Guest Post: The Erasure of People of Colour from Sharp Objects.

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This article by Shane Thomas contains light spoilers for Sharp Objects.

One area where Sharp Objects has left itself open to criticism is in the optics of its cast, which is hugely—if not exclusively—white. In recent years, Western television and film has gradually moved away from using male whiteness as its default perspective to tell stories.

Yet I’m not sure it’s wholly fair to upbraid Sharp Objects for telling a woman-focused story that only concerned itself with its white characters, because it also positioned its black characters—on the brief occasions we saw them—in interesting ways. Ways that seemed too specific to be coincidental.

The narrative surrounded the town of Wind Gap, Missouri and the emotionally wretched state of its citizens. It’s a place that’s archetypal small-town America: mellow southern accents, a sunny climate, a community where everybody knows each other, and good ol’ Southern hospitality. In actuality, it’s a space rife with social deprivation, patriarchy, racism, personal misery, and murder.

In Wind Gap, white women are obligated to be dutiful wives and mothers (note the dialogue; “I don’t think a part of your heart can ever work if you don’t have kids”, and, “I didn’t really feel like a woman until I had McKenzie inside of me”), men intersperse lechery in between bouts of drinking, and the social event of the year paints the Confederacy as a plank of history to be proud of. Anyone who doesn’t subscribe to these social norms will be either demeaned, ostracised or exiled. When John Keene cries, Wind Gap doesn’t only look at him as a failure of a man, but it’s indicative of him being a social deviant.

It’s the legacy of Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy”. These people spend their time instinctively judging others for the lives they lead, all the while being miserable themselves, finding it easy to aim their ire at anyone they deem as outsiders. One of the best aspects of Sharp Objects was to demonstrate how aligning oneself to the dogma of oppressive structures also damages those who reap its ostensible benefits.

At one point, Jackie says, “We could do what we always do around here and pretend it doesn’t exist.” In this town, alcohol isn’t just medication, but a portal to oblivion.

It’s ironic that nearby Kansas is disdainfully looked down upon by Wind Gap as the cosmopolitan, uber-lefty, politically correct big city. Not just because it’s inaccurate, but consider the most famous work of art to feature Kansas. Thanks to The Wizard of Oz, its place in the wider cultural imagination is as (white) America’s safe space.

Wind Gap is Oz at its most malignant. Intentional or otherwise, Gillian Flynn has given us a story that centres whiteness, but not in order to enshrine it as society’s ideal, instead showing that as it is currently constituted, whiteness in concert with patriarchy contaminates all. It doesn’t have to be spelled out for the audience that Wind Gap votes Republican. We don’t hear the name “Trump” once. No character ever utters the n-word. These signifiers are superfluous in a place where, to quote Christopher J. Lee, “whiteness has been transformed into common sense.”

It’s not tough to read the map of scars on Camille’s body as a cartography for the psyche of Wind Gap. Nor is it hard to read Adora’s poisoning of her own children under the guise of care and love as a metaphor for a diet of white supremacy and patriarchy fed to white Southerners going all the way back to the Lost Cause.

Sharp Objects’ black characters don’t appear often, but when they do, they operate in a distinct way to add depth to the story. Lacking socialised power, they are impotent to stem Wind Gap’s continuum into destruction, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t aware of their surroundings. They are, to quote Reni Eddo-Lodge in her book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, watching as an outsider to the insularity of whiteness.

Note the Preaker’s family maid, Gayla (who was costumed to bear a striking resemblance to Betty Gabriel’s indelible performance in Get Out), especially the couple of moments of unspoken warmth she shares with Camille. It’s not explicit, but she can see the destructive way Adora runs the household.

While Camille’s boss, Frank, periodically checks in with her to see how the assignment is going, Frank’s wife, Eileen, is more concerned with Camille returning to a place that holds so many traumatising memories. Frank can see a great story. Eileen can see just how tender Camille is.

In one episode, Becca—seemingly the only black person of Camille’s age in the town—explains why she doesn’t hate Camille, despite being treated horribly by her when they were younger. Becca recounts the time she noticed that the younger Camille self-harmed. She doesn’t state this in order for exploitative purposes, only to indicate that unlike the rest of Wind Gap’s citizens, Becca can see Camille’s self-destructive tendencies.

Later in the episode, Camille comes across her sister, Amma, and a group of Amma’s friends outside a convenience store. They are heading to a party, and offer to give Camille a lift home. Yet this is a ruse, as Amma plans to drag Camille to the party with her. As Camille reluctantly gets in the car, an unnamed black man pensively looks on. He can see the destruction the white youth of Wind Gap are bringing on themselves.

