Archives for the month of: July, 2009

DC is

(my take)

DC is scuffed black Nike Boots

bad roads that snarl at tires

teenage girls talkin’ bitches and niggas on the bus-

making a grandma sweat in her flower print dress

is schizophrenic weather

and schizophrenic black homeless men with stained shirts in downtown

pressed black suits and stiff ties,

blue eyes stare away from the homeless men in downtown

is black fathers holding black babies on the way to somewhere


DC is loneliness

Go-Go in the air

a boy’s rattle snake hands

jumping out for a taste

of me

humidity so thick I can’t scissor through it

feet jumping on a basketball court

cherry blossoms and police sirens

empty pockets and the white house

decaying buildings

and their half a-million dollar replacements

DC is female fistfights in Southeast


DC is dreadlocks

short and limp

long and medusa

conscious sistas spreading rumors about me

then blaming it on the wind

DC is babies everywhere

on the metro train, waving at me

out of car windows

DC is maternal


DC is silence and mambo sauce

carry-outs and dark alleys

El Salvador and injera

men yelling hey baby, why don’t you smile

or Didn’t your mother teach you any manners?!


DC is where I live

for now

-Nijla   (C)2009

roses and wire

roses and wire

mother and daughter at BART

mother and daughter at BART

Photography has been hard for me since last summer when I was physically attacked while walking home in DC. The attack wasn’t precipitated by my camera but the fear that the attacker might take my camera, which was in my purse at the time he tried to rip it from me, ran deeper than my physical scars. I’ve struggled with this.  I discovered my love of photography through documenting the people and things around me- complete strangers who become closer to me with each frame- a young mother holding her child’s hand as they walked down the steps or a young nomad staring off into the distance in Berkeley. The beauty in everyday life brought me to a place, a feeling, which I have not recently encountered.

Now, 1 year to the day of my attack, I am going back to that place. I am returning to the days of snapping life- perfect strangers who become my best friends when I develop their photos in the darkroom.

I’ve been doing a lot of commercial/staged photography lately, and while I enjoy creating images with people, I also yearn to be back on the street, walking, framing, evaluating the natural light, and adjusting my f-stop and shutter accordingly. I witness poignant moments everyday- three little boys with no shirts standing at a crosswalk talking and eating pop sickles, a black father taking his young children into the library. In an age where we’ve become inundated with the “Save Africa,” “US vs. them” images of starving, dependent “third-world” people by the mainstream media, it is extremely important that photographers of color (and other marginalized groups) take back the camera in an attempt contribute to the way that we are framed and presented in today’s visual landscape.

Famous war photographer Robert Capa once said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” I like to get close enough to capture the essence of what’s going on. I cannot wrack my mind worrying about the danger that may befall me in these endeavors. I am but a servant of the people and things I photograph, a channel through which their beauty is magnified. I am there to connect with the people and the moment, not to judge it. Most times, people don’t even know I am taking a photo of them, but I still operate with a foundation of sincerity.

I’ll be shooting this weekend with my Pentax. I hope for light.

young nomad in Berkeley

young nomad in Berkeley

taken in Mamelodi, South Africa

taken in Mamelodi, South Africa

Juma (taken in Mamelodi, South Africa)

Juma (taken in Mamelodi, South Africa)

South Africa

South Africa

Art of life

Art of life

This is the first short film I shot, wrote, directed, and edited in Howard’s MFA Film Program. Also the first project I shot on 16mm film. I finally got it uploaded to my computer after losing all the Final Cut files for it.. It’s always good to revisit past work for insight and progress. The synopsis/summary is below. Share thoughts.

***The awesome music is by none other than Steve Sampling

*** Shout out to Monique: the best AD ever, Anthony: the best Set designer ever, and Vincent: the “lifesaver”



LYE intertwines beauty and delusion, glossy images in magazines with one girl’s imagination, forcing us to consider the appeal and fixation with straight manes.
This is a story about a highly imaginative black girl who is obsessed with images of Black Women with straight hair that she sees in magazines, and especially that of the “Pretty -n-Silky” relaxer advertisement. She undergoes her first perm, which is traumatic, and realizes that the experience, and the road to becoming “Pretty-n-Silky” wasn’t what she envisioned.


