Month: July 2014

Started at the POPSMUT, Now We Here: The End and Other Beginnings

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As a true American legend/general staple of the Oscar blogging community, I feel that as I move forward into 2014 and beyond, I must reveal that sentiment, above all, is kind of my thing.

We’ve been close since elementary school, the days when I used to come home on Fridays with a lunchbox bursting with plastic forks and spoons I’d accumulated during the week–utensils similar to the ones I saw my classmates tossing into the trash like they were nothing. But mine? No. I held onto mine dearly. “My mother gave these to me,” I told a lunch lady who dared to question my actions from atop her stained-yellow Keds of judgment, watching me place a used spork back into the box.

I don’t part with things easily. As many of my friends know, I linger in the movie theater long after the final scene is whisked away by the credits. I soak up the moment, the music, the experience that I’d just bathed in for the last two hours. It’s hard for me to get up and walk out–unless the movie was American Hustle or something.

Parting with this blog, however, has been a long time coming. I so tactfully named a future professional tool after something that sounds like an Xtube user handle belonging to a Scotch-laden man with an intense interest in geriatric male-on-male fellatio. I guess it’s more difficult to say after the fact that this blog was started as something for me to mess around with. It’s since grown into the foundation for a career I’m so desperately trying to have.

It’s through this space that I’ve been able to meet some incredible artists. I’ve interviewed celebrities, artists, designers, directors, writers–people, more than anything else. I’ve written about love, regrets, passion, resentment, life–strung together with the thread of film and pop culture, of course. But, the one thing that’s remained the same is the person behind the keyboard: me. I’ve single-handedly taken this blog from a silly side project into something I’m extremely proud of.

But, it’s time for something new. I am ending POPSMUT.

As I grow increasingly interested in writing as a career (screenwriting, journalism, etc.), I learn more and more with each passing day that the potential realities of breaking into the industry at age 24 (or “6th Anniversary of 18”, as I like to call it) are rapidly dwindling. Self-publishing (for more than just fun) is the route I’ve decided to take.

On August 25, 2014, I will launch Serving Cinema at http://www.servingcinema.com, alongside my longtime collaborator and friend, Alice Groesbeck. It will focus on Oscar season, the film industry, and culture in general. Our first major feature will focus on the release of a few key films during the New York Film Festival in late August (we’re in negotiations with one of our writers who’s going to be at the festival to bring his reviews exclusively to us). We’ve got a fantastic web designer who’s in the final stages of bringing our vision to life. We have tons of features lined up that will add a youthful life force into the crusty Oscar Blogging industry pool, and have gathered a great group of writers, collaborators, interns, and others to help make this a multimedia sensory extravaganza that will find a home in the hearts of tens of millions of adoring people across this great nation (or so we modestly hope).

We eventually hope to expand the site from mere videos, podcasts, and articles into an outlet for online-only independent filmmakers to showcase their work in a monthly spotlight/theater feature, but that’s all for phase 2. Phase 1 has barely left me any time to sleep in the past few months, so one step at a time.

Over the course of the next month, however, I’ve got a ton of other projects coming to life as well. Anaka Records will be flying (AKA putting me on a train because I’m terrified of air travel and refused to do it. I wish I were kidding, but I’m really rolling up for a business trip on rails) Alice and I to New York City on August 7 to collaborate with Alex Young (a singer I first interviewed on this blog in 2010, mind you) on a series of documentary-essays and web episodes/video projects surrounding her artistry and the city itself.

On September 6th, I’ll be traveling to Toronto to cover the Toronto International Film Festival–a legitimate Oscar precursor festival–for Serving Cinema as its first major feature.

My first short film (that I directed, acted in, and co-wrote with Alice), Dealing, is nearing completion, and will be edited (and released) by the end of the year. I’m also in the process of partnering with the Three Rivers Film Festival here in Pittsburgh to do some cross-promotion for my site and their list of filmmakers on this year’s slate.

I’ve accomplished so much (being humble apparently isn’t included in that assesment), and this blog as been there right by my side. It’s grown into more than just an outlet for expression. It has become an instinct, a gut-reaction for sharing ideas, an extension of myself as I try to write as personally as possible. I can’t do it all by myself if I want to expand, so we’re taking my little ball of passion and turning it into that Indiana Jones boulder (if that Indiana Jones boulder were a handful of people passionate about staying indoors/blogging about film).

