Art, Change, Entertainment, LGBTQIA+, Media, Movies, Racism, Shannon Jeanna, Television, Transgender

Black or White? #MoviesSoWhite

In case you didn’t already know – which is crazy really because EVERYONE knows this – I’m a huge hard-core, die hard, [insert cool adjective] MJ fan. He was more than just the greatest entertainer that ever lived to me, he was an incredibly lovely human being and that’s probably what I love most about him. Anyway, a few days ago it was announced that a TV movie was going to be made, detailing an alleged road trip from New York to Ohio, involving Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando after the 9/11 attacks. As an MJ fan, I can already tell how disrespectful the mere concept is not only to Michael Jackson’s legacy, but also to that of Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando. But, let’s skip the issue that the movie in itself is based on a lie, to discuss what exactly has Black Twitter and Tumblr – and MJ fans alike – up in arms. White British actor Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare In Love) was cast to play Michael Jackson…

Ever since the announcement, a lot of people have been putting in their two cents: MJ fans argue – rightfully so – that Michael himself wouldn’t have wanted a white actor to play him, while others insist that, although he was African American, he did appear white later on in his life, making it okay for a white actor to play him.

In the midst of all this, I realized something rather important. Most people seem to forget the reason Michael’s skin was so light during the second part of his life: vitiligo. Vitiligo is an incurable skin disorder that destroys skin pigmentation by portions while putting patients at higher risk of skin cancer. Michael suffered from vitiligo universalis (universal vitiligo), meaning that depigmentation altered most of his body. This affected him tremendously and on so many levels. Having to deal with such a rare condition (touching 1% of the world’s population) was traumatic on a personal level, especially given the beauty-obsessed business he was in. This caused him to keep his condition a secret, suffering in silence for years, thus putting him in a much lonelier, more marginalized place than he was in the first place due to his ground-breaking fame. As if that wasn’t enough, mainstream media ridiculed him and made him out to be ashamed of his race, brainwashing the public into believing that he’d purposefully whitened his skin so that he might be shunned by both the black and white community. Vitiligo also affected the way he dressed: he always wore long sleeves, surgical masks and even had an umbrella-man to protect his hypersensitive skin prone to cancer. Vitiligo was therefore a huge part of Michael Jackson’s experience and identity. To erase that would be to erase part of who he was.

Michael on the set of They Don't Care About Us (how fitting!)

Michael on the set of They Don’t Care About Us (how fitting!)

So why has no one brought up the fact that if a movie was ever to be made about Michael, if anything, he should be played by a black actor who has vitiligo? Apart from Michael Jackson, there has never been a more famous person suffering from such a prominent case of vitiligo. Only very recently has the beautiful model Chantelle Winnie taken the world of fashion by storm. Despite that, people suffering from vitiligo still have very little representation in the world of movies and media at large. If I’m honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie or TV show depicting someone who has vitiligo. Making a movie about Michael Jackson is therefore the perfect opportunity to cast a black actor with vitiligo. A great opportunity not only in order to remain true to Michael’s story, but also for a black actor suffering from that skin disorder to actually get work, be put on the map and given a chance to showcase his talent. But that’s just too much asked it seems, instead all we get is yet another white guy stealing (appropriating wouldn’t be a bad word in fact) someone else’s job and therefore only managing to perpetuate the under representation – and often times misrepresentation – of a given group; in this case, black people suffering from vitiligo. Casting a white actor to play MJ strips him of the essence of what he was and represented: a talented, successful, affluent black genius who shaped the world of entertainment and broke racial barriers on one hand; and a regular black man struggling with the physical difficulties and social stigma that come with vitiligo on the other.

Proper casting is vital for so many different reasons. The first is credibility. Cis straight white non-disabled actors cannot fathom what it’s like to be part of a marginalized community. It doesn’t matter how much “research” you put into it, how much makeup and prosthetics you cake on, how many hours you spend with an accent coach, or with the real life person the story is inspired by. I don’t care if your name is Marlon Brando, or how empathetic you are, the bottom line is that you are and will always be cis, straight, white and non-disabled. Because of those inherent characteristics, and no matter how mesmerising your performance may be, you will never be able to trump that of an actor who actually possesses those characteristics by merely existing! Given the fact that you belong to a privileged group, you have no clue what it’s like to deal with transphobia, homophobia, racism, or ableism day in day out. As a member of that majority you cannot possibly grasp the nuances and subtleties of living that kind of life. Of course, one could make the case that acting is about putting yourself in the shoes of a character that is nothing like you in real life. However, in a system which oozes double standards and only allows for a “certain kind” of actor to play any existing role, while the rest only get crumbs, certain ethical rules certainly need to be set in order to restore equity.


The second reason is representation, because representation freaking matters! Newsflash: people hailing from marginalized groups actually enjoy reading books and magazines, watching movies and TV, seeing plays, and Broadway shows. Believe it or not, none of us live our lives being constant sidekicks to cis straight white non-disabled people. We are the leads in our own lives, so why not in movies also? We too deserve and long for the spotlight! Our stories matter, our opinions matter, our lives matter. I will never say this enough: Bend It Like Beckham changed my life. That kind of representation made the little brown girl in me subconsciously realize that I could take the driver’s seat. I could be the hero, I could be smart, I could be beautiful, I could be anything I wanted. I can do all that MY OWN WAY instead of constantly trying to tend towards whiteness. We live in a society that solely elevates the cis straight white non-disabled angle as the norm, the default narrative that everyone should strive towards. If you so happen to be a square peg in a round hole, you’re supposed to force yourself to fit that model until you break, instead of adapting it to who you really are. Such a mentality is toxic to us all. We all need to see different angles to broaden our horizons and better live together, and contrary to popular belief, the universe will not implode if all movies and stories do not automatically celebrate and worship cis, straight, white, non-disabled people.

tumblr_o1wrwf5emq1u55joyo1_540White privilege is profoundly embedded in society, and movies are no different. Cis straight white non-disabled actors in particular already have a wide array of roles to choose from in an industry where cis straight white non-disabled roles continue to be the rule. As if that wasn’t enough, they also get to take the scarce roles about marginalized people away from actors hailing from said groups, and who have a hard enough time as it is finding work. This is especially prevalent when it comes to roles about POC that seem to be constantly whitewashed so white actors may play them. The film industry therefore enables a bunch of white actors to play ancient Egyptians in Gods of Egypt, snow white Emma Stone gets cast to play a Hawaiian woman in Aloha, lily white Rooney Mara is even considered to play Tiger Lily in Pan, whiter-than-white-tea-drinking Benedict Cumberbatch gets to play actual Indian characters (not only Khan Noonien in Star Trek, but also Shere Khan in the upcoming Jungle Book movie), and still white Ben Affleck gets to be the Latino hero in Argo. Hollywood, French, British cinema (and should I say Western cinema at large), and let’s not forget Bollywood, has a long history of whitewashing roles that it has yet to address.

