Hidden Figures

127 min.
I think it was pretty clear when there were parts and lines added to make (small-minded) white people feel better, but (or maybe because of that, help?) I enjoyed Hidden Figures a lot. An uplifting movie with unlikely heroines that are smart, funny, well dressed and black.
hidden figures poster

‘Based on true life events’ seems to be a forewarning for sappy, Hallmark-like stories that are described as having heart while not really having or showing it. This story about the black, human computers of NASA could have been much more inspirational, much brighter and louder and beautiful and grating. Now it’s largely a show of how people can learn not to be sexist and racist because they’re confronted with smart black women. This happens in the 1960s, and it ends a bit too much with the unsaid message of how all that is very much in the past. While we know it isn’t, of course.

Didn’t I say this movie was uplifting? It is, kind of. The characters move from okay to better, the bad guys are only the confused guys, there’s pictures and blurbs at the end to show you the real life counterparts. There’s a cute soundtrack and as said before, the heroines are lovely. It could have simply been sharper, more vibrant, more honest.

Until we get that story, Hidden Figures is a cleaned up history lesson worth watching.

Hidden Figures, Levantine Films 2016

Luke Cage

13 episodes, 50 min.

Another Netflix Marvel cooperation? Of course, as long as people watch it.

marvel-luke-cage-posterWas Jessica Jones special because we finally got a female character, this time Marvel goes off the beaten path with a black main character. Heck, the absolute majority of the cast is black, which must have had some people worried about sell-ability. Is the blackness (the surroundings, the cast, the subjects mentioned) the problem of the show? No, it isn’t.

Then what is? The length, and the main actor. As stoic, almost-invisible stubborn hero, Mike Colter is doing fine, but he is surrounded by too much talent to not escape comparison. As usual, the less focus on the main guy, the better.
This season is thirteen episodes, while it would have been tighter and more exciting if it would have ended after episode eight. Now we get a load of new villains that need to provide a cliffhanger that’s just too weak. This has been a problem with the other Marvel Netlix shows as well.

The ladies steal and save the show. Alfre Woodard, Rosario Dawson, Simone Missick and those in smaller parts show that a female part can be more than mother, Maria and whore. For once, I can say that you can pick a Marvel project for the women.

Luke Cage, Marvel 2016

Juliet Takes A Breath

Dear Harlowe,

Hi, my name is Juliet Palante.

Wederom een boek dat een noodzakelijke andere invalshoek biedt. Een Puertoricaanse lesbische tiener uit de Bronx die handvaten nodig heeft voor opgroeien, identiteit, feminisme en seksualiteit.

Maar leuk en lief en frustrerend en interessant, echt waar. Juliet worstelt nog met haar identiteit en uit de kast komen, maar heeft veel hulp van een boek. Na een enthousiaste mail naar de auteur mag ze langs komen voor een stage, waardoor ze ook nog moet leren omgaan met een compleet andere omgeving (Bronx naar Portland).

Juliet is heel erg een tiener, maar wel eentje die open staat voor nieuwe dingen leren, waardoor wat-een-tiener-frustraties bijna niet op komen borrelen. Ja, ze is koppig en ongeduldig en wantrouwend, maar ook zelfstandig, nieuwsgierig en kan kritiek aan.

Het boek leest als een technicolor sneltrein, en ik kan mij niet herinneren wanneer ik het voor het laatst zo’n ontiegelijk menselijk YA heb gelezen. Dus doen voor de invalshoek, maar zeker ook voor de lol.

Juliet Takes A Breath, Gabby Rivera, Riverdaleave Books 2016

The Gilda Stories

The Girl slept restlessly, feeling the prickly straw as if it were teasing pinches from her mother.

I wish I liked this book more. It’s original vampire fantasy, mixed with history from a black woman’s point of view.

The Girl is turned in the fifties of the nineteenth century, and the reader follows her into the fifties of the twenty-first century, adding some science fiction with a dire outlook as well.

