A truly cursed headline.
Gregory Allen Howard's Harriet Tubman biopic opened at the end of October after nearly 25 years of discussion and work.
Recently, Howard dusted off a memorable quote from the 1990s, when the movie was first in talks. Apparently, a studio executive suggested Julia Roberts, a white woman, play Tubman, the legendary black abolitionist.
HARRIET | Official Trailer | Now Playingwww.youtube.com
"I was told how one studio head said in a meeting, 'This script is fantastic. Let's get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman,'" Howard said in an interview with Focus Features, republished in the LA Times on Tuesday. "When someone pointed out that Roberts couldn't be Harriet, the executive responded, 'It was so long ago. No one is going to know the difference.'"
Imagine suggesting Julia Roberts play Harriet Tubman when Scarlett Johansson exists. https://t.co/k6cc8rxvGJ— Elu Thankful 🧝🏻♀️🌻 (@Elu Thankful 🧝🏻♀️🌻)1574220944.0
"The climate in Hollywood … was very different," Allen added, crediting two recent box office smash hits with creating space for change. "Two films really changed the climate in Hollywood to allow Harriet to be made," he said. "When 12 Years a Slave became a hit and did a couple hundred million dollars worldwide, I told my agent, 'You can't say this kind of story won't make money now.' Then Black Panther really blew the doors open."
Representation in Hollywood has long been a contentious topic, and despite performative diversity and major successes for actors and directors of color, recent studies have shown that the state of the film industry is still abysmal. In 2018, the Observer reported, "Not only do Hollywood films still disproportionately showcase white, cisgender, heterosexual men, executives and authority figures on every tier of the industry haven't even deigned to experiment with telling stories from different perspectives to any tangible degree."
Naturally, the Internet had a lot to say. Most lamented the utter horror of seeing Julia Roberts and Harriet Tubman in the same headline, but the story really only highlights what we already knew: Hollywood, like the nation at large, has a racism and whitewashing problem, and always has.
Sigh. OK, here we go. People are asking, "Why can't Julia Roberts play Harriet Tubman? She's an actor." In a perfec… https://t.co/9NoSEmkGLK— Wajahat "Abu Khadija" Ali (@Wajahat "Abu Khadija" Ali)1574234513.0
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Let's take a look at Nazi-inspired fashion.
Villains always have the best outfits.
From Darth Vader's polished black space armor to The Joker's snazzy purple suit, bad guys always seem to show up their protagonists in the fashion department.
Way more handsome than Batman. static.giantbomb.com
But could there possibly be a real world equivalent to the type of over-the-top villain fashion often found in fiction? It would have to be sleek and imposing, austere and dangerous. Probably black.
Maybe it's him. Maybe it's fascist ideology.
Let's call a spade a spade. From an aesthetic standpoint, the Nazi SS outfit is very well-designed. The long coat tied around the waist with a buckle portrays a slim, sturdy visage. The leather boots and matching cap look harsh and powerful. The emblem placements on the lapel naturally suggest rank and authority. And the red armband lends a splash of color to what would otherwise be a dark monotone. If the Nazi uniform wasn't so closely tied with the atrocities they committed during WWII, it wouldn't seem out of place at Fashion Week. Perhaps not too surprising, considering many of the uniforms were made by Hugo Boss.
Pictured: A real thing Hugo Boss did. i.imgur.com
Of course, today, Nazi uniform aesthetics are inseparable from the human suffering doled out by their wearers. In most circles of civilized society, that's more than enough reason to avoid the garb in any and all fashion choices. But for some, that taboo isn't a hindrance at all–if anything, it's an added benefit.
As a result, we have Nazi chic, a fashion trend centered around the SS uniform and related Nazi imagery.
History of Nazi Chic
For the most part, Nazi chic is not characterized by Nazi sympathy. Rather, Nazi chic tends to be associated with counterculture movements that view the use of its taboo imagery as a form of shock value, and ironically, anti-authoritarianism.
The movement came to prominence in the British punk scene during the mid-1970s, with bands like the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees displaying swastikas on their attire alongside other provocative imagery.
Very rotten, Johnny. i.redd.it
Around this time, a film genre known as Nazisploitation also came to prominence amongst underground movie buffs. A subgenre of exploitation and sexploitation films, Naziploitation movies skewed towards D-grade fare, characterized by graphic sex scenes, violence, and gore. Plots typically surrounded female prisoners in concentration camps, subject to the sexual whims of evil SS officers, who eventually escaped and got their revenge. However, the most famous Nazisploitation film, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, flipped the genders.
The dorm room poster that will ensure you never get laid. images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com
Ilsa was a female SS officer and the victims were men. She spent much of the movie wearing her Nazi uniform in various states, sexually abusing men all the while. As such, Ilsa played into dominatrix fantasies. The movie was a hit on the grindhouse circuit, inspiring multiple sequels and knock-offs and solidifying Nazi aesthetics as a part of the BDSM scene.
Since then, Nazi chic fashion has been employed by various artists, from Madonna to Marilyn Manson to Lady Gaga, and has shown up in all sorts of places from leather clubs to character designs in video games and anime.
