ARTS + CULTURE

Everything music, movies, and culture.

In too many black coming-of-age films, black people don’t have lives, they have agendas. In 1991’s “Boyz N the Hood,” we get lectured on inner-city crime. 2006’s “ATL” educates us on  growing up poor. In 2015’s “Dope,” the main character actually addresses the audience to judge how we expect a black teenager to live. Barry Jenkins’s “Moonlight” has no agendas. It doesn’t need them. It tells the story of a gay black kid’s coming of age in Miami so clearly and sensitively that it becomes your story.

Working from Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unpublished play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” Jenkins divides “Moonlight” into three acts. Three different actors play the protagonist Chiron at different points in his life.

In the first act, he’s nicknamed Little (Alex Hibbert). He lives with his drug-addicted mother (Naomie Harris), but finds guidance from a drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali). In the second, Chiron is an ungainly teenager (now played by Ashton Sanders) struggling with bullies and his closeted sexuality. The final chapter shows us a grown-up Chiron (Trevante Rhodes), his now muscular shoulders burdened by the emotional baggage he’s carried all these years.

In Jenkins’s three Chirons, you see the same body language, the same facial tics, the same eyes that project a battered soul.

In capturing Chiron’s experience, Jenkins creates real people. His first feature, 2008’s “Medicine for Melancholy,” revealed this gift. In that film, he patiently followed a black man and woman in their 20’s around a gentrifying San Francisco as they walked and talked. Their conversations covered the changing racial makeup of the city, what it means to be black, and how that meaning changes in different situations.

Instead of being a lecture, these ideas flow naturally out of the characters’ interactions. Jenkins writes black people you can imagine bumping into on the street or on the subway.

That authenticity blesses “Moonlight’s” cast beyond the three newcomers who play Chiron. Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, André Holland as a childhood friend of Chiron’s, and even singer Janelle Monáe as Chiron’s surrogate mother, suggest deep pools of feeling and lived experience with just a glance.

The film’s craft complements the cast. Cinematography, music, sound design and editing combine to cast a spell that slows us down and draws us in. The film seems to breathe in the summer air. Deep sky blues, pearly shades of white, and the orange glow of street lights wash over us like ocean waves gently splashing ashore.

And behind it all stands Jenkins, whose artistry since “Medicine” has risen from observation to poetry. His twirling camera turns the rough-and-tumble play of black boys into ballet. His wide compositions convey Chiron’s isolation. His gaze savors the telling detail: a look shared between two old friends, as if searching each other’s face for traces of the boy they knew, or a hand clenching in the sand, shivers of desire running through it.

Coming out of the film, I recalled these images so vividly they could have been memories from my life. A few of them are. I know the childhood roughhousing that Jenkins depicts. And I know the fear that can grip boys who act tough so as not to appear “soft.” But anyone watching “Moonlight” will know the struggle to become who you want to be.

The beauty in Jenkins’s film comes from empathizing with Chiron’s experience whether you’ve known a part of it or not. And when his old hurts and buried desires rush back to the surface in “Moonlight’s” climactic scenes, you’ll feel so close to Chiron by then that you’ll want to reach out and hold him.

You’ll want to hold onto “Moonlight,” too.

 

The best of “The Birth of Nation,” which Nate Parker directed, co-wrote and stars in, rattles you with its power and conviction. You come away from Parker’s film, which took seven years to get to the big screen, feeling his heartbeat in every frame.

Some viewers will dismiss “The Birth of a Nation” as just another slave movie. But unlike, say, Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” which stands back and observes atrocity with grim dispassion, “The Birth of a Nation’s” big emotional moments and religious motifs share more in common with films like “Braveheart” and “The Passion of the Christ” (indeed, Mel Gibson is thanked in the end credits).

In dramatizing Nat Turner’s 1831 slave revolt, which resulted in the deaths of some 60 white men, women and children, Parker presents his protagonist as a Christ figure. In key moments, Turner stands in the pose of being crucified. Sound design turns a slaver’s whip into a snake, and when Turner strikes the first blow of the rebellion, Parker shoots the scene as if he’s coming out of the darkness into the light.

Parker draws us into this spiritual journey through a strong performance as the rebellion leader, who learns to read the Bible at a young age before becoming a field hand and preacher in his adulthood. As Turner, Parker commands the screen in his quietest moments and often refrains from overselling his growing outrage at slavery’s cruel hypocrisies. Parker, his cinematographer and production team reflect this restraint in the film’s visual beauty and production design, which immerse us in 1831 Virginia.

The film’s musical score exerts less restraint, often telling us exactly what emotion to feel and when. Parker’s handling of Turner’s religious visions and dreams (some of which he movingly links to his African roots) also feels heavy-handed. Images of black angels and bleeding corn may provoke eye-rolls rather than chills.

Real chills arrive when Turner’s master Samuel Turner, well played by Armie Hammer, pimps him out to nearby plantations to spread God’s word. In reality, the neighboring plantation owners mean for his preaching to pacify their slaves amid whispers of defiance and insurrection.

Scenes depicting the physical brutalities of slavery, the most excruciating being the torture and force-feeding of a shackled slave, will have some viewers watching through their fingers. But “The Birth of a Nation” examines the psychological violence of the institution as well. A relatively benevolent character like Samuel Turner, whose desperation to keep his family’s land afloat turns him crueler with time, does as much damage to Turner’s soul as the wretches who brutalize his wife Cherry, played by a sympathetic Aja Naomi King. In one of the film’s most telling moments, Samuel whips Nat for baptizing a white man. In this scene, we see that, in slavery, even God’s law bows before the white man’s law.

But “The Birth of a Nation” examines how religion could both subjugate and liberate a people. As Turner conveniently explains to a group of fellow slaves during a covert gathering, “For every verse they use to support our bondage, there’s another one demanding our freedom.”

In a swift two hours, Hammer and King sketch out characters that occasionally resonate when Turner doesn’t dominate the frame. The climactic battle scenes provide effective, if uncomplicated, catharsis. This catharsis soon turns to horror when, in a series of terrible images, paranoid whites take their fears out on any black person they can find. Here, one feels the film rushing to its conclusion rather than milking these moments for all they’re worth.

Still, coming a century after D.W. Griffith’s film of the same name, which glorified white supremacy, viewers should find much to value in this “Birth of a Nation.” From the first frame to the last, we eagerly root for Turner and never question his righteousness. We may wish for a more complex reckoning with Turner’s decision to slaughter his owners. But when Turner is beaten, it’s as if we’ve been whipped. And when Turner takes his revenge, we can almost feel our own fingers curl around the axe handle.

