Strong woman

Still partaking in the seemingly endless process of sorting through my bookmarks and came across this:

What the Hell is a Strong Woman Anyway? , a video reflection for the Guardian on the representation of women in film by director Chanya Button. It was timely, produced to coincide with this year’s BFI film festival.

The theme of this year’s festival  was Strong Woman – prompting Button to probe what we mean by that. It’s an oft over-used term which can sometimes imply that strong women are the exception rather than the norm.

I like her video. I also feel a bit of ambivalence towards the term. I love films and TV shows with a strong female lead. I could write ode’s to Saga from the Bridge or Patti in Damages or Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder.

I gravitate towards media with interesting images of women, in particular those who are allowed to be three dimensional. Perhaps that’s it – what so many of us are yearning for is complicated female characters, because we are all complex in real life. We use the phrase “strong” because so often women are the foil for male characters, caricatures and stereotypes; so often they were just objects to be desired or rescued. What’s great is that in TV especially, we are seeing a range of characters – the sort of roles that men have taken for granted for decades.

Just – women.

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Lomu1Jonah Lomu truly was one of the Greatest of All Time. I remember first seeing him at the 1995 World Cup, which was particularly special because of political events in South Africa. I was only about 11 and although I didn’t know all the details, I had grasped that it was a significant time. I had seen the lines of Black people queuing to vote for the first time, waiting for hours in the sun, long lines snaking out of polling stations.

I also didn’t know much about rugby but I was blown away by Lomu’s prowess and athleticism. That World Cup was also significant and young as I was, I knew I was witnessing history when South Africa won in its first major sporting event following the end of apartheid.

Looking back now I realise that was only the third World Cup ever and Jonah Lomu was arguably Rugby Union’s first superstar. This morning on BBC World Service his ex coach revealed that even then Lomu was having kidney trouble and speculated at what might have been had illness not cut his career short. Even so, Lomu was absolutely outstanding. An athlete who was definitely one of rugby’s – and sport’s -GOATs.

On an unrelated note, I am not too familiar with Aussie rules, but an article by the BBC last month caught my eye because of the striking image accompanying the story. It was about indigenous star Johnathan Thurston – or more specifically, his daughter’s doll, brought onto the pitch at the end of the Rugby League final. The doll caught everyone’s eye because it was a Black doll and while it was lauded as an inclusive image, it also sparked more conversations on an issue that was already bubbling under – the plight of indigenous players in the game, and indigenous Australian’s status in the country more generally. Sport does have this transcendent quality to it, like poetry or entertainment. Lomu was one of its best ambassadors.


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Drunk History

I can’t write about what I want to write about; my head is full with thoughts about terrorism, solidarity, media coverage, consumerism and lament. I think I’ll write it all out but not yet.

I’ll just let that cook.

But in the meantime, I’m going through my bookmarks. One of these was an episode of Drunk History, one of my favourite comedy shows.

The premise is simple: people getting drunk. And recounting history while actors act out their drunken rambling. It appeals to that part of me that’s eating crisps and sniggering to South Park at 2am.

The best UK one was Romesh Ranganathan recounting the story of Tutenkhamun but the US one is the first I encountered.

This one with Octavia Spencer as Harriet Tubman is an excellent example.

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I won’t add much more to the reams and reams of analysis on the Paris attacks except to say:

It’s possible to mourn Paris and Beirut at the same time, while being cognisant of the fact that all around the world, hundreds are dying in events that aren’t marked by the media, let alone facebook – and to feel angry about that. I didn’t change my facebook picture to the French flag overlay but I don’t judge those that do. What do you do when the world is full of horrors? You do what you can and what your conscience demands. I don’t think self-righteously denouncing those that do change their facebook status makes a difference to the structural issues that mean a French flag is available but a Lebanese flag isn’t. Others put it best:



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Respectability Politics

Why don’t we have our own version of Code Switch on the BBC or another major platform? For the views of PoC we have the Voice and other publications, and to be fair there is the BBC Black stream of programming, but there is something about Code Switch’s exploration of issues from a slightly nerdy political science/social studies perspective that I really wish we could apply in the UK.

I found myself thinking this again while reading a fascinating discussion on Respectability Politics , which I had heard of, and the origin and evolution of the concept, which I had not – all in the context of #BlackLivesMatter

As NPR put it, respectability politics [is] the notion that problems in the black community spume from within, and that by adopting a certain lifestyle, black people can inoculate themselves from discrimination.

But the origins of the term are much more nuanced.

As For Harriet explains: The rejection of respectability is central to the organizing of the Black Lives Matter movement. References to “respectability politics” are often used as short hand to signify standing in solidarity with those most marginalized in Black communities. But rarely is context provided for the phrase, and its origins are almost never mentioned.

