Interview with Award-Winning Film Director, Christina Xing

Budweiser: This Bud’s For You (DC)

Hey, guys! Long time, no blog. Things have been crazy hectic on my end. Lots of moving, job changes, and general ‘adulting’. However, I’m back with another interview. An American blog called Oneul asked me to interview a great talent, and as someone that loves to get into minds of artists, I couldn’t say no. So unfortunately, this isn’t original and so the interview can also be found on the site. But sometimes I like to reshare the work I do on to my blog too, just to expand the reach. Read the feature below, enjoy!

Christina Xing has created an alternate world that everybody wants to be a part of. Saturated with youthful yet nostalgic imagery along with surreal dreamscapes, she has made it impossible to look away. Seeking inspiration from watching classic Americana and the French New Wave movement, the Asian-American director looks everywhere in hopes to find herself.

The director’s catalogue ranges from the most influential brands and companies, collaborating with Crayola, Snapchat, Tinder, and dabbling on the music side too, with Sony, Warner and Atlantic records, having created music videos for Kenzie, Frances Forever, Victor Internet and many more.

But her creative reach doesn’t end there. She directed her first musical feature, ‘How the Moon Fell From the Sky and No One Even Noticed’ at only 17. The former garnered national attention on Twitter in Thailand, and it all snowballed from there. At 19, she was selected to be a ’Semi-Finalist’ for MACRO (the studio behind Oscar-nominated ‘Fences’) and The Black List’s episodic lab.

With nothing short of a bright future ahead, we caught up with her to discuss wanting to collaborate with Apple, coping with imposter syndrome and the value of friendship.

This Old Dog (2020) – Short Film

First of all, how have you been lately? Do you work according to how you feel?

It’s been really strange for me lately. There’s a lot of horrible things happening to my fellow AAPI community so I’ve been trying to navigate my emotions towards that. I’m also taking some time off of work to finish my vaccination rounds and also to write my newest short. It’s the first break I’ve had in over three years. It’s been so strange. I usually make a checklist of all the things I need to have done and organise my week that way. So often, my emotions don’t impact what I need to do.

When did you know you wanted to become a director?

I was always making little films around my house and telling stories ever since I was in 4th grade. I was always sure I wanted to be a screenwriter, but then I went to film school and completely realised I was a terrible writer and that the parts I was good at and felt the most at home doing, was working with actors and the more intuitive parts that come with making a movie. I dabbled in a bit of everything before that realisation sunk in because I always felt like the world didn’t need more directors (haha). But I think the moment I really knew was when I’d find myself reading screenplays and thinking about the ways I would execute them, rather than reading screenplays and learning the craft of how I’d write them, if that makes sense!

How the Moon Fell From the Sky and No One Even Noticed (2018) – Featurette

How do you best come up with creative concepts?

My real life plays such a huge part in my creative concepts. I’ve written so many music video treatments for people from afar. I’ve used the emotions of being hurt and my dumb fantasy sequences as fuel to make creative things. As corny as it sounds, I would say real life experiences mixed with my love of old films and movies. I try to watch a film a day to expand that vocabulary.

What has been your favourite project to work on so far? And why?

“Space Girl” by Frances Forever was truly a passion project. I’ve loved the song for a long time and when I first heard the song I had a slight idea for a creative but never thought it’d be possible. But by some crazy miracle I got to work with Frances and their incredible team and amazing partner. It was such a blast.

That sure sounds like a blast! How did you come about working with Frances Forever on the music video of ‘Space Girl’ and how do you feel about it?

It was so much fun. It was really difficult because the idea was very ambitious for the budget we were working on along with a lot of my core crew being from LA having to go to Boston for the video. It’s def the first video I’ve made where I’m like, wow, that was 100% the treatment and came out better than what I saw in my head.

How the Moon Fell From the Sky and No One Even Noticed (2018) – Featurette

If you could collaborate with anybody or any particular brand, who would you work with?

Apple! I love the risks they take in their commercials and I love how they value story in a lot of their work.

How have you kept inspired during these times?

My friends are everything. They keep me going through their work, advice and friendship.

You have a signature style of nostalgic, surreal yet dreamy landscapes and saturated visuals. How did you come to this creative conclusion? Will you ever evolve even further?

I think in my personal work a lot of my work has become quite the opposite of that, strangely enough. I think there is so much room for me to explore and discover more about my creative voice as I mature as a storyteller. I’m so young right now there’s so much more I haven’t tried yet. I came to that style of dreamy and saturated through my love of classic musicals and classic films. I loved how those movies made me feel and really provided a spectacle for me. I always hoped to do the same in my work.

How the Moon Fell From the Sky and No One Even Noticed (2018) – Featurette

How do you cope with imposter syndrome – if you have ever felt it?

I feel it every day. I think the best way to cope is to not look too much into your work and just focus on moving forwards. I find myself spiralling and hating everything I’ve made when I let myself think too much about it all. When I get in those mindsets I always try to push it to being productive and focusing on the next thing.

Your bio says that you strive to eat vegetables and always keep your nose clean. Is there anything else you aim to always be in life? What are your ultimate goals for the future? Where do you hope to be?

I’d love to make a feature in the next two years or start directing TV. That’s the real dream. But overall, I value my friendships and family above all. I hope to spend more time with them in the next few years.

Lastly, do you have any advice for young creatives who are interested in the film industry?

Watch as many movies as you can! The movies have taught me everything I know in film and in my life.

