The impulse to restrict: Many people have commented on the greatness of Lupita Nyong’o’s acceptance speech Sunday night.
“It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is due to so much pain in someone else’s,” Nyong’o said as she started, referring to the life of the woman she portrayed in 12 Years a Slave.
We’ll admit it—we wouldn’t have thought about that if she hadn’t said it. On the other hand, once someone has said such a thing, do you get to celebrate at all? Should Steve McQueen have jumped for joy in the way he did?
We don’t know the answer.
(We see where Nyong’o is now in Paris, being approached there, as Hemingway said he was, by the group he called “the rich.” We hope her resistance is great.)
Nyong’o’s speech had a series of grace points. That said, we were most struck by something she said to McQueen as she thanked him for all he had brought to the film:
“I am certain that the dead are standing about you and watching and they are grateful and so am I.”
What an unusual expression—at least, unusual in these parts. We thought of the Djimon Hounsou character in In America, telling two children about his conception of Halloween, a conception which came from within a different culture:
MATEO: Halloween is called the Day of Ancestors, when the dead come back and we hear their voices.There was more to what he said.
CHRISTY: How do you hear them?
MATEO: You hear their voices through the men dancing.
What a blessing, to be allowed to hear an expression from within a different culture! We don’t have cosmological views ourselves. But our own culture has developed a very limited, highly parochial sense of the mystery of the cosmos. It’s a treat to hear an expression from within a culture which may be a bit less restricted.
Nyong’o was exceptionally intelligent and searching in her remarks. So, we thought, was Cate Blanchett, who spoke with great intelligence about how good it would be to have more films which explored the perspectives of women. Our media tend to focus on Hollywood’s endless inanities. It’s easy to forget that there are people within its orbit who are so bright and so mature, who have so much to offer.
It has been almost thirty years since Paul Simon’s Graceland, an album which explored how much people have to gain from other cultures around the world. Then too, we have the impulses which are routinely being expressed at Salon.
This morning, Salon was headlining this complaint: “Why I can’t stand white belly dancers.”
Different people will react to this piece in different ways. The presentation notes that white women in the U.S. have been belly dancing since at least the 1890s. Eventually, Randa Jarrar says this:
JARRAR (3/4/14): Women I have confronted about this have said, “But I have been dancing for 15 years! This is something I have built a huge community on.” These women are more interested in their investment in belly dancing than in questioning and examining how their appropriation of the art causes others harm. To them, I can only say, I’m sure there are people who have been unwittingly racist for 15 years. It’s not too late. Find another form of self-expression. Make sure you’re not appropriating someone else’s.Different people will react to this piece in different ways. We think we hear a call to return to ancestral caves.
When I have argued, online and in person, with white women belly dancers, they have assured me that they learned to dance from Arab women and brown women. This is supposed to make the transaction OK. Instead, I point out that all this means is that it is perfectly all right with these teachers that their financial well-being is based on self-exploitation. As a follow-up, white belly dancers then focus on the sisterly and community aspect of belly dance. They claim that the true exploiter of belly dancing is Hollywood, and the Egyptian film industry, which helped take belly dancing out of women’s homes and placed it directly under the male gaze. Here, the argument white belly dancers try to make ignores the long history of white women’s appropriation of Eastern dancing and becomes that this, the learning and performance of belly dance, is not about race and appropriation, but about gender and resisting the patriarchy and how all of us belly dancing together is a giant middle finger to men and their male gaze-y ways.
We’ll each be permitted to do the things our ancestors were doing before the 1890s. Please don’t step outside those ancestral lines!
In Graceland, Paul Simon traced the ways the music he came to perform moved through New Orleans and up the Mississippi toward a literal and figurative Graceland. At one point on the album, Linda Ronstadt explained where she came from:
In early memory, mission musicAs a child, Ronstadt heard music with origins to the south. She wanted to sing it.
Was ringing 'round my nursery door
I said take this child, Lord
From Tucson, Arizona
Give her the wings to fly through harmony
She won't bother you no more
This is the story of how we begin to remember
This is the powerful pulsing of love in the veins...
On Sunday evening, many people gained from the expansion of Hollywood’s pitiful orbit. In our view, Salon sometimes seems to be trying to shove everyone back into ancestral boxes.
This has been tried around the world. Powerful pulsing of love and all, we’re not sure the project has ever quite worked.