My Thoughts on After You, The Sequel to Me Before You

So first before I write this review: if you haven’t read Me Before You (the book before After You), then make sure you read it before reading my take on it. Because like any review about a series book (like let’s say, Harry Potter) if you don’t know what’s going on with the characters’ backstories, then it’s going to be hard to catch up. Also, who likes spoilers? I don’t know many people who care for them, unless they just are absolutely certain they will not read the book or watch the movie. So I’ll leave some spaces here before you scroll any further…

Ready? Okay, let’s do this thing. So the book After You carries off after Will Traynor’s assisted suicide (Dignitas) and Louisa is trying her hardest to cope, but ends up falling from her apartment building. Her family tells her to come back home, so she does and gets a job at an airport working at a coffeeshop/bar. Her boss, Richard, is a pain to work with, constantly micromanaging her and forcing her to wear an outfit she doesn’t like. On top of that, she is trying to stay away from people who think of her as the girl who encouraged Will’s suicide. And big surprise: neither we the reader nor Louisa knows that Will had a daughter, but lo and behold Lily shows up at Louisa’s apartment one night because she found out Louisa knew Will. Louisa’s parents also send her to a grief support group, and while at first Louisa doesn’t want to be there, she meets Sam, who is a relative of one of the support group members. Louisa must make a lot of hard decisions in this book: should she accept her newfound relationship with Sam, or not go for it because Will wouldn’t have wanted it? Should she accept a new job offer in a different city or stay put at her day job? Should she let Lily stay at her apartment or risk hurting her feelings by kicking her out?

The book was great, although I am aware of the criticisms around it. There was a lot of backlash from disabled communities because Me Before You suggests that living as a disabled person is useless and disabled people should opt for ending their lives instead of living. I am honestly glad I read the criticisms because I was crying during Me Before You and After You, and I knew I was frustrated with the ending of Me Before You, but I simply couldn’t put my tongue on it. I thought at the end, Did Will just have to go through with suicide? Why couldn’t he and Louisa just grow old together? Why did the key to Louisa’s happiness have to be in another able-bodied person (Sam) in the sequel? Then I read reviews about the film by disability activists and was relieved to know my growing discomfort with the novel’s ending was valid.

Also, from a Nichiren Buddhist perspective, we believe everyone has a mission in life and that mission is give other people hope when we overcome our challenges. We also believe that there is a type of happiness called absolute happiness, where, even if you are going through the worst of times, when you chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, you awaken to your own inner potential (which we all have inside of us) to overcome any obstacle and achieve your goals, so even going through challenges is itself a joy. By the end, I kind of wished Will and Louisa were real so that I could tell them about Nam-myoho-renge-kyo; I’m not saying it would have made Will’s problems go away, but it would have given him hope that he could keep going in life. I cannot speak for disabled people since I am able-bodied, but I know a lot of people who are physically disabled but they keep on living despite the challenges and discrimination they may face as disabled people. I am also aware that suicide is a touchy topic and that my views do not reflect other people’s perspectives. As much as I loved Me Before You and its sequel at first, I am trying to become more aware of the ways in which a lack of accurate representation of disabled people does more harm than good.

Book Review: The Power

It took me a while to finish this book because 1. I was reading five other books at the same time as reading this one and 2. the violence was pretty graphic. Not in a bad way, it was just hard to stomach for many of the scenes.

But just to give a brief summary of this novel. It is told in the third person narrative, but each chapter switches back and forth between different characters in the novel. It is about a power that all women and girls–not men and boys–possess, and Naomi Alderman, the author of the novel, illustrates the effects–whether good, bad, or in-between—of having this power on society and the girls and women themselves. A year ago I read a book called Vox by Christina Dalcher. That book takes place in a society where lab agents put trackers on all women and girls so that they don’t say more than 100 words per day. If they say any more than that, they get electric shocks. It gave me goosebumps because in reality, many girls and women have faced this silencing at work, in school, in the government, and elsewhere. The Power took that narrative and turned it on its head by having women and girls rule society and men as the oppressed group. The novel also shows how bad toxic masculinity can be because several men’s rights groups are trying to get back at the girls and women and kill them so they can take their power from them (I thought about meninism and how it wants to push back against feminism)

The power that the women and girls have in the book is a skein that each of them have on their hands. If they touch someone, even lightly, the other person will feel the power rise up from the girls’ palms. If the girl or woman presses their palm with great force, it can burn skin, send intense shock waves throughout the other person’s body, and cause other injuries Alderman shows that while on the surface having a society where women have this power sounds so empowering, this power must be used wisely and if it gets in the wrong hands it can wreak serious havoc (later in the book, one of the dudes tries to kill one of the girls and ends up getting the skein of power in his hand. He doesn’t stand a chance for the women who also have the power).

