Archives for category: women

Maia Campbell (middle) on the set of "In the House"

Hey folks. I have alot on my mind as I initiate yet another cross- country move tomorrow. This time, I’ll be heading to LA (with a pit-stop in NC) for graduate school in the fall. Aside from that, my mind is in a bit of a clutter after seeing two equally disturbing videos of young black women who are daughters of well known figures. Maia Campbell, daughter of noted author Bebe Moore Campbell (RIP), and Montana Fishburne, daughter of noted actor Laurence Fishburne. Both have been catapulted into the blogosphere spotlight for “funny,” “crackhead” behavior that seems to reflect deeper issues.

Maia Campbell, who you may remember as Tiffany on the UPN TV show “In the House,” caused controversy when she was videotaped in a man’s car rambling, ranting, appearing incoherent, messy, and seemingly intoxicated and/or drug-induced. Montana Fishburne has recently launched a porn career in order to make her way in the entertainment business, follow in the footsteps of Kim Kardashian, and become a “well-respected” actress. I’m not here to merely recycle myths and rumors about these woman, which is what many blogs and sites have been doing, and what I take serious issue with. Instead, I think the public reaction to these women and their conditions and behaviors reflect alot about the state of our society and culture at the present moment.

These days, everything seems to become a youtube, bossip, or huffington post video. People have seemingly traded in common sense, a need to intervene (in cases of extreme violence and abuse), or the act of caring about the well-being of another, in order to record what otherwise wouldn’t be. In many cases, these “guerilla” videos serve as proper checks and balances in society, especially in the case of law enforcement injustice (i.e. Oscar Grant) and other societal abuses. However, many times they are not intended to reveal or bring attention to something that needs to be stopped. In the case of the aforementioned women, they only help to instigate, inflame, and increase the volatility of such situations.

I read numerous blogs, websites, and “news” headlines likening Maia Campbell to a crackhead, a prostitute, and a junky. These “stories” all come complete with videos of her engaging in what clearly are manic episodes, indicative of someone suffering from a mental illness such as bipolar disorder. The people recording these videos of her can be heard laughing and having a grand time showcasing her mania. The latest video is particularly disturbing. In the case of Montana, we hear a male jovially ask her banal questions regarding her budding porn career.

I’m not going to do that here. On this blog, there will be no links to videos of these women for the sole reason to further humiliate them and turn their situations into comedy. There is nothing funny about capturing videos of bipolar young women who self-medicate with drugs, or young women who view their body as the sole way they can carve out an acting career. So instead of laughing and pushing “record” on a video camera, we should maybe try caring. Not just about these two women, though their stories warrant concern. It’s about understanding the deeper issues that Maia and Montana’s “videos” highlight in the black community, and in other communities as well. Many black people suffer from mental illnesses; conditions that go undiagnosed due to communal stigmas attached to treatment options, amidst a myriad of other factors. Maia Campbell is just one representative of the mental health crisis in this community. Many times these people are labeled as crackheads or crazy, when there are deep psychological scars stemming from genetics, economics, racism, and other personal factors. As in Maia’s case, drugs become the obvious choice of medication.

In the case of Montana Fishburne, many folks seem to be more invested in wondering where Laurence Fishburne went “wrong” as a father or if she “measures” up physically with Kim Kardashian, whom she wishes to emulate. But those concerns seem to ignore the crux of why her pursuing a porn career is a bit disturbing in the first place. After all, if she wanted to get into Hollywood that bad, she could probably call her father and arrange something. The bigger issue lies within more and more young women (not just Montana) viewing their bodies as their sole contributions to their careers as entertainers. All this is perpetuated and spurred on by an increasing age of sex-tape turned “stars,” tv housewives, jersey shore/ Real World sex shows, youtube video frenzy, and a bevy of other instant-gratification media outlets.

