Violence of the oppressed

Published May 25, 2017 by descantdeb

Emma includes the problem of passive aggression, aka Devil’s Advocate, in my book. It can be hard to recognise, which is when it does the most psychological damage to the person targeted – lashing out, suffering low self esteem, anxiety in social/work gatherings…. without really understanding why.

Emma

Thanks Ewcia for the translation !

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The Case For Black Women On Screen in Science Fiction and Fantasy Parts 1, 2, 3 & 4: October-November 2015 #TBB Feature

Published November 8, 2015 by descantdeb

tbb_black_women_in_sci_fi_part_1 Part 1 The Shockingly Current Truth Last year, The British Blacklist’s 2014 ‘Optical Illusions of Black Characters on Film’ series [] examined the depiction of black movie characters and found that, at least in mainstream Western cinema, the character in the black character was often inadequate… under-developed, if you will.

Even in movies based on real people or historical figures, measures of mainstream popularity and excellence – the Academy Awards, for example – seemed to recognise black actors in stereotypical roles more often than in non-stereotypical roles, inferring that, in the eyes of mainstream consumers, there was an ‘acceptability’ or a ‘ring of truth’ to black stereotypes. READ MORE…

tbb_black_women_in_sci_fi_part_2_2Part 2: Black Women in SFF Film Back in 2014, award-winning Nosa Igbinedion released a casting call for the 4 main characters in his short sci fi film project, ‘Oya: Rise of the Orishas’,  required – Tanit, a cold assassin; Rebecca, rebellious young girl; The Leader, a manipulative cult leader; Mot, a muscle-bound destroyer. It is a superhero movie based on West African mythology and used the description Black/mixed race as acceptable for each [Read TBB’s interview with Nosa here]. The final cast, in the February 2015 release reflected much of the unique beauty of West African genetics in Ethosheia Hylton as Oya, Prince Shoyelu, Jayde Stedford, Quincy Okpokpor, Luiana Bonfim and Orwi Imanuel Ameh. In our opinion, this is an empowering start!

Generally, it is clear that African-American actresses do better than black British actresses in SFF film. Of our 40 actresses in largely kick-ass SFF characters featured here, 28 are African-American, 11 are black British and 1 is Jamaican. Since the 30th anniversary of the Bechdel-Wallace Test (BWT) [2] partially inspired this article, it is interesting that most of these movies fail in that regard. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing, because a good story doesn’t necessarily need more than one woman in it. Plus, there is so much more up for discussion in SFF than arguing over a man… though we will concede that Princess Ardala did some pretty extreme things to lure Buck Rogers from Col. Wilma Deering, but it was the 70s… Female SFF characters generally do better in terms of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Sexy Lamp Test – SLT (2012) i.e. if the female character was replaced by a sexy lamp would the story still work? We really like this test, as it adds weight to her as a non-stereotypical protagonist – something that talented black actresses are crying out for! READ MORE…

tbb_black_women_in_sci_fi_part_3_4Part 3: Black Women in SFF Television British actresses do slightly better in SFF TV, though, in terms of episode appearances, the Queens are still American. This is usually due to landing multiple single roles, multiple recurring roles or becoming a series regular in a long-running series. There is a huge difference depending on which side of the Atlantic you land on – one season can mean 12-22 episodes in the USA (usually the latter) vs 6-13 in Britain (usually the former). Again, interestingly, these roles do seem to pass the Sexy Lamp Test more often than not. SFF genre TV has had surges and resurges and is currently enjoying an exponential rate of production. Thanks to the casting of Nichelle Nichols as Uhura1 in 1966, black women in SFF television have a slightly longer history than in film at 51 years.

Excluding animated productions, we found 29 black British, 2 black World (Jamaican and Ethiopian-Irish) and 25 African-American actresses – a total of 56 women of colour in notable SFF TV roles. We also felt the need to highlight the contribution of one particular British sci fi TV series for, at least in its modern incarnation, taking unprecedented strides in regularly featuring black British female talent… for a while. READ MORE…

black_women_in_sci_fi_part_4In all, we found 58 actresses with noteworthy roles and we discussed 36 of those with multiple character credits. Here, we continue with the remaining 22, plus a couple more we discovered along the way, and we share some thoughts. So, now TBB presents the concluding…

Part 4: Black Women in SFF Television – Single Character Credits. The Tomorrow People – 1973-79, 1992-95, 2013-14 – Elizabeth Adare, UK, as Elizabeth M’Bondo, was arguably the second black female character on UK SF TV after Carmen Munroe’s Fariah, but before Josette Simon’s Dayna Mellanby in Blake’s 7 (1980-81). Adare appeared in 50/68 episodes of the original series between 1974-79, from the second season. She was one of a group of young adults who ‘break out’ when they develop paranormal abilities, watched over by an alien organisation. She was a student teacher renowned for her compassion and strength of character who went on to become more involved in the affairs of the Galactic Trig, overseeing the well-being of all telepathic species. She was followed by Naomie Harris, UK, as Ami Jackson in 16/26 episodes of the first revival of the series between 1993-95 from the second season. She experienced visions and her mother repeatedly tried to stop her association with the others. It was considered ‘more cosmopolitan,’ since it featured American and Australian actors… The most recent reboot (2013-14) departed from the formula in that it did not feature any black female Tomorrow People. It did feature Madeleine Mantock, UK, as Normal, Astrid Finch, who nursed an unrequited love for main protagonist Stephen whilst also being his best friend in 22/28 episodes (2014). He had only sisterly feelings toward her and she ended up growing close to the first ‘break-out’ John…. when he loses his abilities. READ MORE…

 

Optical Illusions of Black Characters on Film Parts 1, 2, 3 & 4: August 2014 TBB Feature

Published November 8, 2015 by descantdeb

James-Baskette_uncle_remus_song_of_the_south_sdmn Part 1 Mainstream Characterisations of the AfriCarib In general, the depiction of AfriCarib people in the movies is a little more complicated, or maybe simpler, than you might think and we should think, because, especially for Diaspora peoples, the process of assimilation for progressive generations naturally means the gradual adoption of mainstream attitudes [See Part 3 TBB’s Caste As Black Series]. An unfortunate and insidious side effect can be the unconscious acceptance of detrimental stereotypes which can start as self-deprecation but lead to low self-worth and self-hate. The same can be said of many groups who find themselves in the minority, such as sufferers of mental illness.

The irrepressible and, some say, perpetually bad-tempered, Spike Lee threw a new ember on the diversity fire in 2001, whilst leading a discussion on film with Yale and Washington State University students. He described the ‘Super-Duper Magical Negro’ (SDMN or the PC Magical African-American Friend, MAAF??)- a saintly, respected, or heroic black character, possessed of special insight or powers used solely to mentor or help the (usually) white protagonist (who may have a period of ‘going native’) to get out of trouble. [1]. ‘Popularisation’ of the term has been attributed to Lee’s statement, but what he actually did was bring the world’s attention to an idea which has been developing in literature since the 1600s and which remains a startling standard in (especially) the American-influenced film and literary worlds. READ MORE…

whoopi_goldberg_ghost_sdmn Part 2: Since the 1980s, as all ethnic groups in western societies have gained access to higher education, occupying wider ranges of jobs, pursuing broader ranges of careers and living in more locations within and outside of major cities, the absolute number of working black actors and film making professionals have also increased.