A similar phenomenon also occurs went it comes to LGBTQIA+ roles. Cis actor Jared Leto played Rayon, a trans woman in Dallas Buyers Club, which even owed him an Academy Award, when an actual trans actress could have and should have played that role. Same goes for cis Eddie Redmayne who recently played Lily, a trans woman in The Danish Girl, awarding him little to no criticism, while directly propelling him in the running for a very probable Oscar nod.

Jared Leto as Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club

Jared Leto as Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club

Another example is the infamous movie Stonewall that managed the prowess of whitewashing, cis-y-fying (is that even a word?) AND male-y-fying (now I’m just making up words) the actual story; thus magically turning Marsha P.Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two black and Latino trans women – who played a central role in the Stonewall riots – into a cis white gay man played by a cis straight (?) white actor, Jeremy Irvine. More often than not, gay and lesbian roles go to straight actors. Back in the day, Brokeback Mountain was seen as such a progressive movie, finally offering some kind of representation to gay men, while starring two straight actors: Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. When it comes to portraying lesbians, things are worse. Too often do casting directors make it a point to hire straight actresses who respond to society’s ideal of beauty (white, skinny and non-disabled) in order to fit sick male fantasies. The French coming-of-age drama movie entitled Blue Is The Warmest Color (La Vie d’Adèle), about a French teenager discovering her homosexuality was portrayed by Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos both straight as can be. Actress Adèle Exarchopoulos was in fact awarded a César (French Academy Awards) for the part. A more recent example is Carol, a story about a young aspiring photographer and her relationship with an older divorced woman, which stars none else but Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara (her again…). Yup, you guessed it: straight, straight, straight!

Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett starring in Carol

Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett starring in Carol

Claire Danes in the HBO movie Temple Grandin

Claire Danes in the HBO movie Temple Grandin

And the same “rule” applies to disabled roles, with an increasing amount of non-disabled actors “cripping up” for roles. Claire Danes for example, won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Temple Grandin, an autistic girl from Boston who went on to be a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, and even invented a stress-relieving device for autistic people. Did the casting directors even search for an autistic actress who could play the part? I seriously doubt that. Same goes for Eddie Redmayne (again!) in The Theory Of Everything who played Stephen Hawking, the famous theoretical physicist suffering from motor neurone disease. The movie owed Redmayne another Oscar nomination, all that at the expense of struggling disabled actors! Leonardo DiCaprio was also nominated for both a Golden Globe and Academy Award, at the tender age of nineteen, for his portrayal in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape of Arnie a young man suffering from developmental disability. The list goes on.

The result is that cis straight white non-disabled actors benefit doubly from this short-sighted, prejudiced system. Not only do they have millions of roles to pick and choose from, but those performances are often greatly applauded by the mass cis straight, white non-disabled public just as clueless about the realities of the communities whose narratives are stolen from. This makes me think of Black Swan. Majority of the public ignorant of ballet, actually believed that Natalie Portman did a lot of the dancing herself, which in fact sparked quite a controversy as to whether or not she truly deserved to win the Academy Award. The truth was that ballet dancer Sarah Lane was hired to perform the dance sequences. The reason for that being that a person who hasn’t studied ballet seriously from a very young age, cannot physically perform any of the complex steps required. No matter how hard an actor may work at it, it is just impossible because they haven’t developed certain muscles that dancers do when they are kids and still growing. Same goes for cis, straight, white, non-disabled actors! You cannot grow a sexual orientation, skin color or disability, nor can you possibly grasp those struggles.

Eddie Redmayne portrayed Stephen Hawkings (right) in The Theory Of Everything

Eddie Redmayne portrayed Stephen Hawkings (right) in The Theory Of Everything

The industry seems adamant to use the slyest methods, throwing in as much money as necessary on prosthetics, makeup, coaches, consultants, so cis straight white non-disabled people may continue snatching all the roles for themselves, instead of footing the bill for hiring actors who actually inherently, and naturally possess whatever characteristics needed for said roles.

Keen status-quo defenders are quick to argue that no, it isn’t racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, etc. We’re just being oversensitive! Perhaps – in Charlotte Rampling’s own words – black actors just aren’t talented enough, and fighting for more diversity in film really is “anti-white racism”. Or how about Ridley Scott’s two cents? Movies wouldn’t be funded if actors from marginalized groups were cast as leads. I mean, it is public knowledge that the only good, famous actors out there happen to be cis, straight white and non-disabled! Let’s please pretend like it has nothing to do with centuries of unfair advantages awarded by white supremacist, patriarchal societies thriving on slavery, colonisation and the constant shunning of LGBTQIA+ and disabled communities! “White privilege? There is no such thing! Black lives don’t matter! All lives matter!” Such attitudes only contribute to one thing: strengthening the status quo. Viola Davis couldn’t have been more right: “the only thing that separates women of color [and marginalized groups in general] from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” Nor can you become a bankable, studio friendly actor if you aren’t given a chance to shine in the first place.