So my aim here is not to admonish people and their use of current technology, but to question how that technology and media is being used. Simply recording problematic and troubling content just for the sake of perpetuating ignorance and comedy, is not okay.  My mother recently emailed me a link to a video showing a pregnant black woman fighting four people in a Burger King parking lot in Oakland. I refused to watch due to the proliferation of videos like this. Instead of recording this, why not attempt to stop the fight where an innocent fetus could be harmed? Why not engage in a dialogue about how cameras can be used to uplift and not dehumanize. Why not start a dialogue about mental health, rather than laugh at someone who clearly needs help?  Why not care?


feeling infinite

Hey folks!

It’s been awhile since my last post. I’ve been busy… making a movie, editing a movie, turning 25, preparing for another move and getting ready for school next fall, among other things. Alot has been on my mind lately, particularly the boxing in, packaging, or rigid categorization of women’s identities, especially that of black women. It is no coincidence that the recent influx of “single, lonely black women” TV specials, books, and movie deals coincides almost directly with the increasing, or continued need to place women’s lives and existences into small, air-tight boxes.

#iHateFemalesWho try to get pregnant for the financial benefits, that’s one of the LOWEST things a bitch could ever do !

#ihatefemaleswho are extra loud every where they go

#ihatefemaleswho get pissy drunk!!!


#IHateFemalesWho grow up too fast..why are you 13 sleeping with a 26year old…why you have a baby at 14? why did you drop out of skool?

#ihatefemaleswho try to sleep with everyone….you don’t have to be a hoe. Not in the rule-book.

The preceding comments come from a twitter trending topic in which people from all over the world participated in verbally bashing “females.” Not women, ladies, or even girls, but females. For almost two days, users logged on and shared their hatred for these “females.” Though I never take these trending topics seriously, this particular one seemed to rest upon very problematic assumptions and ideologies of policing women’s existences. Most of the “hate” seemed to follow the strict lines of stereotypes that have been attached to black women and women of color for years: loud women, loose women, women who have sex with more than one man, women who have babies out of wedlock.

Well guess what? Some women like to have sex alot. Some don’t. Some women are incredibly intelligent and suffer from mental illness. Some women plant flowers and are mathematicians, but still have problems controlling their anger, and are working on it. Some women were sexually abused growing up which impacts their present relationships with their partners. Some women have drinking problems but raise children and run law firms. Some women don’t drink but love dancing and singing. Some women are single and lonely but lead wonderful lives.

I am one of these women. Not a female or a girl, but a woman. I am a part of a group of multi-faceted human beings who can not be confined to fit someone’s limited notions. Am I saying that the above-mentioned women (on twitter) don’t exist? No. They exist just as men who do the same things (but don’t get “hated” on twitter for it) exist, but the continual picture painted of black women seems too narrow to account for the nuances and varying degrees in personalities and psyches. What’s even more disheartening is seeing so many women buy into these rigid classifications without taking time to question them and celebrate the beautiful indentations of their identities. Growing up I was surrounded by this narrow framework- girls were either “fast” hoes or “good girls” who were “going somewhere in life.” But what about the in-between; the fast girls who were great in math or the good girls who were curious about sex and secretly hated school? In our need to categorize, an increased fear is perpetuated in girls and women to hide their true selves, keep silent, neglect the complexities of their lives, and what ultimately makes them human.

Once we start to conceive of one another in a fuller, richer light, dialogue and relationships between black women, men, teens, children, and elders can be strengthened, and we can begin to understand the influence of ideology, mass media, society on our self-conceptions.

And then we get to rapper Slim Thug’s recent comments about Black women not “cooking” and sticking by their man:

“Black women have to bow down and let it be known that they gotta start working hard; they gotta start cooking and being down for they man more… I have a brother that dates a White woman and he always be fucking with me about it saying, “Y’all gotta go through all that shit [but] my White woman is fine. She don’t give me no problems, she do whatever I say and y’all gotta do all that arguing and fighting and worry about all this other shit…My girl is Black and White. I guess the half White in her is where she still cooks and do all the shit that I say…”

What can I say that hasn’t already been said about Slim Thug’s statements? Not much. He is furthering a very binaristic construction of black women; that we don’t “take care of our man,” we don’t cook and take orders correctly, and we’re materialistic, while white women are the exact opposite- they cook, clean, are obedient and don’t care about being mistreated. It’s a very dangerous way to frame black womanhood, especially because it strengthens antebellum ideals of white women and womanhood as something pure, sacred, and clean while black, enslaved women were seen as deviant, dirty, impure, and disposable. For Slim Thug to carry this explosive ideology into the ears of his young fans who may happen to be black girls and boys, is completely irresponsible and destructive.