Life has, therefore, produced characters and film makers which, in comparison to the previous stereotyped examples, must be considered as non-stereotyped. Some have even been accepted as examples of film making excellence…

Non-Stereotyped Fictional Roles

These have generated no (Academy / Oscar) wins from 7 roles. The gender spread is 5 male to 2 female roles: READ MORE…

naomie_harris_tia_dalma_pirates_of_caribbean Part 3: Fantasy Both science fiction and fantasy genres are considered to be excellent vehicles to air and discuss contemporaneous social issues of inequality like race, gender, sexuality, religion, physical ability, psychological state. The use of an alternate setting of time, species or place (including planet or galaxy) is thought to make candid examination of the human condition more palatable to the society at large: vampires have been used as a metaphor for sexuality (especially repressed females and same sex), balances of power (class, racial, financial), the decay of morality (addiction, disease) and, currently, society’s obsession with eternal youth (Science Fiction, Science Feminine [1]).

A logical expectation, then, would be that as the 20th century progressed, the freedom afforded genre film makers would naturally generate more diverse roles for black actors. The very nature of ‘fantasy’ as a hope, dream, fancy or desire, should have suggested so-called ‘colour-blind casting’ as a given or, better yet, to dare the Diaspora to dream of a celluloid black superhero. The science fiction genre has significantly expanded since the wonder of Star Wars in 1979.  George Lucas’ Space Opus showed on a grand scale that traditional stories could be just as effectively set in space, in the future, with tech and robots, alien landscapes and exotic beings of all kinds. More importantly, Lucas founded Industrial Light and Magic in 1975, the visual effects company from which advanced special effects and eventually computer-generated imagery and motion-capture owe their origins. READ MORE…

negro_comics Part 4: Science Fiction With all of the possibilities of science fiction, it should not have been too far beyond the realms of reason to hope for a black superhero. Pre-2000, the science fiction movie genre gave us Abar, the First Black Superman in 1977. Tobar Mayo played Abar, made mentally and physically superhuman after drinking a serum made by black scientist Dr. Kincaid  – so bad it’s good? Maybe.

Then, we were introduced to the awesomeness which could not be denied – Billy Dee Williams, who almost upstaged Han Solo in giving us charming hustler Lando Calrissian, a trickster archetype, in The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Having proved his loyalty he got to pilot the Millennium Falcon as an Ally in The Return of the Jedi (1983). Williams then followed with Gotham City DA Harvey Dent in Batman (1989), before Dent became Two-Face (The Dark Knight, 2008, when he also became white – Aaron Eckhart). READ MORE…

Cannes Oui? Parts 1 & 2: June 2014 #TBB Feature

Published November 8, 2015 by descantdeb

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Part One: Sub-Saharan African Cinema at Cannes. Cannes-Present, 2014.

This year, the 67th Cannes Film Festival caught our eye when the main Competition Jury was announced. The Palme d’Or’s only female winner (The Piano 1993), Jane Campion was announced as president and her fellow 8 jurors were a triumph of gender equality (not since 2009 – lauded); representative of many aspects of cinema creativity (appropriate);and, as arguably the most influential international film festival, a shining example of world cinema…

… Oh. Wait. READ MORE…

Part Two: African Diaspora Cinema at Cannes. African-America at Cannes.

Two black actors have been awarded Cannes Best Actor, which run parallel to, but separate from the Cesars. The first was African-American actor John Kitzmiller in 1957, as Sgt Jim Miller in the Yugoslavian war film, Dolina Miru (1956, The Valley of Peace). He made Italy his home after serving there in WWII. He subsequently appeared in more than 50 European films, often as a man angrily fighting racism, until his death in 1965. In America, he was best known for his single performance as Quarrel, the local who sails James Bond and Honey Ryder to the Dragon’s Island in Dr. No (1962). READ MORE…

International Nurse’s Day: May 2014 #TBB Feature

Published November 8, 2015 by descantdeb

Nurses-Day-logo“Each year, nursing organisations and governments around the globe celebrate International Nurse’s Day as a means for the public to thank nurses everywhere. It is held on May 12th, the day of Florence Nightingale’s birth in 1820, as celebrated by the International Council of Nurses (ICN) since 1965. It has been themed since 1988, this year’s being Nurses: A Force for Change – A vital resource for health. The IND Kit 2014, containing educational materials and public information, can be downloaded from the website.

In the UK, usually on the Wednesday before May 12th, a Service of Thanksgiving is held in Westminster Abbey to commemorate the life and work of Florence Nightingale and to celebrate the works of qualified and unqualified nursing and midwifery staff. Beginning at the Abbey’s Nurse’s Chapel, a lamp, signifying the collective knowledge, is symbolically passed from one nurse, to another, to the Dean, who places it on the High Altar. This year, the service will be conducted on May 7th. The Royal College of Nurses has organised events around the country between 8th-23rd May; the UK’s Cavell Nurse’s Trust will hold a 2-day event between 12th-14th May; and in the USA, during Nurse’s Week (May 6th-12th), National Nurse’s Day and Student Nurse’s Day celebrations are also held.” READ MORE

Caste As Black: April 2014 #TBB Feature

Published November 8, 2015 by descantdeb

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Part One: Awarded a Lesson in Perception: As a proud black actor, you should strive to be an informed professional. Possession of a little situational awareness can enable you to own your social and professional circumstances, to make conscious, conscientious decisions about your own destiny, and travel that road with serenity and authority. TBB is here to help.

A Lens to Perceive Through.

The 2013-14 Movie Awards Season is just about over. Through it, I came to realise that the results could be used as an interesting lens to focus on the fortunes of our awards hopefuls. READ MORE…

Part Two: Perception and the means to adjust the lensCan Black be perceived as British? The answer is, of course, YES. I mean, in the world of international film, TV and theatre, YES.

Just as the UK repeatedly honours ‘exotic‘ or American black actors (see Miss Nyong’o/Mr Abdi’s awards records), UK black actors are honoured abroad. And you are getting really good at it – even the serious press are having their say. Back in January, Hugh Muir, of The Guardian, penned, Why do black actors like Idris Elba have to go to the US for success? In March, The Japan Times ran, Black actors leaving for Hollywood worries British government. READ MORE…

Part Three: Lens Change and Cultural Assimilation. Automatic Lens Change: Markers of Cultural Assimilation. It might be 2014, but this article should at least cause you to suspect that race can affect an individual’s job prospects. Sociologists have been measuring degrees of cultural assimilation for centuries and have grouped them into 4 major markers – socioeconomic status, geographic distribution, second language attainment and inter-marriage. READ MORE…

2014 Interviews and Reviews for The British Blacklist

Published August 10, 2014 by descantdeb

Book Launch Review: Inner Yardie: Three Plays

A Trilogy of Jamaican Plays

A Trilogy of Jamaican Plays

The reinvigorated City end of the Bethnal Green Road seemed the perfect location for the launch of Inner Yardie: Three Plays by Patricia Cumper, MBE. Rich Mix is one of several new multi-purpose venues making Shoreditch so hip and vibrant as a fashionable social hangout. It reflected perfectly the contemporary relevance of this revived trilogy of plays, which were written and set in three different decades from one of the most important writers of the black British artistic and academic community.

Patricia Cumper may now live in London, having gained her degree in Archaeology and Anthropology from Girton College, Cambridge; she may now be possessed of an MBE for services to black British theatre (2013) and a trustee of the British Museum. But, she was born in Jamaica and only returned to live in the UK in the early 1990s, having started making a critically acclaimed start as a playwright…” http://www.thebritishblacklist.com/review-yardie-plays-patricia-cumper-rich-mix-friday-11th-april-2014/

 


 

Interview and Book Review: Patricia Cumper, MBE and Inner Yardie: Three Plays

“Pat Cumper is a natural leader. When she speaks, she is highly engaging with an intelligent, underlying Jamaican wit. The depth of her intellect and the breadth of her talent is evident in everything she says…

“… I appreciated the creative choice she had made at the tender age of only 22, in her first play! She had shown a precocious boldness and an admirable empathy for both the new trauma inflicted on the victim and the old trauma suffered by the attacker, in a time and place (1970s Jamaica), where this would be neither a popular, nor obvious narrative choice. As such, I was completely absorbed in how the title and the excerpts I knew could be woven into a story I could enjoy. The inspiration was rooted both in Jamaican social mores and in the experience of having studied at Girton College, Cambridge, at a time when the female students were terrorised by the 8 month sway of a serial rapist.” http://www.thebritishblacklist.com/tbbsundayread-playwright-patricia-cumper-inner-yardie/


 

Film Review: Beauty Is… Documentary

doc-620x435Beauty Is

Toyin Agbetu’s 2014 landmark documentary

“Lupita Nyong’o has just topped the 2014 People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful individuals in the world. For her cover, Miss Nyong’o wears her close-cropped, fade-cut afro perfect and plain, her makeup enhances naturally, adornment is minimal and she gives the camera a relaxed sidelong look with a delightful smile… TBB interviewed the multi-talented Mr Agbetu just before his film’s first showing at the British Film Institute, South Bank.

“… He expressed mixed feelings about Miss Nyong’o’s ascendance in the wake of her Oscar win – overjoyed that she had received recognition for her talent, but concerned about the transient nature of fashions, trends, fads – both in beauty and clothes. He felt it is for us to define our own beauty norms that others can follow.” http://www.thebritishblacklist.com/tbbsundayread-beauty-is-evening-ponder-visual-message-debbie-doyley/

 


Interview: Dr Bruce Paddington

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Dr. Bruce Paddington

“It is just days before the second London screening of a documentary which took all of 5 years to make. The title itself is intriguing for me, juxtaposing the innocence of a fairytale with the corruption of murder.

Forward ever!” was the rebel yell of Maurice Bishop, second Prime Minister of the newly independent island of Grenada. The revolution was the means by which he came to power. This is the conversation I had with the film’s director.

This film is a labour of love for Professor Bruce Paddington – a Portsmouth-born graduate of Hornsey College of Art and Film, who left these shores an Englishman in 1972 and headed for Trinidad & Tobago to teach. He stayed, he married, he started a family whilst building a legacy in Caribbean cinema and gained his Trinidadian citizenship. This is the result of a collaboration with his son, Luke – multi-talented in the cinematic arts in his own right.” http://www.thebritishblacklist.com/british-blacklist-speaks-professor-bruce-paddington-director-ever-killing-revolution/


 

Film Review: Forward Ever: The Killing of a Revolution Documentary

ForwardEverLong

“TBB Interviewed the director of this documentary with just days to go before its second London screening With my head full to brimming with the West Indies all week, I was anticipating it with excitement, slightly laced with something like pride.

The screening took place on Saturday, May 17th, in the large NFT 1 auditorium, riverside, within the British Film Institute itself. It is a sumptuous 450-seat, red velvet venue with a substantial blackened stage.

It was sold out.

Black and white, the audience felt like a London audience should – multicultural and with a real sense of friendly camaraderie. I noticed a few familiar faces in the crowd – ever-bubbly actress Doňa Croll; actress and serene beauty Judith Jacob; photography mage Campbell X; Pan-Africanist and scholar-activist Dr Ama Biney; Professor Gus John, who would be joining the panel afterward; and the legendary Alex Pascal OBE – co-developer of the Notting Hill Carnival, co-founder of The Voice Newspaper, journalist, composer, broadcaster and, perhaps most importantly, Grenada-born. There were a lot of ordinary folk there too, like Earla and her Aunt Laura.” http://www.thebritishblacklist.com/ever-killing-revolution-bfi-screening-panel-discussion-reviewed/



 

 

Film Review: Two Shorts – Mustard and You Troll mustard_youtroll

“… Mustard. This is a period piece, set in 1970’s England, following a day in the life of 15-year old Penelope. She is an only child in a middle classed family, and something is not quite right. The painstaking precision in her bland, teen bedroom is alarming enough. But then, voyeuristically, we witness some of the disturbing rituals she now completes, dead-eyed, before taking a bath fully clothed in her nightie…

“… You Troll, is a present-day statement on a belief held by the writer of the piece, Bryon. Set in a non-descript inner city, teenager Ola, is cruelly terrorised by peers on his way home. The intensity of his reaction, aided by the jarring, stop-start camera-work, immediately draws the viewer onto his side, heart shockingly clenched in empathy and bleeding slightly for his torment…” http://www.thebritishblacklist.com/future-filmmaking-shorts-nathan-bryon-theresa-varga/



 

Theatre Review: Circles by Rachel De Lahay

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Danusia Samal and Toyin Kinch star

“Circles, the new play by award-winning young playwright Rachel De Lahay, has taken up a brief residence at the Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn. Produced by the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company, this is a showcase not only for the major talents within the company, but for Birmingham itself. And the Number 11 bus, on which half of the drama unfolds. It is here that 15-year-old Demi (Danusia Samal) and 16-year-old Malachi (Toyin Kinch) meet. She is initially a hard-to-impress, slightly belligerent schoolgirl from the posher King’s Heath area; he, from the more run down Handsworth. As Malachi boards the bus after work, apparently on the phone with his cousin and best friend Tubs, he is full of the bluster and big talk of a teenaged boy trying to impress a teenaged girl…” http://www.thebritishblacklist.com/tbbsundayread-british-blacklist-reviews-play-circles-rachel-delahay/

 



 

 

Interview: Actor Abdul Salis

abdul_salis“Abdul Salis is a very nice man.

I started with what could have been construed as an insult, but it wasn’t taken as such. Because it had been one of his most prolific TV roles, I had to admit that I had not seen him as paramedic Curtis Cooper in Casualty (BBC1, March 2008- July 2009) – I haven’t watched it since its earliest days. Of course I knew that he had been on our TV screens for a long time – 12 years, in fact, from 2002’s The Hidden City to 2013’s Doctors via Dr Who (Fear Her, 2006) and 8 others. He has at least 6 TV movies and 5 motion pictures under his belt, including Love Actually (2003) – which he is sure will follow him around every Christmas – and Flyboys (2006)…” http://www.thebritishblacklist.com/tbbsundayread-abdul-salis-edinburghs-fringe-festival-paines-plough/


 

Panel Discussion Review: Mark Kermode: Who Needs the Professionals Now That Everyone’s a Critic?

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Miranda Sawyer, Matt Trueman and Rosie Rockel (left top to bottom), Mark Kermode (right)

“I found myself at the door of the ICA in the Mall, in the sweltering early evening heat, with a couple of expectations:

  1. It would be a good evening, because, from what I’ve seen and read of Mr Kermode, he is earnest in his love of film and pretty knowledgeable of the art form.
  2. There wouldn’t be a black critic on the panel, nor many black audience members.

“I was right…

“… With so much on-going media discussion, I was hopeful for an expression of one quality which I assumed all artists to possess – to be inclusive, comprehensive, diverse. Or to express a point of view in full acknowledgement of the potential for, or a statement on, exclusion. However, I knew that should the issue be overlooked during the course of the evening, I would have to ask the question….http://www.thebritishblacklist.com/tbbsundayread-question-critical-diversity-ica-role-critic-debate/

 


Theatre Review: Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry

Ubu-Roi-600x474I was warned that Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry was a surreal play, but great fun. I knew it was a French play, first staged in 1896 at the Théâtre de l’Ouevre.

I have experienced dream sequences and psychedelic trips in film, exhibition art and even in pop songs, but I have to admit to dismissing the possibility of staging surrealism in live performance. However, the white set seemed appropriate – a wealthy room with pristine white walls, white mantelpiece, white furniture, a thick green candle, a huge white rug and a youth apparently asleep on the two-seater sofa, dressed in a grey sweater and faded blue jeans, to the background chatter of French radio...” http://www.thebritishblacklist.com/tbbsundayread-descantdebs-reviews-ubu-roi-king-ubu-barbican-theatre/

 


 

Film Review Through the Lens of Hip Hop: UK Women Documentary

through-the-lens-of-hip-hop-uk-women“The female Hip Hop scene is alive and kickin’ it in the UK!

“This was the message ringing out from the Khalili Lecture Theatre at SOAS in central London as it played host to newest short film from Curved Marginz Productions – Through The Lens of Hip Hop: UK Women.

“Launched in January 2012, Curved Marginz is the creative collaboration of Samantha Calliste and Silhouette Bushay, brought together by their passions for Hip-Hop, black feminism and all things marginalised‘ in education and community development projects. Soon after conception, they broadened into a further alliance with documentary film-maker Kay Fi’ian to embark on their latest ‘visibility project’… TBB editorial had been wandering about the UK female Hip-Hop artists: where were they?” http://www.thebritishblacklist.com/lens-hip-hop-uk-women-curved-marginz-visibility-project/


 

Theatre Review: Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage

Rochelle Neil (left) and Tanya Moodie (right) star as Mayme and Esther

Rochelle Neil (left) and Tanya Moodie (right) star as Mayme and Esther

“After discovering some old pictures of her grandparents, Lynn Nottage was inspired to write Intimate Apparel, dramatically re-telling a portion of her grandmother’s life. She, too, was a seamstress who created lingerie and was expected to remain a spinster; she, too, married a man who had worked on the Panama Canal; and both of their lives were changed by the migration that its construction fuelled.

This 2014 UK production, as advertised by a seemingly unlrelated, mysterious beauty sporting a décolletage tattooed with the New York City skyline, has a small cast of only six. It is, however, a testament to the collective effort of the Company that it feels much more richly populated.

Tanya Moodie wholly inhabits Esther Mills – an African American daughter of a slave, eking out a life in 1905 New York. She creates the ‘intimate apparel’ of the title – corsetry and lingerie for women occupying all social stations…” http://www.thebritishblacklist.com/british-blacklist-review-intimate-apparel-starring-tanya-moodie-park-theatre/


 

Interview: Actress Cynthia Erivo

cynthia“Cynthia Erivo is a huge talent who, in just four years, has accumulated a formidable professional portfolio:

“In 2010, fresh from graduating RADA, she played Constance in The Three Musketeers and the Princess of Spain, followed by Leila in I Was Looking at the Ceiling and then I Saw the Sky, and Ellie Jackson in Marine Parade. Just a year later, this relative novice was cast in a musical with sung dialogue as Madeleine in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (2011). This really paid off, not just for the production, but for the actress too, because soon after, she was rewarded with what might be called a stellar leap in landing the UK Touring role of Deloris Van Cartier in Sister Act: The Musical (2011/12). By 2013, she earned the Lap Dancer role in LIFT: A New Musical and then Celie in the critically acclaimed The Color Purple, and then landed Chanice in I Can’t Sing (2014).

“Now, Londoners will have the opportunity to see her in the title role of Dessa Rose, which premieres in Europe at the Trafalgar Studios and runs for a month (July 29th – September 30th).” http://www.thebritishblacklist.com/tbb-catches-cynthia-erivo-west-play-dessa-rose/

 


Theatre Review: Dessa Rose by Lynn Ahrens (Book and Lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (Music)

(*Spoiler warning*)

DESSAROSE_1“Cynthia Erivo was right! “… It’s very, very intimate, extremely intimate…”

“This was her description of Trafalgar Studio 2, where she is starring in the European premiere of Dessa Rose – a musical of slaves and ladies in the ante-bellum South (read the interview here). I don’t know what that conjures up for you, but you couldn’t be blamed for thinking it might not be your cup of tea. You might be wrong there.

“The theatre itself is very cosy, seating just 100. But this seemed to spur set designers Garance Marneur and Avra Aleovropoulos to ingenuity. A full length musical with a cast/chorus of 12 is a little more than a routine challenge in so limited a space! Then, there was the question of where to put the band? Answer: All over the place…” http://www.thebritishblacklist.com/descantdeb-reviews-dessa-rose-trafalgar-studios-30th-august-2014/

 


Book Review: Seeing Other People by Mike Gayle

Seeing Other People is the thirteenth book from the mind of Mike Gayle, and it’s a little bit of a paradox.
Like all but one of the previous 12 in the Gayle back-catalogue, this is a work of fiction, set in a specific period of a man’s life as he negotiates the nuances and red flags of a pivotal event. Unlike the previous 12, this has a supernatural element on which much of the drama hinges.

http://www.thebritishblacklist.com/tbb-reviews-mike-gayles-latest-seeing-people-released-28th-august-2014/


 

Film Review: The Trials of Muhammad Ali, Documentary

Have you ever had to face a genuine dilemma?

I’m talking about a Sophie’s Choice between possibilities which go against some personal or traditional doxa, or deeply held ‘way of things’?
The Trials of Muhammad Ali is a documentary focusing on the years 1964 to 1971 when, in the tender years of his early twenties, the heavyweight boxing legend faced just such an impasse. BUFF, the British Urban Film Festival (http://www.britishurbanfilmfestival.co.uk/), presented an early morning screening in Stepney in advance of the Festival itself (4th-8th September 2014). Founder, Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe, was in attendance and introduced the film with a quiet pride. Incredibly, it set the tone!

http://www.thebritishblacklist.com/tbb-reviews-the-trials-muhammad-ali-premiering-buff-film-festival-september-4th-2014/

Colour-Blind Casting vs Colour-Blind Viewing

Published July 7, 2014 by descantdeb

First posted on April 16th 2014 on my previous blog dibsonthat.wordpress.com

colorblind

From Catholicism USA

Colour-blind casting is also known as non-traditional casting or integrated casting: casting a role without considering the actor’s ethnicity – apparently the Grey’s Anatomy storylines were created without any reference to race, cast with the best available actors… and it showed!
In the theatre, African-American actress, Condola Rashad, scored a mere column inch in the free city newspaper, the Metro, in late March in anticipation of the UK cinema release of Broadway’s Romeo and Juliet. It was originally staged on Broadway in July 2013 and Ms Rashad was cast as Juliet to Orlando Bloom’s Romeo.

148675a Rand J2 It closed early due to poor attendance and poor reviews. Ms Rashad received slightly less criticism than Mr Bloom, but some of the comments were as follows;

  •  AM New York – “…offering flavourless performances full of fakery.” and “Rashad wears Juliet’s naiveté like a mask that prevents her from offering any other facial expressions.”
  • The Hollywood Reporter – “Rashad is graceful and pretty as Juliet, effortlessly passing for a girl not yet 14. But she is also bland.” and “…her performance here is all surface sweetness and vulnerability, lacking the innate pluck or intelligence that this contemporary reading demands.”
  • NBC New York – “I was more concerned by my creeping feeling that Rashad’s Juliet was better matched to Paris (Justin Guarini…)”
  • The New York Post – “Equally underwhelming is Condola Rashad’s one-note performance as Juliet.”

The UK Metro’s miniscule write up seemed to have been convinced, if not by a pre-viewing, then by reviews such as these. And yet, I also found a few more complimentary notices… and not from obscure sources, either. In relation to links from the play, these were to be found further down the list:

  •  The Huffington Post – “…Performance-wise, though, this new Juliet holds her own, but there is only so much she can do in this time-indeterminate, dark-and-dank Romeo of Leveaux’s…”
  • Entertainment Weekly – “…both are talented actors who aren’t daunted by the Bard’s poetry…” and “.. Rashad, meanwhile, is gifted with a remarkable inner glow. Her Juliet is radiant and thoughtful and almost studious — to a fault…”
  • The New York Times – “…Mr Bloom, in a first-rate Broadway debut, and the gifted Ms Rashad exude a too-fine-for-this-world purity that makes their characters’ love feel sacred…” and “…Ms Rashad […] here commits to the all-out innocence of a sheltered character who is only 13. This Juliet is incandescent with virginity…”

Who to believe, who to believe?

Well, apparently the New York Times is considered more liberal and high-brow than the New York Post, striving to be a national newspaper, and the Huffington Post has an international readership. But, there’s also the fact that Condola Rashad is Phylicia Rashad’s daughter, Debbie Allen’s niece – so, good genes – and… is a back-to-back Tony Award-nominated actress!
In almost every notice (and especially in the poorer ones), Ms Rashad’s previous work was not only mentioned, but universally praised. For example:

  • Bloomberg News wrote of her, “…an actress who has been nothing less than hypnotic in other roles (most recently in “The Trip to Bountiful”)…”
  • New York Post – “… Rashad (…) has been a sensitive, vivid presence in plays as diverse as -“Ruined,” “Stick Fly” and, most recently, “The Trip to Bountiful.”...”
  • Huffington Post – “…Those of us who have seen her in Ruined, Stick Fly and The Trip to Bountiful know that Rashad is an actor to watch.”

And though these claims appear to be universally true, do you notice anything?

Rashad received rave reviews and a Drama Desk Award nomination for her debut role in 2009’s Ruined – a story of the plight of women in the civil war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2012, she was Tony-nominated for Featured Actress in a Play for Stick Fly – a story of an affluent African-American family… The following year (2013 – the same year she later appeared in Romeo and Juliet), she was Tony-nominated in the same category for The Trip to Bountiful – the story of an ageing (African-American) widow who leaves her son and daughter… (?)
On the surface, all of the work for which Rashad has been praised has been African or African-American material (even though the New York Post called these ‘diverse’ roles). That for which she has received little praise is not. And what, for the love of Pete, does NBC New York mean by “… my creeping suspicion…” of her Juliet being “…more suited to Paris…”? Though an early suitor for Juliet, her heart is swiftly taken by Romeo, thereby making the story. Even the critic has not suggested it was a story device. So, I looked up the actor.

Justin Guarini is a mixed race actor, a former American Idol contestant, who is probably demographically categorised as black in the USA. I couldn’t quite believe the critics’ editor hadn’t struck the statement from the final copy! If the reference was made to Paris’ temperament, which has been described as lacking in passion, or an unhappy, but sympathetic innocent caught in the crossfire, the point should have been made much clearer than that!

So, I looked again at the harsher comments, and I thought it peculiar that they also mention Ms Rashad’s lack of innocence and ability to play naïve. This made me think.

enhanced-buzz-4427-1352954356-3Black women and their bodies, for better or worse, tend to be associated with womanhood, sexualisation and voluptuous motherhood, nursing babies. Sci fi writer Chesya Burke’s 2012 article in Clarke’s World Magazine, “Another Word: Super Duper Sexual Spiritual Black Woman: The New and Improved Magical Negro”  (http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/another_word_09_12/) discusses the “…old, worn-out stereotypes – the sexual aggression of Black women…” as a “…constructed reality for U.S. society since its beginning…”, listing the ‘temptress slave woman’ and the ‘Black Jezebel’ as extremes of the construct.
As one of the more positive, The NY Times placed much of what didn’t work at the feet of the director. Is it possible that the director was incapable of seeing past the stereotype in the performance he coaxed from Ms Rashad’s Juliet? Unlikely, since he cast her to play a 14 year-old in the first place. Could the critics, or the audience not see past the stereotype?
Then, of course, there is the obvious question – did Condola Rashad deserve praise for her first three plays? Was she held to a lower standard because she is an African-American actress appearing in African or African-American dramatic material? Is she simply more comfortable playing parts that are more ‘familiar’ to her. Are the critics or audiences more comfortable with her playing parts that they believe are more familiar to her?