For many people, such moral certainty eludes Parker and Jean McGianni Celestin (Celestin shares a story credit on the film). It recently came out that a woman who accused Parker and Celestin of sexual assault in 1999 committed suicide in 2012. Parker was acquitted of the charges and Celestin convicted. After serving several months in prison, Celestin later overturned his conviction on appeal, and the case was thrown out when the accuser declined to re-testify.

The case and its aftermath will likely shadow the film throughout its theatrical run. But if the moral stature of Nate Parker has been been tarnished, the moral stature of his film is irrefutable.

The terror and horror of this day fifteen years ago permanently traumatized this country in a way that, like many momentous events in America’s history, has seeped into the national psyche and been filtered out through popular culture and mass media. Movies in particular have soaked up the imagery and political fallout of 9/11. Images that recall the destruction of the Twin Towers run rampant through many Hollywood entertainments and dramas. Films exploring terrorism, torture and homeland security crop up time and time again. When it comes to the day itself, however, Hollywood has taken awkward steps towards it, often stumbling around 9/11 or avoiding it entirely. Below is a short list of exceptional films that dared to come to grips with 9/11 or its aftermath.

“Fahrenheit 9/11,” directed by Michael Moore

If there’s one filmmaker who will forever be linked to 9/11 and, subsequently, the War on Terror, it is documentarian Michael Moore. Moore believes that, when the towers crumbled, so too did the morality and integrity of the Bush administration. In this then controversial 2004 documentary, Moore takes this administration to task. Mixing wit, goofy asides and powerful images, Moore unleashes a provocative indictment of the policies and deceit that led to the War in Iraq at a time when much of America fully supported Iraq’s occupation. Moore also attacks the mainstream media for what he felt was a slanted and inaccurate analysis and coverage of the rationale for war and its consequences. Today, much of it will play as common knowledge for many viewers. But try not be be unsettled by a passage showing George W. Bush sitting in silence in a Florida classroom after learning of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the seconds ticking away. And a montage set to Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” that concludes with footage of one of the planes hitting the towers will freeze the blood. The film remains the highest grossing documentary of all time.

“25th Hour,” directed by Spike Lee

Spike Lee made this brilliant film just a year after the towers fell. At a time when studios and directors rushed to erase any images of the Twin Towers from movies filmed before 9/11 or avoided their absence in shots of the New York City skyline, the New York native put that absence front and center. This absence haunts the narrative. The film, about a drug dealer named Monty (Edward Norton) enjoying his final days of freedom before a seven-year prison sentence, tackles 9/11 as a state of mind, or more appropriately, a state of mourning. The film opens with a shot of twin floodlights where the towers once stood. The score by Terence Blanchard is sorrowful and elegiac, a mood that has seeped into the bones of the characters, affecting how they talk and interact. Anger, despair and dissolution blanket the proceedings. In one scene, two of Monty’s friends grapple with the realization that he will never be the same after his jail time. They talk in an apartment complex that overlooks the devastation of the World Trade Center. This grim shadow of reality on the drama elevates the emotions of “25th Hour” to almost operatic levels. Watch for the amazing sequence in which Monty looks into a mirror and screams “F-yous” at every ethnic, social and racial group in New York before finally arriving at himself. A better cinematic encapsulation of America’s seething anger and frustration post 9/11 you will not see.

“United 93,” directed by Paul Greengrass

Too soon. That’s how many moviegoers felt about this 2006 film about the doomed United Airlines flight that crashed in Pennsylvania after its passengers attempted to overtake the hijackers. But British filmmaker Paul Greengrass brought a breathtaking immediacy and sense of veracity to the film. Greengrass’s achievement neither demonized the terrorists or romanticized the passengers’ actions. And he narrows his view only to what happened on the plane. Greengrass tells the story in present tense; we know only as much as the characters (played by mostly unknown actors) do. Greengrass also hires many of the flight attendants and airline personnel to play themselves. Scene after visceral scene will punch you in the gut. But if you imagine the irresponsible roads this movie could’ve taken, you’ll realize the way Greengrass made his movie is the most tasteful and honorable tribute to this tragedy.

“Margaret,” directed by Kenneth Lonergan

Studio Fox Searchlight shamefully mishandled this masterful drama. Shooting began in 2005 before it went through a number of editing jobs, multiple lawsuits and a rather quiet limited release in 2011 before almost vanishing in obscurity. Obscurity, however, is the last place one should find what is perhaps the most searching and searing depiction of a post 9/11 New York on film. Like “25th Hour,” a mood of post traumatic stress permeates Lonergan’s movie, which concerns the tragic consequences a terrible accident has on the life of a privileged Manhattan teen named Lisa (Anna Paquin) and the people in her life. The way the accident punctures Lisa’s sense of security and self and fills her with bitterness and uncertainty mirrors America’s own grappling with such feelings over the past decade. In the film, these feelings complicate and corrupt Lisa’s relationships with family and strangers alike, most heatedly in intense classroom exchanges between her and a Muslim student that touch on American nationalism and religious radicalism. Beyond its timely subtext, this film captures the agonies and difficulties of communication, how we so often use words to wound or evade each other. Scenes play out with the raw and messy rhythms of real life. When it ends, one feels like the characters are still fighting to be understood, still fighting to understand themselves and a world that seems much more dangerous than it once did.

“Zero Dark Thirty,” directed by Kathryn Bigelow

The defining film on the War on Terror so far, Kathryn Bigelow’s tough, uncompromising procedural tackled the decade long hunt for Osama bin Laden. The opening to the film is chilling: a black screen accompanied by real 9-1-1 calls of terrified individuals trapped inside the World Trade Center. We will then cut to a CIA agent torturing a terrorist suspect. The message in the juxtaposition rings loud and clear: The torture of terrorist suspects following the 9/11 attacks were more than just the U.S. dealing in “the dark side,” as Dick Cheney declared, but in many ways a reprisal for the cruelty enacted upon us. Bigelow swam these tricky waters in this 2012 Best Picture nominee. Bigelow got in trouble from critics and politicians alike when they called the authenticity of some of the film’s plot points into question. Bigelow seemed to want it both ways, stressing her freedom of interpretation as an artist yet asserting her fidelity to the truth. If the film doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny as a matter of fact, it’s riveting as cinema. Bigelow stages scenes of violence and suspense with elegance and razor sharp clarity. And as the obsessively driven CIA agent Maya, Jessica Chastain perfectly conveys our society’s frustration, fatigue and need for closure. You know how it ends (spoiler alert: we got ‘em), but film’s conclusion doesn’t cry “‘Merica!” One gets a sense that, the mission over, Maya doesn’t know what to do next. The implication: neither does anyone else.

