I tweeted my piece on Degrassi: The Next Generation’s Hazel Aden to Andrea Lewis who played Hazel, and she basically confirmed that viewers played into the writers’ anti-immigrant bias. This is not to say that all people who hate Hazel/found Hazel inherently useless are bigoted. This is only an acknowledgement that there is something anti-immigrant about the fact that the show didn’t prioritize her character. And if you’ve ever payed attention to the Degrassi fandom at large, people hated Liberty— the only other black girl (who was a main part of the original DTNG cast)— almost as much as they hated Hazel.
I think what it comes down to is Hazel’s character was useful in my eyes, ultimately, because I loved her character from the beginning. I didn’t find her unlikable. I also think she has played an important part in Somali pop cultural representation, which is virtually nonexistent. It’s just interesting to see how Andrea who is completely removed from the show now has the same reading of her character. I think there has to be some truth to my speculation if she agrees.
Degrassi’s got a rough history when it comes to representation of women of color (in terms of numbers, in terms of writing, in terms of development) and viewer reception of women of color (Liberty, who was a great character and the best girl, is hated by a lot of the fandom). This is even more complicated when you consider that Degrassi is “committed” (or, rather, has a responsibility) to a representation of immigrant and transnational families—49% of Toronto’s population was born outside of Canada, which is the second highest “foreign born” population of any city on the planet. Most of the show’s immigrant representations have been white ethnic families, especially of Southern and Eastern European origin. The vast majority of Degrassi’s immigrant narratives are also about how immigrants—especially the non-white ones—are homophobic prudes with high hopes. Let’s review:
- Manny Santos’s controlling, abusive, but economically responsible and hard-working father who calls her a slut (and her relatively soft-spoken mother who doesn’t do much about it)
- Marco Del Rossi’s father, dense-because-he-has-a-stereotypical-Italian-accent, who does not want a queer for a son (and his loving mom who wants to keep him closeted)
- Riley Stavros’s maybe-homophobic Greek father (and his loving-but-grandkid-hungry mom who wants to keep him closeted)
- Alli and Sav Bhandari’s controlling Muslim South Asian hard-working well-educated father who arranges marriages for his children, wants them to be engineers, and thinks his daughter is a slut (and applies this standard less harshly to his son, because “Muslim Patriarchy”) (and their loving, less strict mother).
- Zig Novak’s mother, who is a Russian (?) immigrant who owns a convenience store, and who is very poor and hard-working.
- Hazel Aden, Degrassi’s most notoriously underdeveloped character, widely hated by fans and viewers, who is revealed to be a Muslim Somalian refugee who hid her identity because of racist bullying at school. This was discussed in one episode and never mentioned again. In that same episode, Hazel bullies a Muslim girl named Fareeza (who, to my knowledge, never appeared again). Hazel’s family is never introduced on the show.
Okay, so my point in rounding those characters up is not only to emphasize the tired immigrant narratives Degrassi keeps recycling, and to show that their anti-immigrant bias is real and really racist. I also wanna point out that the show has largely reserved (relatively) complex explorations of ethnic and family identity to white characters. It has also reserved a lot of space for maintaining, in subtle ways, the ethnic identity of white students, as in the casual Ukrainianness of Paige Michalchuk, or the cloyingly Italian last names of most of the white kids from the wrong side of the tracks (Bianca DeSousa, Johnny DiMarco, Lucas Valieri*). (*Which might be Spanish, I dunno, but the point is that he is a “white ethnic” bully/teen dad/deadbeat.)
Aside from the validation of white ethnic identities (which is basically a reverence for whiteness), this whole thing of course has everything to do with the fact that most of the show’s non-white characters don’t get developed enough to have a family or history or identity at all.
Compare this list to the (maybe?) complete list of Asian characters on the show. Aside from the Bhandaris, there have only ever been (correct me if I’m missing someone): three teachers (Ms. Oh, Mrs. Kwan, and Ms. Sauve), Kendra Mason (an adopted grade seven who disappeared without explanation), Zane Park (who functioned only as a boyfriend), and Leia Chang (who functioned only as a conniving liar, and also disappeared without explanation). Like, hey, did you know that almost a quarter of the population of Toronto is of East Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern, or Pacific Islander descent? The poor representation and underdevelopment is only the beginning, too. And where’s the discussion of transnational families?
