California Love: Straight Outta Compton, Tupac Shakur & Misogynoir.

This article originally appeared on Spook Magazine.

The surprise smash of the year, Straight Outta Compton, which follows the formation and subsequent breakup of gangsta rap supergroup N.W.A., hit Australian screens last week.

The film, produced by its subjects Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, along with Eazy-E’s widow, Tomika Woods-Wright, comes at a time when race relations between police and African Americans in the U.S. are fraught, much as they were around the time N.W.A. (N*ggaz Wit Attitudes) was coming up in Compton in the ’80s and the 1992 Los Angeles riots that punctuate the biopic.

There is no doubt that these are important issues and it’s refreshing to see them being dealt with by Hollywood however, as The New York Times claimed of unarmed black teen Michael Brown gunned down in Ferguson, Missouri, last year, Dre, Cube and E are “no angels”.

Much has been written about the misogynist lyrics in N.W.A.’s music, with songs such as “A Bitch Iz a Bitch”, and its members’ abusive history. Dre’s ex-fiance and the mother of one of his children, R’n’B artist Michel’le, claims he physically abused her during their relationship, while his assault on music journalist Dee Barnes in a nightclub in 1991 is widely known. Female rapper Tairrie B has also alleged that Dre punched her twice in the head and face at an afterparty for the 1990 Grammy Awards.

Much has also been written about these women’s absence from the film in an effort to make its subjects and their plights more palatable to a mainstream audience. Is the inclusion of Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur, and infamous music producer Suge Knight’s unhinged violence towards randoms who park in his spot and dog fights at Death Row Records really pertinent to the trajectory of N.W.A.? Knight’s reprehensibility aside, why take pains to paint Knight in such a bad light while glossing over Eazy-E’s drug dealing beginnings and Dre’s violence towards women? Surely movie-goers are savvy enough to feel empathy towards characters portrayed with nuance, truth and humanity.

Speaking of Tupac Shakur, his brief cameo in Straight Outta Compton (where he is played by Marcc Rose) betrays his prolific rap career that extends to this day despite his death in 1996 at the age of twenty-five. Though his music is at risk of slipping away according to the new generation of Spotify users, he remains my favourite rapper despite the dichotomy between his progressive lyrics and significantly less so actions. (My fave is problematic.)

His portrayal in the film also comes at a time when Dre and Knight took him under their Death Row wing upon his release from prison (the company posted his $1.4 million bail) for the sexual assault of a young black woman in a hotel room in 1993. During Shakur’s incarceration he became the first artist to simultaneously have a number one album on the Billboard charts and be in prison. And we wonder where our reluctance to vilify violent and criminal men who happen to create stuff we like comes from.

Unlike much of N.W.A.’s music, Shakur wrote many pro-women lyrics that can be heard in “Keep Ya Head Up”, “Baby Don’t Cry” and “Dear Mama”. So how do we reconcile his apparent entitlement to women’s bodies with said lyrics?

“Keep Ya Head Up”, for example, could be held up as a feminist anthem that extols reproductive freedom, safety from sexual assault and gender equality in general:

“And since we all came from a woman

Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman

I wonder why we take from our women

Why we rape our women, do we hate our women

I think it’s time to kill for our women

Time to heal our women, be real to our women

And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies

That will hate the ladies that make the babies

And since a man can’t make one

He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one”

On the other hand, Shakur’s missive could be seen as a precursor to songs such as John Mayer’s “Daughters”; a Nice Guy™ who wants a cookie for demonstrating basic human decency towards people of the opposite sex and other minorities.

But I’m not sure that’s the case with Shakur; released posthumously and featuring Shakur’s side band the Outlawz, “Baby Don’t Cry” explores similar themes to “Keep Ya Head Up” and is actually dually billed as “Keep Ya Head Up Part II”. With shared narration by Shakur, Edi Amin and Young Noble, the song empathises with the molestation, rape, teen parenthood, drug addiction and poverty of a young black woman.

Furthermore, one of Shakur’s best-known singles and Mother’s Day staple “Dear Mama” sifts through the rapper’s mummy issues. Shakur’s mother Afeni was a member of the Black Panther political party, a drug addict, and pregnant with Shakur whilst serving jail time for domestic terrorism charges. The single mother–helmed family moved around the U.S. often and lacked stability. Much of this is rapped about in “Dear Mama”:

“And I could see you coming home after work late

You’re in the kitchen trying to fix us a hot plate

You just working with the scraps you was given

And mama made miracles every Thanksgivin’”


“And even as a crack fiend, mama

You always was a black queen, mama

I finally understand

For a woman it ain’t easy trying to raise a man

You always was committed

A poor single mother on welfare, tell me how you did it”

As illustrated above, Shakur muses often about “black queens” and makes explicit reference to them in both “Baby Don’t Cry” and “Dear Mama”. The strong black woman trope, as explained by Trudy from the black womanist blog Gradient Lair, portrays black women as “unfeeling objects to project pain on based on compliments of us being ‘strong,’ a word often used as permission to dehumanise [us]”. In “Keep Ya Head Up”, Shakur challenges this notion, acknowledging that “Because there’s too many things for you to deal with/Dyin’ inside, but outside you’re looking fearless.”

This empathy for beaten down women extends all the way back through Shakur’s discography to his debut single, “Brenda’s Got a Baby”. Inspired by a newspaper article, Shakur raps about a pre-teen who was raped by a cousin, fell pregnant, briefly abandoned her baby in the garbage but had a change of heart and decided to raise the child on her own. She turns to drug dealing and sex work, and eventually ends up as the headline, “Prostitute found slain and Brenda’s her name”.

And in “Wonder Why They Call U Bitch”, Shakur makes it clear he feels a woman should be able to do whatever she wants with her body, whether that be “Giv[ing] it up free/or make your money on the corner,” but not everyone in his ’hood feels that way. Harkening back to “Keep Ya Head Up” again: “I was given this world, I didn’t make it.”

To be sure, the misogynoir (the intersection between blackness and femaleness) of gangsta rap, and wider culture in general, is rife in Shakur’s music. In “All About U”, Shakur, Snoop and Nate Dogg et al. rap about the “tricks”, “bitches”, “hoochies” and “sluts”—groupies, essentially—who are only after rap stars’ fame and money. Juxtaposed with Shakur’s other music mentioned above, he implies that there are different kinds of women, those worthy of respect and those who aren’t.

Echoes of this notion can be heard in Ice Cube’s recent defence of his misogynist lyrics:

“If you’re a bitch, you’re probably not going to like us… If you’re a ho, you probably don’t like us. If you’re not a ho or a bitch, don’t be jumping to the defence of these despicable females. Just like I shouldn’t be jumping to the defence of no punks or no cowards or no slimy son of a bitches that’s men. I never understood why an upstanding lady would even think we’re talking about her.”

One  would assume drug dealers and wife beaters would fall under the category of punks, cowards and slimy sons of bitches yet Cube continues to keep company with Dre…


In Straight Outta Compton, N.W.A.’s manager, Jerry Heller (played by Paul Giammati), defends the group when they’re roughhoused by police outside of the studio. “They’re artists. They’re rappers.”

“Rap is not an art,” a white police officer replies.

A lot has changed since the mid ’80s, with performers such as Notorious B.I.G., Eminem, Kanye, Kendrick and Nicki helping to redefine the rap game into something explicitly resembling art.

Which leads us to ask, can we separate the men from their art? Straight Outta Compton attempts it by denying us any real insight into its subjects. Surely audiences are smart enough to feel empathy for victims of racial profiling, police brutality and human rights abuses who also happen to victimise people themselves. But in such a racially fraught time, maybe Straight Outta Compton’s producers (who are also, without question, protecting themselves) couldn’t risk providing White Audiences with any ammunition against this plight.

Elsewhere: [NYTimes] Michael Brown Spent Last Weeks Grappling with Problems & Promise.

