: Killmonger, the only Black American character with more than a few lines, is the villain! He wants to use Wakanda’s wealth and power to free Black people all over the world. T’Challa, the moral centre of the film, sees that as a bad thing!!! In true Wakandan (White Liberal) fashion, he prefers handouts that keep the White power structure of the world in place.

Wakanda First: Even though Wakanda has been more powerful and advanced than the West for hundreds of years, it sat by and did nothing as Whites dragged off millions of Africans into slavery and still did nothing as Whites took over Africa piece by piece. And continued to sit by under T’Challa, the supposed hero. Hero to whom!!?

The most realistic part of the whole film was just that: if there were a Wakanda or a T’Challa it would probably go just like that: pro-Black in image but not in substance. We have seen that before.

– Abagond, 2018.

Sources: the Cole quote, the top grossing Black films after inflation, box office figures for “Black Panther”.

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Diana Ross: Love Hangover

Remarks:

Proof that Diana Ross is better than Beyonce, Erykah Badu – or Diana Ross. It is pretty much the soundtrack of the late 1970s, at least in the Abagond Version of the Universe. It went to number one on the US R&B chart in 1976. I can remember when it was a new song on the radio, which is kind of like remembering the invention of string. The song is way too short, but all attempts to make it longer only make it worse.

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Lyrics:

Ah, if there’s a cure for this
I don’t want it
Don’t want it
If there’s a remedy
I’ll run from it, from it

Think about it all the time
Never let it out of my mind
‘Cause I love you

I’ve got the sweetest hangover
I don’t wanna get over
Sweetest hangover

Yeah, I don’t wanna get ove)
I don’t wanna get
I don’t wanna get…over

Ooh, I don’t need no cure
I don’t need no cure
I don’t need no cure

Sweet lovin’
Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet love
Sweet, sweet love
Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet love

Don’t call a doctor
Don’t call her momma
Don’t call her preacher
No, I don’t need it
I don’t want it

Sweet love, I love you
Sweet love, need love

If there’s a cure for this
I don’t want it
I don’t want it no
If there’s a cure for this
I don’t want it
If ther’s a cure for this
I don’t need it
Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet love
Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet love
Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet love
Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet love

Source: A-Z Lyrics.

Nefertiti So White

During Black History Month here in the US we have been treated to a recreation of how Nefertiti looked based on science. It was first shown last week on “Today”, a nationwide television morning news show:

Nefertiti according to White people in 2018.

The recreation was done for the Travel Channel on US television.

Compare that to the famous bust of Nefertiti, made when she was still alive:

Nefertiti according to Egyptians, circa -1345.

Reactions:

  • White people were amazed at how much they looked alike.
  • Black people noticed the strange difference in skin colour.
  • The US news media gave it a pass. At least in the reporting I saw, none of their paid professionals thought to ask the artist, Elisabeth Daynes, why she made Nefertiti so white. Or looked for other reconstructions of the same mummy. And only in one case did they ask an independent expert.

Things to know:

  1. Not Nefertiti: The mummy this is based on was most likely not Nefertiti.
  2. Not science: The skin colour was left up to the artist. It was not based on science.
  3. Not the first time: the mummy’s face was also reconstructed in 2003.

The Younger Lady: The reconstruction is based on a mummy known as the Younger Lady, a body found over a hundred years ago in the Valley of the Kings in Tomb KV 35. She had no name and her face was partly bashed in on purpose, presumably from murder. She was lying next to Queen Tiye. DNA tests show that she is Queen Tiye’s daughter and King Tut’s mother.

British Egyptologist Joann Fletcher has argued that the Younger Lady is Nefertiti. That has not been proved. And it seems unlikely:

  1. Nefertiti’s parents are never named. Which means they were likely not kings or queens.
  2. Nefertiti is often shown with her children. King Tut is never one of them.

No one yet knows the name of the Younger Lady.

Her face was recreated in 2003 too. Here is what that recreation looked liked (with hat and accessories added):

The same mummy reconstructed in 2003.

Unlike the 2018 recreation, they did not know they were supposed to be recreating Nefertiti.

Meet the parents of the Younger Lady, Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye:

Amenhotep III, the father.

Queen Tiye, the mother.

Skin colour: Ancient Egyptians came in all colours, from white to brown to black. They mainly painted themselves brown:

Ancient Egyptians, the high and the low, back in the day.

And, as it turns out, there was an Egyptian American standing right there when Becky Nefertiti was unveiled: Hoda Kotb. Even though it was in New York in the middle of winter, she was still darker:

Spot the Egyptian: Hoda Kotb, an Egyptian American, stands to the left dressed in white.

Why it matters: Ancient Egyptians did not think in terms of race, but the US was built on it. In particular it was built on the One Drop Rule: the idea that one drop of African blood makes you a lesser being compared to those of pure European blood, aka White people. All those brown-skinned Egyptians and their high civilization – that the West itself grew out of – shows what a lie it is. Thus the endless attempts by US media to Whitewash Ancient Egypt.

– Abagond, 2018.

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Programming note #34

For Lent (February 14th to March 29th) I will be giving up my English-language media diet: no books, music, news, film, television, radio or Internet in English. It is a bad habit of mine. And I want to learn Portuguese. I will be on a Portuguese-language media diet (which. if it has some English-language content like songs, that is fine).

Exceptions: I will make exceptions for work-related stuff, this blog (comments, research), anything teaching Portuguese, and, if I get a chance to see it, “Black Panther” (2018).

Suggestions: If there is anything you want me to do a post on, particularly something you think I am missing out on because of my diet, please let me know in the comments below. If it is seconded I will most likely do it.

– Abagond, 2018.

