feminism

#UnitedAgainstHate March in Los Angeles 11/12/16

I had butterflies of equal parts fear and excitement. As soon as we surfaced, thousands of people had already gathered. I saw signs:

IMMIGRANT (arrow pointed down to a white woman holding the sign)
NOT MY PRESIDENT
THIS PUSSY GRABS BACK

So I knew it was going to be at least a good protest. No opposition in sight. Cops were helping to stop traffic. People stuck in their cars waved, honked, and cheered. The numbers were there. I felt a surge of love and an unmistakable, powerful energy.

Thousands gathered to watch. Brown-skinned men in construction and trucker hats, just showing up for work that day, saw thousands of people shouting loudly:

“SAY IT LOUD, SAY IT CLEAR: IMMIGRANTS ARE WELCOME HERE!”

The brown-skinned men were crying. They were laughing. They were waving and smiling. They knew they were not alone.

“MY BODY, MY CHOICE/HER BODY, HER CHOICE”
“TRANS LIVES MATTER”
“BLACK LIVES MATTER”
“TINY HANDS CAN’T BUILD A WALL”
“HEY HEY! HO HO! DONALD TRUMP HAS GOT TO GO!”

Many see these protests as futile, that it’s “inevitable” and we must accept it. Something you may not know (unless you were there), in addition to rejecting Trump, this is a call to fight for the rights of *everyone*. When your rights are being attacked, nothing feels more empowering than the sheer volume of people making it very clear that they are willing to fight to protect you. That’s what this is about. Regardless of Trump, we will never ever stop fighting for everyone affected by the hatred from Trump’s supporters. And the world is watching.

So here is my advice, if you are feeling hurt and helpless: If you are able-bodied, stand with us. Join us.

While our actions may not change what happens on January 19th, what I learned was this: When a trans person watches the news and sees the marches, they will feel better. When a muslim person watches the news tonight, they will feel better. When an immigrant watches the news tonight, they will feel less afraid. What does this all mean?

YOU ARE NOT ALONE. You have an ally in me, and all of those people you see on the news marching. Millions are with you. I hope you can sleep a little better tonight, and smile a little knowing that.

Satu
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“Nostalgiacore” in the Time of Progress

I have a story idea that takes place in the early 90s and I’m having the hardest time getting started. Taking a closer look at what is causing my hesitancy, I find that it’s because the cast would have to be mostly white due to the historical context. To be more inclusive for people of color, how do I proceed?

One thing I’ve noticed about period TV programs is the noticeable erasure of people of color. One could possibly attribute this to a recreation of the “Hollywood version” of history, featuring all white leads, as well as actual history- where the storyline takes place in a workplace scenario where people of color were rarely (if ever) hired during this time. I love well done period TV shows, particularly when it serves as a metaphor for current societal issues. What doesn’t work for me in the constant repetition of revisiting the past in American television: zero people of color in leading or even guest-starring roles. While the country celebrates a return to the 80s genre TV movies with Netflix’s Stranger Things, I’m left wondering: why are we doing this again? Haven’t we fought tooth and nail to push away from all the character tropes of TV past?

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Stranger Things (Netflix)

Turns out people will eat it up. I know, I did too. For a few episodes. But I was horribly distracted by the lack of seeing something “new.” It was familiar, but not in a good way. It reminded me of a time lost, but it also reminded me that there is a psychological desire to cut non-white people out of the creative conversation. I don’t think that was the intention of the Duffer Brothers. As is the case with the Coen Brothers, “[the 80s, white Midwest] is the world we know.” As several smart people have pointed out- are aliens/zombies/vampires any easier to write about on a fictional level, without truly understanding them, living with, or growing up with them?

I’m starved for things like The Get Down. It takes place in the late 70s Bronx borough, and I can’t get enough of it. I was born in the 80s and I listen to every kind of music and I still understand the 70s nostalgia factor. But the show does not solely aim to tickle your easily picked at nostalgia scabs or heartstrings. From what I can tell (and I wasn’t there) it feels totally 70s in every aspect of the sense, but it’s also examining the underbelly from a fantastical perspective (as Baz Luhrmann often does and does well). The music speaks for itself and lives within a cast of highly spirited, talented actors.

