I wrote a review of Wahpepah’s Kitchen in January, running down my thoughts on how Indigenously delicious the seasonal menu items are and how important the restaurant’s existence is for the land back movement and food sovereignty.
Today, I’m raving about the first ever Wahpepah’s Kitchen birthday cake graciously prepared for yours truly yesterday at the request of LRK. This blue corn beauty was topped with flowers, berry sauce, and seasonal berries.
The skies were clear and midmorning sun was pleasant and the nearby magnolia trees wafted a floral scent throughout the birthday brunch, attended by eight other family members. It took only a few minutes to whittle the cake down to a fourth. If we hadn’t eaten beforehand, I’m sure there wouldn’t have been any left to take home.
A legit, Indigenous birthday cake without the diet downfall guilt only Chef Wahpepah could make.
If you’ve been listening to the podcast for a while, you know I’m Afro-Native, which means a person of African and Native American descent—technically, I’m of African, Cherokee, and Scottish descent, but Afro-Native for conversation’s sake—and with February being Black History Month in the States, I thought it’d be apt to feature an Afro-Native musician for this month’s Geets. One musician I’ve been jamming to a lot this month is North Carolina’s own Rhiannon Giddens (Lumbee, Occaneechi, and Seminole), whose stylings include folk, old-timey, bluegrass, country gospel, blues, jazz, soul, R&B, and Celtic Americana. Besides killing it on fiddle and viola, she’s also boss on the banjo, which, in case you didn’t know, is an African-derived instrument. See her rock out in this cover of “Georgie Buck.”
I also respect how she champions most beautifully contributions to American musical history by people who have previously been overlooked and/or shunned. Honestly, listening to her covers of old-timey classics are akin to hearing an endangered language spoken.
With that, here are the top three Rhiannon Giddens songs I’ve been listening to on repeat:
#1: “Waterbound” (with Francesco Turrisi) on They’re Calling Me Home
The below interview conducted with phenomenal Native activist Morning Star Gali (Pit River Nation) was featured in the Spring 2021 issue of News from Native California.
The first time I met Morning Star was in November 2008 at Mills College. I was still fresh to Oakland, to graduate school, and to the Native American Sisterhood Alliance, a student organization now known as the Indigenous Women’s Alliance. Morning Star agreed to provide opening prayer for the group’s inaugural event for Native American Heritage Month.
On the day of the event, Morning Star arrived and greeted everyone in the meadow behind Mills Hall. It was an overcast day with a hint of rain, which was probably why not many students had come. After a time, we all gathered closer for the prayer. All background noise fell away as Morning Star spoke. Her tone was earnest and resolute. I could tell each word was from her heart.
Before then, I had only heard her name mentioned excitedly within our group meetings and thought: Wow, this Morning Star must be a great person. From every moment since, I can honestly say it’s been a pleasure and an honor to be in her company. The last time I saw her in person was a few years ago at the Sunrise Gathering at Alacatraz Island. I was fortunate enough to talk to her recently by phone and e-mail to see what she’s been up to.
Ishmael Alikhan: For readers who may not be aware, could you tell me more about the annual Sunrise gathering, your role in it, and your work with the International Indian Treaty Council?
Morning Star Gali: I’ve been attending the sunrise gatherings my entire life, and continue to bring my four children every year just as I was brought by my parents. The gathering was started by Bill Wahpehpah (Kickapoo/Sac and Fox) who started the AIM for Freedom Survival School/Oakland AIM house in East Oakland. Bill was holding sunrise ceremonies daily at the Oakland AIM house, and would comment at the time that we were the only ones lighting a sacred fire daily on the western side of Mississippi. My mom was in the sunrise ceremony when her water broke so it is also the origin of how I was named.
My parents were living at the Oakland AIM house when I was born. Over the four days while my mom was in labor was a continuous ceremony held outside. This was in the late 1970’s as Native women were being sterilized through Indian Health Services and Alameda County had the 2nd highest infant mortality rate in the nation. So, I was the first of many AIM House/Women of All Red Nations home births. The decision of my mom and aunties was that it was safer and necessary to utilize Indigenous birthing practices. Within minutes of being born at 4:00 AM, I was introduced to the sacred fire and brought into the sacred circle of our relatives. So, that is how I received my name, and a path was forged in the commitment to my Tribal communities and the ongoing sunrise gatherings is a part of that continued prayer. After attending the gatherings for many years, I was asked to help coordinate them back in 2008. Since then, I’ve helped as an organizer and in different capacities to support the continuation of the gatherings. I first started with IITC as a community liaison coordinator. When I moved out of the Bay Area in 2010, I still volunteered and offered my support, and that has now transitioned into a consultant position as a California Tribal/Community Liaison for IITC.
IA: I remember reading an opinion piece in 2008 you wrote for the Campanil, the Mills College student newspaper, about Honoring Native American Heritage Month. In it, you discuss the meaning of being a minority as well historic and contemporary Indigenous struggles against “dominant Eurocentric hetero-patriarchal norms.” This brings to mind your work with the Decolonize Oakland movement. Could you tell me more about that?
MSG: The Decolonize Oakland movement is one that was very emotionally heavy, but it is beautiful to witness all that grew out of it. Here we are a decade later, after a heavy push for acknowledgement that Oakland is Ohlone land. There was such a battle for visibility, for truth-telling, and here we finally are. I feel fortunate to have built some long-lasting friendships from the experience, but it was a brutal one for sure. I appreciate the outcomes, that we collectively were able to address the hypocrisy of social movements such as “Occupy” and the importance of the context in language as a form of erasure. Especially in Oakland and the greater Bay Area where Ohlone peoples are not afforded federal recognition and all the complexities of California Indian history and how that is translated today. Here we are 10 years later, and although land acknowledgements are a step forward, it is one step within the much-needed visibility of California Tribal peoples and land stewardship. It’s been an ongoing battle against erasure, and for more than acknowledgement, for visibility and truth-telling.
IA: Last week, Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. What are your thoughts on that event in regard to how white folk in this country are viewed and treated when they protest versus how people of color are viewed and treated when protesting?
MSG: January 6th was so telling. Watching how law enforcement opened the gates to allow the insurgency to unfold was exactly how white supremacy is upheld in this country. There are so many fallacies that uphold the so-called democracy of this country. For me personally, it was a reminder of being jabbed in the stomach with batons when I was pregnant and protesting Bush Jr. and the Iraq war back in 2003, of being on backwater bridge during standing rock and being tear gassed as the sacred waters that we were there fighting to protect was being weaponized against us in freezing conditions. Of the excessive use of force every time that I’m out protesting with my fellow community members from the Oscar Grant to George Floyd uprisings, and so many more instances. The National Guard was called to militarize downtown Sacramento this past summer, and yet we witness how law enforcement was taking selfies with these folks that are clearly so dangerous and much more of a threat in their actions.
IA: On the topic of law enforcement and policing, part of your work deals with the disproportionate impact of the criminal and juvenile justice systems on California’s Indigenous Peoples. Could you tell the readers more about your work with Restoring Justice for Indigenous Peoples?
MSG: RJIP was created out of my personal and collective experiences in how Indigenous peoples are treated by a biased and unfair so-called justice system. As a California Tribal woman, I also have experienced the double marginalization within a justice system that criminalizes Native peoples, and simultaneously provides little to zero resources when we are victims of violence ourselves.
Through community organizing, advocacy and a cultural lens, we are organizing our Tribal communities to address the disparities of over-incarceration, and the way that Women, girls and two-spirit relatives are largely ignored. As our next generations are the sovereign nation builders and Indigenous Justice warriors, we are providing them with the tools and resources to be successful leaders and warriors for all of our communities that are impacted. Even the term restorative justice has been co-opted and largely ignores the origins of Indigenous practices, as there is an impossibility of justice for Native women and girls within patriarchal court systems. As California Native peoples we are inextricably linked to mass criminalization and genocide with current patterns of police violence. Through RJIP we are committed to working for structural change and transformation, to challenge the narratives held in victim blaming and that further marginalize us as system-impacted. We are building a powerful movement of system-involved Native peoples inside and outside institutions working to end the centuries-long imprisonment of our people, ancestors, relatives, and land. We are working to end the incarceration of living Native peoples in jails, prisons, and group homes across the state, to end the incarceration of our Salmon relatives impacted by dams on our rivers, and to end the incarceration of our ancestors’ skeletons locked away in basements of universities such as the UC System. We are doing this through developing powerful Indigenous leaders and communities and organizing with them to transform the systems, structures, and stories that keep us all imprisoned both physically and spiritually.