Claud – Wish You Were Gay

KEEP UP WITH CHRISTINA XING:

Website : https://christinaxing.com/

Instagram: @christinaxing

Twitter: @christinaxingg

Best Movies of the Decade (personal faves)

Considering I study film and everything surrounding it, you would think that I would have more blog posts dedicated to the topic; though there are a handful on the site already. Up until I decided to start pursuing the subject as a degree full time, I always saw films as time-fillers. I know, I can sense film fans and students alike cringing at that statement. But it’s true, I’m afraid!

When I think back on my experience with films, I remember those awkward pre-adolescent sleepovers where we’d stock up on all kinds of junk food, wearing the craziest clothes just to sit in your best friends bedroom or lounge, where everyone would gather round the television to watch Mean girls, Wild Child, Bridesmaids, Juno…or something of the sort. As I write this, I suddenly realised that a lot of these “girly” films that we’d watch have very similar themes. ANYWAY, besides the point.

What I’m saying about this list is that it has not come from a critical point of view, by all means necessary you don’t HAVE to agree with whatever I put on this list. Most of my considerations are personal, for example, I could have grown up watching it, or it could have been the first film to really make me feel something, or it could have even been the first film to make me really appreciate the art of cinematography aesthetics. Etc.

Most of these reviews initially appeared on my contribution to Outtake Magazine’s 100 Top Films pf the 10’s, but I thought I’d condense them down to just a few of my decade-defining films that I consider to be significant. So without further ado, (within no particular order) here they are!

Coco (2017)
As far as 3D-animated Spanish fantasy films go, there aren’t many of them. However, if this was a common genre, Coco would still make it to the top three. In more areas than one, Pixar seriously stepped up their game with this one; this is more than a story of a boy chasing his dreams. There’s something more refreshing about this film besides the typical Disney tropes used within Coco with it’s engaging, vibrant and neon-lit boroughs that creates an overall spectacular motion picture. I’m not usually an animation fan, but this film certainly made me more open to them.

Inception (2010)
Christopher Nolan is consistently known for his thrilling and complex concepts that can just about send anyone into a state of mental vertigo. Inception in particular, is the pinnacle of all of this- this fantasy thriller shares a mixture of his iconic action scenes of Batman- The Dark Knight and the layered examination of The Prestige. Christopher Nolan actively weaves a mysterious dreamworld with a dream cast, with a plot so complex that it leaves the spectators contemplating the films reality as well as their own for weeks. Just watch it. Lord knows I have, too many times. Shoutout to my big brother.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Liberated filmmaker, artistic visionaire, colour-coding genius, symmetrical mastermind…you get the gist. These are just some of the many descriptions that come to mind when you think of Wes Anderson and are very much justified. Amongst this, you’ll find that his filmography follows suit- if you don’t know where to start in the catalogue, watch The Grand Budapest Hotel. From Bill Murray to Tilda Swinton, cast members are near unrecognisable once they’re stepped into Anderson’s vision. It’s not just all aesthetic, though part of its appeal, there’s an exciting cat-and-mouse chase, a deadpan but humorous script and an engaging story line. Check-in to The Grand Budapest Hotel!

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) dir. Wes Anderson
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) dir. Wes Anderson

Get Out (2017)
2017 detected a real shift in the horror landscape, Jordan Peele being the instigator to this. Earlier this year, Jordan Peele said that he’s seen enough White-led horror movies. This was met with plenty of criticism (as expected) but he had a point and he made it masterfully. As a comedy king, he was one of the least likely to come out with such a multi-layered and clever horror masterpiece. Yet, he did. As well as being a horror, Get Out exposes a far more stealthy motive behind the eerie characters and the United States as a whole; hyperbolic or not, Get Out does a wonderful job at exposing the racist underbelly within the third world and every ethnic minority’s unspoken worst nightmare.

Shoplifters (2018)
Shoplifters is a devastatingly beautiful film, a cinematic embodiment of the phrase “The Rose That Grew from Concrete”. Living in the poverty invested fringes of a Japanese city, Shoplifters is a fine blend of a family comedy and a crime thriller, exposing a harsh reality that isn’t always tragic despite it’s circumstances, exhibiting intimacy and tenderness in a dog-eat-dog world. Writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda exposes subtle compassion in each line and frame,yet never creates one dim moment as it rightfully earn it’s 99% approval rating.

Moonlight (2016)
As soon as A24 (every film they do is a masterpiece to be frank) dropped its intense yet beautiful trailer for Moonlight four years ago, viewers and spectators alike were instantly engulfed in all things Black and Chiron. Winning best kiss at the MTV Movie Awards, it becomes evident as to why. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, this stunning picture is an emotionally devastating quagmire as it intersects the unlikely subjects of black masculinity, homosexual relationships and vulnerability. Barry Jenkins’s direction allows room for the entire cast to embody their roles and interact in a way that is brutally real. Illuminating, heartbreaking and everything in between- a must see.

Moonight (2016) dir. Barry Jenkins
Moonight (2016) dir. Barry Jenkins

Has Black Feminism actually progressed in film?

Is Black female representation as presented in film just a trend?
Originally posted on The National Student.

Hollywood has come under a lot of scrutiny in recent years. Just last year we were finally exposed to the “open secret” of Harvey Weinstein, prompting the beginning of the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns, which challenged the status quo of the industry as a whole. And Hollywood hasn’t just been criticised its treatment and representation of women. In 2015 and 2016, the Academy Awards in particular were called out for being overwhelmingly white.

Despite the recent success of Black women on screen and the progressive message that their performances are depicting, many fear that the “Black girl magic” and the empowerment of marginalised voices is nothing more than a marketing tool for ‘woke points’. But being woke is more than being a political young person, it’s more than a hashtag, and way more than a trend.

