White Brotherhood: The Privileged Control of the Past and Future of Collective Memory

United in Anger: A History of ACT UP can be views as the same coin upon which the two sides of Notes of a Signifyin Snap! Queen by Marlon Riggs and Forgetting ACT UP by Alex Juhasz lie. One tells the story of a gay black man’s journey through life and into academia and journalism, only to be rejected by a societal brotherhood that he’s realized only wishes for his to conform or die, while Juhasz’s work shows a similarly somber view of the act of archival of ACT UP and the remembrance of ACT UP itself. At the center of both can lie this documentary of what happened in the span of time covered in the film’s lens.

Riggs’s piece gives a histrical-biographical account of the 90s and living as a black gay man. As he recalls the experience of entering Harvard, studying history, then going on to realize journalism, and seeing around him black men, gay men, but no black gay men to speak of. This develops his sense of alienation from the culture of Harvard, having to don a mask of the “Silent Black Macho” to get by as what he can pass as by his appearance alone: a “hidden” intellectual, within a black body, using this stereotype as a defense to not be branded as something worse than what is already labeled in his skin.

Riggs’s experiences of academia was further alienated as he pursued journalism, hoping to study “the evolution of the depiction of male homosexuality in American fiction and poetry”, but was told at every turn by professors that they were “not experts” in the subject, and therefore did not want to touch it. He could only find a graduate student willing to work with him in his interests, and thus realized that there were levels of “allowance” in academia to which you could go against the grain of academic conformism, and he was too far out at the margins, for those with academic power to want to touch his intellectual curiosities. This discovery, or rather rediscovery of the brotherhood of academia that is a brotherhood of whiteness that he saw anyway mirrors the work of ACT UP, such that the bureaucratic levels of the FDA, CDC, and the federal government generally had levels of “allowance” to what they could pay attention, and dying gay people were too far outside of the brotherhood of business as usual, so suddenly everyone tasked (as were their jobs) with treating the AIDS epidemic were “not experts”, where the people at teh center of the issues had to become the experts.

Juhasz’s piece on the remembrance and misremembrance of ACT UP serves as a similar discovery of the actions of the white brotherhood intelligentsia, in the opposite direction in time; where Riggs’ experiences illuminate the actions of the brotherhood to preserve the past, Juhasz’ work illuminates the work of the brotherhood to maintain a hold on the future. In Forgetting ACT UP, Juhasz illuminates the perspectives of ACT UP (mostly in the sense of their past actions) and shows that many representations of ACT UP not only forget the more grassroots level work by activists (the smaller actions like community education), but also forget the actions of people of color within the movement. This collective lack of archival of the work of activists of color is of course heavily coupled to the fact that grassroots actions were heavily carried out by people of color, whereas the “sexier” (=whiter) actions of protest and ACTing UP were far more representative of white activists. Juhasz even from the beginning shares a perspective that veteran activists often did not recognize the majority of people at ACT UP meetings when the movement gained heavy traction. The exciting, emotional work was very often done by white, educated, gay activists, whereas the more grassroots, dangerous, possibly even less consequential work was done by people of color, and was thus forgotten in the eyes of documentaries like United in Anger, where most of the representation of activism was activism in the form of these more heated, controversial demonstrations, rather than smaller actions of education or civil disobedience. In the wake of the upheaval of the makeup of activism, fewer veterans appeared at ACT UP meetings, and the movement a the superficial, but most visible level was overwhelmingly privileged.

Music as community in Pariah

From the very beginning, Pariah establishes itself as a film with bold soundtrack choices, and the music is inextricably linked to the social context it is heard in. The film begins with “My Neck, My Back” playing at the club, while Lee and Laura watch a dancer and try to get women’s numbers. The explicit music booms over the speakers, and the energy is felt throughout the club. Music is an undeniably social experience— people share songs with one another, sing and dance along to the songs at the club. If a person is not familiar with the song or not into the vibe of the music, the sense of exclusion is palpable. Lee is frequently seen with her headphones in, listening to her own music, and music functions as both an isolating force and an escape into a world where she feels comfortable. But with Bina, that world starts to open up a little, as she finds someone who she can talk music with. Music is one of the major things they bond over – it is their shared language. Bonding over music also becomes emblematic of their apparent compatibility or comfort with one another. When Lee goes to the club with Mika, feeling awkward and fidgety while wearing the strap-on, she brushes Mika’s request to dance off, and says she is “not feeling the music.” This is contrasted to Bina’s later invitation to a party—she entices Lee by saying that it’ll have her kind of music.