DORY. ©2013 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

“Finding Dory,” the sequel to Pixar Animation Studio’s 2003 classic, “Finding Nemo,” swam into theaters on Friday. The film earned $136 million in North America its opening weekend, a record for a Pixar film. Reviews from critics have also been very kind. But is “Finding Dory” better than its predecessor? Or even “Toy Story?” Find out where it falls in our ranking of Pixar’s filmography below.

17. Cars 2, John Lasseter (2011)

The one bad egg in the Pixar carton. “Cars 2” is more in line with the flashy commercial aesthetics of today’s mainstream market than with the exquisite storytelling for which Pixar is known. It’s as entertaining as a “Fast and Furious” movie, but without the thrill of seeing actual cars parachute out of planes.

16. A Bug’s Life, John Lasseter (1998)

Another rather simplistic effort that never rose above its cute but well-trodden conceit. That it came out at the same time as another excursion into bug world, the far more entertaining “Antz,” didn’t help. I’m as big a fan as anyone would be of Kevin Spacey as the villainous grasshopper, and there are visual treats abound, but “A Bug’s Life” grows tedious on repeat viewings.  

15. Cars, John Lasseter (2006)

Pixar’s seventh feature allowed Disney to milk Pixar products for more kids merchandise, but “Cars” had a rather surprising message at its center. Reminding us of America’s fading industrial landscape proved bold and timely, but a predictable narrative and the insufferable babbling of Larry the Cable Guy swallows the idea whole.

14. Monsters University, Dan Scanlon (2013)

Dan Scanlon’s prequel to “Monster’s Inc.” gets an unfair rap. “Monsters University” granted our favorite monsters some wonderful context. As a comedic riff on making your way through college, its notes sound far more accurate than in something like “Animal House.” Finding the right group, registering for class, not wanting to disappoint your parents, annoying roommates, anyone who attended college will recognise at least one moment from this minor but smart comedy.

13. The Good Dinosaur, Peter Sohn (2015)

Pixar’s sixteenth film went through many production delays before it saw the light of day Thanksgiving of 2015. Set on an Earth that never got hit by a meteor and dinosaurs still roam the land, you follow a young dinosaur separated from his family who must find his way home. This journey brings few surprises, but it’s breathtaking to behold, like a painting come to life. And the film’s contemplative silences and often harsh vision of nature make for a welcome alternative to the often superficial hysterics of other animated films.

12. Brave, Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman (2012)

Pixar’s first foray into a female-driven narrative depends on fairy-tale formula to weave a tender and engaging yarn on identity, family and communication. Its central mother-daughter dynamic works as a lovely response to the father-son relationship in “Finding Nemo.” Add to that beautiful animation in which every strand of that carrot-colored hair looks alive, and you have a high-spirited entertainment that fans of “Frozen” should revisit.

11. Finding Dory, Andrew Stanton (2016)

I felt a sequel to “Finding Nemo” could only tarnish such pearly perfection. But thirteen years later, the ocean is still a lovely place to explore, particularly if you have characters like Ellen Degeneres’s wonderful Dory to follow. Dory is doing the finding this time (she’s lost her parents), but she’s also finding her sense of self-sufficiency, and the journey provides emotional and hilarious entertainment with Pixar’s customarily exceptional touch. It expands on some of the ideas in the original (dealing with loss and overcoming disabilities) and offers wonderful newcomers, most especially Ed O’Neill as a grumpy octopus.

10. The Incredibles, Brad Bird (2004)

A favorite for many Pixar fans, “The Incredibles” zigs and zags with such jazzy flavor that you hardly realize how thematically heavy it is. Director Brad Bird’s great superhero flick examined suburban angst with bite and wit while also condemning a society wallowing in mediocrity. In the oppressive age of Marvel, the evil Syndrome’s wicked line “And when everyone’s super, no one will be” proved prophetic. The brilliant cast (Sam Jackson needs to do more voice work) doesn’t just play their characters for laughs; they live their characters’ wants, indignities and aspirations. They sound like real people. Bird, always the writing stylist (he penned many of “The Simpsons’s” funniest episodes), has an ear for dialogue both in the superhero and suburban realm that would make the film work just as easily as an audiobook. And let’s not forget: Edna. A slam-bang final two-thirds almost buries the rich subtext, but this thing still zips right along. We all await that sequel.

9. Monsters, Inc., Pete Docter (2001)

Pixar started off the millennium with one of their funniest and most touching efforts. This tale of a community of monsters who scare kids for a living offers wonderful satire about our over reliance on energy sources and even manages to include a tribute to the power of laughter. Even without these varied themes, you’ll be hard pressed not to enjoy what’s there on the surface. Billy Crystal, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi give wonderful vocal performances, and the surrogate father-daughter relationship between Goodman’s Sully and the little human girl (he calls her Boo) who enters his life is as sweet as anything Pixar’s yet created. That final shot is simple and pure.

8. Toy Story 2, John Lasseter (1999)

“Toy Story 2” is one of the greatest of all sequels. It expands on the original in glorious and exciting ways; a simple rescue film becomes a rumination on mortality and the importance of putting others before yourself. At the time of its release, it pointed to Pixar’s growing maturity. No longer just films of charms and laughs, Pixar’s work could be thoughtful, complex and even dark. It was a sign of great things to come. And I still have my Emperor Zurg toy.

7. Toy Story, John Lasseter (1995)

Where it all began. It speaks to the heights Pixar would later reach that this first effort, so original and endearing, finds itself out of the top tier. It’s nothing more than the relationship between a young kid and his toys. Yet “Toy Story” is a landmark, simple as that, influencing animated film from here to eternity (or infinity). Woody and Buzz are two of the most iconic characters in modern movies. They, and this film, will live on forever.

6. Up, Pete Docter (2009)

Pixar closed out the past decade with an emotional powerhouse of a set-piece in their tenth feature: a four-minute montage (caressed by Michael Giacchino’s lovely score) depicting the peaks and valleys of marriage. The sequence was in the first 15 minutes of the film, and its emotional truth and poetry blindsided us. The rest of the film wouldn’t quite match it (a poor villain and excess of frivolity weigh it down), but “Up’s” delightful characters hold it aloft, not the least of which being the lovable dog Dug. Ultimately, “Up” reminds us that life’s great adventures are often the moments we share with others. ‘Tis a lesson worth remembering.

