Review: First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers from director Angelina Jolie is a child’s experience of the genocide in Cambodia during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Continue reading “Review: First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers”

Wisdom Sharing: A Week with the Goddess Spirit

I spent last week at a conference in Ghost Ranch, NM. The conference, called Wisdom Sharing, featured Alice Walker, Gloria Steinem and Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung. The marvelous moderator, shown on the left above, was Dr. Melanie Harris.

The location is stunning in its beauty and spirit. The women who were the star attractions were brilliant – powerful speakers, activists for women’s rights, funny, and centered in a forceful but calm wisdom. It was one of the best weeks of my life. My photos are on Flickr.

The speakers were so inspiring and wise and brilliant

In addition to the many talks, wisdom circles, and other activities, we watched 3 documentary films. (Trailers for the 3 films are below.)

The first evening was the film Jesus and Buddha which features Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung who is a lay theologian of the Presbyterian Church of Korea, and is also an Associate Professor of Ecumenical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in the U.S. Plus, she’s a Buddhist. Or as she put it, it was both predestination and karma that brought her to Ghost Ranch and her friendship with the other extraordinary speakers.

The film for the next evening was Beauty in Truth, a documentary about the life of Alice Walker. The film was written and directed by Pratibha Parmar, who was also present at the conference. That’s her below, listening to one of the speakers. (I reviewed Beauty in Truth earlier this year.) Parmar worked with Alice Walker on the book Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women and the ensuing 1993 film Warrior Marks.

Pratibha Parmar

The last film we watched was Miss Representation. This film was partly supported by The Women’s Media Center and featured Gloria Steinem. It is about how women and girls are portrayed in the media. The Miss Representation website has many resources and ideas if you are interested in learning more or taking action.

Beauty in Truth and Miss Representation are both available from various streaming sources and are available for screenings in schools or gatherings. PBS broadcast Beauty in Truth and keeps it available. You can get DVD’s of Jesus and Buddha from Old Dog Documentaries.

Jesus and Buddha

Beauty in Truth

Miss Representation

A Personal Manifesto

A couple of decades ago I realized everything in my life up to that point had been determined by men. I can hear my friend Denise shouting, “It’s the patriarchy, stupid!” That’s not it – at least not completely. The patriarchy is still with us. But inside my head, things have changed.

Let’s start with ancient history. I grew up when the movies were westerns with Roy Rogers or Gene Autry. Or they were war movies with Aldo Ray and Montgomery Clift. Stories were about men. Books were about men. In college, I majored in English and I read dozens of books by dead white men. Men were supposed to rule the world and women were supposed to let them. I lived with a man who controlled and manipulated everything about my life. And I let him.

Then I stopped letting him.

After that, I wanted to think some new thoughts. I wanted to learn about feminism, which had passed me by. I wanted to read books by women, I wanted to see movies about women, hear songs sung by women, and see TV shows about women.

I’m not saying I started hating men. I like men. I have a son who is the finest man you could ever know. It wasn’t about men. It was about women, about finding the feminine, about understanding the female heart and mind, about finding the essence of what it is to be a woman.

The first thing I did was start reading books by women: Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Edwidge Danicatt, Margaret Atwood, Sara Paretsky, Amy Tan, Mary McCarthy, Annie Proulx, Leslie Marmon Silko, Jeanette Winterson, Sandra Cisneros, Dana Stabenow, Rita Mae Brown, Zora Neale Hurston, Joan Didion, Gloria Steinem, Diana Galbaldon, Nora Roberts, Elizabeth Berg, Janet Evanovich, Sarah Waters, Rita Dove. I didn’t care if it was great literature or a speed-readable romance as long as it was by a woman.

No more war movies, no more westerns, no more guys coming of age (girls coming of age are acceptable), no more buddy films about guys. I became attached to films like “The Secret of Roan Inish” and “Practical Magic” and “Thelma and Louise” and “How to Make an American Quilt” that told stories about women. I decided what to go see based on who the female star was – the male star didn’t matter. Did it have Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon, Queen Latifa, Sandra Bullock, Meg Ryan, Julie Christie, Angela Bassett, Shirley MacLaine, Holly Hunter, Halle Berry, Alfre Woodard, Julia Roberts? I was there.

I started to get a bit picky, a little more demanding. The woman had to really be there. Be a person who added to the film. If “The Fugitive” advertised Sela Ward and she got offed in the beginning so all we could do was watch the hero run around, I was pissed.

