my review: triangle of sadness

saw ‘triangle of sadness’ by ruben ostlund, then went back and watched ‘the square’ again. will rewatch ‘force majeure’ as well. what a brilliant, hilarious, provocative filmmaker. have been thinking about his work and how to encapsulate it. he likes to invert or complicate what is ‘normal.’ he strips away western society’s veneer of civilization, exposes its violent vulgar core, and pokes holes in what is considered the social contract.

he does this stylistically as well, by inserting sounds and visual disturbances in his scenes (an elevator door that keeps closing in the middle of an intense convo, baby cries during a marketing pitch, chairs crashing to the ground while a couple confront each other after an awkward one-night stand, etc).

he reaches for some of the mightiest, most glittery symbols of high culture (modern art, fashion, even winter sports), roots them out from their aesthetic safe place, and reveals the social rot, money, privilege, and absurdity they engender.

his films are always set in exclusive, elitist contexts – a bougie ski resort, a contemporary art museum, a luxury yacht – where the rich and beautiful prance and prevaricate about their wealth. a russian capitalist who quotes ronald reagan, a cute old couple who’ve made their fortune as arms dealers, a museum curator who is proudly liberal but couldn’t cut it without the privileges he wields, art collectors and aristos who remain paralyzed in the face of an assault on one of their own, how power hierarchies can be flipped like a switch, how the elite are completely bereft of survival skills, ideas of masculinity, the marginalization of people of color, horrors of the service industry, capitalism and homelessness, capitalism and art, beauty as trade and industry, the list goes on.

there’s always so much to unpack.

Scene from Triangle of Sadness

Décoloniser l’esprit

Wa Thiong’o montre que la centralité des langues et des cultures européennes est à la fois le symptôme et l’outil d’un ordre néocolonial porté par des bourgeoisies qui se sont substituées au colonisateur. Par la question linguistique, Wa Thiong’o, nourri par Frantz Fanon, décrypte la trahison de ces bourgeoisies :

‘L’aliénation coloniale se met en place dès que la langue de la conceptualisation, de la pensée, de l’éducation scolaire, du développement intellectuel se trouve dissociée de la langue des échanges domestiques quotidiens ; elle revient à séparer l’esprit du corps et à leur assigner deux sphères séparées. À une échelle plus globale, elle aboutit à une société d’esprits sans corps et de corps sans esprits.’

Cette dissociation corps-esprit se traduit à un niveau plus global par le clivage entre deux classes. D’un côté le peuple, dont n’est reconnu ni la langue ni la culture et qui est jugé, exploité, commandé, administré dans une langue qui lui est étrangère. Privé de mots, il est condamné au silence, à l’incompréhension face à la violence du système qui l’exploite.

De l’autre côté la bourgeoisie pro-impérialiste, pour laquelle langues et cultures européennes sont les outils idéaux de collaboration avec les anciennes ou futures puissances tutélaires. Outils idéaux de sauvegarde de leur classe, du maintien du peuple loin des affaires politiques et de filtrage social par le biais d’une éducation discriminante.

More here.


Saw ‘Polychromy’ at the Met. So interesting how color has been erased from “Western” history.

Carl Jennings: Color is a code, a sign, a message – we use it to communicate and in turn, it has the power to shape how we think and feel. For the last 500 years or so… to be civilized is to eschew color, to resist its temptations and its charms. As Goethe observed of his times, nearly 200 years ago, “… savage nations, uneducated people, and children have a great predilection for vivid colors… people of refinement avoid vivid colours in their dress”. And Charles Blanc, the French Minister of Culture, expressing a sentiment shared by many scholars and art historians, over the perceived opposition between line and color in art, stated in 1848 that, “…colour is the peculiar characteristic of the lower forms of nature, while drawing becomes the medium of expression, more and more dominant, the higher we rise in the scale of being”.

These quotes belie a sentiment common in Western culture and eloquently documented in David Batchelor’s fascinating book on the topic, a sentiment that sees color as “something for children, savages, minorities, and women”: a loathing and a fear of color that he calls — chromophobia.

But it wasn’t always this way. The history of the west is nothing if not colorful — but very little of that evidence exists nowadays. Color has either faded with time and the elements, or it has been purposefully removed and whitewashed. The Greek and Roman statues of antiquity, pure and ethereal in their whiteness, are an illusion. They were never white. Instead, they were painted, in great and often garish detail.