5. Toy Story 3, Lee Unkrich (2010)

“Toy Story 3” gets the edge over its predecessors for putting such a beautiful and poignant bow on what must be one of the great film trilogies. It supplies laughs, emotion and thrills in equal measure, while also providing a climax that will reduce any normal human to mush. That image of our beloved toys facing oblivion — first with fear and desperation until, finally, with brave finality — works on our emotions the way the best films do; we realize these characters have become like family. Like family, things change, people move on and toys are passed on, but the memories and the feelings remain. A “Toy Story 4” is pointless. There could be no finer send-off for these characters than this film.

4. Inside Out, Pete Docter (2015)

Their most ambitious concept yet, “Inside Out” brilliantly and elegantly makes literal the tumultuous emotions that run budding adolescence; parents will nod in recognition. Children will marvel at the creativity hidden in every part of the frame and delight in the stellar cast and visuals. But with age and repeat viewings, they will better appreciate the profound, magical empathy Pixar has conjured. It’s sweet and knowing in ways live-action films about kids rarely approach.  

3. WALL-E, Andrew Stanton (2008)

Pixar’s ninth feature entered the cinematic space of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and Charlie Chaplin. It was a grand, visual navigation of human folly and invention centered around a protagonist of effortless charm and expressivity. The first half hour or so is nearly wordless sublimity. The stark and arresting depiction of a ravaged earth set against the innocence and curiosity of WALL-E was beautiful to behold. The final hour is more formulaic, but with time has revealed itself as a rather savage satire of technology as our life support and the inevitable numbing of human sensation. It’s more than just mankind becoming fat. Formula or no formula, when you have the scene of WALL-E and his love interest EVE performing a romantic waltz in space, you can’t help but feel like you’re flying right along with them.

2. Finding Nemo, Andrew Stanton (2003)

“Finding Nemo” is perfect. There is not a false scene or beat. The stunningly life-like underwater visuals still have the power to wash over you and send you into movie bliss, and Thomas Newman’s score seems to swish and sway to the rhythms of the ocean. When you first see it, the powerful current of its father-son story carries you off. While Dory, played by Ellen Degeneres in truly Oscar worthy work, gives you a childhood’s worth of life lessons in just one line. But subsequent viewings reveal a deeper appeal. Each character must deal with a handicap, either mental, physical or emotional. Everyone we meet on that epic journey to 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney — whether it’s the vegetarian sharks, the fish in the dentist’s office, or the surfer-turtle Crush — is just trying to get by. “Finding Nemo” reminds us that there’s life being lived everywhere you look, and it isn’t easy for anyone, and that sometimes we all need a reason to just keep swimming. That it can say all this so effortlessly and poignantly while keeping kids of all ages enthralled the whole way through solidifies its status as a treasure.

1.Ratatouille, Brad Bird (2007)

Pixar’s eighth feature works like the best popular fiction, meaning more to you as you grow older. It is first a celebration of the senses. It is not only a sumptuous feast for the eyes and ears, food and taste are as vividly depicted as they’ve ever been in a visual medium. You get hungry watching “Ratatouille.” Bird also knows how taste or touch can travel a path directly to our deepest and most important memories. But the film also celebrates the joie de vivre, buoyantly evoking that feeling of taking life’s next great step, of entering worlds you never knew existed. Finally, it is one of the great, impassioned films about the artist’s pursuit of excellence. And it is the defense of that pursuit that, in an age when what qualifies as exceptional grows more and more dubious, resonates so deeply.

TVDADS

This Father’s Day weekend, my mind keeps running back to the strong fictional images of fatherhood throughout my lifetime. The most prevalent of those being Bill Cosby’s role as Heathcliff Huxtable on 1984’s “Cosby Show.”

Many of my favorite moments on “The Cosby Show” are when Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) is a part of the cast. Bonet and Cosby have a well-recorded, tumultuous history, as Bonet made decisions that didn’t fit into Cosby’s idea of a ‘Huxtable kid.’ (See: Marrying Lenny Kravitz and starring in a sexually explicit film.)

In season 4, Denise has a husband (Joseph C. Phillips) and a step-daughter (Raven-Symoné). In a scene shortly after Denise’s return to the show, Cliff sits at the kitchen table across from Denise’s husband and asks him if Denise was a virgin on their wedding night. Martin confirms that she was and Cosby’s onscreen persona is pleased.

In Denise’s absence from the conversation, her ‘good character’ is correlated to her (lack of) sexual experiences. A television father discussing their daughter’s sex life and claiming ownership of it isn’t a new act. Cosby’s lessons in respectability and sexuality on and off the screen helped shape a legacy of purity among television dads.

In the mode of Cosby’s strong arm as the All-American Dad, Danny Tanner (Bob Saget) was welcomed on our screens in 1987’s “Full House.”  Danny Tanner’s role on the original made him one of TV’s most memorable dads. Philip Banks (James Avery) from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” Paul Hennessy (John Ritter) from “8 Simple Rules” and Andre Johnson (Anthony Anderson) from “Black-ish” have joined the ranks since.

Their father knows best mentality has helped propel these television fathers into cultural icons. Like Cosby, their bond goes beyond dad jokes, advice over cheesy music and the love of food. Their greatest commonality is as gatekeepers of their daughters’ sexualities.

Television father’s’ role as ‘the boss of the household’ transcends mediums and becomes the model many coming-of-age viewers embody for their future families. Though it seems to be a harmless act to turn on the television and allow it to teach our families about sex and familial roles, that simple act is undoubtedly complex.

This clip from ABC’s 2002 sitcom, “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter” illustrates that point.

“8 Simple Rules” stands solely on the premise of the over protective father, Paul Hennessy, warding off the oversexed teenager. “8 Simple Rules” is based on a 2001 book that outlines the following rules:

  1. Use your hands on my daughter and you’ll lose them after.
  2. You make her cry, I make you cry.
  3. Safe sex is a myth. Anything you try will be hazardous to your health.
  4. Bring her home late, there’s no next date.
  5. If you pull into my driveway and honk, you better be dropping off a package because you’re sure not picking anything up (Alternative rule #5: Only delivery men honk. Dates ring the doorbell. Once.)
  6. No complaining while you’re waiting for her. If you’re bored, change my oil.
  7. If your pants hang off your hips, I’ll gladly secure them with my staple gun.
  8. Dates must be in crowded public places. You want romance? Read a book.

