Artiklar : International

#OscarsSoWhite: The Bigger Picture

#OscarsSoWhite: The Bigger Picture

The Oscars 2015 stirred up a controversy for its lack in diversity with an all-white cast of twenty acting nominees, and nearing the 2016 Academy Awards tomorrow, #OscarsSoWhite exploded back online and in the Twittersphere when this year’s nominations revealed another whitewash. In a response to the criticism that followed, the Academy Board recently stated that they have set up a goal to double female and minority members by 2020. But however noble an objective this might be, things won’t really start to change unless currently underrepresented minority groups also increasingly take the director’s chair, and are repeatedly cast in leading roles, writes Sarah K. Hellström, a Cinema scholar and industry professional.

Black & White Cinema

The Academy’s body of voting members is overwhelmingly white at 94%, and about 77% are male. Unfortunately this is a very accurate representation of the film industry in Hollywood. Now that we are finally discussing this misrepresentation of race and ethnicity, it seems as though all we can handle is one singular concern at a time. Mass-media has for some reason chosen to focus almost exclusively on the discrimination of Black Americans in film, and the almost zero exposure of everyone else of color means that the Oscars might very well remain extremely white, with a black actor nabbing a nomination once in awhile.

In 2002, Halle Berry took center stage as the first African American ever to win the Academy Award for Best Actress. In an emotional acceptance speech Berry dedicated her Oscar to all women of color who she now believed would have a chance to win, as the door had been opened. Since that hopeful Oscar moment and up until now, every single winner in her category has been white. One entertainment news report after the other has discussed Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee’s boycott of the Oscars, further speculated over how comedian and host Chris Rock will handle the subject with his jokes on Oscar night, and examined the lacking and problematic representation of Black people at the Oscars.

What has almost continuously gone overlooked is that Latinos, America’s largest ethnic group, Asian Americans and Native Americans are suffering from even greater underrepresentation, being in fact almost entirely overlooked in leading roles, as well as generally missing or barely present in most big studio movies. Native peoples so much so, that it once inspired Marlon Brando to boycott the Oscars, in 1973. It is true African Americans make up the second largest minority group in America, and we must continue to acknowledge and fight the marginalization of black performers, as well as the enduring stereotypes of black people in film, but this should not be our only objective. Continuously omitting everyone else from the discussion, and thereby dodging an enormous blind spot, is nothing short of an embarrassment.

In the cinematic year of 2016, are we still only able to see in black and white?

A Forgotten History

One question we do not ask, is whether it has always been this bad. It is assumed that we move at a constant in one singular direction: forward. We love to talk about progress, and often repeat how we’ve come a long way, that we are moving in the right direction – but is this really true, or could it be that we have forgotten history? At the dawn of cinema, women and people of color were remarkably more present as directors in the industry, and were, as a result thereof, also more successful than they are today. Alice Guy-Blaché was a pioneer of special and visual effects and interracial casting, directed Charlie Chaplin and made over 1000 films in the US and France, including what is considered the first narrative film in film history (“La Fée aux Choux”, 1896). Lois Weber was one of the silent film era’s most successful directors, considered one of the first true auteurs of American cinema, and Oscar Micheaux was one of the most successful black directors and producers in early American cinema; in fact he was the first African American to produce a full-length feature.

What these filmmakers were instinctively able to do, was to create complex characters not as interpreted through the white male gaze, and they were thus able to tell stories that a broader spectrum of moviegoers felt kinship with. Their accomplishments provide a colorful canvas that should have set the scene perfectly for future directors and actors of all races and genders, but the grim reality of the past couple of years shows that at two of the biggest and most successful studios, Disney and Warner Bros., not a single movie was directed by women or people of color.

Role Models & Diverse Stories

What is so profoundly provoking is that Hollywood acts literally tone-deaf when it comes to respecting its audience: role models are crucial. Kids of all ethnicities and genders have a right to be shown that anything is possible. Everyone needs to see themselves represented on-screen. Successful individuals have always led the way and shown mere mortals what is possible, and that you can live your dream if you want it bad enough and are willing to work hard for it. But we haven’t really gone in the right direction in making this a reality. The fact is that women and ethnic minorities – the vast majority – are almost completely excluded from today’s multi-billion dollar film industry. As a result, voices of women and ethnic minorities are silenced, and protagonists of color and female gender are conspicuous by their absence.

Non-whites make up almost 40% of the population in the US, yet non-white actors and actresses are far less represented in Oscar history. The African American-population-to-acting-Oscar nominee ratio actually adds up fairly closely, but why should that even matter? If that’s how we operated, at least as many directors would be women, not make up a depressing 6,4% (US films released in 2013-2014). In California and Los Angeles where Tinseltown is at work, the Census Bureau’s data from last summer shows the majority population is officially not even white anymore, it’s Latino. If numbers really mattered, Latinos ought to soon dominate Hollywood. But this isn’t kindergarten, and we’re not painting by numbers. Straight white actors and straight white male directors are so vastly overrepresented – and they have been for a very long time – it only makes sense to flood the film industry with a diverse group of professionals, and make sure their presence becomes as natural to the average movie-goer as the now-existent, lily-white picture of Hollywood that we all know.