Television had some women to offer. There was Mary Tyler Moore. Carol Burnett. There were shows with a lot of male characters and a few memorable female characters. “China Beach” had both Dana Delany and Marg Helgenberger. “Northern Exposure” had Janine Turner and several other interesting women. “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd” was all Blair Brown. “Cagney and Lacey” – Woohaw! “Any Day Now” with Annie Potts and Lorraine Toussaint – double woohaw! The four fabulous women on “Sisters” – a quadruple woohaw.

In the last couple of years some really good female led TV has come along. “Saving Grace,” “The Closer,” “In Plain Sight,” “Hawthorne,” “The Good Wife,” “Weeds.” I’m loving it.

And, there was “The L Word.” A show that was practically all women. I so, so loved it. I thought I loved it because I liked Jennifer Beals. I watched every old Jennifer Beals movie that I’d missed over the years. I found dancers, cops, crooks, a naive housewife, a madam, a psychic, a blind wise woman, singers, liars, the bride of Frankenstein and a whole lot of other people, but I didn’t find Jennifer Beals. I only found characters. That’s when I realized the thing that really attracted me was the character of Bette Porter on “The L Word.”

Bette Porter. A strong woman who stands up for herself. She’s not perfect, but she’s powerful and inspiring and a leader. She seems very real there inside the TV.  She’s who I’ve been looking for in all the books, in all the movies, in all the TV shows. She’s in the courageous politicians I look up to. She’s in the tech savvy leaders I admire like the founders of BlogHer. She’s in the organizers for charity and the women who fight against injustice. She’s in the writers who tell stories that change the world. She’s in my daughter, who’s raising a kid with no help from the father. She’s in my granddaughters, who don’t take shit from anybody.

Real women I know have courage and strength and power. Maybe even I do. I’ve been trying to figure that one out for about 20 years. I could be close to an answer.

[Reprinted from Two decades of women on First 50 Words.  This post was first written in August 2010. I decided to repost it here as well because it’s relevant to why I started this blog.]

Review: Beauty in Truth

Beauty in Truth, a film by Pratibha Parmar, is a documentary about American writer and activist Alice Walker.

Image of Alice Walker from the film Beauty in Truth
Image of Alice Walker from the film Beauty in Truth

Predisposed to love it would be a good description of my attitude toward the film. I’m a lifelong admirer of Alice Walker. I have a tendency to finish her books and turn back to page 1 and start reading again. She’s an extraordinary soul – a beautiful soul – who has given so much to the planet. I respect her, I value her brilliance, I see so much wisdom and spiritual guidance in work. Her life is an inspiration.

Everyone should see Beauty in Truth. Everyone who is cares about American history. Everyone who cares about justice anywhere on the planet. Everyone with an interest in writing and storytelling.

Indeed, my recommendation of the film is enthusiastic and heartfelt.

Pratibha Parmar wrote, directed and produced the film. She first worked with Alice Walker after the release of Possessing the Secret of Joy, Walker’s novel about female genital mutilation. The Beauty in Truth website explains,

1993 Pratibha released her most challenging film Warrior Marks, which documented female genital mutilation at a time when the subject was taboo globally. This award-winning documentary was made in collaboration with the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alice Walker. Parmar and Walker collaborated on the book Warrior Marks – Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women, which documented the making of the film.

Beauty in Truth documents Alice Walker’s life from her upbringing in rural Georgia to the present day. It uses interviews, conversations with Alice, quotations from her poems and books, historical video footage, news reports and video and personal images supplied by Alice Walker to create the story of a writer and activist who is known worldwide.

Photo by Virginia DeBolt from Wikimedia Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Alice_Walker.jpg
Alice Walker: Photo by Virginia DeBolt from Wikimedia Commons
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Alice_Walker.jpg

The particularities and struggles of Alice Walker’s life reflect with universal truth on the Civil Rights Movement, on the women’s movement, on the gay rights movement, and movements for justice all around the globe. Her struggles and the reaction of the American people to them are not just a story about her but a story about the American character. Her writing and her activism create change that affects us all.

Alice Walker has been honored as a writer with a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for The Color Purple as well as numerous other awards and honors for her writing and humanitarianism. This film honors the life she’s lived as a human being with an ability to understand and speak for truth and justice.

The film is available for streaming on PBS if you act soon. A screening schedule is available on the film website, and the film can be booked for showing in schools. (PBS LearningMedia provides four video-based educational components are available for teachers of grades 9-12 to download for free. University level instructors can sign up to be notified when materials for their level are available. Instructions are on the website.)

Other People’s Opinions: A Few Reactions from Twitter

I saw quite a few tweets about the film when it first aired on PBS last week. I thought you might be interested in the reactions of a few other people as well.