These are the unwritten rules that most patriarchal shows follow. The sexual experiences of Paul’s daughters, Bridget (Kaley Cuoco) and Kerry (Amy Davidson), are displayed through the lens of her father’s expectations and desires. The conflicts on “8 Simple Rules” often arise from the Hennessy daughters being ‘too young’ to know about sex but too ‘sexually driven’ to go out with men.

The thread that ties “Cosby”’s influence to “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” is clear: A show about a successful black family  could grab America’s attention.

In the clip above, Ashley (Tatyana Ali) is forced to go a double date with her cousin Will (Will Smith) after he father demands he looks after her for the evening. After the disastrous date she decides to sing Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” to reach the attention of the men in her family. Ashley wants control of her own sexual agency, and she demands her family respect that. Considering they reside in a household that rewards the males for doing the same, this request doesn’t seem unreasonable.

However, after this episode and throughout the remainder of the series, Phillip reaffirms his role as the overprotective warden of his daughter’s sexuality.

Though this ‘overprotective dad’ trope may seem like a thing of yesteryear, consider this clip from a February episode of “Black-ish.”

In the clip above, Andre (Anthony Anderson) buys Zoey (Yara Shahidi) a new car. After handing her the keys, Zoey proclaims she is meeting a male friend at the library to study. The very thought of his daughter having sex prompts Andre to give Zoey impossible tasks to ‘earn his trust.’

In the “Black-ish” universe Andre celebrates his oldest son’s (Marcus Scribner) pursuits for women. Like many television dads, Andre frames his son’s masculinity around these pursuits. In the 30 year gap in time that links “The Cosby Show” to “Black-ish,” television dads are still protecting their daughters from ‘one of those guys’ while allowing their sons to be one.

It is time we start questioning the cultural mentality of ‘nobody touches my princess.’ That concept isn’t only harmful to on-screen daughters; these same attitudes have real life consequences: virginity pledges, purity balls and the commodification of women. As long as we weigh a girl’s virginity as the highest moral standard, we fail our girls on and off the screen.

Black girl lounging in bed. Photo via Flickr (Good_1)

In the Fall of 2012 during my freshman year at Howard University, I was introduced to the grave effects of sexual assault by my friend, Alice.* Alice and I were sitting in the cafeteria laughing during DJ night with a group of friends. As hits from the 90s spun in the background, Alice whispered to me: “I think something’s happened, I don’t know how to explain it.”

That *something* is a story I’ve also heard unfold 6 times since my talk with Alice freshman year. A range of close friends and peers alike have disclosed their experiences. If you’re keeping up with me, that means I know of 7 women that have been sexually assaulted while matriculating at Howard University.

This phenomenon isn’t unique to the halls of The Mecca. In fact, one in five women will be sexually assaulted while in college. Many of these women, like Alice, couldn’t put their experience to words. Some of the women I’ve mentioned don’t consider their experience to be sexual assault. In one situation, for example, a peer recalls needing to be drunk in order to consent to intercourse with her significant other.

Tuesday morning Joe Biden gave a speech on sexual violence and reinforced his commitment to ending rape on campus.

“If you let [sexual violence] pass [because] you want to be ‘one of the guys,’ you become an accomplice,” Biden said to the crowd at the United State of Women Summit.

Being ‘one of the guys’ was never an option for me. However, I believe it’s on me to do everything in my power to help stop campus rapes and sexual violence.

When Alice asked me what to do, I wasn’t equipped with the knowledge or resources to help her. Because of this, Alice’s mental, emotional and physical health suffered.

I continuously think about Alice and the many other stories I’ve heard over the past four years. I am my sister’s’ keeper and this duty empowers me to speak up and help empower others. The series I am doing for A Tribe Called News is dedicated to them and the many unknown survivors of sexual violence.
It’s on Us.

 

Wow 2016, you’re really trying to show us just how fleeting life can be, aren’t you? I’m going to need you to calm that down for a second please. It’s been a few hours since Prince has passed and I feel as if time has slowed down all around me. It feels as if I’ve lost a piece of myself to the void. In just a few hours the world has once again been reminded of the fact that even our idols can’t escape the claws of death, no one is safe and nothing is sacred.

But as Prince himself once said, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” I am compelled to offer up condolences to his family, fans, and to let the world know what Prince did for a little genderfluid Black kid like myself.

Growing up in the Deep South — I’m talking the Deep South in the country ya’ll — I never had many people in my life who were like me. I was never able to identify with the ultra-masculine Black men in my life, famous figures or otherwise.

During my teenage years as I was planting the seeds for my identity, there he was — an incredibly effeminate Black man who was enough and then some. A black man that affirmed that there’s more options in the world for someone like me.

Though I didn’t discover and truly appreciate Prince until my teenage years, as a child seeing glances of this incredibly effeminate Black man was enough to help the seeds to grow.

I owe this introduction to my mother’s exceedingly good taste in music. His songs were the background of my childhood as I watched how her dance to her favorite disco and funk albums that included Prince in a heavy rotation. Seeing and hearing his music makes my heart feel like it’s home wherever I am. Interacting with music from someone so flamboyant, so “other” was and still is healing.

When I dance and sing to Prince’s music, I’m singing and dancing with a child who had no idea what kind of world their sexuality and gender would lead them to. His music and his existence on this planet gives me the strength to dance despite the world telling queer people of color like me to cease existing.

Joseph Coco embodying the essence of Prince

 

When I look and think of Prince, I see a vision of myself like no other. I envision someone who was so unapologetically unbothered by gender norms as he commandeered the respect and adoration of many. To be incredibly blunt, I see a skinny Black man in a blouse stuntin’ on the lives of all of those who were unworthy to bask in his eternal light. I envision the person I try to embody everyday of my life, someone who moves through spaces altering people’s ideas and perceptions about gender. I envision someone who had no time to be in anyone’s box. Because of this, Prince Roger Nelson was and still is my ideal final form.

So to quote the Purple One, “I’m not a woman, I’m not a man, I am something that you’ll never understand.” For all the genderfluid folks out there, Black and otherwise, let Prince and his legacy be something that emboldens you to be your greatest self. For Black men everywhere who may be scared to embrace their feminine side and deviate from the norm, think of Prince. Think of what he was and what he did. For anyone and everyone, Prince was a person who took what you knew about gender and dunked it in a trash can where it belongs.

PRINCE DIDN’T HAVE TIME FOR GENDER NORMS AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU. MAY HE REST IN POWER.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article appeared on our sister site, Equality for Her.

 

Editor’s Note: This article was edited April 21 to reflect recent updates.

“Nina” may have arrived in theaters today, but the Nina Simone biopic has already endured years of controversy.