While some might have feigned surprise that the 2016 Oscars were #SoWhite, anyone with an insight into the industry could have foreseen it. From whitewashing to nepotism, and the promotion of stereotypes, it’s about time that we as a society have a conversation about films, feminism, and race.

Across all aspects of life, society indicates that women are second-rate citizens, people who need to be dominated, and are incapable of succeeding in the ways men can. This is a belief especially damaging towards women of colour, who face discrimination due to their race too. Finally, especially within in the last few years, the presence of melanated heroines on our screens has been at an all time high. Particularly worth mentioning are Hidden Figures, Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time.

ava storm wrinkle in time
A Wrinkle In Time, 2018

In 2015, there were no people of colour nominated for an Oscar in acting. None. In 2016, once again, there were absolutely no people of colour nominated for an Oscar in acting. Suddenly in 2017, there were six. Among the films to tackle issues of race and to garner the Academy’s attention were Loving, Fences, The People v. O.J. Simpson, I Am Not Your Negro, Moonlight, and 13th.

With her documentary 13th, Ava DuVernay calls out the racist history behind America’s penal system and challenges perceptions about the War on Drugs. She has dared to reclaim history, and ended up making it as a result. Even though DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time didn’t excel in the box office nor did it do well amongst critics, the film itself is a game-changer.

And that is not only because it is a landmark achievement for inclusive science fiction and fantasy (SFF) films, but also in the way that it shows Black girls a young hero who looks like them. A Wrinkle in Time is an open love letter to Black girls, and addresses the uncertainties of girlhood, especially for girls of colour.

Hidden Figures, the 20th Century Fox film telling the long-forgotten story of the African-American women at NASA who played instrumental roles in some of their most iconic missions, promotes the message that “We shall overcome”.

But it’s more than just a ‘Black movie’ – it’s an intelligent movie. It forces us to revisit one of the most monumental events in American history and acknowledge the unsung heroes that made it possible. It’s not a story that many people have heard before, but it’s one we all deserve to. It is a feminist movie, one that demonstrates a triumph of progress and perseverance through the rampant sexism of the 60’s.

Hidden Figures Day 41
Hidden Figures, 2016

“The fight has changed, the stereotypes remain, and the cause will never die.”

A woman of colour doesn’t face racism and sexism separately. The sexism she faces is often racialised, and the racism she faces is often sexualised. Black Americans have endured innumerable hardships since their involuntary migration and subsequent enslavement from Africa to America. The game-changing book “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race” by British journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge details the equivalent Black British experience, which is far less talked about.

The labour of women, but especially women of colour, is undervalued and overlooked. We are glaringly absent from textbooks, and our whitewashed histories are only available during Black History Month or through elective courses.

The representation of Black women throughout history has affected the way Black people, as well as Western society, values, identifies and idealises Black women in general. There have clearly been changes in these ideologies over time, and they are heavily influenced by the way Black women are represented in media.

Black Panther is an important film for diversity across various spectrum’s. It’s a blockbuster movie that features a majority Black cast with major names attached to it, and the merchandising is aimed at Black children. Its existence in the pop culture scene and what it means for representation in media cannot be understated and yes, finally, it is a film that Black women can actually celebrate.

black panther women
Black Panther, 2018

The narrative places the women of Black Panther front and centre, making them the heroes of their own stories. From the start, the story avoids the sexist tropes we are accustomed to watching in film.

Black Panther contains powerful messages about gender roles. The Wakandan women’s sex appeal is obvious, but secondary to their personality and skill, and rarely do we see Black women who are as assertive and independent as they are in this Marvel creation. Furthermore, almost every significant female role is played by a dark-skinned actress. It’s amazing to witness.

Yet a YouGov survey recently found that most Americans still believe there are not enough film roles for women and people of colour. The survey of 1,220 adults found that 37% of respondents believed women had enough roles available, just 2% points more than people who believed black people had enough parts available.

On-screen representations of minorities, the survey found, are seen as sometimes inauthentic, though that depends on whom you asked. Nearly half of Black respondents (46%) said on-screen representation of black characters were inauthentic, about twice the rate of the respondents overall. The analysis reveals people of colour remained underrepresented, considering they comprised 40% of the U.S. population in 2016.

Just 13.9% of the year’s film leads and 12.6% of film directors were people of colour.
But what does this mean now? The portrayal of Black women has certainly changed since the age of Blaxploitation, and of course, the success of Black women should be celebrated on screens, but do a few big-budget films with a Black cast count as progress? Is it fair?

3-fences
Fences, 2016

Investing in stories that center around people of colour without dwelling on their pain or oppression is a large step towards healing, particularly in this brutal contemporary political climate. It’s important not just to show tokenised images of Black characters, but to present diverse narratives of individuals with different stories and experiences.
It can be argued that in Hollywood, in an industry where everything is about marketing and making fortunes, that money is the only motivator. Therefore, Hollywood isn’t being progressive in including more Black actors and characters, they’re being tactical.

It seems that Hollywood has yet to understand what makes money, however. The last report on diversity in UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies shows that “films and television shows with casts attuned to America’s diversity tend to register the highest global box office figures and viewer ratings.” Yet the study still indicates that the industry could do better.

While the data notes that some progress has been made, it also highlights that Hollywood decision-makers still consider the presence of diverse talent to be the exception, rather than the rule, but sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. To reach a point where we can put marginalised voices on screens, and tell the stories of women of colour without any prescribed idea of what we should be, to find real examples of those like ourselves – this can all be attained.