IA: I recently read the feature written by you and Vanessa and Maya Esquivido in the Fall 2020 issue of News from Native California about the Native Community’s solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. As a person of African, Native, and European ancestry, I can say it warmed my heart to know that people are thinking about the well-being of Afro-Indigenous people. Growing up, I often felt like a perpetual outsider—never Native enough, Black enough, and certainly not white enough to fit in.
I mention all of that to ask you what you think can be done to address anti-Blackness and the othering of mixed people in Native communities?
MSG: It was really an honor to work on that article with Vanessa and Maya. There is so much that is necessary in addressing anti-Blackness within our communities, and it is both a personal and collective responsibility. I organize under Black leadership with the Anti Police-Terror Project of Sacramento. As one of the core committee members, I co-lead the healing justice committee that provides support to families impacted by police terrorism. Families in Sacramento that have had their loved one killed by police violence. For me personally, it’s a personal responsibility to address the ongoing crisis of our Afro-Indigenous/Black relatives being murdered through state-sanctioned violence. There is so much to be said and so many necessary conversations to be had. As a child that benefited from The Black Panther Party’s free breakfast program, while growing up in Oakland to the organization that I do now under APTP, this is a shared and sacred relationship of how to be in solidarity between our communities in a way that is intentional. I see a lot of our California Indigenous relatives that feel slighted that stories are not as uplifted, or using hashtags about Native lives. It can be uncomfortable to dive into these conversations, but it is also necessary. Under the hashtag #NativeJusticeNow and #indigenousjustice, is an opportunity to educate that as vocal as we are about cultural appropriation, we are not exempt from it. As Indigenous peoples, we have a responsibility not to appropriate cultural practices that our not our own.
In terms of the perpetual outsider myth, that narrative is a result of white supremacy. The lateral oppression that our peoples have used against one another as a way of othering through messaging that we don’t belong or that we aren’t ever “Native” enough both within our rural and urban Tribal communities. I have personally experienced it my entire life as well. I was born in an urban community to parents that were raised outside of their homelands due to displacement and economic survival experiences. I moved back to Pit River as a teenager after my father passed away. After attending Mills, I moved back to Pit River for seven years. I will always consider both the Bay Area Native community and my Tribal lands as home, and there are individuals that will always treat me and my children as outsiders. When I moved back home, I was teased and called a city girl, and when I would go back to the bay, they would tell me I have been on the rez for too long. I remember during a heated meeting with my Ajumawi band, I was told to go back to Half Moon Bay. I’ve never lived there, but that’s where my grandmother moved to with my Ilocano (Filipino) grandfather back in the 1930’s and my father and uncles were raised there.
All of these experiences are a reminder of when I lived in Flagstaff, AZ for a short time in my early 20’s. I remember friends commenting on Tribal members that lived in the town, and how those that lived on the rez didn’t know anything and would go on being ignorant and those on the rez commenting, go back to town and be just as dumb as everyone detached from their culture. It was the same messaging from Tribal peoples that had very similar and diverse experiences. That always stuck with me. My oldest daughter just spent some time in Red Lake, MN where they didn’t see her as Native because they weren’t familiar with Tribes in California. If you’re not Native, then what are you, I asked her in response? And in a way there will always be people that will have their opinions and, in the end, it doesn’t necessarily affect us unless we allow it to. I’m just as much Illocano from Agoo La Union, Philippines as I am Pit River. I was raised as Pit River for the entirety of my life, and my children have been raised as Pit River. One of the most ignorant comments that has been said directly is people slandering me as “that Filipino; she’s just Filipino” used as a way to insult me and my family. This comment is not only ignorant, but also dismissive of our Indigenous Illocano Tribalism and culture.
IA: I’ve read some of your writing about how this settler-colonial system contributes to the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Could you tell the readers more about the issue and the work you do in that regard?
MSG: There was initial visibility to the ongoing crisis of MMIW which has now expanded to MMIR—Missing & Murdered Indigenous Relatives across all genders including our two-spirit and trans relatives. When Khadijah Britton went missing in 2019, I reached out to my sister-friend Jessica Alva asking for her help. Fourteen months later we are visiting Jessica in SF General ICU. She was killed by her partner, and because he called it in as a suicide he was never charged. And a year after that my friend/relative Yogi was killed by his partner back on our Tribal lands in Pit River and that was shortly after the disappearance of Nick Patterson. It’s an ongoing systemic issue that dates back to the invasion of our Tribal lands, and the violent ways in which our lands were acquired through theft, that women and children were trafficked, and the continuation of that violence today. The advocacy is supporting families that are navigating this nightmare they are experiencing, and utilizing healing methods that are going to vary for each family member and community that experiences this. There have been small wins, but it’s not enough by far. We were able to advocate for a City/County resolution addressing the MMIW crisis in Jessica’s case, but statement movement is needed far beyond review committees and task forces.
IA: President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Representative Deb Haaland to lead the Department of Interior, making her the first Indigenous person to hold the position. This could potentially be a game -changer for tribal nations in the U.S. What are your thoughts on her nomination and what it could mean for California’s Indigenous peoples?
MSG: I had the honor of Meeting Rep. Haaland two years ago during the Indigenous Peoples March in DC. She’s such a strong leader at this time that needs the visibility of Indigenous Women in office. There is so much that is needed to move forward in regards to Sacred Places protections. Back in 2016 during Standing Rock, I was a part of an ad-hoc group that was proposing a Sacred Sites Executive Order, but it did not gain much traction. I’m hearing that there is once again an organized effort for an EO now that Haaland is in office. Especially in CA, there have been decades-long struggles for protection of our sacred Medicine Lake Highlands, Rattlesnake Island, Shellmounds, and so many more places. This is a significant moment to advocate for further protections, along with so many issues that are unique to California Tribes and lands such as our water rights, traditional gathering, access within marine protected areas, and the complexities of non-federally recognized, terminated, and [federally-recognized tribes].
IA: As you know, four dams on the Klamath River are scheduled to be removed. You are on the advisory board of Save California Salmon. Could you tell me more about the organization, what the dam removals mean to you, and what you would like to see happen beyond the dam removals?
MSG: I’ve been working with Save CA Salmon over the past few years as a Tribal water organizer and as an advisory board member. Back home in Pit River, we haven’t had salmon in our river for close to 100 years now. So many people are upset with PG&E with the recent fires, but California Tribes have been battling it out with PG&E for over 50 years. I’ve heard many stories from our Tribal members during the Pit River Land Claims and of how PG&E was calling for our Tribal members to be arrested on the basis that they were trespassing on their ancestral lands.
IA: The COVID-19 pandemic is still surging, with California second to Arizona in case numbers this week, according to the CDC. How has the pandemic affected the way you work? Have you come to any new or different realizations due to the pandemic?
MSG: Being home again with four children ages 7-17 is the major change. In a way it’s been a much-needed break, just in terms of getting back into a routine where I am co-teaching in the AM and spend the afternoons working. My 7-year-old has the most amount of coursework, up to 70 pages a week with three hours of zoom classes on top of online classwork. So that takes up 4-5 hours every day and I just can’t manage those 12-hour, day-long zoom meetings. I have learned to say no a lot more, and everything seems to take longer, but I just have to be okay with that.
The changes in not feeling overcommitted to be in so many places—it’s a lot to navigate, but the reward is the amount of time I’ve had at home. Over the past 10 months I’ve had the time to revisit relationships with family members, and have spent a lot of time with my children hiking, swimming, and reflecting. It has been difficult to witness the loss of so many elders. Just this week was the funeral services of our 90-year old Grandma Doris (Wailaki), and that’s five elders that have passed on just in the past few weeks. It’s heartbreaking, and at the same time, it’s a reminder to be present, and that for all of us that are surviving this pandemic, that we have a shared responsibility to continue their work for all of our Tribal communities.
IA: Would you like to add anything else?
MSG: Thank you for taking the time to work on this piece!