The end of the book gave me chills, but I think that was what the author intended because it shows you to never underestimate the strength of women and their power to unite. Overall, excellent read.

The Power. Naomi Alderman. 385 pp.

Movie Review: In a World

I have been wanting to see this movie for the longest time, but never knew when I would get a chance to see it. I am really glad I watched it though, because it taught me to not give up on my dreams. The film, which is based on the late Don LaFontaine’s famous voice over for trailers “In a world…”, is about a voice over coach named Carol (played by Lake Bell, who also wrote, directed and produced this film) who lives with her voice actor dad Sam, and she is struggling to find gigs. The worst part: her dad kicks her out so that his girlfriend can move in with him. He also tells her the same thing he has been telling her for years: that the industry won’t hire her because she’s a woman. So she goes to her sister Dani’s place to live and is still struggling to find work. She also has to compete with an egotistical jerk named Gustav Warner, who is competing for Carol’s work. While she is working in the studio, she is given a prompt to read for a new movie, and she soon finds out that she got a couple of gigs. What she doesn’t know is that her dad and Gustav are also competing for them. She goes to a party that Gustav is throwing and ends up sleeping with Gustav because he manipulates her into thinking he likes her for her when he is just using her to advance his own agenda. Carol ends up proving to these two dudes that women are just as valuable to the industry as any man (the fact that Lake Bell produced, wrote, directed, and starred in the film proves this even further).

This film reminded me a lot of this one episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, in which Midge meets her idol Sophie Lennon, who puts on a running caricature of an overweight poor woman from Queens named Sophie. Midge actually believes that Sophie from Queens is real and Sophie invites her over to her house, but when she gets there she finds that Sophie, in reality, lives a completely different life from her character. Sophie in real life sucks on lemons, is haughty, lives in a mansion, and looks down on Midge. When Midge asks her for advice and tells Sophie of her dreams of being a famous comedian, Sophie laughs at her and says in seriousness that comedy won’t take her seriously unless she is a man (she used a coarser phrase but it doesn’t need repeating). When Sam says this to Carol, I thought of this scene. Midge of course proves Sophie wrong (and even reveals to her audience at the Gaslight that Sophie isn’t who people think she is and is just an arrogant fraud who thinks her poo doesn’t stink).

This movie, In a World, was also inspiring to watch as a female in the music industry. Even though the film is about voice over acting, music still has a long way to go in how it treats women and a lot of women in the industry, like Bebe Rexha, are taking initiative to support other women in the field since many of them, like her, have had to break down some kind of barrier to their success. When women support other women, as I have found out in my own industry, great things happen and we defy the stereotypes that women are always backstabbing each other and can’t support one another.

I also thought about the story of the dragon king’s daughter while watching this film. In The Lotus Sutra, which expounds the philosophy of Buddhism (and which is the foundation of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism), there is a story about an eight-year-old girl who is the daughter of a dragon king and she goes before an assembly of people who doubt she can attain enlightenment. But without having to change her form, she basically tells the assembly, “Watch me attain Buddhahood” and does so before their very eyes. This story is for everyone, but especially for girls and women because it shows that you can be yourself and still kick butt at what you do. Like the dragon king’s daughter, everyone has that courage, compassion and wisdom inside of them but it’s just a matter of bringing it out. Even though her dad thought she wouldn’t make it in the industry, Carol proved that she has a purpose for being in the field that she is in, and later we see that it’s to encourage other young women to pursue voice acting because they finally see a woman doing it and feel encouraged to go for the field. And I like Carol because she’s awkward and introverted like me, which doesn’t seem to most people like an attractive personality in a competitive extroverted business where you’re constantly around people who don’t seem genuine (probably not true about Hollywood since I’ve never worked in it, so I’m probably making a generalization). But she uses her strength to her advantage and realizes that she doesn’t have to become her egotistical dad or Gustav. While leading up to the big day of the voice over gig they’re all competing for, Gustav trains rigorously with his housekeeper, Sam trains with his girlfriend, and Carol is sitting at home with her friend in the studio Louis (who, unlike Gustav, is a sweet guy who respects Carol and also likes her for her), and chowing down on a hamburger. She is the only one who is relaxing before the gig. Even though she wasn’t going through intensive training before the gig, she still did a great job at it.