[NYTimes] Dr. Dre Apologises to the “Women I’ve Hurt.”

[The Daily Beast] Suge Knight’s Shocking Rap Sheet.

[Yahoo!] 50 Cent’s Sales Slide.

[Pudding] The Most Timeless Songs of All Time.

[Your Fave is Problematic] Homepage.

[Gradient Lair] What the 20-Year-Old Tupac Song “Keep Ya Head Up” Means to Me as a Womanist.

[Gradient Lair] Explanation of Misogynoir.

[Rolling Stone] N.W.A. Tell All: Inside the Original Gangstas’ Rolling Stone Cover Story.

[Jezebel] Was Banning Tyler, the Creator the Victory International Feminism Needed?

[Reappropriate] When White Audiences Have Problems with TV Diversity.

Australian TV & the Lack of Racial Diversity.

This article originally appeared on Spook Magazine.

America has experienced a racial revolution in the past twelve months both in their communities as unarmed black people are shot and killed by police and on their TV screens. The apparent “big trend” of “ethnic casting”, as Nellie Andreeva called it in a controversial March article for Deadline, can be seen all over some of the U.S.’s biggest hits, including Empire, How to Get Away with Murder, black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat and Jane the Virgin, but is bounds away from holding a mirror to the actual racial makeup of the country, which is much more diverse.

Still, Hollywood is doing a hell of a lot better in making their TV screens reflect their population than Australia. It seems the bulk of our local content is reality, and the majority of that is home renovation shows: the equivalent to watching paint dry, literally. Or watching other people watch paint dry, as with Gogglebox. There are some diamonds in the rough, like Love Child (featuring Most Popular New Talent and Most Outstanding Newcomer Logie winner Miranda Tapsell), House Husbands (with the Lebanese-Australian Firass Dirani) and Winners & Losers (which tackles taboo subjects such as domestic violence and euthanasia), but on the whole Australian TV is a wasteland of haphazard time slots and shows getting pulled off the air all together.

Take, for example, the abovementioned How to Get Away with Murder and Empire. Both enjoyed unprecedented success in the U.S. upon their debuts in September 2014 and January this year, respectively. Being a product of Shondaland, the popularity of the Viola Davis-helmed HTGAWM was a no brainer, even outdoing crown jewel Scandal in its debut. (The current season of Scandal, which just finished in the U.S., is yet to air here.) Empire seemingly came out of nowhere, proving audiences want quality melodrama regardless of who happens to be performing it.

However, in Australia both shows have been given the run around. HTGAWM was performing strongly at the start of the year, however has been replaced by Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and pushed back later and later upon each scheduled return, the most recent of which was Monday 1st June, a move from Tuesday nights. And who knows what happened to Empire? (A quick look at Ten’s website indicates the finale aired in early May.) This is why I don’t own a TV.

So what am I doing writing a piece about TV, you may ask? Then again, you may not. According to a 2009 study, less than 5 million Australians are watching TV regularly. In the six years since, we’ve seen a rise in multi-screen viewing: streaming on computers, tablets and phones; next-day catch up on that network’s website or via DVR; and waiting for the whole series to be released on DVD, Netflix or iTunes so we can binge watch. It’s no wonder Australia is a nation of pirates: when we can’t even get the shows of our American comrades until months (or even years, as with The Mindy Project on Seven, which is now airing episodes that first screened two years ago. Come on!) later, we’re left with slim options of obtaining them.

And where are the other runaway, diverse successes I mentioned at the top of this piece on Aussie TV? Airing on cable, of course. Which does nothing to debunk our pirate status. That quality TV is so hard to get in this country on a reliable, accessible, cheap and/or free platform is one of the failings of modern Australia. That and, you know, our stance on refugees.

On the other hand, the reason why such generic fodder as Married at First Sight has succeeded here may be because we’re a nation of lackadaisical, she’ll-be-right-mates. How many of Married’s viewers tuned in after a long day’s work or school for a geezer and a laugh at these pathetic guinea pigs than were actually passionate about they were consuming? We’re so used to the unbearable sameness on TV served up by a select few apparent “tastemakers” that it’s easy to forget there’s myriad other cultures out there that we’re missing out on in our pop culture. Why should Indian culture, for example, be relegated to Bollywood stereotypes instead of in prime time with something like, again, The Mindy Project? And even then, Mindy is hardly a paragon of progression.

There’s no argument to be made for the over the top soapiness of HTGAWM, Empire and the like being a factor in our reluctance to give them a go: the recently axed Revenge performed much better in Australia than on ABC in the U.S. A lot like Australia’s soaps of choice, Neighbours and Home & Away, it also seldom featured a person of colour.

It’s an embarrassment when people from other countries visit here and realise people who look like them are living their Australian lives, but rarely see representations of themselves in our media. American writer Roxane Gay was in Oz for a series of talks in March and made some astute observations about our lack of diversity, especially in advertisements.

Diversity is not a trend; it’s life. It’s about time Australian TV took a page out of U.S. networks’ books and make it one in an effort to show and normalise diversity.

Related: Domestic Violence, Sex Work, Abortion, Women Proposing to Men, Marriage Equality, Euthanasia… Who Knew Winners & Losers Would Be So Progressive?!

Three Problems With Married at First Sight.

Elsewhere: [Deadline] Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings.

[Mumbrella] Viewers Turn Away from TV in 2009.

[Techly] Aussies Watching Less TV Live But Embracing the Multi-Screen Lounge Room.

[Junkee] The U.S. Ambassador to Australia is Embarrassed by Your Pirating of Game of Thrones.

[Bitch] I Love The Mindy Project—But the Show Has Diversity Problems.

[Junkee] A Collection of Roxane Gay’s Delightfully Bemused Tweets About Australia.

[HuffPost] Shonda Rhimes Says She Isn’t “Diversifying” Television, She’s “Normalising” It—There’s a Difference. 

Amy Schumer Feels Pretty Because She Is*.

amy schumer i feel pretty

*The following contains mild spoilers for the film I Feel Pretty.

Amy Schumer is known for her scathing comedy sketches about campus rape, gendered violence in video games and ageing in Hollywood. Two sketches from her comedy show Inside Amy Schumer, one about the sexism of the One Direction anthem “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful”, the other castigating women who put themselves down, are particularly inextricable from Schumer’s public persona and the scathing cultural criticism that made her famous.

Amy Schumer is also known in Hollywood for two major movies that fly in the face of the expectations of women she skewered as a sketch comedian. Her big screen breakout, 2015’s Trainwreck, followed the natural rom-com story arc of the love of an honest man putting an end to the hard-partying, commitment-phobic ways of Schumer’s protagonist. Her most recent feature film, I Feel Pretty, premiering this week, focuses on the apparent ugliness of Schumer’s character, Renee, and the brain injury that results in self-confidence. In the stereotypical grand gesture scene, Renee goes to her boyfriend Ethan’s apartment for the first time since awaking from her confidence coma and dumping him, because how could a schlubby guy love someone as conventionally attractive as Schumer. When Renee realises Ethan can see her picking her nose through the video intercom at his apartment building, he reassures her, saying “I’ve always seen you.” And voila, she’s cured of of her bad body image and low self-worth, just as One Direction prophecised!

Women who look like Amy Schumer suffer from low self-esteem and body dysmorphia in droves, and those are completely valid concerns that are worth exploring. What I would have liked to see even more is someone with physical attributes that society doesn’t deem attractive navigating the world.

