Media


PennyHollis

Black adults are 20 percent more likely than white adults to report serious psychological distress, and yet many are apprehensive about seeking professional help for mental health issues.

But there’s a new artistic effort to change this reality.

D.C. independent filmmaker Penny Hollis is working on two films which center the experiences of Black individuals dealing with untreated mental illness. In The Birthday Gift, a homeless man burdened by the weight of his past and an un-compassionate society wrestles with depression while searching for the perfect gift for his wife. In Maxine, a middle-aged teacher coping with the aftermath of a brutal attack is thrust into a state of paranoia that puts her students and job in jeopardy.

As a person who has struggled with depression and who has a number of family members with mental illnesses, Penny creates films that approach the subject with uncanny compassion and honesty. She’s a friend and neighbor who I’ve seen over the years, and when she heard I was a writer, her face lit up: “I have to show you my short film about abortion,” she exclaimed, referring to a past project.

Right now, Penny is fundraising to finish The Birthday Gift and Maxine, so please join me in helping her reach the goal by *this Sunday.* It’s important for me to support Black artists, and Penny also has a majority-Black production team. She’s ready to get these films out there!

In the meantime, read my Q&A with Penny below, in which I speak to her about these deeply personal films:

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UPDATE: [1:46 pm]:  Samhita over at Feministing says it way better than I can: “I ask not ‘where is occupy?’ but what will it take for the mainstream political [conversation] to reflect [Occupy Wall Street] values?” Read her.

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It’s the beginning of year two of this movement. Almost one year ago, I filmed this video of the mass protest and march in Times Square NYC:

The crowds are now smaller, and I think it will take something major–like the election of Mitt Romney–to see crowds that big again.

But the urgency still exists, and I think most of the people who ever participated in any Occupy events would agree.

I have to admit, every time I’d walk by the remnants of the movement–stragglers still meeting, camping out, human mic-ing, arguing, squatting around the Financial and Flatiron District–I’d feel a mixture of regret for not getting more involved and a simultaneous tinge of judgment. Like, you’re still trying to revive this movement, to capitalize on that original energy? Of course most people only have the energy and interest for the occasional march and protest and aren’t going to be in it for the long haul, to build organization infrastructure (or organic structure, whatever the case may be). I am only somewhat surprised to remember that I–someone who a few years ago would have been in the front lines–is stepping back, observing, commenting.

There’s a place for everyone in this movement. The movement for transparency in our government, for getting corporate money out of our elections, for getting the financial priorities in this country realigned so that we don’t have teachers needing to strike in Chicago while other people are getting their pockets lined with bonuses and tax breaks.

I salute you Occupiers all over the country and the world. I salute the tens of thousands of anti-Putin protesters who gathered in Russia two days ago. I salute the Libyans who condemned the violence against the U.S. Ambassador.

Let’s get back to work, whatever that looks like for you.

1.) Sam Taylor just finished an eleven-month tour in Iraq as a chaplain’s assistant with the U.S. army. While enlisted, she hid her transgender identity and even dealt with a fellow soldier who insisted that all ” ‘she-males’ would be rounded up and killed ” in a just world. Taylor is back home in North Carolina and beginning to resume the life she left behind, beginning to take estrogen, coming out to the men she served alongside. When speaking to the Chapel Hill News in a recent article, she wouldn’t comment on how estrogen was changing her body:

“I feel that, because there are so many stories and jokes and ideas about what happens to a trans woman’s body … and because that journey is often so visible to the outside world, non-trans people often feel that they are no longer bounded by standards of politeness when it comes to questions about a trans person’s body,” she said.

2.) The AP did an important story about LGBT homeless youth, a community left behind by politics and budget cuts. The article has photos and stories from homeless youth in Detroit and New York City. It paints a grim picture of the dearth of services, but a strong picture of resilience and self-made community. The good news is that the Obama administration is hosting a “national conference on housing and homelessness in America’s LGBT communities” today in Detroit.

