Wildness: Discussion with the Filmmakers from BCRW Videos on Vimeo.

Representation, Community, Failure: Wildness & Utopia

At this year's Scholar & Feminist Conference, "Utopia," I looked forward to to seeing Wu Tsang and Roya Rastegar's Wildness, a film that brings together my two interests, art and gender. The film, which I had first heard of in an art museum context (Tsang was involved in the New Museum Triennial and Whitney Biennial in 2012), chronicles the story of the historic Silver Platter. This particular bar in Los Angeles has been home to Latin/LGBT immigrants since 1963, and to a weekly performance art party Tsang and his friends started there in 2008, "Wildness." Wildness is both not quite a documentary, and much more than a documentary: using elements of magical realism, including anthropomorphizing the Silver Platter itself as narrator, Wildness challenges the elements of truth that are traditionally expected of documentaries as a medium. Magical realism was especially appropriate for this film, highlighting for us the ways in which fantasy can be a useful tool when we imagine ways to create a safe, utopian space. The Silver Platter's narration, including references to patrons as "mis hijos," is unsettling and foreshadows the underlying drama about to unfold. It also demonstrates how the bar has become a parental figure of sorts, the home of alternative kinships created by Wildness and the Silver Platter.

A production still from the film with two of the people interviewed at the Silver Platter Bar

Wildness focuses on place and the people who occupy it. However, we see that complications arise when we attempt to define spaces and who they belong to: the fact that Wildness takes place in the Silver Platter, for instance, brings up the tricky, moral question of when it is okay to create a new, safe space, and when an existing space is actually invaded and taken over for that purpose. Jack Halberstam points out that within the Silver Platter, it becomes apparent that “competing subcultural spaces cannot coexist...with the possibility that one will swallow the other.” As the film progresses, the inherent failure in Tsang’s party project is not immediately explicit, but is presented as a series of practical struggles and emotional trials that participants of Wildness and owners of the bar face. Coexistence eventually becomes a problem as the interests of the Silver Platter's patrons and of Wildness collide. (more…)

Prison Abolition: Utopian Ideal or Emerging Reality?

BCRW’s Scholar & Feminist conference on Utopia featured a workshop with the activist and writer Reina Gossett, contributor to Captive Genders: Trans Embodiement & The Prison Industrial Complex whose work at New York’s Sylvia Rivera Law Project centers on providing services to low-income queer and transgender people. If the packed-to-the-brim classroom was any indication of the pertinence of the issue at hand, the workshop on Prison Abolition attempted to cover both issues and solutions to incarceration in the United States today. As it currently stands, the U.S. incarcerates more people than another other nation in the world. With the criminalization of poverty, police brutality, and spiking stop-and-frisk rates in neighborhoods just outside Morningside Heights, where Barnard is located, the incarcerated population is only continuing to grow.

Incarcerated person lying on the floor of a small cell

As an activist, Reina is unafraid of proclaiming her conviction that prisons should be abolished. After a few group activities in which workshop participants identified what made them feel safe and what principles officials use when enforcing the law and punishing people, Reina directed our attention to a video featuring Dean Spade, founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. From there, the discussion focused on specific problems that transgender and queer people face in prison.

Two women high five

Reina Gossett (left) high fives a workshop participant

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Beyond Food Fights

BCRW’s 2013 Scholar and Feminist Conference on “Utopia” created a space for its attendees to take our desires seriously and to imagine better outcomes. A broad array of topics were covered, from poverty, to media and pop culture, to food justice. I attended the workshop on the latter, entitled “Beyond Food Fights: Re-Imagining Food Justice,” facilitated by Pamela Phillips and Gwen Beetham. Earlier that day I had attended the prison abolition workshop and my mind was already swimming in ideas about what a prison-free world would look like. In the Prison Abolition workshop, facilitator Reina Gosset contextualized the prison industrial complex within a larger framework of racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia, pointing out how interrelated forms of oppression often are.

Gwen Beetham and Pam Phillips in front of blackboard at food justice workshop

Pam Phillips and Gwen Beetham facilitate the Food Justice workshop

Food justice is no different. Our food systems are embedded within a capitalist “corporatocracy,” as one workshop attendee phrased it. Although food production and distribution happens on such a large scale, food remains extremely personal, a source of pleasure and nourishment to the bodies who consume it. Thus, the fight for food justice is one for self and community care in the face of political and economic institutions driven by capitalism.

Although solutions were an important part of the discussion we had (it was a conference on utopia, after all), we spent a good part of the workshop just unpacking what the various problems are that obstruct food justice. From the rights of laborers who grow the food all the way to the nutrition of food going into people’s mouths, we touched on almost every aspect of the food industry that needs changing. Gwen discussed how our taxes subsidize the production of corn, wheat, soy and rice, grains which flood our diets, while more nutritious vegetables are referred to as “specialty crops” and remain more expensive and difficult to access.

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