Where’s the heavily marketed blockbuster about fatness, or colourism, or disability, or transness by people who experience these things? I would love to see an adaptation of Roxane Gay’s memoir Hunger, about her struggles with her body stemming from sexual assault, on the big screen, as I would Gabourey Sidebe’s memoir This is Just My Face. Why has Lupita Nyong’o seldom been in anything other than Black Panther since her Oscar-winning role in 12 Years a Slave? I’m sure she and other dark skinned actresses would have a wealth of knowledge to bring to roles about “normal” women, but apparently only slightly chubby white women who can still rock a miniskirt like Schumer fit into that rigid category. Why not a movie starring Liz Carr, a disability rights activist and wheelchair user who acts on the British crime series Silent Witness? Or a big screen adaptation of the SBS On Demand series Homecoming Queens, created by Michelle Law and Chloe Reeson, about their alopecia and cancer diagnoses, respectively. How about a movie by and about Lizzie Velasquez, whose congenital disease preventing her from gaining weight would be quite the spin on Schumer’s schtick.

Transgender author and media personality Janet Mock wrote last year about the pretty privilege that comes with “passing” as a cisgender woman. “People who are considered pretty are more likely to be hired, have higher salaries, and are less likely to be found guilty and are sentenced less harshly.” As Renee takes a demotion from the web team for makeup company Lily LeClaire to work in a lower-paying role as an administration assistant because she suddenly feels presentable enough to work in a front-of-house position, it would seem, as a white, blonde, able-bodied, cisgender woman, she’s already benefiting from the pretty privilege Mock writes about. “Pretty privilege is also conditional and is not often extended to women who are trans, black and brown, disabled, older, and/or fat,” she continues. Transparent actress Trace Lysette also spoke about her previous preoccupation with heteronormative beauty standards on a recent podcast, and how not being “clocked” as trans protected her from becoming one of the disproportionate trans women murdered in her country. Now those are stories far more valuable than watching Amy Schumer realise she was pretty all along.

Given Schumer’s history of cultural appropriation and racism, it’s not surprising that she thinks her experience is paramount to all of the people whose experiences she’s used as a joke and to further her agenda. Schumer has come under fire multiple times for her racist stand up jokes and tweets. Even when she doesn’t explicitly intend to “play with race”, as she called it in her defence, she still manages to chafe, as with her interpretation of Beyonce’s black women empowerment anthem “Formation” with Goldie Hawn for their movie Mother/Daughter. Schumer’s retort to that came in the form of a near-nude Instagram photo, further evidence that I Feel Pretty is disingenuous.

“It’s unbecoming to acknowledge your attractiveness, so it creates a silence around pretty privilege that only elevates the competitiveness and divisiveness between women who are told we must compare, compete, and measure up in a lookist culture,” writes Mock, in a far more eloquent and considered examination of this phenomenon than I Feel Pretty is and, indeed, hearkens back to Schumer’s earlier work, the Inside Amy Schumer sketch “Compliments”.

The creative license Schumer was given in a Hollywood blockbuster such as I Feel Pretty obviously differs drastically from her cable sketch show with far lower stakes, allowing her to explore body image with more nuance. Unfortunately, this results in a short-sighted message of empowerment for women who look like Schumer: she can “feel pretty” because she is pretty by traditional metrics.

Related: Thanks for Telling Me What Makes Me Beautiful, ‘Cause I Just Wasn’t Sure.

Elsewhere: [Facebook] Inside Amy Schumer: Football Town Nights.

[Critical Commons] Inside Amy Schumer: Military Video Game & Victim Blaming.

[YouTube] Comedy Central UK: Last Fuckable Day.

[Comedy Central] Girl, You Don’t Need Makeup.

[Vimeo] Compliments.

[Allure] Being Pretty is a Privilege, But We Refuse to Acknowledge It.

[The Cut] Transparent Actress Trace Lysette on Her Online Presence.

[WaPo] Don’t Believe Her Defenders. Amy Schumer’s Jokes Are Racist.

[Digital Spy] Amy Schumer Slammed After Offensive & Racist Joke Tweet About Asians From Years Ago Resurfaces.

[The Washington Times] Amy Schumer Called Racist, Accused of Cultural Appropriation in Parody of Beyonce’s “Formation”.

[Instagram] Amy Schumer.

Image via Cinefilos Anonimos.

The Guilt That Comes With Putting Down Your Pet.


The first time my dog, Mia, presented with symptoms of a UTI or bladder infection that actually stemmed from the kidney problem that would kill her was right before I went to Sydney for the weekend. She was put on antibiotics, incontinence medication and given a topical cream for the irritation caused by incessantly licking her lady parts. My sister looked after her while I was away.

The second time was while I was right before I became homeless and I was so stressed out I cried—I rarely cry—to the very lovely and maternal veterinarian when she couldn’t offer me any answers as to Mia’s prognosis.

Though there’s never a good time for an animal to get sick, Mia’s recurring UTIs and subsequent vet appointments over the ten months prior to her death always presented themselves at inopportune times, such as housesitting obligations or an overseas trip. The most recent visit, which turned out to be her last, was right before my mum came from out of town to stay with me and we went to see Paul McCartney. Though I wasn’t all that interested in seeing him perform personally, it was a $350 60th birthday present that I didn’t really want to throw down the drain, especially when staring down the barrel of a $4000 kidney surgery.

She would never have that surgery.

I got the news the morning of the concert that Mia was too weak, took old and had too many other health problems to be a viable candidate for surgery. Though teary throughout the day, I pushed my feelings down in order to keep the date. Should I have spent that time with Mia instead and put her down a day sooner so as not to prolong her pain?

Though the medical records showing her frequent vet visits over the past 18 months (because the symptoms of what I now know was kidney failure were present long before the frequent and painful UTIs) and reassurance from multiple vets in the last days of her life  will attest that I did all I could for Mia, it doesn’t stop the what ifs. What if I had’ve sought out a specialist sooner? What if I realised her loss of appetite and heavy breathing in her last week wasn’t just her usual shunning of food for a few days and dislike of hot weather but symptomatic of something larger? What if I had more of a disposable income to pay for the surgery that would have likely killed her in the off chance that it didn’t? What if she was still the good dog she was before she got sick?

I not only miss her, but I miss the dog she used to be. I miss taking her on long walks and the joy we both got from her frolicking off leash. I miss watching her suckle her soft toys like they were pacifiers. I miss her sitting on the bed or couch next to me and not leaving a puddle of urine in her wake. I’ve since gotten a new dog, Lola, who has behavioural issues from being abused, which makes me miss Mia’s well-trained and easy going demeanor.

Though it’s shameful, I resented Mia in her last month or so. On her worst days, I thought it would be easier if she was dead, not so much to put her out of her misery but because she was becoming an inconvenience to me. She was such a good dog for so long, and on the days I’d get glimpses of that dog, I’d feel so bad for ever wishing that upon her. Now that she’s actually gone I’m wracked with guilt. Did I talk about it too much and will her death into existence? Admitting that I thought those things might make me the worst (former) dog-mum in the world but maybe there are other people dealing with sick animals who also have those uncomfortable reflections. If so, I want them to know that their feelings are valid.

2017 toppled 2016 as the worst year. I became homeless, in large part because I wanted to stop hiding Mia which is increasingly hard when you can only afford to lease an apartment in a major city, finally moving into a pet-friendly rental only six weeks before her death. Though I’m a big believer in everything happening for a reason, I have to wonder what the upheaval of my and Mia’s lives in the last year was even for.

Observing a chart on the wall of the veterinarian’s surgery, it’s estimated the average cost of dog ownership—assuming everything went smoothly and the extent of vet visits was a yearly checkup—was $750 dollars. The friend who was by my side throughout this whole ordeal and whose own pets have had major health complications in the past year, too, balked at that estimate. But Mia had always been pretty low maintenance and, in the first few years after I adopted her during which she had no health issues and subsisted on homebrand dog biscuits mixed with a slightly more expensive wet food, gave me little emotional or financial grief. She was a no-fuss dog: as long as she was by my side and I took her for a walk every day, she was happy. Even on the few occasions she would escape the backyard, she’d wait patiently on the other side of the fence, which backed directly onto the street, until my housemate or I would get home!