For more information on some of the organizations mentioned above, visit:
Welcome to the last edition of the Deets and Geets Newsletter, “He Said, She Said,” of 2021. Below, check out our commentary on movies, shows, and music we’ve been into this month, all broken down by platform.
On a side note, the last two years have held both moments of stress and bliss and everything in between, often in new and unexpected ways. We’ve tried to bring levity and insight to you all in the process of living our best lives under the circumstances—hopefully, we’ve succeeded. At any rate, we hope to see you in 2022 with a revamped show (we’re always thinking of ways to make the show more fabulous) and new content.
Happy New Year and stay safe!
AMAZON PRIME VIDEO
He said:Jai Bhim is a 2021 Tamil-language legal drama based on a true incident fought by Justice K. Chandru against police brutality / casteism in the early 90s. While a hard watch due to the brutal reenactments of torture/interrogation and overall inhuman treatment of tribal people by the police and townsfolk, the film succeeds in bringing the characters and their respective struggles to life. The rock music over slow-motion displays of Chandru swagger seems out of place given the gravity of the events portrayed, as does the peculiar make-up used to darken the skin of Senngeni (Lijomol Jose). Why not find an actor with that skin tone? We raised this question about a character in Sacred Games 2. Brownface never looks natural.
She Said: Based on a true 1993 incident and court proceeding, Tamil film Jai Bhim is a legal drama about a tribal woman’s struggle for justice as she searches for her missing husband after he was wrongfully imprisoned and tortured in police custody. The title is a slogan used by followers of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, an anti-caste Dalit lawyer and writer of the Indian constitution. Some of the scenes of graphic violence by police against the tribal people could have been toned down; I think even without them, the film is powerful and effective in showing the myriad odds that are stacked against tribal and caste-oppressed people in India.
AMERICAN INDIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2021
He Said: Technically, this was in November, but it’s worth breaking the rules to mention. So, last year’s virtual American Indian Film Festival (AIFF) selection was awesome, but the rollout was a bust—not only did you have to pay anywhere from a couple of bucks to over ten for each movie or a bundle of movies (usually two short films), but you had to contend with constant buffering, even on different devices. One film I really joyed was a documentary titled Crow Country about food sovereignty on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. Highly recommended for being a good doc, but also because one of my friends is in it. This year’s AIFF had an equally good selection AND the streaming platform worked without issue. Pricing was still a drag. I get that providing content virtually means less return on investment for filmmakers, cast, and crew, but increasing the price per film means most people won’t be able to watch as nearly as many films as provided by the in-theater pricing model. That said, the standout film for us this year was Beans, which focuses on twelve-year-old Beans (the nickname of the titular character, Tekehentahkwa). The film is a coming-of-age story during the Kanehsatake Resistance, also known as the Oka Crisis, the spirited Indigenous protest against construction of a golf course on sacred Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) land near the town on Oka, Canada in the summer of 1990. The film uses news footage from the period, which helps to transport viewers into this tumultuous time. Solid acting from all players, especially rising stars Kiawentiio Tarbell, Paulina Alexis, and D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, also helps to bring the story to life.
She Said nothing.
He Said: Slow start to an intense show. I’ve seen six episodes at the time of this writing and am not totally sold on the multiple story lines / perspectives aspect of the series—especially when one family feels central to the show and its struggles provide the bulk of the tension at this point—but I’m enjoying it more as it progresses. Yes, this is about an alien invasion, but the essence is more on how an alien invasion affects people rather than how it infects people.
She said nothing.
He Said: I’m all about archers, but something about Hawkeye’s character never excited me. I’ve always thought him capable, but not exciting. That said, Disney Plus has been rocking each and every Marvel series it’s created and this one is no exception. Although more of vehicle to introduce Kate Bishop to the Marvel cinematic universe, the show also does well to explore Hawkeye’s lore and his weariness of superhero life given the last ten years of fighting and loss. A light, fun holiday entry, though, don’t let the Disney label fool you—parental guidance is advised.
She Said: I only knew of Hailee Steinfeld as the “wonder, what if, let’s try” singer from Sesame Street, so it was fun to see her as Hawkeye’s archery protégée in this short, action-packed Disney-Marvel series. I’m not enough of a nerd to know or research the extent to which the connections have all been predetermined in the comics, but it’s amazing that just in 2021, there have been four series that fleshed out and built out the storylines from Endgame for a set-up of the next generation of superheroes. Disney knows how to keep our attention!
He Said: We rarely talk video games, but I’ve gotten hip to the Google Stadia during the pandemic, and a bit of Cyberpunk 2077 this month. You may have heard of this game in the news last year for being the Fyre Festival of videogames. Before the days of hotfixes and hefty patches, missteps of this nature would have spelled doom for a title. Fortunately, the developers have taken the year to regroup and “fun up” the game. Yes, to “fun up” something is a thing. While the game isn’t the massive living city with superior combat and graphics hyped in the initial adverts, it succeeds in world building and storytelling with the help of a side-character played by Keanu Reeves. With a good internet connection, the Stadia version is superior in visuals and performance to the as Xbox One version, which has long load times, sound irregularities, and grainy/washed out visuals. I’ve read the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S versions are also solid in performance and presentation. All versions are still a little rough around the edges, however, as character movements can be a bit stiff and random glitches pop up from time to time, such as hair, limbs, and car frames disappearing for a few seconds, and defeated enemies hovering in the air or sticking out of the ground. On a side note, Keanu is always Keanu no matter what character he plays. Yeah.
She said nothing.
And Just Like That…
He Said: I miss Samantha.
She Said: I’m currently in the middle of the fourth episode of this revival of Sex and the City. Why is the premise so traumatic?! I kind of wish they had started the series with the Big news instead of having it collapse on us at the end of the first episode. Anyway, it’s fun seeing Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and some of their O.G. crew, now in their mid-fifties, up to old and new antics. Samantha was often fun to watch in SATC, but was also a little extra (especially in the SATC2 movie) and I don’t think the show is hurting too much without her. Sarita Choudhary has made her appearance and I see that there is going to be an episode called “Diwali” in January, so that should be interesting! I like that the show lets the ladies stay true to their characters while also engaging (often in a cringe way) with a more diverse range of New Yorkers; each of them has a new ethnic friend whose function is to expand their horizons, lol.
He Said: Issa Rae and company should be commended. Insecure is not only good for representation, but is also one of the rare comedy shows of late that is actually funny and hearfelt. Ted Lasso falls into the latter category as well. That said, Insecure suffers from the “will they, won’t they” aspect running too long. Given that this is the last season, having Lawrence in the picture as a possibility is a distraction as they’ve broken up multiple times and seemed to have moved on since the beginning of this season.
She Said: I’m sad that this season is the final one since I really enjoy watching Issa and Molly, but I’m not super invested in the storylines of this season. I’m so done with Lawrence and I was always done with Nathan. I think it would be fun to continue watching little web vignettes of Mirror Bitch and Issa -Molly-Kelli sleepovers after the show is over.
He Said: I honestly never thought they would make another Matrix movie, so my interest was piqued when I heard the announcement. My enthusiasm was curbed, however, after seeing the trailer. I won’t say the film is unnecessary, as there were some brilliant ideas introduced, but there were definitely some curious choices made, such as the campy, meta vibe that runs through almost every scene. Actually, it reminds me of the last few seasons of CW’s Supernatural, which went off the rails a few times
She Said: I can’t say no to Keanu saying “Yeah!” I liked this resurrection to the same extent that I liked Bill & Ted Face the Music. It’s a satisfying meta call-back with the feel of the original movie and blended well with the present blue-pill day.
He said nothing.
She Said: This sweet 8-episode series (or Season 1 thereof, hopefully?) is centered around Sabi, a non-binary Pakistani Canadian millennial trying to sort out their priorities in life, work, and relationships. The show is mostly light, but it also deals with some sort of heavy situations, and everything blends together just fine. I like that the show doesn’t dwell greatly on Sabi’s struggle with culture or identity, though of course those issues come up in the storylines. I’m looking forward to seeing more from Bilal Baig, the co-creator, co-writer, and star of this show.