After all, we’re talking about people, and it’s not just about balancing numbers: diversity is more than skin-deep. Diversity on- and off-screen is about more than counting minorities in movies, more than statistics and data. The progress Hollywood needs, and that we all need, means making sure that we may meet a multitude of credible, original, convincing and multifaceted characters portrayed by a truly varied group of artists representing not one, not two, but all ethnocultural groups in society.

 


Sarah 

Sarah K. Hellström is a Cinema scholar and a film industry professional with 15 years of experience working in the US, the U.K. and Sweden. She is a freelance writer, university guest lecturer in Cinema Studies and Film Production, and a jury member of the Guldbagge Awards (Swedish Academy Awards) for Best Foreign Film.

 
Photo of Oscar statuettes: Prayitno/CC


The Stories of Our Lives

The Stories of Our Lives

It was in June of 2013 when members of the famous Kenyan artist collective The NEST, started collecting stories from LGBTI people in Kenya. Eventually this process would evolve into the production of the feature film Stories of Our Lives. At the time a law was in place that in different ways made the existence of LGBTI people in Kenya very difficult. The rhetoric of politicians and other agitators in the Kenyan media, was very much concerned with the so-called ”un-africaness” of homosexuality and other sexual orientations, identities and genders that fall within the LGBTI umbrella. The members of The NEST collective started asking themselves what it was to be queer and Kenyan. This became the start of a work ultimately collecting over 250 stories from individuals across three cities and five towns, as well as in the country side. Earlier today I sat down to speak to screenwriter Njoki Ngumi and production designer Sunny Dolat about the work and process behind the film, but also about it’s importance to the LGBTI community in Kenya.

2014-09-22-StoriesofOurLivesimage

From the onset, Stories of Our Lives was intended to be a film made for the LGBTI community of Kenya. This is perhaps apparent in the very title of the film. Our lives. About half of the people involved in the project were in fact themselves part of the community. At first, when the work began, no one had imagined it becoming a project of the magnitude that it ended up becoming. The team started by asking friends for their stories, but soon it was decided that a wider net needed to be cast, one that would cover a broader experience across the nation. This was in part due to the team realising that the whole project by its very nature was an important counter-narrative to all the stories being told about LGBTI people from those that would do them harm. The questions they asked were very straightforward: How did you grow up? How was it or is it living in the closet? How was coming out for you?

Due to the precarious situation for LGBTI people in Kenya, as in most countries around the world, all the interviews were collected anonymously. Though the film itself only portrays five of the over 250 stories collected, there is also a book coming out soon, which collects a large part of them (read more about that further down). So, why these five stories, out of so many? The answer is very simple. They were chosen because the team could immediately visualize them. But there is more which strikes me with the five stories, Ask Me Nicely, RunAthmanDuet, and Each Night I Dream. They all carry a sense of power and hope,  a sense of strength in agency. This is not immediately identified by many journalists, Njoki Ngumi, tells me. Instead it is a sense of desperation that they see. We talk about the ways in which the people of the stories make choices that will give them strength, that will confirm their identity, that perhaps also in a sense, will make them feel safe.

ready to fight back

Alex Rodallec: Watching the different parts of the film there is always a feeling that all is not lost. In all five stories there is a sense of strength in the characters, that they’re going to make it through. Even if it’s, like in the last one, by dreaming away. Was this something that you consciously sought for?

Njoki Ngumi: That’s a really beautiful thing for you to say, first of all. I spoke to somebody very recently, and she asked, why are all the endings so sad? And we were like, well we don’t think that happy endings have to come with a prince or a princess on a chariot bearing a ring, you know. There’s a lot of, it may be bittersweet, but there’s a lot of happiness in choosing yourself and choosing, being able to choose that even in a very difficult situation. So like for the kid that was beaten up by his best friend and had to run away, to the kid that was in love with his best friend that couldn’t love him in the way he wanted to be loved. And these girls who imagined a different future for themselves. And for this girl who had to go on her own journey to discover if she was really gay or not, whatever the journey was like or how politically incorrect it may have have been. You know all those things. I think for us, seeing a Kenyan queer person with the resolve to choose their outcome, whether it is a sad outcome or not, but there is a lot of agency in choosing it, rather than seeing them as a victim of circumstances, I think that was really special for us. And I hadn’t really seen that until now. That’s definitely a thing that mattered to us.

AR: Yeah, because I didn’t find, I mean obviously the stories are sad in a sense, you know, where it’s like you break up what is a life already and you have to make a sacrifice, but for me there was always in that ”I will never do this again” or ”Now I know”, ”Now I know who I am”. Like in the first story, now I know this relationship is not gonna happen, but now I know who I am, and no one can dispute it.

NN: That is the kind of story we were getting from the people who we interviewed. There is a whole bunch of them, a whole lot of that in the book. A bunch of stories of people confronting very homophobic parents, or very homophobic work colleagues or friends, and finding ways to navigate this difficult situation and still maintain such, such grace, and such strength, and such self-possession. Even in all the stories where people have been defeated by difficult things that have set out to break them and succeeded. Or even people who have found a way to kind of have a relationship with the person that they love, even if they are very deep in the closet, and they are very aware of what those choices mean for them. So we were really moved by this kind of presence in one’s own life, you never get that sense of a queer person’s presence and their choices in their own life especially from the kind of stories that the media like to tell. So, it’s always, ”look at the gay people just gaying away”, you know. Or, ”look at them, they are disobeying god”, or whatever it is. But no, that’s not what life is.