Overall, this film was great and I honestly wouldn’t mind watching it again. Also, like Booksmart, the film had a cool soundtrack with a lot of great hits from Ice Cube and Tears for Fears.

In a World. 2013. Rated R for language including some sexual references.

Book Review: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Gosh. Like Homegoing, I had a hard time putting this book down. Even though the book is set in 2007-2008, around the time that Lehman Bothers collapsed, it is still important to read in 2020, especially since, in the past few years, we have witnessed a president who has exhibited all manner of toxic anti-immigration sentiments. I devoured this book in about a week because it was so good.

Behold the Dreamers takes place in New York City in 2007. Jende and his wife Neni have a son and are expecting another child. They have left Cameroon for the United States and found employment, and they find themselves working for a white American couple named Clark and Cindy. Clark and Cindy are upper middle class people who live busy lives, but they have dark secrets, one being that the company Clark works for, Lehman Brothers, is doing shady stuff that could lead to the company going underwater. Another dark secret is that Cindy struggles with addiction and alcoholism. Even though Neni tries to help her and find out what is bothering Cindy, Cindy pushes her away and tells her to mind her business. But as the novel goes on, things get more stressful, and also Jende and Neni are struggling to stay in the U.S. because they don’t know if their request for asylum will get approved.

This was an important book to read because I didn’t know much about the Lehman Brothers collapse other than what I learned briefly in my history and social studies classes in high school. This novel taught me that Lehman Brothers didn’t just affect American citizens but also immigrants like Jende and Neni who not only have to deal with losing their jobs, but also losing their right to stay in the U.S. I never thought much of the American Dream but after reading books like Dear America by Jose Antonio Vargas, Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue and The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez, and after listening to my friends from countries outside of the U.S., like India and the Congo, talk about their struggles to obtain green cards and apply for permanent residency in the U.S., I have a different idea of what the American Dream is. When I read The Great Gatsby in high school, we talked about how the novel portrays the American Dream, but it was from the perspective of a well-to-do white American guy who never had to get a green card or even think about his citizenship. The American Dream isn’t accessible to many people and to get the American Dream requires a lot of emotional and financial sacrifice for many people who immigrate to the U.S. While I can’t relate to what immigrants go through, I can’t begin to imagine what a stressful process it is, but watching John Oliver break it down was fairly helpful.

Overall, a very important book to read for our time.

Behold the Dreamers: A Novel by Imbolo Mbue. 2016. 382 pp.

Book Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

photo courtesy of me.

A friend recommended this book to me, and I couldn’t recommend it enough. Yaa Gyasi’s writing really left an impact on me. It is a powerful novel about the importance of remembering our history. I honestly have no other words to describe it, and I cannot do justice by just putting a basic summary. I took a class in which we read literature from authors of the African Diaspora, but that was a few years ago. This book served as a reminder to me to not forget my history. I first started reading it on the cruise I went on and it spellbound me immediately. What I find unique about this book is that each story seems to stand on its own and it feels like you are reading several novels within a 300 page novel. The book covers so much history in just 300 or so pages that I was left feeling both exhausted and incredibly moved.

I do admit because I wasn’t super focused while reading, I sometimes got lost while reading the book and had to go back at some points and remember who the characters were, but there is a family tree at the beginning of the novel with the characters’ names. The family tree was helpful because each character has their own chapter, and the characters cross paths in each others’ stories, so it can be helpful in order to keep up with the characters. If you end up not taking an Africana Studies course at any point in your life, at the very least read this book because while it’s not going to just lay out all the bullet points and basic facts just like any standard textbook would, the lived experiences of these characters at these different points in history (the slave trade to Jim Crow-era segregation to the present) is enough to make you pause and reflect on the history of race and blackness and how it has shaped African-Americans’ individual lives. Overall, it is an incredibly powerful book that left me with goosebumps and honestly I hope they make it into a movie someday.