Musical taste becomes a key point of conversation and in important signifier that Lee has found someone like her. In Bina’s bedroom, while Bina flips through CDs, Lee denies liking Jay-Z or Fifty Cent; they are too “commercial.” Instead, she likes “conscious stuff” that she doubts Bina has heard of, like “Roots. Black Star. Asheru and Blue Black. Pharcyde.” Of course, Bina does recognize some of these artists, and then asks if Lee has heard of Tamar-kali, which she hasn’t. They then listen to a Tamar-kali song. Tamar-kali is, of course, a composer who contributed songs to the film, and is a frequent collaborator with Dee Rees. She also provided the song for the closing credits – “Fire with Fire,” a cover of a song by Gossip. Tamar-kali exists within the film as a source of bonding, reinforcing the importance of finding communities through music; Alike’s discovery of her music may very well be the viewer’s first introduction to the music as well. In the interview with Tamar-kali we read, she connects her interest in punk rock with starting to question authority. Resisting the mainstream musical tastes, and asserting your own choices via what you listen to over your headphones, is an act of self-expression. As the credits roll, we hear the lyrics: “It ain’t the end of the world girl / You’ll find your place in the world girl / All you gotta do is stand up and fight fire with fire.” Even if Lee hasn’t exactly found her “place,” she’s found Tamar-kali and her songs…. Giving her the confidence in herself to move forward.

AIDS Activism in Cosmo versus the hair salon

After delving into history of AIDS and the current conversation surrounding AIDS now, it was so enlightening to learn about the extent of the crisis and the ardent activism surrounding it. In no other movement in history have people’s lives depended so heavily and immediately on the outcomes and results of the protests and activism. That in itself differentiates ACT UP and AIDS activism from other American movements. The activism surrounding this disease and the relationships and community that formed to protest such a terrible disease was a huge characteristic of this activism. The fact that such a terrible disease was terrorizing such a specific and marginalized group was obviously part of the political problem that spurred such an ardent movement of people fighting for their lives, but it was also a factor that contributed to the immensely close community that arose out of this tragedy. With this in mind, reading the articles and watching the ACT UP clips was especially heartbreaking. So while reading, one thing that struck me was the conclusion by Cynthia Chris and Monica Pearl in Women, AIDS, and Activism. This conclusion touched on the definition of activism. This conclusion states that activism does not have to entail standing outside government buildings or placing ashes on the lawn of the capital. Rather, Chris and Pearl state that activism includes, “informally exchanging safer-sex information in a conversation with a friend, or pointing out the bigotry in a colleague’s remarks, or questioning what you hear on the news from a government official…all that is required is that you are angry about the lack of information or services in your community and are willing to put yourself on the line in some way to make a change.”

I recalled this conclusion as we were watching the two clips in class: one clip about the irresponsible printing of misinformation by Cosmopolitan magazine and one clip about the organic exchange of information in the hair salon. The parallel between these two origins of information represented a larger, more problematic riff that ran throughout the AIDS epidemic. These two clips represented how false, misrepresentative information was spread by industries, companies, organizations, and the government in order to shift the AIDS problem off their plate and onto someone else’s. The marginalization of the group that this disease primarily affects and thus the marginalization of the disease itself had lasting consequences for the livelihood of AIDS victims.

The publishing of false information in an established, widely-read women’s magazine like Cosmopolitan represents the lack of regulation or even care by the government or other officiating sources across the board. This article by the doctor was published in Cosmopolitan, a source that does not have the resources to appropriately or thoroughly fact check. This type of inaccurate information sharing did not protect women, rather it put women at serious risk of contracting the AIDS virus. This type of publishing is not only irresponsible in itself but it also propagates the marginalization of AIDS victims. Although this article that Cosmo published drew attention to AIDS, by Chris and Pearl’s definition it does not qualify as activism because it is hindering the fight against AIDS by spreading false information rather than informing the population.