SOOL-Web-Master-LG.mp4_002139583

Stories of Our Lives first premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and this was not because the production team originally wanted a foreign premiere, but it came as a consideration of the risks involved. The team had long talks with the festival about premiering the film anonymously. While debating the issue they also consulted with a fellow Kenyan artist, the famous writer Binyavanga Wainaina, a close friend of theirs, who beside his authorship is well known for taking a stance to live openly gay in defiance of climate in Kenya. For those who are interested in his writing, Binyavanga Wainaina will be one of the guests at Stockholm Literature festival on the 25th of October. Binyavanga Wainaina immediately raised an issue with The NEST, that for all the conscious efforts of protecting the members of the team the anonymous premiering of the film might work against them by insinuating shame. This was taken to ear by the production team and a final decision was taken: they would have to come out publicly. What made matters even more complicated was that some of the team members had not even done this with their families. It was a decision that would have a major impact on both their personal lives as well as the reception of the film.

The film was received to critical acclaim at TIFF, and has subsequently won many awards. When a premier in Kenya was being planned matters to took a dramatic turn. The team realised that community screenings would be impossible due to the demand coming from the buzz around the film, and so they had to seek a rating to screen it publicly. While trying to obtain a rating from the Kenya Film Classification Board, something which is normally done in an afternoon, but took four days for Stories of Our Lives, the team was called in. Fearing a backlash, they left the car running outside of the offices. In the letter they received the film was rated restricted. They would not be able to show it privately, publicly, sell it or distribute in any way, shape, or form. A whole lot of negative press also followed, which was due to the reason for the ban, being that it ”promotes homosexuality contrary to Kenyas national norms and values”.

AR: What did you think when you read the decision?

NN: Of course the idea of promoting homosexuality is very odd, as though somebody can stand on a street corner and hand out flyers exhorting passersby to become homosexuals. But it kind of digs into the conversations that we’ve never been able to have around this in our country, where people imagine that you can be able to be clouted into a ”gay lifestyle”, you know. This letter kind of reflects that.

Not only was the film restricted, but a week later the Department of Film Services filed a suit against executive producer George Gachara, who was subsequently arrested. Gachara was charged with not having sought the permits required for filming – something which in Kenya is regularly done after the fact. The charges were finally dropped conditionally, that is with the reservation that they may be opened at any time.

It is in this climate that the need for measures, such as a community film like Stories of Our Lives, are still urgent. Though the case was dropped, and the anti-gay law has been ruled unconstitutional by the supreme court of Kenya, the situation for LGBT people in Kenya is still precarious. The UN has recommended several measures, and a 2011 report from the Kenya Human Rights Commission documents violations against the LGBTI community, such as extorsion, rape, harassment, even by the police, which Njoki Ngumi tells me are still common.

NN: For us the interesting space is the human space, because it almost doesn’t matter what people say in courts or in newspapers or what they say in whatever, because people are still being beaten up in the alleys near their homes. People get thrown out of their homes by their relatives. People get fired from jobs. People are kicked out by landlords. And so for us the interesting space is the cultural space, the place where the law can’t enter. It almost doesn’t matter how much society or people is against abortion, if a woman doesn’t want to carry a child to term, she isn’t going to do it. So for us the interesting place for all these conversations is the cultural space, where people stop performing their powers and privileges and are just people, and we are actually interested in the questions there. Which is why artistic output for us can be such a powerful thing.

AR: Even having access to putting out information in a cultural space is a power, a very big power for a smaller community to have.

NN: For sure. And it is a power that people often ignore, because the power that everybody’s looking for is the one where you can go and speak to the president. All of that gets a lot of stuff done, but then people at the end of the day do live in human spaces, and so it is in human spaces where people are trying to change. We’ve had all these stories, among the stories that we were told, about parents that started out as the biggest homophobes and ended up embracing their kids, and saying, ”You’re my kid, fuck everything, you’re my kid. Let’s figure this out one step at a time”. And then they just keep offending one another, but there is this fundamental love. And so for us this is the space we try to reach. Where a mother can have all this stuff that she believes about the bible, but still have this kid, and find a way to love this kid. Or where this kid can be able to have all these weird and hostile quarters, and be able to live a very beautiful and gracious life, or be able to walk away from the nonsense.

AA: Your film has received great critical acclaim, and you’ve been interviewed by a great number of journalists. What is the worst question you’ve gotten?

Sunny Dolat: ”Oh my god, it must be so difficult to be queer in Africa.” They’re like the ones, America and Europe, that supposedly have had all these great laws and advancements, but in spite all of that there is still a lot of discrimination and hate crime.

AR: Oh, it’s rife. Don’t even think anything else, it’s not safe.

NN: We also get asked, ”Oh, you guys must really want asylum!?”