Ultimately, I’m sick of being sandwiched between the titles of “hoe” versus “housewife” because i don’t fit either, and most women don’t. Or what about the “woman who stands by her man” versus the “man-hating feminist?” Can I not speak up for the rights of women and people, be a feminist, argue a little, love, sing, write, and create without being put into the “angry black woman” club? Can I walk down the street without a man assuming that my sole purpose is to stop and talk to him? Can I be divine, emotionally astute, distinct, and still have issues and problems dealing with my emotions? Yes I can. We all can, and we deserve the right to be free in this world. To crush any and all boxes that someone may want to put us in.

My name is Nijla.

Telegraph (c) Nijla Mumin

What happens when I decide to look? To not be looked at. What happens? Lately, I’ve considered putting my camera down. Leaving it in the drawer of things one leaves behind. The things that one outgrows. But I haven’t outgrown photography. Photography has outgrown me.

If I am to call myself a photographer, I am to call myself a documentary photographer. I get the most joy in photographing people I don’t know, or even the ones I do know in the most emotionally telling situations. Evaluating the light half cast on their face and eyes is like a dream. I am most comfortable with my 35mm film camera. No studio, models, and light kits can ever match the feeling I get when I frame and execute photography outside in natural light; when I document people and situations that tell stories words cannot. I am in love with this way of photographing. So why would I want to be put my camera away?

Lately, it has been extremely hard to be a black female documentary photographer. As if it wasn’t hard enough to be a black woman in the world, a black woman who takes pictures of the world and frames images of the world adds a larger dimension of difficulty that impedes my ability to create art. Recently, a male photographer colleague advised me to “take off my ‘lady’ hat and just shoot.” I nodded, because it sounded so simple coming off his lips. I wish it were simple to take off my “lady hat,” but it’s not. My gender and race mark me in any space I venture. In my neighborhood, I am whispered to, catcalled at, grunted at, and expected to respond to every male expression of attraction around me. I am uncomfortable almost 95% of the time I’m on the sidewalk. The times I do bring my camera, it ends of being suffocated in my purse for the whole day because instead of me wanting to spend time on the street documenting my people, I really just want to get away from them. I want to get away from men feeling like I’m obligated to speak to them, rub their egos, and respond to sexually charged comments and aggression. To stay that this doesn’t affect my ability to document, would be to lie to you.

I find my very presence as black female to impede my ability to “just shoot,” to just appreciate the beauty of my people. Because of the attention I am given on the street and in my community, a largely West Indian and black community, I am unable to document in the way that I want to. In the way that I was trained to do. In this sense, photography has outgrown me. I am unable to grow with my practice because that very practice is limited to discomfort and quick, rushed shots that take the enjoyment and excitement out of what I’m aiming to do.

I’ve begun to ponder taking alternative methods to my practice- asking certain people if I could photograph and follow them, or devoting time to a specific project or group of people. But I am always pulled back to that one image on the street that I miss out on capturing because I’m fearful that my photographing may draw dreaded, distinct attention to me. It has happened before, and I didn’t even have my camera.

I just want to shoot.

So I had to chime in on this ongoing hoopla over Erykah’s Badu’s new video, “Window Seat,” where she gradually disrobes as she walks down the street, with a tattoo of the word “evolving” on her back (see the video).  I wasn’t going to comment, but was moved to when I heard that a mother was supposedly suing Badu for “exposing” her 9-year old daughter to nudity. I then logged onto facebook and read a female user’s comments that there were “innocent bystanders” on the sidewalk when Badu proceeded to undress.