And please let us not make excuses for the actors who have the audacity of taking on said roles. The aforementioned people are big names and in no way need these roles to survive in the business. For one missed business venture, hundred other opportunities follow!  Those faces are literally in EVERY OTHER MOVIE! It is therefore their responsibility to turn down roles that they would otherwise be STEALING from struggling actors from given marginalized groups. They (just as much as casting directors) should be held accountable for their actions by the public, instead of being blindly revered for something that isn’t theirs to play with in the first place.

diversityWhile it is great that #OscarsSoWhite has been grabbing so much attention, even leading to the adoption of concrete measures, let’s not make this an annual thing. Part of the reason Oscars are so white is because movies in general – released worldwide all year round – are so overwhelmingly white, cis, straight and non-disabled. Movies (and media in general) are made by and for people belonging to that privileged group. So maybe instead of just boycotting the Oscars, we should concentrate our energy on boycotting movies that lack diversity both in front and behind the camera. Minority groups have buying power, and if President Obama’s reelection has taught us anything, it is that united we no longer are a minority. Our voices count and have an impact. Remember what happened to the Stonewall movie? It tanked because and only because we all agreed to boycott. See how everyone’s talking about responsible eating? How about we made responsible movie-watching a thing? The rule is simple: if “African Americans and other minorities [including the LGBTQIA+ and disabled communities] don’t have fully realised lives rather than serve as scenery in white [cis, straight, non-disabled] stories”, then don’t watch it, don’t contribute to its box office revenue. No diversity, no money.

The manner in which media is constructed only benefits cis straight non-disabled white people. So while I cannot stress enough how important it is for POC, LGBTQIA+, disabled people to keep on writing our own stories, this also proves how critical it is that we occupy positions of leadership within the industry, (in all areas, from casting to directing and also Academy/César/BAFTA/etc. memberships) or else, the stories that we keep telling, OUR stories, will continue being whitewashed and miscast to further perpetuate our under-representation and misrepresentation, contributing in our erasure of media, and in time of History itself.

Some things in life they just don’t wanna see But if Martin Luther was livin’, he wouldn’t let this be

They Don’t Care About Us – Michael Jackson

Art, Entertainment, Media, Music, Rebel With A Cause, Shannon Jeanna

Grammys 2015 top 5 performances and snubs

So the Grammys came and went, and I got to say that contrary to what I’d expected, the show was actually pretty good (that is why I’m writing about it so late, woops). Of course, I will not go as far as to assert that it was anywhere near how mind blowing the Grammys used to be back in the day when legends like Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder or Prince would perform and take home the trophies; but I will say this: compared to last year’s Grammys that were a total let down and felt more like the Teen Choice Awards than anything else, this year’s show was much much better in terms of substance. Of course, there still were a few Teen Choice worthy performances (*cough cough* Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani) and nominations (Shake It Off by Taylor Swift, Fancy by Iggy Azalea, and All About That Base by Meghan Trainor, really?), but hey at least most of the wins were Grammy worthy. I think…

So without further ado, here’s Rebel’s top Grammy performances of 2015:

#4 Pharell Willams, Lang Lang and Hans Zimmer – Happy

Now I know that this performance has had a lot of people torn, but I thought that it was a pretty interesting rendition of what is essentially THE happy-go-lucky hit of 2014. So I thought that it took some major balls (or tits) to give it such a dark and epic twist. Add to that the most unexpected of collabs and you got yourself a party! Speaking of unexpected collabs, believe it or not, I’m not referring to Lang Lang who is pretty famous for working with all sorts of artists (anyone remember his performance with Metallica last year?) I’m actually referring to Hans Zimmer on guitar. Now that was literally the LAST thing I was expecting, but I’m still loving it! Not sure though that I actually heard any of his guitar playing but my guess is that his role was more in the musical arrangement department. Plus, did you notice Pharell shaking in the beginning? Guess even the most successful of artists still get nervous even after being in the business for so long. I thought it was kind of endearing, so much that it almost made me want to forgive him for wearing a Native American headdress on the cover of Elle. Almost.

#3 AC/DC – Rock Or Bust & Highway to Hell

I don’t think this even needs explaining, but I will say that it was really cool seeing them reunited with drummer Chris Slade. Were they trying to make up for Malcolm Young’s absence? Still super bummed about that by the way…

#2 Mary J Blige – Stay With Me

Let’s be honest, it’s impossible to go wrong when Queen Mary’s in the house. That woman has so much class and stage presence, it’s hard not to get hit with massive feels.

#1 Ed Sheeran, John Mayer, Herbie Hancock and QuestLove – Thinking Out Loud

Such a beautiful collaboration to an epically romantic and soulful song. John Mayer’s signature sound is so present in it that I was POSITIVE that he had written it and that it was his flawless guitar skills on the original track, so when I saw him on stage, I thought that it made so much sense. Herbie Hancock’s beautiful piano playing gave the performance an interesting and unexpected calypso feel and QuestLove is probably the most chill drummer ever. Who else felt all warm and fuzzy inside?

Grammy snubs

As a whole, I thought that most of the award recipients deserved their wins. I do have some reservations though on seeing Sam Smith win four Grammys; one would have sufficed, two at best. Given the overall track list of his album “In The Lonely Hour”, I don’t think it necessarily deserved to win “Best Pop Vocal Album”, that in my opinion should have gone to Ed Sheeran’s “X” album. As for Best R&B song, I honestly feel like New Flame by Chris Brown, Usher and Rick Ross which featured some mad vocals deserved to win.

There definitely were some other pretty noticeable snubs as well unfortunately. Some albums, despite being pure GOLD, either didn’t win or simply weren’t even nominated. Here are Rebel’s must listen albums of the year:

J Cole – Forest Hills Drive

2014-forest-hill-drive-j-cole (Copy 1)

An album full of substance, bringing rap back to its roots and asking all the right questions about life, love, happiness; which is so damn refreshing given how lately rap seems to have been reduced to “money, booze and hoes” and/or so unapologetically culturally appropriated. J Cole’s album wasn’t even nominated and has got to be one of THE most noticeable snubs. Best tracks: Fire Squad, Love Yourz, and Apparently.

