Foreign Movies

I have a couple movie recommendations, these two happen to be foreign.

Mother of George:

I caught this during its limited release this. It was striking in both style and content. The camera style gave some scenes the sense of slow motion that you feel when something dramatic is happening and your body and mind slow time down to process the intensity. The film is about a Nigerian mother who wants a grandchild, and the lengths she will go to get one. It is beautiful as well as powerful.

This weekend I saw The Past:

A recent film by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, whose film A Separation won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film last year. Both films were about mess. How messy life can get sometimes, and how quickly things can get beyond your control. Both films were accounts of divorce that rang true, how it affects children (though arguably less than living with unhappy parents fighting all the time). How sometimes it’s no-one’s fault and there’s nothing you can do. Even if you have love and money and food, life is difficult. It’s heartbreaking and true, that sometimes you can’t even keep children out of it. Life is strife, it’s difficult situation after difficult situation, we react, we digest and we grow.

Movie theaters are a good place to cry. Other than your home, what places is is social acceptable to cry? Movie theaters, churches, I can’t think of anywhere else.

Junot Diaz on Pigment Politics and Decolonial Love

I’m re-posting this excerpt from Junot Díaz, at the Facing Race 2012 conference in Baltimore 11/15/12 with some transcriptions I did.

On Pigmentation Politics – 6:45

“What was my process like in identifying my own systems of oppression? That’s actually a wonderful question and conversely difficult. … I think what’s interesting about that is how many of us are aware of the strange and agonizing systems that both invite us to tyrannize other people and that help to tyrannize us. I think for me, belonging to a family of 5 young immigrant kids of African descent, from a poor Caribbean family, the first step in this process was noticing how clearly and how nakedly privilege got distributed in my family across racial and gender lines. Which is to say my family was like a really fucking weird experiment in pigmentation politics. Where the bizarre fiction of eliding light with lovely really was practiced superbly well in my family. So that the lighter siblings of the five, [people] were always like ‘you guys are so beautiful, you guys are so nice, you guys are so amazing,’ and they even received less punishment than the rest of us who are considered more racialized. And then of course this gets complicated [by] gender was also, in my family we were split between brothers and sisters.

“And for me I think one of the first steps in this idea was both how I noticed this system very early on, but also how greedily I attempted to profit from it. Because it’s one thing to point out when somebody’s trying to put a foot in your ass, but usually most of us, while that’s happening we’re trying to put a foot in someone else’s ass. And I noticed that I was at the receiving end of this sort of stuff, but I was also really kind of gleefully practicing it. And I know the consequences of that in my family, 5 kids, each of us a year apart, really tearing each other up along those lines. A lot of the pain and the damage, a lot of the treachery, a lot of the cruelty, this followed us into our teenage days and became not only a source of tension, but when we got older a way that we began to talk to each other.

“And listen guys, when you’re that close in age and that close in family, if you grew up like we did where you stacking 3 kids to a bedroom, it forms part of your conversation, it’s hard to run from that, though people can. And I think the kind of ways that I hurt my little sister, the kind of ways I betrayed her, the kind of ways that I sort of projected a lot of racial and hetero-normative and masculine shit on her in a way that really hurt her, and the way that it kind of deformed her childhood. And both of us growing up with the consequences of that, her more forcefully and palpably but me more as someone who had spent a lot of time victimizing her. I think those are the roots of when I think about working and it becoming clear that one has to do a lot of internal work to really get anywhere in this world especially if one who’s really interested in racial justice of any form. I think usually most of the groundbreaking occurs inside of you, I think of that when I think of it. Yeah, it’s tough.”

On De-Colonial Love – 20:45

“What links most progressive people …to the most rabid right wing lunatic is how gleefully we exercise our privileges. The funny thing about our privileges is that we all have a blind spot around our privileges shaped exactly like us. Most of us will identify privileges that we know we could live without. So when it comes time to talk about our privileges we’ll throw shit down like it’s an ace and that shit is a three! I understand that. You grow up and you live a life where you feel like you haven’t had shit, the last thing you want to give up is the one thing, or the couple of things that you’ve really held on to.

