The Teresa Jusino Experience

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Tag: movies

Teresa at the Movies: The Legend of Billie Jean

The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)
Starring: Helen Slater, Christian Slater, Keith Gordon, Yeardley Smith, Barry Tubb, Martha Gehman, and Peter Coyote (with a big nerd shout-out to Dean Stockwell!)
Logline (from IMDb): 
A Texas teenager cuts her hair short and becomes an outlaw martyr with her brother and friends.

Two Christmases ago, I was at a friend’s White Elephant party, and I’d finally received my gift. It was a big box full of really random stuff. I’m talking magnetic tape, tissues, and a bar of soap random. Also in this box were two DVDs and a Blu-ray: Congo, The Last Boy Scout, and the “Fair is Fair” edition of The Legend of Billie Jean on Blu-ray.

I hadn’t seen any of these movies.

Later, my secret gift-giver, Sam, outed himself at the party, and I thanked him, genuinely grateful, because I hadn’t seen any of these films (and, to be honest, was glad that I didn’t have to pay to see them or know they exist). He immediately zeroed in on The Legend of Billie Jean, being all “Oh my God! You’re going to love this one! I think you in particular will really like it.”

Me in particular? Okay… 🙂

Others started gathering around and squealing enthusiastically. Oh my God! The Legend of Billie Jean! I love that movie! How had I never even heard of this movie before? And how is it that a bunch of people even younger than me had heard of it, and I was six when this movie came out?

It sat on my shelf unwatched until New Year’s Day this year, when I had some friends over for brunch and I busted it out after one of them said it was one of their favorite movies.

Billy Jean (Helen Slater) and Binx (Christian Slater)

Billy Jean (Helen Slater) and Binx (Christian Slater)

Meet Billie Jean and Binx (played by Helen Slater and Christian Slater – no relation), teenage siblings in Corpus Christi, Texas who live in a trailer park. Really the only thing they have going for them at this point are their looks and Binx’s awesome new scooter. Billie Jean gets hit on by a local bro (bruh? brah?) named Hubie. She shuts him down, and like any rational person would, he steals Binx’s scooter while he and Billie Jean are swimming in a lake, and totals it.

She goes to a mechanic, and gets an estimate for $608 to fix the bike, which is a really specific amount. Not $600, not $610, but $608. She tries to go to the police to get them to help, but Detective Ringwald is like ZERO help and gives her advice that’s the equivalent of when parents tell you that if you ignore bullies, they’ll go away. (Real talk to kids being bullied: They DON’T “just go away.” Talk to an adult you trust and get help!)

Anyway, she goes to Hubie’s dad, Mr. Pyatt’s shop to get the money she and Binx are owed for the bike, either from Hubie, or from his dad.

And this is where shit gets real.

Under the pretense of giving her the money, Mr. Pyatt lures her upstairs where he tries to proposition Billie Jean! A layaway plan in which he would get laid, and she’d get her money in installments. Obviously, she’s like NOPE. But then he tries to rape her right then and there! Thankfully, her friends and brother were waiting outside. They come in after Billie Jean after she’s fought Mr. Pyatt off and comes downstairs. Binx has found a gun in the shop, which Mr. Pyatt tells him isn’t loaded – but it totally is – and Binx ends up shooting Mr. Pyatt! He’s not killed, but he’s wounded.

mr pyatt and billie jean


Meanwhile, Billie Jean, Binx, and their friends Ophelia (Martha Gehman) and one of my favorite characters, not just in this movie but OF ALL TIME, Putter (played to perfection by Yeardley Smith) end up going on the lam as outlaws as Mr. Pyatt reports them for shooting him. Detective Ringwald sympathizes with them, and attempts to bring them in “for their own good” (and he’s probably just a little bit guilty that he was absolutely craptastic at his job and none of this would’ve happened had he just looked into it rather than dismissing her!).

Long story short, while on the lam, the friends meet a rich dude named Lloyd that Billie Jean sort of falls for and they hole up with him for a while. It’s at his house, after seeing their story all over the news and watching 1948’s Joan of Arc, she decides to give her self a badass makeover and lean into the legend that has started to come up around her and her friends, sending a message to news outlets demanding the $608 dollars from Mr. Pyatt that she and her brother are owed!

Wackiness ensues, and a Legend is born!

What amazed me the most about this movie is how feminist a movie it is! Sure, it’s in a cheesy 1980s way, but this film definitely has a feminist bent without hitting you over the head with it.

At the beginning of the film, we see Billie Jean scantily clad while swimming in the lake. Throughout the movie, pretty much everyone – from the people in her life, to people consuming her image in the media – remarks on her good looks. This film is about the price young women pay simply to exist (Hint: it’s way more than $608). They are taken advantage of by boys their age as well as older men. If they’re traditionally attractive, things are assumed about them that aren’t assumed about other girls. Their confidence is diminished, no matter how intelligent, beautiful, or assertive they are, because the world is constantly telling them that the only things they have that are worth anything are their bodies. We see all of this pummel Billie Jean in the first half of the movie, so that when she makes the decision to shed it all, it’s all the sweeter.

