Deets and Geets Newsletter March 2021

Welcome to the Deets and Geets Newsletter: He Said, She Said for March 2021. Check out our quicktakes below on the pop culture happenings that piqued our interests so far this month, all broken down by streaming service.

APPLE TV+

The Servant

He said: Intriguing first and second seasons with some creepy scenes peppered throughout. Series seems to be winding down—this is not necessarily a bad thing. The show is called The Servant, so figuring out who Leanne is and who exactly she serves is part of the show’s mystique. Once that mystery is solved, however, the show should probably wrap up. That said, I’m looking forward to seeing the coming (cult?) war foreshadowed in the last scene.

She said: I found Season 2 quite underwhelming for a Shyamalan production.  I was expecting some game-changing twist or shocking revelation, but I didn’t see anything that was divergent or unexpected from the groundwork laid in Season 1.  It is described as “psychological horror,” but it turned out to be more of a psychological bore.  I will skip Season 3 if it happens.

DISNEY+

Falcon and the Winter Soldier

He said: We weren’t expecting Disney+’s latest Marvel outing to be more than wall-to-wall action, but the first episode has a good action/drama ratio and sets up a deeper dive into the  titular characters’ lives.  We’re looking forward to next week’s episode and the imminent introduction of Emily VanCamp’s Sharon Carter aka Agent Peggy Carter’s niece. If you don’t know who any of these people are, get caught up.

She said: Action is not really my genre, and elaborate fighting scenes with different types of flying vehicles, gunfire, fancy stunts, and machines I don’t know names of really bore me. So when Super Star Agni first told me about this show and I knew that both of these characters are closely linked with Captain America, I surmised that I would probably catch some z’s during the first episode and then opt out of the rest.  But aside from that one fancy violent scene, I really enjoyed it!  It’s interesting to see the characters having to lead ordinary lives in the present, with Sam applying for a bank loan with his sister, and Bucky asking someone out on a date.  Obviously, there will be more action-y stuff brought up from their pasts and moving forward as a new Captain America is on the horizon, but there is enough human connection in there to keep me interested.

WandaVision

He said: Marvel expands its fandom tent with this entry. Unique way to draw upon the Wanda / Vision connection from Age of Ultron and Infinity War, and to reveal Wanda’s backstory. Recommended for sitcom fans as well as fans of superhero fare. Wondering if this will lead into a villainous side of Wanda *dun dun dunnnn*

She said: “What is grief if not love persevering?” Oof! WandaVision has Marvel-ously accomplished so many things at once: Meme gold, an interesting plot, an homage to American television over the decades, and an expansion of the characters and plotlines in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

HBO MAX

Allen V. Farrow

He said: Good look into the accusation of sexual abuse against Woody Allen involving his then 7-year-old daughter. Definitely biased against Allen, but the case made against him is compelling. I was never a Woody Allen fan and haven’t seen any of his films all the way through, so being made aware of his pattern of filmmaking—older male mentor figure paired with an eager, impressionable young female—was revealing and a bit off-putting even outside of the Farrow v. Allen case. That said, I think a two-part series would have done as well to make the case.

She said: This four-part documentary about Dylan Farrow’s allegation that her step-father Woody Allen molested her when she was seven years old—and Woody’s aggressive campaign to undermine that allegation by insisting that this whole thing was a story hatched by Dylan’s mother Mia because Mia was jealous that Woody was sleeping with Mia’s other adopted daughter Soon-Yi—is obviously made with belief in Dylan Farrow, and compassion for Mia Farrow. Yes, the facts are presented selectively, but regardless of how many additional facts were left out though, one thing is clear: Woody Allen is disgusting!  OK, I thought so before watching this documentary too, based on creepy comments he has made in interviews, the pervy gaze that comes through on and from behind the screen in his films, and the fact that he slept with the barely-legal stepdaughter of his long-time girlfriend. Still!