The other clip we watched in class showed a different kind of activism, a more authentic form of activism. The clip depicted a hair salon that encouraged and participated in honest and open conversations about AIDS in a community that is heavily impacted by the disease. This scene registers as an acceptable form of activism according to Chris and Pearl’s definition. Encouraging the conversation and providing and open and safe space to gain information and express your own experiences with the disease is an extremely impactful form of activism on a very intimate and effective level. The parallels between these two types of communicating information (and misinformation) and participating in activism reflect how the disease was addressed by the outside population and by victims of AIDS. As we saw in the ACT UP documentary and discussed in class, majority of the effective activism was carried out by AIDS victims themselves and ACT UP members who knew what the disease entailed and had a thorough understanding of what needed to be done. This is represented in the scenes of the hair salon when AIDS victims and other members of the communities most effected are able to participate in the conversation and spread awareness. The counter-protests (or pseudo-protests) carried out by the people who were hindering and marginalizing these groups of people is epitomized in the Cosmo article, as it obstructs the movement towards truth and awareness.

Combatting “Lesbian Lifeworld”


In Michael Boyce Gillespie’s book Film Blackness, the author makes the claim that “black film, and black art more broadly, navigates the idea of race as constitutive, cultural fiction, yet this art is nevertheless often determined exclusively by the social category of race or veracity claims about black existential life in very debilitating ways” (Gillespie 1.)  In this manner, black film appears to present a reductive and unnecessarily narrow portrayal of “black lifeworld,” (Gillespie 5) which ultimately suggests that black film is a chaotic amalgamation of work with only race in common.  Professor Herzog as well Jennifer DeClue, in the roundtable discussion surrounding Pariah, deem this compartmentalization of black art as a ghettoization.  In other words, the film is analyzed and interpreted but in a category outside of contemporary, mainstream media.  The content and character of the work is ignored.  It is the blackness of the art that is underscored.  It is the blackness of the art that separates it from other films and makes it a legitimate endeavor.  Interestingly, it was this concept of ghettoization that I kept coming back to while watching Dee Rees’s film Pariah.

While Pariah can be viewed in accordance with Gillespie’s theories surrounding the ghettoization of black film and black art, it was in the portrayal of several different types of black lesbians in the film that the intricacies of his theories were illuminated.  In this manner, Dee Rees appears to be combatting this compartmentalization but with both race and sexual identity.  Alike, the main protagonist of this film, is an adolescent, middle-class, black lesbian from a conservative and religious family.  She knows she is a lesbian, yet she has not come out to her family.  She is also not entirely comfortable in her own skin as a lesbian.  In this manner, she does not feel as though she fits in with the stereotypical black, lesbian crowd.  Her best friend, Laura, her mentor and greatest support system, does, however, which ultimately throws Alike into an environment where she does not feel comfortable or able to be herself.  It even gets to the point where she attempts to wear a strap-on to the club to try and conform to what she thinks a lesbian should look like.  When she meets Bina, a churchgoing free-spirit who shares many of the same tastes in music, art, and hobbies, she no longer needs to change herself to fit in with the other black lesbians who she was previously hanging out with.  Instead, she is unhindered by her constant need to conform to the identity that is expected of her.  She no longer has to be Laura’s type of lesbian, and she no longer has to be her parents’ type of daughter.  She is able to come to terms with her sexuality and break free from her chameleon status by coming out to her parents and pursuing her greatest passion, poetry.  It is ultimately through this portrayal of Alike’s character that the film challenges the compartmentalization of both blackness and lesbianism.

In Dee Rees’s film Pariah, Rees presents a wide variety of black lesbian characters thus combatting the notion that all black lesbians have certain characteristics, proclivities, and sexual preferences.  In essence, she appears to be doing exactly what Gillespie promoted in his book surrounding the ways in which black film “might offer a more inclusive and variegated investment” (Gillespie 3.)  In this manner, Dee Rees is not trying to reflect lesbian lifeworld but is instead trying to present the different types of black women that might become lesbian and the struggles that they face.  She is not compartmentalizing black lesbianism but broadening it.

Visionary Feminism and Born in Flames: imagining a world where women are undivided