Even before her transformation, Billie Jean is a strong-willed, smart, kind-hearted character who goes all out to defend her brother, and later, her friends. She’s the one who goes to the police about the scooter, and when that doesn’t work, she goes directly to Mr. Pyatt. Yet, she’s not a “badass.” In Helen Slater’s performance, you see that she’s scared. You see that she’s unsure. She’s still a teenage girl figuring things out. Her bravery isn’t about not being afraid, it’s about acting in spite of her fear. It’s about not letting those who would take advantage of her keep her from her goal.

For her transformation into the “Billie Jean” that ends up becoming a legend and hero to young people everywhere, she takes her inspiration from an influential woman from history – Joan of Arc – who fought to defend her country with everything she had, and was burned at the stake for her trouble. No one convinced Billie Jean to do it, or gave her the idea. She was inspired and thought it through all on her own. Later, when things change, she makes her decisions based on what’s best for the safety of her friends. She never backs down, but she always remains considerate of others.

Billie Jean isn’t the only amazing female character in this. I’m absolutely in love with Putter, the youngest, tomboy-ish friend that tags along with them. Watching Putter go through this movie is one of the most interesting depictions of a young girl going through puberty that I’ve ever seen as we see her slowly morph from a girl who eats all the time and tries to steal candy by shoving it under her shirt, to a young woman who’s gotten her period, asks for a diaphragm, and stands up for her friend in a police precinct.  It’s rare that a female coming-of-age story is told at all, especially in the 1980s, and especially with such humor and poignancy and allowing the character such agency. Ophelia is less well-executed, but even she takes a journey as she is inspired by Billie Jean to go on the lam when she was only going to drive them to a certain point, and screams at the cops when they try to get Billie’s location out of her. Between those two and Billie Jean’s growth, we have a wonderful examination of young girls growing into powerful young women.

billie jean and binx

But seriously, do you hang out with your siblings like this? They’re just so…glisten-y and…close.

Equally impressive are the boys in the girls’ lives. Sure there are predators like Mr. Pyatt and Hubie, and the general public who would wear her image and sensationalize her story. But there are also guys like Binx, who supports and defends his sister, but defers to her when necessary. There’s no macho posing with him. Sometimes, he looks after Billie Jean, sometimes Billie Jean looks after him. And then there’s rich boy Lloyd (who’s also the son of Dean Stockwell’s DA), who comes off skeevy at first, but when we (and Billie Jean) get to know him, we realize that he has more depth than we thought, and that he values Billie Jean, not for her looks, but for her character. He supports and encourages her plans, and becomes a great sounding board for her. He genuinely respects her, in addition to being attracted to her.

And of course, there’s the fact that once Billie Jean becomes “Billie Jean,” both young girls and young boys are inspired by her. She becomes a larger-than-life folk hero in androgynous clothing and people of all genders start dressing like her and being inspired by her. This isn’t a “girl power” movie – it’s a “youth power” movie, and it’s nice to see a young female character as the face of that, without emphasis being placed on her Face.

Lastly, we have a rare instance in this film of a sexual predator actually being brought to justice by the young woman he victimized. Not only does Billie Jean force him to admit what he did to her in front of the whole town, but the town stands by and lets his store burn down. They have spoken – they will not tolerate this kind of behavior. It’s a far cry from what we read in the news today: media outlets and citizens alike being more concerned with the lives of alleged perpetrators than they are with their victims. No one tells Billie Jean that she “ruined this man’s life.” They stand with her.

The Legend of Billie Jean isn’t a perfect movie (there’s plenty in it that’s just ridiculous), but it’s an inspiring one. And really, isn’t inspiration what we want from our films? There’s a reason why this is a cult classic. If you push aside the cheesy 1980s trappings, there’s actually a movie that makes you think under there.

On a scale of okay to really fucking rad, I give The Legend of Billie Jean two fists up!

billie jean red-head kid

Oh, and you were right, Sam. I totally loved this fucking movie.


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Life just got very up-and-down (not the least of which because of the Red Wedding on Game of Thrones), but the thought that’s been living in my head most is that I can’t let these things set me back…because life will ALWAYS be up and down, and if I let each time stop me, I’ll never get anywhere.

So, I’m movin’ right along. 🙂

Today’s Song of the Day is “Moving Right Along,” as sung by Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear in The Muppet Movie. This movie came out the year I was born (the month before, in fact!), and I’m convinced that means something. 🙂 Enjoy!



"Not Into" It: Why No Relationship Is a Waste Of Time

Justin Long and Ginnifer Goodwin in “He’s Just Not That Into You”

So, I was chatting online with a friend last night, and we got on the topic of her current romantic situation. After giving her a bit of (what I think was some) sound advice (which is hilarious when you consider my own romantic history – it’s always easier to give advice than to take it), I finally came around to the big thing that was really bothering me, and I remembered that I’d written something for an old blog to that effect. So, I’m reprinting it below, because I still stand by every word. Please keep in mind that I wrote this in 2009 just before the film version of He’s Just Not That Into You came out. I’ve since seen the movie, and it’s pretty cute (and not nearly as annoying as the book). I’ve also since bought Kate Nash’s Made of Bricks, and I currently have a boyfriend, both of which are awesome.