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The Get Down (Netflix)

We see familiar faces from a legendary decade, people we’ve since celebrated for their skill in creating an entirely new, much needed musical genre to tear disco apart and destroy the status quo. Isn’t that what revolution is about? Isn’t that what art is about? The show’s format itself rips apart the norm. Baz Luhrmann for television, in it’s second Golden Age (can we call it the Platinum Age already?), co-written by the Pulitzer prize winning playwright, Stephen Adly Giurgis (Our Lady of 121st Street, Jesus Hopped the A-Train, Last Days of Judas Iscariot), the show is bound for a promising recipe of artistic excellence. And it delivers, all of these things: Nostalgia, top class talent, and a new way to recreate that specific time and place through fantasy.

What turns me off about Stranger Things– because it’s replicating, it features all the tropes we are desperately pushing away from. What holds me back from congratulating Stranger Things and anything else like it (let’s call it “Nostalgiacore”): while it remarkably recreates what we love about 80s film + TV, it also clearly showcases things that were wrong about 80s Hollywood, including all white casts with one token person of color, and stereotypical, tropey roles for women and girls. I enjoy period stories showcasing what society was genuinely like, but I do have an issue with revisiting a time in which Hollywood itself was less enlightened. Things that, should we see it in any other program, would make us cringe and trash it to pieces. Being “woke” has gotten to a point were it takes an exorbitant amount of forgiveness to get through certain films of “less enlightened times” and to me, it’s not excusable to recreate our past mistakes. Today, we want to see more from our media. Time to adapt.

Back to my story idea that takes place in a very white part of the country in the early 90s, in a very white “scene”: I’m going to do more research. If I can find the people of color in this narrative, I’d rather include them, especially if they were left out of historical documentation. Otherwise I feel like I’m doing a disservice to progress, and I’ll have to write about something else. The story is important for women (feminist), despite the scene in question being entirely dominated by white women (lacking intersectional feminism). I don’t want to careen the story into present day, but I don’t want to write “another story devoid of color” either, not for me, or anyone else. Especially when my (mixed) perspective includes color.

Have you ever hesitated to write something in the name of progress?

-Satu

Why I Wish Hollywood Would Reform “Breakdowns”

For years I have been tackling the issue of “race” in casting.  It plagues me, fascinates me, and at the same time, frustrates me to no end.  Is there a solution to the “race problem” in Hollywood, and if so, what can we do about it?

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The Racial Diversity of Asia (1904)

The solution I have come to over 15+ years in the entertainment industry is to create your own work, take a strong stance and lead your team in the direction you would like to go.  Write for yourself, because no one else will read your mind.  However, when it comes to casting “breakdowns,” the term used for casting purposes when “breaking down a script” circling all characters and describing the roles actor’s would play based on the information from the script itself alone, the descriptions tend to be very limited in terms of race alone.

While they only have the text from the original script to go by, Breakdowns Services duty is to find this information and place it in a catalogue for talent agents to submit their clients for potential auditions.  It looks something like this:
[ANNE (f, 20’s, Caucasian)] Lead.  Blonde.  All-American girl.  Educated, sharp, and lively.
[JOE (m, 30s, Caucasian)] Lead.  Rugged type.  [JUAN (m, 45, Latino)] Supporting.  Joe’s Mexican neighbor.
[MEG (f, 20s, Asian)] Supporting.  Anne’s friend from college.
and if you are lucky:
[SARA (f, 20s, OPEN ETHNICITY)] Florist.  One line. Supporting.

The problem being:  Like any other “race,” there are several types of people that fall into the categories.  “Asian” in Hollywood typically means Chinese, Japanese, or Korean descent.  This excludes the several other types of Asians on the market, mainly Indians (which is a category I sometimes but barely fall into despite my genetics).  Anyone who falls into the category of “ethnically ambiguous” or “mixed-race” (me) always gets shafted and never gets called in for the stereotypical role of TV casting, and thus never has a chance to “break in” with racial/culturally driven co-starring roles the traditional Hollywood way (Hollywood: honestly, you can keep them). 