“Innocent bystanders?” Really? Are you kidding me? I laughed really hard when I read that, but felt I needed to address this. Why are folks referring to Erykah’s Badu’s nudity as some sort of dirty, dangerous act, like they would a mid-day shooting or stabbing? It’s as if one woman’s naked body has defiled and polluted the minds and hearts of the nation. As if a woman’s bare breasts, legs, thighs, and butt have ruined our children. Will they ever be the same again?

NO. And it isn’t Erykah Badu’s fault. OR her body parts, which weren’t even fully exposed in the video, but blotted out by the TV censors (the same censors that block out nudity on the reality TV shows that families watch nightly). There is nothing innately “sexy” or untasteful about the video or Erykah Badu’s process of disrobing. Many kids grow up seeing their parents in their underwear, be it by accident or not. And many more are exposed to nudity in overt and not so overt ways through their family, friends, and our media.

Instead of suing Erykah, sue the system that demonized Janet Jackson for a nipple exposure, then let Justin Timberlake, a willing white male participant in the debacle, walk away scot free with career in tact. Sue Nelly and his management company, whose “Tip Drill” video has him swiping credit cards down girl’s buttocks and almost made me vomit in my mouth. Sue the system and record companies that make it  a requirement for just about every mainstream hip hop video to feature half-naked women as nothing but mere ornaments for so-called rappers. Don’t blame Erykah or her body parts for making you or your kids “innocent bystanders,” blame the schizophrenic nature of the media who’s one minute telling young girls to take diet pills and erase their muffin tops, and the next minute advertising Mcdonalds burgers with singing black people, in order to appeal to them.  Sue the pill- pushers and Seventeen magazines that help young girls and women hate their bodies, while selling them unrealistic body images.

It is NOT Erykah Badu’s fault if your kid appears to be a little confused. Leave that to the media that makes women’s bodies a bad thing when the women themselves control them, as Erykah does in the video, but then goes on to to blast glossy butts, cleavage, and silicone breasts all over print advertisements, TV commercials, and Hollywood films. Where are the angry parents then? Where are they when women’s bodies are continually made into commodities for wholesale consumption?

So, instead of demonizing Erykah for exercising her artistic freedom, let’s confront a system that makes women’s bodies a “dirty” word when not used to further a mainstream agenda, like selling beers for Bud Light or pushing the latest male-directed Hollywood suspense thriller. When our bodies are used in a way that challenges those systems, they become “dirty” words.  So please, don’t blame it on the body parts. Blame it on unabated patriarchy. Blame it on the ways that we have been influenced to view bare breasts, butts, thighs, arms, legs, and necks as consumable parts. As bad things. That, in essence, is the problem. Not Erykah.

*For more discussion on this topic, including the ways that President JFK and his assassination are used in the video, go here:

New Hollywood?

Viola Davis

Zoe Saldana

I often ponder my motivations and reasons for pursuing a career in film. Today one of those motivations was made very clear: to increase the representation of marginalized people (women, people of color, the disabled) working behind AND in front of the camera. So, you must understand my slight frustration when I read about, and viewed Vanity Fair’s current cover story- “New Hollywood,” and it’s accompanying photo spread. This “New Hollywood” includes an array of  a-list actresses who’ve starred in noteworthy films. I have no gripe with that. But the fact that the list includes not a single actress who isn’t white, thin, or of an acceptable Hollywood “look,” lets me know that there’s still MUCH work to do in this business.

I acknowledge that roles for black actresses, and other actresses of color, continue to be limited and sometimes scarce, but that doesn’t excuse Vanity Fair from not featuring the black, Latina, multi-racial, Asian, and Indian actresses who have starred in “Hollywood” films recently, and the praise they’ve received. Some of these actresses include Zoe Saldana, who starred in two major blockbusters- Avatar and Star Trek, Mo’ Nique (a Golden-Globe winning actress) and Gabourey Sidibe who starred in the Oscar-nominated film Precious, Viola Davis who gave a heart-wrenching performance in Doubt, Nicole Beharie who starred in the largely ignored American Violet, and Oscar-nominated actress Taraji P. Henson who’s starred in numerous films. Where are they? Are they not a part of the “new” Hollywood? Whether we agree with, or appreciate the roles they play is besides the point here. They’ve starred in films distributed by Hollywood studios, and have worked just as hard, if not harder, than their counterparts on the Vanity Fair cover.