Postcolonial theory

‘Postcolonial theory is a body of thought primarily concerned with accounting for the political, aesthetic, economic, historical, and social impact of European colonial rule around the world in the 18th through the 20th century. Postcolonial theory takes many different shapes and interventions, but all share a fundamental claim: that the world we inhabit is impossible to understand except in relationship to the history of imperialism and colonial rule. This means that it is impossible to conceive of “European philosophy,” “European literature,” or “European history” as existing in the absence of Europe’s colonial encounters and oppression around the world. It also suggests that the colonized world stands at the forgotten center of global modernity. The prefix “post” of “postcolonial theory” has been rigorously debated, but it has never implied that colonialism has ended; indeed, much of postcolonial theory is concerned with the lingering forms of colonial authority after the formal end of Empire. Other forms of postcolonial theory are openly endeavoring to imagine a world after colonialism, but one which has yet to come into existence.’ More here.

morocco in the semi finals

yes, there are serious problems with fifa, with professional sports in general, with the horrors that come from hosting large scale international events, and with oppressive war-making regimes. btw most countries of the world fall within those parameters.

however, whatever happens on wed, when morocco goes against france in the semi finals, this much is clear:

1. solidarity from the global south: whether african, amazigh, arab, maghrebi, middle eastern, south asian, muslim, brown or black, people from the colonized south have rallied and celebrated morocco’s history-making games en masse

2. we are the majority: from 1492 to 1914, most of the world was colonized by tiny european nations with limited resources and infinite animus toward each other. therefore, 80% of humans are still coming to grips with colonization and genocide

3. colonialism never ended (it simply transformed and metastasized): we are still controlled by and embedded in racist, capitalist systems so the fight is not over. this is why when the western military-industrial complex goes into overdrive and never-ending wars are activated (like the war on terror or the war on drugs), they whisk together disparate regions and peoples with no regard for history, culture, or political realities – afghanistan, iraq, pakistan, libya, syria, somalia, sudan, yemen, the philippines, cambodia, vietnam, laos, colombia, cuba, guatemala, haiti, honduras, mexico, nicaragua, panama, and puerto rico can all become a monolithic ‘other’

4. consistent support for palestine: palestine has become a symbol of colonial subjugation and a rallying cry for resistance to global systems of oppression. it’s obvious that no amount of political or economic finagling can change that. people are not their governments or regimes, many of which are installed and protected by the colonizing west. the palestinian flag is a f—k you to censorship, political blackmail, and economic arm twisting

so whatever happens on wednesday friends, this is a historic moment. let’s remember it.

Farha on Netflix

i finally watched ‘farha,’ a film by jordanian director darin sallam, on netflix last night. i knew that it’s a film about the nakba (or the catastrophe) in which more than 700,000 palestinians were forcibly expelled from palestine in 1948, to make room for the jewish-supremacist state of israel.

i also knew that the israeli government has been applying pressure on netflix to censor/remove the film from their library. a bit funny considering the heretofore love affair between israel and netflix. you can read about it in belén fernández’s excellent piece ‘netflix and israel: a special relationship’ in which she shows how “netflix has been willingly subsumed into the israeli hasbara industry.”

the nakba is a vast and important episode in human history, yet sallam’s approach is small, specific, and spare. the story is told through the eyes of a 14-year old girl who becomes an unwitting witness to shocking atrocities committed by israeli soldiers. as we spend most of the film seeing the world through farha’s eyes, we too are called to witness and testify.

the experience transforms farha – gone are her dreams of studying in the city and investing her life in her community. the nakba was meant to destroy palestinian society, very deliberately, one bureaucratic and military step at a time, over multiple decades and generations.

israel’s war on ‘farha’ is enraging. not only because palestinians might be some of the few people in the world who are not allowed to tell the stories of their own dispossession and ethnic cleansing, but also because the facts of what we see in the film are not new. the terror (including theft, rape and massacres) wielded against palestinians during the nakba is well-known and well-documented, including testimonies by israeli soldiers who carried it out.

u’d have to live under a rock not to have heard of the deir yassin massacre, for example. many parts of tel aviv itself are built on depopulated palestinian villages.

in any case, the bots are out in huge numbers trying to sabotage farha’s ratings, so pls watch the film, ‘love’ it on netflix (two hearts), make an imdb account, give the film 10 stars, go to the film on google and letterboxd and give it 5 stars. write a review if u like.

let’s make sure we see more stories by and about the oppressed and their histories, and less state propaganda packaged as art. we can make a difference.

Editing The Injured Body: Mercedes, Erica and Tianna

Listening to a brilliant convo between Mercedes Phelan, Erica Bryant and Tianna Manon.