Learning to exist with sentiment makes me a stronger person, a stronger writer and, hopefully now, a strong businessperson (with the help of my good friend Tyler Marchinetti, who’s helping out with some of the business aspects, like teaching Alice and I what “net gain” means and that people can actually sue us for the shade we throw now that we’re a business). Speaking of which, I know that if throwing shade at Jennifer Connelly and Argo over the years could translate into success, we’re already “recouping” (is that the right business word, Tyler?) whatever shame I brought upon myself by naming this blog “POPSMUT.”

Sentiment is my thing. Saying goodbye, however, is not. I’ll hang on to the craft I’ve perfected on this blog over the years and give it new life in a new home very, very soon. Hopefully we’ll uphold a legacy far better than Argo is upholding the Best Picture legacy from the clearance bin at your local supermarket (one last jab, for old time’s sake).

So, goodbye, PopSmut. You’ll be the used spork in my lunchbox of life forever. *pops Cristal in the hot tub* *clinks glass with my angel-winged ego of the future*

Joey.

Look for Serving Cinema to launch on August 25, 2014. 

Sierra Mannie: It’s Time For You To Lip-Sync For Your Life

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By: Joey Nolfi
Twitter: @joeynolfi

Sierra Mannie, it’s time for you to lip sync for your life.

The song you’ve chosen to present to us is a bitter one. The lyrics to “Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture” (which can be found by clicking here ) are passionate and fiery, though narrow-minded and ill-informed. They make the point that homosexual Caucasian males don’t have the right to “act black”, as you’ve put it, because they’re white and therefore automatically endowed with a clear path to a long, prosperous, privileged life.

Of course no one has the right to steal or mock someone else’s culture–especially the select few people who undoubtedly do this to black people. It’s wrong. No one is denying that. We all see where you’re coming from and where you started. The problem, however, is that you drove your point into the ground by dragging another culture through the mud by making grand assumptions and insulting generalizations (that derailed your initial point) for the sake of the argument.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. The first verse of “Dear White Gays” goes a little something like this:


“Maybe, for some of you, it’s a presumed mutual appreciation for Beyoncé and weaves that has you thinking that I’m going to be amused by you approaching me in your best ‘Shanequa from around the way’ voice. I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t care how well you can quote Madea, who told you that your booty was getting bigger than hers, how cute you think it is to call yourself a strong black woman, who taught you to twerk, how funny you think it is to call yourself Quita or Keisha or for which black male you’ve been bottoming — you are not a black woman, and you do not get to claim either blackness or womanhood. It is not yours. It is not for you.”


That sounds incredibly spiteful, but I don’t blame you after the harsh critique you’ve received from the judges. Your runway outfit was, however, falling apart at the seams, my dear, and now the hem of your critique is tattered and ankle-length, when it could benefit from a bit more time, experience, and craftsmanship to extend it to the length of full red carpet realness.

Perhaps you should stop laying claim to all inequality and all struggle. You belong to neither exclusively. Struggle isn’t yours alone. You do not get to revel in your inequality only to use it as a license to box in other similarly-oppressed people. “White gays” as a whole are not the problem in this picture. You do not get to use and objectify inequality as an exclusive accessory, and as a tool to write edgy think-pieces that insult instead of inspire. You objectify things such as race and gender and take it upon yourself to make assumptions about ALL gay white males and define the lines. You’re segregating. The only thing “Dear White Gays” says is “You can only sit here. You can’t sit there,” though the factors you cite (Madea, Beyonce, names, an inflection of the voice) do not belong to or represent the black community exclusively. Still, this does not give someone the right to marginalize a black woman by assuming she’ll respond more positively if she’s called “girl” in casual conversation, and I truly believe that’s what you’re trying to say in “Dear White Gays,” it just gets lost in the steam of your anger.

The second verse is just as grating as the first, but still you make your best attempts at lip-synching through what you think you’re supposed to be saying, doing, and defending:


“Black people can’t have anything. Any of these things include, but aren’t limited to: a general sense of physical safety, comfort with law enforcement, adequate funding and appreciation for black spaces like schools and neighborhoods, appropriate venues for our voices to be heard about criticism of issues without our race going on trial because of it, and solid voting rights (cc: Chris McDaniel).”


and


“At the end of the day, if you are a white male, gay or not, you retain so much privilege. What is extremely unfairly denied you because of your sexuality could float back to you, if no one knew that you preferred the romantic and sexual company of men over women. (You know what I’m talking about. Those “anonymous” torsos on Grindr, Jack’d and Adam4Adam, show very familiar heterosexual faces to the public.) The difference is that the black women with whom you think you align so well, whose language you use and stereotypical mannerisms you adopt, cannot hide their blackness and womanhood to protect themselves the way that you can hide your homosexuality. We have no place to hide, or means to do it even if we desired them.”