The documentary introduces us to the actual text of reports and interviews with family, friends, and people who worked at different levels of the investigation.  Contrary to the public spin which made her out to be some impressionable child with a fantastical story, the texts and interviewed officials confirm that Dylan has been incredibly consistent with the core facts, and indeed showed signs of having been sexually abused. Also, it’s evident that Woody Allen has the type of access and connections in American society and particularly in elite East Coast circles which would basically guarantee his impunity in the (undeniable) event that he did commit a crime.  

I happen to have a pretty low opinion of Woody, just in case that wasn’t obvious.  But, I get that some people love his cinema and his brand, and have a hard time reconciling their fandom with believing that he could be a predator.  They would rather believe that Mia is the crazy b that coached Dylan into inventing this whole thing.  But many truths can coexist, and we need not buy into this weird absolutist phenomenon of having to embrace or reject public figures and everything associated with them, wholesale.  Mia could have been a weirdly controlling and abusive parent, as Moses Farrow, another stepson of hers and Woody’s, has alleged.  Mia could have been jealous of Woody and Soon-Yi.  Woody could be a witty writer and director.  Woody’s cinema could be culturally iconic.  Woody could have truly cared about his adopted children—including Dylan.  Brains are complicated and sometimes deranged and so is patriarchy, and none of these aforementioned possibilities undermine Dylan’s truth.

NETFLIX

Bombay Begums

He said nothing.

She said: Firstly, it is wonderful to see Queen Pooja Bhatt back on screen! She embodies all of the strength, elegance, and confluence of buoyancy and gravitas that one would expect from the woman who lit up the screen decades ago in films ranging from Sadak to Prem Deewane.  

As of this writing, I have just started Episode 5 of Bombay Begums, so I basically still have two more episodes to go.  I won’t give my overall thoughts yet, but my one tip is to watch at least two episodes, if you are on the fence after finishing the first.  I didn’t think the set-up in that first episode did the future ones justice; it leaned in too hard on the girl-boss vibe, and I found the canned liberal feminist precocious tween voice-overs a bit off-putting.  As you keep watching though, the show pulls you in with the complex drama in the lives of these five women, sensitively portrayed by Pooja Bhatt, Shahana Goswami, Amrutha Subhash, Plabita Borthakur, and Aadhya Anand.  They are all constantly having to negotiate with their own bodies, their loved ones, and external pressures—and, they all wield their own hurtful and opportunistic behavior at times.  There are moments of tenderness and levity too; it’s not all misery! 

Series creator Alankrita Shrivastava had also worked on Made In Heaven—if you liked MIH, there is something for you here as well.  Instead of Delhi’s elite though, you get five women from different walks of life converging in Bombay: the aforementioned defiant tween; her resolute CEO step-mom; a small-town twenty-something exploring her newfound freedom only to be shut down by Bombay-style slut-shaming (and worse); a bar dancer-turned-sex worker trying with dreams of starting a factory; and a rising executive conflicted over how much of “it all” she wants to take on.  Pour yourself a steaming cup of chai in a white porcelain mug and give it a watch!

The Umbrella Academy

He said: What I initially thought would be a derivative superhero show turned out to be a fun ride for two seasons so far, even though the time travel / apocalypse tropes are used for both season. I’ve never read the comic book  the show is based on, so I can’t say if they nailed the source material, but the episodic nature of the storytelling works well. It’s more of a show about family and relationships than wearing masks and fighting crime, which I think many shows are doing these days to shake up the superhero genre. Not as violent as Amazon Prime’s The Boys, it dispenses the same gritty humor at times. Looking forward to season three, but I hope time travel and apocalypses aren’t the overarching themes.

She said: Superheroes, time travel, well-choreographed sibling brawls, and a smashing soundtrack – what a fun ride!  Waiting eagerly for Season 3, and especially curious about Vanya Hargreeves on account of Elliot Page’s personal developments; and Ben on account of what we saw at the end of Season 2!

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States: Book Review by Super Star Agni

THE INDIGENOUS EXPERIENCE has long been absent from colonial histories, which either dismiss or rationalize the existence of and fallout from European imperialism. With An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, activist and historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz examines the American settler-colonial framework and gives insight into the modern reality of Indigenous peoples’ experience.