Back in 2004, when Sex and the City was in its heyday and anything said to be like or inspired by it flew off the shelves, a book called He’s Just Not That Into You hit stores and became an instant smash.  (Not so coincidentally one of the book’s authors, Greg Behrendt, was a consultant on Sex and the City, and took inspiration from the episode “Pick-A-Little, Talk-A-Little”)  When the book came out, several of my friends told me about it, claiming that it was a book I had to read.  After much prodding, I finally picked it up at a bookstore and read the first chapter in the store’s cafe.

I hated it instantly.

Proponents of the book would probably say that it rubbed me the wrong way because it “touched a nerve”, “hit too close to home”, or “showed me a truth I didn’t want to acknowledge.”  But, um….no.  I didn’t have a problem with the advice not to continue pursuing or making excuses for a man who is not returning phone calls or asking you out when they’re clearly not interested.  That, I got.  Hell, I had given a lot of my guy friends the same advice!  I have male friends who have sent e-mails back and forth with a girl, the girl would continually find reasons not to go out, and they’d continue in pursuit convinced she was “playing hard to get”.  Eventually, I’d say “You know what?  If a girl is interested, she will go out with you.  I don’t care that she has work the next day.  I don’t care that her favorite TV show is on.  I don’t care that she has a paper to write.  She will make time.”

So, I agreed with the basic message.  It was something I knew without needing a book to teach it to me.  “Letting Someone Down Easy” with an excuse is something boys and girls learn in the beginning of their dating lives.  Yet there was something else about this book that upset me fundamentally.  There was something about this book that felt like nails on a chalkboard and made me want to punch cute kittens in the face.  When I heard that a movie version of the book was being released, all the old irrational anger resurfaced.  Why do I hate this book so much? I thought.  Why does the very thought of this movie being made make me want to start hitting things?

Now that the film release of He’s Just Not That Into You is upon us, I think I’ve put my finger on it:

I’m Just Not Into Marriage As the Be-All, End-All 

The underlying attitude of every piece of advice in this book is that if a relationship isn’t leading to marriage, it’s a waste of time.  And that’s what rubs me the wrong way.  Marriage has become the thing that women want almost at the expense of the person they’re marrying. So many women want the wedding so badly, they forget that there’s a person attached to the arm holding out the box with the ring in it.  Men become “marriage material.”  Think about it.  Marriage material – the stuff from which you can create a solid marriage.  Not a best friend, not an amazing lover, but material.  So not only does this book smack of faux-feminism – women should be chased and get the men they deserve because they’re worth it, but are still only as valuable as the men they can attract – but men are objectified, too.  People stop being people and start being commodities, and all the while women are told to stop spending time with men who “won’t commit,” (Commit to what?  To spending regular time together and having fun?) because they have to keep their eyes on the prize, and the prize is….marriage.


Behrendt would probably say it has to do with nature.  In response to women thinking about asking their crush out, he says “Some traditions are born of nature and last through time for a reason.”  I beg to differ.

Today’s norms and social mores having to do with courtship or marriage have nothing to do with nature and everything to do with economics.  Guys paying for dates to show they can provide for a woman?  Economics.  Men chasing women to assert that they are “hunters”?  Economics.  Women racing to get married by a certain time to ensure that they can have children?  Yes, even that has to do with economics.  Life will find a way, and the human race will reproduce one way or another…so, why is it so important that a woman be married to a child’s father?  Once human beings began creating villages, towns, cities, countries, civilizations, both an economic system and a patriarchal society developed. Having children became the way to ensure a family’s social and economic status.  Marrying a virgin of child-bearing age became a priority, because having a child with a virgin ensured that property would be passed down through a reliable lineage that no other man could lay claim to.  A woman getting married and having a child ensured that both she and her child would be well cared for.  Yet, feelings, desires, indeed anything that would constitute nature, weren’t serious considerations.  At best, love was icing on the economically-driven cake.

Now, let’s have a look at nature.  We always think of nature in terms of hunters and gatherers, and when we translate this to discuss human beings, we have the rigid view of men being the hunters and women being the gatherers.  What about lions?  Lionesses are the ones that go out and hunt and bring food back to the pride.  What about wolves?  Male and female wolves hunt side by side and either female or male subordinate wolves can stay behind to watch over cubs.  The same goes for primates, our closest relatives in the wild.  Then there’s the fact that in nature, it is the males who have colorful plumage and need to be attractive to the females as they wait for them to call.  (Explain to me why I need to put on make up and wear heels again?)

Marriage has nothing to do with nature.  Yet today, women kill themselves in pursuit of it and are made to feel like they are “wasting their time” if they don’t obtain it immediately.  Is a 10 year relationship in which the couple isn’t married, but lives together, sharing their lives (and possibly children), being there for each other day in and day out more of a waste of time than a two year marriage?  Is a solid, 2-year relationship that peters out naturally as the two people decide they don’t want to be together anymore a bigger waste of time than a 20-year marriage that was rushed into because a woman’s biological clock was ticking only for her to discover that she didn’t really want to share her life with this man at all?