Breakdowns Services are almost at a disadvantage when it comes to equality in casting as they only have the screenwriter’s to pull from and can’t make any suggestions or changes from the scripts they are given.  Thus, if “Judy, 23, Asian, Dog-walker” is all we see in the script, that’s all we will see in the breakdowns.  Then, it’s up to casting directors to bring in a variety of Asian-Americans or flat out Asian people to appease the director, whom also may have a highly limited view of casting color-blind.

So who’s to blame?  In the end, it’s the writers for their lack of imaginative description of minor to major characters, casting directors for not bringing in enough diverse options, and directors for choosing the same stereotype every time (mainly in television and commercials).  And of course, anyone that suffers from this type of casting, as it is our responsibility to write new stories and bring in new faces with strong, descriptive, diverse,  rich backgrounds not limited to the European colonial view of the world [White, Black, Asian, Latino, Native American, & Any Ethnicity].

While it makes me sad that I may never portray a Finnish person or any Scandinavian in live action media (which is a huge part of my heritage), I may just have to write that into my next script.  The general public already has such a limited view of the world and I believe it is my responsibility to open their eyes to a unique story like mine.

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Jenette Goldstein as “Vasquez” in Aliens

People who are mixed-race fall behind the curtain all too often in Hollywood.  Vin Diesel, who just earned his star on the Walk of Fame this August, had to fight his way to stardom by proving that a mixed person has a larger audience and relates to more people that someone who is one “race.”  I couldn’t agree more, however, in the end:  It is the human experience that we relate to, not the color of someone’s skin.  I’ve always believed that the best person for the role is the best actor for the role, the one who can believably physically portray the character, and the one who has the most talent to portray it [case in point, Jenette Goldstein, who portrayed the Hispanic role “Vasquez” in James Cameron’s “Aliens” is American white/Jewish.  And she killed it].

Bottom line:  I’m not asking for racial accuracy as much as I’m asking for diversity.  If the specific ethnic background doesn’t necessarily matter in the role, it would be great if writers could spell that out in the script, if Breakdowns could honor that, and casting directors call in a properly *diverse group of people, and if, in the end, the directors could select the best actor for the role regardless of race.

-Satu [the “multi-facial” actress]

*not limited to what only you think it is, but what the world does.

Top 10 Music Videos About Female Empowerment

Coming off the hot heels of the launch of Katy Perry’s brand new music video for “Roar,” I was inspired to create a Top Ten list of music videos that make me feel like I could take over the world, if my soundtrack dictates it so.  In a world where women and men are constantly bombarded by patriarchal videos and images, it has always been refreshing to see artists speak at high volume through their music, spreading a clear message that women are strong in our own clever, sexy, intelligent, wicked, and wonderful ways.  In no particular order:

1. MADONNA, “HUMAN NATURE” (1995)

One of my all time favorite dance videos, Madonna moves into some serious BDSM imagery with tight black vinyl outfits, whips, restraints, and strong boxed in dance moves in this music video with lyrics that suggest anyone that has a problem with her or her antics can quietly screw off.  She is not sorry for being who she is and isn’t afraid to show in in the role of dominatrix, a profession many women daydream of being in their day to day lives as a position of ultimate power.

2. M.I.A., “BAD GIRLS” (2012)

Used in the film “Heat” starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, in an era where women are continually fighting for their voices to be heard, this music video pushes the envelope worldwide by featuring Saudi women dressed in men’s clothes performing stunts on hot cars in the desert, wielding guns and filing nails.  MIA is a compelling artist with her lyrics echoing personal experiences from being a Sri Lankan refugee and an all around cool and refreshing voice in the music industry, in which the presence of South Asian women is virtually non-existent in the West.

3. KATY PERRY, “ROAR” (2013)

Continuing to be a strong voice for girls and women everywhere, Katy Perry aces the image of a strong and independent woman that loves to have fun in her environment as a “Jane” to her failed “Tarzan/Explorer.” Like Snow White, she romances the wild around her and takes over as a Bettie Page type Jungle Queen.  I love this video all around and Katy will dominate once again as the biggest pop superstar on the planet.

