Author

Nicola Schulze

The Joy of Watching Women of Color in Power

Wednesday, many of us watched, as former personal lawyer to Donald Trump, Michael Cohen, testified before the House Oversight committee. In his opening statement, Cohen called President Trump a “racist, conman, and a cheat.” Unfortunately, watching a white man being called out appropriately is never as satisfying as it should be. Usually, these events tend to be traumatic *cough Brett Kavanaugh cough* — reinforcing the status quo that accountability never looks the same for white men as it does for the rest of us. Yet, this hearing, while not without moments of ridiculousness, exceeded my expectations, thanks to three new congresswomen: Democratic Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.).

During the hearing, Rep. Mark Meadows, a white Republican congressman from North Carolina, brought Lynne Patton, a black woman who works in the Trump Administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development . By bringing her, Rep. Meadows hoped to challenge Cohen’s labeling of Trump as a racist using the oh-so-popular “Black friend card.”

Seem problematic? Dare I say racist? I thought so too. But even in 2019, I expect these situations to be ignored by our representatives, leaving most of us to flock to Twitter to debrief and find validation for our frustration.

However, this year is a little different. Why? Women. Or more specifically, women of color. Granted, women still only make up 23.4% of the US House of Representatives. But believe it or not, this is a vast improvement from 20% before the midterms. To be clear, that’s a total of 102 women and just 43 women of color. Don’t get out your confetti just yet. We still have a long way to go before Congress reflects what our country actually looks like.

Image courtesy of NPR

When you zoom in on the demographics of the Oversight and Reform Committee, iit gets a little better. Of the 42 members, 13 are women (31%) and 7 are women of color. Three of those women were newly elected this year.

It is these three women who transform the direction of this hearing. A couple hours after Rep. Meadows introduced Trump’s token Black friend, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez began her questioning. Her interrogation of Cohen was so compelling, The New York Times’ headline was “How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Won the Cohen Hearing” and Slate’s “Did Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Just Lay Groundwork for Democrats to Subpoena Trump’s Tax Returns?” To watch a Latina from the Bronx, newly elected to Congress, appear on television in front of a committee of largely white men and conduct the best line of questioning, validates what we already know — women of color are not only capable, we excel. We’ve worked twice as hard to get half as far and AOC’s performance proves it.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley shined too, taking a different approach to dealing with Cohen. Like so many of us, she knew Trump was racist long before Michael Cohen decided to announce it to the world. So she asked Cohen during the hearing, “Would you agree that someone could deny rental units to African-Americans, lead the birther movement, refer to the diaspora as ‘shithole countries,’ and refer to white supremacists as ‘fine people,’ have a black friend, and still be racist?” “Yes.” Cohen replied. Not only did Rep. Pressley make a statement about how racism actually works, she showed quickly and concisely that simply presenting your token Black friend proves nothing.

And finally Rep. Rashida Tlaib took the stage and addressed Lynne Patton’s presence directly. “Just because someone has a person of color — a black person working for — them does not mean they aren’t racist,” she said. “And it is insensitive that some would…use [as] a prop a black woman in this chamber, in this committee. [That is] racist in itself.” Immediately, Rep. Meadows demanded a retraction from Rep. Tlaib for her daring to appropriately label his racist behavior.

I don’t know about you, but this interaction didn’t seem foreign to me. Certainly Rep. Meadows was more concerned with being called racist than examining the ways his behavior WAS racist. And the person of color, here Rep. Tlabi, spent all her energy restating, in excruciating detail, her comments — even though she was right all along. THIS is the POC twilight zone so many of us live in. So many times people of color, especially women of color, are forced to educate white people about racism, often times at their own expense. I am sure it’s not the first time that Rep. Pressley or Tlaib have had to have this type of conversation. I know it won’t be the last. As I watched them on TV, I felt a natural connection. I’ve had these conversations myself and it was invigorating seeing someone who looked like me — in the halls of Congress no less — reflecting my experience.

The fact is these women are now in the room where it happens, where the laws and decisions that govern our country are shaped. It wasn’t long ago when rooms like these wouldn’t have allowed in women like Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, and Tlaib. They stand as living testaments to the generations of women who’ve made their journey possible. Watching these three Congresswomen of color felt like the opening of the door through which so many more women will enter the halls of power. And I can’t wait to see what that room looks like.

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Roma Didn’t Win Best Picture And That’s Okay

Last night Roma didn’t win for Best Picture (mass eye roll for Green Book’s win) and Yalitza Aparicio didn’t win Best Actress in a leading role, and yes we’re disappointed. But we’re not hopeless.

