Tagged: watch a documentary

Remembering Amy Winehouse

July 21st marks the four year anniversary of singer Amy Winehouse’s death, and I plan to spend the day watching Asif Kapadia’s new documentary, Amy: The Girl Behind the NameNormally, I’m critical of biopics; I still haven’t watched Whitney in spite of its favorable reviews. Particularly in instances of drug and alcohol abuse, it’s easy for directors to portray the subject as a train wreck instead of a person. But from what I’ve read, Kapadia goes beyond the tattoos and the beehive to highlight her wit and talent. While her family is less than pleased with the result (they argue that the film portrays them as doing little to intervene and help Amy), I’m interested in seeing this other side of her. Clearly, other people are, too: the documentary’s opening weekend in the UK broke attendance records.

Here’s a clip from the film and the original trailer from the film.

100 Years of Beauty

How do you sum up 100 years? Should you analyze year by year or it best to focus on trends over a decade? Is it possible to hone in on one variable and develop a clear picture or are too many facets intertwined? Earlier this year, The Cut decided to find out. Their mission? Sum up 100 years of style trends in countries around the world.

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Image courtesy of Vintage Makeup Guide

In addition to the quick historical videos, researchers discuss the work behind the looks. Robin Park, the researcher behind the Korea series, mentions the Japanese colonialism that colored more of Korean fashion in the 1930s and 40s. After Korea split at the DMZ, Park explains, beauty in North Korea was gauged less on products and more on what a woman contributed to the community. For this reason, makeup styles in North Korea remained largely unchanged from the 1950s on. South Korea, on the other hand, embraced capitalism and the subsequent global style trends that accompanied it. Visit the project’s Pinterest board and you can view the research and the final look side by side.

While styles change, it’s clear that standards of beauty haven’t budged too much. All of their models are relatively light-skinned and have the big eyes, clear skin and features typically considered attractive. Buzzfeed branched out slightly with their take on style over the centuries, but the resulting video creates a more overarching narrative than a closeup on one place over time. But when 100 years of anything gets distilled into a one-minute video clip, some details are bound to fall through the cracks. With future episodes in the works and many other copycat projects piggybacking on the concept, there’s a lot of potential for growth, change, and further insights.

Visit The Cut’s YouTube channel to watch existing episodes and subscribe for future updates.

Waves of Freedom: Surfing in Iran

With so many stories and images of Iran and its stalled nuclear talks filling the news, it’s easy to forget that a country is more than just its government. With a population of over 79 million, Iran is far more than President Hassan Rouhani and his politics.

SurfPhoto courtesy of Marion Poizeau

In 2010, friends Marion Poizeau and Easkey Britton traveled to Balochistan, a remote region on the Pakistan border, armed with a camera, a surfboard, and a mission. Britton, an Irish surfer, became the first woman to surf in Iran. Clad in a wet suit and a headscarf, she rode the waves while Poizeau documented the event. The resulting video attracted attention from the Internet, the Iranian police, and, most importantly, the locals. My favorite moment is a shot of two girls grinning and holding the top half a wet suit, eager to try the sport themselves.

Even after their trip ended, tales of Poizeau and Britton spread amongst Iranian sportswomen. After some planning and plenty of online correspondence, Poizeau and Britton returned to Iran in 2013 to teach. This time around, snowboarder Mona Seraji and swimmer Shahla Yasini joined Britton in the surf. The resulting experience formed the basis of Into the Sea, a documentary chronicling the development of women surfers in Iran.

For Britton, the impact of surfing extends far beyond the sport itself. Girls look up to women surfers as role models and leaders. Practicing the sport teaches women to embrace failure, to relax and let go when things get difficult, and to take risks to achieve greater success. This ability to take risks and gain confidence bleeds into all facets of a woman’s life. Confident women trust themselves and their peers and are able to push forward social change. Through their documentary, Poizeau and Britton share a perspective that contrasts strongly with Balochistan’s reputation of being a poor and dangerous area. Using surfing as a point of connection, the duo connected with the region’s citizens and dismantled perpetuated stereotypes.

Britton and Poizeau eventually returned home, but they remain committed to the cause through their non-profit, Waves of Freedom. Stay current by signing up for their newsletter or make a donation if you can.

A Path Appears: Part One

As I’ve mentioned before, it takes a lot for me to sit down and watch a full episode of a TV show, yet it does occasionally happen. But when I heard about A Path Appears, I made a note in my calendar to sit down and watch. Journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn set out to highlight some of the most difficult issues facing women today. The PBS series debuted last night with its first episode, “Sex Trafficking in the USA.”

A difficult part of drawing attention to the issue stems from the stereotype of “trafficking”: girls brought from another country, men with AK-47s, an exchange of money as women are bought and sold. Yet as Rachel Lloyd, founder and CEO of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, points out, this image does not reflect the reality of the trafficking happening in our own country. “It rarely has anything to do with American girls on the track,” she adds. “We view that as ‘teen prostitution’ so they’re not real victims.” There are between 100,000-300,000 sex trafficking women in the United States every year and that’s just a rough estimate. Every day, more women add to that tally as they are brought into the fold via force, fraud, and coercion.

In The Life

At first glance, it might seem easy to be judgmental, to view women who engage in sex work as “other,” as if there is something inherently different about them. “They’re hailing cars, they’re wearing utterly inappropriate clothing. They certainly don’t look like anyone’s enslaving them or making them do what they’re doing,” Kristof says in conversation with Becca Stevens, founder of Magdalene and Thistle Farms. Yet as the team travels the country, they uncover stories of drug use, violence, rape and humiliation. “If that’s your choice, what are the options?” Stevens counters. The truth is it takes a lot of failed systems in communities to get them out there and that’s why it takes communities to bring them back.”

Shana Goodwin

Shana Goodwin. Photo courtesy of PBS.org

As the women of Magdalene tell their stories, they illustrate the lasting legacy of vulnerability and childhood trauma. Told as a unit, it is clear that these women are not alone in their struggle but, prior to their involvement in the farm, each one felt isolated and trapped in a toxic cycle of shame. Like many women, Shana explained that she didn’t consider herself to be a victim of trafficking because that was something that happened somewhere else. A combination of Stockholm syndrome, fear, and a deep-seated desire to be loved and have a family kept her there for years. As Sabrina, a former prostitute adds, “It’s not that they’re bad people; they’re just lost.”

Falling Through the Cracks

“Society’s idea of a woman who sells her body is that she’s hardened, she’s calloused, she doesn’t care,” narrator Blake Lively comments. “ You don’t ever think of someone being vulnerable and broken and wanting to get out of that life.” Yet “vulnerable” accurately describes Savannah, a 17 year-old girl who ran away when she was 13 and got locked in a house by her pimp, and Naomi, who stopped responding to messages from her social worker and appeared on sex trafficking websites. The documentary states that 1:7 young people between the ages of 10 and 18 will run away; 75% of those are female. Within 48 hours of being on the streets, it is highly likely that they will be approached by someone looking to traffic them.

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Savannah and her mom, Sara. Photo courtesy of PBS.org

Yet, as women like Audrey Morrissey illustrate, the problem is not hopeless. Morrissey, a former sex worker and leader of the program My Life My Choice, educates at-risk teens about the predatory tactics pimps use to recruit women. Along with a team of social workers, investigators and advocates, Morrissey helps extricate girls tangled in dangerous and seemingly hopeless situations. By the end of the episode, Naomi and her mother, Maria, reunite in a tearful embrace; I audibly sighed with relief.

Turning the Tables

According to the documentary, 10% of American men buy sex in a given year. Women are typically arrested but that doesn’t solve the problem; the pimps are still out there. Sheriff Tom Dart of Cook County takes a different approach by focusing the attention on arresting the clientele. The police force posts ads on the internet to entice potential customers, then posts up at a local hotel and lets the calls roll in. In the brief time the camera crew spends on the scene, fourteen men are arrested. With very little knowledge of what these women experience on a daily basis, the men represented a broad cross-section of society, all the men insisted that it was their first time soliciting sex; one of them even tries to convince the cops that he thought he was coming to see a masseuse for his back “because chiropractors are expensive.” Regardless of mens’ excuses, widespread stings targeting the demand help reduce solicitation.

Audrey Morrissey

Audrey Morrissey. Photo courtesy of PBS.org

Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunities

In spite of the multifaceted complexity of the problem, A Path Appears also highlights potential solutions. As Sheryl WuDunn explains, “Some people will just do the rescue part. Other will just do the safehouse and still others will do the skills training. What’s remarkable about what Rebecca has done is she’s using a targeted, holistic solution.” The solution in question takes the form of Magdalene, a two year residential community for women based in Nashville, Tennessee. To finance the operation and provide the women with work experience, Magdalene partners with Thistle Farms, a health and beauty company. Most recently, the group opened a cafe to create more jobs. Magdalene is a wonderful example of a chosen family that connects women with education and perspective on their lives and helps them get a handle on their responsibilities.

The discussion doesn’t end as the episode concludes; there’s much more work to do but the creators of A Path Appears are well aware. On their website, the team compiled an additional resource list. The site puts viewers in touch with organizations that combat sex trafficking in the United States as well as hotlines and help centers for victims of abuse. Take a look, pass it along, and get ready for next week’s episode.

True Trans with Laura Jane Grace

I hardly ever watch television, but when I do, I go all in. Recently on the Twitterverse, I heard about True Trans, a multi-part web series produced by AOL. The series follows Laura Jane Grace, a trans woman and the frontwoman of the band Against Me! Grace explains that at age 31, she had a house, a wife, a kid, and a successful career with her band. Yet she still felt that something was missing and needed to be addressed; no matter how hard she tried, she could not eliminate the crushing weight of gender dysphoria. She remembers, as a child, seeing Madonna on television and thinking, “I want to be exactly like that, not only in gender, but that was what I wanted to do. I remember vividly experiencing that and seconds later realizing the misalignment in my body.”

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Laura Jane Grace, photo courtesy of Stereogum

Growing up in a military family, Grace’s mother, Bonnie, explained that there was a lot of pressure to fit in. Looking back, Bonnie reflected, “I knew that this was a great kid, that she had a fantastic heart and spirit, that there was not anything bad about her. But I knew if she got sucked into that system, I would never be able to get her out.” As a punk kid in suburban Florida, Grace got picked on, thrown out of school, and arrested. Later on, she connected with other punks like her band mate James Bowman and channeled her energy into music.

While the first episode centers around Grace’s own experience, the following episodes document her speaking to other members of the trans community. According to True Trans, 1 in 11,000 men and 1 in 30,000 women seek help with gender dysphoria, “the condition of feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be opposite to one’s biological sex.” There are an estimated 700,000 transgender people living in the United States.

2013 Emery Awards

Fallon Fox, photo courtesy of Huffington Post

Many of the people Grace interviews express initial feelings of isolation, of not having the language to describe their inklings, of having no one to talk to and of not knowing these views were valid. “I remember hearing about these men who dressed like women, but I didn’t know what transgender was,” explains writer and musician OurLadyJ. “I knew there were alternatives, and I was just holding on until something was revealed.” Without representation in the media, she explained that as a teenager, she never saw someone who looked like her. Many of the interviewees echoed her sentiments; through Internet research, they were able to build a vocabulary and give their feelings a name.

Like any sample of the population, childhood experiences varied widely. Some people felt that their parents were always supportive of them and that they struggled more with social expectations. Others felt that their parents would not accept them if they shared their true thoughts; they felt a crushing pressure to conform to their parents’ expectations. In extreme cases, religious families hospitalized their children and took them to therapy in an attempt to “fix” them.

Puberty, in particular, was an especially confusing time, when many people felt their bodies no longer belonged to them. During this period, themes of depression, drug use and suicide were common ways to blank out the feelings. Discovering the language to label these feelings and make decisions about next steps felt liberating. Whether people chose hormone replacement therapy, surgeries, or other options, they are finally able to live their truths.

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Our Lady J, courtesy of Time Out: New York

Needless to say, I binge-watched the whole season. I was honored to listen to their stories and so impressed with each interviewee’s ability to be true to themselves at any cost; every person’s story exuded such clarity, honesty, and a clear sense of self. It’s too easy for people to lie to themselves about minute details in their lives, to not seek help when they need it, to not take risks when the stakes are not nearly as high. Asserting one’s truth takes an incredible amount of fortitude and I was awed by their collective strength.

While I would’ve liked to see more trans people of color featured in the series (see: this flawless cover of Candy Magazine), I was grateful to watch a series where trans people speak for themselves. There’s a wealth of misinformation surrounding trans culture: for too long, mainstream media coverage was nonexistent, with sensationalist stories confined to the tabloids as a taboo. And, as we’ve seen so frequently with issues of racism, sexism, or homophobia, people are so quick to condemn or rationalize away experiences that they have not themselves.  Yet most people will likely experience depression, self-loathing, insecurity, self-acceptance and love in their lifetimes; these feelings are not foreign concepts. Ultimately, every person is in the process of becoming who they are, both internally and externally; as Grace points out, “Life’s just a transition, everyone’s in transition; that’s just the way it is.”

Check out the first episode here and subscribe to the rest of the series on AOL.

Girl Rising

I’m lucky to have fabulous friends who pass along tips and knowledge. A few weeks ago, my friend Paul recommended that I watch the documentary Girl Rising. It is currently streaming on Netflix and definitely deserves your attention. The premise of the film follows the journeys of nine girls and the obstacles they face as they fight to get an education. Each girl partnered with a writer from her home country to help tell her story.

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Photo courtesy of Daya Trust

Some stories culminate in victory. Wadley, for instance, survived Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, but had to relocate to a makeshift tent camp. Although her teacher continued to conduct lessons in a tent, she was initially turned away because her mother could not afford the fees. However, Wadley returned to the school each day until the teacher allowed her to stay.

Azmera

Photo courtesy of Glamour

In Ethiopia, Azmera was the youngest of three children, but when her older sister and father died, her mother became even more protective. The village told her mother that the best way to ensure Azmera’s survival was to marry her off, so she became engaged to a 20 year-old stranger. When her brother heard of this decision, he returned home and told his mother that he would sell everything he owned if she called off the marriage and kept Azmera in school. Today, Azmera is single and pursuing her education.

Suma

Photo courtesy of PhDs and Pigtails

Not every girl has the support of her family. Suma was bonded to a master by the time she was six years old, a practice that is now illegal in Nepal. She served three masters by the time she was eleven. At her last post, a schoolteacher who boarded there convinced her master to let her attend night classes. In addition to learning how to read and write, these girls realized through sharing their experiences that they were exploited. One day, Suma’s teacher appeared at her master’s house, argued that he was breaking the law, and set her free. Today, she says, “I am my own master now. I have no mistress. I was the last bonded worker in my family. After me, everyone will be free.”

Yasmin’s story is even more harrowing; because of concerns for her safety, she never appears in her own vignette. The scene opens with Yasmin and her mother sitting in a Cairo police station. As the officer questions Yasmin, her story unfolds via animated characters. Yasmin and her friend took a ride from a stranger on the way to the market; instead of fulfilling his promise, the man rapes her. In the end, the man is never caught; Yasmin gets married at 13 and never attends school.

Critical facts about educating girls serve as interludes between the tales. Some of these facts include:

  • Girls have a 1 in 4 chance of being born into poverty
  • 66 million girls are currently not in school
  • 14 million girls under 18 will be married this year
  • 50% of sexual assaults happen to girls under 15; this fact is often used as an excuse to marry girls off early or keep them home to protect them

I found myself becoming so personally invested in each girl’s story, cheering when they succeeded and holding back tears when they suffered. The power of education cannot be understated; women who receive an education earn more, are in better health, and have healthier children, not to mention the tremendous impact education has on a woman’s confidence.

So how can you get involved? Join the movement! You can host a screening, make a donation, plan a fundraiser, or become a regional ambassador. Even the smallest actions can snowball into something bigger, so check it out and make your move.

What’s Underneath

I love a good mother-daughter team: Beyoncé and Tina Knowles, Yolanda Rich and Lashinda Demus, my mom and me (just because we’re not famous doesn’t mean we’re not a team!) This week, I added Lily Mendelbaum and Elisa Goodkind to the list.

I learned about Lily and Elisa through their website, StyleLikeU. At the beginning of their Kickstarter video, Lily discusses her childhood struggles with dieting and body image; over time, she feels, she lost more of herself than the weight. Her mother, Elisa, worked as a stylist in the fashion industry, but as her daughter grew older, she realized the havoc these unrealistic beauty standards could wreck. Looking to make a change, Elisa quit her job and the pair created StyleLikeU, a project that interviewed real people about their own style. They were thrilled to see that behind these elaborate closets were incredible stories and personalities. Turning the focus to a person’s interior, they spearheaded “What’s Underneath.” The project invites people to talk about their body image and surrounding issues while simultaneously stripping down to their underwear in front of the camera. Since I fell into a wormhole watching the videos yesterday, I can tell you that the results are compelling and amazing.

Rapper Lizzo discusses being a kid and wanting nothing more than to look like Sailor Moon. It wasn’t until she became a teenager and started hanging out with a different friend group that she started to mask the things she could not change. “Once I started wearing weaves,” she explains, “I wanted to mask what was coming out of my head. It was the one thing about myself that I could change. I couldn’t wake up and be a size 2, but I could wake up and have long hair.” Lizzo split herself between rapping with her friends and practicing the flute until those two personalities were so developed that she had to make a choice. As she removes articles of clothing, this introduction becomes even more powerful: in spite of her fears and insecurities, she’s still going to make herself vulnerable and take the plunge to show you what’s under the outfit.

62 year-old Jacky O’Shaughnessy joined the project because, as she says, it’s a great idea to “take away the jacket of the book so you can just get the essence, the bottom line.” O’Shaughnessy talks about being with a man for six years yet never going out with him. The man was only five years her junior, but when she questioned him about this point, he responded, “You’re too old. I don’t want to be seen with you in public.” (Let it be known that O’Shaughnessy just began her modeling career. Sounds like some other women we know!) While she got work out in LA, she was frustrated that her career never exploded. In her 40s, she started seeing a therapist and working through her past. These breakthroughs gave her the courage to sell her house, move to NYC, and three weeks later booked a campaign for American Apparel. The road was not easy, O’Shaughnessy insists; “Loving yourself takes intention, practice.”

The short interviews serve as a remarkable 10 minutes of self-awareness and reflection, an amazing juxtaposition of the faces we put on for the world and the thoughts swirling beneath the surface. Once you get to the end of the collection, don’t despair: Lily and Elisa want to make a full-length documentary with a new crop of subjects. Check out their Kickstarter and give it some support if you can; Lady Collective already made a donation and we can’t wait to see the final product.

Advanced Style

When I can, I like to take my Sunday mornings slow: read the paper, sip some coffee, and perhaps watch a documentary. This past Sunday, I complimented my caffeine intake with Advanced Style, a film following Ari Seth Cohen and the fabulous women he photographs. (Thanks to my lovely friend, Kendra, for the tip; I highly recommend that you check it out on Netflix as well.)

As a child, Cohen was close to both of his grandmothers. He started his blog, Advanced Style, after moving to New York because, he says, “I saw these incredibly dressed older women on the streets and I wanted to capture them and show people that  aging can be a wonderful thing, that you can dress up and feel good no matter what age you are.” It’s quite true; walk around New York and you’ll see women treating the avenues as though they’re runways and rocking amazing outfits.

But what you don’t often see in the media is older women in fashion. As Iris Apel explains,  “The average woman is so beaten down and indoctrinated and besieged, everywhere she looks, there are pictures of sweet young things, 12 and a half, wearing these gorgeous clothes, and all this makeup and everything else. Now how can you possibly look like that?” Many of the film’s subjects mention that they relish getting older and exploring; Ilona Royce Smithkin says she didn’t come into her own until her 80s.

Iris Apfel

Iris Apfel, photo courtesy of Advanced Style/Ari Cohen

It’s amazing to hear about how much these women have packed into their lives. At 79, Lynn Dell Cohen runs Off Broadway, a boutique she dubbed “the longest running show on the west side.” Joyce Carpati, 80, worked at Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping before she retired; she is also a trained opera singer. In her youth, Jacquie Tajah Murdock was a dancer at the Apollo Theater and booked her first modeling job at 82. Not only are these women fashionably fabulous, but their outfits serve as an externalization of their zeal for life. The schedules that these women keep make me tired.

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Jacquie Tajah Murdock, photo courtesy of The Times

In spite of their energy, the documentary does not sugarcoat the difficulties of aging. 64 year-old Tziporah Salamon describes the ageism she faces when she applies for hostessing jobs at restaurants. (At the time of filming, she was the most fabulously dressed substitute teacher in the city.)Many of the women have outlived their partners or  currently take care of their friends and family. Smithkin explains, “When you’re young and you get old and  decrepit, you can never understand the feeling that you, who would do the stomp, who would do the split, now move carefully down the stairs because if you fall, you will go to the hospital, and then you can do nothing.” The aging process is not without difficulty, and no new fur or application of false eyelashes will make these women bulletproof.

Ilona Royce Smithkin

Ilona Royce Smithkin, photo courtesy of Advanced Style/Ari Seth Cohen

In spite of these realities, the stars of Advanced Style serve as inspiration for their devoted fans. They constantly receive letters from women all over the globe admiring their style and thanking them for being role models. Whether they’re ticking off items on their endless to-do lists or basking in the contentment of doing exactly what they want to do, these women making getting older look oh so good. Check out the trailer below and you’ll instantly fall in love with them.

Makers: Women In War

This Veterans Day, Lady Collective would like to take a moment to remember and honor military veterans the world over, who have bravely heeded the call to stand up for community and country. In that spirit, I checked out Makers: Women in War which chronicles the struggle of women in the US Armed Services, and the ultimate triumph of those brave ladies who had to fight first at home in order to defend their country abroad.

Following World War Two, more women became interested in joining the military. However, due to a number of restrictions, they were confined to support roles. Women served as nurses, secretaries, and public affairs officials. The number of women was also capped at 2% of the total force; these restrictions remained in place through the Vietnam War. While women were not allowed to participate in direct combat, the changing nature of war meant that more women were exposed to attack. With no field or combat training, women were told to hide under their beds during rounds of enemy fire.
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Admiral Michelle J. Howard, photo courtesy of Wikipedia

In 1967, President Johnson lifted the 2% cap on women. Following the end of the Vietnam War, the military enticed women to enlist with talk of equal pay and glamorous jobs. But the idea of women rising through the ranks still seemed like a pipe dream. When the President repealed the cap, he suggested, “Some day, we might even have a female chief of staff or commander in chief”; the whole audience promptly burst into laughter. Thanks for the vote of confidence, guys.

Angela Salinas

Major General Angela Salinas, photo courtesy of USMC

Much like the space program, the military did not know how to deal with this new influx of women. Major General Angela Salinas, the highest ranking woman ever to serve in the Marine Corps, recalled showing up for basic training and receiving a “professional packet.” Its contents? How to put on makeup and arrange hair properly. (This comment made me think of the recent revisions to the hair policy after the military declared braids, twists, cornrows, and other styles frequently worn by African-American women as “matted” and “unkempt.” True story.)

Linda L. Bray

Captain Linda Bray, photo courtesy of PBS Makers

In spite of officers telling them to go home, that the military was their institution, and that women were somehow forced into roles that they could not fulfill, women kept coming. Captain Linda Bray became the first woman to engage in combat when she and her troops returned fire in the 1989 US invasion of Panama. Amidst the media frenzy that ensued, more women officers expressed that, given the changing nature of war, the no-combat policy just kept women from promotions.

One of the most moving interviews spoke with Brigadier General Rhonda Cornum. During a mission to rescue a wounded officer in Iraq, then Flight Surgeon Cornum’s helicopter was shot down. When she regained consciousness, she was taken as a prisoner of war. As she lay in the back of a truck, one of her captors tried to rape her; she recalls, as he tried to remove her flight suit, that at that moment she realized both of her arms were broken. Yet he was unsuccessful in his pursuit because she screamed her ass off and scared him aware. Although her attempted rape was used as another excuse to keep women out of combat, she explained in an interview that the situation was not the worst scenario she could imagine. As a woman serving in war, she accepted all possible dangers and knew that she could survive it.