Historian Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham theorized the concept of “the politics of respectability” in her 1993 work, Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920. Therein she articulates a politic in which Black church women with few resources are empowered by embracing a moral authority that is rooted in self-determination rather than shame or blame.

It’s fascinating to read about how the term has changed in meaning – and what respectability politics means in the era of Black Lives Matter.

What a time to be alive.

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Women in Folklore

I remember reading a review of the Penguin Book of Witches, which pointed out that so often the driving force behind witch hunts was a fear of the “other”. I blogged about it here.

But the reason that figures of fear like witches are so often portrayed as haggard old women is also a fear of women’s power.

NPR has a great piece on this that takes a whistlestop tour through the folklore of different communities from Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and Russia.

It’s not all negative though. Stories of scary old women who cause harm and danger abound, but there are also traditions in which these women are wise and life-giving:

“Old women in fairy tales and folklore practically keep civilization together. They judge, reward, harm and heal; and they’re often the most intriguing characters in the story.”

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Real Dogs Keep it Real




Vicennial Hot 8

Yes, it’s that time again. I’m going to post about Hot 8 Brass Band. They’re touring right now, supporting their Vicennial album and 20 years of great music. You can listen to 30 second snippets of their new album, which has remastered favourites like Sexual Healing and some good new tunes, here.

Or if you’re really lucky, you can catch them tomorrow night in Cambridge, supported by the effervescent, lively and irrepressible Brass Funkeys, who I heard for the first time earlier this year at a brass band bash at Shoreditch Blues Kitchen.

So much good music.

So much work the next morning. :(

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Ethical African Fashion

You know when something is on your mind and then you see it on TV?

That’s how I felt when I saw this report from the BBC Business team on fake fabrics threatening the African fabric industry.

I buy a lot of African print clothes. I love buying things from all over the continent and I’m pleased that they all have the clothes made ethnically in the respective countries, using fabric sourced on the continent. But after visiting Africa on the Square this year for Black History Month, the African celebration in Trafalgar Square, I was struck by how many businesses there were selling African print clothes. There was no discussion of ethical fabrics or processes. Since I know some of the brands that were there, I know some of the sellers definitely are ethical, but it was not advertised because it was not seen as a pressing issue.

I think it’s a discussion we need to start prioritising. In February I heard an insightful talk on this subject by Lorene Rhoomes of Akhu designs at the Women Fashion Power exhibition at the Design Museum. She explained in painstaking detail the history of African print fabrics, both on the continent (with a focus on West Africa) and outside (the Dutch and Indonesian connection). She also highlighted the problem of Chinese mass-produced fabrics stealing traditional designs and then undercuting craftsmen in the market place.


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Great Gothics

A fascinating article on NPR about why we (definitely I) love the gothic genre.

“Though their definition is fluid, Gothic novels (and movies) generally offer equal parts delighted horror and breathless sentiment. And regardless of plot twists or historical pastiches, they’re preoccupied with contemporary problems; the essential horror of the irreconcilable world. For early Gothics, this meant the Industrial Revolution, eulogizing the natural in the face of modernity (Anne Radcliffe’s 1794 The Mysteries of Udolpho equated love of nature with virtue until it was practically a superpower). Udolpho — and countless other crumbling castles — reflected both worry and rebellious glee about the fate of traditional social structures in the modern order; estates declined alongside their nefarious masters.”

Penny DreadfulI love gothic – books, TV series.. I love the melodrama and ugly beauty of it all. Three things I’ve enjoyed in recent years:

  • The Shadow of the Wind series by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. The second book in particular, Angel’s Game – is delightfully OTT.
  • Penny Dreadful – Sky Atlantic’s original series is eminently watchable for the hypnotic Eva Green who really….commits to her part. But I also love how it references and remixes all the classic tales: Frankenstein, Dorian Gray.. all the characters are in there. It’s atmospheric and sometimes ridiculous, but then that’s part of the fun. Another of my favourite actresses, Helen McRory was wisely retained for the second series as the main villain after making a few great cameos in the first series.
  • I want to add Sherlock Holmes – the new books by Anthony Horowitz – or Ripper Street, the excellent TV series that went from BBC to Amazon and is now back on BBC2 again. They’re not quite full-on gothic, though. But maybe half and half makes a whole? Highly recommend Ripper Street at any rate, especially the first series.
  • Not sure if I’m creating a new genre here but The House that Will Not Stand, by Marcus Gardley at the Tricycle Theatre, was a thrilling play set in the American South, during slavery, focusing on a family of Creole women who are reeling from the death of their (illegitimate) white patriarch, and a diverse community coming to terms with laws on slavery and freedom. It was haunting and lyrical, rhythmic and a little creepy. I am going to file that under gothic too.


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