Every relationship is valuable. Every relationship has something to offer and teach us, but we’ve come to spend so much time focusing on the end goal that we don’t see what’s right in front of us: an amazing friendship, companionship, wonderful sex, having someone to whom we are important, and vice-versa.  Whether it lasts a year, or fifty years; whether there’s a piece of paper saying that you are legally wed, or you spend those fifty years together simply because you never stopped wanting to, it’s a treasure.  Books like He’s Just Not That Into You have us goal-oriented to the point of our own detriment.

Books and films like this have also acted to sabotage women in pursuit of the very things they advocate.  Several guys I’ve begun relationships with end them, because they’re not in the “headspace” to date seriously and they don’t want to “waste my time.”  I call this “Pre-Emptive Commitment Phobia.”  They’re so afraid that a woman will be upset at them for not wanting to commit to a “serious” relationship, that they end it before it has a chance to begin.  Meanwhile, I don’t care about ending up together forever!  I was perfectly willing to just spend time together for a while, get to know each other, and have some fun.  And this isn’t just limited to heterosexual couples!  I have gay and lesbian friends who have had the same pre-emptive commitment phobia affect their relationships, and they can’t even legally marry everywhere!  Now, we’re deprived of companionship because a couple of stupid books and films have society convinced that everyone, deep-down, wants each relationship to be the relationship that leads to marriage, and that anything else is failure.  They don’t, and it isn’t.

I’m Just Not Into the Never-Ending Economic Cycle 

The ultimate proof that marriage has more to do with economics than nature is the fact that a book like He’s Just Not That Into You even exists.  I never feel as lonely, or as bad about being single as I do when I’m in a group of people talking about relationships.  As I go about my day to day life, I’m not agonizing over the boyfriend I don’t have, or the kids I’d better think about popping out soon.  I’m thinking about my life.  Now.

Then, I get together with a group of friends and we start spouting the very things found in these books or films, and suddenly I’m neurotic about what I should be wanting.  Is there something wrong with me?  Maybe I DO need to hurry up and find someone!  Maybe I SHOULDN’T be wasting my time.  Maybe I need to take this more SERIOUSLY.  Suddenly, there is unhappiness and agitation where there wasn’t any before.  Suddenly, I’m neurotic.  Not because I feel lonely or lacking, but because I’m freaked out by other people being so worried about me and my future.  Surely, there must be something to it. Otherwise people wouldn’t be saying all this!

Yet, all there is to it is books and films like these.  Books and films that showcase a single path toward happiness, make people feel inadequate if they aren’t on that path, and offer methods of “self-help” in order to help them get on it.  Methods one has to buy.


Not to mention the fact that the wedding industry is a huge racket even people on a modest budget feel compelled to take part in.  When women hear that a female friend of theirs has gotten engaged, we’re trained to ask “Let me see the ring!” first.  As if the ring’s size or stone were the true determinants of whether or not this guy and this wedding is a good idea.  Even the least expensive bridal gowns cost several hundred dollars.  Whether you rent a venue, or have your wedding in your backyard, there are still catering, flowers, photographs, and music to be considered.  That’s without factoring in a bridal party, for whom things need to be purchased.  The wedding business is a multi-billion dollar industry.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that society fights so hard to make weddings important.  A lot of people would be unemployed if they weren’t.  There would also be significantly fewer books sold.

Believe It Or Not, I AM Into Marriage

I think it might be time to reconsider exactly what marriage means.

I’ll save my feelings about gay marriage, polygyny, and polyandry for another time (though my thinking about and mentioning them at all should give you an indication of how I feel about them), but we have a 50% divorce rate these days for a reason.  I think a large part of it is that we live at a time when we’ve learned to be truer to our individual selves.  We’ve come to expect a certain level of personal happiness in addition to wanting to care for the greater good.  However, we bring that desire for personal happiness into a firmly-established institution that is primarily concerned with economics.  Is it any wonder, then, that money is the largest cause of discord in most marriages?  Fights over who paid for what, who is providing for whom?  People are taught to marry by a certain time and are taught to take finances into consideration, but they aren’t taught that it’s acceptable to wait until you find someone who truly makes you happy.  Marriage as it is now is about contributing to society, not about two people connecting to each other.  It’s about what you should want, and not about what you might actually want.  If people actually do connect, they’re lucky.

Despite all that, I would like to be married someday.  There are several couples in my life that make marriage look good and whose marriages, if I ever find someone I want to marry, I’d want to emulate. There is something beautiful to me about choosing someone forever, promising them that you will be there for them no matter what, and knowing that they offer you the same in return.  I understand the impulse not only to want to make that promise to each other, but share the power of that promise with your loved ones.  I’m not someone who is sour on the entire institution.  I just think that the institution should evolve as much as human beings have.

I want marriage, but I don’t need marriage.  There’s a difference.