Aloe Blacc – Lift Your Spirit

Lift Your Spirit (Copy 1) (Copy 1)

Some classic upbeat R&B tracks that’ll make you dance along to Aloe’s deep soulful voice. The album was nominted for “Best R&B Album” and lost to Toni Braxton and Babyface’s “Love Marriage & Divorce”. Best tracks: Wake Me Up, The Man, Here Today, Lift Your Spirit, Wanna Be With You and Ticking Bomb.

Tinashe – Aquarius

tinashe-aquarius (Copy 1) (Copy 1)

Tinashe sounds a lot like Aaliyah in a peculiar blend of R&B, pop and hip hop, kind of similar to FKA Twigs’ psychedelic world, only more accessible. This album contains no less than 18 tracks, yet didn’t owe her a single nomination which really is a shame. Best tracks: Wildfire, Bated Breath, Feels Like Vegas, Cold Sweat.

Let’s be real, I just may have forgotten a ton of other talented artists who deserved to win.

What are your albums of the year and top 5 Grammy performances? Let me know in the comments section!

Art, Entertainment, Media, Movies, Racism, Shannon Jeanna, Television

Awakenings: How I woke up to the movie industry’s systemic racism

The other day, I was talking to one of my coworkers, a white French guy, who couldn’t seem to understand the uproar caused by the shameful whitewashing of Ridley Scott’s latest movie Exodus: gods and kings. I took a breath, counted up to ten to stop my blood from boiling, and calmly explained to him why it is racist that white people were cast to play Hebrews and Eygptians aka POC, and why it was doubly racist, not to mention offensive, that black people were cast solely to play slaves and criminals. Unfortunately, whatever I said seemed to be of no use and he was adamant to linger within the grasp of his clearly racist ideals.


As I continued explaining it to him as calmly as I could, I began to notice just how conditioned, if not straight up brainwashed by media he is, and it did scare me all the more when I thought to myself that he probably isn’t the only person out there who was raised and conditioned to believe such nonsense. I mean, if you think about it, all the movies ever made in Hollywood about biblical times (excluding DreamWorks’ animated movie The Prince of Egypt) or the Middle East are whitewashed; be it Hollywood classics like The Ten Commandments (1956) starring Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as Ramses II, Laurence Of Arabia (1962), starring Sir Alec Guiness as Prince Faisal King of Syria and Iraq and Anthony Quinn as Auda abu Tayi, and Cleopatra (1963) played by Elizabeth Taylor; or more recent movies like Prince of Persia (2010) and Noah (2014), all of which are composed of predominantly if not exclusively white casts when the stories are actually set in the Middle East, about Middle Easterners aka POC.

Exodus cast aka Heidi Klum's Halloween party

Exodus cast aka Heidi Klum’s Halloween party

To that severe abnormality must be added the fact that representations of people from biblical times in all forms of western art are also whitewashed, very often depicting Jesus, for example, as white and blonde with blue eyes.


Add to all of that genuine backwardness, narrow-mindedness and ignorance, and you got yourself people like my coworker, stewing in ignorance, truly led to believe that both Hebrews and Egyptians are white people. Those whitewashed images penetrate peoples’ subconscious minds without them even noticing it. Only when I googled “Egyptian people” and showed my coworker that they actually are brown skinned people, did he even begin to question things.

i don't see race

During our discussion, I tried to explain why representation is so important, and that given the fact that there are already so little roles out there for POC, that aren’t stereotypical and just ridiculous, it is only common sense that the little amount of decent roles about us should, i don’t know, go to actors of color as opposed to white actors who already have infinite other roles to choose from! As an example, I mentioned that I, as a brown girl, am NEVER represented in media. He then got me thinking about the moment I first realised that fact (probably so the heat would be off him) and I honestly couldn’t remember. Having thought about it for a few days, I finally managed to recall that while the process took time, was very gradual and is still ongoing, involving a few years of informing myself, learning, reading, watching things and basically educating myself, one event did AWAKEN me to the institutional, systemic racism perpetrated by media. That awakening began when I watched the movie Bend It Like Beckham, a comedy by Gurinder Chadha about an Indian girl born and raised in Hounslow, England. Her passion is soccer and the whole story is a pretty accurate portrayal of how the two cultures she was raised in seem to clash constantly while she’s caught in the middle, belonging to both, and alienated by both at the same time. As a French Sri Lankan raised by Sri Lankan parents and born and bred in France, that movie resonated greatly within me. Please note that to this day I’ve actually never seen a movie about a Sri Lankan raised in a foreign country, Indian is the closest I can get… I was about 14 or 15 when I finally got around to seeing Bend It Like Beckham and I remember thinking: “Oh my gosh! That is totally me!” I was suddenly awakened to what it felt like to be represented in a movie and it felt rather peculiar, in a good way.

Parminder Nagra as Jess, Kiera Knightley as Jules and Shaznay Lewis as Mel

Parminder Nagra as Jess, Kiera Knightley as Jules and Shaznay Lewis as Mel

As a 90’s kid, I grew up with TV and watched A TON of it. I knew almost every TV show out there and watched all of it with great enthusiasm without, I must admit, viewing much if any of it with a critical eye. I was clueless to the fact that very little POC were represented. That I wasn’t represented because for the longest time, I – or rather my subconscious mind – thought I was white. I grew up with Disney movies, admiring and looking up to its princesses (huge Ariel fan here), swooning for its princes (Prince Philip is a babe), and the first show that I ever watched that wasn’t a cartoon was Saved By The Bell. I had a huge crush on blonde haired Zac Morris (played by Mark Paul Gosselaar who by the way was extremely whitewashed despite being half Indonesian). I wanted to be Kelly Kapowski and had virtually no interest in Lisa Turtle, despite the fact that she was just as pretty and way more lively than Kelly (I’ve realised that only recently when watching SBTB reruns).