There was a thunderstorm the day after she died. I looked to make sure she was all tucked up in her bed by the window and I realised I enjoyed the responsibilities that became so burdensome lately. I want to get up at 5:30am to take her for a walk. I want to rush home after work to feed her. I want to brush her teeth and give her her vitamins for her joints every night because I enjoyed looking after her. I would gladly take these slight inconveniences for the heart-filling presence of Mia yelping with excitement before a walk, following me into the toilet and looking around to make sure I was still there when she woke from a nap. Rationally, I’m very self-assured, but for a moment, watching the rain fall, I pondered, who am I if I’m not Mia’s mum?

Elsewhere: [SBS Life] I Can’t Get a Rental Because I Own a Dog. So Now I’m Homeless.

Why Chyna Should Be Inducted Into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame.


This article was originally published on Harlot.

For World Wrestling Entertainment fans, the end of March/beginning of April is perhaps the most exciting time. WrestleMania is around the corner (this year’s event at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas is set to be one of the biggest ever, with an estimated 100,000 in attendance) and with it comes the annual Hall of Fame Ceremony honouring those who’ve made outstanding contributions to the world of professional wrestling. Some past inductees include Hulk Hogan (whose name has been removed since last year’s racism scandal), Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka (whose name has also been removed since he was charged last year with third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter for the death of his girlfriend Nancy Argentino in 1983) and, in the celebrity wing, Donald Trump (whose name should certainly be removed for being a reprehensible human being).

One name you won’t see in the Hall of Fame any time soon is that of Joanie Laurer, better known as late ’90s/early ’00s women’s wrestling pioneer Chyna.

Laurer, with her androgynous look, debuted in World Wrestling Entertainment in 1997 as a bodyguard for her then-partner, Triple H. Using her imposing stature, she proved she could go head to head with any male wrestler and did, winning the Intercontinental Championship, the first and only woman to ever do so, in 1999. Laurer’s other milestones include being the first-ever female entrant into the Royal Rumble and the King of the Ring tournament.

Laurer’s rise to fame coincided with the most hyper-sexualised time in professional wrestling, the Attitude Era. Women such as Sable paraded ringside in hand print pasties, a character named The Godfather (a Hall of Fame inductee this year) made his way to the ring in a pimp suit and followed by his “ho train”, and the WWE’s partnership with Playboy magazine began with Sable posing for the magazine in April and September, 1999.

Two covers from Laurer proceeded in 2000 and 2001, resulting in one of the highest-selling Playboys of all time. Laurer departed WWE soon after amidst contract disputes and personal issues while a WWE Diva (the company’s outdated term for a female wrestler) didn’t grace the pages of Playboy again until Torrie Wilson in 2003 followed by no less than six Divas getting their kit off for the publication up until 2008.

Though she never posed for Playboy during her time in WWE (but has done nude modelling elsewhere), Sunny was perhaps one of the most beloved Divas (and the one who arguably spawned the term) and was acknowledged as such when she was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.

Sunny made headlines recently when she auctioned off her Hall of Fame ring on eBay. The successful buyer, Vivid Entertainment boss Steve Hirsch, offered Sunny $100,000 and a starring role in one of Vivid’s videos for the ring. Sunny made her adult film debut in Sunny Side Up: In Through the Backdoor in January this year.

Now perhaps better known to non-wrestling fans as an adult performer like Sunny, in 2004 Laurer and her then-partner, fellow wrestler X-Pac (real name Sean Waltman), made an explicit home video that was sold through Red Light District Video entitled One Night in China, which Laurer then parlayed into a 2009 sequel, Another Night in China, as well as several other adult films.

Triple H, who is poised to one day run WWE with his now-wife Stephanie McMahon, the daughter of WWE’s owner Vince McMahon, discussed the incompatibilities between Laurer’s past and a possible Hall of Fame induction on Stone Cold Steve Austin’s podcast early last year:

“I’ve got an eight-year-old kid and my eight-year-old kid sees the Hall of Fame and my eight-year-old kid goes on the internet to look at, you know, ‘there’s Chyna, I’ve never heard of her. I’m eight years old, I’ve never heard of her, so I go put that in, and I punch it up,’ and what comes up? And I’m not criticising anybody, I’m not criticising lifestyle choices. Everybody has their reasons and I don’t know what they were and I don’t care to know. It’s not a morality thing or anything else. It’s just the fact of what it is. And that’s a difficult choice. The Hall of Fame is a funny thing in that it is not as simple as, this guy had a really good career, a legendary career, he should go in the Hall of Fame. Yeah… but we can’t because of this reason. We can’t because of this legal instance.”

So, in a largely performative ceremony with arbitrary guidelines for induction (see Trump and, inexplicably, Drew Carey in the celebrity wing), Laurer’s name will not grace the Hall of Fame any time soon despite doing more for women’s wrestling than arguably anyone.

The groundswell surrounding Laurer’s omission has been brewing for a few years now which coincides with a renaissance of sorts for women’s wrestling (co opted by WWE with its #DivasRevolution marketing campaign). With women like Asuka (formerly Kana) bringing moves from Japan to a mainstream American audience in WWE’s NXT brand and Sasha Banks and Bayley putting on matches of the year, women’s wrestling has seldom been more talked about.

Now that WWE has entered the “PG-Era” in which it’s beholden to corporate sponsors and advertisers having a porn star in its Hall of Fame just won’t do. This is a far cry from the bra and panties matches (where the loser is the first woman to get stripped down to her lingerie) and bikini contests heyday of the Attitude Era. The noughties brought Diva Searches, trading on female performers’ looks over their athletic attributes, and the abovementioned Playboy covers. Total Divas, the current E! reality show focussing on the lives of eight WWE employees, could also be seen to be using its stars’ femininity to sell a product, albeit in a more PG fashion.

Laurer and Sunny may be some of the more notable wrestlers who’ve crossed over into adult entertainment but they’re not the only ones. Beulah McGillicutty, Candice Michelle and Ashley Massaro (who was allegedly implicated in the Bella Models escort ring in 2008) have all experienced varying degrees of success in sex work. Male wrestler and Attitude Era staple Gangrel enjoyed a stint as a porn director, World Championship Wrestling’s Buff Bagwell is working as a gigolo and Joey Ryan is being sponsored by YouPorn for his sexual in ring antics. Despite all having appeared in WWE at one time or another these wrestlers no longer have direct associations with the company at the time of writing.

WWE may think it’s above its majority female former stars who’ve made their own way in sex work but it wasn’t too long ago that WWE traded on the very sexuality it’s now trying to suppress. Laurer’s high-profile blackballing from the industry shows that when these women attempt to find pleasure in their sexualities and use it for their own gain, they’re shamed for it.

Laurer made reference to this in a series of tweets that have since been deleted in which she allegedly said, “me doing porn only affects me. It was my choice to do it. Other wrestlers have done far worse and Vince welcomes them back with open arms and a friendly smile.” (I attempted to reach out to Laurer to elaborate but she didn’t return my request for comment.)

Laurer could perhaps be referring to incidences such as the 2007 double murder-suicide committed by Chris Benoit against his wife and son, Jimmy Snuka, or the myriad men who’ve behaved far worse than Laurer but are still deemed what HOF-worthy. Interestingly, WWE is yet to comment on Sunny’s selling of her ring and subsequent foray into porn and as of this writing, she still remains in the Hall of Fame. Considering Hogan’s erasure from WWE history was likely more to do with his racist comments than the fact that they were said during an illegally filmed and obtained sex tape, if Sunny is to be taken out of the Hall of Fame it might be more closely aligned with a recent Twitter tirade in which she used the word “nigg*” and hashtagged #AllLivesMatter. Then again, Confederate-flag waving group The Freebirds will be inducted this year, while Trump’s name remains despite reprehensible things he’s said about communities of colour.

To be clear, I don’t think Sunny nor any other woman with a sex work past should be removed from or prevented from being inducted into the Hall of Fame but I do wonder where the accountability and consistency from WWE is. If Sunny, Hogan et al. are any indication, Laurer’s exclusion could come down to the top brass’ proclivities on any given day.