So, I won’t be seeing He’s Just Not That Into You.  I never bought (or bought into) the book, and I don’t want to be disappointed by the sight of actresses I enjoy and respect enacting that tripe.  It’s a shame, then, that one of my favorite songs of the moment is Beyonce’s Single Ladies:

If you liked it, then you should’ve put a ring on it

If you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it….

DAMMIT, that song is catchy!  Ah well.  I downloaded it illegally, so I didn’t pay money for it.  Sorry, Beyonce.  If you want to pay for a great song that has a truly positive message about relationships, check out Kate Nash’s Merry Happy:

Chatting on the phone

can’t take back those hours

but I won’t regret

’cause you can grow flowers

from where dirt used to be

And more importantly:

I can be alone, yeah

I can watch a sunset on my own

I can be alone, yeah

I can watch a sunset on my own

I can be alone…

Her album, I plan on buying.

ChinaShop Post: Morgan Spurlock Takes On Comic Con

He’s taken on fast food, consumerism and religion, and Osama Bin Laden. Now, he’s taking on…geeks. Morgan Spurlock’s latest documentary, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, was recently released on Video On Demand, and will be rolling out in theaters in the weeks to come. And guess what? I went to a screening! 🙂


Geeks tend to think that everyone knows the things they know, using the word “everyone” in a manner I lovingly refer to as Geek Hipster to imply that only someone completely out of the loop wouldn’t know about the thing to which they are referring, forgetting that the things they love, while much more popular now, are still really niche in the grand scheme of things. One of these geeks might wonder why we’d need a documentary about San Diego Comic Con. After all, everyone knows about Comic-Con.

Don’t they?

While Comic-Con has become immensely popular in the past few years, going from comic book convention to the place where Hollywood hawks their wares, Average Person On The Street probably doesn’t know much about it. Sure, they might have heard the term “comic-con” in passing, but as to what it is, who it’s for, and what happens there, it’s still very insidery. As for the geeks themselves, they generally go there with their own focus, and the event is so large, that one can experience only one aspect of it and still know nothing about what happens everywhere else.

In his documentary, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, director Morgan Spurlock attempts to cater to both these groups.

For the rest of the review, to vote (click on the teacups at the bottom!), or to comment on the post, CLICK HERE!

Katniss Everdeen Is Not a “Character of Color”

The new trailer for the film adaptation of The Hunger Games has come out, and I’ve already watched it about five or six times in a row. I am SO excited for this film!

Now, the issue of Jennifer Lawrence being cast as Katniss Everdeen sparked controversy before the project even started filming. Katniss is described as having “olive” skin. And so, naturally, “olive” translates to “woman of color.” I mean, it’s obvious, right?

Since when?

I am a “woman of color”. I am Puerto Rican, and have an olive complexion. My parents are both from Puerto Rico and are descended from both the Taino natives on PR, Spaniards, and possibly Italians, as the last name “Jusino” has Italian origins. Or Spanish. Depends who you ask, actually. Yet I don’t claim Katniss Everdeen as a character of color, nor do I think she is one.

I’ve read some interesting criticism to the contrary. You can read some HERE and HERE.


1) “Character of Color” is a ridiculous label to begin with.

What the hell does that even mean? People are getting up in arms about the casting of Katniss Everdeen based solely on the fact that she’s kinda sorta brownish. How sad is that? We don’t even know what kind of brown she is, yet she’s supposed to be a beacon of hope for anyone who is…um…any color. Do Asians count as “of color” even if they’re not brown? And is Katniss supposed to represent them, too?

2) People have latched onto the idea that Katniss is “Melungeon” for no good reason.

The fictional nation of Panem is actually North America risen from the ashes of a global war. It is divided into 13 districts, and Katniss is from District 12, which is located where current-day Appalachian Mountains are. Because of her olive skin, many people assume that Katniss is Melungeon:

Melungeons are defined as having racially mixed ancestry; they do not exhibit characteristics that can be classified as of a single racial phenotype. Most modern-day descendants of Appalachian families traditionally regarded as Melungeon are generally European American in appearance, often, though not always, with dark hair and eyes, and a swarthy or olive complexion. Descriptions of Melungeons have varied widely over time; in the 19th and early 20th century, they were sometimes called “Portuguese,” “Native American,” or “light-skinned African American.” Other Melungeon individuals and families are accepted as white, particularly since the mid-20th century. – from Wikipedia

So even if she is Melungeon, she could still be “European American” in appearance. But the book doesn’t say she’s Melungeon. All we have to go on is “olive complexion.” Here’s some other info about the racial make-up of Appalachia:

An estimated 90%[31] of Appalachia’s earliest European settlers originated from the Anglo-Scottish border country— namely the English counties of Cumberland, Westmoreland, Northumberland, Durham, Lancashire, and Yorkshire, and the Lowland Scottish counties of Ayrshire, Dumfriesshire, Roxburghshire, Berwickshire, and Wigtownshire. Most of these were from families who had been resettled in the Ulster Plantation in northern Ireland in the 17th century,[32] but some came directly from the Anglo-Scottish border region.[33] In America, these people are often grouped under the single name “Scotch-Irish” or “Scots-Irish”. While various 20th-century writers tried to associate Appalachia with Scottish highlanders, Highland Scots were a relatively insignificant percentage of the region’s early European immigrants.[33]