It started in 2012. The film’s production company, Ealing Studios, announced Zoe Saldana as Simone, who died in 2003. Before her death, the Civil Rights-era singer put a spell on listeners with hauntingly beautiful songs like 1966’s “Four Women.”

With that announcement, detractors began to sharpen their pitchforks. If Simone resembled “Four Women’s” Aunt Sarah, whose “skin is black,” Saldana looked more like Sweet Thing, who says, “My skin is tan, my hair is fine.” The people against the black Latina’s casting did not want Sweet Thing to play Aunt Sarah.

In March, the trailer for the film was released.

It showed Saldana wearing makeup to darken her skin and a prosthetic nose. But she still didn’t resemble Aunt Sarah. Critics lit their torches and unleashed the hounds. Before seeing the film, the social media mob sought to tweet Saldana off the project.

“USAToday,” “Buzzfeed” and other sites collected some of the harsher tweets. People lobbed words like “offensive,” “horrible” and “blackface” as if they were grenades.  

Recently, early reviews from some film critics sound ready to bury the film. “The Washington Post” says Simone “deserves better treatment,” and “The Root” declares, “‘Nina’ is as horrible as you thought it would be.”

In an interview with “TIME” last month, Simone’s daughter Lisa Simone Kelly stressed that, despite her problems with Saldana in the role, the blame should not fall on her:

“It’s unfortunate that Zoe Saldana is being attacked so viciously when she is someone who is part of a larger picture,” Simone Kelly said.

That picture is often framed by questions of authenticity and historical accuracy. In recent years, films like “Argo,”  “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Selma” came under fire from critics for distorting history.

“Nina” poses a different question: does the actor look like the person she is playing, a question rarely aimed at white actors.  

The tall and glamorous Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty were hardly dead ringers for the short and ordinary Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, but 1967’s “Bonnie and Clyde” marked a turning point in American movies. Leonardo Dicaprio might date far fewer models if he looked anything like J. Edgar Hoover. He still got the part in 2011’s “J Edgar” and a Golden Globe nomination to match. Few people who saw “My Week with Marilyn” that same year would say Michelle Williams resembled Marilyn Monroe, yet that didn’t stop her from winning a Golden Globe for the role.

Even if they don’t look the part, white actors usually do not have to defend being chosen for their roles.

Actors of color, particularly women, are another matter.

Some Mexican-Americans cried foul when Jennifer Lopez, a Puerto Rican from New York, got cast as Selena, a Mexican-American from Texas. Today, the film is considered her breakout role, but the anger directed towards Lopez in 1997 mirrors the anger towards Saldana today.

Diana Ross drew a similar reaction for playing Billie Holiday in 1972’s “Lady Sings the Blues.” She looked and sounded nothing like Holiday. Nevertheless, Ross won an Oscar nomination. Sometimes we pull down our brothers and sisters before they’re even allowed to show they can fly.

Not that Saldana hasn’t tried to say the right things. In a post-screening conversation of the film in Atlanta this week, Saldana seemed to address her detractors:

“I wanted to find some way to identify with her as a woman, as an artist, as a person of color, as an American, and just try to find any similarities in how powerless you can feel sometimes as an artist, when all you want to do is just exhibit your art, create art, and sometimes you have to go through so many layers of bulls–t that can impede upon you feeling absolutely free,” she said.

But perhaps her critics can’t get passed her remarks about race in a 2013 interview with “BET:”

“To all of a sudden leave your household and have people always ask you, ‘what are you, what are you’ is the most uncomfortable question and it’s literally the most repetitive question,” she said. “I can’t wait to be in a world where people are sized by their soul and how much they can contribute as individuals and not what they look like… To me there is no such thing as people of color cause in reality people aren’t white. Paper is white.”

Ultimately, her career proves more notable than her words.

Virtually alone among black actresses, Zoe Saldana’s career equals many of her white peers. From “Drumline” to “Star Trek,” we’ve seen Saldana grow up on screen. She’s been “The Girl” in movies with predominantly black casts (“Takers”) and integrated casts (“The Losers”). From summer blockbusters to indie fare, dishing out death in “Columbiana” to laughs in “Death at a Funeral,” Saldana’s resume matches and even exceeds white actresses around her age, like Julia Stiles, Katherine Heigl or Rachel McAdams.

All that’s missing on her resume is a role that could put her in the company of serious performers. “Nina” could be that role.

Despite occasional controversies over casting decisions, Hollywood tends to think green rather than black and white. For “Nina,” the movie studio heads considered how many moviegoers actually knew what Nina Simone looked like, let alone who she was. The Hollywood suits sought to make a movie that could draw people who have never heard of “Four Women” or “Mississippi Goddamn.”

So they chose Zoe Saldana instead of, say, Adepero Oduye. Oduye may be some black people’s choice, but since her most notable role in 2011’s “Pariah,” she has only garnered small parts in “12 Years a Slave” and “The Big Short.”

With “Nina,” the studio executives chose financial security over authenticity, just as they did with J.Lo in ‘97’s “Selena” and Ross in ‘72’s “Lady Sings the Blues.”

Indeed, in an interview with “Buzzfeed,” “Nina” director and writer Cynthia Mort spoke out about her film’s casting:

“Long before I met Zoe, there were other people considered who were not acceptable to financiers,” Mort said.

To flip a famous Chris Rock refrain, just because I understand, doesn’t mean it’s right. Stories about minorities rarely get told. When they are, white filmmakers often get to put in or leave out whatever they think will sell.

Will “Nina,” whose director, producers and casting director are all white, give Simone her due? Will their film even hint at how Simone’s unapologetic blackness breathed life into her art even as it upset social sensibilities? Will “Nina” see Nina as beautiful?

Perhaps not. After all, how many people celebrate Simone’s looks today, let alone in the ‘60s? You’ll find few Simones in the pages of “Vogue” or on “America’s Next Top Model.”

In a recent “Atlantic” article, Ta-Nehisi Coates examines this problem:

“There is something deeply shameful— and hurtful — in the fact that even today a young Nina Simone would have a hard time being cast in her own biopic,” he says.

Singer and actress India Arie voiced similar displeasure in an interview with “The Hollywood Reporter.” Her fans thought she should’ve played Nina. Although Arie says she would like to imagine a world in which race and color don’t factor into reel life, in real life, this is not the case:

“In the context of the politics of race in America and the politics of race in the entertainment industry in America, to make a movie about a person like that and cast an actress that has to wear blackface and a prosthetic nose is tone-deaf,” she said.

Indeed, Hollywood does not hear the pain behind Nina Simone’s song “Images,” with a girl that “does not know her beauty / she thinks her brown beauty has no glory.”

If that glory has been compromised with “Nina,” it won’t be the last time. The all-mighty dollar will always trump authenticity.

Consequently, I believe black people should use our dollars to support young actresses like Oduye and movies like “Pariah,” which despite critical acclaim grossed only around 750,000 dollars. Instead of flogging Saldana, we can embrace her desire to “exhibit her art” and play the best roles she’s offered. More important, we can work harder to embrace women who look like Oduye and Simone, in the movies and in our own communities.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally posted on Malika’s WordPress. The words are her own. This was republished with the author’s permission.

It’s been a while since I’ve written on here. And I’ve wanted to for a while because I always have a lot of thoughts and I’m always being inspired by the people I surround myself with, but I just haven’t gotten to it because I’ve been busy with school, stressed with life and my relationships, family tings, etc. But today I decided to write something because I want the world to know the truth. On my first post, 4 months after my sexual assault, I wrote about how the assault affected me and how the backlash I got from telling someone I loved the truth about what happened affected me. All of this was well before I decided to involve the police in my assault. But I am finally ready to say that I did. I pursued charges against Ian Connor for raping me. Yes, that’s right folks, Ian Connor–the fashion nigga people love to stan for–is a rapist. My detective never said I couldn’t talk about my case, but I decided not to because I wanted to get everything taken care of before I spoke about it publicly.

I am speaking now because my case is basically closed. And I am finally ready to share my entire story. I want the world to know who they are praising. I know that I will get some backlash for this, the typical rape apologists and misogynists will likely attack as they will be up in ashy arms that their idol is being accused of such a heinous crime. But I don’t care. I know the truth. And I know that I did not want to have sex with Ian Connor. He raped me.

On October 5th 2014, I was raped by Ian Connor. Everyone always wants a name and a face and oh who did he rape and blah blah, well here I am. *One* of the many that he raped was me. Oh yeah that’s right, he’s a serial rapist. I am not the only one. I’m just one of the only one’s who is telling my story. In short, he is a predator. He seeks out girls on social media that he can try to “woo” or whatever and then try to fuck and if they say no, well he takes it. One day in spring of 2014, I tweeted “who is Ian Connor?” because I kept seeing his name everywhere but I literally had no clue who the kid was. Now we all know he searches his name, like any egomaniac would, so naturally he replied. A few months later he followed me and I followed back, still not knowing much about him. The fact that he followed me after a few months should’ve let me know he was weird because apparently he had been watching me for all that time I assume. I don’t know. But to continue, after I followed him back, he dm’d me. We talked for a little he asked for my number and I was like yeah sure whatever. I was just curious because his name was everywhere so I was like okay let’s see what this nigga is about. Before I go any further, I just want to clarify that when I say this was out of pure curiosity. I actually mean that. I don’t care about “clout” never have never will. If I wanted his “money” or whatever I would say that because regardless of my intentions, raping someone is never acceptable. But I do want my story to be told and interpreted correctly. Moreover, Ian tried to post bc on his instagram the second time we hung out because he liked my necklace (the arabic name necklace that I wear everyday) but I was like “nah” because I just didn’t want that. Not that it matters. But I know how some of y’all think.

We hung out a total of 3 times. Never did anything sexual with this man because I didn’t find him attractive, I was very much into somebody else, and I just wanted to be friends. He kissed me before but I always pushed him off because gross. He would stop after that and we would kick it, it would be fine and I wouldn’t feel violated. I thought he was somewhat cool, so when I wasn’t dodging him, if he hit me up because he was in Atlanta and I wasn’t busy I would be like okay cool we can hang out.

The 3rd and last time we hung out I hit him up. He came to my crib in the morning and I figured we would just talk and chill per usual… But that isn’t what happened. We were sitting on my bed, just talking. and he asked if he could eat me out. I declined. And I told him I wasn’t trying to have sex. So he’s like okay. Then he asked again if he could eat me out. I said no again and he just kept asking. He was literally begging to eat me out and he said “we don’t gotta fuck, I just wanna eat it. I wanna eat your soul out girl” blah blah. And I was just like “nah I’m good” but he kept begging. Eventually, I gave in. I said “fine you can give me head”. Then he said “lemme eat it from the back”. So I layed on my stomach and pulled my pants down about halfway, the rest of my clothes were still on. He was fully clothed. He started to give me head. About 2 minutes later I felt his bare penis thrust inside of me. I was shocked and didn’t know what to do and then I pushed him off of me and I was like wtf. And he says “your pussy is wavy. We should’ve did this a long time ago. We could’ve been dating” and I saod “wtf I told you I didn’t want to have sex and you just did it…” And he says “so you tryna say I raped you” and at the time I hadn’t even processed what had just happened and I was like “I dont know”. After that he left and said he was gonna text me. I was confused. I didn’t want to call it rape but I also couldn’t call it consensual sex because I had already told him I didn’t want to have sex with him and he took advantage of me being in a position in which he could penetrate me anyway when I wasn’t looking. It was diabolical. But at the time, I didn’t know how to think of it.

I went to get tested the next day because nothing felt right about what happened. I was confused and in denial. On October 9th, I got my test results back and I found out he had given me gonorrhea. Curable. But still. I was devastated and that’s when it all finally hit me. I didn’t want any of what had happened but he just did it anyway and I had to deal with the consequences. He didn’t penetrate me with consent. He raped me. Once I accepted it, I told the man I was “talking to” at the time what had happened. We were pretty serious so I thought I could trust him and I was also going through a lot and I just needed support. But instead of being there for me, he blamed me for it and told me it “wasn’t a real rape” because I didn’t get snatched up off the street and I knew the person. Needless to say, the way he treated me and the things he said to me which are still very triggering to think about only made matters worse. I was depressed and I wanted to hurt myself but I didn’t because I had people watching me, friends coming to Atlanta to be with me, I left school to be with my mom, it was a lot going on actually. And for the most part, I kept it to myself except for telling close friends, my mom, and my therapist. After a little over a year, I finally tweeted about him being a rapist because I’ve gotten more comfortable talking about it as time has passed, and that same day he messaged me on a fake account… Trying to harass me. Here are the messages:

After a little over a year, I finally tweeted about him being a rapist (not about him raping me specifically but I called him a rapist) because I’ve gotten more comfortable talking about it as time has passed and because I want everyone to know the truth. That same day he messaged me on a fake account… Trying to harass me. Here are the messages:

If you go to that page and look at the likes its all things praising Ian. I wasn’t for sure it was him but I had a feeling it was. My intuition is always on fleek. And I was right.