NN & SD: OH, yeah, oh god…

NN: And we’re like

NN & SD (In chorus): NOOOOOOOOO!!!!

NN: Though we of course understand and respect that some people may need to do so.

Our conversation carried on into the issues of race, and the power of perspective. Amongst the many beautiful things Njoki Ngumi and Sunny Dolat shared with me that I do not have the space to recount, was that this film turned The NEST collective into a family. I highly recommend that you watch this film, and follow The NEST collective closely. It is an artist collective doing amazingly beautiful things in several art forms.

– Alex Rodallec


For those of you living in Stockholm, Sweden, tomorrow at 3pm the book Stories of Our Lives; a selection of queer Kenyan narratives, will be presented at The Swedish Institute – Svenska Institutet, Slottsbacken 10 – at 3 pm. George Gachara and Jim Chuchu, the executive producer and director of the film, will be present to talk about their work. Book a seat here.

For those of you who haven’t bought tickets to the screening of Stories of Our Lives this Saturday at Helios 13 in Stockholm, which will feature Jim Chuchu and George, and Kultwatch’s own Fatima Osman, you can do that here.


YELLOW FEVER by Ng’endo Mukii

YELLOW FEVER by Ng’endo Mukii

 

Ng’endo Mukii – Kenyan artists and filmmaker – about her short film Yellow Fever:

”I am interested in the concept of skin and race, and what they imply; in the ideas and theories sown into our flesh that change with the arc of time. The idea of beauty has become globalised, creating homogenous aspirations, and distorting people’s self-image across the planet. In my film, I focus on African women’s self-image, through memories and interviews; using mixed media to describe this almost schizophrenic self-visualization that I and many others have grown up with.”

Yellow Fever problematizes existing perceptions of beauty. More specifically the short film addresses relationship between women of color and beauty ideals regarding skin complexion. In an interview with The Huffington Post Ng’endo explains her experience observing these ideals growing up,  ”I would come across women who practiced skin bleaching (‘lightening’, ‘brightening’), and often had a condescending internal reaction to them”.

Mukii continues explaining her realization that these ideals are far from natural and in fact products of our society, ”Since our media perpetuates Western ideals to our girls and women, and we consume this information continuously from a young age, how can we fault anyone who is susceptible to these ideals (men included), without challenging the people that are creating them?”.

In an email conversion with Ng’endo I asked her about the choice of the name ”Yellow Fever” and whether it has caused any confusion or strong reactions from the asian community. Ng’endo explained, ”That’s more applicable in a US context, which I don’t live in. The origin of the film’s name is based on a Fela Kuti song. You should check it out. The other reference that applies to my context is the disease Yellow Fever, which confused people because I am making a documentary in an African context and they assumed it had to do with this disease.”

The Huffington Post interview describes the origin of the name even further, ”Mukii named her film after Fela Kuti’s 1970s song of the same title. However, while Kuti’s lyrics lash out at the women who choose to use skin bleaching products, Mukii wants to challenge those who create the ideals. In her words, ‘rather than alienating or attacking people who are victims of them, we should actively address the lack of celebration of women of all appearances.’ ”

Watch several of Ng’endo’s movies here.

Fatima Osman 


Swedish Asians Call For an End to ”Gook Humour”

Swedish Asians Call For an End to ”Gook Humour”

Swedish public service broadcaster SVT continues to broadcast and celebrate Swedish ‘gook humour’, with degrading, racist representations of East Asians,” wrote Tobias Hübinette and Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom in Swedish newspaper Expressen last week (2nd June). Below is a translation of their article, adapted for an international audience, together with some details of the reactions that their piece elicited.


Enough with the ”gook humour”, SVT

As has become tradition, 29th May saw the annual celebration of one of the most popular sketches in Swedish modern history, ”My Singing Korean Adoptive Parents/Pears”. It was aired to much acclaim on a prime time family TV show.

In the sketch a white boy, played by Robert Gustafsson, one of Sweden’s best-loved comedians, is adopted by two Koreans (played by white Swedes, Johan Rheborg and Henrik Schyffert). The Korean adoptive parents are depicted as pears: the joke being that the Swedish word for pears ”päron” is also an informal word for ”parents”. But these Korean parents aren’t ”pärons” – but ”pä-l-ons”, playing on the racist stereotype of Asians being unable to distinguish between ”R” and ”L”.

The sketch involves the adoptive pä-l-ons singing Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side in a heavy ”Asian” accent – ”Take a walk on the Whasssa”. Hilariously, their ”R”s become ”L”s, they squint elaborately, and they appear to have buckteeth.

The comedic aspect stems from a tradition of Swedish gook humour, as well as a kind of transphobic transracial humour, where the joke is the absurdity of racial roles in international adoption being reversed: what would happen if a white Swede was adopted by two Korean parents?

The sketch has a special place in the nation’s heart, having first been performed by the comedy group ”Killinggänget” in SVT’s comedy series Nilecity in 1995. It is now celebrated annually: indeed, this year SVT tweeted a clip from the sketch, with the text, ”Happy 29th May! #Nilecity”, and Henrik Schyffert, now known as an antiracist, shared the SVT clip on his Facebook page. And then there the sketch was again, proudly aired, uncritically, on prime time family entertainment show Roliga timmen.