Baresco Escobar, 19, from Fairfax, Va., an aspiring entertainer who identifies himself as bisexual, visits a local fast food hangout in Manhattan's Union Square popular with youth from the LGBT - lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender community, Thursday, March 1, 2012, in New York. When he leaves in the late evening, Escobar goes to the far end of Brooklyn to sleep in an abandoned house with dozens of other homeless kids, covering bare floors with blankets and cuddling for warmth. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

3.) UH-OH: “The [Utah] Legislature gave final passage Tuesday to a bill that would let schools skip teaching sex education and prohibit instruction in the use of contraception.” Schools in Utah already allow parents to opt-out of having their kids attend sex-education classes, but under this new bill, schools can choose to skip the topic altogether, and if they do teach, they must cover abstinence only.

A new Oxygen network show (“Brooklyn 11223“) is focusing on people of Italian descent living in Bay Ridge, the waterfront district of southwest Brooklyn. Too bad the neighborhood is increasingly made up of a mix of immigrant communities, including Chinese and Egyptians.  Watch the trailer below:

I’ve already written about “Russian Dolls,” Lifetime network’s short-lived show about Russians in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach. I’m not surprised that just as Brighton locals protested the Lifetime show, Bay Ridge locals (joined by local councilmembers and politicians) are protesting this new Oxygen release for degrading women and portraying their community in a negative light (the show’s tagline is all about “betrayal”).

Producers are calling Bay Ridge a “small, close-knit community” in the same way that “Russian Dolls” producers called Brighton Beach a “mysterious” and “highly protective community.” I called their bluff  in my review of the show.

It seems that TV producers keep trying to recycle the same cliched tropes in the hopes of reaching Jersey Shore or Real Housewives levels of success and fame. How far can you go on shoddy production, weak story lines, forced drama, and a fetishizing of a neighborhood that is nothing like the show’s depiction? Let’s see how long this one lasts…

Screen capture of Nick Ripatrazone's essay at The Millions

Nick Ripatrazone writes “On Getting Paid: Literary Magazines and Remuneration” over at The Millions. He doesn’t say very many new things about making a living as a writer, or about the struggles of a literary magazines and a larger system that is not financially sustainable, but there were a few choice quotes, especially in the comments. Allow me to be your summarizer and highlight what was awesome, in case you didn’t get a chance to read:

  • David Lynn (of The Kenyon Review): “Many authors today hold academic positions… promotion in the academy often depends on generating vitae with lists of publications that otherwise have earned them little beyond the price of a meal or two…”
  • From “John” in the comments: “Only on rare occasions do my individual poems ‘make’ money, and when they do, it’s usually $30-$60 that I receive 3-6 months after publication. In other words, it has little impact on my lifestyle, but a huge one on my confidence…One payment of $30 could help offset costs of printing paper, envelopes, and stamps. An additional $30 would buy me a printer ink cartridge. It sounds frivolous but these expenses add up. If 2-5 poems published a year brought in on the average of $50 a piece, I would probably use that money to fund book contest fees (which are high), thus the money would be recirculated within the industry…”
  • Comment from Roxane Gay (awesome contributor to HTMLGIANT, among other things): “Part of the problem is saturation. There are 2,800 literary magazines because there are too many people who want to be an editor instead of a member of an editorial team. There are too many people who think, ‘I have a literary vision that must be shared with the world,’ and not enough people who find ways to get involved with existing magazines…Magazines, even small ones, receive 8,000-15,000 or more submissions a year because writers would rather be published than subscribe to those same magazines. We have somehow spawned an environment where we equate publication rather than subscription with participation in literary culture because there are so many magazines and it is so easy to get published.
  • Nick Mamatas: “The comments about editorial imagination are spot on. People can huff all they like that editors do try—but clearly the overwhelming majority of them don’t. That’s why there are endless identical-looking print journals out there, often named _____ Review. The few exceptions: McSweeney’s, Black Clock, etc. look different, feel different, and have a different quality of reading experience. And they likely are more financially stable.

About 150 homeless campers and activists affiliated with the OccupyNOLA movement were evicted from Duncan Plaza yesterday, Tuesday December 6. They had been occupying the space across from the New Orleans City Hall for two months.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu said that “public health issues, such as unsafe electrical outlets and unsanitary conditions” were part of the motivation for the police sweep. After some homeless were offered temporary shelter, remaining protestors dragged their belongings across the street. “By 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday…dozens of city workers had already piled tents, sleeping bags, and other personal items into dumptrucks parked in the plaza.”  The plaza was fully cleared and scrubbed clean with power washers.

