A Review of “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85”
When the Combahee River Collective gathered in 1977 for their annual retreat, the Black feminist thinkers, writers, and scholars decided to write a statement of intentionality. The exclusion of women of color from Lesbian Art and Artists, a feminist art journal organized by the Heresies Collective, prompted the response. The collective’s statement explored the erasure of Black women in the Women’s Movement and the Black Liberation Movement. More importantly, the Combahee River Collective pushed for the visibility of Black women.
“We have spent a great deal of energy delving into the cultural and experiential nature of our oppression out of necessity because none of these matters has ever been looked at before,” the collective concluded. “No one before has ever examined the multilayered texture of Black women’s lives.”
Forty years later, Black women are still fighting to be seen. That’s the theme woven throughout “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85,” an exhibit currently housed in the Brooklyn Museum. It’s one of the final parts of the museum’s “Year of Yes,” a year-long commitment to exploring feminism through art. The exhibit, like Solange transforming lives at the Guggenheim, allows Black women to center ourselves in spaces that pretend we don’t exist. “We Wanted a Revolution” also serves as a course correction. A sign at the entrance of the eight-panel exhibit states that many of the artists included aren’t feminists because of the movement’s exclusion of Black women. The dovetailing of second-wave feminism and the Black Arts Movement merely serves as a historical map of the figures and organizations at the forefront of the exhibit.
It’s a push to make Black women visible. For instance, Emma Amos, the sole female member of Spiral, a Black artists’ collective, is featured at the beginning of the exhibit. Flower Sniffer (1966) is Amos’ self-portrait, which shows her looking at a couple who are in mid-embrace. She’s in the photo, but not of the world it inhabits, a clear indication of how Black women were positioned at the time. We were peripheral, invisible, and overlooked. Invisibility continues to be a theme as the exhibit progresses. Artist Faith Ringgold is prominently featured throughout the eight-panel exhibit. In 1970, she and her daughter, Michele Wallace, forced the Whitney Museum of American Art to include two Black women artists—Betye Saar and Barbara Chase-Riboud—in their Sculpture Annual for the first time.
Now, the Brooklyn Museum is honoring Ringgold’s struggle for equity. Her oil painting For the Woman’s House (1971) shows an array of women at work. Female inmates at Rikers Island used to be able to purchase the painting, though the jail later banned it. Just as she advocated for Saar and Chase-Riboud, Ringgold created the painting to honor Angela Davis, after she was arrested for a crime she was later acquitted for.
“Angela Davis was in jail at the time, and I was very concerned about her,” Ringgold told the New Yorker in 2010. “I thought, One thing’s for sure: I’ll have a captive audience.”
The ways that Black women have historically fought for each other shows up in the exhibit, like the inclusion of Carrie Mae Weems’ photo series Family Pictures and Stories (1978–1984). It depicts Black people in Portland, Oregon, to combat the 1965 Moynihan Report, which suggested that Black women were responsible for the destruction of Black families. Betye Saar’s Liberation of Aunt Jemima: Cocktail (1973) is also featured. It places Aunt Jemima imagery on a Molotov cocktail as an illusion to the bottling of Black women’s rage. “We Wanted a Revolution” also includes Saar’s Colored Spade (1971), a painful video that shows tropes of Black people transformed into imagery of Black empowerment.
There’s also a glass case full of classic magazine covers and newspaper clippings, like the iconic conversation between Audre Lorde and James Baldwin, a copy of Toni Morrison’s seminal 1971 New York Times Magazine piece, “What the Black Woman Thinks About Women’s Lib,” and a profile of Shirley Chisholm during her historic presidential run. The entire exhibit positions Black women as cultural deities deserving of recognition and respect. We should no longer be invisible when we’re in museums.
Catherine Morris, senior curator for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, told TIME that was her goal for the exhibit. “An exhibition like this is years in the making, so over the course of producing the exhibition, the pertinence and necessity of it seems to have only increased. It certainly speaks to the need people have to talk about the contributions Black women have made to our culture.”
Our contributions are innumerable, immeasurable, and, certainly, not to be disregarded.
“We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85,” will remain at the Brooklyn Museum until September 17, 2017. It will then move to the California African American Museum in Los Angeles from October 13, 2017 through January 14, 2018; to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York from February 17, 2018 through May 27, 2018; and at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston from June 26, 2018 through September 30, 2018.
Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Over the course of her career so far, Anika Noni Rose has played every kind of role under the sun, from a Disney princess (The Princess and the Frog) to an aspiring singer (Dreamgirls) to a fierce, uncompromising lawyer (The Good Wife). And in her newest film, the adaptation of the YA bestseller Everything Everything, she switches gears yet again, playing a loving mom who puts her daughter’s needs before, well, everything else. Rose has a resume filled with complicated, fascinating parts, but that’s not the norm for non-white female actors, a fact of which the actor is very well aware.
“I think very often women, in particular black women, are only shown a certain amount of things that they are welcomed into by the industry,” Rose says, speaking via phone in late April. But, she adds, “I’m hoping that that’s changing now. I think that [Everything, Everything] is very different, and not the way that you would generally see young women of color, including not just Amandla [Stenberg], but both my character and the nurse. You’ve got three women of color here who are not seen in the way that we generally are on screen, and I think that that’s a beautiful thing.”