The Adoptive Pear sketch is nothing but a mockery of this country’s 55,000 international adoptees and 180,000 Asians. What is actually so funny about adoptees and the idea of the reversed racial roles of adoptive families? And, above all, what is so funny about Asians?

The sketch is part of a much wider tradition of Swedish gook humour, where performances with false buck teeth, ”R” and ”L” jokes, crazy hysterics and squinting eyes are uncritically presented to willing audiences, and sure to raise a laugh. Let us be clear: we are not talking about illicit racist jokes shared in a shady corner of the Internet or in third rate comedy nights in the back rooms of pubs. No, Swedish gook humour is very much mainstream, presented as wholesome family entertainment. For example, in 2008, family favourite and Swedish institution, ”Allsång på skansen”, an annual summer series of live broadcasts of sing-a-longs, featured Sissela Kyle (another popular white comedian and ”antiracist” as well), performing dressed as a ”communist”, waving tiny red flags in jolting, hysterical movements, and screaming nonsense in fake Mandarin, with the show’s white host joining in the fun in a ”rice hat”, leading the audience in a synchronized rowing dance. Shamefully, this came in a show that also featured a performance by the famous Chinese singer Wei Wei.

What broadcasters like SVT fail to consider is that sketches and acts like these haunt us Swedish Asians who have to endure humiliating racist abuse in our everyday lives. Unfortunately, the sheer sight of us can propel both white and non-white Swedes to start grinning and screaming degrading names, on the most unexpected of occasions. Swedish gook humour legitimizes anti-Asian racism, and those acceptable slurs projected in the Adoptive Pears sketch are the very same slurs that plague us.

Gook humour has clear parallels with the anti-Semitic humour that was normalized during the first half of the 1900’s, built on grotesque caricatures of Jewish bodies. But unlike anti-Semitic humour, jokes ridiculing and demeaning Asian bodies appear over and over again on radio and in television, in newspapers and magazines, in advertising and films, in digital media and on the internet and in shows and stage performances to this very day. The fact that gook humour is so beloved by the public in Sweden in particular is curious given that proportionally no other Western nation has adopted and married such a high number of Asians.

The problem for us Swedish Asians is that this type of comedy is the only accessible representation that we are given to mirror ourselves in. Think about it for a moment, how many Asians have you seen in a Swedish television series, play or film? And how many Asian actors, musicians, artists or comedians in Sweden can you count? Sadly it is a fact that over the last 20 to 30 years there have been far more white Swedes performing as Asians in yellowface (such as, Jarl Borssén, Mi Ridell, Johannes Brost, Anders Lundin, Sissela Kyle and Henrik Schyffert and many more Swedish celebrities), than Asian actors themselves.

SVT’s celebratory broadcast of the Adoptive Pears sketch on 29th May this year continues to fan the flames of everyday racism against all Swedish Asians, and jars awkwardly with the antiracist vision of diversity recently trumpeted by SVT, which was even criticized for being too radical. 


Tobias Hübinette
(Associate Professor in Critical Race- and Whiteness Studies, adopted from Korea) and Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom (illustrator and comic book artist, adopted from Korea)

Translated and adapted by Richey Wyver, Researcher in International Migration and Ethnic Relations (IMER)

 

”You Ungrateful Fucker”: Reactions and Responses

 The publication of Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom’s and Tobias Hübinette’s Expressen article criticizing SVT’s celebratory broadcast of the Adoptive Pears sketch brought forth a torrent of abuse online and through personal emails. This ranged from accusations of having no sense of humour, to extreme racist outbursts: 

You come to Sweden and whine about us Swedes!
You are an ungrateful fucker!
You should be put on the first boat back to Korea.
It’s simple. If you don’t like it here in Sweden you can go home. 
(Anonymous email received by both authors)

Please, stop being so critical of what you call ”gook humour” and ”racial stereotypes” of Asians – it’s actually just humour that Swedish people enjoy, it’s all about that and nothing else you rice field-treading, slit-eyed, dog-eating gook. 
(Email received by Tobias Hübinette)

Even Nazi Sweden was stirred into action, clearly concerned by the raising of Asian voices. Hübinette returned home on Thursday 4th June to find a grotesque racist image of a Chinese face stuck to his front door by stickers advertising a well known Nazi organization, and a bag of pears hung on his door handle.

Perhaps almost as disturbing, if not as physically threatening, as the Nazi reaction is the reaction of white antiracist groups and spokespeople. Prominent figures self-identifying as ”antiracists” have refused to back Sjöblom and Hübinette, while the nation’s politicians, who this time last year were triumphantly campaigning for the general election on antiracist tickets, have remained universally silent.

As for SVT, Head of Entertainment Thomas Hall said he was sad to hear that anyone had taken offence, but defended his decision to re-air the sketch. When asked how it complies with SVT’s diversity policy, he declined to answer, but turned the focus to the importance of the freedom of comedic expression.

In 2015, in a country that identifies itself as being tolerant, diverse and above racism, it is utterly disgraceful that ”gook humour” is an acceptable, established form of mainstream family entertainment. It is disgusting that Nazis should threaten a leading academic for criticizing such racist humour. Above all it is totally unacceptable for a nation of self-proclaimed antiracists to stand by and allow such blatantly racist performances to pass without reflection or criticism. It is time for racism against Asians to be taken seriously in Sweden.