Vanity Fair’s “New Hollywood” seems only to perpetuate “old” Hollywood ideologies and images; ones that leave black, Latina, Asian, and Indian actresses outside of the popular paradigm of  equal cinematic representation. In that “old” Hollywood, black actresses were lucky to get a role playing a Mammy. Now in this “New” Hollywood, they are conveniently glossed out, even after movies they’ve starred in maintain the highest box office receipts of all time (Zoe Saldana in Avatar). Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t see what’s “new” about that? Sounds like good ol’ exclusion to me.

holding hands

… The loud bossy demeanors, quick tempers, and the bizarre things that Black women do their hair (weaves, wigs, relaxers) is something that I find a turn off.  And the obesity epidemic has really hit Black women hard.  I can’t remember a time when I’ve seen so many fat black women.  If you’re looking for a peaceful relationship, the American Black woman is not your best bet. There are exceptions of course.  I’ve dated women of Australian, Russian, Czechoslovakian,  Romanian, New Zealand Maori, Chinese, British (Black), and Italian descent, and had all of them angry at me at one time or another, and none of them had the temper, or yelled at me as viciously when angry like the American Black women I’ve dated in the past.   Not even close.  All of those other nationality women were much easier to get along with even though there were ups and downs as there are in all relationships.  Even the British Black chick was mellow.  Interestingly, only Black American women have called me a Nigger during an argument.  I used to feel that they brought out the worst in me, not the best, and I haven’t dated one since 1993.  But they claim that they are “strong Black women” and confuse being hard with being strong.

Anonymous black male

I really debated about whether to address this topic, but alas, I couldn’t hold back.

The previous comment comes from a black male (who’ll remain anonymous). His comments refer to a website that has compiled various photographs of black men (many of them athletes and entertainers), who are currently married or dating outside of their race.

It was not the website that upset me as much as the blatant generalizations and stereotyping that black women, and black men for that matter, undergo at the hands of one another. I see it happening more and more lately. Recently, I read a very interesting, albeit depressing study about how black women have a higher chance of spending their lives single, unmarried, or childless because they have a hard time finding or attracting a black male of equal educational or career footing. According to the article, “Their marriage chances have declined… This may sound trivial but one reason is that they outnumber men in this education group.” They also state, “Highly educated black men tend to “outmarry” (marry outside race, religion or ethnicity) at a higher rate than black women.”

I couldn’t help but to acknowledge that I was a part of this study’s research pool. Statistically, my chances for finding a black mate who possesses a similar educational background are slim. Though I tend to disagree that one’s educational background is indicative of how they’ll function in a relationship, this study saddened me because it comes at a time when explosive stereotypes and generalizations greatly impact the way black men see black women, and vice-versa. As the comment above illustrates, there are people who would rather revert to misinformed caricatures of black women, than to acknowledge us as distinct human beings. Their ideologies are informed by a racist historical context that once placed black women into rigid categories of mammy, sapphire, breeder, jezebel, sexual deviant, among others. Past stereotypes have now morphed into modern ones: welfare queen, the “loud” black woman, video vixen, confrontational, ghetto, and argumentative about everything.

Like the writer above, some seek to place a particular blame and guilt on black women, without realizing that they are simply recycling the same views that slave masters once held. This black man wasn’t the first to claim that relationships with black women couldn’t be “peaceful.” In 1965, a white New York senator named Daniel Moynihan, wrote a government report, entitled “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” otherwise known as the Moynihan Report.” In it, he detailed the extent to which the “black woman” was emasculating the black male, and thus breaking down, and ruining, the structure of the black family. This report contributed to the long legacy of the vilification of the black woman, and I can’t help but refer to this when I hear people express sentiments that are infused with this rhetoric.