When Richard walks into Woodberry Hospital—where he’ll discover the truth about Adora’s Munchhausen’s by proxy—two nurses (one black; one white) stand outside. The black one immediately notices Richard, while the white one carries on smoking. It’s as if she can see what Richard’s seismic discovery will bring.

Usually such moments would be nothing more than nondescript cutaways. But it appears deliberate that these moments not only feature black characters, but black characters watching white characters. Fans of Doctor Who will know that the Time Lords are a sagacious race of beings who observe, but never interfere in the affairs of others. With director, Jean-Marc Vallée giving Sharp Objects a visual texture more often found in speculative fiction, it elevates the lesser spotted black characters to more than just bystanders, almost as if they’re Wind Gap’s very own Time Lords, who could do so much for the town if people would listen to them.

If this interpretation feels a bit too meta, a more prosaic analysis would be basic self-preservation. Do Sharp Objects’ black characters have such wary deportment because they are aware of the precarious state of their bodies existing in this town, in America, in the world? Often being black means operating at a heightened level of awareness. And to underscore this, in the show’s shocking reveal, we find out that the one black character who doesn’t have her head on a swivel (which she should never have had to) pays for it with her life.

I’ve increasingly worried that all “diversity” means is that those in charge of our entertainment cast people of colour not to broaden the dynamics of our stories, but to stop the internet being angry. This makes for a very low ceiling for progress, when what’s more important is the quality of fictional depictions rather than just sheer quantity.

This doesn’t inoculate Sharp Objects from criticism, but we should be clear on what terms we criticise it. One can definitely argue that an increased focus on its black characters would have improved the narrative. But I don’t think we should reflexively assume that a minimal spotlight on blackness indicates erasure.

Elsewhere: [YouTube] Sharp Objects Clip: “You’re Making Your Mother Ill”.

[Salon] How the GOP Became the White Man’s Party.

[YouTube] Sharp Objects Clip: “Have a Drink with Me”.

[Africa is a Country] The Global Ways of White Supremacy.

[YouTube] Sharp Objects Clip: “You Just Let It Happen”.

[Smithsonian] How I Learned About the “Cult of the Lost Cause”. 

[Goodreads] Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race.

[YouTube] Sharp Objects Clip: “You’re Not Safe.”

Image via Den of Geek.

Amy Schumer Feels Pretty Because She Is*.

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*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.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

I’m at Paste Wrestling writing about the dearth of women’s wrestling merchandise on WWEShop.com, and the stuff that is there is exclusionary to children on the spectrum and women who’ve experienced sexual assault.

I wrote about the censorship of porn when many young people use it as sex education. [Archer]

My latest for SBS Life is about how women’s friendships can dwindle later in life and why that’s okay.

I wrote about why we need diverse podcasts for Feminartsy.

I contributed to Writers Bloc‘s list of feminist books for International Women’s Day and covered the All About Women festival for them.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s Rebecca Bunch is crazy. “So am I.” [Junkee]

Britney Spears deserves better than her Lifetime movie. [Buzzfeed]

“How Supergirl Became One of the Most LGBTQIA-Friendly Shows on TV.” [Elle]

The Good Fight needs Kalinda Sharma.” [The Ringer]

“No, I Don’t Want To Watch A Rape Survivor Reconcile With Her Rapist.” [Junkee]

Get Out the the horror movie of our time. [Buzzfeed]

And in it, “Allison Williams Knows How to Make ‘Good White People’ Scary”. [Vulture]

Rereading The Handmaid’s Tale in the Trump era. [The Cut]

How will women’s magazines cover Ivanka Trump? [Politico]

Kellyanne Conway is a Cool Girl. [WaPo]

What Donald Trump’s food says about him. [Eater]

How Big Little Lies challenges “Leaning In” and #WomenWhoWork. [Buzzfeed]

Daria Morgendorffer is the heroine we need now. [The Cut]

Intersectionality is not a brand, but it extends to brands. [Daily Life]

World Wrestling Entertainment asserted a year ago that it would start telling LGBTQIA stories. That still hasn’t happened. [Paste Wrestling]

ICYMI: I republished an old freelance article about how Gossip Girl and other flashy shows make me feel bad about myself.

And in case this wasn’t enough for you, there’s more feminist reads at the 105th Down Under Feminists Carnival. [Transcendancing]

On the (Rest of the) Net.

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I wrote about the damaging notions of “most girls” and “real women” in wrestling for a new intersectional wrestling site. [Intergender World Champs]

I also wrote about blogging nostalgia and why I no longer identify as a blogger. [Writers Bloc]

I’m at F is for Feminism writing about being child-free by choice.

And my latest piece for SBS is on white writers telling black stories.