More likely, though, is that Laurer has become more infamous for what she’s done outside of WWE than her achievements during her short time inside it and that isn’t acceptable. WWE made her therefore it will be responsible for breaking her. Throw sex into the mix, and you’ve got one of the most threatening things a woman can be: in charge of a sexuality that doesn’t necessarily jibe with one WWE deems acceptable.

Related: Are Divas Finally Being Given a Chance? 

World Wrestling Entertainment Will Never #GiveDivasAChance As Long As It Prioritises Bad Men.

Elsewhere: [WWE]’s Top 25 Matches of 2015.

[Wrestling News World] Chyna Explains the “Personal Reasons” That Caused Her to Leave WWE in 2001.

Image source unknown.

Does the Legends Football League Have a Place in the Women’s Sport Revolution?


This article was originally published on Harlot.

2015 saw a revolution in women’s sports.

Serena Williams has been kicking ass and taking names as the best tennis player in the world. The U.S. women’s soccer team decimated the competition at this year’s world cup and were called up on stage with Taylor Swift as part of her “squad” to boot. Ronda Rousey is one of the hottest commodities in both the sporting and entertainment worlds, recently saying she “wants to be the best at everything”. And, while not technically a “sport”, women’s wrestling in World Wrestling Entertainment has been experiencing its own insurgency, entitled somewhat counterintuitively “The Divas Revolution”.

So what place does Legends Football League—formerly Lingerie Football League, in which its players competed in just that—have in this revolution?

On the one hand, LFL is provides an opportunity for women interested in playing the sport to actually play it. There’s a good amount of exposure (pardon the pun) for its players, with games televised on Fuse and a reality show about the Chicago Bliss called Pretty. Strong. airing on Oxygen. Wide receiver Alli Alberts said on Pretty. Strong. that she “like[s] to be able to turn on my crazy switch and there’s [sic] not a lot of sports that you can do that in and it be socially acceptable.” Plenty of scenes show the women in practice and in the gym, perfecting their bodies for the sport while juggling their personal lives. Centre player, pharmaceutical representative and single mother Jamie Barwick says, “I spread myself extremely thin but it’s worth it because I love the game.” On the other, visibility is but one of many variables in the women’s sport revolution: fair pay, health insurance and adequately protective gear all come into play, all of which LFL denies its players. (The other two major women’s football leagues in the U.S., the Independent Women’s Football League and Women’s Football Alliance, allow their players to compete in helmets, shoulder pads and pants.)

For example, in the league’s first season, players were paid a percentage of the gate which equated to a couple hundred dollars each. Come LFL’s second season in 2010, it was apparently not feasible to continue paying them, however as a private company LFL’s earnings aren’t made available to the public so it’s unclear whether this was truly the case. Also in 2010, games were edited down to fit a 30–minute timeslot on MTV2 on Friday nights, the death knell of television programming.

In a piece published earlier this year on the now-defunct Grantland, Professor Charlene Weaving of St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Canada, is quoted as saying that “women athletes are accustomed to playing for less than men or for nothing at all.”

The lingerie aspect of LFL has caused controversy and while I acknowledge that booty shorts, bare midriffs and boosted cleavage sexualises women in sport detrimentally and they certainly wouldn’t be my first choice for outfitting female football players what concerns me more is the un-protective nature of the gear. In a sport as aggressive as football it should be a crime to be so exposed. While the competitors in women’s beach volleyball and women’s wrestling, for example, wear similarly skimpy uniforms or gear, they are not as contact-heavy nor the stakes as high as football, respectively. The comparison to LFL’s male counterparts’ regalia in the National Football League is stark: they are almost completely covered (yet injuries still abound, so maybe its problems are more to do with the nature of the sport than the gender playing it).

Perhaps this is a strategic move on the part of LFL and why, for example, sports like professional wrestling are classified as entertainment: if the focus is on players’ sex appeal, it’s justifiable that LFL is not a “real” sport, therefore competitors don’t need adequate gear, uniforms and health insurance.

There’s also the assumption that men won’t watch women’s sports unless the players are nice to look at. From the Grantland piece:

The LFL requires its athletes to fit a certain aesthetic… players should be thin. The shoulder pads are positioned so fans can see cleavage, and the players wear hockey helmets—not football helmets—which allow fans a better view of the women’s faces.”  

The LFL’s obsession with showing off their player’s bodies is what led to former Green Bay Chill player Amber Mane’s broken nose, caused by a helmet to the face, attributable to LFL founder and chairman Mitchell Mortaza telling players to adjust the chin straps on their helmets to better rip them off when celebrating plays, she says.

Emphasis on head trauma has been at the forefront of contact sports in recent years, with organisations such as the Concussion Legacy Foundation, the Boston School of Medicine Centre for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy and the forthcoming documentary Concussion studying the effects of head trauma. It’ll be interesting to see whether LFL’s operations will be affected or if changes are only implemented in “real”, oftentimes men’s sports.

As reality TV is wont to do, this issue of the LFL’s controversial uniforms were explained away in one Pretty.Strong. voiceover. “When I first wore the uniforms I was a little nervous,” says Bliss defensive lineman Yashi Rice. “I thought we could wear a little bit more coverage but once I put it on I didn’t feel bad at all because I work hard at what I look like. I’m not gonna lie, I personally like the uniforms!” Rice’s comments also further the LFL’s—and wider society’s—agenda that conforming to a narrowly defined prescription of sexiness is empowering.

But it’s inherently sexist to assume the women who play in LFL don’t realise they’re being exploited. Bliss Quarterback and Pretty.Strong. star Heather Furr, who is also profiled in the Grantland piece, says she was hesitant to continue in LFL due to the impact it took on her paying jobs and personal life. However, when Nikki Johnson, formerly of Las Vegas Sin, approached her in 2011 about forming a players union, Furr says she wasn’t “going to put my name on anything. I don’t know how this is going to go.” It’s also worth noting that other sports where women are marginalised, such as college sports and mixed martial arts, are severely lacking in unionisation.  Being the only choice for women who want to play gridiron affords the LFLa reluctance of its players to rock the boat. This leaves a lot of room for unaccountability.

Not only this, but keeping LFL’s players marginalised might also serve the purposes of the women’s sport revolution at large: pigeonholing LFL as somehow not a “real” sport, despite its extreme physicality, allows continued focus on real, palatable women’s sports. To this way of thinking, it’s better to allow the public to digest tennis or soccer than a sport with controversial beginnings in the male consumption industrial complex.

LFL may be going strong in the U.S. but it’s seen less success elsewhere. In Australia, after a 2013 season, LFL’s 2014/2015 season was cancelled after it failed to secure television coverage. A Google search for “women’s gridiron Australia” suggests that the sport is still popular in the country, however in leagues where its players wear proper protective gear. Women’s Australian Rules Football is also experiencing a surge in popularity, with a televised league rumoured to launch in 2017 after the success of a televised match in August which drew three times as many viewers as minor league men’s matches.

It is worth noting that women in AFL wear uniforms similar to its male players, including mouth guards.

With the increased interest in not only women in sport but in different kinds of women’s sports, would the LFL, in its original incarnation of a SuperBowl halftime attraction in which barely dressed models rolled around chasing a ball on pay-per-view, be dreamed into existence today? Or would a completely new women’s football league with adequate pay, uniforms and health insurance rectify LFL’s wrongs?

I would wager no; it’s much easier to shoot down new offerings that pander to the patriarchy than it is to dismantle entrenched sexism in sport. When women in sport have to contend with the inequalities that are plain to see in LFL, we’ve still got a long way to go, baby, than just recognising that women can, too, play sportsball good.

Elsewhere: [Fox News] Ronda Rousey Wants to Be the Best At Everything.

[The Star] Lingerie Football: Touchdown or Fumble?

