Muse by Craig Ranapia

10

Those Racist Casting Call Blues

"Three actresses walk into a casting call..."  Sounds like the set up for a bad joke whose punchline is going to land nowhere good? Well, up to a very sharp point. 

You can never take too much piss out of racial (and racist) typecasting - and good old fashioned casting couch misogyny and 'Typecast,' a rather nifty Royals parody that's been getting a lot of play recently is bitter-sweetly awesome. 

Tess Paras (who created and co-starred in the video) nails far too many awful ethnic tropes for comfort.  But before we all get too smugly Kiwi about it, here's Roseanne (Banana In A Nutshell, My Wedding and Other Secrets)  Liang's equally pointed 2007 short Take 3:

(Thanks NZ On Screen, you tasty cornucopia of delicious local goodness! Unfortunately, due to the terms of the license Take 3 is geoblocked outside New Zealand.)

 

Is it awesome to see Liang and Paras wittily slapping around racist bullshit?  Definitely.  But it would be even better if they didn't have to in the first place, and snarky short films (no matter how brilliant) don't get the job done.

Elizabeth Plank makes a relevant to New Zealand point here:

Discrimination in the industry doesn't just happen during the casting process, of course. It happens every step of the way. Female directors and producers know that getting funding for female-centric narratives is an uphill battle, since those stories are still perceived as "niche." Add race and ethnicity to the mix and you've got yourself an even steeper financial mountain to climb.

Ultimately, one of the best ways to support the women making a difference is to vote with our remotes. By consuming media that focuses and represents the lives of women of color, we'll be sending a powerful message to the elite in Hollwood and they won't have a choice but to listen and follow the money trail.

Muses know I'm a broken record on the subject, but the best way to ensure diverse and lively local television and film drama is to support the damn things and let the powers that be know it.  That includes shows that aren't straight white dick-fests  with bits of condescending "ethnic" colour.

92

Guilt By Association Copy

I really can't muster enough interest in Kim Dotcom or the Internet Party to form an opinion worth anyone's attention, but I do have a rather lively interest in a new parlour game called Guilt By Association Copy, cooked up by 3 News' Brook Sabin:

Internet millionaire and alleged cyber-pirate Kim Dotcom has admitted owning one of the rarest pieces of Nazi memorabilia in existence.

On the eve of the launch of his Internet Party, Dotcom has confirmed he purchased one of the first copies of Adolf Hitler's book, Mein Kampf, signed by the man who went on to establish the Third Reich.

Dotcom fronted up to 3 News to talk politics, not expecting questions about Nazi memorabilia.

"I'm a Call of Duty player right, so if you know the game Call of Duty it's all about World War II," says Dotcom. "I'm a big fan of that and I've bought material from Stalin, from Churchill and Hitler."

That "material"  includes a very significant and contentious piece of Nazi history.

"I did buy a book at an auction, which Adolf Hitler wrote – Mein Kampf."

Mein Kampf, or My Struggle, is Hitler's fanatical autobiography, full of what would become Nazi ideology. Four years ago Dotcom bought quite possibly the rarest copy on earth.

"Adolf Hitler wrote that book in prison," says Dotcom. "He wrote it with a cellmate there. He signed that book out to that cellmate. So it was one of the first prints and probably the first book that he signed."

In the book trade an "association copy" is a book that has been inscribed and signed by the author to a person associated with them.  I'd like to err on the side of generosity and assume Three News isn't implying that Dotcom (who happens to be German, you know) is a neo-Nazi, but, of course, WhaleOil went screaming over that top yesterday... 

Here's a modest proposal for Sabin, who ended his report with this sanctimonious load of flannel:

It is confession time for Dotcom, clearing the decks ahead of his party launch tomorrow – another controversial chapter in the tale of Dotcom.

Perhaps Sabin and Three News should come clean themselves.  Were they fed this story by Cameron Slater?  What, if any, public interest test was passed here?  Would this even have been a story if Kim Dotcom was a collector of high end Churchillania, or Soviet-era memorabilia? 

Whatever you think of Kim Dotcom and the Internet Party, it's worth having a good hard think about how far this can go.  After all, if mere possession of an expensive book means you must agree with its contents, should my own (second-hand) paperback copy of Mein Kampf  put me byond the pale?  How about the several Bibles I own -- rich in passages that exhort the faithful to commit acts that here and now would range from the merely offensive to the downright criminal.  And don't even start on the fiction...

11

The Disappearing of Paradise

What happens when a New Zealand author is shortlisted for a high-profile British literary prize and nobody in the media pays a blind bit of notice?

No, gentle readers, this isn't some bitter zen koan but the reaction to Phillip Mann's The Disestablishment of Paradise being nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award

The Arthur C. Clarke Award is given for the best science fiction novel first published in the United Kingdom during the previous year. The award was established with a grant given by Sir Arthur C. Clarke and the first prize was awarded in 1987 to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

The winner will be announced on Thursday 1st May at an exclusive award ceremony held at the Royal Society, London, and taking place as part of the SCI-FI-LONDON Film Festival.