Lady Gaga looking SS-uper. nyppagesix.files.wordpress.com
Nazi Chic in Asia
Nazi chic has taken on a life of its own in Asia. And unlike Western Nazi chic, which recognizes Nazism as taboo, Asian Nazi chic seems entirely detached from any underlying ideology.
A large part of this likely has to do with the way that Holocaust education differs across cultures. In the West, we learn about the Holocaust in the context of the Nazis committing horrific crimes against humanity that affected many of our own families. The Holocaust is presented as personal and closer to our current era than we might like to think. It is something we should "never forget." Whereas in Asia, where effects of the Holocaust weren't as prominent, it's simply another aspect of WWII which, in and of itself, was just another large war. In other words, Nazi regalia in Asia might be viewed as simply another historical military outfit, albeit a particularly stylish one.
In Japan, which was much more involved with WWII than any other Asian country, Nazi chic is usually (but not always) reserved for villainous representations.
OF COURSE. i.imgur.com
That being said, J-Pop groups like Keyakizaka46 have publicly worn Nazi chic too, and the phenomena isn't limited to Japan.
In South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand, Nazi imagery has shown up in various elements of youth culture, completely void of any moral context. For instance, in Indonesia, a Hitler-themed fried chicken restaurant opened in 2013. And in Korea, K-Pop groups like BTS and Pritz have been called out for propagating Nazi chic fashion. Usually such incidents are followed by public apologies, but the lack of historical understanding makes everything ring hollow.
So the question then: is Nazi chic a bad thing?
The answer is not so black and white.
On one hand, seeing Nazi chic on the fashion scene may dredge up painful memories for Holocaust survivors and those whose family histories were tainted. In this light, wearing Nazi-inspired garb, regardless of intent, seems disrespectful and antagonistic. Worse than that, it doesn't even seem like a slight against authority so much as a dig at actual victims of genocide.
But on the other hand, considering the fact that even the youngest people who were alive during WWII are edging 80, "forgetting the Holocaust" is a distinct possibility for younger generations. In that regard, perhaps anything that draws attention to what happened, even if it's simply through the lens of "this outfit should be seen as offensive," might not be entirely bad. This, compounded by the fact that Nazi chic is not commonly associated with actual Nazi or nationalistic sentiments, might be enough to sway some people–not necessarily to wear, like, or even appreciate its aesthetics, but rather to understand its place within counterculture.
Ultimately, one's views on Nazi chic likely come down to their own personal taste and sensibilities. For some, Nazi chic is just a style, an aesthetic preference for something that happens to be mired in historical horror. For others, the shadow of atrocity simply hangs too strong.
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We can't go on like this.
As a kid, I was a die-hard Taylor Swift fan.
I have vivid memories of listening to "Fifteen" while playing Zoo Tycoon. I loved Taylor, all the way up through her "Mean" days. She seemed to stand for outsider girls like me, who like to turn events and feelings into words.
Taylor Swift - Fifteen www.youtube.com
Around the Red era, something changed. I became disinclined towards pop artists in general, but particularly Taylor. I also found it difficult to relate to Taylor as she switched from confessional country to pop songs that spoke about a way of life that seemed glamorous and utterly unattainable. She'd become a cheerleader and the leader of a clique overnight, and I suppose I felt betrayed.
I celebrated as media outlets slammed her for being a white feminist figurehead and later for being apolitical. Before my job was to write thinkpieces for the Internet, I constantly wrote thinkpieces in my head that tore apart Taylor Swift. She seemed like everything I couldn't stand—shallow, a sellout, an emblem of white WASPy hyper-capitalist femininity and victimization, obsessed with relationships and herself, beloved by all. The pieces wrote themselves, really.
Then I wasn't alone. For a while, it was fashionable to hate Taylor Swift. There was the prolonged Kanye West drama, culminating in the legendary controversy concerning Kanye's song "Famous." Here's a brief rundown of what happened: the song contains the lyrics "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex, Why? I made that b*tch famous." After Taylor denied approving the lyrics, Kanye insisted that Taylor gave her blessing and Kim Kardashian leaked a phone call revealing that Swift had, indeed, done so.
But thanks to a leaked phone call audio released on March 21, we now know that Kanye did not inform Taylor about the use of the word b*tch. In the new audio, Swift does say that she thinks the first line is funny, and adds, "I'm glad it's not mean though. It doesn't feel mean, but like, oh my God, the build-up you gave it. I thought it was gonna be like that stupid dumb bitch, like, but it's not." There's no mention of the last line. Maybe Taylor wasn't quite the snake we thought she was. (Would it matter either way? Does hyper-focusing on Taylor Swift's word choice solve anything for anyone?)
To be fair, the initial and prolonged blowback against Swift was about a lot more than just one phone call. At least in some circles, Swift became a symbol (of sorts) of white women's compliance in systems of oppression. Her willingness to make herself into a victim while condemning Kanye, many felt, was reminiscent of white women's complicity and evocative of the old narrative wherein fragile white women accused black men of crimes. Certainly this systemic oppression still exists, but Swift became its unwitting face. Her vindication doesn't do anything to change this very real issue of white supremacy and white women's complicity and integral role in it; it simply shows that maybe Taylor Swift wasn't the biggest problem after all.