A few extra nominations won’t undo years of exclusion of women and PoC, because we are as different as we are complicated. Hollywood has to actively work to give more opportunities to those previously ostracised and make sure a wider range of stories get told.

black feminism film
The Black Feminist Documentary, 2019

Andrew Thomas Huang: nature, aliens and the resurrection of FKA Twigs

An interview with American-Chinese director Andrew Thomas Huang on collaborating with artists such as Björk and FKA Twigs, connecting to his heritage and finding inspiration within nature.

Andrew Thomas Huang is someone that has never been just regular, proving himself time and time again that he is a creative force within the art world and beyond. Expressing his passion and interests through a deep immersion of digitally-rendered figures, puppetry, fine prints and surreal live action performance; Andrew has cemented his mark as a truly unique and pioneering individual who is definitely worth keeping on your radar. Just ask J.J. Abrams. Seriously.

I actually reached out to Andrew a few days after a very recent and special project of his became popular, in which to my surprise he responded almost instantly with great enthusiasm!! But due to exams, planning my 3-month trip to America and other errands, I’ve had to unfortunately delay the publishing of this interview. However, we are finally here and this feature is something that I have been looking forward to getting out for such long time as I couldn’t get enough of his saturated and phantasmagoric visions; and so with that in mind, I spoke with the artist about the creative process behind Cellophane, reconnecting to his roots and finding inspiration within nature.

Image courtesy of Andrew Thomas Huang

Since graduating from the University of Southern California in Fine Art and Animation, he has become a master at intertwining futuristic elements of future folklore, ultramodern queer cyborg and mystical surrealism; ultimately creating a universe of his own. Andrew’s imagination began to run wild through elementary and middle school when he was first introduced to puppeteer Jim Henson and his iconic 80’s films such as The Muppets (duh!), The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth; which originally inspired him to begin playing with his video camcorder where he would start creating stop motion. As he got older he got more into the fantasy adventure franchise of Star Wars which then further inspired his work “I would watch the behind-the-scenes making of those movies and try and replicate the process on my own. I started learning Maya and After Effects in high school and got hooked on building my own worlds!” Being such a diverse creative who works across an array of mediums, his catalogue of pieces and instalments stretches far and wide, however, when it comes to his favourite type to work with, he tells me “I think puppetry is the best combination of everything – performance, dance, bringing inanimate things to life, while also being sculptural and craft-driven”.

After his successful debut Doll Face in 2007, he has brought forth many other moving pieces; from his nine-part video series titled Flesh Nest, which explores and constructs a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by digital immortals “It is essentially my sci-fi Fraggle-Rock inspired trash opera, and so I built this project around the concept of afterlife. I wanted instead to construct imagery that had the same efficiency, weirdness and mythic vastness as a Hieronymus Bosch painting in which a multiplicity of characters and edifices are building up and crumbling down in the same hellish scrolling tapestry-like space. It was important for me that there is an honesty about the artifice of this universe”. To his newly short feature Kiss of the Rabbit God which premiered just a few weeks ago at the Tribeca Film Festival, where Huang explores his own personal identity, cultural heritage and queerness to which he proclaims to be a form of personal revelation.

The film follows a young Chinese restaurant worker’s journey of self-discovery through a sexual awakening, after falling in love with an 18th century Qing dynasty God named the Tu’er Shen (兔兒神) “This is my first narrative short in 10 years and also my most personal film to date! I started out directing narrative films, but left to pursue more art and experimental video-making. Rabbit God is my attempt now to return to narrative but more on my terms. The film is really a love story and I’ve never been brave enough until now to create a romantic film between two queer Asian men. So, this film in a way is a confession as much as it is a love letter to my LGBTQ+ Asian community”.

Everything about Andrew’s work opens up a portal to illustration of a digital multiverse- which hasn’t gone by unnoticed. He has championed a collection of awards and honours for his creative work, becoming more popular through music videos that he’s directed for the likes of Björk, Thom Yorke’s supergroup Atoms For PeaceKelela, Perfume GeniusSigur Ròs and many more; emerging through the mist. He tells me, Music videos are a wonderful medium to experiment and build worlds and draw people into the emotional message of a piece of music. I’ve learned nearly everything I know about directing from creating music videos: how to collaborate, delegate, communicate with a team of people. But, I would also say it’s my own personal work that has informed my videos. Doing the work on music videos has helped build my vocabulary of techniques to bring to my own work as well as my own practice that has fed the ideas that I bring to the music videos. It’s a two-way conversation! I need to know what each artist is trying to say and where they’re coming from in order for me to formulate a clear concept. I prefer to have personal conversations with each artist and really get to know them as people. I don’t like to go into a collaboration guessing what they’re going to like or what they’re going to respond to. Making videos with artists, in the best scenario, is building a relationship with them and dreaming the same dream together.”