The winner will be presented with a cheque for £2014.00 and the award itself, a commemorative engraved bookend.

[...]

The six shortlisted books for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction novel of the year 2014 are:

God’s War by Kameron Hurley (Del Rey)

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit)

The Disestablishment of Paradise by Phillip Mann (Gollancz)

Nexus by Ramez Naam (Angry Robot)

The Adjacent by Christopher Priest (Gollancz)

The Machine by James Smythe (Blue Door)

The 6 shortlisted titles were selected from a record-breaking 121 individual eligible submissions, put forward by 42 different publishing houses and imprints.

Paradise is a (typically for Mann) dense and quirky spin on a very standard set of science fiction tropes.  Paradise is a human colony that, at first sight, appears to be exactly what it says on the tin.  But  after two hundred years, the colony isn't profitable and the vividly described environment is begining to change in unpredictable and dangerous ways.  "Disestablishment" - the dismantling and evacuation of the colony - has already begun but not everyone wants to leave, and their desire to stay may well be based on a radical (and near tragic) misunderstanding of this world and their place in it...

Paradise is Mann's first novel in sixteen years, and was warmly reviewed both here and overseas; and arrived soon after his publisher Gollancz brought his entire backlist (all worth reading) back into print in their SF Gateway e-book imprint. 

So why, as far as I can tell, hasn't this gotten any mainstream media attention at all?  I'll err on the side of generosity and assume a nice Eleanor Catton-sized story is being put to bed as I type, and I'll feel rather foolish as soon after hitting publish.   

But it's rather sad that a historic first for Kiwi science fiction writers, and in a year when (as The Guardian noted in its report) "giants of speculative fiction including Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood have made way for newcomers" hasn't gotten the kudos it deserves. 

2

ONE NIGHT ONLY! Really Filthy C-Words

It's almost like a dirty joke.  A librarian, a cartoonist and a blogger walked into a art gallery and started talking about really fithy c-words.... If you're in Auckland tonight (Tuesday, August 13), and at a loose end from 6.00-8.00 pm you can catch the punchline.  (And if you stuff my jocks with five dollar bills, I won't take my clothes off. Probably.)

As part of a fringe art festival exploring sex and sexuality in the media, and a sequel to June’s successful Dark Night festival, Auckland Libraries presents a panel discussion with creators and commentators looking at controversial literature in New Zealand.

We’ll be supporting Auckland’s artists by contributing a panel discussion on the boundaries of acceptability in literature – from the history of censorship in Aotearoa to the scandal around Ted Dawe’s Into The River – the prize-winning NZ teen book which has now been been submitted for age-restricted classification!

The panel will feature cartoonist Dylan Horrocks and literary columnist Craig Ranapia alongside librarian Karen Craig. Aucklanders can catch that dream team of literati walking the boundaries of scandal and culture on Tuesday, 6pm-8pm at Method and Manners on Level 2, 6 Upper Queen Street, Auckland.

Hope to see you there!  If I secure the permission of the other participants (and my wobbly grasp of my digital record permitting) I'll post a report later this week. 

22

How (Not) To Be Incredibly Racist and Sexist Without Really Trying

A month ago, American indie distributor KinoLorber released Taika Waititi's Boy on DVD and BluRay in a market where Waititi funded the film's extremely limited American release through a Kickstarter.

You'd think it's something of a no-brainer to sell a film with a mostly indigenous cast with an image from the film - of a non-celebrity brown person, no less. Right? 

Someone should have told Anchor Bay, whose home media release of Australian historical drama Chris O'Dowd and The Smurfettes The Sapphires hasn't even been released yet, but has managed to piss off pretty much everyone from the women whose lives it's based on to O'Dowd himself.

Believe it or, The Sapphires isn't the incredible true story of an Irish lounge singer who gets his knob chewed off by an enraged wombat, though I'm sure Chris O'Dowd would do a splendid job of it.  I seem to be the only person on earth who finds Bridesmaids utterly resistible, but Moone Boy (which O'Dowd created, co-wrote and starred in) is a genuine Irish charmer it's worth climbing over the Sky paywall - or laying hands on the DVDs to catch.  It's not O'Dowd's talent that's in question here.

The sticking point is that, as blogger MaryAnn Johanson put it on flickfilosopher.com:

The Sapphires is the story of four young Australian women who form a singing group and travel to Vietnam in the 1960s to entertain the American troops there. Their new manager, who is along for the ride, is indeed a white man. The women are Aborigines. They are black black black black blackety-black black. Not blue. Oh, and they’re women. And this is their story. It’s even a true story.