Germans were a major pioneer group to migrate to Appalachia, settling mainly in the northern part of the region in western Pennsylvania, although some were part of the initial wave of migrants to the southern mountains.[11] In the 19th century, Welsh immigrants were brought into the region for their mining and metallurgical expertise, and by 1900 over 100,000 Welsh immigrants were living in western Pennsylvania alone.[34] Thousands of German-speaking Swiss migrated to Appalachia in the second half of the 19th century, and their descendants remain in places such as East Bernstadt, Kentucky, and Gruetli-Laager, Tennessee.[35] The coal mining and manufacturing boom in the late-19th and early-20th centuries brought large numbers of Italians and Eastern Europeans to Appalachia, although most of these families left the region when the Great Depression shattered the economy in the 1930s. African-Americans have been present in the region since the 18th century, and currently make up 8% of the ARC-designated region, mostly concentrated in urban areas and former mining and manufacturing towns.[36] Native Americans, the region’s original inhabitants, are only a small percentage of the region’s present population, their most notable concentration being the reservation of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina. The Melungeons, a group of mixed African, European, and Native American ancestry, are scattered across northeastern Tennessee, eastern Kentucky, and southwestern Virginia.

So, 90% of the settlers in this area were from Europe and even the Melungeons, the mixed race group in the region, usually look European, which makes sense considering that even with intermarriage, color would be bred out with every generation because people “of color” would still be so few in number in the area. Whereas Melungeons may have started out as much darker, in the 20th Century, as it says above, most pass for Caucasian. Now extrapolate that a couple of hundred years in the future when The Hunger Games takes place. It is highly likely that, despite her olive complexion, Katniss is still – for all intents and purposes – considered white.

3) “Of Color” is an experience. One that Katniss doesn’t have in the book.

To be “of color” is an experience, not just a matter of appearance. I have biracial friends who look Caucasian, and therefore don’t deal with matters of race day to day the way someone might who is darker. Hell, I’m Latina and there are Latinos/as in my family who are white and also don’t have to deal with matters of race or ethnicity day to day. This isn’t to say that their experience of race is non-existent – in fact, I was talking to one of my biracial friends the other day, and she was telling me how annoyed she gets when people don’t believe her when she says she’s half Black (her mother is Jamaican), because it’s only her Irish half that shows (she cosplays Snow White, if that tells you anything) – merely that it’s different, and usually not what’s meant or included when people discuss issues concerning people “of color.” If Barack Obama had been born with his mother’s skin instead of his father’s, would he still be considered our first Black President? I’m not so sure. I’m not saying that way of thinking is right. In fact, quite the opposite. Which is why I believe “of color” is a term so broad as to be useless, because race and ethnicity are complicated. “Of color” is a category that doesn’t really exist.

But getting back to Katniss – even if we could all agree on one definition for “of color,” Katniss doesn’t have an “of color” experience in the books. Hers are issues of class and status, not race, and they are shared by those who are lighter than she is. Peeta, who is described as blonde and clearly white, deals with the same issues she does, being from District 12. While the merchant class in District 12 does generally look like Peeta, and the blue-collar miner class looks like Katniss and Gale, it is never this that’s pointed out. She is not discriminated against, nor does she experience any difference in treatment within her district. And any negative attitudes she does experience are because of where she’s from and/or what her father did for a living (he was a miner). It was a big change for her mother to marry her father, not because he had an olive complexion, but because he was a miner. Her hardships are because of her poverty, not because of her color, and everyone in District 12 – despite their shade – is poor; some are less poor than others, but it is a generally poor district, and all the districts are poor when compared to The Capitol.

The fact that the wealthy people of the Capitol dye their skin all sorts of colors as a matter of fashion and status means that, in this world, color is not the thing that defines a person at all. What does define a person is how much money they have, and how fashionable they are.

The broader struggle in Panem has to do with distribution of wealth, not issues of race. It has more in common with the Occupy Wall Street movement than with the Civil Rights movement.

So, if Katniss doesn’t have the experience of a character “of color,” and her olive skin can just as easily be found on a person who is considered Caucasian, what is it, exactly, that people are trying to claim? To claim her as a character “of color” is to deny what being a person “of color” actually means. If it means anything.

A Caucasian guy as Peeta.

A Caucasian guy with an olive complexion as Gale.

4) There are different shades of white.

Several writers on the internet seem to think that because the casting notice for Katniss called for a Caucasian that biracial people were kept from auditioning. Now, I used to be an actor, and I went in for roles that called for Caucasians to varying degrees of success. Some casting directors recognized that someone with my features and coloring could be considered white depending on where they were from. Others held true to the standard pale=white/dark=minority dichotomy that limits so much of casting. Now, I wasn’t in the room when this film was being cast, but if I were an actress of the right age, and knew the book well enough to know that Katniss is described as having an olive complexion, nothing would’ve kept me out of that room. I would’ve insisted my agent submit me for it. And they probably would’ve seen me.