Image courtesy of Andrew Thomas Huang

Back to the recent and special project that I mentioned earlier, just last month he collaborated with FKA Twigs on her emotionally charged single; Cellophane. A video that is filled with vivid mechanical creatures and bionic figures, accompanied by a blend of renaissance imagery and dystopian scenes, showcasing a contrast of life and death, birth and destruction. An idea that embodies a new chapter, to start anew and welcome a path-breaking world that hums with possibility; Andrew also added that it is an “miraculous Icarus tale: a dance-of-death striving towards unattainable perfection, the fall from grace and the fragility of putting yourself back together”. Alongside him and Twigs graced production designer Fiona Crombie, who was nominated for an Oscar last year for her work on The Favourite. “We really did have the perfect team come together on this. Cinematographer Dani Abello came on board who shot beautiful videos for Rosalía, and pole choreographer Kelly Yvonne, too! I actually started to develop the story with Twigs in June 2018, and then Twigs, Kelly and I would rehearse together in a dance studio in Los Angeles where we brainstormed to create some of the emotional and physical beats of the performance”

Since it’s release, Andrew has been extremely candid about the inspiration behind Cellophane, admitting to outlets that the concepts of the video stemmed from Twigs’ own personal struggles; from laparoscopic surgery that she underwent to have six fibroid tumours removed from her uterus, to public scrutiny and blatant attacks regarding her ex-fiancé Robert Pattinson. Yet, the formation of the video did not arise as naturally as the ideas behind it seemed to, the process to creating such a visually compelling film was complex as it was enjoyable. “I drafted my own visualisation and storyboard for a couple months before we shot the film in Kiev, Ukraine for two days. Fiona also worked with the Ukrainian team to build some beautiful sets, namely the 360° curtain world and the large clay pit. I edited the video myself and then worked closely for four months afterwards along with Analog Studio in London to create the visual effects”.

Taken from ‘Cellophane’.

FKA Twigs in ‘Cellophane’.

Despite the constant use of extraterrestrial figures in his art, it isn’t always deliberate, confessing “I actually always thought that Martians were kind of boring! (with the exception of the Martians from Mars Attacks). Extraterrestrials aren’t though, alien life is always fascinating…like the aliens in The Abyss or The X-files”.  yet, with everything that’s been going on in Andrew’s life, I concluded the interview by asking him what he does to unwind and how he finds new creative energy “Hmm. Detaching from society, for sure! And going into nature are the most nourishing things for me. My most vivid and connected moments in life have occurred when I’m hiking or by the ocean, or just spending time with my grandmother! I’m eternally working on the challenge of being present in the moment”.

Keep up with Andrew and his work;

Website- http://www.andrewthomashuang.com/Art.htm

Facebook Page- www.facebook.com/AndrewThomasHuangAndrewThomasHuang

Instagram: www.instagram.com/andrewthomashuang/

Twitter: @Andrew_T_Huang

Youtube Channel- http://www.youtube.com/andrewhu

Vimeo Channel- https://vimeo.com/user1293099

Tumblr- andrewthomashuang.tumblr.com

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What I learnt from celebrating ‘Galentine’s Day’

The closing of a year is often lead with great anticipation. Halloween, bonfire night, Thanksgiving (for my American readers), Hanukkah, Christmas celebrations and then finally…the New Years build up. Then creeps in January, dragging its oversized shoes on the floor. January is like the Maroon 5 performing at the Super Bowl of months, despite my own birthday being during this month, I too, have to admit that it overstays it’s welcome. A guest that you were once looking forward to seeing, but is now refusing to leave.

Then, after this excruciatingly dull month of broken resolutions and “I’ll start tomorrow”-s, comes an infamously suffocating day for singles and even couples alike. Valentine’s Day. Don’t get me wrong, I love the concept of the day because it allows you to show appreciation to your significant other, plus the aesthetic of pink and red hearts everywhere may appear as obnoxious to some but I personally think they’re beautiful and uplifting. In a world that seems to forever filled with fake news and depressing headlines, then to suddenly be hit with flowers of all colours and love hearts is pretty encouraging to me. Lord knows we all need it.

But there is also a capitalist, ‘do it for the gram’ element involved which takes the real fun out of it. An haughty, pompous aspect that places couples to compare themselves to other couples. As though your relationships’ depth and meaning is measured based off of your financial income. A factor that is unfair and shallow to say the least. Personally, I’m a working-class student with low earning parents. Therefore, I don’t get any help from them. I simply rely on myself and how often I work, when I can. But with juggling a degree, a long distance relationship and other prospects; it can all get a little (VERY) strenuous. So with this continuous obligation to flex our lives on social media adds even more pressure on this particular occasion, minus the others- birthdays, Christmas etc.

In fact, just yesterday I was speaking to a work colleague who did not hesitate to tell me all about the expensive trips and gifts that her much older boyfriend so lovingly gives. Of course then, this was met with my own romance interrogation; “Where did you go?” “How much did they spend on you?” and “How much did YOU spend on THEM?” So whether you’re in a relationship or not, Valentine’s Day can be a bit of a pain. Don’t worry single people, least you can treat yourself to a cheap bottle of wine and a Netflix marathon then call it a night, it’s not as pathetic as everyone makes it out to be. I promise.

Anyhow, so due to my long-distance relationship circumstances, this year I decided to celebrate my first ever Galentine’s Day with my single friends. Because being single doesn’t mean that you’re alone, at all. This is a holiday that, among other things, highlights the political power of female friendship: Galentine’s Day. To quote main character Leslie Knope, “What’s Galentine’s Day? “Oh, it’s only the best day of the year!” So for context, back in February 2010, NBC inaugurated the holiday on its sitcom Parks and Recreation, starring Amy Poehler’s iconic character Leslie Knope, a described ‘civic crusader’ and ‘friend extraordinaire’. As Knope explains it, each year on February 13th, she gathers together all her best female friends, including her mother, to celebrate what she loves about her female companions over waffles.

