Modern Griots Review: Beasts of the Southern Wild

How does one celebrate life amidst impending doom? Or for this, how does one review a movie that she had high expectations for, but was a bit of a letdown? Appreciate the specks of wonder in it. Lessons learned from the film, Beasts of the Southern Wild.

An adaptation Lucy Alibar‘s play, “Juicy and Delicious,” the film is from the point of view of Hushpuppy, a precocious little girl who at a young age has to confront the realities and truths of nature, including the mortality and ruefulness of life. She live with her father, Wink, and other members of the small Delta community, “The Bathtub.” “The fabric of the universe is coming unraveled,” said by the teacher, Miss Bathsheeba, explaining the fragility of their existence of a community threatened by floods.

Actually, the film itself felt as if any moment it would fall apart. The character holding it together was of course, Hushpuppy, played by Quvenzhané Wallis. Her ability to convey a sense of innocence, strength and maturity simultaneously was powerful. Wallis’ presence commanded the screen portraying a character who was like an old, wise soul reincarnated into a little body. Her sayings about the interconnectedness of life, listening to nature, accepting that all life must die, and the importance of leaving one’s imprint on the world for those in the future to witness was awe-inspiring. It was also a reassurance knowing the lead is such a talented Black girl, especially after the racialized eruptions over Rue in The Hunger Games, and other attacks on Black girls.

However, take her away, and the film is lacking and falls flat in some areas. While, the other characters were for the most part memorable in supporting and creating a family for the character of Hushpuppy, and the imagery had a surreal and magical quality even in the squalor of the “Bathtub,” the story at times seemed pieced together and undeveloped. First, let me say, that may have been the point of it. It is told from a young child’s point of view, thus, this raises the issue of the unreliable narrator. Since Hushpuppy is so young and her entire world is literally going under, the film may reflect the somewhat haphazard kind of life she lives.

But maybe what was missing was certain signs and tie-ins that would have helped relieve some confusion and non-compelling parts of the film. For example, the beasts who are released after the melting of the ice caps. Were they real in the film or part of Hushpuppy’s imagination, an allegory of the haunting of death and the power of nature around her? There should have been a better way to visually and clearly intertwine as well as expand on her and the beasts’ journeys.

Still, Beasts of the Southern Wild is sufficiently vibrant and enchanting due to the impressive imagery and characters, especially the little girl with a will to survive and be triumphant in the face of disaster around her.


Behind the Mask: Is Willow Smith Too Young?

Tamar-Kali – Boot

Willow Smith, the daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, is known for her eccentric fashion sense, which I love. Yet lately she has been turning heads with her hairstyling and a possible tongue piercing. The Daily News has reported that her piercing is fake, but many are still questioning Will and Jada’s parenting styles and the fact that WIllow is only 11-years-old.

I must admit when I see Willow, I sometimes forget that she is only a pre-teen, but does that mean her style is inappropriate for her age. Jada had said that as parents they allow Willow to own her own body, something that I actually appreciate. But only too an extent because she is still 11 and growing. I am okay with it as long as they do not give her too much free reign and have discussions with her on some of her choices, and Jada said it herself. Her clothes are no problem and neither is shaving her head, which I read some criticized.

This has a lot to do with cultural customs, norms and taboos in terms of fashion. I think that some people are jumping at her for her style choices because they think she is not acting like a stereotypical “girl” who likes to wear and do “normal girl” things. They associate a rocker style, a female with a shaved head and piercings with being deviant and with delinquent behavior. However, in of themselves these thing do not mean anything.

The reason I placed Tamar-Kali’s “Boot,” is that the video portrays a young girl who likes to dress in a punk rock fashion and I guess it represents Kali’s own difficult with her style. In the Afropunk documentary, she spoke about her experience with teasing and bullying because of how she looked, but found it ironic that the people who did this did not realize that their ancestors did some of the same things she did. And it is true. In many indigenous cultures all over the world, tattooing, scarification and piercing, which some of our population feel represents trouble, are used as parts of rituals and as signs of maturation, beauty and different stages of life. Even in our own society, it is often normal for young girls to get their ears pierced. But any other place is considered strange?

At the end of the day, I am not Willow’s parent; it is up to her parents to decide with her on piercings and other seemingly adult actions. But I do want people to not think that her style immediately means that she is a bad or troublesome kid. Social norms change all the time because they are not actually normal or natural. Those things are not going to inherently ruin her life if she does have them. So, is Willow too young for a tongue piercing? Whether it is real or not, the answer is not so clear.