Black representation on Degrassi is a thesis in itself. In short: it’s inconsistent and it sucks. As far as I can remember, only three black Degrassi characters were ever developed enough to depict family life—Liberty and Danny Van Zandt’s wealthy, educated parents, Jimmy Brooks’s wealthy, educated parents, and Dave Turner’s cop dad. Like, Chantay Black was on this show for EIGHT SEASONS and I don’t know anything about her or her family, except that Dave Turner is her cousin. Connor Delaurier, who is one of my favorite recent characters, was dropped into the show without any family, living with his (white, long-standing cast-member) “godfamily.” (I should also note, as an aside, that both Connor and Dave Turner—two of the four newest black characters on Degrassi—were introduced as extensions of existing characters—Dave as Chantay’s cousin and Connor as Mr. Simpson’s godson—as if they couldn’t warrant introducing black characters unless they had a “good reason,” or something.) GIVE YOUR BLACK CHARACTERS IDENTITIES. AND MOMS. GIVE THEM MOMS.
But, really, the point is that Degrassi writers historically do a shit job with their black women characters, making them underdeveloped and usually “unlikeable,” backstabbing, etc. And the Degrassi fandom eats that shit up, and valorizes white mean girls like Paige and Holly J. Sinclair while dismissing and abusing black girl characters under the same pretenses. The fandom is full of black-girl-hate, and it’s awful.
Anyway, read that post about racism in the development (and reception) of Hazel Aden. It’s great!
Degrassi: we see u
Feminist Film is a radical pro-Liberty Van Zandt organization
Laverne Defazio: seminal sloppy, scrappy, low-class heroine.
Penny Marshall is 70 today. If there is a history of “Women’s Comedy” to talk about, we should be talking about Penny Marshall. We should be talking about the sexual and class politics of Laverne and Shirley, we should be talking about how Penny Marshall’s Laverne Defazio is still probably the funniest performance that ever happened. And this woman directed Big, A League of Their Own, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, The Preacher’s Wife, Riding in Cars With Boys. A hero!
Hey, folks, are you aware that Con or Bust, which is set up to help fans of color attend science fiction and fantasy conventions, exists? I know that’s not helpful for some of you and I’m not affiliated or anything, but I thought I’d mention it.
Con or Bust is excellent. They helped me get to WisCon a couple years ago. It really is a no-strings-attached fund.
Sandra Sunrising Osawa is a Makah woman who forged her career in commercial nonfiction television, beginning with producing documentary series about Native Americans for NBC in the 1970s.
Osawa’s work often explores the nuances between sovereignty and the environment, as in 1995’s Lighting the 7th Fire, a PBS POV special about struggles over spear-fishing rights in Wisconsin, and 2000’s Unusual and Accustomed Places, which chronicles fishing rights battles for the Makah in Washington. In 2000, she produced and directed a documentary about Oneida stand-up comic Charlie Hill, called On & Off the Res’ w/Charlie Hill.
For Osawa, who worked in education and cultural preservation before turning to filmmaking, media is a tool for not only revitalization but decolonization: “I think media has long been an overlooked part of our struggles and true sovereignty cannot exist until we are truly able to tell our own stories.”“
It’s National Disabilities Awareness Month! We have a special episode of Sesame Street airing tomorrow featuring Brandeis, who is learning to be a service dog for people of differing abilities. Tune in tomorrow to meet him!
I know we’ve mentioned Pink Ribbons, Inc., but I want to remind everyone during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month to think about the ways that disease (and bodies) are commodified and marketed. Think, too, about the links between cheaply-made goods (especially plastics) and a higher risk for cancer for those who work in or live near factories. Remember that white women are the face of this crusade, but black women are dying of it at much higher rates. (Which is to say nothing of women of color who aren’t in the U.S.)
There have been many survivor-oriented documentaries about breast cancer, including Beyond Breast Cancer: Stories of Survivors (2008), Rachel’s Daughters: Searching for the Cause of Breast Cancer (1997), The Breast Cancer Diaries (2008). Youtube hosts clips from these as well as many other videos and short documentaries by and about people experiencing breast cancer.
It’s a theme that’s popped up in some fictional media, too, like Pieces of April (2003), Terms of Endearment (1983), and (this season) on NBC’sParenthood. Interestingly, in spite of of the multibillion dollar breast cancer awareness industry, there really are few weighty fictional accounts, especially from the perspective of the afflicted. Consider, too, the hypersexualization of breast cancer awareness, and how this contrasts with the inability of filmmakers to regard breast cancer survivors as sexual subjects themselves.
Can you suggest any others?
I am putting together some posts about a colonialism and horror, but I want to share a few links relating to indigenous filmmaking and indigenous people in film in honor of Indigenous Peoples Day (fuck Columbus day). Feminist Film has relevant posts under #colonialism and #indigenous issues.
CBC, in conjunction with its documentary series 8th Fire, offers some material on Canadian aboriginal filmmakers. It’s great! You can also watch 8th Fire online, but I think it might only work in Canada.
Basically Black was the first all-indigenous tv show in Australia. We’ve mentioned this before, but I wanted to point out this site, which offers some information as well as reading materials about the history of aboriginal television in Australia.