With the advent of the second Iraq War and the necessity of Female Engagement Teams, the very idea of keeping women away from the front went out the window; where exactly was the front line? In this new theater of war, General Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained, “There was no front of war; there was no rear; there was no way to segment off the environment,” so what point was there in telling women they couldn’t fight? By January 2013, resistance finally seemed futile and the military eliminated the direct ground combat exclusion rule.

As I watched this episode, I felt a similar connection to past episodes of Makers and to the idea of letting women speak for themselves. Obviously, no one hour episode of anything will speak for all women: not much was said about lesbians or trans women in the military or the discrimination that women of color face. But I feel as though the choice to put oneself in the line of fire is an incredibly personal one. It takes an incredible amount of strength that is tested every day by people trained to doubt your abilities until there is no question that you are ready. And for the handful of women that were picked for the episode, it was nice to hear them speak from their own experiences instead of having a narrative thrust upon them.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to all veterans out there. xo

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer

After a busy day and a nice run home, what’s better than watching documentaries about political protest in Russia? Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer has been on my list for a while, so I finally committed to watching it.

Pussy Riot

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Formed in August 2011, Pussy Riot wrote songs criticizing Putin and the patriarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church while championing feminism and LGBT rights. They became YouTube sensations by staging unauthorized performances in Red Square and posting videos. One performance in particular, however, sparked a reaction from the government. On February 21, 2012, five members of Pussy Riot took over the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and performed before they were detained by church officials. The documentary centers around Nadia, Masha, and Katia, the three members who went on trial. While Katia was released, Nadia and Masha were sentenced to two years in separate prisons; they were given amnesty just prior to the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi. Members of Pussy Riot, including Nadia and Masha, performed to protest the games, but the group later issued a statement declaring that Nadia and Masha were no longer members.

Pussy Riot 2

Photo courtesy of BBC.co.uk

The documentary delves into the pasts of the accused, but also questions whether or not the cathedral performance was effective. Religion is a touchy subject in Russia; after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, practicing religion was outlawed. The Cathedral of Christ the Savior was demolished in 1931 and replaced by a swimming pool, but was rebuilt following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Pussy Riot’s performance touched a nerve within the religious community and, some argued, “Now people think that all liberals are intolerant fascists who don’t listen to the opinions of others.” I wondered how much of that statement was true and in which communities it resonated.

I was also reminded of just how quickly the media latches on to story and then discards it when it no longer generates interest. Throughout Nadia’s sentence, a steady stream of articles documenting the prison’s conditions, her ongoing hunger strike, and her exchange of communication with her husband and family. The media cast Masha aside and latched onto Nadia as the face of Pussy Riot. But when the pair were released, media coverage subsided dramatically. While the group’s activity is difficult to find in English media, Nadia and Masha continue to speak at festivals and universities; to find these sources, though, you have to do some digging.

By the end of the film, I found myself drawing parallels to the current protests in Ferguson and wondering how it is possible to affect change within such a rigid system. Documentation is such an important part of the process because without it, movements can be denied and expunged from history. I think of the important work generated from photographers like my friend Lucas or the constant Twitter dialogues from journalist Shaun King that keep the conversation alive. While major media outlets move on to other hot ticket items, there is still work to do.

I don’t know what will happen to Pussy Riot any more than I can predict the outcome of the protests in Ferguson. But I do agree that a critical element of progress is keeping that drive alive. For her closing remarks, Masha faced the court and declared:

You can only deprive me of my “so-called” freedom. Nobody can take my inner freedom. And when this is heard by thousands, this freedom lives in every person who is not indifferent and inside those who hear us in this country, for every person who recognizes a piece of themselves on trial. As in the works of Franz Kafka and Guy Debord, I believe that honest and thirst for truth will make us all a bit more free. We will see this.”

I feel as though this quote extends well beyond the context of Masha’s speech. When the freedom of others is denied, we’re all on trial. Stay thirsty, my friends.