4. THE RUNAWAYS, “CHERRY BOMB” (LIVE IN JAPAN, 1977)

Bad ass, edgy, in your face, young, and hot.  The Runaways dominate in this live video suggesting that f* you mom and dad, I’m out of here and I’m not afraid to be who I am.  Rock n’ Roll indeed.

5. NANCY SINATRA, “THESE BOOTS ARE MADE FOR WALKIN’ ” (1966)

Thank the Universe for the 1960’s in fashion, glamour, and women fighting for women.  Nancy Sinatra pushes the envelope with this subtle sexy and strong message of “Don’t even think about taking me for a ride.”  Hit the road jack!  (side note:  I actually met Nancy last year at a restaurant job where I wasn’t allowed to wear fancy shoes.  On that particular day I decided to say screw it, I’m wearing my tall black leather go-go boots.  And in she walked….).

6. CHRISTINA AGUILERA, “FIGHTER” (2002)

Dark, awesome, and a great message to all masochists that thanks for attempting to hurt me, but all you’ve done is create a monster.  And I’m perfectly happy to be that monster because I’m going to kick your ass with my awesomeness that you helped create.

7. TLC, “AIN’T 2 PROUD 2 BEG” (1992)

The safety-pinned condoms, over-sized soother necklaces, and giant neon hats were no distraction from the strong messages of ultimate female power-trio, TLC in the early ’90s.  I found them each highly inspiring as a strong and edgy group, daring to wear the baggiest of baggy clothes and shoving what you think of them off because it ain’t no thing.

8. DESTINY’S CHILD, feat. Da BRAT, “SURVIVOR” (2001)

A wild and strong message for women who just got out of a stressful and hard relationship, Survivor evokes a feeling of “I’m ready to move on and be better without you.”  Destiny’s Child was all around a very positive group for women and Beyonce continues holding that torch with her solo career, inspiring women all over the world to be cool, be professional, and it’s okay to be sexy in your own way “cause my momma taught me better than that.”

9. JANET JACKSON, “RHYTHM NATION” (1989)

Evoking sci-fi, “Blade Runner”-esque imagery, soldier-like uniforms, and bold dance moves that shake you to your core, Janet Jackson evolved into Rhythm Nation busting on the seems as a tough, serious, and commanding woman who is clearly the one in charge.  I always imagine myself stomping through the streets owning the world around me when I listen to this song.  Thank you Janet for making me strong!

10.  EN VOGUE “FREE YOUR MIND” (1992)

While this video focuses more on the topic of racism, it is highly empowering for people perceived as stereotypes and are treated with prejudice in the world around them.  As women, En Vogue always encompassed the image of strength, fierceness, and determination with a boldness rivaled only by Janet Jackson.  The choice of using a lit up fashion runway strutting down towards the camera with attitude, black clothing, boots, and a live band gives us a clear statement of “Don’t f*ck with me” that I live by day to day.

All of these groups and artists inspired me to be the woman I am today.  A few runner ups:  Alanis Morissette “You Oughtta Know,” and Joan Jett “I Hate Myself for Loving You.” These songs continually make me feel good about who I am and I hope the next generation of women will find their selves much faster than I did, as pop music continues to feature strong women at the forefront.  Thank you for allowing me to be who I am with no shame, no fear, and absolutely, no regrets.

-Satu Runa, actress, writer, producer, and singer/songwriter.

Tales of a Secret “Biracial” Immigrant

I’ve been feeling an overwhelming burst of isolation.  With so many sensitive topics flooding our screens from corporate news sources, it’s hard to find hope and light amidst the chaos and darkness.  Like a stranger in a strange land, I am still searching.

I came from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and then Edmonton, Alberta, both pleasant and lively places to grow up in the 80s and early 90s.  I learned about racism, but never encountered it myself.  I generally felt an overwhelming sense of peace and happiness in a childhood filled with ballet and drama classes, skiing, piano, art, theater, and short but spectacular summers.  When my family moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina in the mid-90s, I had great friends starting out, and people generally were curious about me, and friendly too.  People had no idea what I was.