The catch-22 women who experience depression from taking the pill face when they have no other options. [Daily Life]

“I’m a woman wrestler and a survivor of intimate partner violence.” [Motto]

The frightening similarities between Election and the current U.S. presidential race. [The Cut]

How women’s magazines repositioned themselves to be major players in the political press. [Vox]

Elena Ferrante’s outing and Kim Kardashian’s robbery are two sides of the same privacy coin. [The Cut]

Couples with Down syndrome don’t need to be sterilised, they need to be supported. [Daily Life]

Birth of a Nation gives its women characters the short straw. [Vulture]

“Pussygate” was the final nail in Donald Trump’s presidential coffin, and women voters will make him pay for it at the ballot box. [NYTimes]

Trump’s abhorrent misogyny has brought to light the Republican party’s view of women as extensions of the men who own them. [The Cut]

Image via SE Scoops.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

I wrote about LGBTQIA representation in World Wrestling Entertainment. [SBS Zela]

Black American women slayed the Olympics. [ABC]

Law & Order: SVU wasn’t always the ripped-from-the-headlines guilty pleasure we know today. [GQ]

Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton’s health are just the latest in a long line of women and their bodies being unfit to lead. [HuffPo]

The braless and makeup-free trends can be exclusionary to a lot of women. [Daily Life]

Also, let’s not pit women who do and don’t wear makeup against each other. [HuffPo]

Trans actress Jen Richards breaks down why the casting of Matt Bomer to play a trans woman is troubling. [Storify]

“Black Tweets Matter.” [Smithsonian]

Has the sharing of viral war porn gone too far? [Daily Life]

The invisibility of women murdered by their intimate partners in crime reporting. [Guardian]

Toxic masculinity makes men less likely to care about the environment. [Daily Life]

On the (Rest of the) Net.

I wrote about what empowerment means in the age of celebrity “feminism”. [Daily Life]

Donald Trump employs Ivanka “to deodorise the stink of her father’s misogyny, to suggest that because he loves her that means he loves women.” [New Yorker]

Miss World Australia and the “right” kind of Aboriginal woman. [Daily Life]

Sometimes we just need to turn away from the horror show that is the news/Twitter/the world, for the sake of our own mental wellbeing. [Salon]

Sex workers deserve to be on the panel about them at Melbourne Writers Festival. [Daily Life]

Violence against women and misogyny is the key factor in recent high profile mass murders. [The Telegraph]

On the (Rest of the) Net.

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The female legacy of Ghostbusters[Kill Your Darlings]

Leslie Jones’ role in the reboot is a win for diversity but also a loss for diversity. [The Toast]

“All of Beyoncé’s career has been leading up to Lemonade, including often overlooked songs such as ‘Black Culture,’ ‘Grown Woman,’ and ‘Creole.’ ‘***Flawless’ and ‘Superpower’ are the preface to ‘Formation,’ ‘Jealous’ the prequel to the mid-sections of Lemonade. ‘Irreplaceable’ stands in the doorway filing its nails somewhere between ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’ and ‘I Ain’t Sorry.’ ‘Freakum Dress’ is the PG-13 sister of ‘6 Inch.'” [Spark]

Taylor Swift’s feminist evolution. [Billboard]

Margot Robbie’s Vanity Fair cover story has sparked calls to stop getting middle aged men to write lecherous cover stories on famous women:

“Let’s allow women to write about women for a little while. Maybe then we can swap the prevalent illusions of femininity for realistic portraits of women as complex human characters.” [The Walrus]

Playing Pokemon Go as a black man. [Medium]

Women only watch wrestling for the hot guys, right? [Wrestling Sexism]

The rise of cripface on TV. [LA Times]

Why being an ally is no longer enough. [Marie Claire]

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Does Orange is the New Black buy into the “bury your gays” trope?

OITNB, conversely, uses Poussey’s death to illustrate exactly the issue that ‘Bury Your Gays’ seeks to highlight. Big, unchecked organisations can erase marginalised people without a second thought, and the grinding, faceless mechanisms of bureaucracy are capable of cruelties far beyond what any individual could commit. OITNB kills Poussey in order to tell this story.” [Vulture]

Masterchef and other cooking shows leave vegetarians and vegans out in the cold. [Kill Your Darlings]

“A man’s appetite can be hearty, but a woman with an appetite is always voracious: her hunger always overreaches, because it is not supposed to exist. If she wants food, she is a glutton. If she wants sex, she is a slut. If she wants emotional care-taking, she is a high-maintenance bitch or, worse, an ‘attention whore’: an amalgam of sex-hunger and care-hunger, greedy not only to be fucked and paid but, most unforgivably of all, to be noticed.” [Hazlitt]

Images via Buzzfeed, Netflix.