“I’m telling you guys, we’re never going to fucking get anywhere—if you want to hear my apocalyptic proclamation which I would never repeat, but which I know you motherfuckers are going to tweet about—we are never going to get anywhere as long as our economies of attraction continue to resemble, more or less, the economy of attraction of white supremacy.

via Racialicious

Afghanistan War

When people ask me why I’m interested in going to Afghanistan, I always have a hard time answering because my gut response is ‘Why aren’t YOU?’ On September 11th I was at boarding school in Putney, Vermont and I remember reading this Boondocks comic that seemed to express what I was thinking.


My reaction to September 11th was an introspective one, I asked myself ‘Why do people hate us so much?’ and ‘Why didn’t we know before?’, ‘What have we done?’ and ‘What can we do to make sure these people don’t attack us anymore?’

A few years after the attacks I was a Junior in high school and I had the opportunity to meet a group of women judges from Kabul. Just learning that there were women who had been judges in Afghanistan complicated my view of Afghanistan. Actually meeting and spending time with them made me more and more curious about the people there and what they were doing. If there were women there going to work every day there must have been at least two buildings standing, their homes, and their workplaces; all I saw on TV was burning rubble. I became really interested in the people and the culture, what was sharia law? What was really the situation there? (Here’s a great video/interview I just found about everyday life in Afghanistan if you’re as curious as I was.)

I studied Afghanistan in college as a Near Eastern Studies major at the University of Chicago. I learned Persian and Pashto. I decided to double major in Geography because I kept finding that the problems in Afghanistan had to do with ethnicities isolated by geography. The colonialist boundaries had put two very different ethnic tribes together in one country (along with many other tribes and ethnicities, Afghanistan is extremely diverse, many people thought I was an Iranian-African from the Bandar-Abbas region). I wrote my thesis on how the legal systems in Afghanistan were distributed geographically.

As you know, a few months ago I went to Kabul. In Kabul I heard 3 things with surprising consistency, the biggest problem or challenge in the country was lack of security, everyone thought the Pakistani government was to blame for many of the country’s problems (that the US should stop funding Pakistan) and everyone we asked wanted to keep US or international involvement in some respect. We talked mostly to middle-class urbanites in Kabul, but this was the anecdotal evidence we were able to gather. You can see the evidence of 30 years of war in and around Kabul, in every neighborhood our tour guide pointed out a building that had a suicide bomb attack, the palace and museum were destroyed, we went through check-points almost every day. But I can’t imagine what it’s like in the countryside.

We did have a couple different points of view to complicate this. One was on the second day at a refugee camp, which I talked about in an earlier post. The other was in the village of Istalif at a small traditional restaurant. We were served a dish called chainaki (lamb stew served in ‘china’ – tea kettles) as we sat on the rugs. A few different men came in and out of the restaurant and we were able to chat with them informally, one of the few times we weren’t on a scheduled meeting.

First we talked to the older man who we called Kaka meaning uncle, a term of respect and endearment. He talked about life in his village over the years. He and his family did pottery and leatherwork before the revolution, and the bazaars were much bigger. He lost his business after the revolution and the village of Istalif lost 75% of their population. Most of the money from Istalif went to Kabul, but there were a few families who came back and are doing agriculture again (wheat, fruit, figs, apricots, apples and cherries).

There was also a young man who was up for the weekend, he runs a camera shop in Kabul. We talked to him and his friend for a bit. He said some Afghans thought the Qur’an burning was done by Brits and not the US. He talked to us a little about what Islam meant to him, and how if everyone followed the Good Book we would have no problems. They brought up some issues about Afghans who can’t get Visas to the US. They said if the US is really an ally they should let Afghans travel to the US on business. If we stay in the country, we stay as an ally, but he warned, if we stay and try to start a war that history will teach us what happens to people who try to take over Afghanistan. Persians, Indians, British, Russians, no one has ever held Afghanistan.

The more research I did about Afghanistan the more confused I was about US involvement. I wrote a thesis, studied the geography, learned the culture and even went to Afghanistan. If I had to characterize the Afghan people, based on my experience, I would say they are generous, resilient and hugely diverse. I essentially came to the conclusion that I can’t figure out why Afghans bombed us because Afghans didn’t bomb us, some crazy terrorists did, they happened to live in Afghanistan (well, Pakistan). I recently heard this statistic about how Islamic people are more likely to be the victims of terrorist attacks than the perpetrators. Fear cannot be the driving force in this debate, we must come from a place of diplomacy and compassion, not imperialistic hubris. But I still can’t tell whether it’s right to stay in the country, helping people as well as killing people, or to leave, abandoning them altogether.