Saved By The Bell cast

Saved By The Bell cast

Just like everyone else, I watched shows like Lizzie McGuire, Even Stevens, Full House, Step By Step, My So Called Life, Charmed, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Roswell, Smallville, Friends, Invisible Man, Dawson’s Creek, One Tree Hill, Gossip Girl, etc. all starring predominantly, if not exclusively white casts. I was however also a big fan of more racially diverse shows like Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, Sister Sister, Family Matters, Kenan & Kel, That’s So Raven, Dark Angel, but the majority of what I did watch, or rather of what was available to me, were white shows, and none of them starred brown Asians, even as extras…

You may think “Oh poor you! How did you bear it?” to which I can only say that I didn’t know any better so it didn’t really matter to me. That is until I had that awakening. You may have heard of the movie Awakenings based on Oliver Sacks’ book, and directed by Penny Marshall (yay for female directors!). It starred Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams, in a story about a group of patients incapable of functioning properly and basically in a vegetable state. Dr. Sayer (played by Robin Williams) comes along and has the idea of using a new treatment which awakens them back into reality as fully functioning human beings, as if back from a long slumber.

Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro in Awakenings

Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro in Awakenings

When I first watched Bend It Like Beckham, it truly was a similar type of awakening for me. As if all this time I had been blind and could suddenly see. I finally got a taste of what it was like for the brown girl to be the protagonist, not the stereotyped side-kick waiting in the shadows while the white girl gets to shine. This time, the brown girl was in the spotlight! She was the one the audience was rooting for, the one who was actively chasing her dreams, the one who got the guy. It was totally new to me; being able to relate to a character in a way I never thought possible. I’ve watched that movie probably a million times (and still enjoy it to this day).

Parminder Nagra and Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Bend It Like Beckham

Parminder Nagra and Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Bend It Like Beckham

After that, I began to crave such stories, and went looking for more of that narrative, so I searched for similar movies and found almost none… Sure there was Bride And Prejudice by the same director, and while I enjoyed it, I couldn’t relate half as much as I did with Bend It Like Beckham. Then there was The Other End Of The Line by James Dodson, starring Shriya Saran, Jesse Metcalfe, and Anupam Kher (who was also in BILB), which wasn’t successful probably due to its amateurish skits, but I was ready to cut it some slack since so little movies like that have been made. There was also another movie called Bollywood Queen, starring James McAvoy and Preeya Kalidas (who played a minor role in BILB), but was so mediocre that even I can’t cut it any slack. That’s it. I searched and searched and finally had to admit that the movies made about girls that look like me: stories about brown girls in the Western world, can literally be counted on one hand! WTH!??


After that, everything I watched and read, I did it with a critical eye. I wasn’t passive anymore, I watched and read things actively and straight away noticed the lack of diversity in the media that I consumed. I discovered the terms tokenism and whitewashing which embodied those frustrating feelings I felt inside but couldn’t really put in words. I went from being conditioned by media into cluelessness, blissfully ignorant of the problem, to being awake and painfully aware of it. After that, everything I watched and read made me feel forgotten and ignored, and I began to question things. When I watched a show, I no longer related to the protagonist just because they were the protagonist, I no longer shipped characters together, just because I was supposed to. I used my brain, and began to relate to the characters that embodied what I felt like, which is forgotten, overlooked and unimportant. I related to all the under-developed characters, the forgotten ones, the so called irrelevant ones. I felt for those characters that were designed to be nothing more than tropes, plot devices, the best friend, the “magical negro”, the comic relief, lacking depth and devoid of much if any character development and story line. All these “characters” have one common denominator though: 99% of the time, they are played by actors of color.

Fourth from the right is Bonnie Bennett, cast as the "magical negro", the only POC on the CW's hit show The Vampire Diaries

Fourth from the right is Bonnie Bennett, cast as the “magical negro”, the only POC on the CW’s hit show The Vampire Diaries

I kept asking myself why it didn’t seem to bother anyone that we always get to see the same people be protagonists and the same others being, well, The Other? Then I realised that for the longest time I myself was clueless, just like my coworker who thought that Egyptians are white. It’s not his fault, just like it wasn’t mine. We were both conditioned the same way by media, by the system. The difference is that as a POC, I had to awaken sooner or later to reality. As a white guy, my coworker can afford to simmer in blissful ignorance pretty much for the rest of his life because it’s not going to affect him whether or not Moses is played by a white guy, because there are already millions of stories out there about him that he can pick and choose from, while I have literally four movies, four representations of myself, to take away with me; the same way a black girl has very little media representing her and a First Nation girl has none. This lack of representation is however not only crucial for the main people interested (POC), but also for white people. Because when white people watch Bend It Like Beckham, that is what they’ll think brown girls are about, and while a lot of that movie is true to life, there is so much more to us than just that. Because before being Brown, or Black, or Native, we are people, complex human beings with a million different traits that story telling has hardly even begun to scrape. When it comes to POC in the media, even the tip of the iceberg remains submerged under water.


The discussion I had with my coworker the other day showed me more than ever what white privilege is to those who are either too stupid, lazy or indifferent to awaken themselves to its despicable realities. After all, why should a white person care about whitewashing, and under-representation or misrepresentation of minorities when they already have an ocean of media representing themselves? How could they even begin to understand what it feels like not to be represented when all they see all day every day are representations of themselves in every possible angle?

I know what you must be thinking: now what? Is this the end of the story? Are we to surrender and admit defeat? Hell to the no! It starts by complaining, ranting about what frustrates us, talking about it, but it should never end there. Once you’ve vented, go out and do something about it! Yes, boycotting counts, petitions count, but we cannot expect white people to write stories and make movies about us that will be portrayed accurately, because they do not know what it’s like to be us. The bottom line is that WE have to write about ourselves because we are the only ones who can do it truthfully and properly.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

Mahatma Gandhi

No situation is all positive or all negative and I do see something positive in our story. Having been so exposed and even forced to deal with stories solely revolving around white people, like players standing on the side lines, we know BOTH worlds and can write about both more accurately, thus bringing them together! As POCs, we can even write about each other! I can write about brown people, and feel like if I put in real work, respect and heart, I can also write about other POC because, while we do each have very different cultures, powerwe understand each other on the stuff that matters because we know what it’s like to be forgotten, stereotyped, diminished, dominated, ridiculed and even hated. We know what it’s like growing up with media that completely ignores us as if we’re not interesting enough or even worth talking about. But I can also write about white people because I’ve grown up and live in white culture. It’s all around me. It’s all we ever see and hear about. It is by creating, writing, filming, producing, distributing our own stories that we can truly awaken people, both POC and white to reality and the importance of diversity and representation; so that one day none of us will ever have to explain to our coworkers why movies like Exodus are shameful, or even better, such bigoted movies would never be approved for funding in the first place.