To see this tarring of the black female image perpetuated in 2009, by fellow black men, whose image has also been considerably tarred over the course of decades, is extremely unfortunate. I’m not going to entertain arguments that do not consider the wide array of nuances within the black female spectrum, just as I don’t subscribe to the rampant criminalization of black men’s identities. I know that racial, sexist hegemony within this country has enabled these backward representations to emerge and take hold. Through out my life, I’ve been encouraged to define my womanhood according to someone else’s terms. A boy in high school urged me to get my hair straightened so it would be “pretty,” a guy on myspace told me he’d like me if I was “lighter,” a high school teacher told me to “get rid of my urban attitude” when I attempted to speak with him in class. If we can’t see how the black female existence has been affected by racist, sexist notions, and we adhere to them, we are no better than those who we label “racist” or “sexist.”

So instead of stamping all black women with the label of “angry, loud, drama-queen,” why don’t we take that same energy and attempt to shift the narrow paradigm, for the sake of our friends, family, daughters, sons, and the world. As a black woman, I can agree that there is a lot to be angry about when it comes to my existence, and those of other women, and rightfully so. Here in the United States, young women and teenagers are being prostituted and sold into sexual slavery, like property. Black women have some of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the country. Many mainstream Hollywood films seem to show a rigid scale of black female characters. I could go on and on. But while these instances fill me with emotion, that does not mean I’m a “loud, angry black woman,” but instead shows that I am a passionate human being who reacts to the pressures of life and the issues at hand. My complicated existence renders me unique, as does the existence of any person.

I believe the key to a healthy dialogue between black people, and all people ultimately, is a careful attention to how historical, racist, and/or sexist rhetoric informs the way we interact and interpret one another. It is only from this vantage point that we can break out of this, and put our energies into fighting against current issues-the prison industrial complex, health problems, educational erosion- to begin to see how we can better understand each other, heal, grow, and move forward.

pick out a dress

maybe she likes sparkles

purple satin and straps


tease her hair in the bathroom mirror

maybe pin it up

with clips and glitter gel


line her lips with pink gloss

maybe the kind that shines

under lights


never imagine that she might end up

naked from the waist down under bleachers

that male students might trespass against her

for two hours taking turns

with her body

supplying brandy to erase

their faces


I’m writing tonight because I really feel pain for someone. Her name is Caster Semenya. She recently won the gold medal for the 800m sprint in the 2009 World Championships in Athletics, representing South Africa.

I feel pain because I remember what it was like to be 18 years old- the confusion and personal ideals that I struggled with. The decisions that I had to make relating to my mental and physical existence. But never could I imagine having my body scrutinized and inspected across major media outlets, as if I am not even a person. This is currently what’s happening to this 18-year old woman.  Let us not get it mistaken. She is a woman and was raised a woman. How her biological make-up is besides the point here. If she has known herself to be a woman her whole life, who are we to classify her and smear her name as if she never had one.

If the IAAF wants to make an issue of her possessing certain physical/internal qualities that gave her an advantage over other female runners, they need to put in place a system where she can be fairly judged and able to keep her medal. Why not make a category for hermaphrodites and trans-gender people instead of attempting to fit people into rigid categories that prove not to be sufficient. Until they put into place some sort of system, they cannot fault this woman for an error that has been long-standing in their competition.

I was also disturbed when I saw that Semenya attempted to acquiesce to the claims that she is a “woman” by posing for a South African magazine in so-called feminine clothing, make-up, and hairstyle. This speaks volumes to the pressures that all women face when they don’t fit into pre-subscribed notions of femininity. And even in this attempt, her image was still wrung out to dry.


In respect of her privacy, the exact results of her gender tests should not have been made public fodder for every media outlet, but rather given to her and her family and dealt with in a manner that does not exacerbate the stigma and humiliation that is currently developing.

This whole incident is strangely reminiscent of the story of Saartje Baartman (Venus Hottentot)- how she was paraded around Europe as a circus/museum attraction due to her “exotic,” “strange” body parts. She was made a spectacle of.

I’m kind of all over the place tonight but I really ache for this 18-year old woman named Caster. There has to be a better way to treat human beings and their unique struggles.


Just the title of the play is complex.