Now, the other side of that is – that there’s an assumption made by people criticizing the casting notice, that biracial people or people “of color” didn’t audition. I would love to ask those people something. Would you cast this actress as Katniss Everdeen? (I’m asking solely based on looks)

That’s Alexis Bledel. She’s got naturally dark hair, so you wouldn’t even have to dye it. She’s got blue eyes instead of grey…but I don’t think I’ve ever MET anyone with naturally grey eyes.  No, I wouldn’t cast her! She’s white! I hear you exclaim. Actually, she’s Latina. Her mother is Mexican and her father is Argentinian. She was born in Texas, but Spanish is her first language, and she didn’t learn English until she started school. But yes, she also is white. However, Latina is usually equated with “of color” so technically… Do you see how this can get confusing?

Now, for an actor with an olive complexion:

That’s Sasha Roiz. He’s of Russian-Jewish descent, born in Israel and raised in Canada. Yet he was cast to play Esai Morales’ brother on Caprica, and it was believable. Morales, like me, is Puerto Rican. Roiz is pretty much only a shade or two lighter than me, and we’d probably even out if he spent more time in the sun and I stayed out of it. Yet I don’t think anyone would call him anything other than Caucasian, despite his olive complexion.

“Olive” can be anything. So can “white.” So, “of color” means nothing. And as far as casting The Hunger Games, all we have to go on – other than the adjective “olive” – is the world and setting of the book. In that world – where the protagonist is from a future Appalachia in a society where money is everything – it is more likely than not that Katniss Everdeen is white.

I know how frustrating it is to not see yourself represented in literature, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to latch on to anything even remotely close just because that’s all there is. I love Katniss Everdeen. I think she’s one of the best female characters to come along in a long time. She’s a role model to me, and I’m thirty-two years old! She’s an extremely positive asset not just to YA literature, but to literature in general. It is because she is a young woman who doesn’t let her relationships with boys derail her focus from what’s important. It’s because she is willing to stand up in the face of injustice. It’s because she is flawed, and nuanced, which is so often not the case with female characters in fiction. It is because she cares about others more than she cares about herself. It is not because she is a character “of color.”

While I was rooting for Hailee Steinfeld to win the role, I’m very much looking forward to seeing Jennifer Lawrence in the film. From the looks of the trailer above, I think she’s gonna do a hell of a job as Katniss.

And by the way, Lawrence is originally from Louisville, Kentucky, which isn’t a part of the Appalachian Region, but it’s close. 🙂

Countdown to L.A. – Friends With Benefits

First of all, there should probably be an actual countdown going, right? OK…

Days to L.A. – 24

Whoa. That’s not a lot of days, is it? No, I haven’t bought my ticket yet. Is it freaking me out? Maybe. Shut up.

So, I saw Friends With Benefits with Robin a couple of days ago, and I really loved it! Not just because it was sweet in the snarky-sarcastic way I adore, and not just because Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are wonderful (and ridiculously hot), but because this was one of those times when a movie came into my life exactly when I needed it to.

Mila Kunis’ character, Jamie, is from New York. Dylan, played by JT, is from L.A. And from the very beginning, their relationship is, in part, based on selling the best of their cities to each other. Jamie showing Dylan “her” New York almost made me cry, because she focused on the very things a native would focus on. Watching her experience L.A. with Dylan for the first time made me hopeful, and reminded me of how I felt when I visited earlier this year – that L.A. is a lot less shallow than reported and the kind of place where you can heal and be more yourself. It made both cities look really good, and perfectly captured both my nostalgia for the home I’m about to leave, and hope/excitement for the home I’m about to create.

There’s also the issue of Dylan, the character who makes the big cross-country move away from his family, also having a father who is suffering from dementia. Wasn’t expecting that, and that touched a pretty sensitive nerve. Probably the most difficult part of moving is leaving my dad. But when I think about it, he’s the person who would’ve understood this move the most, if he were in his right mind.

So, thanks Will Gluck, for writing a film that was both enjoyable and helped me process my feelings about moving to the Left Coast.

Speak The (King’s) Speech, I Pray You…

To hell with Darcy, and nuts to that guy in Love, Actually! The love interest from Bridget Jones’ Diary and the husband in The English Patient can bite me! I have never found Colin Firth more hot than when he’s playing a British monarch with a stutter!

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing The King’s Speech, the new film starring Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush about King George the VI and the speech therapist who helped him with his stutter so that he could successfully rally the British people during wartime. But it’s about more than that. It’s about the arrival of Radio, and how technology changes the relationship between a government and its people. It’s also about class, and how important it is that a ruler get to know his/her citizens.