AnIPHotUS Cover

The daughter of a Cherokee-Irish mother and a Scots-Irish tenant farmer father, Dunbar-Ortiz embraced her “fragmented” Native heritage and became politically active in California in the 1960s, joining the civil rights, anti-apartheid, anti-Vietnam War, women’s liberation, and Red Power movements, which, she writes, helped her gain the critical perspective presented in the book.

In an intelligent, comprehensible style, Dunbar-Ortiz outlines the culture of European conquest cultivated centuries before would-be settlers crossed the Atlantic. With a Christian, white supremacist zeal that justified colonialism, she writes in the chapter “Sea to Shining Sea,” a militaristic heritage developed in Western Europe during the crusades, that was later brought to the Americas with its policies of destruction and dehumanization.

“The establishment of the missions and presidios…traces the colonization of California’s Indigenous nations. The five-hundred-mile road that connected the missions was called El Camino Real, the Royal Highway. These California Franciscan missions and their founder, Junipero Serra, are extravagantly romanticized by modern California residents and remain popular tourist sites. Very few visitors notice, however, that in the middle of the plaza of each mission is a whipping post.”

Dunbar-Ortiz explains that not only were warfare and forced removal exercised with the intent to erase Indigenous peoples from the Americas, but effective use of terminology also aided in the conquest of the continent. She illustrates how popular culture perpetuates and justifies the disappearance and conquest of Indigenous peoples through the Columbus Myth, the “Doctrine of Discovery,” the concept of “firsting and lasting” ― which directs the national narrative to speak of civilized Euro-American founders on one hand and “Ishi, the last Indian” on the other ― and popular songs, such as Woodie Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.”

Dunbar-Ortiz decolonizes the American founding myth by examining how early Anglo-American literature worked to justify the uprooting and elimination of Native peoples, and why authors, such as James Fennimore Cooper, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville remain revered and studied today as national and nationalist writers instead of colonialist.

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States challenges readers to rethink the national narrative of Manifest Destiny and ponder how society would be transformed if the reality of U.S. history were to be acknowledged on a wider scale.

In roughly  three hundred pages, spanning more than four hundred years of history, the book offers a new periodization of U.S. history and demonstrates the active nature of Indigenous survival through organizing and storytelling.

A version of this review originally appeared in the Winter 2015-2016 issue of News from Native California.

“One Word: Sawalmem” Documentary Review by Super Star Agni

Released in March 2020, the short documentary One Word: Sawalmem is a reminder to live in reciprocity with the natural world.  

Since its release, Co-directors Michael “Pom” Preston (Winnemem Wintu) and Venuzuelan filmmaker Natasha Deganello Giraudie have held online screenings and conversations about the film and humanity’s role in climate change.

Preston said in a statement he met Giraudie at a conference in Point Reyes, California where she told him about her idea to invite a young indigenous person to direct a film with her and share one word from their ancestral language that changed their life and that humanity could use to rebalance its relationship with the earth.  Preston’s word, “Sawalmem,” came to him instantly. 

“Sawalmem, ‘sacred water,’ is how we’ve always been in relationship with water,” Preston said in a statement. “Coming from Northern California, where water is abundant, the tribe decided it was time to share the meaning of Sawalmem to help change the misconception of water as ‘resource’ to water as sacred life giver,” Preston continued. “As a member of my tribe, I decided to do my part in sharing this with the world, and so I stepped into the adventure of becoming a first-time film director with full authorship and creative authority, with the support of Natasha’s filmmaking experience, and under the guidance of my tribal leadership.” 

Giraudie is the creative director and founder of Micro-Documentaries, LLC, which produced Sawalmem. Micro-Documentaries aims to be on the vanguard of the micro-documentary film genre to advance humanitarian missions, according to its website. As the name implies, a micro-documentary, micro-doc, or mini-doc, is a short non-fiction motion picture that instructs, educates, and/or documents. For readers who find documentaries to be nothing more than tedious info-dumps,  Sawalmem is the antithesis to that stereotype—beautifully shot, heartfelt, and uplifting, yet informative. A true micro-documentary, Sawalmem presents both challenge and opportunity in 18 minutes. 