Modern Griots Review: Alicia McCalla’s Breaking Free

Are you 17 years-old or do you remember when you were? What would you do if your genetics gave you special powers? If suddenly your mother was taken away by a corrupt governmental agency? If your family expects you to join “the revolution?” And all you want to do is live a normal life and be with the ones you love. Dealing with being a teenager is hard enough. Well, that is the story of the main character, XJ Patterson, in Alicia McCalla’s book Breaking Free.

The first book in the McCalla’s Genetic Revolution series, the story follows the struggles of “Genetically Enhanced Persons,” or “GEPs,” specifically XJ, who is on a mission to rescue her mother and member of the Revolution, Dorothy, from CAGE, the “Coalition to Assimilate Genetically Enhanced Persons.” Yet on the way, she has to battle her feelings for Brandon, the son of a TV executive, and her obsessive step-sister, Heather, who has a split personality and her eyes set on Brandon.

Breaking Free works in its incorporation of historical and current social issues into an easy-to-read book. The language is simple except for the obvious science fiction jargon and teach paragraph is only a couple of sentences long. The only drawback is that some of the wording and descriptions are a bit awkward, especially the romantic excerpts between XJ and Brandon. For example, the one of Brandon getting “excited;” it is hard to take “his manhood rising” seriously. Yet since it is a book for young adults and teens, it is understandable if it cannot be too explicit.

However, the most compelling aspect is the story itself and McCalla’s transformation of social themes, like race, revolution, interracial relationships, government and media corruption, and the disadvantages to assimilation and integration into a sci-fi realm. Although it is from the perspective of teenagers, for those who know the histories and complexities of this country, they will recognize those parts of the book. CAGE is similar to organizations and institutions in the late 19th century and 20th century that were known for attempting to assimilate different ethnic groups into American society. Power reducing chips and monitoring technologies are like the stripping away of cultural identities through assimilation and the constant surveillance of people of color. Even the phrase “compatible mate-designation types” hint at conflicts of race, relationships as well as sexuality in regards to Heather’s character.

Personally, the one aspect of the book that has been helpful is XJ’s putting up of mental iron walls to fend off enemies who are trying to overpower her mind, such as the social worker Ms. Hughes. It has actually worked for me in dealing with any difficult people or negative matters in my life. Now if only I could have her telekinetic powers. Or Brandon and XJ’s cousin Amber’s technopathic abilities. I would only use it for good, of course. The sequel to the book, Double Identity will be released in February 2013, so keep a look out for that one as well.

Moving on the Wires: Janelle Monae and the Black Camera

*At the Toronto Jazz Festival last week, Janelle Monae performed two new songs that might be on her upcoming album:

“Dorothy Dandridge Eyes’

“Electric Lady”

* Indiana University’s Black Camera, a film journal, is requesting papers for their fall 2013 special Afrosurrealism in film/video. This is the description of the issue:

In the conceptual space offered by Amiri Baraka’s notion of Afrosurreal expressionism, this special issue of Black Camera invites contributions that explore the experimental, absurd, and whimsical dimensions of black filmmaking. We seek to uncover avant-garde, experimental, or noncommercial motion pictures, artists, and publics throughout the African diaspora, particularly the Caribbean and Afro-Latin America. In no way prescriptive, this issue serves as a platform to redefine the genres of black film and of experimental film through comparing and situating them in the larger frame of surrealism’s other forms in music, literature, art, and theater as expressed in African diaspora cinemas.

While Afrosurrealist works may signify on magical or hallucinatory levels, their sense of heightened reality often arcs toward current or familiar political, cultural, and ethnic contexts and references. Experimental film/video refers to work that reflects the expansive use of surrealistic principles such as abstraction, animation, parody, symbolism, incongruous juxtapositions, disinterested play of thought, and/or direct manipulation of the film image, particularly by handcrafted or artisan techniques such as painting or scratching on the film. These films may seek to explore aspects of the unconscious, or they may approach reality through the lens of the fantastic through editing, unconventional use of sound, appropriation of found footage, or the use of film stock that is out of date, tinted, baked, or processed by unconventional means. Simultaneously, in Afrosurrealist film, the conventional opposition between the real and the imagined is displaced.

The editor is interested in essays that unpack the historical development, material conditions, or artistic/political claims or sensibilities of black experimental cinemas, possibly drawing upon interdisciplinary methods that reference music, dance, painting, photography, and theater or collaborations between filmmakers and artists who work in such fields.

The guest editor, Terri Francis, will also publish a book based on the collection of essays in 2014. To read the guidelines and to submit papers, click here.