[T]he most you can say about his character here is that he is part of an ensemble. He is not the lead character. And he is outweighed in that ensemble by four nonwhite women. So why are they shoved into the background, the color of their skin disguised by that blue monotone?

Never fear MaryAnn!  Here comes a white man to explain why all these silly women and people of colour need to "stop being hysterical" (tm) and get a grip on how "the world works" (c).  Come 0n down, "National Film Editor for Fairfax Media" Karl Quinn who penned a point-dodging column headlined: Sapphires' cover is not racist, just smart.

The whole thing is worth reading with a sickbag in hand, but here's the bit where I jammed said bag over my head and started emitting a high-pitched scream. 

As ''issue'' films go, The Sapphires is at the softer end of the spectrum: a feel-good story about four Aboriginal women who triumph against sexism and racism to forge a sparkling career as soul singers in the most unlikely of theatres, the Vietnam War.

However, the film now finds itself on the frontline, its American DVD cover accused of perpetuating the very sexism and racism it so gently rails against.

[...]Let us assume for a moment that The Sapphires has some power to change people's minds about racism and sexism. If so, it has its best chance to do so by getting in front of as many people as possible.

Presumably it is white people's minds that most need to be opened on matters of racism towards ''people of colour''. But in the US, putting four black women who are not Diana Ross, Beyonce or Rihanna on the cover of a DVD is tantamount to saying ''this ain't for you, whitey''.

OK, Karl, I'll rise to the bait.  First, I'd expect a senior film journalist (or anyone with decent Google-fu) to know Diana Ross hasn't made a feature since The Wiz in 1978. Rihanna not only didn't grace the poster of her latest film, This Is The End, but Emma Watson's cameo got higher billing that RiRi's.  And of course Beyonce is all over the publicity of her recent HBO infomercial-disguised-as-a-documentary because... well, you know.  Still, good to know some of your favourite CDs are by black chicks. It's your DVD collection I don't want to know about.

Meanwhile, somewhere in America, "whitey" is so repulsed by by the sight of four black woman on the cover of a DVD they have to be transformed into a white guy's backing Smurfettes.  After they've been so bamboozled, they're going to get past the first fifteen minutes of scary Aboriginals before the guy who shags the chick who doesn't shit her pants in Bridesmaids shows up? Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell give wonderful performances here. But nobody's that good, if you're working off the presumption that the audience for your film has to be tricked into picking it up in the first place.  All Anchor Bay - and Quinn - are doing is insulting everyone's intelligence.

That's the problem with the circle jerk reasoning behind using the existence of racism (and sexism) to justify perpetuating it still further.  Taken to the reductio ad absurdum, why bother making - let alone releasing - films by, or about, about anyone other than straight white middle-class men at all? 

But, hey!  Mailman and Co. should take one for the profile of the Australian film industry! Right?

Selling an Australian film, here or abroad, is never easy and while it was a bona fide hit at home, taking $14.5 million at the box office, The Sapphires took only $2.5 million in US cinemas, despite having the considerable muscle and nous of Harvey Weinstein behind it.

The US cover carries the words ''based on the incredible true story'', a line with a fair chance of getting someone to read the blurb on the back - but first they have to pick it up. This is where O'Dowd comes in.

Again, I have to ask what exactly Fairfax's "national film editor" does all day.  Does Quinn remember a little loosely-based-on-fact and blindingly white Aussie crime drama called Animal Kingdom? Three years earlier, it grossed less than US$1.1 million at the American box office, despite having the considerable muscle of Sony Pictures Classics AND the free media from female lead Jackie Weaver's Oscar nomination AND then current Aussie It Boy Joel Edgerton in just one of a string of flashy, effusively well-reviewed supporting roles.

Selling any "foreign" movie into the American market is hard. It's not hard to find decades of American cineastes complaining about the decline of the arthouse/indie cinemas; and lively debate on whether the rise of new technologies - from VCRs to online 'streaming' services and downright piracy - are a blessing or a curse.

If Quinn was doing his job he might be asking this question.  How well was anyone really expecting The Sapphires or Animal Planet when at their widest release (according to Box Office Mojo) they were screening at 126 and 61 theatres respectively?  By way of comparison, Man of Steel opened at four thousand theatres.

Like the old joke about Jews, you put three film critics in a room you get four opinions, five loud arguments and eventually a fist fight.  But  whitewashing indigenous women out of their own stories - and in a culture not exactly overstocked with stories about or by women - is being "smart" in all the wrong ways.

ETA: Because credit is cool as the outgoing Doctor Who's bowties, many thanks and hat-tips to Che Tibby (@Che_Tibby), Dan Slevin (@danslevin), Chris Philpott (@chrisphilpottnz ) and Moata Tamaira (@MoataTamaira) for much stimulating Twitter dialogue and pointers. The opinions expressed above are my own, of course, but they're damn fine folks to refine my views on.