Maori Television is a New Zealand station that was launched as part of an indigenous language and culture revitalization movement. Their website has videos, some of which are in English. Here's an article about how Maori rights organizers worked to get it on the air, and why it's important. In the future, I'll try to find more articles about the connections between film (and television) and language revitalization globally.
TCM's site has a section to accompany their Native American Images film series, which offers a essays about native representation in Hollywood. It's actually pretty interesting.
Finally, Native Networks offers some resources for indigenous filmmakers and about indigenous film. It is part of the National Museum for the American Indian, which hosts the Native American Film + Video Festival.
I have also put together some information on native women filmmakers, but I’m gonna spread those posts out throughout the month!
I managed to (finally) update our topics and tags page. It’s far from exhaustive, but hopefully it’ll make the site more navigable and give you some insight into how we organize stuff. If you are looking for something in particular—say, Jersey Shore—you can look to see if we’ve got a tag for it: “http://feministfilm.tumblr.com/tagged/jersey+shore.” And there’s our search form, but tumblr’s search function is shady. Remember, you can always do a google search that looks like this: “Jersey Shore site:feministfilm.tumblr.com”
TOP 5 HORROR HEROINES
#4: Ashley Laurence as Kirsty Cotton in Hellraiser
When you think of the Hellraiser films, Kirsty Cotton isn’t exactly at the forefront of your mind. No, the focus lies with the twisted creations of Clive Barker - Pinhead and the other cenobites, which is a bit of a shame, really. To put it simply, Kirsty is the ultimate foil to Pinhead and his band of monsters. Like many other horror heroines, she represents goodness and hope. Most of all, she expresses curiosity and then repulsion when she comes across the box and learns of its true uses. Kirsty is also shown as being very loyal to her family. She out right resents her step mother, Julia and often takes her father’s side, and seems a bit wary when it comes to his choice of a wife. And by the end of the film, all of her precautions and suspicions are actually warranted. She literally loses what is most important to her, and by then she has nothing left to lose. To me, the Hellraiser series would just not be the same without seeing it through the eyes of Kirsty. Why? Because she basically represents the audience, by seeing and being exposed to the cenobites’ awful realm first hand - much like we were when we all first watched this film - she sort of guides you through this bizarre, unreal world, and all the while, we root for her. She’s an even stronger heroine in the film’s sequel, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, where she is hell-bent on delivering justice to her father, by taking on the cenobites. Both of these films are a must watch, Ashley Laurence plays her character very well and believably.
*I’ve included some pictures of her from a few of the Hellraiser comics I own, just because I thought it would be fitting - they really captured the actress’ likeness.
6 Great Coming of Age Films (featuring people of color):
Escaping a strict Muslim upbringing and painful memories, Tariq enters college and a completely different world. Amidst backlash and violence due to the 9/11 attacks, Tariq must reconcile his past with his faith, and his own beliefs.
Na-Mi transfers to a new school and sticks out like a sore thumb. A group of girls come to her aide, and they form a life-long bond.
Love of Siam (2007)
A tragic loss separates two childhood friends. Upon reuniting, years later, they explore new feelings.
A Brooklyn teenager juggles conflicting identities and risks friendship, heartbreak, and family in a desperate search for sexual expression.
The day Jordin is suspended from school for insulting a teacher, he meets Felipa, a bookish, no-nonsense New York girl who sees past the swaggering facade.
Set on the east coast of New Zealand in the year 1984, Boy, an 11-year-old kid and devout Michael Jackson fan gets a chance to know his father, who has returned to find a bag of money he buried years ago.
*PBS also has a great selection of short films focused on “growing pains”.
We’ve got a horror-themed icon for a little while. Right now it’s Rhonda from Trick ‘r Treat, and (surprise) I’ve got some feelings about her. (Soon.) After Halloween we’ll go back to Rue! I promise.
I’m trying to keep up with some non-horror content, too, but I can’t make any promises. Are any of you guys writing about Fall shows? I have to admit I’m not really paying attention to much of it, but I’ve been reading a lot of people’s responses, to The Mindy Project especially. I’ll post some of that. Our friend Pilot is covering shows for the AV Club now, which is great and fated and we’re very happy for her because this is like her dream job and you should read her. She’s been writing about 2 Broke Girls, which is pretty much always of feminist concern.
If you’ve got some things to say about shows (or, you know, anything), submit.
Me? Uh…Saturday’s iCarly was amazing! I stay up all night, almost every night, and catch the early morning ABC Family Boy Meets World block wedged between the six a.m. evangelicals and 700 Club. I’d be writing about it, but I’ve become emotionally compromised by tearing open childhood Trailer Trash wounds and by the heavy, awful burden of Having Lived Through Nineties Family Values Neoliberal Bullshit. One never recovers! But I gotta say I’m not entirely mad: Eric Matthews might be one of my favorite television characters, like, ever? And the jokes are usually right on my level.