In Visionary Feminism by bell hooks, hooks articulates that a major pitfall of modern* feminism is the movement’s failure to attempt genuine equality for all women in favor of ensuring the safety of those privileged enough to have ascended to power. The alternative to our flawed modern feminism, writes hooks, is the notion of visionary feminism. Visionary feminism shares ideals with previously explored feminist movements, but, true to its title, foregoes the constraints of modern society to explore a more visionary, inclusive feminist structure. To hooks, visionary feminism is a movement which cuts across women of all races, ethnicities, geographies, and socioeconomic statuses to seek myriad cultural, economic, and political forms of empowerment. Previous feminist movements, hooks argues, though good at heart, emphasized reformative reduction of economic discrimination to a detriment, “ultimately forsaking the radical heartbeat of the feminist struggle” and making the “movement more vulnerable to cooptation by mainstream capitalist patriarchy” (hooks, 111). Women at the forefront of the movement, who were often white and privileged, were “seduced by class power and/or greater class mobility once they made strides in the existing social order” and thus less “interested in working to dismantle that system” (111). These feminist concessions transformed the ideologically-inclusive feminist movement into a more pragmatic mutation, which abandoned radical revolution for the many, such as “mass-based feminist education” (113), in favor of economic security for the few.

hooks’ argument resonates with my own understanding of emergent intersectional feminism as an antidote for prior exclusive and classist feminist waves. The third wave feminist movement of the 90s, which hooks’ writing takes place at the midpoint of, sought to create a more inclusive movement which acknowledged the varying impacts of sexism along racial, ethnic, and class lines. Yet, the immediate impacts of this feminism feel distinctly theoretical and ideological, as opposed to physical. While first and second wave feminism resulted in more concrete societal changes, such as women’s suffrage and the near-passing of the ERA, third wave feminism, it seems, has had less tangible impacts for the everyday woman. This may be a consequence of third wave feminism’s observations and outcries of racial, ethnic, and class discrimination and sexism that require radical societal change to achieve. It seems that in many ways, heightened exposure of discrimination for these groups has been publicly coined as the movements “success” and more radical attempts to alter societal fabric have been consequently ditched. Thus, I was particularly drawn to hooks’ proposal of practical, intersectional feminist institutions in modern day society. The need for a “broad-based feminist movement” seems like a revelation to me, one which should be a natural progression of feminism but for some reason feels overly optimistic or out-of-touch (112). Why is it that the feminist movement has been unsuccessful in pushing feminist politics, in creating programs which benefit all women and alleviate intersectional discrimination? hooks argues that elite educations and classist greed can be attributed for this problem, as predominantly white, wealthy, well-educated women rise as powerful feminist thinkers, and these women often have little practical impact or desire to create broad-based change.

hooks’ concept of movement concession and class/racial subordination, though written twenty years later, is heavily reflected in Lizzie Borden’s film Born in Flames. Born in Flames explores a similarly “visionary” image of feminist comradery, as well as the feminist fragmentation prevalent in society. Set in a dystopian future society which has undergone a Social Democratic revolution, Born in Flames begs us to question our preconceived notions about what we consider “radical” and “progressive”, just like hooks does. While Leftism is often perceived as a champion of minority groups, Born in Flames demonstrates how progressive movements may be misconceived by the public as inherently egalitarian, even though such movements may still promote racial, sexual, and class oppression. The competing narratives of the white-narrated Radio Ragazza and black-narrated Pheonix Radio display a concrete division within the movie’s feminist base.

Honey from Pheonix Radio
Isabel of Radio Ragazza

The movie also defines a privileged white-liberal elitist, pseudo-feminist base akin to that of hooks– the women who work for the press. As women are continually oppressed under the revolutionary regime, these groups come together under a broader movement, eventually working as a whole to promote female equality through terroristic and riotous means. Born in Flames demonstrates much of what hooks discusses—that many women will turn on feminism for economic security; that feminism is often codified by nuanced racial and class distinctions, which makes the broad movement less mobile and comprehensively successful; and that breaking down these barriers within the wider movement leads to enhanced success and even eventual female liberation. Its setting as a dystopian society utilizes the same sense of fantasy as hooks’ writing, using the imaginary to show us the flaws of the present. While Born in Flames provides a negative depiction of what may happen if women are unable to reconcile their own group’s success with the success of all women, Visionary Feminism shows us how we currently allow the patriarchy to control the outcome of feminism through economic and political diversion, and how women may supplant these limitations through visionary thinking. Both pieces of work– though one is a rowdy, punk-rocking handcrafted piece of shaky video and the other is a poised and concise written reflection—demonstrate how feminism limits itself through restricted perspective and begs us to ask—who deserves loyalty?