DECEMBER GEETS (aka Winter Jamz)
He Said: Mariah SZN is still upon us. I’m not a fan of Christmas music, but Mariah continues her reign as Christmas music queen. The Kacey Musgraves Christmas album is a few years old, but remains a treat. Beyond Christmastime music, I’ve been bumping a lot of Afrobeats:
Century (featuring Fanarito, Kyika DeSoul & Konka) – Djy Zan Sa
66 – Felo Le Tee & Myztro
First Time in America – Naira Marley
IYABO AKWAABA – Naira Marley
Sensima (featuring Reekado Banks) – Skiibii
I Wonder, What If, Let’s Try – Hailee Steinfeld, Sesame Street
Dance Tonight – Lucy Pearl
After Party – Koffee Brown
Close My Eyes Forever – Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne
Welcome to the Deets and Geets Newsletter: He Said, She Said for October 2021. This month brings mostly spooky content with a bit of relationship drama. Below are the offerings, broken down by streaming service.
He Said: Continuing our horror movie bingefest of late, we rented the latest entry in the Candyman series. I remember being terrified of the original film as urban legends in general creeped me out and the idea of saying something in the mirror and getting subsequently hemmed up seemed like bad medicine to me. The remake is essentially a slasher film with obvious social commentary, which may be a pro or con depending on what one considers horror. For me, such heavy focus on the social horror and gentrification detracted from the lore and gravitas of the Candyman. Definitely worth a watch and better than many so-called horror movies these days.
She Said: I haven’t seen the original Candyman yet, so I might need to reserve judgment until after that, to understand what was updated or subverted or whatnot. On its own, I thought it was fine—the premise is definitely horrific and the lore is interesting, but it seemed like something deeper was missing.
FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980), FRIDAY THE 13TH Part II (1981), and FRIDAY THE 13TH (Remake / 2009)
He Said of All: Watching the series again after so many years made me realize how much of a hillbilly Jason is. Viewing the early films and the remake through that lens brings a little more clarity to the lore as he’s more of a sadistic, backwoods berserker in a burlap sack rather than the single-minded stalker in a hockey mask he came to be as the series progressed. If you like slasher movies with gratuitous nudity, and where people die by blade, arrow, axe, machete, brutal melee, or various environmental hazards, I recommend the franchise as Jason is one of most iconic fictional killers. If you like good acting and deep plot lines, however, I do not recommend any of the Fridays ever.
She Said of Friday the 13th (1980): There was a decent twist at the end of this original story setting up the hockey-masked serial-killing Jason, but as might be apparent from my takes on the Halloween movies, I think slasher movies overall are kind of boring.
She Said of Friday the 13th (1981): We get a more proper introduction to Jason in this movie, but still no hockey mask! It didn’t hold my curiosity well enough to make me watch more in the series, so I opted to skip to the 2009 version.
She Said of Friday the 13th (2009): This retcon takes places decades after the original Friday the 13th. A group of teen friends visits Camp Crystal Lake , and they all go missing—about a month later, the brother of one of them comes and meets up with another group of teens in search of his sister. Much slaughter ensues. It was cool to watch this movie right after watching the original and part two since it incorporated several elements of both. Really, though, if I want to watch a movie about some deranged territorial dude named Jason or Freddy or Michael going around killing people, I can just turn on the news or read American history. I like my horror to be more clever.
He Said: I was on the fence about this horror/thriller as well, but the advertising made me curious enough to check it out. LRK and I have been on a horror movie kick lately and have developed higher standards for our dark villains. Without spoiling anything, I’ll say this one fell short. Worth a watch overall for some of the action scenes and effects as well as the twist that will make you laugh, even if not in the good way. Given that this film is from the makers of the Insidious franchise, which has a bit of humor thrown in with the horror, I would recommend looking at the film through that lens rather than with expectations of straight horror.
She Said: I was bored during a good chunk of this horror movie about a woman who mysteriously seems to keep remotely seeing horrifying things while they are actually happening elsewhere—and then the last 30 minutes or so got really interesting. You might be able to form a partial theory of what’s going on, but you probably wouldn’t ever predict the execution. If you’re looking for something entertaining and lowkey spooky that will make you go “lol, whaaat did I just watch,” check it out.
THE BURARI DEATHS
He Said: Very creepy true-life crime mystery about the deaths of eleven family members of the Bhatia family from Burari, Delhi. On 1 July 2018, ten of the family members were found hanged and the matriarch was strangled. The mystery surrounding the deaths is whether or not they were a suicides or homicides or somehow both. The story itself is pretty upsetting and learning more details about the family life leading up to the event makes the situation even more eerie. I watch a moderate amount of action and horror and gore, but this one disturbed me a bit due to the real-life aspect, and seeing what seems like a normal, thriving family gone in one night in a tragic way. The interviews presented are conducted by documentary team and also taken from news footage. A good watch, but may leave a shiver up the spine, so be prepared.
She Said: The Burari Deaths is a horrific and haunting three-part docu-series about a household of 11 family members who were found hanging inside their Delhi home in 2018. The series contains photos and video footage of the family while they were living their seemingly normal lives, interspersed with photos of the crime scene and interviews of friends, police, and media members more recently speculating on what happened. The documentary walks us through a likely theory about the deadly combination of patriarchy, superstition, and stigma over mental illness. It’s a well-made series, but not an easy watch.
He Said: I didn’t know what to make of this series, judging from the trailer, but it managed to be a decent slow-burn with enough twists to keep it interesting. The title is apt by the way because it explores how we can be misled even in the information age. I liked that it was not only set in Oakland, but filmed there as well (with some fictionalization). That said, if I hadn’t watched it with LRK, I wouldn’t have finished it…
She Said: What an aptly named show! The first episode sets up a “what happened/whodunit” situation, and * spoiler * none of the episodes until the last one is really necessary to answer those questions. My sister and brother-in-law managed to avoid being baited into any of the middle episodes and they were fully able to understand the last one. I watched the whole thing and I enjoyed the clickbaity ride along the way! I don’t think I ever could have predicted the answers.
He Said: The source material for this film is both manga and anime, which usually spells trouble for the production values. This one has some talent and star-power behind it (Willem Defoe and Lakeith Stanfield), which doesn’t make the film stellar by any means, but helps to bring viewers into this comically macabre world. LRK and I recently revisited the anime and found the film glosses over what makes the anime compelling—the relationship between Light and Ryuk. This is one of those cases where making a limited series would trump making a film. I understand there may not be funding or time for that, but speaking strictly on ways to let the story breathe, that would be my take.
She Said: Based on a Japanese manga series, this thriller film about a teenager who gets his hands on a book where he can write anyone’s name and cause them to die held my attention, but several things seemed too abrupt and underdeveloped. Super Star Agni later showed me glimpses of an anime adaptation of the same material which was a full 37 episodes long, and indeed, way too much got lost in the American film adaptation. I think there are better thrills out there.
He Said: Another Kate Siegel (actor) / Mike Flanagan (director) collaboration. This husband and wife duo have churned out some quality binge material over the years, which LRK and I have consumed in mass quantities. This film bucks convention and manages to be a decent home invasion film, showing the vulnerabilities of technological dependence as well as how hard people can fight in their darkest hour. Poor, infuriating choices by the protagonist make the film longer than it needs to be, however. One Easter egg I’ll spoil is the Midnight Mass book the author protagonist has written.
She Said: This home invasion thriller which all occurs in one setting and only has four people in the entire movie is very well made. Kate Siegel plays a deaf writer and the occupant of the home that is invaded, and the movie is directed by her husband, Mike Flanagan. I’m decidedly a fan of their collabos, which also include The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor, and Midnight Mass.
LITTLE THINGS: SEASON FOUR
He said nothing.
She Said: I’m really glad this season was the final one because though they and their “little things” felt fresh and cute in the first season or two. I don’t think I would be able to watch another season of Dhruv and Kavya continuing further in their cycles of being together and apart, sullen and manic, and vowing to “figure it out” and having cliché epiphanies. It was sweet enough with nice cinematography and it ended at the right time.
He Said: Good show, but the protagonist makes infuriating choices. I know I say that a lot, but, damn it! “I have gotten lucky, but, oh no! I will forget my dire straits and piss it all away by doing the precarious thing again!” I know this sort of thing happens in real life and being poor can beget more poverty. I have been there. But watching it on screen is not always enjoyable. Luckily, the series has some great acting that makes you care about the struggle and appreciate the victories.