I advise you to tell this assertion of black struggle over the struggle of others to Matthew Shephard. Hit a road block? That’s because he’s dead. Murdered in Laramie, Wyoming for his sexuality, for inciting a “gay panic” in two heterosexual males who took it upon themselves to end his life after inserting themselves into his with only violent intentions coursing through their veins. Matthew Shephard made no attempts to hide who he was. Hiding is dangerous. Silence is death, but dying as a victim of an ignorance-fueled crime–as who he was, refusing to change for anyone at the risk of his own life–is valiance in the face of injustice and hatred.

Tell this to all the gay men who are called “faggot” as they walk down the street. Tell them that your struggle is worse than theirs. Tell this to the gay people in your life who have to endure a colleague, a coworker, or a classmate saying something is “so gay” because they lack the empathy and vocabulary to describe something for what it really is, tedious and vapid.

Tell this to the gay men and women of states like Texas, Florida, and your very own Mississippi that do not offer any state level protection to LGBT employees.

Your “us-versus-them” rhetoric is dangerous. I think your intention was an “all-of-us” one, but your lack of empathy painted you into a corner and left you there.

The point is not to equate the black struggle with the gay struggle in every instance (there are varying degrees to both), but instead to embrace our differences and find community in shared oppression and acknowledge that regardless of whatever group society has assigned us to, we are all fighting a battle. Racism exists. It’s terrilble. Sexism exists. It’s terrible. This diversity in our collective, shared experiences as Americans being oppressed by the majority is what makes our culture as a nation so powerful. This shared struggle and mutual respect for one another is what it means to be American. No one is demeaning the struggle of any particular race—certainly not yours, as black people have had it hard over the years—and that means you shouldn’t demean the struggle of others, because ignoring the gay struggle makes your argument (that cultural appropriation is wrong) get lost in the process.

How you have written your opinions on white gays as fact is so problematic. You have no place or authority to tell others how to live their lives or how to endure their struggle. You do not get to say that your struggle is more important than someone else’s just because you’ve encountered a few assholes along the way. One group’s oppression is no less valid than another group’s because of the color of their skin. You don’t have to keep score because Americans have been working hard to promote equality to make sure no one has to. You say  “black people can’t have anything,” but I don’t think that is fair to the members of a community who have worked hard to succeed.

Especially people like Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, Mo’Nique, and Hattie McDaniel. These Americans prove that black people can have Academy Awards. Whoopi Goldberg, Lupita Nyong’o, and Maya Angelou prove that black women can make it in industries that are dominated by white men and dictated by the male preference. Barack Obama’s presidency proves that our country is breaking down walls and changing the future of diversity in America for the better.  He is proof that black people can have the most powerful position in the world.

To say that black people can’t have anything is to demean the leaps and bounds by those who have fought to achieve. Your words demean the accomplishments and perseverance of an entire race of people for the sake of grinding your axe over the way a few men (who happened to be gay and white) talked on Vine the last time you scrolled through it.

The characters you drop in “Dear White Gays,” the “attitude” you cite, and the stereotypes you acknowledge are only your perceived notion of what black culture is. On what day and at what conference did every black person decide that Madea was an ideal representative of the community?

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Let me tell you this: Madea is not only a camp character, she is a heterosexual black male dressing in societally-coded “female” attire; essentially, Madea (and Tyler Perry, the man under the wig) is appropriating the quintessentially multi-racial, multi-cultural, all-inclusive umbrella that is the art of drag.

No one talks about drag being filtered through the lens of straight culture to fit the “tastes” of the black culture you assume elevated Madea to some level of universal representation for the black community. Still, Madea as a character reduces drag to a cheap joke. Look at the funny man in the funny dress. Yet, drag culture perseveres. Drag culture endures. Drag culture ignores this sort of trivial squabbling about what belongs where and who can do what.

Would you be offended if I used the cast of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” using every opportunity they have to talk about “shade” as a means to springboard a campaign against all black women to stop appropriating queer drag culture and its vernacular? (Hint: You’ve done it yourself in “Dear White Gays.”) I ask you to re-visit Paris Is Burning and think twice before you consider using the terms “shade” and “truth tea” before you write a piece about appropriating another’s culture.

But, even still, it’s ok. The gay community will not attack you for finding worth in something from their culture.

The bottom line is that things you cite as being “black” are superficial at most. A name. A movie character. An accent or way of speaking. A bit more life experience will teach you that being a part of something–whether racial, sexual, spiritual, or just plain human–is more than skin deep. It’s seeing the man under the wig, but still giving him two snaps and a crisp dollar bill for celebrating the dynamism of his taste without labeling it as appropriation in a reactionary bout of masked hatred.