 

Richey Wyver, Researcher in International Migration and Ethnic Relations (IMER)

Illustration by Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom


Mångfaldens Oscarsgala 2015

Mångfaldens Oscarsgala 2015

Jag hyser en hatkärlek till Oscarsgalan. Kärlek på grund av filmer, glamour, stjärnor; hat på grund av det ständiga upprepandet av industrins smärtsamt tydliga maktstruktur. Lupita Nyong’os nyvunna plats i filmindustrin och på Oscarsgalan, epicentret för kvinnlig skönhet, symboliserar en liten men viktig utveckling i hur kvinnlig skönhet faktiskt kan [om]definieras. Men på Imdb tycks hennes verklighet som rasifierad Mexikansk-Kenyansk skådespelare i Hollywood tala sitt tydliga språk. Efter 2014 och sin Oscarsvinnande roll i “12 years a slave”, samt en biroll så liten att den nästan måste anses som en cameo i “Non-stop”, har Lupita till synes endast erbjudits och tackat ja till en enda film för 2015, den första filmen av Star Wars-rebooten. Kommande projekt för nästa år uppges vara en voice-roll som Raksha i The Jungle Book, och som en Afrikansk kvinna i Queen of Katwe.

Narrativets perspektiv tillhör än idag den vite mannen, och vithetens privilegium tillåter endast denne en sann mångfald av roller. Ibland tillåts kvinnor vara med, men på nåder, och alltid omgivna av manliga beslutsfattare. Men inte ens det gäller alla kvinnor och inte för alla roller. Det smärtar mig när Jessica Chastain läser upp de nominerades namn för bästa filmfoto (Achievement in Cinematography). Av de fem nominerade är föga förvånande alla män och just denna kategori är också en av de mest våldsamt begränsade. En kvinnlig filmfotograf har aldrig nominerats för en Oscar och under de senaste åren utgör kvinnliga filmfotografer endast 3% av filmfotografer på filmer som gjort bra ifrån sig på box office.

Patricia Arquette ryter något oväntat till genom att kräva lika löner för kvinnor i sitt tacktal, hyllas men kritiseras också för att prioritera vita kvinnors rättigheter. Patricias (och till synes Meryl Streeps) kamp är de facto en helt annan än Lupitas. Det man så gärna kallar framsteg, påståenden om att 2014 var ett fantastiskt år för kvinnor i film, är provocerande. Sådana omdömen vittnar om vita kvinnors kamp i Hollywood, den privilegierade normen i kastsystemet av minoriteten kvinnor: de som har råd att kräva lika lön. Lupita Nyong’os kamp är långt mer komplex än så.

Och Selma, om än pinsamt förbisedd, stärker än en gång den traditionella speglingen av svarta i Amerika så som vi lärt oss se och acceptera dem. Filmen belyser viktiga historiska skeenden, men frånvaron av sann mångfald av roller för svarta stärker dessa bilder indirekt ett normperspektiv som förmedlar ett fortsatt segregeringsbudskap. Uteslutande symboler av svartas kamp, svarta i underläge, gör att svarta åter reduceras till enbart en segregerad grupp i ett postkolonialt men ingalunda postrasistiskt USA. Tjogtals filmer om den normativa gruppen personifierar med självklarhet och lätthet ett mångfacetterat spektrum av roller och karaktärer, allt från avdankade skådespelare som gör comeback, till psykopatiska hustrur, dementa kvinnor, medelklassföräldrar som fostrar sina barn, exceptionella genier – och till och med rollen som minoritet i egenskap av en bortglömd, homosexuell hjälte.

Den bakvänt accepterade, om än gravt marginaliserade gruppen ‘African-Americans in Hollywood’, verkar dessutom besynnerligt nog anses representativ för alla som inte är vita. Var är alla med ursprung från Asien, Mellanöstern, Sydamerika – och Nordamerika (att Misty Upham kom med i årets Im Memoriam räknas inte)? Denna sällsynt extrema reducering av andra etniciteter tycks smälta samman “people of color” till att företrädas av några få svarta ansikten på en perfekt canvas av vithet i The Dolby Theater. De enstaka skämten om hur vitt det är i Hollywood överraskar, men faller platt när de träffar så rätt att det blir obehagligt för den dominant vita publiken.

Mångfald. Visst existerar den i filmbranschen. Se bara på de roller som vita män lever och spelar bakom och framför filmkameran: en mångfald av vithet kommenderar sann mångfald på Oscarsgalan 2015.

Sarah

Sarah K. Hellström är filmvetare och har närmre 15 års praktisk erfarenhet av att jobba i filmindustrin i USA, London och Sverige. Hon frilansar som producent, gästföreläser på universitet och högskolor i filmvetenskap med fokus på Production Studies och visual effects, samt skriver på en barn- och ungdomsroman. 