In modern day, both Visionary Feminism and Born in Flames remain relevant in our understanding of how and why feminism remains, in some ways, a limited social movement. For one reason or another, it seems that feminism has struggled to manifest itself in egalitarian action. Perhaps this says something about how we view matters of gender and sexual identity in comparison to other societal and cultural identifiers, or perhaps, as we discussed in class, visionary feminism is inherently at odds with capitalist culture. This argument is compelling, yet Born in Flames again threatens this assumption—if capitalism is at odds with feminism, wouldn’t a more egalitarian structure, like socialism, be conducive to gender equality? Both hooks and Borden’s pieces make us question how competing feminist factions may inhibit women’s progress, and question the cultural divides that seem to supersede feminist causes for many women. While I am unsure of how to answer the contradictions posed by either piece [feminist terrorism, though radical in the movie, is not the right choice in reality; nor does a “collective door to door effort” (hooks) seem fitting for modern day], I do think that they aptly highlight how and why myriad societal and cultural barriers make visionary, inclusive feminist realities feel so out of reach– and hint at ways we may overcome these divisions.


*hooks’ piece was written in 2000

TV’s : The Catalysts of Family Life


In Week 2, I was struck by Lynn Spigel’s article “Television and the Family Ideal in Postwar America”. It talks about the TV and how it fit(s) into domestic spaces of the US. With its introduction, the TV became the “central figure in representation of family relationship”.

What I first found interesting about this article was its talk of the home and domestic spaces. Homes and its sub-sections are both a means of inclusion and separation. The home is both the space of a big unit but one of sub-units as well. As Spigel writes, spatial imagery was the language for which how home magazines described family life. People, primarily women, were taught to view homes in a systematic way: everyone had their separate living spaces, holding claim to an invisible decorum of segmentation. The home was redirected and reorganized to meet ever growing needs. “If the children are cranky, let them play in the yard. If your husband is bored at the office, turn your garage into a workshop where he’ll recall the joys of his boyhood.” All of these points hit to an underlying point about family life. This focus on the home being a remedy to family dynamics admits that families are inherently volatile. The use of the home and its subsections has an underlying assumption that there is something to fix in family life. The nuclear family is a trope fed to us for decades, one most prominent in the mid-1900’s. The segmentation of space placed forth the boundaries necessary to deal with these issues.

At its core was the joining of man and woman. This in itself carries its ironies as the family home was commercialized as the place for this unity, but man and woman were supposed to maintain their separate gendered lives. The man was supposed to have (by example) his office and garage space. The woman was supposed to tend to domestic duties, most commonly represented by the kitchen. Houses were carefully crafted to show very opposing things. Families were supposed to be both unified in a space and separated within it.

(Side note: Additionally, the rise of the Playboy penthouse went against the nuclear family image. Bachelor pads put men in positions of domestic organization, dodging a fine line of emasculation. No longer did men not need to worry about their living space, but rather the opposite.)

This was all disrupted by the TV. The TV forced families again to rethink the domestic space and its organization. At its core was “Where should you put the television set”. The television set became the emblematic center depicted in magazines. TV’s created a unifying force that both fit into the segmentation of family life but also had to bring opposing forces together. TV’s expanded to be present in many different rooms in a house, not just the living room. TV’s became catalysts for separate lives to be joined into one.

My take on all of this is one I mentioned prior. TV’s, representative of domestic spaces, were marketed in the same way nuclear families were in the mid-1950’s. There was the man, the wife, and their two kids (boy and girl) with a dining table full of food and warm smiles. On screen, romance films featured a dashing semi-predatory man “winning over” a beautiful woman. At the end of the film, they were happily together and usually occupied a living space. All of this came under a guise of “purity” and idealism, in which a beautiful home with a nice TV set was the trademark of a happy life. Indirectly, this othered any and all identities that didn’t fit into that mold. This is why media and film has so much power. It normalizes certain points of views and lives. What is seen on screen is accepted and used as the framework for how we view our own lives. For this reason, the simple placement of a TV is significant, especially when we consider that not all homes are the same.


The False Legacy of ACT UP and Video Remains

In the first paragraph of her article “Forgetting ACT UP”, Alex Juhasz promises that she “recalls 1980s AIDS activism with pride, history, [her] best candor, and stories of [their] amazing energy and grief”. The legacy of ACT UP is often remembered as one of cis gay white men, and of ones who came and went on the activism scene. Now, years later, long after the relevance of AIDS activism ceased, we can look back and lament the dead and push it all aside as conquered territory. Juhasz rightly complicates this image of ACT UP and AIDS activism in her article, asserting that the “street-based, postmodern, confrontational ACT UP activism got and gets most of the attention because it could and can and it wanted to”, with participants who were “more photogenic, wealthier, more powerful, and simply sexier in the eyes of dominant culture than the rag-tag group of feminists, lesbians, drug addicts, people of color, homeless people, poor people, immigrants, mothers, and Haitians who were also engaged in activism at this time”. The general public seemed to isolate the palatable aspects of ACT UP activism and group them as the legacy of the movement, while erasing some of the most foundational elements of the movement.