Homegoing: A Novel by Yaa Gyasi. 320 pp.

Movie Review: Uncle Drew

After watching the emotionally heavy film Jackie, I had to watch something funny, and the only funny movie I had checked out from the library was Uncle Drew. I saw the trailer for it a long time ago, but didn’t know if it would interest me. But after watching it, I was sorely mistaken: it was so funny and also had a beautiful message.

It’s about this basketball coach named Dax Winslow who is struggling with encouraging his team, as well as trying to please his girlfriend, Jess, by buying nice things for her. He also has a rival named Mookie Bass who puts Dax down and even gets Dax’s team to turn on him when Dax buys them all the latest shoes when working his shift at Foot Locker. Dax loses all hope in coaching the team, until he finds a retired basketball player named Uncle Drew who proves a group of young basketball players wrong when he beats them at their game (they think that just because he walks slower than they do and has grey hair that he is a grandpa and thus cannot play basketball). Dax catches up with Uncle Drew after the game and asks if Uncle Drew can join his team since Dax is short on players (Mookie Bass stole his teammates from him). At first Uncle Drew is reluctant but then agrees to join if Dax lets him also recruit Drew’s old teammates.

Everyone else on the team is a retire basketball player, and at first Dax is having a hard time convincing them to come back to playing, but in encouraging them to get back in the game, Dax also comes to terms with his own past struggles. He stopped playing basketball after he missed a shot during a game and his teammates felt he let them down, but after seeing Uncle Drew and his teammates show their stuff during games, Dax realizes that he must overcome his fear of getting back on the court.

It was also a really cool movie because towards the middle of the film, Shaquille O’Neal’s character, Big Fella, has his headphones in, and when he takes them off, we hear the words “Nam myoho renge kyo”. As a Nichiren Buddhist, this was such a cool scene because the only other times I’ve heard Nam myoho renge kyo used in films and movies is What’s Love Got to Do With It? (I still have yet to see it, but that’s how most people I encounter have heard of NMRK) and one episode of The Simpsons. The movie also has a message that very much resonates with Nichiren Buddhism. There’s a concept in Nichiren Buddhism called fundamental darkness, which means that we cannot see the potential inside of us. When we do what is called our human revolution, or self transformation, we awaken to the reality that we each have innate courage, wisdom and compassion and this gives us the strength to face our problems head on and overcome them. Dax’s fundamental darkness in this context is that he can’t see his potential to win at basketball and encourage his team, but when he overcomes his fear, he awakens to his potential and even his girlfriend is impressed (it’s also his chance to prove Mookie Bass wrong since Mookie thought Dax never had a chance).

Even though I don’t know much about basketball and have only played a few times (although more often than not just shooting hoops by myself at the gym), I really loved this film and thought it was cool to see these influential people like Lisa Leslie and Kyrie Irving in this heartwarming fun film. The only people in basketball I knew before seeing this film were Shaquille O’Neal and Lisa Leslie (sad but true).

Even though Nick Kroll plays a jerk in this film, I still love him in The Kroll Show. Also, he has a nice smile. And I also loved seeing Lil Rey Howery (who plays Dax) because he was in Get Out and I love that movie. His role in that film made watching the film less stressful because he was the voice of reason to Daniel Kaluuya’s character, Chris. Chris was convinced his girlfriend’s parents were okay even though there was something fishy about the town they were in, and it took Lil Rey Howery, who plays Chris’s friend Rod, to tell him to get the hell out of that town and leave the girlfriend and her family since they were planning to kill him.

Movie Review: A Bad Moms Christmas

I am playing catch-up after being off of this blog for so long, and in the time I haven’t been blogging I have been just consuming books, movies and music like it’s nobody’s business. Okay, maybe it hasn’t been that long, you all will need to check the calendar for me.