Some photos of the forced eviction from WWL.com:

This is one at least half a dozen trucks filled with tents, tables, and other gear protesters had brought to the park

This is one at least half a dozen trucks filled with tents, tables, and other gear protesters had brought to the park

Here are photos that I took in the very same Duncan Plaza on approximately December 21, 2007:

City contracted waste removal employees dragged any remaining tents and belongings into trash compactors, clearing the plaza, which earlier had been filled with hundreds of homeless.

City contracted waste removal employees dragged any remaining tents and belongings into trash compactors, clearing the plaza, which earlier had been filled with hundreds of homeless.

Yes, it looks eerily familiar. In ’07, the encampment was a post-Katrina right-to-affordable-housing protest. Homeless people and those kicked out of the soon-to-be-demolished public housing units were demanding that public housing be reopened and that the city not forget its poorest residents. City-contracted waste removal employees dragged tents and belongings into trash compactors, clearing the plaza, which earlier had been filled with hundreds of homeless people. (See more from my original reporting back then.)

One theory from 2007 that seems perfectly applicable to this recent eviction: that the forced removal was timed for the holiday season beautification and to make sure that tourists didn’t see the tent city. (The Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where the much-beloved New Orleans Saints play, is located nearby.)

So really not much has changed. Much of New Orleans’ public housing stock was demolished even though it wasn’t significantly damaged by Hurricane Katrina. There are little to no viable replacements. People in 2011 are protesting skyrocketing rents and a city government that is out of touch with the needs of the 99%. A forcible eviction of tents in Duncan Plaza comes around Christmas time.

The only good news is that today, a Judge overruled the Mayor’s decision and has allowed occupiers to return to the Plaza, but only for seven days while the judicial reprieve process is worked out.

The only lesson we ever learn is that we never learn.

Police detain an activist during a protest rally by opposition group "Another Russia" in central Moscow Sunday. (Reuters)

For the last two days, Muscovites have been taking to the streets to protest the recent (and rigged) Russian parliamentary election results. They have been joined by many people from other Russian cities who have dropped everything to join these unprecedented protests.

For a summary of the activities that took place on Monday and Tuesday, click here and here. The WaPo also has some good photos. You can also see my Twitter feed, where I’ve been re-tweeting the live tweets directly from the streets.

Here are a few important takeaways:

  1. Many of the participants are first-time protestors. Before this, they considered themselves too cynical to participate in oppositional activism, let alone vote in elections they knew to be rigged. Thousands upon thousands are meeting in the streets despite the heavy (and predictably violent) presence of police and special forces.
  2. People are very active online, on Facebook for events, and on Twitter (the hashtag for Monday was #5dec or #5дек, but I’m not sure what they are using now). Some are drawing comparisons to Tahrir Square.
  3. There are widespread (and deeply-held) rumors that Americans and other foreigners are paying Russians $$ to participate in such protests in order to tarnish Russia’s image. Putin has said things to spread this type of belief in the past. Even activists are wary of American support (as evidence by the tone when I wrote an English-language message of support on Facebook).
  4. Putin’s response has been to organize massive rallies of supporters for the “United Russia” party. People are being bused to Moscow, and one woman, when asked why she was joining, replied: “I don’t know–they just put us on a bus.”

This LiveJournal user (reminder: LiveJournal or Живо́й Журна́л is a serious blogging platform in Russia) posted some great photos. I’ve translated some of the signs in the images:

  • Photo #3: Police attempted to keep #s low by using metal detectors. So many people showed up that they spilled onto neighboring boulevards.
  • Photo #5: “These elections are a farce” and “UnitedRussia in the trash” (except the Russian has great word play that I can’t translate).
  • Photo #4: “Russia Will Be Free” and “We’ll Return Power to the People.”
  • Photo #6: “Gays and Lesbians Against Crooks and Thieves.”
  • Last photo reads “United Russia is the party of crooks and thieves.”

Let’s see what comes of all this. And don’t forget that the presidential elections are coming up in March, when Putin is expected to take back his old job (how convenient).

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