Preston, son of current Winnemem Wintu tribal chief, Caleen Sisk, is the lead subject and voice of the film. In the opening sequences, he reminisces about his academic years at University of California Berkeley while walking the campus: 

“Spirit doesn’t exist in academic realms for the most part…I was the only one talking about the sacred. I was talking about my home lands in Mount Shasta. I was trying to remind people through academic language of how one relates to ecosystems and how to protect them and why traditional ecological knowledge in the native world is important.” 

For the past 4 years, Sisk and a collective of Indigenous women, activists, and allies have held Run4Salmon, a 300-mile prayer journey that follows the historical path of the winter-run Chinook salmon between the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the McCloud River in order to raise awareness of  practices and policies that threaten the waters, fish, and Indigenous ways of life.  

Fiscally sponsored by Robert Redford and the Redford Center, Salwalmem was selected as a finalist in the Tribeca Film Institute short film program and has been selected to screen in nearly two dozen film festivals since its release.

This review was also featured in the Winter 20-21 issue of News from Native California.

Review: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People

The following review appeared in the Winter 2019/2020 edition of News from Native California.

With An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, activist and historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (Cherokee/Scots-Irish) examines U.S. settler-colonial framework and gives insight into the modern reality of Indigenous peoples’ experiences. A recent adaptation, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People, provides a similar critical lens for middle- and high school students.

Curriculum experts Debbie Reese (Nambe Owingeh) and Jean Mendoza maintain the overall scholarly essence of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States while reformatting its structure to include chapter subheadings, discussion topics, activity prompts, maps, informational text blocks, and bullet points.

These additions serve the modified structure well, providing context and opportunities for critical thinking. For example, in the subchapter titled “Indigenous Peoples of What is Now California,” Reese and Mendoza briefly chronicle Spanish colonization of the state from 1769 to 1823 with a focus on California missions.  The “Did You Know?” section of this subchapter highlights the discrepancy between the sanitized version of California mission material usually taught, versus a more historically accurate approach the Native community pushes schools to teach.

A “Consider This” section in the chapter titled “A Critical Look at Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson” asks readers to unpack the term ethnic cleansing. A portion of the section reads:

“Bringing a critical lens to words we use is important. Generally speaking, people think of cleansing as a good [sic]; the removal of something bad or dirty. But people are not bad, dirty objects that can be moved or done away with, without regard for their humanity. The term cleansing hides the motives and actions of powerful governments or groups who are deliberately harming many people. What other terms can you think of that might be more accurate?”

In these increasingly divisive times replete with echo chambers and “alternative facts,” An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People is a reminder of the importance of critical thinking. Even though the title references an “Indigenous Peoples’ History,” the material encourages readers to think, consider, and investigate for themselves in order to come to a well-rounded view of United States history. In this spirit, the closing chapters “For Further Reading” and “Some Books We Recommend” provide readers with respective lists of Indigenous women and Indigenous writers as starting points to address historical inaccuracies and underrepresentation.

As with the original, the adaptation offers a periodization of U.S. history in roughly 230 pages and demonstrates the active nature of Indigenous survival through organizing and storytelling.  While the level of analysis in the adapted version is not as academically dense as the original, critical content remains and is presented in an engaging style.

Deets and Geets S3:E5— Indian Matchmaking

LRK and I spent last week watching Netflix’s polarizing hit Indian Matchmaking. Our latest podcast episode runs down our thoughts on Sima Aunty, her matches, and the matchmaking process in general. You can find both an audio-only and enhanced video version at DeetsandGeets.com. Content is also available on our Youtube channel:

If you’ve already binged the show, you might be wondering what happened to the matches afterward. Luckily, Netflix India’s Dolly Singh interviewed most of the cast during the pandemic to catch up:

While no plans for Season Two are on the horizon, Season One is definitely worth a watch if you remotely like dating shows or just need good timepass while sheltering in place.

COPS Show Canceled—Opinion by Super Star Agni

As an 80s kid, Inner Circle’s “Bad Boys” got me pumped for the high-speed chases, kicked-in doors, and perp tackles that was “Cops.” I was ambivalent about actual police, but the energy of the show was undeniable.