Anyhoo, enough with that. I just finished (my typical beginner line, maybe I should find another beginning line, I’ve kind of worn this “just finished” one out) the film A Bad Moms Christmas. Lately I have been checking out a bunch of comedies since a lot has been going on in the world with coronavirus, the helicopter crash that killed Kobe, his daughter and others, the White House, and climate change, and I just needed to take a break from my phone to have a good laugh. My advice: watch the first Bad Moms movie ( back in the dinosaur age I wrote a review on it), and then watch Bad Moms Christmas. Most important tip of all: prepare to laugh even harder than you did when you watched the first. Bad Moms was obviously quite hilarious and had me laughing so hard my side hurt, but Bad Moms Christmas one made me laugh even harder (and yes, all this laughter made my side hurt harder than the first time).

The basic premise of Bad Moms, for those who haven’t seen it, is Amy, this mom living in suburban Chicago, whose life is anything but perfect. Her kids are entitled, her job barely lets her have time off for herself, and worst of all, she is dealing with a clique of PTA moms that are straight out of Mean Girls (only they never have a change of heart like Regina, Gretchen and Karen had), the ringleader of which loves to taunt Amy and pile all these PTA mom responsibilities on her and expect her to have her life together. Amy meets two other moms who struggle to make time for themselves because they are all trying to be perfect moms, and the three of them strike up a friendship and get back at the PTA mom clique and its ringleader by doing things like bringing store-bought donut holes to bake sales, holding house parties with alcohol, and cursing. Amy, Carla and Kiki (the three main moms in the film) realize that it’s okay to not be the perfect parent and what’s most important is just being their best selves.

In A Bad Moms Christmas, the story continues, but this time, with the moms’ moms all coming to visit them for the holidays. Cheryl Hines (who plays Cheryl on Curb Your Enthusiasm), Christine Baranski (from Chicago, Eloise at Christmastime and How the Grinch Stole Christmas) and Susan Sarandon (who I found out on my American Philosophical Association poster majored in philosophy like me!)—all of them make the film what it is: touching, hilarious, and clever. Cheryl Hines plays Kiki’s mom Sandy and the thing she struggles with is respecting her daughter’s need for space and to live her life independently. Susan Sarandon plays Carla’s mom, and she only comes to see Carla when she needs money for gambling and was never really there for her daughter all the time when Carla was growing up. And Christine Baranski, who plays Ruth, Amy’s mom, is an overbearing perfectionist who comes into Amy’s home and puts her way of life down. She thinks she is going to come into Amy’s home and tell her how they are going to celebrate Christmas, driving everyone to see the five-hour tragic version of The Nutcracker and taking the family to at least 200 homes to sing Christmas Carols with a choir that Amy’s mom hired. She even elaborately decorates the house and invites 100 people over to Amy’s house without her permission because she thinks that a casual Christmas with takeout and time with family isn’t going to cut it. Amy feels that she can’t live her life anymore because her mom wants to control it, but at least she can always rely on her friends Kiki and Carla to support her.

Overall, I really loved this movie. Carla especially is hilarious, and the scene where she has her, Amy and Kiki get drunk and rowdy in the mall during the holidays was very silly but had me busting up. And Kenny G makes a cameo appearance!

A Bad Moms Christmas. 2017. Rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, and some drug use.

Movie Review: The Edge of Seventeen

I first saw the trailer for The Edge of Seventeen a while back, and thought, Eh, this is okay, but I don’t know if I’m pressed to see it. I am glad I finally watched it because it is a great movie. It is about an unpopular introverted 17-year-old named Nadine whose best friend since second grade, Krista, falls in love with Nadine’s popular older brother Darian. Nadine has been ostracized since she was young, but Krista was her best and only friend during that time, so the fact that Krista begins to prioritize time with Darian over time with Nadine is hurtful to Nadine. Nadine then shuts herself off from the world, and the only person she feels she can trust is her history teacher, Mr.Bruner, who cannot stand her excuses for not turning in homework but still lets her come into his homeroom during lunch and hang out with him since she doesn’t have friends. A guy next to her in class, Erwin, falls in love with Nadine, but Nadine shrugs him off and tries to stay friends with him because she is so busy chasing Nick, a cute guy who works at a pet store called Petland.