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As Latinas, we’re used to not winning awards. I mean let’s face it it’s been 58 years since a Latina has won an acting Oscar (Shout out to reina Rita Moreno). However this year, Latinos proved we will not and cannot be ignored. And I’m not just talking about Jennifer Lopez’s mirror dress, which we’re pretty sure she wore so the max number of Latinas could see themselves on screen. Or the crazy amount of Spanish we heard on the Oscar stage AND during the Oscar ads. I’m talking about how Roma not only won Alfonso Cuarón Oscars for directing, cinematography, and best “foreign” language film, but made a larger statement about the importance of Latino made and driven films.

“I grew up watching foreign language movies and learning so much from them and being inspired like Citizen Kane, Jaws, Rashomon, The Godfather, Breathless… The nominations tonight prove we are part of the same ocean.” – Alfonso Cuarón

Cuarón’s speech tells us everything we need to know. The idea of a “foreign” film makes Spanish and all non-English language films others. It says those stories are different and don’t belong to us. This despite the fact that English is NOT the official language of the US (nor should it be of Hollywood). What stories are “ours” is not based on borders and walls. The talent at the Oscars understood this, even if the categories didn’t reflect it. Even the sponsors got in on the game - shout out to Verizon and Rolex who had non-subtitled Spanish in their ads. It’s like they realized that Latinx people exist and spend money too.
Hopefully, this Oscars acts as the start of greater inclusion for Latinos and all the stories we have to tell. Because I think we can all agree, we definitely don’t need another biopic about Winston Churchill. Or another movie about racism written and directed by white men.

As Javier Bardem said in Spanish no less (but with English subtitles), “There are no borders or walls that can restrain ingenuity and talent. In any region of any country of any continent, there are always great stories that move us and tonight we celebrate the excellence and importance of the cultures and languages of different countries.”

Again and again people of color have proven that our stories are not only worth telling but add a richness and diversity that society cannot ignore. Let’s check the stats: 5 of the last 6 winners of best director have been Mexican. At this year’s Oscars, three of the four acting winners were people of color. Black women won firsts in costume design and set production. And women took home a record breaking 15 Oscars this year, three for directing. Roma was particularly special because it starred an indigenous woman, took place in Mexico with everyone speaking either Spanish or Mixtec, AND won 3 Oscars. A film about Mexicans made by Mexicans that wins all the awards? That’s rare. Roma‘s success has allowed us a glimpse of what we’re capable of if people just give us a seat at the table.

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Why the Golden Globes Prove We Need to #MakeLatinasVisible

Last week, The Golden Globes announced their nominees, and it didn’t take us long to realize that no Latinas were nominated this year. Sigh. To be clear, we weren’t surprised but disappointed. After all, it was the 2015 Golden Globes that confused Gina Rodriguez for America Ferrera. For the past 74 years, only 12 Latinos have won Golden Globes and out of the 12 only 3 have been women.

The Only Latinx Winners in Golden Globe History EVER

  1. Rita Moreno, “Best Supporting Actress” in West Side Story, 1961
  2. Andy Garcia, “Best Supporting Actor” in The Godfather Part III, 1990
  3. Jimmy Smits, “Best Actor in a TV Drama Series” in NYPD Blue, 1995
  4. Benicio del Toro, “Best Supporting Actor” in Traffic, 2000
  5. Alejandro Amenabar, Director, “Best Foreign Language Film” for The Sea Inside, 2004
  6. Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, “Best Motion Picture” for Babel, 2006 and “Best Director – Motion Picture” for The Revenant, 2007
  7. America Ferrera, “Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Series”, for Ugly Betty 2007
  8. Gina Rodriguez, “Best Actress in a TV Series or Comedy” for Jane the Virgin, 2015
  9. Gael Garcia Bernal, “Best TV Comedy” and “Best Performance By An Actor in a TV Series (Comedy)” for Mozart in the Jungle, Amazon Studios, 2016
  10. Oscar Isaac, “Best Actor in a Mini-Series or TV Movie” for Show Me a Hero, 2016
  11. Adrian Molina, “Best Animated Feature” for Coco, 2017
  12. Guillermo del Toro, “Best Director” for The Shape of Water, 2018

There are countless Latinx actors, writers, directors, and screenwriters that have deserved to win awards (or at least a nomination). From the women of Vida, to Rita Moreno’s One Day at a Time, to the writers of Jane The Virgin, to Mj Rodriguez from the groundbreaking show Pose, we get passed over time and time again.

#MakeLatinasVisible

It’s almost 2019 people! We should not be satisfied with just one film getting all the attention (although we are rooting for Roma to bring home some statues).  You see no one film, TV show, character, or actor can represent something as dynamic as our community, the Latino community. Let’s be real – we purchase 23% percent of all movie ticket sales. We deserve to see ourselves at the highest levels in these award show, represented across the categories for all our meaningful, impressive work.

There are over 55 million Latinos in the U.S. So why do we continue to be shut out of the national conversation? Join us and #WeAllGrow in calling for a change. Let’s #MakeLatinasVisible.

P.S. Shout out to Sandra Oh who will be the first Asian Woman to host a major awards show! Because when women of color win, we all win #WomenofColorUnite!

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Why Viola Davis in “Widows” is Everything We Need

Newsflash: Women are complicated! Hollywood may forget (or more likely ignore) our whole personhood but the reality is that women can inhabit the full range of human experience. We can be selfish, we can be caring mothers, we can be fiercely strong, we can make mistakes. We can do all of those things or none of them. Widows shows this range of women hood and I am HERE for it.

The star of Widows, Viola Davis is no stranger to the complex female role. From How to Get Away with Murder to Fences, (her performances earning an Emmy and Oscar respectively), Davis has shown she is amazing, an actress with a penchant for expanding narratives around what it means to be a woman and a woman of color. Her leadership on screen and off prepped her perfectly to play the grief-stricken Veronica in Widows. As Veronica, Davis is left to not only deal with her husband’s death but to settle a debt left behind by her spouse’s criminal activities (aka Liam Neeson of Taken fame). Without other options, Veronica (Davis) leads a group of women played by Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, and Cynthia Erivo to pull off a heist for their lives.

 

 

 

Unlike the other woman-led heist film released this year, Ocean’s 8, Widows is dramatic, gripping and somewhat terrifying. It’s disappointing yet predictable that the first female-driven Ocean’s movie would include the most stereotypical lady crime plot ever: Ocean’s 8 is held at the Met Gala and involves stealing a necklace from Anne Hathaway. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, am I right? No? K. Ocean’s 8 is just not comparable to the gritty, tension-filled narrative of Widows or any serious, male-driven action film. And while there are some comedic parts in Widows, the laughs don’t make up a significant part of the movie’s emotional pull. What I love about this choice is how the women and their actions are taken completely seriously. While their world might underestimate them, Veronica and her team are more than up to the task, using their intellect as well as physical strength to execute the heist.

 

 

The competent, complicated, multifaceted women of Widows provide a therapeutic narrative, especially for its female audiences that so rarely get a chance to see themselves on screen. This is particularly true when you contrast the women of Widows to the men. It’s nice to see the XY chromosomes be the silly, overly emotional, and corruptible characters for once. Because to be honest, if I see one more film where a woman trips during an action running scene it will be too soon. Don’t get me wrong the male characters and actors are fantastic. From Get Out‘s Daniel Kaluuya who plays the mob enforcer, to Atlanta‘s Brian Tyree Henry as a crime boss and politician, to Robert Duvall as a racist old mayor, the men in this film are fantastic and fun to watch.

They also portray the worst components of toxic masculinity. The male characters are quick to violence whether physical or verbal and get into trouble that the women in their lives have to get them out of. In contrast, the women in this film are the rational ones, staying calm under pressure no matter how intense things get.

As a woman who grew up loving heist action films like Ocean’s, Taken, and The Italian Job, this film shows women as the directors of their own destiny and just as dangerous as the men in this film. For too long in action films women served as the sexy sidekick at best, the object to be rescued at worst. These women characters just followed a predetermined plan set out by a male “heist mastermind” character. While Veronica does follow a plan her husband set out for her, in the end she proves she is smarter and more capable than he ever was.

 

 

Now, *SPOILER* I cannot talk about the success of the film without spoiling the final plot twist. In the end, Viola Davis’ Veronica finds out her husband was never dead to begin with – he killed his team in order to keep all the money for himself. In fact, he’s manipulating Veronica so she would plan the heist, bring him the money, and he would then leave rich to start a new life. In the final scene together, she refuses to give him the money, he hits her, and then tries to kill her. But Veronica is a badass bitch (as is her dog Olivia) and she pulls the trigger and kills him first.

To have a Black woman triumph over a series of men clearly out to get her (one of which is played by arguably one of the most notorious action stars of all time Liam Neeson) quite frankly feels amazing. Veronica gives women of color a place in the action film genre that we’ve never had before (and it comes with the best dog ever!). And if a studio out there is looking for the next star of the Taken franchise I think you found your star. Sorry, not sorry Liam Neeson.

 

 

 

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I’ll Have The Culture, Hold the Humanity

Today is November 1st aka the day every year Latinx women are reminded just how much we’re worth which – 47 percent less than white men and 31 percent less than white women aka not a lot. That’s right, on average Latinx women have to work an extra 10 months and a day to earn as much money as white men made in just 2017.

While these numbers are heartbreaking, let’s be honest: 2018 has been a difficult year for more than just the growing wage gap (yeah, we lost a penny this year with last year’s wage gap at 54 cents to the white man’s dollars and this year’s versus this year’s 53 cents). From spring to August of 2018, around 6,000 Latinx people (including at least 3,000 children) were separated from their families at the border. The media presented Americans with pictures of terrified families, as immigrants pleaded for their humanity to be recognized and respected.

And in the last two weeks, conveniently just before the midterm election, Donald Trump has created a racist narrative about a group of 4,000 migrants from Central America heading towards the border. “Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy.” (yes that’s not a spelling error he said “emergy”)

Not only did the President paint a group of people trying to make a better life for themselves as criminals, he definitively declared Middle Easterners to be terrorists and not to be trusted. A reminder that not only is our President racist but generally lacks a comprehensive understanding of spelling and grammar.

And to finish it all off on Sunday this week, Donald Trump announced he wants to sign an executive order ending “birthright citizenship” for babies of non-citizens born on U.S. soil. We all know he’s targeting the Latinx community with that one. Questioning our right to citizenship combined with the horrible overtly racist coverage of migrants from Central Americans seeking refuge in the U.S., made the last two weeks pretty rough for the Latinx community.

So when I see cempasúchil flowers in window displays, or Instagram posts of people with a skeleton painted on their faces, or the overall increase in Frida Kahlo paraphernalia, I am reminded of our country’s hypocrisy. White America may love the “fun” pieces of Latinx culture, but they sure as hell don’t embrace actual Latinx people.

Latinx women are worth more than merely 53 cents for every dollar a white man makes. Our ancestors and traditions have given America the diversity and depth that make it was it is today. So when you see hip interpretations of calaveras de azúcar or wander down the salsa aisle at the grocery store or hell, EAT A TACO, remember the families separated at the border, and the hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients trying to convince their neighbors of their right to stay in the U.S. and the women toiling away to make our families and our country work despite making pennies on the dollar. Today is a great place to start. Start paying Latinx women what we’re worth – consider it reparations for the official, Corona-sponsored U.S. holiday of Cinco de Mayo.

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When I First Saw Myself on TV She Was White

I was in high school, a self-described book nerd, when I first saw a character on TV that I believed was me reincarnated, her name was Rory Gilmore. Rory loved books, drank obscene amounts of coffee, loved the Shins and Belle and Sebastian, and dreamed of being the next Christiane Amanpour – we were perfect for each other.

She was my fictional hero, a young woman who was valued more for her intellect and quick wit than her beauty. A healthy change from our culture’s overindulgence in the beautiful white blonde protagonists of the early 2000s like The O.C or Gossip Girl. But there was one thing that Rory and I didn’t have in common: she was white, I’m Latinx. Growing up in fictional Stars Hollow in Connecticut, Rory and her world looked similar yet different from mine.

Even then, I knew light skin was an unspoken requirement for TV, excluding the role of the ethnically ambiguous friend (shout out to Miranda from Lizzie McGuire). On Gilmore Girls, Rory’s numerous love interests reinforced the idea that light skinned women were most likely to get the guy, specifically white men.

Nothing I am saying here is shocking – Gilmore Girls had and continues to have a notorious reputation for how it treated people of color. From Miss Kim, Rory’s best friend Lane’s mother, who they paint as a stereotypical “Tiger mom” with a heavy accent, to Michel, Lorelai’s co-worker who they limit to the harmful gay tropes without a meaningful storyline or character development. And let’s not forget the worst and most cliche stereotype: the treatment of the maids. The countless women who work for Emily Gilmore are mostly portrayed as women of color with heavy accents and are so interchangeable that their names are optional.

Gilmore Girls: Yeah, it's sad.

However, the saddest aspect of this show for me lies with its central character Rory. I was a senior in high school when I finally found out the truth. That the actress Alexis Bledel who played Rory over the show’s 8 years was in fact half Mexican. Just like me.  She even grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, not learning English until she began school. I trusted that Bledel wasn’t hiding her ethnicity on purpose, but the network and the creators of the show certainly were.

Looking back, I think about what Gilmore Girls would have meant to me if Rory wasn’t the unattainable white heroine I grew to love. What would it mean for millions of young Latinx women to watch a show with a Latina character who was known first for her intellect and not for her sexuality? What would it have meant for white girls to be asked to empathize with someone just a bit different from them? To see a character that wasn’t a criminal, nor constantly worried about her immigration status, nor just a sex object? To follow a girl who spoke Spanglish and had witty references to the genius of Allende, Cisneros, or Selena.

Last year, Amy Sherman Palladino, the creator of Gilmore Girls, created her second TV show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to wide acclaim. The show is set in the New York Comedy Clubs of the 50’s, conveniently a place that historically wouldn’t have allowed people of color. I don’t believe this is merely a coincidence. I am sad that Palladino continues to rely on the witty white woman narrative, instead of creating space for a character that isn’t from the white communities of Connecticut or uptown New York City. Representation matters whether you’re 17 or 27 and I’d so appreciate Palladino expanding from her whitewashed world. Sadly, I can only dream that one-day young Latinx women will have characters in movies and on TV that are as complex as we deserve.

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