In the article, Juhasz alludes to her piece Video Remains, an exploration of the later years of the life of her friend, Jim, and the burden of survival. Video Remains shows a duality of Jim’s tragic death from AIDS in 1993 and the ongoing work against AIDS in 2004, when the film was finished. Juhasz describes her role of a survivor and witness as a “professional rememberer”, and describes the role as one where she “laments for the many missing voices, those who can no longer remind us of their actions and memories, those whose feelings are lost, those for whom we who are still here feel obligated and privileged not to forget”. The legacy of ACT UP, then, may be one of remembering.

To remember something or someone is to bring the dead back to life, if only for a brief, artificial moment. Video Remains remembers Jim as he was, for the moments the film is able to capture, but in truth it can only fall short of remembering his whole person, every aspect of who he was. Or is. The footage of Jim clings to his person, knowing it will have to be a record of remembering very soon. Even though the footage went untouched until 2004, it is already building a legacy, and knowing that the legacy it builds will be inadequate, as all legacies are.

The other half of Video Remains reminds us what the true legacy of ACT UP, and how the ways we consider its legacy are harmful. The footage taken in 2004 of people living with AIDS reminds us, as it is astonishingly easy to forget, that the fight did not end with die-ins, funeral processions in the streets, or Jim. There is nothing finished about ACT UP, not yet, and there is no function to a legacy of a living movement.

Video Remains is not a protest film in the traditional sense. Never had protest been so intimate and heart wrenching. Never had the voices of the dead been so heard. It reminds us of many things, of who the dead were before they became the dead, what a plague like AIDS did to a body, what genocide looks like from the inside, and most importantly that the fight is ongoing. The best way to remember ACT UP? Join in now, for ACT UP’s legacy is still being born.


Visionary Feminism, Popular Education & Production of Knowledge

Since reading and discussing bell hooks’ “Visionary Feminism” chapter from Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, I have been thinking about the production and democratization of knowledge. In her text, hooks places particular emphasis on feminist education and literacy. Though upon cursory glance, it may seem that hooks advocates for a sort of feminist school, feminist college, or feminist educational program, but I also found hooks’ writing especially striking in her ideology, which recognizes the intimate connection between knowledge and revolutionary power. hooks writes: “a fundamental goal of visionary feminism was to create strategies to change the lot of all women and enhance their personal power (hooks 111).” She then identifies “mass-based feminist education for critical consciousness (hooks 113)” as a means towards the realization of personal power. I interpret hooks’ visionary feminism as one that recognizes individuals, especially women who are historically marginalized and disenfranchised, as producers of knowledge and therefore, experts of their own lives, experiences, and oppression. hooks’ vision of feminist literacy/feminist education runs counter to the narratives about women that are represented in media produced by dominant society.

To understand ordinary individuals as producers of knowledge is to assert that individuals have authority, agency, and power. For me, when hooks writes that “radical visionary feminism encourages all of us to courageously examine our lives from the standpoint of gender, race, and class so that we can accurately understand our position within the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (hooks 116),” hooks underscores how our complex identities and varied experiences culminate in the formation of unique epistemological value. Understanding our position in relation to oppressive forces of power (imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy) can actually help us to feel less powerless in the face of these domineering structures. Drawing upon our personal experiences and sharing such experiences with others is a methodology of solidarity-building and liberational pedagogy; actively learning from each other is a way to counter those who hold structural power and own the means to mass cultural production (the wealthy, white people, men) and subvert the power dynamic between the roles of teacher and student.

This aspect of hooks’ visionary feminism finds resonance in the films that we’ve watched in class, including but not necessarily limited to Janie’s Janie (1971), Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames (1983), United in Anger: A History of Act Up (2012), and Alexandra Juhasz’s We Care. In each of these films, I was struck by the way in which the filmmakers made deliberate choices to center and make visible the experiences of those who are typically ignored. In Janie’s Janie and Born in Flames, it is everyday women who are shown teaching and learning from each other through the sharing of their experiences. In United in Anger and Juhasz’s We Care, the attention is directed to people living with AIDS and their caretakers, family, friends, and activists. I was especially reminded of bell hooks when watching the sequences in We Care that described myths and truths about people living with AIDS. The refusal to focus exclusively on doctors as the authority figures on AIDS was powerful in that We Care, alongside United in Anger, instead identified people whose lives have been touched by AIDS as authority figures in their own lives, experiences, and illness.