I stopped watching after a few seasons. Could have been the sad cycle of perp choices, the culture of punishment, the schadenfreude—not sure.

Now “Cops” is canceled after 32 seasons. Outrage over police brutality sparked by the recent killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor pressured the Paramount Network to axe the show. A&E’s “Live PD,” the spiritual successor to Cops, has also been canceled amid nationwide protests against police brutality and the filmed death of Javier Ambler, who died in police custody after being handcuffed and repeatedly tased even though he did not assault or threaten deputies, according to a death-in-custody report filed with the Texas attorney general’s office.

Offscreen cops might be canceled as well. Some people want to disband police forces all together. Others want to reallocate funds to services and programs that will help marginalized communities, or route some 911 calls to social workers and paramedics instead of involving police, or have officers issue citations for minor infractions instead of defaulting to arrests. The first solution seems precarious, though, not impossible. The others could be effective with the right funding and training. Another proposed solution is to nationalize policing standards, but with over 18,000 police departments in the United States, a one-size-fits-all approach may not be ideal.

Whatever the solution, a social paradigm shift must also occur. The way people of color have been historically treated in this country is evidence enough. Born out of vigilante slave patrols in the South, which gave way to the Jim Crow laws of late 19th and early 20th centuries, policing was only about protecting and serving the social construct of whiteness. That type of culture rarely dismantles itself.

While I’ve never been brutalized by the police, I have been seen as the proverbial “bad boy” for simply existing. For example, I walked into an Oakland convenience store several years back to ask for directions and, upon seeing me at the counter, a police officer asked the store clerk “Was it a brown-skinned man with curly red hair, wearing a black t-shirt?” The clerk looked at me and then scowled in confusion at the cop, “No, it wasn’t him.”  It took a moment to realize what had happened, but my life could have taken a drastic downturn in that moment for no good reason, especially if whatever crime occurred was violent.

Cancelling shows such as “Cops” and “Live PD” may seem like insignificant network maneuvers that won’t reverse generations of problematic imagery and storytelling, but the only way to avoid death by 1000 cuts is to stop the cutting. These shows promote reality, but are basically televised police dramas with editors, producers, and protagonists with veto power.

With the advent of smart phones and social media, however, the public has been given a more brutal version of “Cops.” Hopefully, this version doesn’t take 32 years to get canceled.

Review: Shifting Grounds

The following review was featured in the Fall 2019 issue of News from Native California:

The 19th Century is thought of as the golden age of American landscape painting. Moving beyond mere artful documentation of place and setting, landscape art became an idea, a propaganda of sorts that spurred settlers West. But, as with many aspects of American history, the settler-colonial perspective rarely paints a full picture. In Shifting Grounds: Landscape in Contemporary Native American Art,  art historian Kate Morris illuminates how Indigenous artists are expanding and re-conceptualizing the subdiscipline to evoke a more “embedded subjectivity” as an alternative to  the popularized distant, single-point perspective.

Morris, a professor of art history and the associate dean of arts and sciences at Santa Clara University, explores the view of contemporary Indigenous art as “a vehicle for the expression of place-based knowledge.” This translates into both written and visual discourses of the various physical and creative approaches used by featured Indigenous artists to subvert mainstream expectations of what landscape imagery should be.

Visually, the book has a sleek, yet vibrant layout, which is apt in that books about art should be designed with an artful awareness. The first three chapters discuss painting as a medium and feature the paintings of Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee) and Jay Lavadour (Walla Walla). The remaining two chapters cover the expanding world of landscape representation through installations (site-specific works usually designed to alter the perception of a space), video, and performance art. Featured works in these mediums include the installations of Alan Michaelson (Mohawk), James Luna (Luiseño), and Kent Monkman (Fish River Band Cree) as well as the mixed media sculpture and performance art of Rebecca Belmore (Anishinaabe).