[Grantland] The Lingerie Football Trap.

[NYTimes] Amid Cheers, Union Bid Stirs Concern for Women.

[Bloody Elbow] Why Isn’t There a Union in MMA?

[The Daily Telegraph] Legends Football League Cancelled, Lingerie-Clad Players Left Searching for New Competition.

[SMH] AFL to Launch Women’s League in 2017 in Push to Put Female Football on Professional Basis.

[Girls Play Footy] Women’s Footy Not Included in New AFL Broadcast Rights Deal.

Image via New York Daily News.

A Handmaid’s Place.

A Woman's Place

*The following contains spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale, particularly episode six, “A Woman’s Place”.

The Handmaid’s Tale has often been described as the future for women if politicians such as Donald Trump and Mike Pence get their way. The sixth episode of the Hulu adaptation shows us, through the backstories of Commander Fred Waterford and Serena Joy Waterford, how easily current society could slip into a dystopia like Gilead.

The Handmaid’s Tale indulges, though not as much as other prestige television shows, in humanising slightly the villains of the story, the Commander (Joseph Fiennes) and particularly Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), who enjoyed a career as a “domestic feminist”, writing books about how women neglected their homely duties for professional ambition (that’s the pot calling the kettle black there, isn’t it Serena?), resulting in a low birth rate. She enthusiastically describes to Fred an idea for a book about “fertility as a national resource; reproduction as a moral imperative.” Through contrasting, present-day scenes, we see how Serena Joy helped implement Gilead, a civilization in which she and all women no longer have agency.

The crux of the episode is on a Mexican diplomat’s meeting with Commander Waterford and the other gatekeepers of Gilead. Mrs. Castillo (Zabryna Guevara), whom our heroine Offred (Elisabeth Moss) initially overlooks in favour of one of her male aides, internalising the stifling patriarchy of Gilead and, indeed, contemporary culture that dictates that women are not usually the ones in power, asks Serena Joy how she feels about being instrumental in bringing about “a society in which women can no longer read your book. Or anything else.” Serena Joy replies by rattling off a list of achievements Gilead’s made in its young life, such as reducing carbon emissions by 78% in three years.

In this way, it’s hard not to sympathise with flashback Fred and Serena, or at least their concern about the environment and the human race hurtling towards extinction. The Handmaid’s Tale offers a glimpse into the motivations of the religious, politicians, and conservatives who probably, like Fred and Serena Joy, think “we’re saving them. We’re doing god’s work.” So we never end up becoming complacent and siding with them, though, this episode—entitled “A Woman’s Place”—is sure to inject flat out statements about just that. “We put so much focus on academic pursuits and professional ambition we let them forget their real purpose,” one of the Commander’s colleagues tells him after Serena is prohibited from presenting her ideas to the forefathers of Gilead. “We won’t let that happen again.”

However it’s the underlying themes and motifs of “A Woman’s Place” that are far more interesting than the statements that are designed to shock, especially because they’re so prescient to present-day society.

The Handmaids’ infantalisation is front and centre this episode, with Mrs. Castillo asking about Offred’s former name and the Commander, speaking for Offred, explaining that Handmaids choose to take on their patronymic alias. Then, at a ball celebrating the arrival of Mrs. Castillo and Gilead’s impending trade agreement with Mexico, Serena Joy lauds “the devotion of a group of girls” for their sacrifice, yet another theme of the episode. The obvious coercion of the Handmaids, paired with the stripping of their bodily autonomy, their birth names (which calls to mind the exchange of the father’s name to the husband’s upon marriage) and the parade of the children of Gilead birthed by them then ripped from their arms, is a chilling parallel to slavery.

This conclusion is much easier to come to with the Hulu adaptation than Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, in which she drew from the slavery, segregation, internment and genocide to cast people of colour and other religions out of Gilead, where they have been shipped “back” to their countries of origin. Only white people reside in Atwood’s Gilead, a likely result of the regime’s religious and white supremacist ideologies. But a television adaptation with as lofty, prestigious goals as The Handmaid’s Tale couldn’t get away with such blatant whitewashing in 2017. The boycotting of films such as Ghost in the Shell and The Great Wall for eliminating non-white characters indicates that The Handmaid’s Tale would be met with bad press and lose a significant following if it adhered to the source material. And while the inclusion of non-white Handmaids, Marthas, sex- and (presumably, though we never see them) colony-workers, and the handful of peripheral non-white Wives and Commanders, reflect the show’s viewership and thereby make the comparisons to real-world racist atrocities all the more triggering, The Handmaid’s Tale has rightly drawn criticism for centring the experiences of white Handmaids like Offred at the expense of characters such as Moira (Samira Wiley).

There is also a clear correlation between talk of the Handmaids’ sacrifice and similar rhetoric expressed by real-world government. Australian viewers will remember former Treasurer Peter Costello’s 2004 remarks upon an ageing population and decreased birth rate that women should have “one [child] for mum, one for dad, and one for the country”, just as Gilead, Mexico (where in Mrs. Castillo’s hometown there have been no live births in six years, prompting her to trade for Handmaids) and presumably other countries in this dystopic fiction are seeking to bolster their populations. When Mrs. Castillo implores Offred to sympathise with the fact that her country is dying and Offred replies, “My country is already dead,” this is but one of the ways Gilead is hurting the majority of its citizens while professing to help them. 

Despite what some of the cast and crew initially said about The Handmaid’s Tale not being a feminist story, “A Woman’s Place” is perhaps the most obvious episode of the 11-instalment first season to prove that what’s going on in Gilead is, indeed, urgently so.

Related: Orange is the New Black Season Five Attempts To Right Last Season’s Wrongs.

Elsewhere: [SBS On Demand] The Handmaid’s Tale is Streaming Now: Here’s Why You Should Watch it.

[The Undefeated] In Handmaid’s Tale, A Postracial, Patriarchal Hellscape.

[Vulture] In Its First Season, The Handmaid’s Tale’s Greatest Failing is How it Handles Race.

[io9] The Biggest Problem with The Handmaid’s Tale is How It Ignores Race.

[Vulture] Elisabeth Moss Isn’t Convinced The Handmaid’s Tale is Feminist.

Image via Vice.

Orange is the New Black: Sacrificing One for the Good of the Many.


*This article contains spoilers for Orange is the New Black season five.

While the three-day riot that threads through season five of Orange is the New Black brings Litchfield together, if only for a time, in an attempt to agitate for better conditions, it’s the sacrifice of several individual inmates that are the most pivotal moments.

Last season was remembered for the shocking and devastating death of Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley) at the hands of an untrained guard that mirrored the real-life death of Eric Garner and was the catalyst for the aforementioned Litchfield riot. When warden Joe Caputo (Nick Sandow) fails to #SayHerName is a press conference absolving the guard who killed Poussey, CO Bayley (Alan Aisenberg), Taystee is livid, but takes the opportunity the riot presents to get justice for her best friend.

Demonstrating her level head and mind for business, Taystee negotiates with authorities, including a somewhat sympathetic representative from the Governor’s office, former warden Natalie Figueroa (Alysia Reiner), and Caputo, tasking the inmates with devising a list of ten demands in exchange for the release of their hostages, a mixed bag of guards that served as Litchfield’s tormentors last season. However, in an example of dissention in the ranks and the individual concerns of prisoners that will come to a head again in later episodes, the arrest of Bayley for the death of Poussey is voted ninth on the list of Litchfield’s priorities, below Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and tampons in commissary.

While the provision of some of these items is a gesture of goodwill from the Governor’s office, it is season five’s first glaring example of sacrificing one for the many. In case this wasn’t obvious, OITNB makes it so by having Piper (Taylor Schilling) bring up the trolley problem, an ethical thought experiment that asks if a train or trolley was heading towards a group of five people tied to the tracks, would you pull the lever to divert it to another track to which only one person was tied, or would you do nothing and let five people die instead of one? Unfortunately for Daya (Dascha Polanco), who ended up shooting CO Humphrey (Michael Torpey) in the cliffhanger from last season, she is the one whom Taystee, Piper and co. direct the trolley towards in an effort to continue negotiations.