Indeed, Everything, Everything features a cast that’s actually reflective of real life, with, as Rose notes, the three lead female roles played by women of color, and the majority of the parts in general being played by women. Nick Robinson’s Olly, the teenage love interest to Stenberg’s Maddy, is one of the only men to appear on-screen, and this reversal of the Hollywood norm is due in part, Rose says, to the film having both a female director and a female writer behind the source material.
“It was wonderful to be on a set working directly with women and having conversations within the film, real conversations, with another woman, which so often does not happen,” the actor recalls. “There’s a statistic, just speaking on television: only 10 percent of those speaking roles are women of color, and that’s not even necessarily a conversation. You know: ‘Dr, your patient is here,’ or ‘Hi,’ or ‘Did you get the bread?’ That is considered speaking, and that’s not life on screen. That’s not real life. ”
“It was really amazing and wonderful to be able to have true conversation, not only with Amandla, but with Ana de la Reguera,” she continues. “It’s a gift.”
With a script full of roles that gave its female stars actual material to work with, Everything, Everything certainly stands out from so many of its big-screen peers. Its plot, as well, is unique; about a teenage girl who suffers from a condition that makes her allergic to the outside world, the film is a drama, romance, and suspense story all mixed in one. Rose, who plays Maddy’s mother and doctor, was drawn to the film’s originality — “it’s tender, it’s romantic, it’s intimate without being highly, overly sexual, as sometimes teenage films can be,” she explains — as well as its story of Maddy’s personal and romantic growth. “I’m interested in showing all facets of who we are as women, growing and morphing and changing and being affected by the world,” Rose says.
And luckily, she’s picking projects like Everything, Everything that allow her — and the many women of all different races and ages around her — to do just that.
by Sheree L. Ross
Thanks to the opportunities created by Peak TV, the once-elusive female gaze is beginning to emerge on the small screen. Below, directors, writers and producers reflect on the female gaze in their work and the challenges of working in a medium in which the male perspective has reigned for so long.
Melissa Rosenberg, creator, “Jessica Jones”
On not writing “female characters:” “It’s not like Jessica is a ‘female detective’; she’s a detective. When it’s a guy, you don’t say ‘male doctor.’ That’s really how I approach this. Certainly, her character is informed by her gender. You go through the world as a woman, you have a different experience, but I never approached it as ‘this is a female character.'”
Rashida Jones, executive producer-director, “Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On”
On absorbing the male gaze: “We all have this internalized, unconscious bias because we live in a world that has primarily been seen through a male gaze. So we have also inherited a lot of that, and it’s really hard to break that habit. We live in a patriarchy and it’s really hard to escape that.”
Emma Frost, showrunner, “The White Princess”
On the male gaze: “The audience ought to be able to identify with a protagonist of either gender as long as that character is written as a human being. The problem has been, historically, the characters that have been constructed as human have always been the male characters. Female characters have been constructed as man’s other, a problem to be solved, a trophy to be won. Everything is about showing off the male prowess in relation to the woman.”
Jennie Snyder Urman, creator, “Jane the Virgin”
On objectifying men: “If we objectify anyone, we kind of make fun of ourselves for it. The humor is that we’re doing it to the men because it’s so often done to women. If we’re doing a slow-motion shot over [hunky male lead] Rafael’s body, it feels jarring because that’s something you normally see done to a woman. You’re so bombarded with what men think of beauty.”
On hiring women to direct 75% of this season’s episodes: “I always talk to the directors and I say this show goes through Jane. Covering Jane and how she reacts to everyone else is as important as what everyone else is saying because it’s filtered through her. … I hired the people who I felt understood that the most. A lot of them happened to be women.”
Moira Buffini, co-creator, “Harlots”
On sex scenes: “We feel a great responsibility towards actresses — and actors too. It is so intimate and invasive. You’ve got to be really careful and respectful of people. With female directors, we sort of knew without having to have the conversation that they would understand that delicacy.”
Ava DuVernay, creator, “Queen Sugar”
On the right way to think about women behind the camera: ”I can’t say what these women brought based on their gender. I just know that women have not historically had the opportunity to bring anything. The fact that they’re there and they’re bringing it is the story.”
Filmmaker Crystal Emery aired her documentary “Black Women in Medicine” Thursday, April 13, as part of her campaign to attract more people of color and women to careers in science, technology, engineering and medicine.
Emery, a quadriplegic who has directed two feature films, written a book, written and directed a play and founded a non-profit, encourages others to defy the odds. She has two odds in mind: African-Americans receive 7.6 percent of all STEM degrees in America, and less than one percent of all scientists and engineers are black women.
The film shows rarely seen footage of African-American women practicing medicine during critical operations, emergency care and community wellness sessions.
“It’s all about exposure. It’s crucial to introduce young people to ideas and careers early on so that they can begin thinking seriously about their higher education and work life during their formative years,” said Emery.
“We hope this film and Emery’s ongoing work inspires more minority students to pursue careers in medicine to help meet a growing demand for doctors across the country,” said Mary L. Wilson, executive medical director of Kaiser Permanente of Georgia.