-Mercedes: I was brought up to be tough – don’t show your emotions, no crying, breaking down is weakness… It’s difficult to learn to express my emotions in a positive way.

-Erica: Black women carry generational trauma, personal trauma, all these micro-aggressions. And there is no healing for it. We must reverse that stigma. Taking care of yourself emotionally and psychologically is important.

-Tianna: There are institutional issues. For a long time health professionals were not trained to deal with trauma faced by Black people. So it wasn’t always good help. Also, how many can afford it? There are some free things out there. But how do you navigate that system? This is on top of how we force each other to be tough.

Erica Bryant

my short film – best in show

with the wonderful christophe lima, juror for the new exhibition at huntington arts council which opened today. the theme of the exhibition is the exploration of the human body. i wrote a poem called ‘the body has memory’ and created a short experimental film around it. not only was it selected for the exhibition but it won ‘best in show.’ couldn’t be more excited!

thank u Rajesh Barnabas for the beautiful cinematography and Mariko Yamada for the dance choreography. stunning dance performances by Cloria Iampretty and mariko. mostly thank u all for being who u are. sharing some of rochester’s talent and heart here on long island <3

Letter to June Jordan in September

By Lena Khalaf Tuffaha

I cannot pass the anniversary of that first news event of childhood without returning to your poem. How from my house I watched. And watching, watched my grief-stricken parents unable to speak. How I leaned into the screen, the chords of the cries, searching for what was recognizable of fingers and thighs, of bracelets and moustaches. Macabre arrangement of bodies with names like our own. I cannot pass without your words. Something about witnessing twice removed. About distances magnified by the shift into language. Of dailyness and my own children’s vernacular and the machine. Grinding us all in its jaws. I met a girl from the camp at a reading in Beirut. She asked if we could talk about the life of poetry. Our families are hauled off to the world of the dead and every day it is on screen. In Gaza we’re watching Ferguson and in Atlanta we’re watching Jerusalem watching Minneapolis watching. Their weapons and their training programs indistinguishable. The word almost flickers for a nanosecond. Here I note the shelf-life of self-censorship, legacy of our era. Some days poems are scrawled on pieces of cardboard and carried on our shoulders at the protest like martyrs. Here I should say something about hope. Here I should say something about living.

My questions for Shirly Bahar

The obligatory selfie after a satisfying dinner. It was a full house at Hofstra on Nov 9th for a discussion about Shirly Bahar’s book, ‘Documentary Cinema in Israel-Palestine: Performance, the Body, the Home,’ and my film, ‘The Injured Body.’ Here are my questions for Shirly:

1) You say that although oppression and racialization have impacted Palestinians and Mizrahim differently, the documentaries you discuss in the book share a political commitment and performative affinities. They defy the removal of the pain of Israel’s marginalized people from public visibility.

You discuss how documentary performances of pain by Palestinians and Mizrahim, when seen together, invite us to contest the segregation of pain and consider reconnection. Could you elaborate on that?

2) There is one sentence in your book which hit me hard. It is the commonly held notion that ‘the trauma of witnessing destruction directly harms the usage of language.’

Meaning that those who are occupied (on whose minds and bodies violence is constantly enacted) are never seen as credible witnesses of their own pain, of their own lived experiences, based on dominant codes of credibility. It’s like the gaslighting I was talking about in the context of microaggressions. You take issue with this notion. Could you tell us more?

3) Since we are talking about language and violence, I also wanted to bring up the constant threat of violence. You talk about Palestinian children experiencing ‘withheld violence.’

Your words reminded me of Fanon of course, and the muscular contraction of the colonized body. What does this imply in the P/I context?

4) I would like to end with something you say in the book, that ‘it takes perpetual learning and training to try and relate to the pain of others in a politically informed and committed manner.’

You also say: ‘More often than not, those who care for the pain of others are found in relative vulnerability themselves—political, physical, mental—thus chancing their becoming further undone.’

I think of the #BLM movement and its principled support for justice in Palestine. Could you expand on this important point.

To become undone is the greatest gift

From Shirly Bahar’s Documentary Cinema in Israel-Palestine: Performance, the Body, the Home:

More often than not, those who care for the pain of others are found in relative vulnerability themselves—political, physical, mental—thus chancing their becoming further undone. But as Tourmaline inspires us to believe, “if we are to ever make it to the next revolution, it will be through becoming undone, an undoing that touches ourselves and touches each other and all the brokenness we are … to become undone is the greatest gift to ourselves.”