On Fantasy and Feeling (Regarding #Beasts of the Southern Wild)

[Edit:  Warning – Spoilers abound]

If ever there was a film that maximized sensation without devolving into spectacle, Beasts of the Southern Wild was it.  Barely.  It rides the line between poverty porn and social critique, but somehow never manages to lose balance and fall on one side or the other.  It takes children seriously.  Quvenzhane Wallis, the girl who plays Hushpuppy, deserves every one of the accolades she has received.  She made this movie.  Give that child an Oscar TODAY.

Beasts is effervescent with feeling.  Hushpuppy, Wink, and the people of the Bathtub feel everything and the film’s execution of that pleasure is surreal.  Their world is carnal and crimson.  Dirt, sweat, rain, sun, shelled shrimp, alcohol–everything is tactile.  One of the first scenes with the entire community is filled with sparklers, simulating the magic of fête and festival.  Miss Bathsheba teaches social studies using a tattoo of an Auroch on her thigh, a moment so viscreal for Hush Puppy that the beasts become symbolic of the chaos of the storm and her father’s impending death.  Even the crawfish are wet and lush, mouth watering.

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See No Evil: The Actresses

This post continues a week-long meditation on Ntozake Shange’s 1976 choreo-poem, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf and Tyler Perry’s 2010 feature film of the same name. For the full series follow the tag sing a black girl song. NOTE: The tag for posts specific to this Nunez Daughter series has changed. Since the movie’s release, the global conversation has deepened by tens and hundreds, all using the for colored girls tag. But the ND series is still tagged for colored girls: click either and join the conversation….

Prologue:
 worlds like words for a woman who is a poet and
 a mother are confusing/overlapping contradictory
 fatigue & exciting. between diapers, the park, the
 telephone conversations with e.t. and the dollhouse
 which had to be a plantation house where little black babies
 rest and play between my poems.  my incomplete thoughts.
 thoughts i never find the ends of: lose threads on dresses, in
 my soul there lies a quiet that sleeps out in the night
 after the last bottle and the last dried dish. somewhere
 between the unfinished books i am dying to read.
 among the letters to friends i cant finish.  there
 is a quiet that booms and presses me out of my bed.  out of my tiredness
 and sense of complete isolation from all the rest of
 you. they are here in this book. i see no evil.  i am
 fighting demons in the dark and the energies of a free spirit
 who must know
 this world will do its best to take from her all she is unless she is
 willing to struggle as she struggles with me for the right to see.
Ntozake Shange

12 April 1983. Houston

there is more here than meets the eye.

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Choreopoems & Word Paintings: Walking THAT History

This post continues a week-long meditation on Ntozake Shange’s 1976 choreo-poem, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf and Tyler Perry’s 2010 feature film of the same name. For the full series follow the tag sing a black girl song. NOTE: The tag for posts specific to this Nunez Daughter series has changed. Since the movie’s release, the global conversation has deepened by tens and hundreds, all using the for colored girls tag. But the ND series is still tagged for colored girls: click either and join the conversation….

A choreopoem, the Secret Sister Society Network reminded me. Not just a poem, but a choreopoem.

Ah. Yes.

But what does that mean?

***

And this is how it begins.

In the university library. Searching for Shange. A walk down her aisle and titles pop out at me:

ntozake shange. the love space demands
ntozake shange. see no evil
ntozake shange. a daughter’s geography
ntozake shange. ridin’ the moon in texas
ntozake shange. sassafrass, cypress & indigo

I find a book on Black Arts Movement woman poets. And my heart stops. Beside it is:

lisa sánchez gonzález. boricua literature: a literary history of the Puerto Rican diaspora

I am following Library of Congress subject headings:

lester a. neal. ntozake shange: a critical study of the plays

This is what happens when you look.

Arms full of books. I want to eat them all. Especially the ones written by Shange. But I leave three or four. Don’t want to deprive others of the pleasure of her company. After all, I’m not alone.