She Said: Featuring an actual mother-daughter pair of actors, Maid is a drama series about a broke young mother who abruptly leaves her emotionally abusive boyfriend in the middle of the night and tries to navigate many broken support systems (including that ex) to make things work for her daughter and herself. We accompany our protagonist through the huge bummer of a situation that a domestic violence survivor finds herself in when she attempts the brave step of leaving. Despite all of the despair and frustration that process entails, the show overall manages not to feel too heavy—it thoughtfully packs in a lot of realistic dynamics without feeling academic.
He Said: Midnight Mass! As mentioned above, this project has been in the works for a few years before finally coming out. For readers who haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil the reveal, but by the time you realize what may be afoot, you will most likely be right, and that’s not a bad thing because the show is very compelling. Predictable in all the usual places, but still compelling. One thing that I found slightly over-the-top is how no one can answer a simple question. Character ONE could ask Character Two what they had for dinner and Character Two would monologue for three minutes about the best dinner they had as a kid on the lake with the fragrance of roasted meat emanating, and fireflies lighting up the night sky, before their drunk uncle kicks dirt on the meat and smashes the fireflies to bits while revealing HE was the one who failed to save the dog during the kayaking trip! And, therefore, Character Two did not feel like eating dinner.
She Said: I loved this suspenseful series about a preacher on an island who seems to bring the miracle of an angel with him. It’s hard to say too much without getting into spoiler territory, but I will say that this show could have gotten really campy really fast, and it’s a true testament to the great writing, acting, and directing that it remained thoughtful, thrilling, and somber.
RUROUNI KENSHIN: THE BEGINNINGS
He Said: As with Death Note, I’m not too familiar with the manga and anime this film was based on, so I can’t say how true to the source material it is. I can say, however, that I was surprised by how furious the swordplay can be and how nice the quiet moments are. Usually, anime- or manga-based films are poorly made and acted. Not saying they aren’t enjoyable (looking at you Full Metal Alchemist and Gintama), but this is definitely one of the better iterations. Gory, to be sure, but that’s par for the course with sword fighting films. I read that this the penultimate film, but also the series prequel, as the title denotes. The final film is on Netflix as well, but I will hold off watching it until I can see the other films in the series for continuity sake. Looking forward to them as they are reportedly good watches.
She Said nothing.
He Said: I wasn’t sold on this one until my brother-in-law said it was all the rage with his seventh-grade students. I initially thought it was some derivative Hunger Games, so bypassed it every time Netflix recommended it. I’ll admit, I was wrong. Beyond the gore and violence is a compelling story of people trying to reverse horrible financial situations or life choices and, in most cases, make things right with their families. Actually, duty to family is a major theme. The ending is predictable, however, and a bit of a letdown.
She Said: Squid Game is worth the hype! This South Korean drama series about people who find themselves so entangled in debt that they would literally be willing to wager their lives playing a set of children’s games is dark, gory, riveting, and meme-worthy. There only are a couple of people you really root for and it’s a real punch in the gut when they <spoiler> lose. The ending definitely teases another season.
YOU: SEASON THREE
He said nothing.
She Said: I was so looking forward to the third season of this crazy show which totally glorifies and makes weirdly likeable and relatable this mass-murdering stalker white boy. It was OK. I could have done without the flashbacks to his childhood. The best character this season was the mom-fluencer played by Shalita Grant, who played Dory’s lawyer on Search Party. There’s a set-up for a next season and I will watch it, but I am not going to be constantly searching for the expected release date like I did for this season.
EVIL: SEASON TWO
He Said: This show has the same quirky essence as The Good Fight and it works, especially with the is it supernatural or is it scientific angle. I don’t know how long they can keep it going since they have committed to a few plot lines they hinted at in the first season. Once they do that (purposely being vague), the end is usually near. That said, it’s been a good horror/comedy ride so far. If next season is the last, I trust it will be good.
She Said: This season about a preacher, a psychologist, and a contractor working for the church to see if people are possessed or not did not give a lingering creepy feeling the way the first season did, especially with the daughters’ storylines — but it still held up as a very creative and creepy look into various ways that evil or just weirdness culminating into the resemblance of evil can manifest. I like that we got more Ben this season and he got many scares of his own.
He Said: What the hell even is Michael Myers? That is what the film skates around. The characters don’t know. The writers don’t know. The franchise has been retconned so only the 1978, 2018, and 2021 films are cannon, which leaves a huuuuge time gap with room for lore, but we get nothing but Mikey is evil incarnate that can only be hurt and maybe die? Okay, but to what end? He chooses to kill most people, but not all. Why? Don’t have homeboy driving cars in the broad daylight, following traffic laws if he’s evil incarnate. If he’s just a dude, how can he get shot up, beaten, and stabbed, and get right back up after taking a breather? Choose one! On slasher ambience, this franchise is awesome, but the storytelling is subpar.
She Said: In our September newsletter, I said I was not expecting much more than a murderously hollow affair from Halloween Kills—and it delivered just that. The “direct sequel” that came out in 2018 asked us to ignore everything that had happened in the intervening movies, and Halloween Kills, which is the direct sequel to the 2018 movie, effectively asks us even to ignore whatever we might have thought we learned from that. Like, after all this time, there is no cognizable motive, lore, or backstory to whatever the hell Michael is. How frustrating! Well, Halloween Ends is set to come out next year. I will watch it with the hope that at least the ending will really be the ending and give us some kind of answers!
Welcome to the September 2021 Deets and Geets newsletter, “He Said / She Said.” This month, we talk about the highs and lows of our pop culture discoveries broken down by the streaming services on which we watched them.
Reservation Dogs: High
He Said: Reservation Dogs is the truth! Along with Rutherford Falls, this show is such a breakthrough for Indigenous representation on mainstream mediums. Indeed, all the directors and writers are Indigenous, and Indigenous folk are involved at every level of production. The show gets Native humor right and does so much to dispel stereotypes of Native people, especially the one that says Native people don’t exist anymore. Although the nations of the protagonists aren’t specifically identified, the show is set in the Muskogee Nation and many of the characters speak Mvskoke. Small town/reservation antics, but universal appeal. Highly recommended, though, not for the kiddos even though kiddos are featured.
She Said: What a fun and sweet show! The core crew of the “Rez Dogs” is a group of Indigenous teenagers in Oklahoma with dreams of moving to California – so desperate to leave their present reality behind that they steal a food delivery truck in the first episode, only to get into a turf war with the rival “NDN Mafia.” We meet lots of other community members as the show progresses, and as the Rez Dogs continue trying to make money, learn how to defend themselves, and work through their feelings about family. The writers give us characters and situations which are relatable and absurd at the same time. The humor is witty and even subtly sardonic at times, without ever feeling preachy.
The White Lotus: High
He Said: This show reminds me why I don’t like resorts—what is designed to be a relaxing experience becomes stressful because of other people. Plus, I’m not really into being waited on and/or entertained by “the locals.” That said, it is hilarious to see from a distance how others navigate social mores in a resort setting. The show is a slow burn that definitely pays off in the end. While not mind blowing in regard to storytelling, the arcs feel natural to the cultivated universe.
She Said: This is a wildly entertaining, meme-worthy, and think-piece-spurring series about a bunch of mostly rich and white people who go on vacation at a fancy resort called The White Lotus in Hawaii, and the relatively of-color staff (including displaced locals) who are tasked to tend to their whims. Many of the characters and the situations they get into are cringey and frustrating in a very realistic way – across race, class, and gender. And therein lies the think-piece gold, in figuring out what the show is ultimately saying about comfort and complicity, and about whose stories should be centered. The pacing and casting are on point. Check it out!
He Said Nothing.
She Said: I loved this Sandra Oh starrer! It was just the right length to tell its story too: 6 episodes. Sandra Oh plays Ji-Yoon, the first woman of color to chair the English department at the university where she works. It is no easy feat dealing with denigrators all around: the old-timers with different ideas of who should be honored and promoted; the media misquoting her in the midst of an ongoing scandal; the self-righteous love interest who feels entitled to her loyalty; and the Bernie-Bro-energy Zoomer students who refuse to consider any such practical constraints when a woman of color doesn’t make instant, radical change upon getting a foot into the door. On top of all that, Ji-Yoon is a single mother to a hot-headed little girl. The show is largely light and does a good job of blending in drama and tenderness.