All of the works displayed explore themes of representation, generational trauma, and resilience, but none feel static in any sense of the word. Even in the more abstract pieces, there is perpetual movement, as if all involved—artist, landscape, and viewer—are in a constant, connected state of transition.  A great example can be found in the Luna’s Creation and Destruction of an Indian Reservation: An American Dilemma (1990) in which Luna dramatizes over the course of four acts the various stages of reservation system development. Not only does the piece serve to highlight the historical division and fencing off of reservation land to the detriment of Indigenous peoples, but it also conveys “anti-invitational aspects.” Morris writes in Chapter Four, Centering, “The presence of the fencing in Luna’s installation contradicts the official language of the highway sign behind it that reads ‘Entering  La Jolla Reservation.’”

Morris’ language is accessible, yet academic, which, depending upon reader proclivities, may enhance or be a barrier to engagement. Given the in-depth analysis of complex and layered works, however, the style choice seems justified. For example, Morris’ discussion of Lavador’s 2013 piece Tiicham, a 102 x 152 inch rectangle comprised of 15 panels, not only provides general art criticism, but also draws from several expert sources to consider Native and non-native views before providing her own analysis.

Covering works created within the last thirty years by Indigenous artists of North America, Shifting Grounds provides a more inclusive perspective into what landscape art was, is, and does.

Review: Shapes of Native Nonfiction

Below is a short review I wrote for the Fall 2019 issue of News from Native California. I remember writing this around the time my daughter was born almost a year ago. 

Shapes of Native Nonfiction is a collection of essays by twenty-one contemporary writers. Edited by Elissa Washuta (Cowlitz) and Theresa Warburton, Shapes emphasizes the equal importance of both form and content in essay writing.

ShapesWashuta and Warburton utilize a basket weaving motif to illustrate this concept: “Just as a basket’s purpose determines its materials, weave, and shape, so too is the purpose of the essay related to its materials, weave, and shape.” With this, the collection is structured into four sections: technique, coiling, plaiting, and twining.

Technique focuses on craft essays, in which prose and poetry are often combined. An apt example is Stephen Graham Jones’ “Letter to a Just-Starting-Out Indian Writer—and Maybe to Myself.” In this series of numbered prose poems, Jones (Blackfeet) advises novice Native writers on how to write from an authentic place while circumventing colonial labels and expectations.

Coiling holds essays that appear seamless and connected. Like coiled baskets woven so tightly that they can hold water, Washuta and Warburton note, the essays in this section unify content far ranging in time, place, and meaning.  Deborah Miranda (Ohlone Costanoan Esselen/Chumash), illustrates this style perfectly in “Tuolumne,” which uses the Tuolumne River as the center of spiral rounds that connect periods of her father’s lifetime and familial influence beyond death:

“But my father never told me what he was thinking that day his dad took him back to the river. What I do know is that in 2009, when my father was dying, he gave my brother this command: ‘Take my ashes back to that river. Scatter me on the Tuolumne.’ He told our sister Louise the same thing over the phone, calling her in San Jose from his hospice room in Everett, Washington.”

Plaiting contains segmented essays from a single source, such as from the author’s life. Kim Tallbear (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate) plaits prose with 100-word prose poetry segments in “Critical Poly 100s,” which draws from Tallbear’s polyamorous experiences with multiple human loves and “other-than-human loves,” such as various knowledge forms and approaches to life.

Twining focuses on essays comprised of material from different sources. As with twined baskets, the co-editors write, essays in this section display flexibility in that they combine the author’s personal experience and narrative style with researched material, such as in “A Mind Spread Out on the Ground” by Alicia Elliott (Tuscarora) who correlates the historical etymology of depression with the effects of colonialism:

“I’ve heard one person translate a Mohawk phrase for depression to, roughly, ‘his mind fell to the ground.’ I ask my sister about this. She’s been studying Mohawk for the past three years and is practically fluent. She’s raising her daughter to be the same. They’re the first members of our family to speak the language since priests beat it out of our paternal grandfather a handful of decades ago.”

Shapes of Native Nonfiction is a vibrant, form-conscious essay collection that does well to challenge conventional expectations of what Native nonfiction can and should be; it goes beyond simply providing “Native information” and shows instead “Natives in formation.”