***

i begin with Cheryl Clarke & i remember what captivated me about the choreopoem’s title in the first place:

“Shange’s for colored girls cleared space for more “colored girls” to tell their stories, as was and remains its (abiding) intent. However, the Broadway production of for colored girls sacrifices the cultural ethics that undergird the California development of this work. The Collier-Macmillan edition shows Shange in moments extending its lessons beyond the specificity of black women…the “sacrifice” is also an accommodation of the Balck Aesthetic, which was embedded in New York Black Theatre—on and off Broadway….” (Clarke, 100)

Colored girl :: Third World woman :: colonized machete sugar cane tobacco growing mountain woman :: indigenous blooded slave born woman :: black & Puerto rican woman :: all around brown bodied hot sex positive feminist woman

i’m a poet who writes in english
come to share the words with you

the movie/play didn’t mention black girls who spoke Spanglish when English is enuf.

i keep reading, digest the history, watch as it repeats and repeats again. i get angry.
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A Poem & a Movie in a Poem: for colored girls

This post continues a week-long meditation on Ntozake Shange’s 1976 choreo-poem, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf and Tyler Perry’s 2010 feature film of the same name. For the full series follow the tag sing a black girl song. NOTE: The tag for posts specific to this Nunez Daughter series has changed. Since the movie’s release, the global conversation has deepened by tens and hundreds, all using the for colored girls tag. But the ND series is still tagged for colored girls: click either and join the conversation….

There are texts you encounter because you happened to pay attention in class that day. Others fall in your lap courtesy of good friends and stupid enemies. The few great ones are placed in your hands by God herself.

I can’t hear anythin
but maddening screams
& the soft strains of death
& you promised me
you promised me…
somebody/ anybody
sing a black girl’s song
bring her out
to know herself
to know you

When I first met for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, I was a thirsty undergraduate, searching for something that would help me make sense to myself. I use the full title above because part of me hovered on the silver edge of suicide/insanity/lost wonder. We forget–for black girls, the very air we breathe is toxic. The violence of our silence, our erasure, is a cancer that eats our bodies whole from the inside out. Acting out, bitter back talk, a roll of the eye perfectly timed to make you feel 2 feet tall–lazy weapons we wield against a miasma of racialized tropes already configuring what can be seen, who we might be. We commit suicide everyday without knowing it then keep moving, walking dead, zombies & shadows.

We see our days stretch forward, a half-life with no point and no end.  By twelve years old we are already tired of the same old shit.

I was young-tired by the time I stumbled across Shange. A choreopoem? I asked my self. Are you serious?

I devoured the text.

For an apprentice wordsmith preoccupied with the kinetics of language, with the chemical reactions a misplaced “wench,” “black bitch,” or “quadroon” cause,  Shange’s text is pure alchemy.

for colored girls took the written word with all of its racist and sexist significations, made it speak. It took the spoken word with all of its unseen and multi-tonal meanings and music and wrestled it through the chests and out of the mouths of seven black women–an act of death and resurrection.

sing a black girl’s song
bring her out
to know herself
to know you

When you leave the text, you know yourself. The world no longer excludes you, because you are the center of it and the view from your front yard reveals the human as a guise, a farce you’ve simultaneously exploded and reshaped in your own image, giving birth to a new form.

Could this, I wondered, be translated onto the big screen? Could black womanhood giving birth to herself be confined to a narrative structure, be tied to the visual impact of real black female bodies, retain its poetry, confront stereotypes and assumptions (and fear and pain and coping-silence and coping-anger and shame), dialogue with tropes and trauma and conflict while still handling the griot call?

Yes. It can. It was. Full bodied women appeared on the screen and for two hours I fell back in love with myself and with movies and with black women who fight to be whole beings never mind the work we do in our own minds to diminish them, to bring them low.

But let’s not forget–

it is the poem that made the movie.

& it is Shange who saves Tyler Perry from himself.

…to be continued….

Yum

It’s almost here.  Matt Dillon, Idris Elba, T.I., Chris Brown, Michael Ealy, Hayden Christensen, Paul Walker and Jay Hernandez.  And some girl-crush Zoe Saldana like a cherry on top.

Your welcome.