However, the biggest lesson that I learnt from Galentine’s Day isn’t to only challenge hetero-normative romantic relationships and gross gender roles and forever pining over ‘the right one’ but of also finally normalising the idea that being single IS NOT something to be distracted from. As someone that is currently in a relationship, I can understand why you’re reading this whilst rolling your eyes. Or how this advice would fall on death ears. Take this with a pinch of salt if you must, but the most significant rule to remember is that you’re able to be by yourself and not hate it. I know right, wild(!) I apologise if this sounds patronising, but you’re allowed to be single on purpose and enjoy it.

Galentine’s day doesn’t have to be surrounded by the concept of filling some sort of ‘romantic void’ otherwise you’re not full. That’s a complete lie. People speak to me nowadays as if by having a boyfriend, I have been “blessed” and that I have been changed for the better. As much as I love being in a relationship, I can be strong and empowered whether I’m in one or not. Galentine’s Day is for all female-identifying folks celebrating themselves, no man-dominated underbelly included, please.

As well as this, Galentines Day should be as inclusive as we can possibly make it. Not everybody has this Sex and the City and Pretty Little Liars-esque girl group. Sometimes our closest friends live in different parts of the country and so seeing all these cliquey squads can emphasise on the loneliness. I often feel it. So another lesson I have learnt is to keep open-minded and productive when it comes to this kind of thing. Galentine’s can be a beautiful day, but always remember to show love and support for women throughout all the other days to.

💚

Still I Rise: ‘Feminisms, Gender, Resistance’ Exhibition review

On October 26th, the Nottingham Contemporary art gallery launched a new effervescent exhibition titled ‘Still I Rise’ which runs until 27th January, 2019. The name stems from Maya Angelou’s empowering poem from 1978 which tackles subjects of prejudice and injustice.

Similarly to the poem, the exhibition showcases themes of resistance, gender, feminism and resilience as well as exploring the roles that women played in the history of resistance movements. It also refers to artists spanning centuries and continents who are protesting and exploring new, alternative forms of living.

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Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance, Act 1, Nottingham Contemporary, 2018. Image credit: Stuart Whipps

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Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance, Act 1, Nottingham Contemporary, 2018. Image credit: Stuart Whipps

Coinciding with the centenary of women’s suffrage within the UK, this major group is a demonstration of endurance around the world, spanning across the time periods between the late 19th century to present reforms.

The exhibition also references key historic moments including the Civil Rights Movement, resistance against dictatorships in Latin America in the 1960’s–70’s, independence movements against colonial rule in Africa, the Women’s Liberation Movement, the AIDS crisis and the Stonewall Rebellion, exhibiting pieces from a multiplicity of perspectives, from minor cases on the domestic sphere to larger scale uprisings.

Since opening in 2009, the Nottingham Contemporary has been the city’s chance to make a larger cultural mark in the global art scene, highlighting social upheavals and movements through art.

What is most compelling about this new exhibition is how it captures such a pivotal era, showcasing art as a form of protest, declaration and revelation. The exhibition itself signifies the abuse of power by those who sit in high government positions, as well as the judiciary and people within the police force. For the public, it sends out clear, repeated messages of hope. For those who understand the meaning of repeated wrongdoing, the title ‘Still I Rise’ becomes an anthem, a beacon of hope for the oppressed and downtrodden.

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Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance, Act 1, Nottingham Contemporary, 2018. Image credit: Stuart Whipps

Upon arrival, spectators are immediately faced with a giant board with pens and coloured paper on the side. On each piece of paper, visitors are addressed with questions such as “Blank page – Share your thoughts and feelings about the stories and themes in the exhibition” and “What does resistance look like to you? Share your acts of resistance”.

Not only do these types of statements engage viewers into the exhibition and facilitate individuals to involve their personal input, but they also help to widen conversations for future observers, opening up a much-needed discussion. This form of interactive art enables visitors to build their own versions of the accompanying publication, reflecting a history of self-publishing as a form of resistance. Answers were often playful but pressing, with answers written in permanent marker such as “TRANS RIGHTS R HUMAN RIGHTS” and “BEING WHOEVER THE F@#& I WANT TO BE!”.

Within the exhibition, there are different rooms for each gallery, and each one of these rooms is arranged thematically across different practices and waves of feminism. Above the artworks themselves, the exhibition displays have been designed by f-architecture, a research-based architectural practice which explores issues surrounding the spatial politics of bodies and subjects.

As well as the catalogue, which is by OOMK (One of My Kind), the London-based collaborative publishing practice that has produced a book with rearrange-able pages to allow the reader to structure their own thoughts.

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Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance, Act 1, Nottingham Contemporary, 2018. Image credit: Stuart Whipps

The first artist to be gazed upon is none other than feminist artist Judy Chicago, with a pink-peach background for a wall, Chicago’s explosive colour pieces are complimented marvellously. It’s been over 50 years since the artist debuted her flame, fireworks and smoke performances on print, yet the pyrotechnics of Smoking Bodies in the Californian desert still ignites the same passionate reaction today. Chicago created this body of work as a reaction to the male dominance of land art created in the 1960’s.

Other standout pieces were displayed proudly within another gallery room titled ‘A Rumour’. This area features an array of protest posters showcased a decade later, during the 70’s, by the See Red Women’s Workshop, covering topics from abortion rights to Margaret Thatcher’s benefit cuts. There are also Suffragette Mary Lowndes’s detail-orientated and crafted banners that were designed for the 1908 National Union of Suffrage Societies procession, alongside a selection of prison photographs of female anarchists affiliated with the Paris Commune of 1871.