This movie taught me a lot of valuable life lessons. Now of course, my high school years were nowhere as stressful as those of Nadine, but I remember being ostracized as a really young kid, and never fitting in. Like Nadine, I was an “old soul”, meaning I had a hard time relating to my peers because I loved environmental science, reading huge books, and classical music, but I never got ostracized for it. I, like Nadine, do however remember closing myself off from people and feeling like I couldn’t relate to my peers. I even remember not wanting to go on an orchestra trip because last time I roomed with a group of girls on a trip the previous year I somehow sensed that one of the girls didn’t like me, and thus the entire group of girls didn’t like me. Turns out that they were actually pretty cool, and when I decided to stay in the hotel room and work on my precalculus homework instead of skiing because I assumed they didn’t want me around, they were kind of sad (my orchestra teacher later called me and hooked me up with a few other trip participants who didn’t want to go skiing, and I ended up having a blast). That experience taught me to never assume people didn’t like me, especially in an age where a lot of people communicate through social media and text. I think a lot of people want more real in-person conversations nowadays because we are so overwhelmed with all these modes of communication (e.g. apps, Facebook, smart phones in general). It reminds me of the film Boyhood, when Mason is talking to his girlfriend before he goes to college and says he wants to quit Facebook because he doesn’t want to live his life behind a screen. I remember not having any social media in high school and feeling like a weirdo, but then also being too busy with schoolwork and orchestra to care about it much. And most kids even told me that I was smart for not being on Facebook, citing that it was a huge waste of time. I also knew that my real friends respected my choice to not use Facebook and would just call me or tell me in person if they wanted to hang out.

If anything, this film taught me the importance of self-love. If you cannot love yourself, you cannot truly love other people, and Nadine struggles with this throughout the film. When Nadine hits puberty she freaks out and gets jealous of Darian just because he seems to be zit-free (and worry-free, too). When she goes to a party with Krista and Darian she ends up not meeting anyone while Krista floats off with people she knows and leaves Nadine hanging. Nadine goes into the restroom and beats herself up for being too awkward for her peers, and ends up calling her mom to pick her up and take her home. In one of the most pivotal scenes in the film, Nadine confronts her brother and tells him that she is afraid that she will never get rid of the things she hates about herself, and that when she looks in the mirror she hates everything about herself. However, there are a couple of people who actually support Nadine: Mr. Bruner and Erwin. Erwin, like Nadine, is awkward, but when he tries to kiss her and Nadine says “no”, he immediately feels bad about what he did and doesn’t do it again. He, like Nadine, isn’t a super popular person, but he is the only guy who actually likes her for who she is and isn’t just interested in her for sex. And yet because Nadine cannot see how beautiful she really is, outside and inside, she thinks Erwin isn’t the right guy for her and keeps chasing Nick. Nick, however, isn’t interested in her and Nadine feels she has to go out of her way to pursue him, so she sends him a sexually explicit Facebook message. He sees it and asks her out, but then when they are in the car, all he cares about is having sex with her. She expects him to just get to know her as a person first, but he isn’t interested in that. This scene taught me that it’s important to not go chasing after love just because you have this ideal vision that you and your crush are going to fall in love immediately.

It also taught me to not compare myself with others. When Nadine and her mom are in the car and Nadine doesn’t want to go to school, her mom tells her to take a deep breath and tell herself the truth behind everyone’s facade of composure and success: everyone is just faking it until they make it, and everyone is just as miserable as Nadine is, and that they are just better at hiding it. This is so true though because even though Darian is ripped and popular, he admits to Nadine that he doesn’t care about her even though he pretended to for their entire life. He, Nadine and their mom are also still trying to survive the death of Nadine and Darian’s father. I am sure that Nick, the seemingly perfect crush of Nadine, was going through a ton of stuff himself. I remember in college and high school feeling so insecure, thinking everyone had more friends than me and had an easier time with their classes than I did. However, what I failed to realize until much later is that these kids’ lives weren’t perfect either and that they were just as ready to walk across that graduation stage as I was because everyone was just about done with school by their senior year. In college, I studied hard but still compared myself to my peers. A lot of the older students had to tell me multiple times that no one had their stuff together and that everyone was just trying to make it in college, but I wouldn’t listen. These constant comparisons I made between me and my peers led me to feel depressed, and I when I got depressed I shut myself away from my peers, thinking it would be pointless to even say “hi” to them because I was too busy thinking about how cool and put-together everyone seemed. After college, part of me wishes I didn’t have to go through such a self-pity party, but another part of me understands that this constant battle with my self-esteem was crucial to my personal development, because it taught me that in the end, I just need to keep killin’ it at whatever I am doing, and to not worry about what others are doing.