I just didn’t care. Some of the secondary characters bring excitement to the chapters, but never stay long enough. Maybe it’s the writing, which feels flat and colourless to me, maybe it’s the main character’s aloofness that prevents me from connecting. It’s only 252 pages yet it took me weeks to get through it. The historical point of view interested me more than all of Gilda’s stories.

It could definitely work as a (mini-)series, I think. I’d give it a second chance on a screen.

The Gilda Stories, Jewelle Gomez, Firebrand Books 1991

Jam on the Vine

Ivoe liked to carry on about all she could do.

Female history, black history and history of the (newspaper) media, and all that coming from a black female author? It’s like a filled out bingo card of potential amazingness.

I’ve mentioned before how I try to read more of the unfamiliar point of view, and this book makes me glad I did. You learn so much, but most of all that the white (male) author doesn’t have a monopoly on a good story on any subject.

Ivoe¬† is a nineteenth century born black woman who wants more than the cotton fields or house work. She’s got the brain to back it up, but brain isn’t enough to open doors with. Even with the necessary education, she can’t land the so much desired job of journalist. Instead of giving up, she starts her own newspaper.

What makes this story is how every step is harder (than the white male’s one) than necessary. This can’t be used by black people, that can’t be done for black people, and definitely don’t get involved with the law, if you don’t want to lose at least eight years of your life. It’s so bizarre how all of this happened not all too long ago, but even more how so many of these ideas are still alive and active. Jam on the Vine is a rousing, educating story that probably will never get the attention is deserves. Because of the author, because of the subject. The only huge difference between now and then is that there’s no segregated public transport.

Jam on the Vine, Lashonda Katrice Barnett, Grove Press 2015

Girlhood

113 min.

I missed my chance to watch this in London, in the Netherlands, and now Netflix (Canada) helped me out. It’s so pleasing to find ‘smaller’ movies there.

girlhood poster canalplusWhy did I want to see it so badly? Because it’s a movie about girls. Female friendships and relationships, but not in the clean, Hollywood way. And the majority of the characters are black, something that outside a Tyler Perry movie doesn’t happen in Hollywood. Are black female friendships different from those of other women, then? Very probably not, but their backgrounds are.

Marieme wants to go to high school, but isn’t allowed to. Instead it’s the banlieu for her, where she lives with three siblings and her mother, between fights and dealings.
She’s picked up by a group of girls, but while the viewer may expect them to be the gateway to worse, they may be the right thing for her instead.

But French films don’t mind showing reality, so things happen outside Marieme’s power. The viewer starts to lose her not long after having found her. All we can do is watch.

Stories like these have to be continued to be told until every Marieme (and her friends) are recognised as a human being, instead of a threat or a burden.

Girlhood, Canal+ 2014

Kindred

I lost an arm on my last trip home.

I’ve been told for quite some time that I couldn’t call myself a lover of the fantasy genre without having read anything by Octavia E. Butler. When my library offered some of her titles a place in the spotlight, I considered it a sign.¬†Kindred it was.

It’s a time travel story. But this time the time traveler is a black woman from the eighties that’s pulled back into the antebellum South, ending up on a slaver’s plantation.

So instead of enjoying the history lesson and possibly being hauled as someone knowledgeable, a genius or a great but terrifying witch, Dana has to fear for her life and freedom all the time. If it looks like a slave, it probably is a slave, after all, no matter how weird she talks. Quickly she discovers a link to the house she keeps returning to, but every time she’s pulled back, it’s harder to adjust and harder to believe that this isn’t her life, these aren’t her problems.

Butler doesn’t mince words nor situations. If a slave does something its owner doesn’t agree with (this ranges from looking at them in a certain way to trying to run), punishment follows. Brutal punishment, written up in vivid detail. If Dana has to suffer, so has the reader. Every small shimmer of hope can be mistrusted, because surely it won’t last. Not in that world.

And yet it’s an incredibly easy, quick read. Maybe it’s the disaster tourist in all of us, you can’t keep your eyes off the terror.

Kindred, Octavia E. Butler, Beacon Press 1979