Art, Change, Greetings, Rebel With A Cause

Happy 2015 folks!

Dear reader,

I hope the year Marty McFly visited the future will be filled with joy, good health, dreams coming true and love. I wish that it will bring about progress not only regarding your own personal journey, but also for the rest of the world, and that by the end of it, we will find ourselves a step closer to true equality, respect and understanding between men and women, light skinned and dark skinned, rich and poor alike.

A person is the product of their dreams. So make sure to dream great dreams. And then try to live your dream.” Maya Angelou

I am looking forward to welcoming, meeting and connecting with new rebels, new dreamers, new artists, new creators, new people, all craving the same thing: honest and diverse representation of all of us in the media, which I believe will lead in turn to more harmony and understanding between peoples and a true change in our society.

The fight is real and we shall overcome.

My motto for this year is pretty simple, though not the easiest to keep: live. Live as in making the most of each opportunity, taking time to appreciate my blessings, decisively facing life’s obstacles, taking on the unknown with a brave heart and standing up for what is right. I will probably fail miserably at keeping such a challenging resolution, but promise to try my best.

I’ve started the year with a pretty inspirational jam, and I think you should too. Here’s to dreams coming true. 🙂

With every broken bone, I swear I lived” OneRepublic

Art, Entertainment, Media, Movies

Ring a Belle? (Review of the 2013 movie Belle)

Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers of the movie Belle. If you haven’t watched it already, go see it, then come back and read this article! 🙂

Anybody who knows me knows how most of the movies out there tend to annoy the hell out of me. Part of it, I will admit, is because I am a pretty difficult person to satisfy and I always seem to find something to nit pick. But for the most part, what annoys me to no end is how almost every single movie (and TV show) I watch has sexist and/or racist elements in it that just drive me crazy (I’m sure you know the feeling). So just as I tweeted Amma Asante (the director of Belle, who in fact favourited my tweet, yay me!), watching Belle really felt like a much needed breath of fresh air.

Amma Asante faved my tweet

Honestly, when you got yourself a political drama about slavery with just a dash of Jane Austen added to it, it’s hard to go wrong. But what I loved most about the story isn’t only the fact that it centers around a woman of color (which is something that you almost never get to see in movies) but also and mostly that both the fact that the protagonist is a woman, and a person of mixed race wasn’t portrayed in a stereotypical way. What we have with Belle is a story about people, and while certain things that they cannot control (their gender and race) affect their lives and the way society treats them, those elements do not define them.

 belle belle

Regarding women first of all, we see that they are friends, sisters, mothers, daughters, rivals at times. For instance, I really enjoyed the relationship between Dido and Elizabeth which to me, captured what a true friendship generally is. Dido and Beth are like sisters, best friends who tell each other everything and enjoy each other’s company. They look out for each other constantly. When Dido gets to know that she can’t be introduced to society due to the fact that the Mansfields consider that she could never hope to find a suitable match due to the color of her skin, Beth is almost more upset about it than Dido is. Both girls run into each other’s arms for comfort. Because that’s what they are to each other: best friends, sisters, a safe haven. There is a common misconception that women hate each other but, if you are a woman, think for a moment, who are your best friends? Who are the people you feel you can tell anything to, the people who really got your back? Chances are they’re mostly women; and this movie depicted it wonderfully.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido and Sarah Gadon as Elizabeth

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido and Sarah Gadon as Elizabeth

Dido also showed Beth much compassion when she offered to give her a portion of her heritage in order to make the latter’s dowry more attractive to potential suitors, or when she gave her a shoulder to cry on when James Ashford turned out refusing her affections. Just like any friendship, though, there have been some rough patches. We see it when Dido confesses to Beth that James Ashford harassed her. Beth, who is completely penniless, and has been pressured into “securing her bread and butter” by finding a suitable husband, reacts very harshly to such a confession, telling Dido that he could never desire her because she is “beneath him”. She hurls out those harsh words partly due to her own racism (let’s keep it real, she’s a white girl in the 1700’s!) and partly because of her despair in seeing her one and only suitor slip through her fingers. That scene could have very easily been portrayed as a cat fight; two silly women fighting, ruining their friendship over a man. However, it came off as two friends saying things that they didn’t really mean, as it often is the case in real life.


Secondly, concerning Dido’s ethnicity, the color of her skin is something that is constantly brought up during the whole movie. Almost every scene has something to do with her blackness and how much of an “Other” she is. While she is well accepted in her white family, she cannot escape that difference. Yet what I enjoyed most was that as much as her “abnormality” seems to be brought up, none of it ever defines her. She is smart, strong-willed and witty, because that is what women of color are, they have their own personality; not because they’re women, not because they are “of color”, but simply because they are humans! That side of it came out beautifully in the movie, and was a pleasant change from the one dimensional, stereotypical women Hollywood insists on feeding us with.

cool belle

However, while the story is set in 1769 England, I found that a lot of things do still ring true in today’s society. For instance, the scene in which Oliver Ashford separates Dido’s ancestry, choosing to ignore her (black) mother’s origins and focus on her “better half” which has “equipped her with loveliness and privilege”, it is something that is still quite rampant in today’s entertainment business. Just look at the amount of shows and movies that cast actors that are black but not “too black”, East Asian, but not “too East Asian”, South Asian, but not “too South Asian”, etc. Why is it that we hardly ever see any actors that look like Lupita N’Yongo, Lucy Liu or Parminder Nagra on our screens? Generally, successful “non-white” actors are those that are lighter skinned and/or have a white connection (Halle Berry, Zoe Saldana, Jessica Alba, Jesse Williams, Kristin Kreuk, Frida Pinto, Wentworth Miller, Vanessa Hudgens, etc.). That is because casting directors, producers, networks and Hollywood as a whole has taught itself to focus on the “better half” of these actors. Because these actors’ appearance is less “ethnic”, therefore making it less “shocking” to what Hollywood deems average audience members are: poor impressionable racist white people. This is obviously a huge misconception on their part. Logic dictates that audience members are diverse and come in different shapes, sizes and colors; and I also know for a fact that most white people are able to relate to characters regardless of their color. Just think about the amount of people that related to the blue aliens from Avatar! Hollywood needs to let go of its bigoted views and understand that what makes a character relateable is good writing, not the color of one’s skin. That is something that Belle has proven brilliantly.