Swift's history of racial insensitivity or apathy isn't reserved for this one issue. Until she suddenly became politicized (out of public necessity), Swift had been beloved by some members of the alt-right, who called her their "Aryan Queen." She used LGBTQ+ culture when it was convenient and in order to paint herself as a savior. The list of her missteps went on. The presses salivated.
Swift, always an expert at taking the public's temperature, is well-aware of our disdain for her. She's fought it relentlessly for years, but recently she's at last seemed to have given up the ghost of her need to please, and she's come clean about the toll that need has taken. Maybe that's what I was looking for all along: an admission of imperfection. Finally, in an interview with Rolling Stone, Swift said, "I used to be like a golden retriever, just walking up to everybody, like, wagging my tail. 'Sure, yeah, of course! What do you want to know? What do you need?' Now, I guess, I have to be a little bit more like a fox."
rollingstone.com Erik Madigan Heck for Rolling Stone
Asked about all the hate she received, she said, "I wasn't sure exactly what I did that was so wrong. That was really hard for me, because I cannot stand it when people can't take criticism. So I try to self-examine, and even though that's really hard and hurts a lot sometimes, I really try to understand where people are coming from when they don't like me. And I completely get why people wouldn't like me. Because, you know, I've had my insecurities say those things — and things 1,000 times worse."
As I watched Taylor Swift play four songs on the NPR Tiny Desk today, using just a guitar, a piano, and her breathy, shaky voice, I tried to find kernels of that burning hatred that motivated me and so many others to lash out against her for so many years. But I couldn't. The hatred had cooled, or perhaps moved on, like a storm front at last moving out from overhead.
Looking out over the flooded ruins of the industrial complex I and so many others have built out of my Taylor Swift hatred, I began to wonder about the sources of my fierce dislike for this pop star I once loved. I don't like a lot of what she's done and what she stands for, so there's that—but I don't have the same kind of vendetta against, say, Tomi Lahren, who is also Southern and blonde and who has committed far worse sins this week than Swift ever has.
With Swift, and with artists we love who let us down, it's always personal. Certainly, the hatred I feel for Taylor Swift is in no small part rooted in envy—envy that I could never look or be like Taylor Swift, envy that she is lauded as a great songwriter of our times while I am still playing piano in my bedroom, envy that for a long time, she seemed to be oblivious to pain not entangled in her own love affairs.
There's a little bit of internalized misogyny there, which I've noticed in my tendency to immediately write off stars like Camilla Cabello as industry plants while not blinking an eye at her male equivalent, Shawn Mendes. As she says in her song "The Man," it's true that she would probably not have faced as much hatred were she a male. This doesn't discount the fact that Swift comes from whiteness and wealth, and as another white woman from an upper-middle-class background, I realize that Taylor Swift and I are not all that different, and before I come for her, I need to interrogate myself and my own complicity.
Like all vitriol channeled at one person instead of larger issues, Taylor Swift hatred (like cancel culture on the whole) is a cheap and simplistic way to blame a single person for much larger and systemic problems with equally systemic solutions. That's why it can all come crumbling down so quickly, when a single phone call audio gets leaked.
This isn't to say that Taylor Swift is entitled to anyone's love or time. I, for one, still don't entirely understand the reason that people seem to worship the lyrics of "All Too Well," which to me is a relentlessly average, cookie-cutter pop song. I do think she gave a good performance on the Tiny Desk, although arguably many others deserved the slot.
Taylor Swift- All Too Well Lyrics www.youtube.com
We are all entitled to dislike who we wish to dislike. We are, in general, entitled to our preferences and emotions. But the kind of rage that Taylor Swift has ignited for so long within us—that so many pop stars and figureheads and ditzy celebrities ignite within us—shouldn't cloud over the deeper realities of the world that shapes them and that profits off our obsession with them, be it negative or positive.
Lately, that rage often swirls around an artist's political acuity or lack thereof. But must all artists be activists? I believe that someone like Taylor Swift, who can afford hundreds of PR people (at least one of whom might be bothered to be responsible for her political and social presence), does have certain responsibilities. Still, this exists on a spectrum, and while everyone should hold a basic respect for others' human rights, I don't think we can say that artists must always be radical activists, especially if we are not activists ourselves.
Maybe our tendency to lash out and blame one person for an entire issue is indicative of the Internet's tendency to polarize and ignore the forces that conspire to create each person, which stems from our desire to find quick fixes to unanswerable and ongoing issues. No one exists in a vacuum. Trump did not create racism—this is sewn into the fabric of America. Contrary to popular belief, Taylor Swift did not create white feminism—that was built into the origins of the women's movement.
So today, Taylor Swift wins. Today I am releasing my Taylor Swift hatred. Surrendering it, as Marianne Williamson would say. There's too much else going on to expend more energy on her. If this is it, to quote another artist whom I've spent an excessive amount of time defending, I'm signing off. The 45 minutes I spent writing this piece will be the last minutes I spend griping about Taylor Swift, and that's a promise. Until next time.
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