Back to the stage. It’s almost over. Your lace-front is receding as you dip into the final bars of the song. You’re beat. You’ve lip-synched for your life. You’re sweating before the judges. The heel on your studded Jimmy Choo is giving out. But was it enough? Was throwing the gay white male struggle under the bus for the sake of promoting your own prejudice—thinly disguised as a critique of what a few gay white men have done—worth it?

Won’t you rip off the drag and strip away the ugliness you wrote and understand the acceptance of struggles other than your own? Or will you hang on to the faint, dated chorus of “Dear White Gays”? Either way, you’re going to have to join the ranks of all the queens–male and female–that have struggled before you, regardless of race, color, or sexuality.

Your points about cultural appropriation are valid. Of course someone who is white cannot possibly understand the full extent of the racial injustices black Americans must endure on a daily basis. No one is denying that. However, your critique of gay male culture and your insistence on making grand assumptions and assertions over the entirety of it is nothing but ignorance in bad, click-bait day drag with horrible foundation and a bad Shangela blend.

Now, sashay away.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi

Finding Summer Sunshine in ‘Tammy’ Beyond the Muck and the Fat Jokes

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By: Joey Nolfi

Twitter: @joeynolfi

What makes a movie worth something? In the blistering months of summer, we find ourselves flocking to the theater in droves to see them: the good ones, the bad ones, the everything-in-between ones. We accept the notion that this is a supposed to be a time for relaxation, a time to drift away from the 40-hour workweek and into the soft caress of increasing temperatures and cool breezes in that wide open space that’s in between your front door and your air-conditioned sedan.

But, being the good cinephiles that we are, we shut ourselves away in tiny, cramped, darkened little theaters and let others create the fantasy for us. We still associate film with escapism, just the same as we hold onto the coded image of summer as if it still bears the same fruits that three months of nothingness ahead of you in the waning days of May did when you were 15 years old.

Of course, the reality for adults is much different. Summer is simply supposed to be synonymous with easy, but the film industry often kicks into overdrive during these months, pummeling us with male-driven tentpole after male-driven tentpole in a cycle that’s driving its top-heavy films into the ground, pushing “minority” characters and stories to the side, and testing just how much audiences will put up with (grosses for 2014’s summer flicks thus far trail last year’s grosses by 15%, according to Deadline Hollywood) en route to a monolithically-male American film culture.

In an industry where real female characters in front of the camera are rare and a female eye behind the lens is even harder to come by, it’s unfortunate that a film like Tammy—one undoubtedly meant as a lighthearted tread through fields of breezy summer tastes that appeal to the masses—lands itself amid an inescapable storm of web-based chatter from all possible perspectives. People don’t want to let the film be as it is without all the extra baggage it may or may not be carrying with arms of its own. Still, we talk; “Tammy is a film about equality for big girls” some say. “Can we please stop talking about Melissa McCarthy’s weight?” others, like Entertainment Weekly’s Karen Valby did here) chime in. Tammy is being pulled in a million different directions so much that feels like we’ve run the course with it even though we’re still a good 24 hours away from its official opening.

What is true “worth” when talking about a summer blockbuster, then? If we tip so heavily to the side of male taste, is there room for anything else—even, say, a subpar overall film like Tammy—to be worth something in bits as opposed to as a whole?

Heavy discourse might be valid when talking about a film that’s worth something in the eyes of the masses, which Tammy will be if good word of mouth carries it past the modest $30-$40 million holiday haul it’s poised for, though we seem to be more preoccupied with throwing our own words around prior to seeing the actual film than seeing Tammy for what it is; a ridiculously uneven spectacle that digs its own holes that are similar in size and size and scope to the ones dug by others it so desperately seeks to climb out of. But, in the age of the internet court, where everyone’s voice is falsely validated by their ability to fit it into a 140-character space, criticism becomes something that altogether precedes content, and it’s dangerous to glob a film like Tammy into a grey box in an industry that so blatantly separates gender into black and white despite its shortcomings.

We have to pick and choose what we pull from films like Tammy, which stars Melissa McCarthy as a 30-something slob with an ex-job, soon-to-be-ex-husband, and an excommunication from a reality, as she attempts to capitalize on her newfound freedom with a road trip to Niagara Falls with her grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon), though they veer far off track and the film careens into all-over-the-place territory as Tammy embarks on a true journey of self-discovery. McCarthy’s script (co-written with her husband, Ben Falcone, who also directed the picture) feels like a series of aimless vignettes that wear the same comedic gimmicks that McCarthy has relied on for three years now so extremely thin that the barely-there thread connecting everything feels as if its about to snap and coil in on itself if one more self-deprecating fat joke or improvised run-on slithers out of McCarthy’s mouth.