I put “biracial” in quotations in the title because the archaic idea of “race” was created to make a certain person feel more comfortable about the rest of the world.  Is it a skin colour, country, religion, or genetics?  For some people, is it a choice?  In North Carolina, I was asked a few times whether I was Black or White, and I honestly didn’t know how to answer that question, as if those were the only racial options.  I was new to them, so they didn’t have a box for me.  Others would ask where I worship, and my mother would tell me to say “We worship at home,” even though I was raised without religion (atheist).  Over time I found clever ways to answer questions about myself.  I eventually enjoyed the extra attention I received for being different, even the teasing and jokes about being Canadian.  All of that was in good fun.

I am the only product of a second marriage, for both of my parents.  I have half-siblings on both sides, and I grew up with my half-sister and half-brother from my mother’s previous marriage.  They are fully Indo-Trinidadian (of Indian and Afghan decent).  My three half-sisters from my father’s previous marriage are fully Finnish.   As for me: I am half Finnish (Scandinavian) and half Trinidadian (of Indian and Afghan decent).

Me in Bethesda, MD with my father. Circa 1987

I have never met my Finnish half sisters, nor have they ever reached out to me.  I will admit that I am curious about them, but also a little hurt that they were never curious about me.  My mother told me that just after I was born, she ran into a friend of my father’s ex-wife.  This friend said that my half-sisters were all curious about what “colour” I turned out to be (which is odd, since my mother has light-olive skin).  And my mother said to her, fiercely, “She is just fine. And you should see her, she is beautiful.”

In North Carolina, when I was in my teens, I started to dye my hair wild colours.  I began listening to metal and industrial music, and found my place in a group of metal-heads and punk-rockers in the Winston-Salem local music scene.  It was a wonderful place to be, and it felt really good to belong to something I could call my own.  Everyone was welcome, regardless of race, gender, or colour.  Music is what united us.  Sub-culture took huge precedence over what you were genetically, or what religion or class you were born into.  It was powerful, and we felt completely above all of the social mores and categories everyone loved shoving us in.  I knew I was always different from everyone else in my family because of the sub-culture I chose, though they completely accepted me for who I am.  Looking back, it totally makes sense that I am a metal-head, as Finland is the Promised Land of Heavy Metal.

I came home with turquoise hair and an extra piercing in my ear one day.  I was probably wearing fishnets, a Marilyn Manson t-shirt and a silver vinyl skirt with combat boots, my standard uniform when I was going out to the mall with friends.  My brother was home from college.  He asked me a simple question: “Why would you want to stand out any more than you already do?”  I thought about it for a long time.  Dying my hair was not about standing out (as most counter-culturalists agree that in the end, we all looked the same by making similar fashion statements).  It’s hard to pinpoint, but it was about belonging to something extraordinary, fun, and exciting.  Expressing your art on your own body.  Showing the world that we are the truly free ones.  And yes, a big “Fuck You” to The System.   But I think what he meant was, “Don’t you want to be accepted?”  My brother and sister are darker skinned than me, and have had a lot of racism hurtled towards them growing up.  People didn’t understand them (as with most hatred, it stems from fear and a lack of knowledge).  They would tell me stories that made me so angry that I wish I could go back in time and slap the shit out of the people who made them hurt.  But in the end, that wouldn’t do anything, it would just make things worse.  After all, hatred is cyclical.  I had my fair share of bullying in North Carolina growing up, mainly because I was a nerd, and a female.  One mentally deranged kid called me a “JAP.”  I had no idea if he meant Japanese, or Jewish.  I am neither, but he was ignorant.  I ended up being a tonal blend between my parents.  Some people think that I look “white.”  Others think that I appear “exotic.”