This movie reminds me of a book I read called The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth by Alexandra Robbins. In the book, Robbins conducts research on high school bullying and proposes a theory called “quirk theory”, which means that the things and characteristics that get kids ostracized when they are in school are the same things that help them achieve success later in life. Nadine reminds me of a lot of the kids in the book because she has a hard time relating to her peers and considers herself an “old soul”, but these qualities could help her a lot in her later life (although she probably wouldn’t have needed to wait long because she actually found a friend in Erwin).

Hailee Steinfeld’s performance was incredible. The last film I saw her in was Pitch Perfect 2 (still haven’t seen her in True Grit yet) but her role was kind of on the side. Seeing her play the lead was awesome because she just brings so much depth to Nadine’s character. This film reminded me of Juno and Lady Bird because the lead characters are so quick-witted and relatable.

The Edge of Seventeen. 2016. Rated R for sexual content, language and some drinking–all involving teens.

Book and Movie Review: for colored girls (In Memory of Ntozake Shange)

A few months ago I watched Tyler Perry’s film adaptation of the choreopoem and play for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by the late dancer and writer Ntozake Shange. I have been meaning to write a blog post after seeing the movie because it just possessed so much raw energy for me, and also Ntozake Shange passed away this past October, so I wanted to dedicate this very belated post to her legacy. Disclaimer: the jumbled words on this page will never do justice to her life and her writing.

The film version is about a group of black women living in New York who each have a different story, and they support each other through their shared struggles. The film, I must, say, is a lot easier to appreciate if you read the choreopoem beforehand, and while I thought the film was incredibly moving, I read the poem after and definitely appreciate it more. The film is not an easy watch; the struggles these women endure domestic violence, date rape, PTSD, depression, abortion and drug addiction, struggles that make them spiral deep into depression. Through it all, though, they support one another through and through, and it was enough to have me sniffling like a whiny little crybaby afterwards (I swear, I was a snotty-faced cry-baby towards the end of this film. I couldn’t stop crying after I went to bed.). This film is deeply engrained in my memory, not just because of the incredible cast, but because of their intense battles to survive in a world where their husbands, boyfriends and society treats them like they are worthless and cannot see their beauty. Historically, mental health has a stigma in American culture, particularly in communities of color, and black women have often been portrayed as possessing this super human strength and not giving in to crying because people often see crying as a form of weakness. However, tears are human, and this film and play shows that the “black female” experience doesn’t exist in a monolith, and to pigeonhole all black women’s struggles would mean obscuring all the complex human emotions these black women feel when they have to endure so much pain in their lives. And this film shows that yes, if you’ve gone through a lot of stuff, you’d better be okay with crying it out and not feeling like you have to be silent about your pain, because crying is what makes us human.

The movie was excellent, and it makes me wish I had read the play before seeing it in order to better appreciate the legacy Shange left behind, especially because it gave background information about Shange’s inspiration for her choreopoem. During the 1970s, Shange collaborated with various other women in California who were musicians, publishers, writers and academics. Shange said that her exposure to female writers such as Zora Neale Hurston and taking courses in the Women’s Studies program at Sonoma State College provided her inspiration for her writings about women. She then moved back to San Francisco to study dance, and discovered that dance was an outlet for her to freely express herself as a black woman.

Knowing a woman’s mind & spirit had been allowed me, with dance I discovered my body more intimately than I had imagined possible. With the acceptance of the ethnicity of my thighs & backside, came a clearer understanding of my voice as a woman & as a poet. The freedom to move in space, to demand of my own sweat a perfection that could continually be approached, though never known, waz poem to me, my body & mind ellipsing, probably for the first time in my life…I moved what waz my unconscious knowledge of being in a colored woman’s body to my known everydayness.