“The Arab World: Waking from its sleep.” This is the headline on the front of the most recent issue of Economist Magazine. The cover depicts an Arab man and his son (presumably), holding hands and walking toward a washed out landscape.

This headline is interesting considering that this very magazine is published in a country (England) that didn’t grant women the right to vote on the same terms as men until 1928 with the Representation of the People Act. Women in the “Arab World”  were granted the human right of equality to men, rights to obtain an education, rights to own independent property, and the right to divorce and retain all independent income (among many others), 1400 years before that, under the religion of Islam, which the article cites several times in a paternalistic, condescending way. According to the article, “Islam complicates democracy.”

It is not my intention to excuse or gloss over the societal deficits of any country or people, but when the teachings of Islam, as set forth in the Qu’ran, are conflated with the unjust actions of people influthe cover of the magazine without the headline enced by patriarchal norms, I have to object.

I read in an online article a few days ago that Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was ready to “move on” from his arrest by white police officer James Crowley in hopes that he can use the encounter to improve fairness in the criminal justice system. He was quoted as saying “in the end, this is not about me at all.”  The problem is, it is all about him (and President Obama to some extent). Or at least that’s how the media has continually framed this issue.

This romanticized idea of racial profiling amazes me for several reasons. One, most people who are racially profiled don’t receive back-to-back CNN special reports and they don’t have opinion polls devoted to their experiences and whether what happened to them was just or unjust. Most people who are profiled by law enforcement go nameless to the general public, their rights stripped from them without any due process of the law, or of the media.

So how do we keep profiling from becoming the next media trend? Don’t make it one. Acknowledge that this happens every day to many people, and that their trials are just as important, if not more, than that of Skip Gates. What makes his case particularly interesting is that he is a Harvard Professor, public intellectual, and he was in his own home (as are many people who are profiled while driving into their garages, down their street, or walking to the store). His story echoes the same patterns that outline Oakland, Chicago, and Brooklyn city streets every single day: people are stopped, pulled over, accosted, detained, harassed, and mistreated because of physical identifiers: race, baggy pants, age, class, and presumed gender. So, instead of using this time to harp on the peculiarity of Skip Gates’ arrest, let us harp on the fact that so many others just like him undergo this type of treatment everyday and no one cares. Their stories escape the news stations and hang with them forever. The mental trauma of one’s life being repeatedly disrupted and their existence questioned is something that goes unnoticed here. While I am sure Skip Gates underwent some sort of personal trauma due to the incident, I also know that he is Skip Gates- wealthy and well known-  and is capable, as in this case, of “moving on” from the incident due partly to his stature in society. Some are unable to “move on” or to potentially have a beer with their captors.

Oscar Grant was unable to “move on” because he lost his life due to a policeman’s racially motivated actions. Amadou Diallo was not able to “move on” in a CNN media blitz because he also lost his life when 19 bullets pierced his body. Women, specifically women of color, are frequent victims of profiling but where are their stories? Can they move on?  It is important to scrutinize how the mainstream media is able to take certain issues and re-engineer them for a Hollywood, sensationalized effect. So the story of the wronged Black Harvard professor who now agrees to have beers in the white house with the man who profiled him becomes the headline, instead of an honest, true dialogue on the unglamorous nature of profiling in this country and how many people are affected and ultimately silenced by it.

I am sure that Skip Gates and President Obama have sincere intentions to make this a “teachable moment,” and to address the underlying issues of racism and unfairness at play in profiling. Unfortunately, many mainstream media outlets do not share this same outlook. So let us not corroborate with them in distorting the brutal truths of racial profiling and singling out this one incident from the many that plague us every day.

Look at me- I haven’t even seen it yet and I am publicizing for it! Well, rightfully so. The cinematography looks full of depth and feeling, as does the story.

If anyone knows when this is coming to the DC or NYC area, please post!!