Foto på Oscarstatyetterna av Prayitno


International Adoption: The Bitter Irony of Sweden’s Colonial Present

International Adoption: The Bitter Irony of Sweden’s Colonial Present

It is the greatest of ironies that Sweden, which has constructed a national identity based around myths of tolerance and anti-racism, of being somehow excluded from Europe’s history of colonialism and Nazism and of being the “Third World’s benefactor”, is the world’s biggest importer (per capita) of non-Western children through the international adoption trade. Since the 1950’s over 55,000 children, predominantly children of color from the (perceived) Third World, have been adopted to Sweden. While the seemingly insatiable demand for children of color from the global South by white families in the political West and the continued flourishing of the adoption industry raises serious criticism from feminist, post-colonial and anti-racist standpoints, international adoption remains a non-controversial practice in Sweden.

International adoption has been described as a contemporary colonial project: Tobias Hübinette, who outlines the industry’s alarming similarities to the transatlantic slave trade, argues that he, in line with other postcolonial scholars, sees the “involuntary transferal of hundreds and thousands of non-Western children on a worldwide scale after formal decolonization as a clear reflection of a global colonial reality and racial hierarchy, and a grim reminder of the still existing astronomical power imbalance between the West and its former colonies”.

If international adoption, and its trade in human commodities, can be seen as embodying the notion that colonial projects are ever-present, challenging the idea that there is a clear beginning and end to colonialism, then the adoptee herself can be seen as not just a subject of colonialism, but also as an embodiment of colonialism: the adoptee’s body quite literally becomes a site of a colonial civilizing mission. Through the supply, removal, transportation, and construction of the adoptee as a Swede, a process of colonial civilization, in its most violent form, takes place on the very body of the adoptee; a process justified by a belief that the non-white body can, and should, be civilized and controlled by the white West; a process propelled by a white supremacist conviction that, to paraphrase the postcolonial feminist Gayatri Spivak, the brown child must be rescued from the brown woman by the white woman.

Common to other colonial missions, adoption is part of a process of domination and exploitation, beginning with acts of violence, appropriation and de-territorialisation, and then consolidating control through violence carried out on the indigenous culture, language and colonized body. Indeed, adoption begins with, arguably, the most violent and traumatic act of all: a child is removed from her mother, permanently. This child then becomes a fetishized commodity; transferred through a series of “middlemen”, including hospitals, agency run maternity homes, agency run baby reception centers and foster families. Following a chain of significant financial transactions, the adoptee becomes the permanent property of a family of strangers in Sweden, and the subsequent transportation sees her permanently removed from, and deprived of, her community and country. Upon arrival in Sweden the adoptee’s body is suddenly and systematically stripped of her language, culture, history and ancestry. She is renamed, and a new language and culture are forced upon her. Her history is rewritten. From a child with a mother, a homeland, an ancestry and a pre-adoption personality, she is constructed as something that began to exist on the day she arrived in Sweden: before that, she was just laying, waiting to be rescued.

Postcolonial scholar Robert Young introduces the concept of “translating”, which centers around the forceful imposition of a version of the colonial culture over the – now devalued – indigenous culture, with claims that the colonial copy actually “corrects deficiencies in the native version”, as being a fundamental process in the colonial civilizing mission. This is certainly a feature of the civilizing mission of adoption: a major, if not the major, theme of adoption is the belief in replacing the adoptee’s original culture, society and language with better versions of such. And, of course, replacing the adoptee’s original family with a “better” family. Indeed, regardless of how or why the adoptee became separated from her parents, regardless of her family status, regardless of the psychological traumas of separation and adoption, to offer a child the opportunity to grow up with a “good” family in Sweden is always seen as a better alternative than being raised in a non-western country. Removing the “Koreanness” (for example) from the adoptee’s body, and replacing it with an authorized version of the superior “Swedishness”, also has a clear parallel with the use of translation in the civilizing mission.

The need to translate and civilize the adoptee’s body has been a key feature of international and transracial adoption throughout history, and is best summed up by a quotation from Richard Pratt, a central figure in the systematic mass removal and assimilation of Native American children in the USA in the late 1800s: “Kill the Indian in him, and save the child”. The child can only be “saved” if its “Indian” (Native American) “race” is removed, and replaced with a version of whiteness.

Young outlines the importance of renaming in the civilizing process, describing it as “an act of power and appropriation”, which also serves to desacralize geographical sites in colonized areas. Renaming is alarmingly common in adoption, with the changing of the adoptee’s foreign name to a (white) Swedish name being normal practice. As with the renaming of sites, it acts as a means of domination, appropriation and descarilization: renaming disregards any meaning in the adoptee’s original given name, and disregards the possibility that the name could be auspicious; it also disregards the significance of the adoptee’s language. Additionally, placing a white Swedish name on the adoptee of color condemns her to a lifetime of being forced to explain her non-white presence, with a name that doesn’t match her appearance. The name change can be seen as an act of claiming ownership: the new name indicates that the child no longer belongs to her mother, her community, her people, her nation; the child now belongs to her adoptive parents, her adoptive family: the child now belongs to Sweden.