Shange p. xi

Shange joined a troupe of black female dancers called The Spirit of Dance and also worked in the public schools as an adjunct professor in the Ethnic Studies program, and after several performances with the troupe, she left the company to begin production of for colored girls. She began the play as a series of seven poems. The seven black women who would each tell their stories in these poems did not have names because Shange wanted the viewer to focus on the narratives rather than the names of the characters (the colors of their dresses represent their characters). Shange and her choreography partner Paula Moss staged the play in various spaces in the San Francisco area: the Women’s Studies’ departments, bars, cafes, and poetry centers. Many people came to see the play in its early performances, but when Moss and Shange moved to New York to take for colored girls to the stage there, only their friends and family came for the showings. One of these friends was Oz Scott, who helped Shange and Moss stage the production for a New York audience, and as time went on, Shange also recruited more poets and dancers who were interested in the production. In December of 1975, when they put for colored girls on at a bar called DeMonte’s, Shange had let Scott take over the directing of the play, and when she did this, she let her creation grow on its own, and said that “as opposed to viewing the pieces as poems, I came to understand these twenty-odd poems as a single statement, a choreopoem” (Shange xiv). She also learned the importance of putting those poems on a stage instead of just writing it in a book (“those institutions I had shunned as a poet-producers, theaters, actresses, & sets–now were essential to us”, Shange xiv).

Honestly, reading this entire foreword to the play has not just helped me appreciate Shange’s for colored girls, but also the performing arts as a whole. Dance is such an important avenue for our bodies to express themselves, and works well with other mediums of performing art, such as music and theatre. For black women, dance is especially powerful because it allows for that freedom of expression that American society didn’t always allow for black women. Misty Copeland, for instance, made history as a black ballerina in predominantly-white spaces, but she had to struggle hard to access these spaces since she grew up without racial or class privilege that her fellow ballerinas benefited from. Even when she struggled with body image issues, she learned to accept her curves and not try to fit into mainstream stereotypes of ballerinas. The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater is another prominent example; a few years ago, I was doing a paper on dance for a philosophy course, and I used this performance that the theater put on for Ailey’s work “Revelations”. The performance is not only incredibly lovely, but it also conveys the importance of dance for black artists like Shange. The dancers in “Revelations” own the entire space onstage, so they have the freedom to move however much they want. The video goes back to African-American music traditions, namely gospel and blues, using traditional songs such as “Wade in the Water”. Seriously, even though I have watched this video more than once, it still moves me to see these beautiful artists carve out this space for their own, where they can celebrate the beauty of being African-American.

If you haven’t seen for colored girls yet, I recommend it, but I also recommend you read the choreopoem first if you can score a copy of it. I was better able to contextualize the movie when I read the play afterwards. And here is the trailer for for colored girls. I still get chills every time I watch it. Rest in Peace, Ntozake Shange and may your powerful legacy live on in the lives of young women and young black women everywhere.

for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf: a choreopoem by Ntozake Shange. 64 pp.

For Colored Girls. 2010. Rated R for some disturbing violence including a rape, sexual content and language.

In Honor of Earth Day

I could have posted billions of articles about saving the planet, but my main focus ever since doing my senior thesis on how climate change affects low-income communities (and especially communities of color) is environmental justice, or what happens when people of color and low income people have greater access to clean air, water and environmental education. When searching for articles on Earth Day, therefore, I searched for articles specifically tackling environmental injustice in socially marginalized communities, namely the Black community.

The Root just came out recently with such a piece:
https://www.theroot.com/on-earth-day-our-fight-for-environmental-justice-and-a-1834187077

Of course, this isn’t the only day to pay respect to our Planet Earth. Every day we should take some action to help the planet. However, not everyone is able to do this, and so that’s why the Environmental Justice movement is so important. It has given historically oppressed communities a chance to voice their concerns and work together to speak out and say “Enough is enough.”

Book rec: The Environment and the People in American Cities by Dorceta Taylor is an excellent book that differentiates between conservationist environmental movement and the urban environmental movement. It discusses how conservationists often focused on preserving national parks and forests, but urban environmental movements focused on the correlation between class, race and gender inequalities and access to clean air, water and other environmental goods. Taylor really delves into a lot about the movement and gives extensive insight into a very important issue that is still relevant today.