Friday, November 16, 2012

Fringe and Astrid as a Disposable Mammy

Five years ago when Fringe first appeared on television, there was absolutely nothing like it on the air. Since then, we have seen alternate universes, fantastic events and now finally a dystopian world.  With it’s final season, Fringe is taking the opportunity to wrap up storylines and bring closure to the world that they have created.

When I learned that the fifth season would be the final season of Fringe, one of the things I had hoped for was the redemption of the character of Astrid.  Astrid, played by Jasika Nicole, has the distinction of not only being the only recurring African-American woman, but fifty percent of the cast of colour.  Clearly, from the beginning, racial inclusion has not been a high priority for Fringe.

Astrid is a trained agent and the person the team falls back on for much of its technological questions. The problem is that after five years, I don’t feel like I really know a lot about her.  I know that she has an ailing father, speaks five languages, studied cryptology before joining the FBI and is obsessed with butterflies, but I don’t know much about her personal aspirations or desires.  At best, she has never been more than a side character, whose role has primarily been to be Walter’s caretaker, despite appearing in every single episode to date. When there is an important mission, Astrid is continually left behind in the lab, to keep and eye on Walter, help with his experiments and deal with his various fetishes.  

For all of the help that Astrid gives Walter, he never calls her by her name.  He has called her “Asterisk, Astro, Asteroid, Astringent, Aspirin, Ashram, Ostrich, Clare, Athos, Alex, Afro and Abner.”  Some would excuse this because Walter’s brain has been altered, but the fact remains that Walter is able to evaluate and comprehend difficult information, remember old cases, think rationally and remember the name every character but Astrid’s, though she works the closest with him. Over the years, Walter has proven that he does indeed care about Astrid; however, he simply does not care enough to remember her name.  When Walter does speak to Astrid, he does not say please or thank you and simply orders her around.  Walter is also not afraid to scream her name, if she doesn’t respond quickly enough to suit his desires. Walter does care about Astrid in a paternalistic fashion, but he certainly does not see her as the equal of any other character, based in his treatment of her.  Essentially, for Walter, Astrid is little more than a servant and the fact that the other characters never intervene on Astrid’s behalf, affirms his assessment of her role on the Fringe team.

We never see Astrid having any downtime; she is always servicing the team, or Walter personally. Like Mammy, Astrid is always on call and expected to serve without complaint.  We can tell occasionally that she is frustrated by Walter’s  treatment of her by her tone of voice, but since the first season, Astrid has not been given the opportunity to explicitly say that how she is being treated is unacceptable.  If anything, over time, Astrid has become more accepting of her secondary role.

To date, Broyles, also an African American and the leader of the Fringe team has appeared in ninety-six episodes.  He has always been vital to the progression of the story and in the show’s many alternate universes we have learned much about his character.  In season five, the team has shifted into the future and though Broyles is still with the Fringe division, it is now under the control of the Observers.  We have not seen much of Broyles in season five nor have we been told how he has been able to survive.  When Broyles finally does meet up with Olivia, Peter and Walter again, he is thrilled to see them.  In fact, he risked his position to be able to see them one last time.  In this exchange, though Broyles knows that Astrid is alive, he never asks about her, or acknowledges her importance to the team.  This is particularly disturbing, as Broyles hugs Olivia and seems grateful that she has survived.  What makes Olivia’s survival more important than Astrid’s?  The only thing that separates the two women is race.  The blond-haired Olivia is deemed essential, while Astrid is understood to be disposable. So in essence, we have the only Black male character thankful that a White woman survived and not giving a damn about the only Black woman on the Fringe team.
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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Denzel Washington and the Difficulties of Being a Dark Skinned Woman in Hollywood

I have a new piece up at Clutch magazine

'Denzel Washington on Made In Hollywood' photo (c) 2010, Made In Hollywood - license:
Many kids with famous parents often go on to seek their own careers in music or acting. A famous last name along with the connections made by the parent eases one into a career in Hollywood. They’ll tell you that they had to overcome their famous last name or that they didn’t receive any special treatment. Call me a cynic, but I don’t buy that for one moment, when it comes to the majority. Oscar winner Denzel Washington recently appeared on The Actors and he spoke about the advice he gave to his dark-skinned daughter Olivia.

I tell my daughter — she’s at NYU — I say: “You’re black, you’re a woman, and you’re dark-skinned at that. So you have to be a triple/quadruple threat.” I said: “You gotta learn how to act. You gotta learn how to dance, sing, move onstage.” That’s the only place, in my humble opinion, you really learn how to act. I said: “Look at Viola Davis. That’s who you want to be. Forget about the little pretty girls; if you’re relying on that, when you hit 40, you’re out the door. You better have some chops.”

Even with the Washington last name, Denzel is aware that Olivia’s race and gender are going to work against her. Consider for a moment that Nina Simone, a woman who was abused because of her dark skin and decided Afrocentric features, is being portrayed by Zoe Saldana. Even when the role specifically calls for a dark-skinned Black woman, we are not given the consideration we deserve. There are precious few roles out there for women period, beyond the floozy, the love interest, heroine in need of saving and the sexpot. As a woman ages, even these roles disappear, leaving her if she is lucky, to play the mother to a person ten years her junior.

To be a dark-skinned Black woman is to struggle to get roles and to get one’s talent recognized. Even with the ability to rely on her famous father, Denzel still gave the same advice that Black parents having been giving out since the end of slavery, “you have to be a triple/quadruple threat.” Denzel knows what all parents of dark-skinned children know – the worst stereotypes attached to Blackness, will be ascribed to your dark-skinned child, no matter how talented, hard-working or intelligent they are. This is the cost of living in a white supremacist state.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Dear Black People Stop Singing About Chicken

If you're Black, then you're well aware of the association of Blackness and chicken.  Last June, Mary J Blige set off a slew of angry commentary when she filmed a commercial for Burger King in which she sang about chicken. Thankfully, the commercial was pulled however this is not the first time when we have seen Black people performing coonery in the media over chicken. It's bad enough when actors, singers and dancers get paid to do this kind of performance but it is certainly worse when the average citizen takes to youtube to perform songs about chicken.

Look, if you want to act a fool publicly, that is your business but when you start to sing tributes to chicken, it reflects on all Black people because unlike Whiteness, we don't have the privilege of individuality.  Just stop the coonery and the buffonery.  There is no reason to sink to this level and I don't care how much you love chicken and biscuits.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor Explains that Being a Princess is not a Career

Justice Sonia Sotomayor recently appeared on Sesame Street to talk about the importance of careers.

Sonia Sotomayor: Hi I'm Sonia Sotomayor
Abbey Cadabbey: And I'm Abbey Cadabe
Sonia Sotomayor: And we're here to tell you all about the word career.
Abbey Cadabbey: yeah career
Sonia Sotomayor: A career is a job that you train for and prepare for and plan on doing for a long time
Abbey Cadabbey: Oh I know what career that I want to have
Sonia Sotomayor: What's that Abbey?
Abbey Cadabbey: I want a career as a princess - career (Abbey transforms into a princess)
Sonia Sotomayor: Abbey pretending to be a princess is fun but it is definitely not a career.
Abbey Cadabbey: It's not?
Sonia Sotomayor: No. Remember a career is a job that you train and prepare for and that you plan to do for a long time.
Abbey Cadabbey: Well gee you're right. I guess a princess really isn't a job.
Sonia Sotomayor: No, it's not.
Abbey Cadabbey: Well then, what kind of career can a girl like me have?
Sonia Sotomayor: Well, you can go to school and train to be a teacher, a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, and even a scientist.
Abbey Cadabbey: Wow. Do you have a career?
Sonia Sotomayor: Yes I do. I am a United States Supreme Court Justice. I went to school and studied law and then became a judge.
Abbey Cadabbey: Wow, well that sounds important.
Sonia Sotomayor: It is.
Abbey Cadabbey: Okay then I know what career that I want to have.
Sonia Sotomayor: What's that?
Abbey Cadabbey: Career (Abbey changes to a judicial robe that matches Sonia Sotomayor) Order in the court.
Sonia Sotomayor: Oh Abbey, I think you'll make a great, great, judge
Abbey Cadabbey: Oh thank you
Together they say: Career

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Vampire Diaries Season Four Episode Five: The Killer

This episode begins where episode four left off. Connor tells Professor Shane that he spent the last two days tied up by Klaus. Professor Shane admits that Klaus can be terrible and Connor reminds him that Klaus is a vampire/werewolf hybrid and asks if he knows how hard it is to kill them.Connor says that he could have used some help and information but Professor Shane reminds him that the deal was that Connor would get information about the mark after he killed more vampires.
Professor Shane says that this is why he sent him to Mystic Falls and that there is a witch mixed up  in all of this that he wants kept out of harms way because she is part of her plans.  Connor replies that if anybody gets in his way they are dead. Professor Shane agrees reluctantly and says that he will occupy Bonnie himself. Professor Shane instructs Connor to do what he does because the less he knows about it the better. Connor returns to the Mystic Grill where Jeremy works. He sneaks up on Jeremy and tells him that they need to talk about vampires.
Elena is writing a diary entry and starts to by saying that she hasn't wanted to write this stuff down but does not want to say it out loud either.  Elena admits that she is now a vampire and hates it.  At the same time (cause what we need is dueling angst) Stefan is writing a diary entry about how Elena has been spiraling since her transition and how at times he barely recognises her.  Elena says she feels hopeless, depressed and angry and Stefan writes about his hope of giving her back her life.  Elena writes that she thinks of ending it but needs to find a way to get through this for Jeremy.  
Stefans journal entry is interrupted by a text from Klaus which reads, "we have a problem."  Klaus is calling from a dig site in Italy and talking to Stefan who is now standing over the chains which used to bind Connor. Stefan says that Connor could be anywhere and Klaus says that he has to find Connor and to be wary, because while he is Italy, Stefan will have no access to his blood, which is an antidote to werewolf bites. Klaus says that Connor is no good to them dead and when Stefan reminds him that Damon is looking for Connor, Klaus is adamant that Damon should be kept away because he cannot be trusted. Klaus believes that Damon likes Elena better as a vampire. Stefan counters saying that he trusts Damon more than he trusts Klaus. Klaus replies that he trusts no one and that is why his sister is lying daggered in a box.  Klaus reminds Stefan that the more they find out about the cure, the more they will be able to go after it. Klaus suggests that nations have gone to war for less. Klaus says that if  Stefan tells one person that he will throw the sword into the Mediterranean.
Matt is opening the bar and calls Jeremy to find out where he is.  April walks in and apologetically asks Matt if he has seen Rebekah.  When Matt asks why she thinks he would know where Rebekah is, April admits that she thought that Matt and Rebekah were a couple.  From a corner of the room, hidden from view, Connor has a knife to Jeremy's throat. Matt says that he and Rebekah are not a couple. When April says that Rebekah promised to help her investigate the fire that killed her father, Connor steps into view, still with the knife to Jeremy's throat and tells April that this is the least of her problems.
Damon is in Elena's bedroom, and Elena is not impressed to see him there. Damon tells her that Stefan is not answering his phone and is not there, which might be a big deal because they have a killer vampire hunter on the loose. Elena admits that she has not spoken to Stefan yet for the day. Damon asks for Elena's phone to see if Stefan is dodging him.  When she asks why Stefan would be evading his brother, Damon says that Elena probably told him about what happened on campus. When Elena makes a face, Damon realises that she didn't tell Stefan. Elena says that what happened was a mistake and that Stefan has enough to deal with, trying to get her through this vampire stuff.  Damon tells her that she is in a shame spiral but Elena denies it. When Damon calls Stefan from Elena's phone, the call goes straight to voicemail.  Damon says that Stefan is either dodging the both of them, or he is in trouble.
Back at the bar, Connor orders everyone to sit down. Connor demands Jeremy's cell phone but Jeremy begs him to let April go.  Connor says that both April and her father Pastor Young have everything to do with what is going on.  Connor tells April that the two of them have history. When he notices that Jeremy is wearing a vervain bracelet, Connor tells him he needs vervain that no one can just take off him because he would have been able to remember their conversation at Klaus' yesterday. Jeremy gets upset and asks if someone compelled him.  Matt points out that if Connor knows so much, he should realise that they're friends are going to come for them.  This however is exactly what Connor wants because each vampire that comes for them, is another vampire for him to kill. Connor asks who he should text first?
Stefan, Elena and Damon are talking about what is going on.  Damon suggests walking in there and ripping out Connor's heart and of course, Stefan cannot go along with this plan.  Tyler enters and says that he called in the hybrids and Caroline enters shortly thereafter to say that her mother has squad cars surrounding the bar now. Damon says that there are no cops and no witnesses, so they should all go in.  Tyler says that Connor shot him nine times and if they are going in, then he is coming as well.  Elena adds that because Connor has Jeremy, she is going as well.  Stefan tries to calm everyone down and says that no one is going anywhere until he figures out what they are walking into.  Damon is not impressed by this and asks how come he is the boss.  Stefan reminds everyone that Connor is known to set traps and that they would be silly to walk into one, especially if he has werewolf venom. Damon says that if Stefan wants to do reconn, he has one hour and asks where Bonnie is.  Caroline says that Bonnie cannot do magic but Damon insists that Bonnie be called. Because Bonnie never has anything better to do than serve the White people of Mystic Falls on demand.
Bonnie is with Professor Shane and she is thumbing through a book he wrote. When she threatens to go online to discover his other books, Professor Shane reminds Bonnie that she promised no internet or phones during witch therapy. When Bonnie asks if Professor Shane really believes that she will do magic again, he assures her that this is possible and tells her to drink a tea he picked up while back packing with Aborigines in Australia. Professor Shane tells Bonnie that what he has in mind might come off as a little unorthodox and then asks her about hypnosis.  When Bonnie expressed doubt, Professor Shane points out the ridiculousness of practicing magic and not believing in hypnotism.  He tells Bonnie that she is afraid to practice magic because the witch spirits told her that it is wrong, that they threatened her Grams and made her feel guilty and that she just has to confront the fear and guilt.  Bonnie says that it won't work because witches are naturally immune to any sort of manipulation.
Stefan calls Klaus to tell him the situation and suggests that Klaus get his hybrids on board with his plan.  From the window, Elena watches Stefan and wonders who he is talking to.  Damon replies that he hopes it's Bonnie. Damon pulls out schematics of tunnels under the bar which are from the Mystic Falls underground railroad. Elena gets a call from Stefan, who says that he could only make out three voices and that Matt and April are in there. Elena says that they have to get them out of there, but Stefan says that he just needs a little more time. Elena says she is going in through the tunnel but Damon stops her and says that Connor does not know that she is a vampire and they should keep it that way.  Elena plans to offer herself in exchange but Damon says that the best cases scenario is her being a hostage and the worst case scenario is that Connor figures out what she is and kills her on the spot. Elena pulls away and demands that she stop being treated like she cannot handle herself because Alaric trained her and she has been practicing with Stefan. Damon replies,"So what? Now you're going to take on a professional killer?" When Elena continues to walk away, Damon grabs a weapon from the bed and says, "bang you're dead." (Oh if only.) Elena charges forward grabs the weapon and tosses Damon on his back saying, "a head shot is no good, it has to be the heart, so now you're dead." Damon moves the weapon aside saying, "For someone who doesn't want to be like me, you sure are good at it."  Elena tells Damon that Jeremy is the only thing holding her together right now. That's an interesting statement because she has barely spent two seconds talking to Jeremy because she has been caught up in her live triangle with Stefan and Damon.

In the bar, April says that Connor is clearly delusional and Jeremy adds that Connor is a nut and that April shouldn't let him get in her head.  April asks Jeremy if Connor told him why he is doing this and Jeremy replies, "maybe, maybe I just can't remember." Matt tries to encourage Jeremy to let it go but Jeremy gets up and walks over to Connor. Jeremy asks about the conversation they had yesterday and Connor tells him that they will get into and asks him to look at his handiwork.  Apparently, Connor has rigged an explosion, which will kill vampires. Jeremy asks what Connor gets out of all of this and Connor answers, that he has realised that the mark has the answer to why he is the way he is because the more he kills, the more it grows.  Once the mark is complete, Connor says he will know his story and all of this will have meant something.  Connor turns to April and Matt and instructs them to get in the back but warns them that he has all of the other exists rigged.

Elena is looking out her window and Damon says that Stefan is on his way and that everything will be over soon.  Elena reminds Damon that they have already been through this with Jeremy and this is why they sent him to Denver in the first place.  Damon says that they will just compel him to forget and send him down to the Bahamas.  Stefan walks in and asks if they found a map of the tunnels.  When Damon says yes, Stefan says that they have to wait because Klaus is sending one of his men to take the front and that he and Damon can take the tunnel. Damon is shocked by this and asks why they are teaming up with Klaus.  Stefan says that Connor has werewolf venom and that they need someone to draw his fire and a hybrid will be immune to this. Damon is not convinced and again asks why Klaus is involved and demands the truth. Stefan says that this is the truth and that this is the best way to deal with the situation.  Damon is convinced that Stefan is being compelled and so he says, "screw your plan, I'll just take out Connor myself." When Damon turns to leave, Stefan stabs him. Elena asks why Stefan is doing this and Stefan replies, "Damon had the right idea with the tunnels but I am not going to go in there, if I can't count on him to do it my way."  Elena is still shocked that Stefan vervained Damon but Stefan points out that Damon does not care about Matt or April. Elena insists on going with him, but Stefan asks what happens if Connor attacks and Elena kills him defending herself?  Stefan says that the guilt will wreck Elena and promises her that this is the most important thing that he has ever asked her to do.  They kiss and Stefan uses his vampire speed to disappear.

Downstairs, Tyler is arguing with the hybrid that Klaus sent. When he leaves the room, Caroline notices Hayley.  When Hayley says that she has heard a ton about Caroline and has been staying there for a few days, Caroline is shocked. Caroline says that she knows all of Tyler's friends and has not heard about her and demands that Hayley cut the crap. Hayley replies, "Yeah, I don't do teen drama, take it up with Ty," before walking away.  That has got to be one of the best lines on The Vampire Diaries in quite sometime. Finally they are acknowledging the teen angst but of course acknowledgement doesn't mean that they have any plans on stopping.
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