For those who aren’t aware, it was just announced that Tyler Perry will be adapting and directing this stage-play for the screen. Now, I am not here to lambast Tyler Perry’s cinematic style or technique (that’s another post), but I have to acknowledge that his films tend to stick to a particular formula that I cannot foresee as effective or liberating for this particular adaptation. The formula, when concerning central female characters goes a little something like this: woman is wronged by a man, woman undergoes some conflict and emotional anguish as a result, woman gets back at the man with or without help of Madea, woman finds a new man and learns to love herself and God, and lives happily ever after. This has been a consistent pattern in numerous Perry films. Of course, no director should be confined to any one style, but this is the one that Perry has become known for.

However, a story such as “For Colored Girls” needs and deserves more. It does not follow or conform to a formula, let alone the aforementioned.  It is a deeply personal and complex weaving of poems dealing with rape, abortion, love, and rites of passages for several different black women. I once performed as “Lady in Yellow” for an audition reel and it was one of the best performance experiences of my life- truly cathartic in a way that I really felt the pain, anger, and excitement of this young woman who’d just graduated from high school. That to say- I’m just not sure that Perry is the best directorial pick for this film about the inner lives and pain of women.

I think this announcement is a wake-up call for more women directors to write, direct, and adapt stories that deal with our own lives, such as this one. I know the decision for Perry to direct this film probably had nothing to do with whether there weren’t enough women who could do it (because there are: Gina Prince-Bythewood, Kasi Lemmons, etc. etc.), but it still lights a fire under me to really take further control of my storytelling in film, and to encourage of other women as well.

And then, perhaps I’ll be proved wrong. Perhaps the adaptation will be riveting. Who knows. But I remain critical.

Naomi jumping rope with monkeys

Naomi jumping rope with monkeys

Naomi running with cheetahs

Naomi running with cheetahs

These images appear in the September 2009 issue of Harpers Bazaar magazine. They were shot by French photographer Jean Paul Goude.

Okay, so I don’t have time right now to write about how extremely problematic, racist, and stereotypical these images are, but I will say that there’s been a deliberate and intentional trend of advertisers and high fashion magazines continually linking black women and women of color models with the likes of animals and the jungle- leopards, cheetahs, monkeys, etc, historically and presently. Our bodies have become “things of the wild,” encompassing the unruly,  and “exotic.” The first image is particularly absurd as we see Naomi Campbell playing double dutch with monkeys as a white man looks on. This finds its foundation in “Orientalist” European Explorer folklore/propaganda where white men venture “into the wild” for a look at the “exotic” life in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, North America, etc. I argue that a white model would not be placed in this same “jungle” theme.

If you want to read more about race and representation and why these types of images are problematic and have a very troubling history, refer to works by bell hooks (Black Looks: Race and Representation + many more), The Black Female Body: A Photographic History, by Deborah Willis and Carla Williams,  writings by Shohat and Stam, Edward Said (Orientalism + others), Maurice Berger (White Lies), + read this poem by awesome poet Suheir Hammad that directly confronts the “exotification” of women’s bodies:


suheir hammad

don’t wanna be your exotic

some delicate fragile colorful bird

imprisoned caged

in a land foreign to the stretch of her wings

don’t wanna be your exotic

women everywhere are just like me

some taller darker nicer than me

but like me but just the same

women everywhere carry my nose on their faces

my name on their spirits

don’t wanna

don’t seduce yourself with

my otherness my hair

wasn’t put on top of my head to entice

you into some mysterious black voodoo

the beat of my lashes against each other

ain’t some dark desert beat

it’s just a blink

get over it

don’t wanna be your exotic

your lovin of my beauty ain’t more than

funky fornication plain pink perversion

in fact nasty necrophilia

cause my beauty is dead to you

I am dead to you

not your

harem girl geisha doll banana picker

pom pom girl pum pum shorts coffee maker

town whore belly dancer private dancer

la malinche venus hottentot laundry girl

your immaculate vessel emasculating princess

don’t wanna be

your erotic

not your exotic

© Suheir Hammad