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Wakanda

Wakanda is the most technologically advanced nation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the heart of Africa, it is all Black everything and ruled by a superhero, the Black Panther, aka T’Challa.

Note: This post is based on “Black Panther: Nation Under Our Feet” (2016) by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The Black Panther film will not be out till this Friday in the US (Thursday in New York).

  • Location: Marvel Cinematic Universe, in Africa just west of Lake Victoria (about where Uganda and Rwanda are in our universe).
  • Ruler: T’Challa.
  • Major cities: Birnin Zana (seat of government), Birnin Azzaria (seat of learning).
  • Culture: Pan-African. Has Zulu and Maasai elements.
  • Language: Wakandan. Has Swahili loan words.
  • Religion: the goddess, the tree, orishas, shamans, spirits.
  • Government: monarchy. The king is called the Black Panther. His power is supported by the Dora Milaje, an all-female fighting force, celebrated in fable and song.
  • Technology: vibranium, nanotech, biomechatronics, kimoyo bands, midnight angel prototype.
  • Economy: vibranium-based, non-colonial.

Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU): where Spiderman, Captain America, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk and others live. (Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman live in the DC Universe or DCU.)

Vibranium, the “vaunted metal”, comes from the huge Mena Ngai meteor strike in Wakanda. It absorbs kinetic energy and sound and can form a power network among its pieces. It powers Wakandan technology, from spears to personal bracelets (kimoyo bands). Because of its network quality, it is not something that can be easily carted away to make someone else rich, the fate of much of Africa’s wealth, from diamonds to chocolate to slaves.

The Djalia: the plane of Wakandan memory. A griot lives there, an old woman who is “a caretaker of all our histories, now lost to the acolytes of machine, and the prophets of this metal age.”

Torn: Wakanda is torn and has lost its way. There is an uprising in the south and revolution in the north. The king, T’Challa, can follow the souls of others but has lost his own. He allowed Queen Shuri, his own sister, to be killed and did nothing. His soldiers massacred vibranium miners. He was busy saving the world while Wakanda was falling apart. He brings shame to his people, not hope.

Wakanda, like most nations, is founded on lies and dishonesty. Unlike most, it is torn three ways by Wakandan science, animistic religion, and Lockean philosophy.

Changamire, the philosopher:

“Wakanda has all the intelligence any advanced society would want, and none of the wisdom that any free society needs.”

The griot of the Djalia:

“You have been told that the might of your country is in its wonderful inventions, in its circuits and weaponry. This is the mastery of things. But Wakanda was great before it had things, and its secrets are older than any vaunted metal. …

“Here we will arm you not with the spear, but with the drum, for it is the drum that carries the greatest power of all, the power of memory, daughter, the power of our song.”

– Abagond, 2018.

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Essence magazine

Cover of the first issue: May 1970.

Essence (1970- ) is one of the top magazines in the US aimed at Black women, particularly the kind who think they are woke while wearing $735 Manolo Blahnik heels. It comes out of New York once a month.

This post is based mainly on the issues for March and May of 2017.

Time-Life: If you imagined a magazine for Black women put out by Time-Life, that would be Essence: heavy on beautiful colour photography, bad narrative flow, light on words, which often appear as text McNuggets. The horoscopes by “astrological intuit” Sonja Marie is the most down-to-earth part of the whole magazine, advising readers to put down their phones when talking to a friend in person.

DNA: Time, Inc owned Essence from 2005 to January 2018. But deeper in its DNA is Gordon Parks, a fashion photographer for Life magazine, one of the founders of Essence.

Essence is known for its yearly festival, which was shown in “Girls Trip” (2017). It is also on the Web (essence.com), Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and SnapChat. Not Tumblr.

Target demographic: Black professional women, well-to-do, single, ages roughly 22 to 55. The $735 shoes are not aspirational or just for looks: they give the price and where to buy them.

Share of mind: It is heavy on what it calls “Beauty & Hair”. It accounts for about a fourth of its editorial content and maybe half of its advertising. It is also big on entertainment and celebrities. Social issues get more attention than fashion, but The Economist brings up “structural racism” more than it does – and Ebony said way more about ERPA. Essence gives regular career advice, little to nothing on food, education, or family life.

Wokeness: Angela Davis, Alicia Garza, and Michelle Alexander made their Woke 100 in May 2017, but so did Democratic Party loyalists like Michelle Obama, Joy-Ann Reid, and Angela Rye (pictured).

Product placement: Articles bring up things shown earlier in ads. The clothes and jewellery worn by women in its articles, even by the woke women, are listed on the Where To Buy page, complete with prices.

Follow the money: an incomplete list of advertisers for May 2017:

  • beauty: Pantene, L’Oreal, Clairol, Burt’s Bees, Maybelline, Dark & Lovely, Olay, Cantu, Carol’s Daughter, Sally Beauty, Mary Kay, Lancome, Kinky Curly.
  • non-beauty: McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Chevrolet, Macy’s, Always, Colgate, Clorox, Vagisil, Novartis, Geico, Home Depot, MS Nina – Psychic Advisor & Reader.

Buy White!

Ownership: Richelieu Dennis, a Liberian American man, owner of Shea Moisture, a line of beauty products. Time, Inc owned Essence from 2005 to January 2018, with a 49% stake from 2000 to 2005. It was Black-owned before that. With the sale by Time to Dennis, it is independent and 100% Black-owned once again.

Dennis:

“[W]e are excited to be able to return this culturally relevant and historically significant platform to ownership by the people and the consumers whom it serves and offer new opportunities for the women leading the business to also be partners in the business.”

The best thing about Essence: “Black is beautiful” made visible, showing Black women in all their beauty, inside and out.

– Abagond, 2018.

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