I’ll be happy to watch a Season 2 if there is one, but I think the way this season wrapped up would be a satisfying and affirming culmination. There are also some aspects of the show which I could see as being frustrating and (inadvertently?) reinforcing regressive norms, and I’m sure women in academia will have much more meaty and interesting things to say!
He Said: This Hindi-language remake of a Marathi movie is more polished, but still the same bollocks. While it holds a mirror to the ills of colorism, ableism, and sexism, it also blows kisses to the same isms. The acting from the main cast is admirable considering the script, but the overall production made me want a brain shower afterward.
She Said: Whyyyyyy!!!
This supposedly comical movie is about a young woman named Mimi with Bollywood dreams, whose body is creepily eyed by a white American couple as the ideal vessel to carry their baby. The colonizers have been roaming around India looking for a surrogate (which, ew already) and they specifically like the idea of not just a healthy but also an attractive, tall young woman bearing their egg and sperm because apparently that is relevant? Somehow, the story manages to get even more gross and wrong, not least including the way in which the white baby boy is exalted without any sense of satire.
This movie is based on a Marathi movie called Mala Aai Vahhaychy!, which is apparently taken up more dramatically, and has good reviews. I tried watching the first 10 minutes and it was pretty much unbearable watching this cigarette-smoking white woman being leered at by the locals – at least the Bollywood version didn’t go into that sort of white woman caricature. Apparently there is also a Telugu movie that’s called “Welcome Obama” and the “Obama” is a reference to the white child?!?!?!?!
APPLE / iTUNES MOVIES
He Said: Among the slasher film killers, Michael Myers has the least satisfying lore. I’ve only seen the original, the sequel to the original, Halloween H20, and the 2018 “direct sequel,” which is the beginning of the franchise retcon or retelling of something. In this case, this suggests the real Halloween films are only the 1978 version and the 2018 version. I think they should allow for the 1981 Halloween 2 film to be included for sake of continuity and character motivation. It continues right where the first left off and would make the protagonist’s PTSD even more understandable (per the 2018 “direct sequel”). My guess is they want to do away with the “Samhain” reference, which hints that there is something dark or evil lurking within Michael Myers that is beyond that of mortals. Without that reference, we are left wondering why has Michael been waiting ever so patiently to break out of incarceration to hunt Lory and why she knows he will come for her. Classic slasher movie stylings otherwise, but the motivation aspect is sketchy.
She Said: I didn’t watch any Halloween movies until this past weekend, when suddenly I watched three, starting with the original 1978 one, then jumping to the 2018 “direct sequel” where we were supposed to ignore all the other ones in between (which was great since I hadn’t watched them yet), and then Halloween II which was made in 1981. Given that this retcon version was like a 40-years-later thing and supposedly the first face-off between serial killer Michael Myers and Laurie Strode since 1978, I thought it would have some sort of twists and turns and big reveals, if not an end-all to the franchise. Alas, while there was some good action and some showcasing of clever defense strategies – and some element of intergenerational girl power – there was no depth at all as to the “why” of MM’s relentless decades-long pursuit of Laurie, with so many violent and largely slut-shamy casualties along the way. Especially after watching Halloween II, to which the 2018 movie gives a couple of nods and which had way more in the way of the lore of this whole Michael Myers business, the ending was very unsatisfying, like just a cheap way to keep prolonging the franchise. This whole variety of slasher movie is why I didn’t really take to horror as a genre until much more recently. Apparently there will be a sequel to the 2018 version coming out next October – Halloween Kills. I will probably watch it, but I’m not expecting much more than another murderously hollow affair.
He Said: Rose Byrne plays hilarious characters— always the deadpan everywoman who is pushed to the edge (even if it’s of her own making) and rises up to do big or intense things. Her portrayal of Gloria Steinem still fits this description save for already doing big things by the time we’re introduced. Physical provides for her a vehicle to play a mousy housewife with a heart of lion. She’s kind of a horrible person, but she’s aware of this and tries not to be, which makes it a bit endearing. The first season doesn’t end with a bang, but I’m interested to continue her journey.
She Said: This series set in Southern California in the 1980s stars Rose Byrne as Sheila Rubin, the wife of an aspiring politician, who has a secret life binge-eating and purging bags full of fast food in hotel rooms while her daughter is at school. She also starts secretly indulging in aerobics, which allows her to escape to a high-energy neon fantasy world where she is in control. The show is tragi-comic, and although Sheila is often a really crappy person, it’s pretty funny to see and hear the contrast between her true inner thoughts and what she expresses. I didn’t think the show rounded off that well in the finale – it neither seemed like a compelling way to end it, nor did it leave me too interested in watching a subsequent season – but it was decent time-pass. It probably could have just been a four-part miniseries instead of 10 episodes.
In the Heights: High
He Said: I don’t usually watch musicals or theater by myself. Maybe because they are designed to be communal experience? Either way, this sentiment includes streaming musicals. I couldn’t see myself sipping a beer solo on a Sunday afternoon while rocking out to “Benny’s Dispatch,” but it was a very fun movie to watch with LRK. Lin Manuel Miranda’s brands of dancing, singing, rapping, and storytelling are all over this as with the broadway hit Hamilton. Recommended for fans of musicals and those on the fence. Piragua! Piragua!
She Said: I thought this Lin Manuel Miranda production was perfectly cute, with a nice twist at the end of the stories that the main character Usnavi is telling a group of children about his youth, friendships, and love in Washington Heights. Ambition, jealousy, and gentrification are among the themes explored through colorful song and dance. Worth a watch!
In his 2019 book titled Fighting Invisible Enemies: Health and Medical Transitions among Southern California Indians, author and professor Clifford E. Trafzer (Wyandot), examined the gradual incorporation of Western medicine into Southern California Indian communities. In the sequel, Strong Hearts and Healing Hands: Southern California Indians and Field Nurses, 1920–1950, he delves deeper into the working relationship field nurses and Native people built during that period and the resulting decline of mortality from infectious diseases.
Trafzer writes that during the late nineteenth century, the Office of Indian Affairs first introduced Indigenous peoples of Southern California to Western medicine. Moving into the early twentieth century, more Native people used Western medicine, especially to fight infectious diseases believed to be transmitted by Westerners. During this time, public-health nurses recognized the key elements to controlling and defeating pandemics: quarantining, testing, and tracking cases and contacts—the same tactics used today to fight COVID-19, which has caused the worst pandemic since the 1918 flu pandemic.
As with Fighting Invisible Enemies, Strong Hearts and Healing Hands is one of few works with an impressive amount of integrated Native and Western historical medical research. In addition to noting contributions of Native elders, leaders, and healers, such as Martha Manuel Chacon (San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians) and Pedro Chino (Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians), Trafzer also chronicles the work of white and Native field nurses who served in the region between 1920 and 1950. Much of the nurses’ work involved providing medical treatment and educating Southern California Native communities about how to control the spread of diseases, such as tuberculosis.
Also similar to Fighting Invisible Enemies, Strong Hearts and Healing Hands utilizes historical maps and photographs, data tables, reports of Indian Service medical personnel as well as oral histories conducted with several Southern California Indian communities.
The difference, however, is that Strong Hearts and Healing Hands focuses more on the lives and work of the field nurses, both white and Indigenous, as well as on relationships between the nurses and Southern California Native families, mothers, and children.
While the book leans more toward the positive aspects of Native and non-Native medical collaboration, cultural differences and disagreements between parties are also well-documented to provide a more nuanced view:
“Field nurses instructed Indians in sanitation and public health, often sharing health literature discussing diet, nutrition, infant care, home sanitation, and prevention of infectious diseases. Nurses instructed pregnant women about prenatal and postnatal procedures through ‘Little Mother’ and ‘Well Baby’ conferences, clinics, and workshops on and off reservations. Unfortunately, nurses counseled women to use baby formula to feed their infants rather than breast milk. Of course, schools of nursing had emphasized the ‘scientific’ benefits of formula over breast milk, but many Indian mothers knew better and continued to nurse their babies.”
While it may be tempting to call Strong Hearts and Healing Hands a derivative work of Fighting Invisible Enemies due to how much they have in common and given the wider scope of the original, I would argue both are well-researched, highly readable works that succeed in their respective aims.
