QuartersNovember 2, 2020
Through the ducts of our voices,
may the force be peaceful.
From the Griffith Observatory, the Hollywood sign can be seen with the naked eye. From the Hollywood sign, resembling the twilight on Tatooine, a red sun was visible as it appeared across the state of California to residents stepping out from yellow smog — a different reason to wear masks in July 2020.
For her 2018 album Be The Cowboy, indie singer Mitski alludes to mid-century Hollywood in portraits by NY photographer Bảo Ngô. Through leather-print shades she peeks around a red curtain gripped in long leather gloves; on the cover, the artist’s lashes are adjusted by a hand reaching into frame as if she’s being prepared for the silver screen. In a conversation on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah the Japanese-American musician illustrates that “be the cowboy” refers to the cowboy myth; she was “attracted to that idea of freedom and arrogance and not having to apologize [for existing],” and made a record that allows non-white/non-male listeners “to channel or embody that energy”. She explains, “the idea of a [white] man riding into town, wrecking s*, and then walking out like he’s the hero” is uniquely American.
Yasuke was a man, formerly enslaved, who arrived in Japan in 1579 during the Azuchi-Momoyama period of civil war and division. Oda Nobunga, a powerful daimyo (feudal lord) at the time, hired him as a samurai for the protection and expansion of his land. Sumi is an ink bar, ground and mixed with water, that becomes a rich dark ink. Traditionally it’s made by kneading a fusion of soot and animal bone glue before a drying stage which can span from a few months to a few seasons. Nobunga once tried to rub pigment from Yasuke’s skin. Through dialogue and work, the black samurai’s humanity was recognized as he and the warlord became family.
The voice of T’Challa sometimes rings in my mind. Chadwick Boseman became a hero through nuanced portrayals of transformative black agents like Thurgood Marshall and Jackie Robinson, depicting their convictions and insecurities, setbacks, and triumphs against hatred and fear. His excellence can only be understated here—all his hope and love—marked in a few words. We can only imagine the vitality, humility, and nobility he would have brought to PICTURESTART’s feature film about the aforementioned Afro-Japanese warrior, Yasuke. However, we can perpetuate his example. Sleep Well.
This year, I watched the Star Wars movies for the first time. It’s a franchise so influential in our culture that before ever seeing a film, I knew the story: hope versus fear. The original movies were inspired by filmmakers of Western and Samurai genre films, who often traded images, themes, plots, and sentiments with one another. But these genres are distinct. In the John Wayne film The Alamo (1960), the Texan protagonists repeatedly admit that their defeat by Mexican troops is inevitable. Still, shortly after being “freed”, the film has a black man sacrifice himself for the enslaving general’s life, seconds before the white man meets his long-impending doom. Regarding the siege of the Alamo fort in 1836 that inspired this film, there are reports of survivors; the real man in this event who was “freed” exited the fort. The mythology found in the classic Western is not limited to this example which more than likely made a dehumanizing impression on the audience of that time. There are pictures which depict indigenous peoples with white actors and movies in which women are restricted in language; and the list of human violations can stretch a mile.
Many films in this genre serve to justify imperialism and to clear the consciousnesses of people who perpetuate the western tradition of robbery glorified as “destiny”, self-righteousness violence, and other crimes against humanity, too many for one post. A line can be drawn from the level of entitlement and irresponsibility taught to the overrepresented identity in Hollywood “classics”, such as the BIPOC- work villainizing The Searchers (1954), to the citizens today who seek to close borders, constrain clinics, and use the Second Amendment to deny rights,
screaming “all lives”
from hornet hives.
May the Fourth Amendment be with you.