dido n mama

Dido and her adoptive mother, Lady Mansfield, played by Emily Watson

Another thing I found really enjoyable was how being “of color” wasn’t merely shown as something that any one ought to be ashamed of or treat with derision, but rather that it was something to be proud of, something beautiful; a narrative painfully absent in movies. Speaking of people of color as beautiful is indeed something that is still somewhat unheard of in entertainment. In one scene, Dido tells Mr. Davinier that she knows nothing of her mother except for the color she’s inherited from her. “Then at least you know she was beautiful” says Mr. Davinier. You tell’em John!

Mr. Davinier was played by Sam Reid

Mr. Davinier played by Sam Reid

And for good reason! Unfortunately, white guys telling girls of color that they are beautiful, not only inside, but outside as well, is simply non-existent in most movies. Dido’s relationships with men not only breaks that trend, but is also very true to life, mirroring extremely well what women of color too often go through with white men. Mr. Davinier represents the kind of white man that we could date or marry. Then there’s James Ashford. The scene in which he sexually harasses Dido is very telling of what a lot of white men are conditioned to think about us. In that scene, you see in James Ashford’s eyes his repulsion and fear for what is different (Dido’s chocolate skin) mixed with a certain fascination and curiosity (what is different is also novel). That scene embodies the complexity of racism which in the end is a twisted mix of attraction and repulsion. In fact, racists often try to hide their racism by bragging that their best friend/wife/husband is black/asian/jewish/[insert minority]. Both Ashfords illustrate two types of white guys that I must confess I’ve often come across (though definitely not as blatantly). On one hand, there’s James Ashford, the narrow-minded white guy who has been taught and conditioned to feel attracted to only one type of beauty, the “pure English rose”; on the other hand, there’s Oliver Ashford who seems drawn to the “rare and exotic”, like some sort of sick fetishism. Though they are polar opposites when it comes to their feelings for Dido, both brothers objectify her pretty equally, treating her like a “dark body” to be consumed and/or ridiculed. Only Mr. Davinier sees Dido for who she really is, striking a perfect balance between loving her regardless of the color of her skin and recognizing the beauty of that skin.

close up dido

Belle teaches all of us a beautiful lesson of self-worth that remains much too absent in film and dare I say in life. We see how Dido gets engaged to Oliver Ashford so suddenly, despite the fact that she clearly doesn’t love him. Marrying Oliver Ashford is an opportunity of a lifetime for Dido who knows that a woman of her status could never dream of a better match and that marrying into the Ashford family would help secure her place in society, keeping her from having to replace Lady Mary Murray as house keeper. Dido keeps lying to herself, fooling herself into believing that she is in love with Oliver Ashford, because if she did refuse him, who was to say that any other respectable suitor would come her way? Isn’t that something that a lot of people ask themselves? “I don’t really love him/her, but what if I never find what I’m looking for?” That’s how we end up settling for less, rather than taking risks to pursue what it is that we really want. Mr. Davinier strikes the nail on the head when he says, “You are above reducing yourself for the sake of rank. I pray that he would marry you without a penny to your name for that is a man who would truly treasure you.” Through those words, we are taught a lesson that we may have often heard but too often forget.


While the story is set in the late 1700’s, and addresses the harsh realities women had to deal with at that time, having to sell themselves to secure their future, relegated to nothing “but [men’s] property (…) at the caprice of a silly sir and his fortune”, I found that Lady Mary Murray, played by Downton Abbey‘s own Penelope Wilton (though a supporting character) was very interesting and empowering. As a single woman who often tells Dido and Beth about her one true love that she never married, she could have very easily been portrayed as a pathetic old maid, but on the contrary, she is smart, has strong opinions, wit, is feisty, and in my opinion a true feminist, even advising Beth to “wait for no man”.


Costumes designed by Anushia Nieradzik

Of course, there is no such thing as perfect and I do have a few issues with this movie, especially regarding its failure to address even in a sentence Dido’s formative years as a slave, as well as her relationship later on with the white servants of the house (who I doubt would have appreciated taking orders from a “mulatto”) as well as with Mabel (her black maid). Addressing these issues would have helped bring more depth to the story and emphasize the harshness and sheer loneliness of Dido’s condition. The absence of such elements did therefore leave me somewhat disappointed. 

dido sees mabel

Finally, I am one of those people who stays in the theater till the very end in order to watch the credits roll, and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised to notice the amount of women involved in making this movie. Amma Asante is a British-Ghanain director, though relatively unknown, this was her second feature film and I’m excited to see what else she has in store. Misan Sigay (a black woman) wrote the screenplay (though there has been some controversy over who wrote what between Asante and herself). Due to the fact that I am so obsessed with soundtracks, I have a pretty clear idea of just how male dominated the field of film scores is. You can therefore imagine how ecstatic I was when I realised that Rachel Portman composed the music. For those who don’t know her, she was the first female composer to ever win an Academy Award (you might know her from movies such as Marvin’s Room, Emma or The Duchess) and she certainly did an exquisite job with the score of Belle, giving it a very elegantly haunting Jane Austenish quality. The movie was also edited by two women: Pia Di Ciaula and Victoria Boydell, the costumes designed by Anushia Nieradzik, and women are present in pretty much every aspect of production rather equally to their male counterparts. An honorable mention also goes to the beautiful cinematography provided by Ben Smithard (granted, he’s not a woman, but talent isn’t specific to one gender) who just blew me away with wonderful shots, some of them reminiscent (deliberately or not) of one of the most important movies about women: The Color Purple.

color purple

Dido gazing through her window


Promotional poster of The Color Purple

The quality of this movie is a testament to just how badly the entertainment industry is in need of women and people of color involved in positions of leadership (directing, producing especially). Only then can we be grazed with such truthful stories about human beings, as opposed to the stereotypical representations of women and minorities that so often pollute our minds.