His harassing messages prompted me to file a police report. I thought to myself “fuck him”, I wasn’t about to allow him to take anything else from me or hurt me anymore! I have so many things happening in my life and so much going for myself right now and nobody is getting in the way of that. I’m about to graduate from Emory University in exactly one month and I did it in four years. I have life plans and I am ready to spread my wings and fly. But before that, I felt like I needed to, at least, try to make him be held accountable for his actions so that I could have peace. So in December 2015, I filed the report. Since then I’ve given statements, sent in evidence, and gotten other women that he assaulted to speak to my detective. The detectives at the Special Victims Unit at my country police station have been working to gather as much evidence as possible and build a case. The problem is, when it comes to bringing everything to the judge, there isn’t a lot of concrete evidence that actually proves the rape happened. Essentially, the only thing they can really go on is my word. Moreover, the other women who spoke to the detective are not comfortable filing their own reports. They gave statements and I am thankful for that as it did contribute to the building of my case, but the statements can not be taken as concrete evidence unless they were to file their own reports in the cities in which their assaults occurred. Although if they did, it would make the case and a warrant for his arrest would likely be put out once everything was presented to the judge, it’s understandable why they wouldn’t want to. Further, my detective also got in contact with Ian. He called him. I had two of his numbers that were still saved in the cloud in my phone despite me deleting them and still having his numbers blocked to this day. So I gave the detective both of them. One didn’t work and one did. My detective said Ian sounded0 very worried. And since he’s guilty, he should be worried. Because people are onto him now. And in other guilty news, since then he disconnected the number–my detective informed me of that because he tried to call Ian again to get him to come in for questioning. When they first asked him to come in for questioning he said he “didn’t know when he would be back in Atlanta”, then he disconnected the number. And since there’s no warrant because I do not have enough concrete evidence on my own to present before the judge, they can’t make him. Unfortunately, my statement, a few screenshots, and some information from my doctor and from my school, won’t be regarded as substantial evidence in a court of law. Because of this, my detective told me yesterday that the case is likely to be closed for the time being. It can be reopened if more evidence is found or if any other women decide to come forward, but for right now, there isn’t much else that can be done.  So basically these past few months have somewhat been a waste of my time bc even though I was raped, nothing will likely happen to the person who raped me aka Ian Connor. #America

Although this is not the ideal result of my choice to file a report against him, I do not regret my choice. The system isn’t built for me and that’s something I wholeheartedly understand about America; however, I also believe that you never know what the outcome of anything will be unless you try. By not trying, I would be giving him power and that is something I refuse to do. And by trying, I empowered myself and others. I did what I could to try to bring justice and hopefully protect other people and for that I will never regret my decision. No longer will Ian Connor’s crimes remain invisible. I am here. I am visible. And I am healing.

I expect to receive some backlash for writing this, for exposing Ian, for the way it happened. I expect some people to blame me for it, and to continue to not hold a grown man accountable for his actions. But at the end of the day, nobody’s ignorance can stop me from standing in my truth.

Thank you all for reading this. And thank you to everyone that has supported me and contributed to my healing.

xo,

Malika

Mike the Tiger on game day at LSU.

Editor’s Note: April is Sexual Assault Awareness month and throughout the month we are collecting letters and stories to share with our community. Want to contribute? Email: atribecallednews@gmail.com!

Dear Lieutenant Kevin Scott,

“I see no reason for this to be shocking data … It’s an energetic weekend,” he said. “Certainly, people are going to be more active.” Lieutenant Kevin Scott

I write you this letter with trembling hands and a visceral, nauseous feeling. I cannot begin to tell you how sickening it is that this is your response to the national statistic that one in five women experience sexual assault during their college careers. This mentality is exactly what furthers the idea that sexual assault is something that can be easily excused, swept under the rug or ignored completely. You see no reason for it to be shocking? Sexual assault is shocking. It’s scarring. It haunts one’s mind, dreams, and simple daily activities. It is degrading and traumatic. It sends the body and mind into panic.

“If you surveyed 100 girls, or 1,000 female students on LSU’s campus, will you really see one in five that say they’ve been sexually assaulted, if they’re really being honest?” Scott said. “Is that accurate? I mean, look at the numbers.” Lieutenant Kevin Scott

Cited in Louisiana State University’s Sexual Misconduct Policy,

“Consent” means the affirmation and voluntary agreement to engage in a specific sexual activity during a sexual encounter. Consent can not be given by any individual who is mentally or physically incapacitated, either through the effect of drugs or alcohol or for any other reason; or under duress, threat, coercion or force; or inferred under circumstances in which consent is not clear, including but not limited to the absence of “no” or “stop”, or the existence of prior or current relationship of sexual activity.

Sexual assault means there was no consent. You cannot consent if you are passed out, throwing up, or unconscious. Consent should never be presumed.  The only thing that means yes, is yes. Your comments insinuate that tailgating at LSU creates an exception to that rule.

I invoke you to consider the weight of your commentary. I come to you on behalf of every person that has been sexually assaulted on Louisiana State University’s campus.  You are a leader in an entity that should be supporting and protecting the students at LSU, but instead your comments have trivialized the experiences of any individual that has faced abuse or assault on campus.

Your attitude is exactly what shames victims into staying silent. Because instead of embracing the persons that have experienced sexual assault at LSU but haven’t come forward, you’re invalidating them. You had the opportunity within this interview to incite a radical shift in perspective. Instead of dismissing, you could have exhibited empathy and care.

I write to you directly, because your comments have single handedly triggered strong feelings of sadness, terror, shame and anger from my core. I know I am not the only one who was directly impacted by your words.

I didn’t come forward then, because I was afraid and confused as a result of this exact attitude that shames victims into thinking that they are somehow in the wrong, or that they’re crazy for thinking they could have been assaulted.

I didn’t come forward then, but I’m coming forward now. I stand for any person that has ever been silenced by fear or by shame. Campus rape is an epidemic that absolutely needs to be stopped. It begins by creating a protective space with acceptance and compassion for those who have been affected to come forward. How do you expect to get an accurate “statistic” if you are writing off or shaming those who are victims?  

Please consider the attitude you are propagating with both your comments and actions regarding the rape culture at Louisiana State University. Be a protector and a warrior for those that have faced sexual assault, whether they have opted to come forward or not.

For more on the LSUPD comments see LSU’s student paper, The Daily Reveille.

Sincerely,

Andie Morgenlander