Finally, to return to the irony of adoption, perhaps the greatest irony of all is that international adoption, facilitated through a demand driven industry undeniably built on a committed belief in racial hierarchies and white supremacy, dependent on – and responsible for – the maintenance of meaningful perceptions of racial differences, is an integral part of constructing Swedish national myths of anti-racism and exemption from European colonial history; and, the process which involves the removal of children from mothers of color to create families for white women – can actually be seen as being a key element of Swedish myths of international solidarity and being the “Third World’s benefactor”. Mass scale international adoption, amazingly, can historically be seen as a project of Sweden’s liberal/left, with adopters looking to not only rescue children of color, but also to create “multicultural” families. Worryingly, prior to the 2014 general elections, all major political parties stated that they were in favor of international adoption. Feministiskt Initiativ (F!) and Miljöpartiet (Mp), two parties advertising themselves as “anti-racist” and “feminist” were particularly enthusiastic about the adoption industry, with Mp stating, “we are just positive about adoptions”.  

There is an urgent need for serious, critical research into the international adoption phenomenon from a postcolonial perspective in Sweden. It is absurd that a nation that regards itself as “post-race”, a nation that prides itself on equality and international solidarity, a nation where all major political parties claim to be “anti-racist”, can still believe, almost universally, that the mass removal of children of color from their mothers, families and communities in the global south, and their subsequent transportation (lest we forget, by agencies, for considerable sums of money) across the earth to fulfill white Swedish families’ domestic or white savior dreams is unproblematic. In an environment where critically thinking adoptees’ voices are systematically crushed and the voices of mothers of adoption loss are simply non-existent, and where almost all adoption knowledge is produced by white adoptive parents and the adoption industry, I believe those of us who identify as “anti-racist” or “feminist” have a responsibility to turn the spotlight on Sweden’s role in the global child trade, and force a serious discussion on Sweden’s shameful colonial present.

*To read the article with footnotes CLICK! 

Richey-Wyver

Richey Wyver researches and writes about the international adoption phenomenon from a critical, postcolonial perspective, and is involved with adoption reform campaigning. He runs the Facebook page Adoption Reform International and occasionally blogs at anotherfutonrevolutionary. Richey is currently studying for an MA in International Migration and Ethnic Relations at Malmö Högskola, and lives in Lund with his partner and two young children. 

Foto:  Don McCullough.

 


Finding Voice

Finding Voice

I was born in Berlin, made conscious in Louisiana and unsilenced in London. London is the city in which I was able to find my voice and write myself into existence after I was denied that opportunity back in Germany and had not yet learned the words to express my anger in the States. In London I have found people who come from all walks of life have given me a home away from home in which I can truly be myself and do not have to be defined solely by physical markers of my identity.

Representation is important. I remember the first time I consciously remember seeing a black person on German news. I had just come back from Bogalusa, a small town near New Orleans where I had spent a year as an exchange student. It was a year that in retrospect taught me more about race than any history book ever had and I was hyper-sensitized to anything to do with it. So the first black person I saw on German news, the Tagesschau for those acquainted with German TV, was a black boy with a weed addiction. Typical. The depiction is so stereotypical it is almost comical were the situation not as serious as it is. I had gone through 17 years of my life with my experiences being largely ignored in mainstream culture. The opportunities were restricted to one-dimensional tropes steeped in ignorance of the diverse communities that make up Germany’s population.

Germany is now home to 16.5 million people ‘with migration background.’ This roughly translates into one out of five Germans who in some way or other have ‘foreign’ roots. Nonetheless, Germans ‘with migration background’ make up only two to three percent of German Journalists with 84 percent of daily newspapers having none at all in their workforce. It then comes as no surprise that the experiences of people of colour in Germany are dismissed and distorted on a daily basis. It is also the reason that the few articles now emerging in big daily newspapers that engage with micro-aggressions and structural racism are misunderstood or met with the kind of surprise only privilege can evoke. “How can a question about where you are ‘really’ from be racist?” people tweet in an attempt to elevate their own curiosity above the feelings of people of colour. That many people of colour are tired of being reduced to their ethnicities is irrelevant as long as they ensure they perpetuate a status quo in which their voice matters most. This is not to blame individuals as they too have been born into a system that enforces a strict hierarchy along the lines of race, gender and ableism to name only a few of the oppressive structures that have normalised the experiences of a privileged few. While it is not their fault that their stories are framed as more important it is their responsibility to join in the efforts to dismantle these structures and work towards social justice.

Solely increasing representation, however, is insufficient. What matters is the form this visibility takes, whether it perpetuates stereotypes, and the real power people of colour have to shape their own narratives. Increasing representation does not change the fact that we are all born into and normalised to structures of oppression that brainwash us all and it takes time to unlearn the internalised oppression we are fed on a daily basis. It is for this reason that platforms such as KULTWATCH are important mediums to give voice to the many real experiences of people of colour and correct distorted narratives that dominate mainstream culture. When writing becomes a way of taking control of our own stories, it can become a lifeline to keep us sane in a world of madness.

 

Ella Achola

Ella Achola

Ella Achola is a student at SOAS, University of London, where she is also the Black Students’ Officer. She writes and reviews events in her spare time, and is currently building the Ain’t I A Woman Collective (@aintiawomancoll), a black feminist platform and diaspora think thank that will launch in 2015.

Twitter: @ella_achola

Bild: Steve Snodgrass