Monthly Archives: February 2013

Freedom’s Sisters

Laurie says:

The Freedom’s Sisters Exhibition is at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.  The website is an exhibition in it’s own right.

Much of our national memory of the civil rights movement is embodied by male figureheads whose visibility in boycotts, legal proceedings, and mass demonstrations dominated newspaper and television coverage in the 1950s and 1960s. While less prominent in the media, a group of extraordinary women also shaped much of the spirit and substance of civil rights in America, just as their mothers and grandmothers had done for decades. That … brings to life 20 African American women. The women range from key 19th century historical figures to contemporary leaders who have fought for equality for people of color.

The National Civil Rights Museum is … at the Lorraine Motel, the assassination site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It chronicles key episodes of the American civil rights movement and the legacy of this movement to inspire participation in civil and human rights efforts globally. The Freedom’s Sisters exhibit runs through 2013.

Melissa Harris-Perry did a tour of the exhibition that’s fascinating

It was hard to decide which women I would blog about here since all of them are remarkable heroes.

Septima Poinsette Clark was any early civil rights warrior in the 19th century that I have always admired.


The photo is from Brian Lanker’s book I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America.  The book is a series of superb fine art portraits.

Clark is known as the “Grandmother of the Civil Rights Movement” because of her work for equal access to education and civil rights for African Americans several decades before the rise of national awareness of racial inequality. In 1919, she became involved in the NAACP and persuaded community members to sign petitions to allow blacks to become principals in Charleston’s public schools and enjoyed the legal victory when they were given that right. Clark was later fired from her job because of a legislature that banned city and state employees from being involved with civil rights organizations.

I heard Barbara Jordan‘s speech at the 1976 Democratic Convention.  It knocked me out.  She was a stunning, charismatic, forceful and cogent speaker.

 

A champion of the poor and disadvantaged, Jordan sponsored the Workmen’s Compensation Act, increasing maximum benefits paid to injured workers and the renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. She won a seat in the Texas Senate in 1966 becoming the first African American state senator since 1883 and the first black woman to serve in that body. Jordan was considered by President Jimmy Carter for Attorney General or Ambassador to the United Nations, but chose to remain in the U.S. House. She received national recognition for becoming the first African American to keynote a major political convention in 1976.

 

Ida B. Wells is someone whose life I’ve be interested in for years.  Wells was amazingly brave in her long battle against  lynching at a time when it was extremely dangerous. She was an impressive and powerful speaker and traveled nationally and internationally on lecture tours.

Civil rights advocate, fearless anti-lynching crusader, suffragist, women’s rights advocate, journalist and speaker, Wells became a public figure in Memphis in 1884 when she led a campaign against segregation on the local railway. She was asked by the conductor to give up her seat on the train to a white man and ordered into the smoking or “Jim Crow” car. Wells refused to give up her seat and the conductor, assisted by two other men, dragged her out of the car. She hired an attorney and sued the railroad company. In 1910, she helped to form the NAACP and founded the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago.

Go to the website and check it all out.

Huge: When a Fat-Positive TV Series Transcends Its Source Material

Lynne Murray says:

I heard a lot about the TV series, Huge, before I found out it was based on a book by the same name. I watched the  clip of the scene that opens the series where the incandescently subversive Nikki Blonsky turns a fat camp weigh-in into a rebellious (and hot) striptease act.

I had watched all the episodes and the audio commentary before I learned the series was based on a book by Sasha Paley.

The book (unlike the TV series) should come with a trigger warning for recovering dieters. Reading it could easily bring up some unwanted flashbacks to Diet-Think. Each chapter begins with a list of what was eaten (usually not much) and how much was exercised. One camper tells another to be sure to record what she just ate, saying, “If you bite it, you write it.” The level of body snark is off the charts, with constant jealousy of thinner campers and descriptions of disgust at larger ones.

Slightly easier to endure is the rebellious Wilhelmina, who declares that if forced to go to fat camp, she will try to gain weight simply to embarrass her parents, but it’s hard to sympathize with her cruel treatment of … pretty much everybody. All the other characters live in a toxic atmosphere of anxiety around food, body size, and social isolation relieved by unsuccessful attempts to get with the cool kids or avoid the fatter kids.

