Justicia and Cultura

Godless in Trump’s America

Since the election of Donald Trump, it seems like our country has been in a never-ending debate about who we are and where we come from. There are so many places to look for answers but as a media critic, I, of course, look to TV. And in this moment of Bible-signing, border “crisis,” and macho, guns-out leadership, I find myself turning to Westerns for answers. They’re our own creation myth, the story of American exceptionalism, power, and whiteness.

Recently, there’s been some effort to update the Western with Netflix’s Godlessas the prime example. After all, it did win all those awards and premiere the same year as Trump’s presidency. I confess, my political leanings are such that I see some of Donald Trump in the show’s villain, Frank Griffin. The two men share a certain heaviness of body and jowls (sorry Jeff Daniels!). They also share a faux-Christianity that doesn’t require any respect for human life. And both of them are the type of leaders who collect crooks and lowlifes, seeing personal loyalty as the only meaningful virtue. I mean who would Michael Cohen et al. be in the old west but a band of gun-slinging outlaws? Am I right or am I right?

Of course, Frank Griffin and his men aren’t the only folks in Godless. The show’s marketing made quite the ado about its setting in a man-less town, positioning Godless as a feminist Western (which it is not). Certainly, there are strong women in the show. Michelle Dockery as Alice Fletcher is mesmerizing as the isolated widow with a good shot and mixed-race son. Her love life is central to the show, even as the creators betray in her a totally unnecessary and graphic rape scene. In it, we learn nothing new about the characters, already having learned that Alice has survived tough things. No, her rape is just an uncomfortable excuse to titillate the audience with Michelle Dockery’s breasts, combining violence with eroticism in a way that says MALE GAZE IS RAPE CULTURE in all caps.

And there’s my personal favorite, Merritt Wever as Mary Agnes, the town’s would-be leader who’s given up dresses and men as she holds her community together. Mary Agnes advocates for the women’s independence, urging her fellow townswomen not to make a business deal with partners who see their gender as weakness. In the finale, she organizes the women’s last stand, setting a strategy that will keep at least some of them alive. And along the way, we see her taking care of her brother’s kids and the hapless Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Whitey Winn. You see, Mary Agnes may have gone butch, even nabbing the richest, most beautiful and most experienced woman in town — Tess Frazer’s former sex-worker Callie Dunne — but the show takes great pains to let you know she’s still a nurturer and thereby a woman.

And these are the characters the show empathizes with — the white women of La Belle, New Mexico. Spoiler: People of color do much worse. Godless is clearly trying to rewrite the western to be less sexist and less white supremacist but when you’re counting degrees of racism, you’ve already lost. You see Godless relies on the same racist tropes that power the Westerns of the past, much of the media of today, and far too much of our politics, policies, and national conversation.

In Godless, we see a black town, literally called Blackdom, and its inhabitants as “others.” They’re introduced late (in episode three of seven) and portrayed as extremely violent in a violent world. You see the men of Blackdom (yes, I’m rolling my eyes each time I type the town’s name) are Buffalo Soldiers, black cavalry that fought with white, Anglo settlers in the Indian Wars. They weren’t guaranteed freedom from slavery even as they fought for white expansion — an interesting bit of history for sure. Yet, the show takes great pains to tell you these men were particularly ruthless and indeed we see the town’s leader beating his daughter with a switch. And that’s before all of the black characters are massacred in the wind-up to the real showdown: the white folks of La Belle vs the white folks in Frank Griffin’s gang. This is your typical racist use of black bodies and black stories.

Think that’s bad? Native American characters do not do better in Godless: they’re stuck in the magical sidekick trope, Native Americans who use their mystical powers to help the white people. There’s Duane Howard’s unnamed ”Shoshone brave” (his character name, not mine) who is maybe a ghost, maybe a vision, but either way exists to give Bill McNue encouragement and advice. And there’s Tantoo Cardinal’s Iyovi who uses her healing powers on the injured Roy Goode, who issues wise animal metaphors to guide her daughter-in-law Alice, and whose skills in hunting and other matters somehow serve as comic relief. Neither is what you’d call a humanizing portrayal.