I know I am probably SUPER late but I just found out about this film while browsing the internet at work:

I really want to to see this!

I read an article while attending Howard’s Film School, entitled “Fantasies of the Master Race: Categories of Stereotyping of American Indians in Film.” In it, Ward Churchill asserts that the representation of American Indians in commercial US Cinema is “racist on all levels.” He identifies three major categories of these representations.

The following is my summary of the article:

The first is the American Indian as a Creature of Another Time. Churchill claims that the American Indian has been restricted in terms of the times of their collective existence. The mainstream image of Native Americans is that they came to existence with the arrival of Whites on their land, and then vanished thereafter. There is an apparent problem because there is no “before” or “after” as Churchill states. In addition, Native Americans are continually defined in relation to Europeans and Whites, and not in any autonomous light. There are also not many contemporary films that deal with present Indian realities, making the extensive span of indigenous past and present unrecognized in mainstream film.

The second area of emphasis, according to Churchill, is Native cultures defined by Eurocentric Values. Churchill recalls a story where his Chippewa friend visited a museum and noticed that an artifact featured, her grandmother’s root digger, was mistakenly featured as a Winnebago hide scraper. When she called the mistake to the attention of the museum’s experts, they asserted that she was wrong. This situation reflects the ways in which Native cultures are continually interpreted and represented under Eurocentric perspectives, contexts, and motivations. Thus, the inherent meaning in Native practices is washed out and appears nonsensical and comical. For example, Churchill states that this is primarily carried out through the white characters’ narration of stories that involve Indian characters. He states, “ To date,… there has not been one attempt to put out a commercial film which deals with native reality through native eyes.”

The third area of emphasis is “Seen One Indian, Seen ‘em All,” wherein there is an implied assumption that distinctions between Native groupings are irrelevant. Several films, including A Man Called Horse feature an amalgamation of Indian cultural traits reflective of different tribes, in attempts to create one homogenous grouping of the “Indian experience.” As a result of these gross generalizations and mainstream creations of the generic, inauthentic “Indian,” the true meaning and humanity of all Native people become compromised and lost.

In his conclusion, Churchill states, “Genocide is, after all, an extremely ugly word.” He calls attention to mainstream beliefs that Indian “savages” were defeated during the birth of America rather than the honest acknowledgment that European settlers actually murdered intelligent human beings. The popular memory of the “Cowboys versus the evil Indians” serves only to feed the mainstream myth of America’s victory and rightful manifest destiny over this land and the Native peoples that inhabit/ed it. Churchill asserts that “only a concerted effort to debunk Hollywood’s mythology can alter the situation for the better.”

Some questions I pose in light of his critique:

Churchill speaks of a concerted effort to debunk Hollywood’s mythology of Native peoples? What do you think would have to be done to alter mainstream representations of Native people? Do you think that this reform can take place within the mainstream film industry, or would it have to continue to develop in the independent film realm?

Do you see any similarities between mainstream representations of Native cultures and that of Black people? Churchill also speaks of the homogenization of all Native people in mainstream films so that the authenticity of different Native cultures is lost. Do you see that happening in representations of Blacks in mainstream films? Is there a uniformity present in stereotyping both Blacks and Native Americans that empties our cultures of their diversity and richness?

Are you a fan of Cowboy and Indian films? Think about why you relate or enjoy these films. Do you think your enjoyment of these films is related to your place as an American citizen and the popular American narrative of “us against them?”

I really hope that a film such as this can serve as part of the “concerted effort to debunk Hollywood’s mythology” as it pertains to Native/Indigenous peoples. I can’t wait to see this film. If you know of any screening information for it, please post!

When I was nine years old, I was embarrassed at Ashley’s slumber party. Not the usual embarrassment- admitting you pick your wedgies in public, wearing Payless shoes, or farting underneath your sleeping bag. I was embarrassed because I didn’t eat the pepperoni pizza.


There, it lay, hot and greasy in the Little Caesars box, each slice fighting to hang on to the adjoining slice by loose threads of cheese, as hands grabbed at them. I stood watching my friends partake in pepperoni bliss.