While Daya might have been the sacrificial lamb to save the flock, her surrender sets in motion several other inmates acting in their own immediate best interests instead of what could make life inside easier for hundreds—and possibly hundreds of thousands, if the fictional Piper goes on to advocate for prison reform as her real life counterpart Piper Kerman, whose memoir the show is based on, has—of other women in prison. Daya, a surrogate daughter to Gloria (Selenis Leyva), and especially so now that Daya’s mother, Aledia (Elizabeth Rodriguez), has been released, no doubt reminds Gloria of her biological children, who come into focus this season. Benito, Gloria’s son, needs brain surgery after getting beaten up. Desperate to see him when he wakes up, or in case he never does, Gloria hatches a plan to take the hostages for herself and release them in exchange for furlow. Despite this being an empty promise made by Caputo, who is in no position to make deals as one of the hostages, and the head of MCC, who isn’t even involved in negotiations as the riot is under the Governor’s jurisdiction now, Gloria is guided by her singular need to see her child.

It is a similar castle in the sky that inspires Maria (Jessica Pimentel) to muscle in on Gloria’s bright idea after she finds out that the paperwork concerning the extra time CO Piscatella allegedly added to her sentence last season was likely never completed. Governed by the hope that she might be able to see her baby daughter, whom she gave birth to in prison in season one, sooner than she thought, Maria employs the natural hustle on display in her season four backstory and snatches the guards right out from under her friends’ noses, who took over guarding the… erm… guards when Maria decided she wanted to stay out of the riot that she was ostensibly the initial leader of.

The motherhood that binds Daya, Gloria and Maria together is reminiscent of the themes of season three, which was promoted as being about motherhood, opening with a Mother’s Day fete, the episode in which Maria’s partner Yadriel tells her he doesn’t want to bring their daughter to see her in prison any longer. Episode 11 is particularly heavy-handed its exploration of motherhood, exchanging OITNB’s proverbial flashbacks for glimpses into the present-day lives of Cindy’s (Adrienne C. Moore) daughter, whom her mother raised as her own, and Ouija’s (Rosal Colon) son, who recognises his mother in the background of one of Flaritza’s (the amalgamation of Maritza [Diane Guerrero] and Flaca’s [Jackie Cruz] names) YouTube makeup tutorials. We see this again when Piper, Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) and Leanne’s (Emma Myles) mums show up at Litchfield to see if their daughters are safe amidst news of the riot. Whether intentional or not, OITNB positions these women as having nobler intentions for wanting the riot to end because they’re mothers, rather than the arguably more benevolent motivations of Taystee and co. This is particularly evident in Maria and Gloria’s exchange in the TV room, where Gloria tells Maria her designs on breaking out the guards, in the same episode.

The fact that Daya, Gloria and Maria are all women of colour isn’t insignificant, and their own marginalisation perhaps prevents them from seeing a bigger picture that the real-life Piper, as mentioned above, has the privilege of.

With the season finale seemingly splitting up the Litchfield prisoners and moving them to other facilities, it remains to be seen whether Taystee’s, whom we last see in the bunker with an assortment of other prisoners, efforts were all for nothing. At least Maria got to hug her daughter before she’s presumably relocated to another prison further away with the time she believed wasn’t added to her sentence put back on.

Related: Orange is the New Black Season Five Attempts to Right Last Season’s Wrongs.

The Perception of Power on Orange is the New Black.

Physical & Mental Health on Orange is the New Black.

Orange is the New Black‘s Morello’s Fractured Relationship with Romance.

Elsewhere: [Junkee] This is the Most Devastating & Political Season of Orange is the New Black Yet.

Image via Express.

Orange is the New Black Season Five Attempts to Right Last Year’s Wrongs.

oitnb season 5 bunker

*This article contains spoilers for Orange is the New Black season five.

Last month on the New York Times podcast Still Processing, hosts Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris criticised the Netflix show Dear White People, asserting that “it’s a bunch of bumper stickers and tweets” in a twenty-two minute comedy that amounts to “an IRL exchange about how to be black”.

“This show does not really appear to be about the experience of what it is like to be black and in college, it appears to be an education for how [white people are] supposed to understand what it’s like to be black in college,” Wortham says. “In case you don’t know how to feel about saying the n-word in a rap song we’re going to tell you and we’re going to do it in a way that you can just retweet this line… This is how you know how to talk about this issue [and] to be a good ally. It feels very prescriptive.”

So with Wortham and Morris’ words ringing in my ears, I approached the fifth season of Orange is the New Black, which dropped on Netflix over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, with trepidation. Though I was initially complimentary of last year’s outing which mirrored many of the real life atrocities inflicted upon black bodies, a predominantly white writers room that created racist trauma porn and failed to add anything to the discourse highlighted the importance of listening to people of colour when making and consuming TV about and for them.

Many of these issues echoed throughout the first several episodes, with hot-button topics such as gaslighting, mass shootings, poor working conditions in nail salons and acquired brain injuries being condensed into witty one-liners not out of place on a progressive Twitter feed and regurgitated by peripheral characters to prove they, or at least the show, are woke.

During one such moment, disgraced celebrity chef Judy King (Blair Brown), who managed to become entangled in the riot prior to her early release last season, convinces Yoga Jones (Constance Shulman), DeMarco (Lin Tucci) and the Nazi skinheads, Brandy (Asia Kate Dillon) and Helen (Francesca Curran), that a supply drop is coming for her on the roof. With Judy’s arms tied to a plank resembling a crucifixion to prevent her escape and headscarves disguising Brandy and Helen, a news helicopter distorts their ill-conceived quest for snacks in a situation in which food is quickly running out into terrorism. The irony of Nazis being mistaken for Islamist terrorists is echoes the “fucking media’s”—which OITNB is sure to have Brandy parrot in case we missed it—tendency to explain away terrorism committed by white people as mental illness or the actions of a lone wolf, and our quickness to dub every crime committed by a brown person as terrorism, rendering nothing terrorism.

If a social justice movement doesn’t have a resistance, does it even exist? When one of the riot’s initial instigators, Maria Ruiz (Jessica Pimentel), takes last season’s tormentors, the guards, hostage, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) seeks refuge in the yard rather than be a part of the sexualised torture and humiliation they are subjected to. Several of her fellow inmates follow, desperate for a political counter culture rather than getting to the root of the hell they’re already in: a minority woman’s death by state-sanctioned violence due to institutionalised racism and the prison industrial complex. For a devastating look at the relationship between the two, one should watch the documentary 13th, also on Netflix.

OITNB indulges in the humanisation of villains, most recently seen on shows such as the upcoming The Handmaid’s Tale, which has often served to help audiences understand characters such as Vee (Lorraine Toussaint), Pennsatucky (Tarryn Manning) and Leanne’s (Emma Myles) motivations and journeys to prison. This time it’s CO Piscatella (Brad William Henke), who murdered an inmate in a former prison by burning him to death in a shower for raping and beating his former lover, calling to mind the death of Darren Rainey, who died in prison in 2012 under similar circumstances, and Linda (Beth Dover), head of purchasing at MCC, the company that owns Litchfield.

Trapped inside Litchfield during the riot, Linda poses as inmate Amelia von Barlow, the Counterfeit Cunt of Connecticut, to hide her true identity, which perhaps speaks to her fetishisation of women in prison, a troubling ideology for someone who controls the flow of essential items to them. Linda realises the injustice she helped enforced when faced with it herself, particularly when eating prison slop. Linda is a cipher for privileged, predominantly white viewers who might think the camaraderie and shenanigans that take place in Litchfield would be fun to experience for a while.