Both Born in Flames and United in Anger show disruptions of mainstream newscasts (one in a fictionalized America and one at CBS in the 90s) and these interruptions serve as an explicit middle finger to mainstream media and an affirmation of how those who are pushed to the fringe can in fact understand the fringe space as a productive space of creativity, power, and solidarity. In thinking about hooks’ visionary feminism in relation to these films, one can understand film as a medium through which popular education for feminist literacy and liberation can be realized.

Reflections on Video Remains, video as memory

I was really moved by watching Video Remains and the many different pieces on AIDS activism we’re been watching in the past few weeks. I am especially interested in exploring the relationship between images and memories further— how do we create memories in and through film? While home for Thanksgiving, I spent a lot of time with my family looking at old photo albums, which made me remember just how strange it is to see the younger selves of the people who you were familiar with only in their old age—or see photos of yourself when you were younger. One aspect of the footage from United in Anger that I found striking was the juxtaposition of the footage of interview subjects with footage of their younger selves at ACT UP protests. Perhaps even more noticeable were the people who didn’t have such doubling onscreen—who were only seen in the archival footage, because they died of AIDS in the following years. Photographs and films are not just signs of physical presence, but evidence of absences. The negative space, the gaps in our footage and in our collective memory, become just as important to be aware of as what is there. The footage, while it notes absence, can also suggest a wholeness or totality that has since been lost; as Alexandra Juhasz says of her videos, “the footage remains so alive, while the people remain so dead.”


So what are viewers today supposed to do with this “alive” footage, even as they remain incomplete? As Juhasz asks us in Video Remains and its accompanying text, “How do you remember? Have you remembered enough?” What do we do with our memories? What do we do when our memories of people aren’t strong enough, or are absent altogether? In some of the other works we’ve seen in the past few weeks, memory and footage are juxtaposed with one another, supporting one another while serving as different depictions of the past. Oral history was important to AIDS activism and its subsequent documentation, and United in Anger notably lacks voiceover narration and allows the interview subjects to talk about their experiences in their own voices. In this documentary, we are allowed to bear witness to archival footage alongside the memories of these people. The footage itself might seem like a “true” or “realistic” depiction of events, but it is also incomplete as a memory— and is supplemented by the personal perspectives we see through interviews with people like Gregg Bordowitz. Juhasz’s Video Remains and footage of her close friend James still feels incomplete without some knowledge of her own story, and has acquired a new significance to me after meeting her in person and getting to hear her talk about her work and the importance of that video firsthand. Memory is an intensely personal and intimate thing, and though videos may be able to capture and transmit shared memories and shared histories, there is still an individual element to it, as the videos can conjure up these memories that only you can truly know.


In the case of United in Anger, the viewers were fortunate enough to hear the firsthand experiences of ACT UP activists; we were able to hear Juhasz talk about Video Remains. But in the absence of these personal perspectives, whose responsibility is it to pass down the missing details and oral histories that accompany the footage? When watching home movies or flipping through family photo albums, my parents can fill me in on some of the contextual information—which great aunt that is in the background, whose house this Christmas party is at. But without them passing down that knowledge, it will soon be lost forever. Once more years pass and we get further removed from the memory—most people my age today have never known anyone with AIDS—how can we still remember?  These questions are at the core of all the works we’ve been discussing in the past few weeks—from The Watermelon Woman and the invented archives, to Tongues Untied articulating the need for visibility. The creation of these films serves as an act of memory-making for the filmmaker, but the activist impulses of all of them argue that these memories are not just for personal use– they are to motivate viewers to remember and act. Years from now, perhaps the videos and images and texts will be all that’s left, removed from their initial memories, and future generations will have to do their best to remember what is there, and remember all that might have been lost. Perhaps a memory of memories is all a filmmaker or documentarian can strive for… and even prompting the viewer to try to remember as best they can, or create a pseudo-memory out of incomplete fragments, allows the knowledge—of AIDS, of lives lost, of families and friends—to be carried forward.