Samuel Marty’s Truckee, the half Native American, half white, son of Alice only does a little better. He doesn’t have any magical skills or even propensity to “Indian” tasks like horseback riding. But he’s portrayed as a fish out of water, part of neither the white nor Native community, lost without a father or strong sense of identity. It’s the type of character that multiracial people have been rallying against for decades.

And last but not least is the show’s complete erasure of Latino characters. For a show set in New Mexico, it is odd that there is no one of mixed Spanish and Native descent. In fact, despite the action going to Taos and other Hispano centers in the area, we do not hear a word of Spanish, and there are no Latino characters. It’s a gross oversight that erases New Mexico’s past and present with a single casting decision. And in case you think the show reflects some actual moment in history — it does not. Godless takes place in the 1880s, a time when Anglo settlers were stealing land from Hispanos all over the state. None of that exists in Godless. We just see English-speaking White and Black people carving out a living in tough land, fighting with each other, and occasionally referencing offscreen Native Americans as menaces. It’s racist and completely inaccurate.

At the end of the day, the central conflict in Godless is between Jeff Daniels’ Frank Griffin and Jack O’Connell’s Roy Goode as they solve their differences with bullets, killing whole towns along the way. You see the women of La Belle, even the mighty Alice and Mary Agnes, are just the scenery for these two white men. So are the POC who manage to find their way on screen. And this is a Western trying to be progressive!

So when I look to Westerns to understand this moment in American history, it’s not for accuracy. The true story of the American West is a mix of germ warfare and white supremacy used to steal Native land first by Spaniards and then by Anglos. The heroes are not white guys with guns. They’re Native Americans fighting for their way of life. The villains aren’t white bandits. They’re white soldiers and lawmen who rigged the system and used their guns to ensure the existing population couldn’t overcome their cheating ways. But we don’t tell this story.

No, Westerns are not a view into our past but rather our present, how we got to the terrible place we’re in: centering white men, their experiences, and preoccupations to our peril. This false narrative about America and our birth in the West is hurting us all. It pushes the real story out of the frame, limits the personhood and agency of the vast majority of the population, and leads to seeing white toxic masculinity as the only viable model of leadership (looking at you Donald T).

Here’s hoping we can imagine a better past, present, and future. I’ll be reading the tea leaves, looking for a critically acclaimed Western that doesn’t center white men. Who knows? It could happen, but for now, I’m not holding my breath.

FacebookTwitter
“Roma” and the Pressure to Represent all of the Latinx Experience

“I’m Mexican.”

That’s something I say sometimes. Mostly to people who are (rudely) asking “where are you [really] from?” And sometimes to those who take my light skin as an invitation to say something racist. Every once in a while to a fellow Latinx person as we share experiences.

The thing is, though, I’m not really Mexican. I’m the descendant – the granddaughter to be precise – of people who immigrated from Mexico. When I go see my extended family, I go to Los Angeles. I don’t know a single relative who lives in Mexico. And even if I did, I’d be too embarrassed by my Spanish/Spanglish to really connect. So yeah, I’m not really “Mexican,” I’m more Mexican American/Chicana/Latinx, a product of a culture that systematically was forced to mix and assimilate.

All the same, I went into Roma expecting to see myself or at least my family reflected back to me. Latinas are the least represented group in US media when compared to our actual numbers and here is a ten-time Oscar nominee with two of Latinas as the stars! I couldn’t wait to watch it and get the rare glimpse of my identity on screen. After all, we do buy the most movie tickets every year AND have the highest rates of Netflix subscriptions.

Latinas are the least represented group in US media when compared to our actual numbers and here is a ten-time Oscar nominee with two of Latinas as the stars! I couldn’t wait to watch it and get the rare glimpse of my identity on screen.

Roma stars Yalitza Aparicio as Cleodegaria Gutiérrez, one of two indigenous maids and the primary caretaker of a white Mexican family, living in the upper-middle-class Mexico City neighborhood of Roma. The film follows Cleo through a year in her life, starting in 1970, during which big events shake her life and the broader world she lives in. This is the year the patriarch and Cleo’s employer leaves his family – his wife, four children, and extended household, never to return. It’s the year Cleo gets pregnant and experiences her own abandonment with the child’s father disavowing her. It’s also the year of El Halconazo or Corpus Christi Massacre, in which government forces kill around 120 people for participating in student demonstrations in DF. And it’s the year Luis Echeverría becomes President of Mexico, seizing land belonging to the likes of Cleo’s mother. Throughout these events, both personal and political, Cleo stands in the center with the male characters relegated to supporting roles.

Roma is a biography of sorts for writer, director, and cinematographer, Alfonso Cuarón. One of the leading voices in the Nuevo Cine Mexicano (along with Gonzalez Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro), Cuarón based Roma on his own memories of being one of the children in the aforementioned family. The film is shot in black and white and brings into focus the small details of Cleo’s life – where she puts the dishes before turning off the lights, the song she sings to wake up the children, the sounds it makes when she cleans up the dog shit.

In the film, the children are a gaggle of ill-behaved, loved, and loving creatures who Cleo manages and clearly adores. We also see the family’s mother Sofia, played by Marina de Tavira, alternate between cruel and kind to her children, herself, and particularly Cleo as she adjusts to her new position as a woman without a husband.

Roma is nominated for all the awards and I’m particularly excited to see Latinas finally breaking barriers in their categories. If Yalitza Aparicio wins for Best Actress, she’ll be the first Latina to do so and the first indigenous woman at that. Gabriela Rodriguez could be the first Latina to win a Best Picture Oscar and Marina de Tavira would be only the second Latina to ever win Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars (shout out to Rita Moreno for being the first)!

That’s who I come from. A mix of White and indigenous folks who left Mexico and got jumbled together because, even though colorism is real and dangerous in these Estados Unidos, once anyone from Latin America crosses the border, they become just another ‘dirty Mexican.’

At this moment, Roma is THE movie about the Latinx experience in the way that Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther represented those communities. And yet, as a Mexican American/Chicana/Latinx person who loved the film, cried watching it, and tries to catch everything Cuarón does, I didn’t see myself in it. You see, my family story is hard to square with the world of Roma. If we exist at all in the film’s universe, it’d have to be long before Cleo goes to work for Sofia. My family is more like if Cleo’s grandmother’s sister and Sofia’s grandfather’s cousin both migrated to the US separately, met and got married here, and started a whole other family. That’s who I come from. A mix of White and indigenous folks who left Mexico and got jumbled together because, even though colorism is real and dangerous in these Estados Unidos, once anyone from Latin America crosses the border, they become just another “dirty Mexican.”

I’m not saying the differences between White and Indigenous Latinos do not exist. Or are not substantial. In fact, I’d argue the opposite – the racial divide among Latinx people is often ignored in the US to our peril. Roma is telling an important story. It’s just not a story that includes large portions of the population, like me. And that would be fine except if Roma somehow becomes the end-all-be-all of how we understand the Latinx experience. Certainly, it’s the only movie about us that’s broken through this year. And when you look back at the record, it’s the only film about Latinas that’s EVER received this level of attention (remember how Rita Moreno is the only Latina to have won an acting Oscar? And for West Side Story way back in 1961 – a film that came out over 50 years ago and is arguably not about what it means to be Latina…).

The thing is, I don’t fault Roma for not including me. It’s not fair to expect any single piece of art to represent a group as vast as the Latinx community – we’re talking about more than a continent full of people here! But the pressure is still there, the hope, and the expectation.

The thing is, I don’t fault Roma for not including me.

Because I so rarely get the chance to see myself on screen, each time is fraught with more meaning than it should hold. It’s not like I’m a white guy who sees the complexity of my experience everywhere I go. As a Latina, we don’t have much. We have the commodification of Frida Kahlo. The emerging consensus that original EGOT-winner Rita Moreno deserves a lot of backdated respect. We have Jennifer Lopez in that green Versace dress now and forever. And we have Sofia Vergara’s paycheck. Note that none of them are Mexican American like me (even though we make up more than half the Latino/Hispanic population in the US).

I hope Roma wins all the awards. I also hope it leads to more representations of the Latinx experience. After all, it’s a beautiful story that centers Mexican women in a way you almost never see. It’s just not my story and that’s ok.

FacebookTwitter
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!

FacebookTwitter
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.

FacebookTwitter
On Teenage Witch Reboots: “Sabrina” vs “Charmed”

Witches are having a moment. And not just because it’s Halloween. The witch trope is everywhere as female power is being reimagined, reclaimed, and re-vilified in the media, religion, and of course politics. We have a  President who has reporters running around investigating which is really the “greatest witch hunt in history.” Then, there was the mass hexing of Brett Kavanaugh, which is hopefully taking further effect on Tuesday. Brujas even appear in our very own tagline here at Mujeres Problemáticas.

So it’s no wonder the media has delivered us not one, but two teenage witch reboots this October. Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina premiered on October 26 and follows Kiernan Shipka of Mad Men fame as Sabrina, the new and improved teenage witch. You remember the original with Melissa Joan Hart, Caroline Rhea, and Beth Broderick as three blonde witches living with their black, talking cat. Meanwhile, the CW premiered their Charmed reboot on October 14 writing all three of the witch sisters as Latinx (although not managing to cast three, actual Latinas). The original brunette trio was Shannen Doherty, Alyssa Milano, and Holly Marie Combs in what they argue was a feminist show in its day.

Today, the The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and the Charmed reboot position themselves as feminist TV, centering women, our power, and its consequences – aka they both have things to say. Yet, strangely, one of these shows is getting a lot more attention than the other. Any guesses as to which? Yes, you are correct, the blonds are getting 725 TIMES MORE ARTICLES. I did the math. Try it yourself. Do a Google News search for both shows and get some variation on what I got: a staggering 10.8 million pieces written about Sabrina and a much smaller 14,900 on Charmed. What gives?

Perhaps it’s that Netflix is a much more prestigious channel than CW. Netflix has won two Oscars, ten Emmys and five Golden Globes for shows such as House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Master of None, and The Crown. Meanwhile, CW gets passed over so much, it’s become a running joke with critical darlings like Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend continuing to get snubbed by most awards shows. But why? Maybe it’s not the quality of the shows but rather the gatekeepers who dole out awards don’t take seriously programming who’s intended audiences are young people, young women, and the oh-so-misunderstood young women of color? As mainstream an outlet as TV Guide said that if Jane the Virgin “aired on ABC, maybe it would’ve already gotten an Emmy nod.”

So if the Television Academy doesn’t take young women seriously, who does? Normally, I’d say feminists. Feminists are always arguing that society needs to pay more attention to what young women are saying, doing, and thinking. Yet, I’m pretty disappointed here too. Jezebel ran a thoughtful critique of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Bitch dived into the show’s feminist arguments. Neither publication managed a thousand words on the feminist ideas in Charmed, despite both publications being aware of the show (Jezebel covered the build up the CW premiere and Bitch listed the show as one of 14 to watch this fall). I imagine they had to pick. They couldn’t write TWO stories on teenage witch reboots and they picked one.

They picked Sabrina. And so did everyone else. Maybe it’s because of Kiernan Shipka’s larger presence, compared to the three relatively unknowns in Charmed. Looking at the numbers, Kiernan has 838K followers on Instagram and 67.2K on Twitter. The Charmed stars have about 650K on Instagram and 82.7 on Twitter COMBINED, making their social media presence less than Kiernan’s. On the qualitative side, Mad Men was a groundbreaking and critical darling while the Charmed stars are coming from shows you’re less likely to have heard of or in parts you’re less likely to remembers. Of course, parts for women of color are much harder to come by – overall, women get just 40% of the speaking roles on television and only 33% were women of color or just 13% overall. None of the Charmed stars would have been even considered to play John Hamm’s daughter.

Sabrina vs Charmed

But I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s that Netflix’s PR machine is 725-time better than the team at the CW. I don’t think it’s that Sabrina came out all at once, allowing TV writers to binge watch the whole thing, while those wanting to write on Charmed have to wait for weekly installments. Those things may play a role. But the underlying reason can be found at the intersection of racism and sexism, clearly the extra penalty women of color pay for existing in this society.

Rarely do you get such a clear example. Here we have two eerily similar shows. They’re released weeks apart. They’re both reboots of early 00’s hits. They’re both about TEENAGE WITCHES. It’s pretty darn specific. Yet one show centers a white girl and her experiences while the other features Latinas. And that show gets taken more seriously. It takes up more space. It is deemed more “feminist.” There’s no getting around it. Race is the key difference. And that’s fucked up. As we say at Mujeres Problemáticas, it’s hard out here for a bruja.

FacebookTwitter
Founding Manifesto

It’s tough out here for a bruja. Everyday, we see amazing Latinas who are killing it at work, at home, at school, and in our communities, but that’s where it stops. We KNOW them, but we don’t SEE them. In politics, in the news, in films, and in books, our stories rarely get told and when they do, they often rely on played out stereotypes. It’s time we see ourselves as we want and deserve to be seen. (Where’s the summer blockbuster featuring la raza? Where are our new anchors? Can we get some more TV shows? What about some Grammy nods? They have like 100 categories!)

Before you disagree, let’s just say the facts are on our side:

Other communities of color had amazing, breakthrough moments of progress this last year from Black Panther to Crazy Rich Asians. Yet, we are still waiting to see even a glimmer of ourselves reflected in the mainstream. You know we love us some Oprah. We went and saw Crazy Rich Asians opening weekend. We recognize Beyonce as queen. This isn’t about begrudging another group its success. It’s not about some sort of oppression olympics. This is about rewriting the game.

And we do mean, literally, re-writing it. We want to READ OUR VOICES. As Latinas, we don’t see our voices, our experiences, our ideas reflected back to us. That just isn’t right, especially when you consider our market force. See above if you want to do some math about it.

The thing is, we Latinas have plenty to contribute. We’re not going to make a case for our exceptionalism or even our humanity here. If you don’t believe we’re fully human, interesting people, we aren’t going to try to convince you. But we are going to push back against the ways we’re being systematically erased, passed over, and ignored.

That’s why we founded Mujeres Problemáticas. We’re not the “good” women who do a bunch of work in the background and don’t get credit for it. We’re not super sexy ladies with accents a la Sofia Vergara in Modern Family (FYI we love Sofia. We just want Modern Family to get that there’s more to being Latina than being “spicy.” Also, accents aren’t funny, sorry, not sorry). And we’re not the “bad” women who care only about ourselves even if it means walking over our hermanas. We’re complicated. Our feelings are complicated. Our hot takes are complicated. Our very existence is complicated.

So expect to see some complicated, problematic, nuanced shit on these pages. We’re tackling media and culture, demanding better representation even as we fan-girl out over our favorites. It’s time we have a place to lift up the amazing Latinas who are doing the same work, doing it differently, and doing it better. We’re speaking out in all of our bruja glory and using all the power we have to rewrite the game so Latinas everywhere get our fair share. Come hang with us.

FacebookTwitter
Older Posts