Take it like any subcultural film movement appropriating the normative culture’s use of words that are derogatory (the “f” word, the “n” word), but McCarthy’s use of fat jokes at first doesn’t seem like a harnessing of control, but rather feels like a repetitive reliance on an easy gag. The laughs are there, but the punch isn’t. For that reason, it’s nearly impossible to leave the discussion about weight and gender at the door, namely because the film is more than attributable to McCarthy’s own doing: she wrote the script, after all, and her husband called the shots on set. That doesn’t do much for objectivity on their part, and it makes for a film that feels more self-indulgent on McCarthy’s part than it does self-revelatory for the character she’s created on the page and on the screen…for the first half, that is.

So, the overwhelmingly negative response the film is receiving from initial screenings is warranted for the most part: the film’s first half is a silly romp that does very little to elevate itself above the rest of the summer muck. Again, we must be careful, as so rarely are we given female characters like the ones in Tammy that the film surrounding them takes a backseat to the importance of their existence as characters in the first place. The film’s back half, however, turns the nose of the sinking ship toward the sun.

For starters, it’s become quite common to observe that Melissa McCarthy’s body type doesn’t fit in with the normal blueprint Hollywood has drawn for women to build upon, and when lines like “you didn’t fuck the ice cream man just for the ice cream, did you?” and “I kind of got into the pies” punctuate a film that includes scenes of an overweight woman struggling to climb over a small counter top and falling to her knees after dropping three feet off the top of a table, what is an audience supposed to think? McCarthy begs us to view her body as a comedic tool, and while that makes it impossible to leave discussion about its star’s body out of the equation, it does indicate that there is a consciousness to her methods.

xmelissa-mccarthy-susan-sarandon-tammy.jpg.pagespeed.ic.KmtdTVSL3lTammy is a studio production aimed at pleasing the crowds, and it will do that on some level, but the film also explores things you’d never see in the male-driven industry today, thanks largely in part to McCarthy’s power as a box-office draw and audience darling. There are female characters (even lesbians!) that are defined by more than their sexuality and/or their relationship to a man—in a Hollywood production! Though the lack of objectivity and more creative license given to McCarthy in terms of script and performance speaks to her power as a female star with a box-office draw, her decision to include the fat jokes in her own script indicate a comfort and an acceptance of her body. That’s obvious. It’s just wholeheartedly discouraging to see her reducing herself to fodder for trailers with material that’s just not very creative, and altogether makes her body something that we have to think about as something someone has to “accept” in the first place. Is there something wrong with you if you aren’t Melissa McCarthy but have Melissa McCarthy’s body type and no outlet to show off your self-deprecating humor?

Sure, we can say that it’s unfair to talk about women’s bodies and focus on the weight, but Melissa McCarthy’s films seem to fixate on it more than the rest of us do: the jokes are at the expense of her weight and wouldn’t work on a skinny person. McCarthy doesn’t use these jokes as a crutch beyond the first half of the film or so (they’re peppered throughout the entire thing, but ultimately don’t define it), she’s just playing up her assets, and she treats her body as such; she doesn’t create a character who’s disgusting, but rather someone who’s in control of losing control of her body for comedic effect.

It’s this consciousness of what makes McCarthy “different”—both as someone who doesn’t fit the “normal” mold of Hollywood actresses and as a powerful woman in an industry dominated by men—that makes aspects of Tammy accessible in a way we’re not used to seeing in a big-budget Hollywood production. There’s a deliberate effort to construct a non-mainstream, non-typical woman and give her the agency that beautiful, rail-thin leading ladies in other films don’t even get. Without spoiling anything, we do see Tammy getting a choice along her path to romance, the freedom from hinging her life’s decisions on the pursuit of a man, valuable, complex relationships with women based on things that don’t have to do with men, and the power to be the agent of her own story, not dangle from the hands of someone else. This is a story about women helping women, even if the beginning bits distracted us along the way.

So, what does Tammy want to be, and what does it end up being? It’s a line we can’t clearly draw because the film itself is so structurally misshapen, but we can appreciate what little glimmer there is to be extracted from the earnesty of its all-poweful female star and screenwriter. We can’t blindly accept films like Tammy as a whole simply because there are elements that subvert the norm. A mediocre product from a woman, starring a woman who contrasts what other studios are pushing doesn’t make it a great film, but you can make a dry, crusty, dirt-browned potato shine like a juicy red, freshly-plucked tomato; you just have to tilt it a little and lift it into the sun for closer inspection.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi