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On Patsey and the Amazing Lupita Nyong’o

In adaptation, fashion, Film, gender, How to be Awesome Like, race, violence on November 19, 2013 at 7:43 am

Sarah S.

I recently saw 12 Years a Slave and it’s phenomenal in all the ways you’ve heard. The movie focuses on Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a musician and family man kidnapped and sold into slavery. But it also lends its precise gaze to others, including the white slaveowners—male and female—corrupted by the act of owning human beings, and the enslaved women, often forced to endure unique losses and abuses.

This particular brand of horror is most visible in Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), who works alongside Solomon on the plantation of the sadistic, perhaps even mad Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender).

Solomon’s tale contains evils enough but it was the powerlessness of Patsey, selected for extra abuse without rhyme or reason, that most touched me.

She spends her days picking more cotton than any of her counterparts, then endures confused, cruel rape by her master at night. She is systematically raped by Epps, who is violently obsessed with her. His obsession with Patsey is at the very core of his cruelty to her and the horrors to which he subjects her to.

She then suffers extra abuse from Mistress Epps (Sarah Paulsen), jealous of her husband’s infatuation. Here the white woman is not only complicit in the violence against Patsey, but actively perpetuates and embraces it.

Patsey begs Solomon to do the human mercy of helping her to kill yourself, only to have him refuse on principle. She is trapped in that—believing in Christian doctrine—she cannot kill herself, but insists that were Solomon to kill her it would be a mercy killing, an act of valor. For Patsey, death is the only foreseeable freedom from the violence of the plantation.

She sneaks away to get soap since Mistress Epps will not give her any, only to return and be whipped to unconsciousness—an act in which Solomon must partake (emphasizing not only Patsey’s abuse but the emasculation through forced complicity and inability to protect that Solomon experiences).

These are just a few of the inescapable horrors she suffers within a system that denies her humanity and subjects her to consistent and ongoing violence. In sum, the ongoing victim of a chattel system forces her to be the screen on which both the Epps project their irrational jealousies.

Switching gears a bit, I just wanted to end on how fantastic Lupita Nyong’o is as Patsey. A few notes then on Nyong’o’s break-out role:

-She is entirely accomplished and worldly. Nyong’o studied in Yale’s acting program and has lived in Mexico, Kenya, and the US. Oh, and she made a documentary about albinism in Kenya.

-She rocks the red carpet. During the film, I kept feeling as if I’d seen Nyong’o somewhere before. Then I realized it had been on the fashion commentary blog Go Fug Yourself, where the Fug Girls have described her as “nailing it.” Thrust onto the circuit by the success of 12 Years a Slave, Nyong’o has been making an impressive debut.

-She works alongside some of the finest actors today and more than holds her own. In addition to the mesmerizing Ejiofor, 12 Years boasts Fassbender, Paulsen, Michael K. Williams, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfre Woodard, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Quvenzhané Wallis, and Brad Pitt. Most of these performances, big and small, are excellent examples of acting in an excellent film. But as Patsey, newcomer Nyong’o carries one of the biggest roles and gives her character impressive depths and nuances.

(With thanks to Phoebe for feedback and edits!)

The Dating Obsession

In books, fashion, feminism, gender, reality TV, Television on January 9, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Chelsea H.

The summer before my junior year of college, I worked at a family-owned business that sold paint, spas, and above ground pools.  Strange combination, I know.  The owner of the store and I got along  well: he was a good boss, he and his wife paid well, and sometimes he shared a beer or two in the back with his employees after closing.  It was a great summer job.  But it, like my then-single situation, wasn’t to last.  My boss, for one, was determined to change the latter.  He told me once that I was “too great a person to be alone.”  He then advocated that, if I wasn’t finding men to date in my classes at school, I should look elsewhere.  I pointed out that the bar scene was not really my thing.  He asked “don’t you buy food?  There are men at the grocery store.  Don’t you do laundry?  There are men at laundrymats!”  I noted, always the pragmatist, that with laundry machines in my garage, I wasn’t about to sacrifice my quarters just to find a boyfriend.  I would rather save them for a soda machine.  Quarters, that is, not a boyfriend.

But his comments made me think.  Yes, I was single.  Yes, admittedly, I was lonely.  But why did being a great person mean I ought to be half of a couple?  Couldn’t I be just as great being just me?  And why is it “just” me?

Why not – me – ?

That fall, I met the man who became my husband.  And I have to admit, I can’t imagine being alone again.  I love our partnership.  I would feel lost without him.  But that’s because we’ve grown together and learned to rely on each other in a way that makes both of us more, not collapses us into co-dependent halves.  I accept, but do not love, when people ask me where my “other half” is.  I love living with, spending time with, and traveling with this man, but that doesn’t mean I have to be with him constantly, and his is not the only relationship I feel desirous of cultivating.  As society would see me, I’m ridiculously heteronormative.  And that makes me fit in perfectly.  Because society demands perfectly paired coupledom.  And though I recognize that this is not the only state of being in which individual human beings can be content, it is the most accepted, the most belabored, and the most advertised.  And I think this is a problematic, stagnant way of thought that stigmatizes and discriminates.  It’s a too-expected, too-relied upon binary we need to break.  I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite being in a happy relationship saying coupledom is a bad thing.  It’s not a bad thing.  It’s just not the only thing.

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How to be Awesome Like Mindy Lahiri

In fashion, How to be Awesome Like, Television on August 31, 2012 at 9:28 am

Comedian and writer Mindy Kaling just launched her own television series, The Mindy Project, and you can watch the first episode free on Hulu. Based on this pilot, Kaling has created a charmingly dysfunctional character who feels like 4/7 Bridget Jones and 3/7 Liz Lemon with a sparkly topping of Sex and the City. Kaling herself is demonstrably awesome so, without further ado, here’s a handful of reasons why “Mindy Lahiri” is awesome and you should feel free to draw from this list in your project of ever-increasing awesomeness:

 

1-She’s a smart, educated, professional woman—an OB-GYN doing her residency—who, nevertheless, shows viewers that even smart, educated, professional women have flaws and foibles, including making dubious decisions in the “love and sex” category.

 

 

2-She’s obsessed with romantic comedies (including my favorite, When Harry Met Sally) and remains ever on the lookout for her “meet cute” with the perfect guy. I certainly don’t suggest that real ladies try to live as if life is a romantic comedy but it’s a funny quirk in a television character, one that both the show and Mindy recognize as ridiculous and charming in equal measure. (Great line from the pilot to her annoyingly overbearing colleague: “Never presume to speak for Meg Ryan again.”)

 

3-She lets her heart get in the way of what looks good “on paper.” When confronted with patients in need who have no insurance, Mindy tries to tell them she’s overbooked or cannot take on uninsured patients but her basic humanity and desire to provide medical care to women overthrows the dictates of the market and professional ambition.

 

4-Mindy is beautiful and confident but (praise the heavens!) she doesn’t look like everyone else on television. She’s not a petite size 0 and she’s Indian-American. She may strut like Carrie Bradshaw but she could break SJP over her knee.

 

 

5-She understands the happy-making powers of sparkly clothes and fabulous shoes.

 

6-She’s direct. This often leads to embarrassing gaffes or foot-in-mouth scenarios but it also makes her honest and real.

 

Let’s all drink a cocktail (or three) as we welcome Mindy Lahiri to a world of television that desperately needs her and Mindy Kaling to the zeitgeist of awesome female comedians.

Outfitting the Consumer Feminist in “Sex and the City 2″

In fashion, feminism, Film on June 22, 2012 at 9:14 am

Phoebe B.

I recently had the desire to hate-watch my way through a parade of Manolo Blahniks, fancy bags, and bad acting—otherwise known as Sex and the City 2 (word to the wise: don’t watch SATC 2! It is terrible. It is almost too bad for hate watching.). The movie takes Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda out of Manhattan and into Abu Dhabi for a girls vacation, where they cause quite a lot of trouble with their American ways.

Amidst the recession and two wars in the Middle East the film proclaims a clear pro-America stance that figures the Middle East as repressive and oppressive. The ladies, on the other hand, are supposedly the picture of liberated white womanhood—defined per SATC 2 by super expensive fashion and sexual liberation. SATC 2 seems to imagine itself as on the progressive edge of feminism. But in fact, it trades in some of the worst stereotypes about both Middle Eastern cultures and Western, white feminists in the name of progressive politics.

The ladies on their way to ride camels

Samantha, the leader of the trip to Abu Dhabi, is certain that her American way is the right way. She refuses to cover her shoulders or legs, behaves inappropriately, and flouts the rules. For example, Samantha and her architect date kiss on the beach after some overly sexual hookah smoking, despite prohibitions against public displays of affection and the clear discomfort they cause a nearby couple. Then she is arrested and quite miffed and surprised that she’s punished for her behavior. Not to fear though, back in America at the end of the film, she and her architect can have sex on a beach (not the drink) without legal interference. Oh freedom, how great you are!

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