I have a soft spot for Snooty British Film™, and that’s what I was expecting when I heard about this movie. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I mean, it IS a British film, and it IS set in the 1920s-1930s, but it’s the furthest thing from snooty, and entirely not what I was expecting. I’ve never seen Colin Firth be out and out funny, but he was here, and his chemistry with Geoffrey Rush was amazing! Best. Bromance. Ever. His chemistry with Helena Bonham Carter as his wife was also wonderful, and this is the first film I’ve seen her in where I would call her performance “warm.” Every single person in this movie was just so cute, and it really was as uplifting as the movie poster claimed, so I won’t have to call anyone out for false advertising. 🙂 Great cast, great script, inspiring (and unknown to me) story…I loved it!

Also, Colin Firth can be the King of me any time he wants. Fer cereal.

I’m writing about it here, because it’s a small movie easily lost amongst bigger fish, and it deserves to be seen! So, you know, go see it in the theaters if you can. It’s worth it! You will laugh, you will “get something in your eye”, you will squee.

And on the topic of speaking publicly and with conviction, here is this amazing Taylor Mali poem I came across today that I’ve become obsessed with. It is brilliant and true.

Will Hollywood Ever Stop Crapping All Over Writers?

This is me putting on the girly war-paint, rather like Shoshanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) in the photo above from Inglorious Basterds, and preparing a rant.

It really, really bothers me that, when choosing a winner for any Best Picture award, the screenplay is often the LAST thing people care about, if they care about it at all.

Avatar getting Best Picture at the Golden Globes?  Really?  It’s better than Inglorious Basterds?  Better than The Hurt Locker or Precious (neither of which I’ve seen, but have heard nothing but good things about)?  It’s telling that whenever anyone raves about Avatar, they use adjectives like “beautiful” and “stunning”, adjectives that have more to do with the look of the film than the words coming out of characters’ mouths.  More to do with the visuals than the originality of the story.  And it really bothers me that a good story and quality dialogue is seen as an added bonus to a good looking film, and not the other way around.

I enjoyed Avatar when I saw it.  I actually do want to see it again in 3-D next time.  It IS a beautiful film, and a lively adventure.  But, to quote the fabulously geeky Scott West, whom I follow on Twitter, “If Avatar was presented as a popcorn FX movie and not hyped as the greatest film ever, I’d be more forgiving of it.”  It’s true.  When the story exactly parallels that of a Disney film to the letter, and when I find myself cringing at the cliched dialogue over and over again, I can’t seriously consider that film Best Picture material, no matter how groovy the special effects are.

As I was LiveTweeting the Golden Globes tonight, I saw several people say things like “It’s like Titanic all over again.”  I would disagree with that.  I really liked, and still like, Titanic and thought that it deserved Best Picture that year.  The difference between that film and Avatar is that in it, Cameron managed to create strong original characters and a believable love story in the midst of a movie about a historical event everyone knows about.  Yes, a lot of the dialogue was cliche-ridden and stilted – but it was more acceptable since it was a period film, and the dialogue of the early 1900s was more stilted, and is where a lot of our current cliches started.  The characters were compelling and nuanced, and the structure of Older Rose reliving the story of the Love Of Her Life before throwing the blue diamond into the ocean really worked. Was it really sentimental a lot of the time?  Sure.  But I’ve never been one who automatically equates “sentimental” with “bad.”

As for Avatar – I liked the character of Jake Sully very much.  I dug the fact that this guy in a wheelchair was getting to fully use his body through an avatar.  I loved that angle, I thought the character had great humor, and thought Sully a great take on typical sci-fi heroes.  What was bad about Avatar is that the rest of the characters in the film, from Sully’s love interest to all of the “villains”, were completely one-note.  They were like Commedia del’Arte stock characters.  That + generic story that is pretty much Pocahontas + cliched dialogue = not Best Picture material.

So, why did it just take home that very Golden Globe?  And why is it considered “the one to beat” at the Oscars?

Ricky Gervais joked about writers getting no respect as he introduced the Best Original Screenplay category…and everyone, including the writers, laughed.  My question is, why is that funny?  Why is it seemingly understood that writers are the low men (and women) on the totem pole?  WHY IS THAT OK?

It’s funny, but I never really considered screenwriting a viable path for me.  I’d only ever written prose, and prose (both fiction and non-fiction) is still what I do mostly.  However, since starting The Pack, I’ve realized that there might be something to this dramatic writing biddness.  As I learn how to improve my screenwriting skills from brilliant friends of mine like Alex Chancey and Adam Hunault, I realize what art it takes to write a quality screenplay, and how wonderful it can be to tell a solid story through a solid script.  It’s something I never thought I’d even like, and I now think I might like to do more of.  I know how hard it is, and I know how much work goes into a mediocre script (ie: mine).  I can’t even imagine the work that it must have taken to write something like Inglorious Basterds.

This is why it is imperative for me to meet a hot, British footballer (or rugby player – but please someone who’s new to the game and hasn’t had his ears bitten off or anything yet) and marry him so I can become a British citizen and go live in the UK, where they seem to treat their dramatic writers with a bit more respect.  David, if you ever tire of Posh Spice, give me a call.

But seriously, Hollywood, wise up.  Respect your screenwriters. This should be the rule, not the exception.

PS – I would also very willingly marry Ricky Gervais for my UK citizenship, and would gladly hold his tiny penis anytime.  🙂

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