Welcome to the Deets and Geets Newsletter He Said, She Said for the late April / early May 2021, broken down by streaming service. Included are all the pop culture happenings and geets that piqued our interests. In Deets: Mortal Kombat, Ajeeb Daastaans, The Haunting of Bly Manor, and The Haunting of Hill House, and Randy Weston’s African Cookbook in Geets.
Be sure to check out the previous newsletters if you’ve missed them and stay close for a new podcast episode coming later this month.
He said: My skepticism was well founded. This is an introduction for the “real” Mortal Kombat movie. To clarify, most of the earth realm characters have no special skills and no idea of what the Mortal Kombat tournament is until the end of the movie. This intro strategy would have paid off if the focus was on a small number of characters. For example, the coolest and most cogent part of the movie is the first fight scene and encounter between Scorpion and Sub Zero. These characters are from rival ninja clans and have clashing elemental powers—Sub Zero with his ice jutsu and Scorpion with hellish fire and a kunai rope dart. Because the movie began with this rivalry, the plot should have remained focused on it and then built out the universe over a series of movies, kind of like how Iron Man began the MCU. The result, however, was a series of rushed character introductions, failed melodrama, and okay action. For MK fans only.
She said nothing.
He said: I’m not a big fan of anthology films because the individual pieces always start out promising, but end up being duds. Short films are like short stories in that they are hard to wrap up successfully. Usually the ending feels anticlimactic, rushed, underdeveloped, spurious, or relies too heavily on some Deus Ex Machina device. With that said, the first two films, Manju and Khilauna, respectively, are anticlimactic and spurious, respectively. To be clear, they aren’t bad, but the endings feel off. The last two films, Geeli Pucchi and Ankahi, are the most gripping of the lot and feel the most complete with respect to story, pacing, acting, and cinematography. I enjoyed this anthology more than Lust Stories and Ghost Stories.
She said: “Ajeeb Daastaans” roughly translates to “Strange Stories” and the first two of the shorts in this Bollywood Netflix anthology are really just that. Not good-strange or so-bad-it’s-good strange, either; just “wtf” strange in a way that I don’t even care to recollect or describe.
The third story, co-written and directed by Neeraj Ghaywan, is very well made. It’s groundbreaking in many respects, centering a woman character who is working class, queer, and Dalit, and whose story has been written and directed by Ghaywan, a Dalit filmmaker, and portrayed by an A-list star (albeit not a Dalit one: Konkona Sen Sharma). I read and watched some interviews of Neeraj Ghaywan, and it’s super cool that he thought to bring in a diverse team to weigh in on matters that he couldn’t relate to in his lived experience; and he asked his actors to do homework, such as having Konkona read Yashica Dutt’s “Coming Out As Dalit.” The great care and thought put into this project really shows—it packs a punch through its understatement.
The fourth story about a mother (played by the expressive Shefali Shah) struggling with her daughter’s hearing loss and her husband’s seeming denial of this event is also heart-wrenching and worth a watch.
The Haunting of Bly Manor and The Haunting of Hill House
He said, regarding both: Genuinely creepy! While they aren’t related in story, both series share some of the same cast members and ominous essence, which makes them kind of like American Horror Story in that way. There are jump scares and ghosts, but the real bite comes from the perpetual sense of dread. Definitely a slow burn, but worth the wait. After a few episodes, both shows open up a good deal of character development and storytelling. Think of them as well-crafted, but very long ghost stories.
She said, regarding The Haunting of Bly Manor: This series is haunting, trippy, and tragic at once. In the first episode, at a pre-wedding celebration, an older lady starts telling the group this series-length suspenseful story set in the 1980s about two orphaned children, their diverse caretakers, and various disturbing encounters at some Bly Manor in England. Grief and loss are at the core of the horror; the events and haunts are personal and psychological as well as supernatural. It’s a decently chilling and thoughtful series, and it got me interested in checking out its predecessor series with much of the same cast, The Haunting of Hill House.
She said, regarding The Haunting of Hill House: As mentioned in my blurb on The Haunting of Bly Manor, this series has much overlap in cast, and is also a horror-drama (horma?), but the characters and story are different. This story is about a family of two parents and five kids who briefly live in a haunted house in Massachusetts, the effects of which are long-lasting on everyone in the family. The ghosts and the protective (or not) walls are sometimes literal and other times metaphorical, and the storytelling hops around through different characters’ perspectives—kind of like a spooky This Is Us.
I must confess, I’m becoming weaker and weaker sauce as I age. Although both of The Haunting series were way more philosophical than spine-tingling, they left me sleepless for a few nights!
He said: While reading Jazz People by Val Wilmer (no, not Val Kilmer), I was inspired to check out some of the artists she interviewed. One of the artists was jazz pianist and composer Randy Weston. The way he describes his style of piano playing and his new-found (at the time) love of Africa, more specifically Morocco, came through so vividly in the book, I had to check out his discography. I’ll write a proper review of the book at a later time, but can say for now it’s definitely worth the read especially because Valerie is a fantastic writer who does a great job of giving readers insight into artists’ minds and music.
One of my favorite Weston albums is African Cookbook. Something about the expressions and colors Weston and his quintet, African Rhythms, bring forth are a stellar salute to Africa. Make no mistake, this is a jazz album, but the swing is definitely African-influenced. One can argue that most of the music we listen to today is African-influenced, but there is an undeniable African essence to the compositions. A solid and infectious listen.
My favorite song is the titular track, “African Cookbook,” a fourteen-minute groove. The players are Randy Weston (piano), Henry Texier (bass), Art Taylor (drums), Azzedin Niles Weston (percussion), Reebop Kwaku Baah (percussion).
For more of Weston’s music, check out his website. The image above is the 1972 version of the album, but some of the same songs are present in the longer 1969 version I described.
In Africa I discovered what the true purpose of a musician is. We are historians, and it is our purpose to tell the people the true story of our past, and to extend a better vision of the future —Randy Weston
The following book review originally appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of News from Native California.
In Fighting Invisible Enemies: Health and Medical Transitions Among Southern California Indians, professor and historian Clifford E. Trafzer (Wyandot) examines the gradual inclusion of Western medical practices with traditional Native medicine to combat the spread of settler-borne diseases among Indigenous communities of the Mission Indian Agency of Southern California during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
While writings on Southern California Indian medicine exist, few contain the amount of integrated Native and Western historical medical research as Fighting. In addition to noting the contributions of Native elders, leaders, and healers, such as Lorey Cachora (Quechan) and Pedro Chino (Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians), Trafzer also chronicles the work of field nurses who served in the region between 1928 and 1948. In addition to providing medical treatment, much of the nurses’ work involved educating families on how to control the spread of diseases. Even as tribal members accepted Western medicine over time, however, use of traditional medicine continued.
Fighting illustrates that while sickness was a reality for Southern California Indians before European contact, the introduction of Western diseases to the region post-contact marked a devastating flash point. During this time period, many families within the Mission Indian Agency died of infectious disease, including tuberculosis, pneumonia, and gastrointestinal disorders. Moreover, settlers eventually destroyed all the Indian economies of Southern California and prevented Indigenous peoples from accessing hunting and gathering grounds.
“Various aspects of settler colonialism during the nineteenth century had rendered the indigenous population of Southern California vulnerable to starvation, new microorganisms, and the destructive policies of federal, state, and local officials,” Trafzer writes.
Nearly 30 years in the making, Fighting was ultimately made possible by a grant awarded to Trafzer in 2016 by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).
“My NEH research grant gave me the time to spend a year focused exclusively on turning my research into a book manuscript…,” Trafzer said in a January 2020 NEH interview. “I am a professor and researcher, and have administrative duties as the Costo Chair of American Indian Affairs at the University of California, Riverside, all of which take me away from my project. NEH gave me time to finish a project I had started in the 1990s.”
Through use of historical maps and photographs, death certificates and death registers found in the National Archives, reports of Indian Service district medical officers, physicians, and field nurses as well as oral histories conducted with several Southern California Indians communities, Fighting does well to humanize clinical statistics and contextualize changes resulting from the incorporation of Western medicine. It also serves as a reminder in contemporary times of the importance of being in balance not only with nature, but also with one another.
Welcome to the Deets and Geets Newsletter: He Said, She Said for Mid-April 2021. Check out our quicktakes below on the pop culture happenings that piqued our interests so far this month, broken down by streaming service.