Taystee (Danielle Brooks), Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore), Jenae (Vicky Jeudy), Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) and the memory of Poussey (Samira Wiley, who appears in an all-too-short flashback to her first meeting with Taystee) are always on hand to remind us both just how hellish being in prison actually is, especially for women of colour, and the purpose of the riot. “Our fight is with a system that don’t give a damn about poor people and brown people and poor, brown people. Our fight is with the folks who hold our demands in their hands,” she announces to the news vans covering the riot in the arresting closing scene of episode five. Taystee successfully negotiates with authorities to provide the prison with a list of ten demands as voted on by the inmates. Some are frivolous (Flaming Hot Cheetos stocked in commissary) and some harken back to the injustices of last season, such as inadequate healthcare and personal hygiene supplies, but this storyline at times helps OITNB return to the strengths of its first few seasons, melding the tragic with the comedic and prioritising tender storytelling for which Brooks and Aduba deserve all the awards.

Though it ultimately fails to capture the magic of its heyday, OITNB seems to be learning from its past mistakes and the mistakes of other shows, such as Dear White People and UnREAL. As Jenna Wortham reiterates, “Most of these shows are very conscious of the fact that white people are going to be watching for clues for how to understand blackness.”

Related: The Perception of Power on Orange is the New Black.

Physical & Mental Health on Orange is the New Black.

Orange is the New Black‘s Morello’s Fractured Relationship with Romance.

Elsewhere: [Junkee] This is the Most Devastating & Political Season of Orange is the New Black Yet.

[SBS Guide] White Writers Telling Black Stories.

[Wear Your Voice] Orange is the New Black is Trauma Porn Written for White People.

[Teen Vogue] Donald Trump is Gaslighting America.

[New York Times] The Price of Nice Nails.

[Fusion] Inmate Darren Rainey Was Boiled Alive in a Shower by Prison Guards…

Beyoncé Makes Us Want to Be Better People.


This article was originally published on The Vocal.

By now I’m sure most of us have seen and heard LEMONADE, Beyoncé’s latest visual album and perhaps her most personal in which she utilises unashamedly black imagery to tell stories of being let down by men, supporting and supported by women, civil rights, hope, forgiveness, and love.

To the naked eye, these themes seemingly came out of nowhere but Beyoncé has always imbued her work—and her activism—with them. For example, Bey co-founded Chime for Change, a foundation that amplifies the voices of women and girls in marginalised communities across the world, and she built a homeless shelter in her hometown of Houston. On her website, Bey addresses recent anti-LGBT legislation in North Carolina, a state her Formation World Tour recently visited, striking a balance between speaking out for what she believes in and making bank. In 2013, she and Jay Z were seen at a vigil for slain black teen Trayvon Martin and gave $1.5m to Black Lives Matter.

Beyoncé centres Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and the mothers of other young black men murdered at the hands of police on LEMONADE. Alongside them are Serena Williams, Quvenzhané Wallis, Amandla Stenberg and Zendaya, black women who’ve been demonised by the largely white media. “Formation”, released in February, was perhaps Beyoncé’s most contentious song and video to date with unapologetic blackness, Hurricane Katrina symbolism and a young black boy dancing before a militarised police force taking pride of place and thus drawing the ire of pro-police protesters. To emphasise her point, her SuperBowl halftime show performance the following day saw her all-black female dancers don natural hair and Black Panther costumes.

Her most recent visual album not only throws back to a time before paparazzi and social media when artists used their medium to tell their personal stories but demonstrates that vulnerability and absolution are virtues that many mere mortals lack. On LEMONADE, though, Beyoncé shatters the illusion of herself as the untouchable mythic goddess we’ve seen on “***Flawless” and “Diva” and reveals her humanity in lyrics such as “I ain’t too perfect to ever feel this worthless” from “Hold Up”. While the album is no doubt revolutionary, it’s not the first time Beyoncé has peppered her work with hints to her personal life. On 2011’s “Countdown” she sings about trying to get pregnant, and miscarriage and postpartum depression are themes on “Heaven” and “Mine”, respectively, from 2013’s self-titled visual album, which set the stage for LEMONADE.

Beyoncé has always been an exemplar of humility and humanity. She remained poised as her sister Solange went to town on Jay Z in that elevator incident at 2014’s Met Ball, later incorporating it into Nicki Minaj’s remix of “***Flawless”. She resists the urge to vocalise what Kanye West says—and everyone else thinks—when she’s repeatedly looked over for awards, instead funneling that rage and indignance into game-changing masterpieces like Beyoncé and LEMONADE to prove just how innovative she is. We all know someone who says they’re gonna do things that never eventuate: Beyoncé shows us the virtue of staying mum on something until we’re ready to put it out into the universe. Beyoncé bides her time, not speaking on issues she doesn’t feel she’s knowledgeable enough about or topics people may not be ready to hear from her until she is well-positioned enough for her ideas to have maximum impact.

She seldom grants interviews, indicating that she’s reached an echelon of fame where her facade alone expresses all she needs and wants it to. When Bey does speak she leaves an impression, as they did when she responded to the furore in a rare interview for Elle magazine. She said, “Anyone who perceives my message as anti-police is completely mistaken. I have so much admiration and respect for officers and the families of officers who sacrifice themselves to keep us safe. But let’s be clear: I am against police brutality and injustice. Those are two separate things. If celebrating my roots and culture during Black History Month made anyone uncomfortable, those feelings were there long before a video and long before me.”

For anyone who tried to invalidate her words, as so often occurs when black women are speaking, she reiterated it with equal parts dignity and impact by selling Boycott Beyoncé merchandise at her Formation World Tour.

So how can we apply Beyoncé’s fount of grace, creativity and ingenuity to our own lives? Fans have been inspired to use her work as a jumping off point to make their own art. Writer and educator Candice Benbow has published the LEMONADE Syllabus, a collection of works that perhaps inspired and as lenses through which we can better understand the album. Rutgers University professor Kevin Allred teaches the class Politicising Beyoncé, with a book to follow. Beyoncé courses are also offered at other universities across America. There’s Bey Dance, an inclusive dance class emanating in Melbourne and with branches now in Adelaide and Perth. Donating to causes we’re passionate about is yet another way we can do the work of Our Lord and Saviour Beyoncé, not to mention taking the lessons of LEMONADE as gospel.

Let’s also remember, though, that Beyoncé has the luxury of a million dollar empire behind her, a full staff, and access to media to portray her best self to us. And as much as Beyoncé is a champion of women of colour the recent controversy over her clothing line Ivy Park being made in Sri Lankan sweatshops shows a reluctance to stand up for brown women outside of the U.S.

Black feminist scholar bell hooks recently criticised Beyoncé for the capitalism inherent in her work, particularly on LEMONADE. Many of her “empowerment” anthems, such as “Bills, Bills, Bills”, “Independent Women”, “Diva” and “Girls (Who Run the World)”, are indeed about capitalism. But whereas some of her earlier tracks have been less subtle, when Bey sings about money these days, the focus is increasingly on self-sufficiency (“6 Inch”, “Formation”) and financial independence from a partner (“Don’t Hurt Yourself”) which are laudable lessons.

A black woman as influential as Bey is bound to have her haters but increasingly she’s thriving on constructive criticism, checking her privilege, giving back to her community and growing as an artist and as a person. Through her music, activism and philanthropy Beyoncé inspires us, too, to be better people.

Elsewhere: [Rolling Out] Beyoncé Builds $7 Million Housing Complex for Houston Homeless.

[Beyoncé] Equality NC Works to Prove “Y’All Means All”.

[Billboard] Tidal to Donate $1.5 Million to Black Lives Matter, Social Justice Groups.

[Elle] Beyoncé Wants to Change the Conversation.

[Issuu] LEMONADE Syllabus.

[Bey Dance]

[Daily Life] Beyoncé Clothing Line Made by “Sweat Shop Labourers on $8.50 a Day”.

Image via Online Academic Community.