After a fashion show in Greenwich Village, New York City

After a fashion show in Greenwich Village, New York City

After North Carolina, I moved to New York City to be a TV host, actress, model, and singer.  I accomplished everything within a year and got some really great gigs all around.  I found that it was easier to break into music, hosting, and modeling with a “different” and unique look than acting.  New York agreed with me in every sense of the way.  That city captured my heart, and the 7 years that I spent there educating myself, working, and growing my soul and career are priceless.  Never have I felt so welcome and accepted.  It was as if there were so many people there that racism has no place, because there is no room for it.  People cared for other people.  I take o’ you, you take care o’ me.  I like that.  Coolest city on Earth, allowing anyone to be anything they truly want to be.  Perfect place for something seen as “different,” no matter where they go.

I either fit in everywhere, or no where.  It’s never been more apparent than when I moved to Hollywood and (I am still) trying to break into the industry that initially only sees people that fit into specific racial boxes.  Ah, marketing.  Everyone else gets thrown into the “ethnically ambiguous” box, as though our identities haven’t been defined, or have been erased because they don’t have “time” to understand “us.”
I moved to LA based on a hasty decision made because I listened to the wrong “career coaching” people that just wanted my money, with a severely distorted vision of what was to come.  People will tell you anything you want to hear, as long as you give them something in return.  I grew up thinking that California was the “Left Coast” and everything was free, feminist, and beautiful.  I definitely did not do my research, and shortly after I moved here I discovered that Los Angeles is inconspicuously right-wing.  I felt an ominous dark cloud cover my smile.  Periodically I do meet some good people, though all to often do I encounter people who, politically, are the opposite of me in a fierce way.  Needless to say, it’s okay to have different political views, but when your political views impede on my health, safety, and sanity… ugh.  So I joined a band (Modern Time Machines) and found solace in music once again, in Silverlake, a more progressive minded artistic part of town.

Playing with Modern Time Machines, Silverlake, CA Circa 2012

Playing with Modern Time Machines, Silverlake, CA Circa 2012

Lately I have been feeling so alone.  I feel more alone here in LA than I have anywhere else in the world.  I have lived in many cities, Halifax, Edmonton, Bethesda, Winston-Salem, Wilmington, NYC, and now here.  I know I should have never left New York- that city holds my heart it her hands until my dying day, the only place that truly feels like home.
256045_10150282197782664_3471852_oI’m secretly hoping that thought will change someday.  Last night I had a long discussion with some old classmates from Stella Adler (New York) at their new sister school, here in LA.  One of them is from Montreal.  The more I talked to her, the more I felt a rush of relief.  I am not alone.  I am not crazy.  I am Canadian.  I gave her a huge hug and thanked her for the intellectual debate.  Because I never lived in Canada during my adult years, I don’t feel like I should go back.  No one would ever guess that I am Canadian (or Finnish, or Indian etc).  Why escape now…I have been struggling so hard to make my mark here.  I have been an American citizen for 11 years, I have lived here for almost 20.  I had to earn my citizenship.  I don’t feel like giving it back.  But god damn sometimes it’s hard fighting here.  Fighting to be free in the Land of the Free (Some Restrictions May Apply).”
Everyone is always fighting.  It’s a good thing to stand up for your rights.  What’s even better is to find a way to let people flourish and be healthy and happy.  Taking care of students, the sick, the old, children, and the wounded veterans.  It just makes sense.  Everyone knows this country (The US) is in a dark place.  We need cure this virus.  We need to move forward.  We need to not be alone in this fight.  It’s all about compromise, but even more so, its all about doing what is right.  We have to make choices that allow more people to live in a violence-free, safe environment.
I’m enjoying my success here in Los Angeles.  Success meaning that I am happy doing what I love because I make other people happy.  After careful consideration,  I have chosen to stay and fight for what I believe is right:  Equality, finding affective Socialized Medicine, enforcing better Gun Control, Ending Discrimination, and Empowering Women and Girls so nothing can stand in the way of their dreams.

My advice to anyone with dark feelings for other races, genders, sexual orientations, and religions:  Let go of your hate.  Let the hatred end with you.  Love is contagious.  Help out who you are able to.  Be a hero.  But in the end, please let the hatred stop with you, so we can all fulfill our American Dream.

-Satu Rautaharju