Queer artists, however, made the most significant impact in this particular area; a tower of Zoe Leonard’s infamous poem ‘I WANT A DYKE FOR PRESIDENT’ was distributed to visitors of the exhibition. The piece highlights the need for a wave of politicians which represent marginal voices across the spectrum. Despite being published in 1992, it recently regained recognition and relevancy as it was performed as a rap by Mykki Blanco for a video, during the run-up to the 2016 US Presidential Election.

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Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance, Act 1, Nottingham Contemporary, 2018. Image credit: Stuart Whipps

The erasure of minorities and the outvoted isn’t uncommon within history. There have been many examples in recent years which show that many important movements and advancements within biographies involved more than the white men who were accredited. I recently read a line inside the Stanford Daily about representation which said “Representation can make disadvantaged groups become real people” and I think I’ll continue to use this quote in the future because it’s true, and that’s why exhibitions like these are so engaging: they help us to realise that there is a lot going on outside of our echo chamber.

There are patriarchal hierarchies and that’s the brutal truth about the world we live in, within all sectors. Whether we agree or understand it all or not is irrelevant because not everything is our story to tell and a lot of the time, we want to be heard more than actually understood. Isn’t that what Maya Angelou fought for her entire life anyway?

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Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance, Act 1, Nottingham Contemporary, 2018. Image credit: Stuart Whipps

Why you should definitely go to a gig alone 

At least once.

Whether it’s a song, perfume, book, album, movie, television show, or underground cultural phenomenon, there are certain seemingly small things that have actually changed the course of our lives. Even if it’s minor and quite superficial through the eyes of others, if it makes you feel alive in some way then hang onto that.

This is going to sound kind of dark; but around two years ago when I was heavily suicidal, I read a post that suggested that if you feel as though you serve no purpose being alive, then stick around for the minor things. Like never being able to taste your favourite ice cream ever again, or  not being able to stroke your neighbours cute Labrador anymore, or trying the first bite of a delicious pizza, or even turning up at that event coming up that actually looked kind of cool (?).

For me, this ‘seemingly small superficial thing’ was Frank Ocean’s Blonde & Endless. If you’re under the age of 40, you’ll probably know who he is. Ocean’s lyrics deal with themes of love, longing, spiritually, misgiving, and nostalgia, all that resonated with to new extents. I won’t go into his entire discography but since his first mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra revealing his idiosyncratic approach to pop, I was hooked. Years clicked and in this super weird way, I found the wait to be part of the thrill. It was easy to worry as there are precedents for this sort of thing, for disappearances of the self-implosion of Black genius.

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But eventually, he came back. And it was amazing. This’ll seem corny but it restored my belief in the phrase “When one door closes, another one opens”. Despite going through a rough time and dealing with a lot of losses, with the thought of waiting for the new album to finally come out then having it do so gave me something to look forward to. It made me want to wait for the other little thing, then the other minor thing, then another, until I was past the rough time and wasn’t feeling so sad anymore. Through sharing the things that helped us become who we are today, hopefully it’ll  inspire you to try them out for yourselves. Anyway, aside from me basically admitting that Frank Ocean saved my life there was a point to this. What I’m saying is that the experience made me a little more introspective, thereby leading me to do a more things alone; like attending concerts.

I’m a music journalist (kind of, let me gas myself), so whenever a concert is in my town and I’m interested in the performer, I ask a publication to contact the PR team then I get in for free. Back in November, I went to see Mac Demarco in Rock City, Nottingham. I reviewed the show and even made friends with a girl that was friendly with the supporting band leading in me meeting Mac after the show- you can read the interview/review here. Plus, as sad as it sounds, I actually like being alone. I’m virtually always by myself, I go shopping alone, I go to my lectures alone, hell, I’ve even travelled around some areas around Europe alone when I finished high school. And I’ve become quite an evangelist about it.

But no matter what, I believe that everyone who can safely go to a show alone absolutely should, especially if it’s for a band you really love. Why? Music is evocative and emotional, and I’ve previously explained, it is extremely significant for ones well-being. Sometimes, by going to a gig or concert by yourself it’s easier to not have to explain everything to someone else. You have the right to dance, sing along or even cry at when you want to without worrying about the people with you, and you should get to experience that at a show without worrying about what anyone else’s experience looks or feels like. And this isn’t to say you shouldn’t share these experiences with your loved ones, but it is to say that YOUR experience should not be dependent on theirs.

On the night I went to see Mac Demarco, I learnt a lot in the space of a couple of hours. If you’re nervous about going alone or you feel sort of weird about it, that’s fine. It’s totally normal, actually. The main thing to remember is that doing anything outside of your comfort zone is bound to feel uncomfortable at first. But that’s how you grow. Obviously, if you feel truly scared to go to a show by yourself, or your gut senses something weird, then don’t. Or maybe find another show that you’d feel comfortable going to. The whole ordeal is going to look different for everyone. So, if you have ever been really keen to see someone live but none of your friends are down for it; here are some tips I’ve learnt about going to a gig or concert alone.

  • Turn up early, it’s kind of boring and maybe a little cold at first, but eventually people will turn up and maybe you’ll even get an opportunity to meet the artist! Weirdly for me, not only did Mac go out for a cigarette but he also got locked out the venue- so I  had a small opportunity to speak with him prior. Plus, you’ll be right at the front. Which is always great.
  • Speaking of people, even when you’re bored you can still find something to occupy with other than just staring down at your phone and refreshing snapchat. Interact with the crowd so that you feel more apart of it, additionally, you may get lucky- it’s how I met Mac.
  • Check out the location beforehand and let someone know you’re going to the function. If you’re going to a sketchy area, consider having an Uber drop you off so you don’t have to walk alone.
  • Speaking of which, I know this is a dark example but think about what happened at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester- Let family/friends/significant other  know around what time you expect to leave the show. Text them updates about when you’re leaving.
  • Don’t drink too much, you are alone after all.
  • Charge your phone fully because you’ll almost definitely run dry and please, please invest in a portable charger. You’ll thank me later.
  • If you want to avoid the massive rush at the end, leave early, being surrounded by sweaty strangers is pretty gross. Also, know where the fire exits are because you never know.