Rebecca, an insightful Amazon commenter puts it well:

I ordered Huge after falling in love with the utterly endearing ABC Family series of the same name. Screen adaptations rarely live up to their original source material, so I was expecting big things (no pun intended) from Paley’s novel. But if you’re like me and are interested in seeing how the book compares to the television show, you’re going to be disappointed.

Beyond the title, the name of the main character, and the fact that it’s set at a fat camp, the book bears few similarities to its TV counterpart. The show is everything the book is not–complex, charming, layered, sweet, funny, sad. The characters, so real and so vulnerable on screen, are nothing more than cardboard stereotypes on the page. None of the show’s most interesting personalities (Alistair, Becca) are present in the book. There is no camper-counselor flirtation that parallels the George-Amber storyline, nor is there any mention of the fractured relationship between the camp director (here a bubbly redhead called “Melanie”) and her father. Pretty much all of the elements that make the TV series sparkle are noticeably absent, leaving us with a straightforward “summer camp” story, and not a particularly interesting one at that.

The TV series Huge is funny without turning the characters into fat jokes and heartfelt without forcing stereotypes on the characters. It tells a screen story that centers around and humanizes fat people, something that I don’t believe I’ve ever seen before in television or movies. The actors  are all amazing. The audio commentary provides some insight into the casting process; I was so touched by the statement in passing that the cinematography highlighted the actors’ beauty and that is a rarity for fat actors. The insight, brilliant execution and loving attention to detail illuminate the project as a labor of love, as well as a family affair–the primary authors Winnie Holzman and Savannah Dooley are a mother and daughter and Paul Dooley, the actor playing the camp director’s father is Holzman’s husband and Dooley’s father.

Holzman, Tony award winning author of the book for the Broadway musical, Wicked, and creator of the ABC TV series  My So-Called Life and her daughter talk about casting in this interview:

In L.A., with everyone trying to be as skinny as possible, how was the casting process for this show?

Winnie Holzman: For eight to 10 weeks I was saying in casting, “That person is not fat enough.”

Savannah Dooley: Casting this show was a big challenge. It was a terrifying process. I was horrified. I am a critical person. I obviously have strong feelings about how fatness is portrayed in the media. So when I hear about a show like this, in my mind I’m already thinking, how skinny are these “fat kids” going to be? We can’t half-ass this. We have to have someone who is big enough. We have to have people who look like real people.

Full-assed.

Winnie Holzman: Yes, exactly, full-assed (laughs). We did end up finding them in L.A.

Savannah Dooley: It means so much more being able to give actors this [chance] because of the limitations Hollywood is already going to be putting on them.

Winnie Holzman: We felt it. We felt right away this feeling of gratitude that we could be a part of something that would give opportunity to kids.

Savannah Dooley: Something that has frustrated us, for my whole time growing up, was the token fat character that was always a joke.

Winnie Holzman: That is a big, inspirational part of our show. We are busting through that. That is a lot of what the show is about. It is about these people who are outsiders who are finally finding a place for themselves in the world. They are feeling themselves for the first time as themselves and not just as the fat person.

Watching Huge has the profound effect of normalizing the actors’ fat bodies. I once spent a week at a NAAFA convention and, with a similar total immersion effect, the media conditioning of decades faded away. I could see my fellow fat people (and myself) as simply human without the wrongness that we have learned to attach to large bodies. That experience alone is worth more than its weight in gold and I would urge anyone who hasn’t seen the series to watch it if only for the “size acceptance in a box” factor.

Ironically, the fat camp setting of the book may be the only place where viewers will accept a story with so many fat actors, because the teenage campers are seen as trying to overcome fatness. (When I searched online for information on the fat camp phenomenon, Wikipedia was one of very few sites I could find that was not an actual ad for or article endorsing fat camps.)

The question of why the ABC Family television network wanted Huge is answered by looking at the website which, as of 2010, offered answers to nutritional and exercise questions for those “wondering if a bagel or muffin is healthier” etc. My best guess is that ABC wanted a slightly edgier take on teen body image issues and ideally hoped for a bite of The Biggest Loser payday. Unfortunately, ratings were not spectacular enough to get the show extended past its first ten episodes.

Fortunately the DVD edition makes Huge accessible long term. The series broke new ground. I hope others will learn from its excellence just how to dramatize fat characters with depth and insight.