Well, Stick Fly was a modern play with affluent characters, Bountiful was set in 1947 and Ruined was set in a war-torn African Nation. Ms Rashad is an affluent African-American and was born in the late 1980s. I can’t see what connection she could have drawn upon for the latter two plays, except for her acting technique and/or skill.

Was she, then, subsequently held to a different or higher standard when appearing in what black British actor, Paterson Joseph, called ‘…a European literary tradition..’. (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/may/16/baftas-black-actors-tv). Was she ever the right actress, even the right African-American actress, to have been chosen for the part – a complex, weighty, Shakespearean role?

Well, Ms Rashad’s co-stars in Bountiful included Cicely Tyson, Cuba Gooding Jr and Vanessa Williams. In Stick Fly, Dulé Hill and Mekhi Phifer. To have been singled out in that company, was, I think, an achievement in itself. Further, I can’t help but think of some of the Comic Book community’s initial reaction to Samuel L. Jackson’s casting as traditionally white Nick Fury, or Idris Elba’s casting as traditionally white Heimdall. Two insanely cool actors, yet the web was a-buzz with genuinely confused people asking Yahoo and the like whether the characters were white or black, why the change, reverse the change, the comic stipulated… Yes, fictional and mythical characters can inspire purists (either racial or text-faithful highbrows) to react unfavourably to interference with original works.

So, is the New York theatre community simply unable to critique, blind to race? Well, David Leveaux cast ethnically – the Capulets as a black family and the Montague’s as white. This is a device which I don’t have a problem with, belonging as I do to the millions who consider West Side Story a stand-alone classic. But not here, apparently. Some reviewers were even indignant.

Honest.

AM New York – “In David Leveaux’s modern-dress production of Shakespeare’s teenage tragedy, the Capulet family has been cast with black actors and the Montague family with white actors. This creates problems from the very start.” and “Leveaux’s casting is not color-blind but inappropriately color-conscious for a play in which color shouldn’t have a role…”

Sorry?

Have they not seen West Side Story (1961, Greek actors cast as Hispanic (George Chakiris), Russian actors ‘tanned’ to a darker hue (Natalie Wood), an actual Hispanic actor in a supporting role (Rita Moreno)…? How about the lesser classic Romeo Must Die (2000) with the late Aaliyah Haughton (RIP) as Trish O’Day/Juliet and Jet Li as Han Sing/Romeo, the feud based on race? I’m not sure these two even shared a kiss!

NBC New York – “Though race is a casting gimmick to distinguish this “Romeo and Juliet” from predecessors (…), it plays little part otherwise. It’s certainly not a reason, here, for animosity between the two families. The only time I was aware of black and white was in the presence of the always-awesome Jayne Houdyshell (…), as the nurse employed in servitude to the Capulets. How often, at least on Broadway, do we see a dowdy white woman working for a wealthy black couple?”

Pardon?

See earlier paragraph re: West Side Story/Romeo Must Die. Again, disbelief. If anything more was gleaned from Shakespeare’s description of two families as sworn enemies ‘from ancient grudge to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean’, it might validate the point. Unfortunately, it reads, more like something had to be said about the choice of racial casting, without appearing racist…at the expense of the story. One wonders what they might make of Benny’s Song – another re-working, by award-winning playwright, Patricia Cumper, MBE, in a Jamaican setting, substituting iambic pentameter for the local Patois!

Luckily, The New York Times had something more sensible to say, “That one of them is white and the other black may underscore the division between their families, yet it registers as irrelevant when they’re together.” which, let’s face it, is what this world famous story of forbidden teen love and tragedy is supposed to be about.

Then, what is one supposed to make of all-ethnic versions of classically ‘white’ productions?

  • Carmen Jones played for more than a year in exclusive first-run engagements in London and Berlin, and it was permitted to open the 1955 Cannes Film Festival. It ranks 372/633 on ranker.com’s List of Best Black Movies.
  • The Wiz was initially a commercial flop, but has since become profitable from a cult following which developed throughout the 1980s and 90s. It was critically panned, mainly directed at Diana Ross’s age. It ranked 72/633 on ranker.com’s List of Best Black Movies.
  • The Honeymooners received negative reviews from critics and moviegoers alike. It currently holds a “Rotten” 14% Rotten Tomatoes rating and 387/633 on ranker.com’s List of Best Black Movies.
  • A Streetcar Named Desire was liked by Broadway.com, disliked by nytimes.com
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – was considered successful, but nytimes.com thought it lacked focus and was occasionally exaggerated talkinbroadway.com felt that “Allen has let comedy run rampant, allowing – if not outright encouraging – peals of laughter in unthinkable places, as if everything has been approached in the manner of a black sitcom.”
  • Steel Magnolias received positive reviews from critics. Metacritic scored it as 74/100 and it stands at 483/633 on ranker.com’s List of Best Black Movies.and Alfre Woodward’s Ouizer was particularly singled out for praise.

So, just trying to make sense of what has been written shows how muddied and messy things get around the subject of race – specifically between black and white. My opinion is if you like the stars, the story or the premise, go see it and make up your own mind! The negative reviews for Broadway’s Romeo and Juliet read almost exactly the same, almost resorting to college humour at times. I’m sure that they felt that by mentioning the quality of Ms Rashad’s past work, they would give the impression of a balanced review.

The scales are dishonest.

Whether loaded due to a racially sensitive, genuine inability to cope with colour-blind casting or loaded due to a snooty intolerance for non-traditional casting, I can’t quite bring myself to believe Ms Rashad was that bad (Mr Bloom, I have seen in other works) and I’m not entirely convinced that Mainstream critics are sufficiently qualified to make or break an ethnic production.

My review of a debate and discussion of the role of the critic held in London last month will be posted on www.thebritishblacklist.com next weekend.

Even a Pigeon Shouldn’t be Pigeon-Holed

Published June 30, 2014 by descantdeb

First posted on January 29th 2014 as Pigeon-holing Isn’t Even Fair to Pigeons on my previous blog dibsonthat.wordpress.com

Pigeons-in-holes

My previous blog, ‘Science Fiction, Science Feminine’, got me thinking about the phenomenon of perception and oversimplification in general. Having failed to conform to the expected on multiple occasions myself, the term pigeonhole sat up, begging to be taken seriously. I obliged.

It’s originally a noun, describing (literally), ‘a small recess for a domestic pigeon to nest in’ (Oxford English Dictionary). Pigeons who, between the first and second world wars, were honoured with the Dickens Medal for their steadfast contribution to the delivery of top secret messages and plans a total of 32 times. Pigeons, who have had whole careers in homing and racing, as couriers, in ceremonies, as food (albeit a necessarily shortened career), as pets, sacrifices, symbols of peace, assistant to some of the biggest names in religion – the Prophet Muhammed, Noah – and as the representative of no less than 4 goddesses, including Venus!

I hear the screeching of mental wheels… ceremonies? Pets?? Symbols of peace??? Noah???? No!