He said: I was hesitant to watch this movie given American animation’s history of racist imagery and because I’m not a huge fan of 3D animation. That said, I did enjoy Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and realize there aren’t many leading characters of African descent in American animation. Having now seen Soul, I can say I enjoyed the film overall, but would not have finished it if LRK hadn’t watched it with me. Jamie Foxx does a great job in bringing the protagonist, Joe Gardner, to life and the “appreciate life while you can” theme is executed in good measure. I’m not crazy about the exaggerated features of the characters, but the animation and aesthetics of the movie’s universe are very creative. Good for child and adult animation fans.
She Said: I enjoyed this Pixar animation about a jazz musician who finally lands his dream gig, only to have a brush with death and have his soul clamor to get back into his body. It definitely carries the Pixar touch with creative ways of symbolizing various emotions and philosophical outlooks. Also cool that Pixar made a proper effort to do justice to its first film with an African American protagonist by closely involving consultants including Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, and Daveed Diggs.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League
He said: The “Snyder Cut” you may have heard buzzing about the internet last month is the director’s cut of the 2017 Justice League theatrical release. Bigger and noticeably better than the original, we tackled the four-hour film in two nights. LRK usually falls asleep at least once during superhero movies, but this one held her attention, just not enough for her to comment for the newsletter (ha!). Good for Snyder fans (300, Watchmen, Wonder Woman) and those who like their heroes less whimsical. Those who didn’t like the 2017 iteration will most likely not be swayed, but those who did should find the Snyder cut better in storytelling, visuals, and combat.
She said nothing.
He said: Good, classic ‘fifties Bollywood. Also known internationally as The Vagabond, Awara is a crime drama that features big production and spectacle in black and white. There is a heavy classism theme throughout the movie played to simplistic effect, I imagine, to show how hard it may be to escape the “fate” of your class. With a runtime of over three hours, viewers may need to decide their own interval point. Noir fans will definitely enjoy.
She said: A Raj Kapoor classic! I must have seen it as a very young child, and it’s funny to watch it now as an adult who can actually understand it, and realize how totally inappropriate it is for children, but how much of a given it was that a family would watch such a film together. The movie navigates crime, punishment, and cycles of poverty; and challenges a biological determinist view of human nature; as a pregnant woman is tragically wronged and impoverished by her own husband under Ramayan-throwback circumstances, and her predicament is blamed on the proverbial Raavan of the film. The villain of course has his ulterior motive to take tween Raj under his wing – but not before tween Raj meets a little girl Rita, whose photo will be the only thing adorning the walls of his tiny hut of Raj’s house, and who will grow up to be played by the iconic Nargis. The songs are catchy and plentiful, all the feels are there, and though the movie feels too long by today’s standards and has quite a bit of problematic to unpack, the “classic” tag is also (largely for those very reasons!) very well-deserved.
He said: I have to be in the mood to deal with the struggle. As a Afro-Native person living in a predominately white suburb, I have to deal with mico- and macro-aggressions every time I step out of the house. Given that, I don’t want to revisit those feelings when trying to relax. LRK recommended we watch Concrete Cowboys and I agreed just because I heard “cowboys,” not knowing the film was about the urban cowboys that have existed in Philadelphia for over a century. I have to admit I was inspired more than depressed, partly because I grew up in the MidWest around horses and the like. Also, since the story is based on real people and some of the actors are portraying versions of themselves, I felt even more inspired. While the story arc is somewhat predictable, knowing it’s based on obscure history makes it shine a bit brighter. Worth an afternoon watch with some beans, bacon, and cornbread—that’s a good country meal for those who didn’t catch the reference.
She said: Idris Elba plays father to Caleb McLaughlin of Stranger Things fame in this Netflix drama about a young man coming of age through bonding with his father and his community of urban Philadelphia cowboys—in many ways, horses are to him what karate was to Daniel-san, but he also comes to understand them as representative of a culture and community that has gone from being excluded from historical narratives to being threatened by gentrification. The movie is based on a novel called “Ghetto Cowboy” which is in turn based on the actual Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club. Some actual members of this riding community act in the movie as versions of themselves, which makes it more interesting.
He said: I’ve come to enjoy the episodic format of streaming shows because it gives stories time to breathe—I say that with The Serpent in mind because, yes, it could have been a movie, but there would have been many dropped scenes that ultimately help solidify this mostly true story, which takes place in several countries, over several decades. I say mostly true because the dialogue is imagined. Ajay seems to be the only character who didn’t benefit from the expanded runtime—it’s a fictionalized story, yet they couldn’t throw homeboy a backstory? Anyway, the cinematography and stylistic choices kept me emerged in the mid-70s / early-80s atmosphere and the actors seemed totally at home in their roles. Plus, knowing all of this happened (in essence) makes it that much more compelling. While not the crème de la crème of crime drama / biopic, it’s worth the watch for fans of the genre, though it loses some steam near the end of the series.
She said: I never knew about Charles Sobhraj before watching this eight-episode fictionalized series about this sociopathic Indo-Vietnamese French serial killer who hated hippies. Tahar Rahim does a fine job of sinking into this chilling character, and I was kept engaged throughout the series, which was largely told through the eyes of the real-life Dutch diplomat who persevered to get Charles caught. Although I understand the various constraints in being able to develop characters, I think they ripped off Ajay a bit and he deserved a better fleshing out of his back-story. Overall a good series, if a little dizzying in its non-linear storytelling, that will have you Googling your way into more truths.
Sound of Metal:
He said: Roller coaster of emotions with this one. The plot is simple: Riz Ahmed plays Ruben, a heavy-metal drummer who starts to lose his hearing. The movie is very effective at bringing the audience into the before- and aftertimes of Ruben’s hearing loss and how it affects his life as a musician and his relationship with girlfriend Lou played by Olivia Cooke. The movie is a definite slow burn, so those expecting high drama or rock performances throughout will be disappointed. Juxtapositions of rough and gentle, loud and quiet, rigid and soft are explored. While I won’t spoil the film, I will say that Riz Ahmed is cast as yet another knucklehead—in all the films I’ve seen him, his characters put themselves in precarious positions and then proceed to double down on bonehead behavior. This includes his roles in Girls and Star Wars!
She said: Riz Ahmed really has a knack for bringing a sympathetic and endearing angle to dudes with self-destructive tendencies and fundamentally shitty outlooks on life. The acting and writing were solid in this drama about a drummer going through hearing loss, and it was interesting to see the different mindsets and approaches that can be taken under such circumstances.
He said: Interesting episodic British crime drama. A few good twists, though, the protagonists aren’t exactly likable in the sense that they all have skeletons in their closets and proceed to lie about them until they can’t anymore. I recommend watching at least two episodes to get the essence of the show. The mystery of it all is intriguing and good timepass, but nothing game-changing.
She said: “Ghost” from Marvel Ant-Man fame plays the mysterious “Stranger” who delivers disheartening and sometimes threatening messages to people in this eight-part British drama on Netflix. The show kept me interested in trying to guess what secrets people in this town are keeping and how they are all connected to each other and to this Stranger.
YouTube and Netflix (respectively)
Vir Das Comedy (Ten-on-Ten and Inside Out: A lockdown crowd-work special)
He said: Bottom line is Vir Das is funny. I had seen his stand-up before and thought he was okay, but I had some good chucks with LRK watching these two features. I enjoyed the lockdown special the most out of the two because Das has good comedic timing, allowing him to riff with participants. Ten-on-Ten is only on episode four at the time of this writing, so I’ll reserve judgement until watching the entire series.
She said: I’m kind of wary of cool Indian dude comics, especially after that hideous AIB Roast from a few years ago—but I did enjoy Vir Das’s performances in Delhi Belly and especially in Go Goa Gone, though (lololz)—so I was down to check out Vir’s stand-up upon Super Star Agni’s suggestion. Outside In is Vir Das’s pandemic special on Netflix, where he exchanges banter with his audience over a video call. I was really impressed with Vir’s ease of making funny conversation on the spot and engaging all his audience. Ten on Ten is apparently still ongoing, comprised of ten separate sets about ten different issues. I haven’t found any to be profoundly hilarious or anything, but each set is brief and certainly entertaining enough to watch with some chai and brownie.