Have some, Ashley’s oily-faced father says as he pushes a slice toward me. No thank you, I reply. He looks at me as if I have four heads and a fifth one growing in at that moment. He’s trying to read me; a 9-year old slumber party participant who doesn’t want a piece of pepperoni pizza. How weird. I continue to stand there, awkward, as some Disney movie lights up the living room and my friends’ hands are made greasier with each slice.

What’s wrong with you? Are you Jewish or something?!, he probes. I’m not expecting this accusatory question and my nine-year old mind struggles to answer it. No, I just don’t want it.

I am now struggling to conceal information in this foreign house in the middle of Castro Valley. I know I should’ve never begged my mother to let me come to this sleepover. It’s hot in here, smells like some odd concoction of cheese and leather, I’m hungry, and I have someone’s oily father trying to figure out my non- existent Jewish heritage. I figure this is the perfect time to exit the living room area and go into Ashley’s room. I don’t care if it’s not time to go to sleep yet- I want to go home so bad that I will sleep now to make tomorrow appear.

I am now in Ashley’s room. Sleeping bags line the floor. I find mine. I overhear my friends asking where I went. I hear Ashley’s father. I just wanted to know what was wrong with her- why she didn’t want to eat the pizza. I hear Ashley get angry with her father. Dad, why do you have to ruin things!? I bury my head beneath my sleeping bag, snagging some of my hair in the zipper, and pretend to go to sleep. My best friend Megan runs into the room and discovers me wrapped inside. Are you okay?, she asks. I nod. The next morning, after surviving cold, ultra-bland eggs, and hard waffles at the request of Ashley’s mother, Megan and I escape the pepperoni prison without telling anyone. We run to Megan’s house.


I didn’t want to tell Ashley’s persistent father that I was raised Muslim, and that eating pork was against my religion. At 9, I didn’t feel like explaining my religious background to him at his daughter’s slumber party. I was tired of doing that. I just wanted to refuse the pepperoni pizza and be left alone, or maybe offered a cheese alternative. At an early age, I learned that personal, cultural, religious, and racial differences in people were more than often considered as something “wrong.”  As in this case, there was something wrong with me because I didn’t want to eat the pepperoni pizza. I didn’t want to subscribe to that notion. At 24, I am still fighting the never-ending battle of defining myself against a barrage of normative ideals that mark me and others like me, “wrong.” I choose to stand up to the accusations most times, but sometimes, like the experience above, I just run.

on the street When I was a teenager it used to bother me alot. I’d be walking down the street, my mind wrapped around some deep thought and then out of nowhere some man’s voice would disrupt it with, “Baby girl, why don’t you smile?!” And it would bother me, but sometimes I’d still attempt a slight smirk in response, and then roll my eyes as I turned the corner. I’d think to myself, maybe I should be smiling all the time on city streets, and maybe those guys just want to see me happyMaybe everyone should be smiling. But they weren’t. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed the distinct trend of men telling women to smile, especially in public settings. It happens to me on the metro train, in grocery stores, and in malls- if my face doesn’t exude some sort of satisfaction or enjoyment, then something is wrong. Something must be wrong with women who are in deep thought, angry, pondering, or just not wanting to bend their face muscles.

Don’t tell me to “smile” when I am walking down the street unless you tell the young man behind me, the one with the frown crowding his face, to smile as well. Can you imagine? A man addressing another man on the street and telling them to “smile man, it’s not that bad.” The image in my head is almost comical and unreal, partly because I cannot conceive of that happening in reality.

I can envision it now; a society in which every woman smiles. It would be like an assembly line of homogenous facial expressions. Women would smile when studying, smile when giving birth, smile when grocery shopping, smile when changing a tire, smile when situations around them give them little to smile about, smile because it makes someone else feel better, and smile for any other reason than because they genuinely want to.

Sounds ludicrous huh? Well, because it is. Smiling is great and it’s something I tend to do a lot, but not at the request of a man who depends on my obedience to boost his ego or masculinity.