Yes! The pigeon, I discovered, belongs to the bird clade, Columbidae, along with the dove! I was stunned, owing to the fact that I had owned 4 pet doves as a pre-teen – Snowy and Fairy, then Snowy II and Fairy II. What? I was a pre-teen!!

Between them, doves and pigeons represent around 310 species, and are actually known to be fairly difficult to categorise:

  • They are found everywhere on earth (a bit like humans);
  • They vary considerably in size (a bit like humans);
  • Their diet varies across food groups – frugiforous (fruit/tree feeders), granivorous (seeds/ground feeders), insects, worms, snails, moths, reptiles (in principle, a bit like humans), and
  • 10 species are known to be extinct, including the dodo (a bit like the decimated or extinct human civilisations of South America, Canada, etc.).
  • They are not all ASBO-flouting feral pigeons.

I had to admit that I had never equated the serene white releasing dove, popular at ceremonies such as weddings and funerals, with the grey-black permanent residents of Trafalgar or Times Square? Colombia livia, city dove, city pigeon, street pigeon, is the urbanite progeny of originally sea-cliff and mountain-dwelling rock doves. Rock doves were domesticated in the 1600s to domestic pigeons (of course!), who then subsequently returned to the urban wild!

The social adoption of the term, inspired by the small recess for pigeons, developed into use to describe a recess or compartment for documents, and then as a partition for groups of people. This later application has increased since the 1850s – slowly at first, picking up speed at the dawn of the 1900s, then peaking just before the 1950s, to more or less plateau since then. Dictionaries, diligently following colloquialisms, incorporated the evolution of meaning;

pigeonhole non

 – Oxford English Dictionary: a category, typically an overly restrictive one, to which someone or something is assigned;

 – Google search: assign to a particular category, typically an overly restrictive one

 – Cambridge Dictionary: usually disapproving, to have an often unfair idea of what type someone or something is.

 – Macmillan Dictionary: to decide that someone or something belongs to a particular type or group, especially without knowing much about them.

 – Thefreedictionary.com: A specific, often oversimplified category.

 

By this time, it was beginning to feel a lot like a contradiction of the term with the object, because pigeonhole, the verb, has evolved in meaning to brand, categorize, characterise, classify, codify, compartmentalise, designate, grade, label, rank, rate, sort or tag (OED).

Like the inclusions of overly restrictive, disapproving, unfair, without knowing much about them and oversimplified in the above definitions, many of the synonyms swing toward a degree of negativity, rather than positivity, depending on the context. It is, for example, reassuring when categorising, codifying or designating an animal, mineral or vegetable. On the other hand, labelling, branding or tagging people becomes very troubling, even sinister – consider labelling a personality (flirt, slut, commitment-phobe); branding of slaves; categorising or compartmentalising ethnic groups (apartheid); ranking of social worth (upper and lower classes), and electronic tagging of offenders. This last has sparked recent debate on the proposed fitting of psychiatric patients with a similar device. Mental health advocates argue that it is demeaning. And so it is, certainly inappropriate, along with all of the above.

Wow!

For the 310 pigeon species, how disappointing! For any member of a minority group, how disturbing!

Pigeon-holing places the ‘power to decide’ firmly in someone else’s hands, leaving the objectified almost powerless to change it. In the case of the pigeon, the disadvantage is not mastering human speech. Their entire existence is due to an outside force modifying one species and inadvertently creating 2 more! However, pigeons still fare better than humans in this respect. The job of classifying the animal kingdom falls to highly trained and scientifically rational zoologists or taxonomists in the study of phylogenetics, cladistics, systematics (and botanists for the plant kingdom). Humans are pigeonholed by judgements which lack rationality. Early ‘scientific’ experiments to prove racial supremacy (white, Aryan) have, rightly, been thoroughly discredited – their starting hypotheses, conduct and data interpretation fundamentally biased.

But wait! We are members of western civilisation and emerging democracies, benefitting from the pursuit of knowledge. One side effect of that process is that we are raised to expect order, to create order, to live and conduct ourselves in an orderly fashion.

Interesting, then, that coinciding with that 1950s peak use of pigeonholing were many social changes occurring in (certainly British) society, shrinking the gaps between social groups: Women and ethnic minorities had risen in prominence after the death toll of 2 world wars (aided by pigeons); in 1919, women received the right to enter the professions, gained the right of equal property inheritance in 1922 and the vote in 1928; in 1944, the Education Act ensured free secondary education was available to all, regardless of class; in 1949 the British Nationality Act granted British citizenship and the right to work in Britain to the people of the Commonwealth (following the creation of the NHS in 1948); and the 1960s brought access to the contraceptive pill and contraceptive advice to all women, freeing them to take advantage of the pre-war rights they had gained.

In a remarkable flash of insight, the Cambridge dictionary actually included a third definition of pigeonholing – classifying and creating order.

It sounds reasonable. It is reasonable when ornithologists tackle the challenge of the Columbidae clade. You can take it as read that they took their sweet, evolutionary time in classifying those 310(+10) species. Humans, again, not so lucky. Humans tend to resort to pigeonholing when faced with the unfamiliar. To the human who embraces the chaos and the uncertainty, the unfamiliar can be exhilarating, educational, exciting, surprising, invigorating – many positive things! For the human to whom creating order and the need to predict and control is paramount, the unfamiliar is more likely to be seen as a threat. Writer, Julian Fellowes, has made the cast of Downton Abbey almost too knowing of the profound social changes that society edured through the middle of the last century, and they hadn’t even peaked at that time.

Pigeon-holing a pigeon is a disservice to the hours of study expended by scientists and the hard evolutionary work of Mother Nature (or Elemental Force of your choice) in creating such dazzling diversity.

Pigeon-holing a person may be the start of something darker, like Fascism – mainly political, but also ‘intolerant views or practices’; Stereotype – ‘a widely held, but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type’, ‘… especially an idea that is wrong’; Bigotry – ‘intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself‘; and the Big Daddy of them all, the vice of which the wonderful Elizabeth Bennett was guilty (Mr. Darcy’s was pride)…

Prejudice:–

  • Prejudgment, or forming an opinion before becoming aware of the relevant facts…. […] …preconceived, usually unfavorable, judgments’
  • ‘Any unreasonable attitude that is unusually resistant to rational influence’
  • ‘A preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience; dislike, hostility, or unjust behaviour deriving from preconceived and unfounded opinions’
  • An unfair and unreasonable opinion or feeling, especially when formed without enough thought or knowledge’
  • ‘An unreasonable opinion or feeling, especially the feeling of not liking a particular group of people’
  • ‘Feeling, favorable or unfavorable, toward a person or thing, prior to, or not based on, actual experience’.

I will accept nominations for any of the above as a validated field of science.

On a postcard.

Please.

In fact, sociologists have tried to construct theories explaining prejudice. I think the y  resonates best for me: ‘competition for limited resources leads to increased negative prejudices and discrimination’, and the Integrated Threat Theory, where the four threats are;

The Threat Theory

The Threat Theory

  • Realistic threats – tangible, threats for resources/assets, to income
  • Symbolic threats – perceived difference in cultural values
  • Intergroup anxiety – belief that interactions with other groups cause negative feelings like uneasiness
  • Negative stereotypes – anticipated negative behaviour in line with the perceived stereotype.