Does the law not have a duty? Does the Bench and Parliament not have a duty to uphold and create the laws that progress our morality, not retard it? If not to protect us from others, then to protect us from ourselves. Laws that allow us to diminish the humanity of anybody are not laws. They are frameworks for crime. And quite frankly, I really do not care if you as an individual are without character or conscience. But a land whose laws sanction, not control, the barbarous among its citizens, that is a country whose hope is lost.” Mr. Davinier

color purpleeee

Cinematography by Ben Smithard

Each of us have a part to play in igniting that fire, whether as audience members, by supporting movies depicting women and minorities fairly; and/or as artists working hard to access leadership positions in the world of entertainment, so that stories like Belle and The Color Purple may become the rule, not the exception.

Art, Change, Media, Racism, Sexism

Enters in Rebel With A Cause

Ever watched a TV show or read a book and cringed at the sight of the token [insert any minority] character solely brought in to make the story seem inclusive?

Ever shook your head disapprovingly at the sight of women being objectified in music videos and films?

Ever wondered why and how today, in the 21st century, the media we consume still remains just as sexist and racist as it was fifty years ago?

Ever wondered what you could do to help change things?

So have I. Enters in Rebel With A Cause. Now I don’t have all the answers, in fact, I don’t have any straight forward answers to any of these issues. But I do believe that it all starts by asking the right questions. The rest will come as we go.

The most subversive people are those who ask questions.” 

Jostein Gaarder, Sophie’s World

Ask anyone what tokenism or rape culture is. Most people won’t have the slightest clue, some will argue about the real impact it has on society, and some others will even try to dismiss its existence. However, racism and sexism are not trivial subjects; they have plagued humanity ever since the dawn of time and unfortunately, the media seems to feed off of it instead of using its power and influence to break such disgusting mentalities.

Dickson, 90210's token black guy

Dickson, 90210’s token black guy

Paco Rabanne's advert promoting rape culture

Paco Rabanne’s advert promoting rape culture

Media no longer is a rare commodity only enjoyed by the richer few. In the industrialized world, 98% of households have at least one TV, global radio audiences reach 4.2 billion people, 1.4 billion people worldwide use a computer and 4.4 billion people in the world have mobile phones. Note that I haven’t even mentioned laptops, iPads, smartphones, etc. Once you’ve managed to digest all these numbers, think about the millions of TV and radio channels airing 24/7, the millions of weekly magazines, and movies out everyday; all so easily available to the masses, not to mention social media and the unfathomable amount of information that oozes every nano second out of it. Now that’s a hell of a lot to take in don’t you think?

In this wide maze of information, finding one’s voice and being heard gets tricky. It is easy to get lost both from an audience perspective and an artistic perspective. The overload of information has lead networks, producers, directors and artists to fight each other for audience attention. Imagine a room full of noisy people yelling over each other. Multiply it by a million, and you got yourself a pretty clear overview of what media is today; a hot freaking mess.

Only the voices of those who scream the loudest may be heard. So how does one manage to make their voice heard amidst all the noise? Shock value. Sex sells right? I would go further than that and say that it is provoking people that really does all the selling, whether it’s through sex, violence or hate. Provoking people is the fastest and easiest way to get the public’s attention. It’s easy, it’s fast, it’s cheap. Anybody can take their clothes off or act like a complete douchebag to get attention, but not very many people are able to create something meaningful, positive and long-lasting. That actually takes talent.

Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke's 2013 VMA performance made headlines due to its shock value

Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke’s 2013 VMA performance made headlines due to its shock value

A reality show solely meant for viewers to make fun of the protagonists

A reality show meant for viewers to make fun of its protagonists

That is why nowadays, media seems to be a system solely based on negativity; and more precisely, two destructive pillars: those of racism and sexism. Think about it, how many movies, novels or TV shows do not use the cheap ploy that is tokenism in order to seem inclusive? How many stories aren’t based on Othering people because of the color of their skin? How many music videos and movies do not objectify women and/or slut-shame them? Too little. But how much of the media that we consume every day does promote racism and rape culture? Way too much.


This blog is dedicated to peeling off the glitz and glam of show business, layer by layer until we can get down to the nitty-grity. Because everything that is released in the public arena whether music, movies, TV, or literature, everything contributes to shape our perception of the world, to such extent that it invariably ends up imprinting on our subconscious minds. As Michael Jackson once said, “If you hear a lie long enough, you start to believe it.” Scary right? Think about the amount of time that you spend each day in front of the TV and/or computer. We see so much racism, sexism, and violence everyday on our screens that we become numb to it, and that’s the real danger; because the moment we become indifferent to what is wrong, the moment we stop questioning things, that’s the moment we stop fighting to improve the world we live in, and therefore fail to make any real contribution to humanity.

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Overall, this blog is dedicated to:

  • trying to debunk the useful and the useless in today’s pop culture,

  • spark debates on what we can do in our own little way to change things for the better

  • review movies, music, novels, artists, etc. that I happen to enjoy (hey this is my blog, I make the rules!)

It is my personal belief that true art not only is meant to be beautiful and meaningful, but that it often questions the rules and has challenged the status quo more than once. This blog is for those who believe the same and wish for it to take its rightful place in the forefront of mainstream media instead of cheap shock value designed to pass off as art.

The role of the artist is to ask questions, not answer them.”

Anton Chekov

We’ve been taught to be -and have been for a long time- passive consumers of media instead of striving to become active agents of change. Let’s encourage each other to go from the former to the latter.

Join me in the adventure.