Most importantly, trust your gut, prepare in advance, and have an amazing time, kid! It’s never as scary as you think it will be, you’ll leave feeling super empowered and it should remind you of why you love music in first place. And maybe you’ll be so inspired after the experience that you’ll feel the need to blog and tell other people about it. Or maybe, it’ll restore your tiny faith in humanity just a little bit, I know it helped with mine.

 

 

 

Drama Films about PoC by Women of Colour that everyone should watch

A small list of some of the most talented women of colour directors within the film industry telling important stories.

Today is March 8th so we celebrate the political, cultural, economic and social achievement of women all around the world! Yay! 👭👩‍❤️‍👩👩‍❤️‍💋‍👩

So to mark Internationals Women’s Day, especially now during the post-Oscars period where there has been a buzz surrounding women and marginalised groups with Greta Gerwig being considered the best director in that category, Daniela Vega of ‘A Fantastic Woman’ became the first openly trans woman with a lead role in history to win an Academy Award and Get Out, which satirises the hidden racism of ‘good white liberals’ also won multiple awards making Jordan Peele the first Black director to win best original screenplay- the thirst for films made for and by PoC are at an all time high.

(Hold the applause guys, Historic achievements are a slippery thing: A ceiling is shattered, but the noise reminds us that the ceiling is there in the first place)

It’s time to recognise the extraordinary work of women behind Hollywood’s cameras; and, though this list is only a tiny portion of those contributions, these women’s creative achievements are certainly worth the celebration so I thought to create a list of films I personally find inspiring and empowering about the journeys of PoC made by WoC.

 

Real Women Have Curves by Patricia Cardoso (2002)

Real Women Have Curves is a charming and warm-hearted look at a Mexican-American teenage girl coming of age in a boiling cauldron of cultural expectations, class constrictions, family duty, and her own personal aspirations that defies popular notions about immigrant families. Brown girls, this is for you.

 

Watermelon Woman by Cheryl Dunye (1996)

“I’m working on being a filmmaker, the problem is I don’t know what I wanna make a film on, I know it has to be about Black women because our stories have never been told”. Cheryl Dunye tells us on the trailer as she’s candidly speaking into a camcorder about how queer women of colour should be represented in movies. And she does just that, writing and directing the first feature-length film to focus on African-American lesbians 20 years ago. So if you fancy a very 90s film, shot in a very fun style by a black lesbian specifically about black lesbians (even more specifically black lesbians in film) then add this on to your list.

 

Monsoon Wedding by Mira Nair (2001)

Following her sexy yet controversial Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love, Nair releases her strongest film yet, shattering stereotypes while being colourful, loud, feel-good and fun as hell. Sharing traits from Bollywood yet not being Bollywood at all, it’s a refreshing look at Indian life and is in a league of its own. Even better, it addresses globally relatable themes and concerns including the bonds of family and, most importantly, love.

 

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night by Ana Lily Amirpour (2014)

Just when you thought there was no gas left in the tank of revisionist vampire cinema, along comes this feminist semi-Iranian masterpiece. Combing horror, westerns and film noir, Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut feature, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, is a unique take on feminism, sex and obviously, vampires.

 

Belle by Amma Asante (2013)– Discussion about race, especially when you’re bi-racial is not something that is Black or White- literally. The mention of biracial people in history is seriously lacking and left me asking a lot of questions growing up about what certain time periods were like for those that were mixed race for years with no real feeling of belonging. Luckily, Belle is a very good historical piece tackling slavery, race and the class system in Enlightenment Era Britain. It’s also based on a true story, some closure for y’all.

 

Pariah by Dee Rees (2011)-

A personal favourite of mine; this movie tells an involving story that’s both urgently progressive and skilfully relatable. Although it adheres to the formula that comes with its genre, “Pariah” is a compelling and necessary study of a black, gay woman having to fight against prejudice to find happiness and acceptance. Dee Rees beautifully tells the story through pictures that is sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking and always tender.

 

Women Without Men by Shirin Neshat (2010)

This Farsi-language novel adaption gives a glimpse at Iranian women’s history and the richly cosmopolitan, intellectual culture that you never see on screen, it tells a story about a bunch of women with different background stories in Tehran during the 50’s who manage to a escape a life dominated by men throughout Mohammad Mosaddegh nationalist government’s power. One woman leaving an arranged marriage, a prostitute whose driven frustrated by her work, another leaves her home to join the street politics she hears outside, and eventually joining the Communist Party and an upper-class woman, married to a general, leaves her husband to live in a house in a fruit orchard she has bought. Go figure.

 

Thank you to all the women (trans women, femme identifying, queer, etc) who continue to work every single day – even by just getting up. Some days it’s hard, its always been hard – these past couple of years especially. You and your feelings are valid and real. But here’s a thank you to those who have opened up about their lives, who’ve been vulnerable and brutal and honest. This world couldn’t go on without you so keep telling your stories because they’re viral and there are so many of us who need to hear them and will miss them immensely if they’re not told. I know I will.

Jessie Maple