Pigeons know the Integrated Threat Theory all too well. They are swatted away when they realistically attempt to peck at your fast food lunch or picnic, symbolically they are indiscriminate about their droppings, they cause angst as they are perceived to spread disease, thereby fitting into a negative stereotype because of all of the above. They are also familiar with the Social Dominance Theory in city life, where they occupy the lower rungs of the societal group hierarchies, coming below their clade-mates the doves. The dominant forge their right of superiority by creating credible myths (morally and intellectually) to justify the pigeon’s inferior position and the denial of their claim over limited resources.

If pigeons have it so bad, just consider that for pigeon-holed humans, things can only be even more intolerable – inequalities in the workplace for appointments, salary and senior promotions; hailing a black cab in Brixton; applying for membership of a posh golf club or private members club; walking through certain neighbourhoods, driving certain cars, street violence and the pursuit of justice, owning a high street business other than a corner shop, post office or restaurant.

But, I am thinking by now, there must be something good about pigeon-holing.

In scriptwriting, there is some distinction between character and characterisation, and ‘characterise’ is probably the only term I recognise as positive. It fundamentally cannot be a function of a superficial assessment, because it has so little to do with first impressions or outward appearance. It has to do with qualities, actions, thoughts, speech, peculiarities – traits which make a pigeon or person unique and interesting, rather than an outsider or a threat (true psychopaths or sociopaths notwithstanding). Characterisation cannot lump individuals into an oversimplified group. It is the fundamental opposite of the prejudicialisms. Peristerophobism, for example, is strictly speaking a fear of pigeons, but I am taking the liberty of using it here as homophobism usually is – hate. The truth of this state of mind is not one easily put into words. It is learned probably subliminally, occasionally from first-hand negative experience. A true peristerophobe will see a feral pigeon, immediately experience a sub-conscious cognitive dissonance (negative feelings) and attach it to every thought and deed in relation to that pigeon. Subsequently, it won’t matter if that pigeon begins to talk, dance, parade character witnesses on its behalf, present you with a typed, perfumed CV (à la Elle Woods, Legally Blonde) or save your life, it won’t change that feeling. Everything that pigeon does will be within the context of that entrenched negative belief, or doxa – the unspoken and taken-for-granted ‘way it is’. Pigeon positives will be dismissed as false or demeaned as not good enough, because it is groundlessly being held to a higher standard than the ‘norm’. I’ll wager that even if you informed that same peristerophobe of the Pigeonhole Principle, they would still treat the bird as vermin. In fact, the Pigeonhole Principle is well known as a counting argument in mathematics, which can be used to demonstrate unexpected results!

Arts_stereotypes2_tapuz_co__il_For humans, of course, there is racism, apartheid (yes, it still happens), sexism, homophobia (really? A fear of…?), religious fascism and oppression of every stripe. In the presence of such belief systems, the histories of the  admirable past and present contributions made by oppressed are forgotten or re-written, requiring huge efforts of sacrifice to re-tell their stories* (see some examples below).

Finally, the poor pigeonholed pigeon can be subject to depression, as can the pigeon-holer. The pigeon might see itself as an amalgamation of 2 or more categories which, in ignorance are usually poorly defined anyway, or not be a perfect fit in any; it will change over time through parenthood, injury, age or experience (it might even attempt communication and reconciliation!) and it will have to deal with the stressof not conforming and being considered an outsider, contrary to it’s own self-image. The pigeon-holer, on the other hand, must eventually reap the reward for perpetuating constant negativity, angst and anger, and generally sucking genuine curiosity and the joy of the unfamiliar out of the world.

If it’s that bad for pigeons, I am truly saddened to think of what it might mean for a human. Of course, humans, being the mass of surprising contradictions that we are, are capable of trying to allay and counter-act the harm of  it:

There are genuine attempts at the international recognition of minorities:

  • International Women’s Day every February/March since 1908;
  • Gay Pride (LGBT) Day/Parades every July since 1965;
  • Black History Month every October, formally since 1976 in the USA (derived from Negro History Month since 1926 and changed to BHM informally in 1970), since 1982 in the UK and since 1995 in Canada.

This wouldn’t be a DescantDeb blog without some film and TV references, and, of course, there are multiple examples of film and TV dealing with minority groups and their struggle:

Human Rights

  • Hedda Gabler 1963,
  • King (TV) 1978,
  • Ghandi 1982,
  • Cry Freedom 1987,
  • Malcolm X 1992,
  • Schindler’s List 1993,
  • Lincoln 1988 (also 1992 and 2012),
  • Hotel Rwanda 2004
  • Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom 2013;

Race

  • Blazing Saddles 1974,
  • Roots (TV) 1977,
  • Glory 1989,
  • A Time To Kill 1998
  • Amistad 1997,
  • Amazing Grace 2006,
  • The Great Debaters 2008, T
  • he Secret Life of Bees 2008,
  • Small Island 2009,  
  • 12 Years a Slave 2013;

Sexuality

  • The Naked Civil Servant (TV) 1975,
  • Peter’s Friends 1992,
  • The Crying Game 1992,
  • Philadelphia 1993,
  • The Birdcage 1996 (La Cages Aux Folles 1978)
  • TransAmerica 2005,
  • Milk 2008,
  • Dallas Buyers Club 2013;

Female Empowerment

  • Norma Rae 1979,
  • The Colour Purple 1985,
  • The Josephine Baker Story 1991,
  • Bandit Queen 1994
  • Tea with Mussolini 1999,
  • Erin Brockovitch 2000,
  • Legally Blonde 2001,
  • Made in Dagenham 2010,
  • Mrs Mandela (TV) 2010,
  • The Help 2011.

Mental Illness

  • Sybil (TV) 1976,
  • Shine 1996,
  • A Beautiful Mind 2001,
  • Monk (TV) 2002,
  • Lars and the Real Girl 2007,
  • Reign Over Me 2007,
  • The Soloist 2009,
  • Perception (TV) 2012,
  • Silver Linings Playbook 2012.

Finally, this clip is one of the best courtroom closing arguments period. I haven’t read John Grisham’s book, so I don’t know if it was the work of the author or the scriptwriter (Akiva Goldsman). But, from around 2 minutes 5 seconds, Jake Brigance is given the words to fully convey the power of perception and it is powerfully done by recent Oscar winner, Matthew McConaughey.

Apply it to the plight of any minority. You can’t understand the words and not cry for humanity. And pigeons.

With thanks to

1. The author of Wikipedia ‘Pigeons’, ‘Pigeonholing’ and ‘Pigeonhole Principle’

2. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/6583217.stm Why do we hate pigeons so much? BBC News, Monday, 23 April 2007, 12:54 GMT 13:54 UK

3.  www.ganfyd.org/index.php?title=The_Creation_and_Evolution_of_Medical _Equality_within_the_Profession