The Times of Harvey Milk: The Politician Who Changed LGBT History Forever

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In honour of LGBTQ+ History month starting today, third-year BA Film Studies are providing a series of weekly reviews that capture this year’s theme of Behind the Lens, celebrating LGBT+ peoples’ contribution to cinema. First up is Harris Montgomery’s review of The Times of Harvey Milk(1984).

Screenshot from The Times of Harvey Milk, directed by Rob Epstein, The Criterion Collection, 1984. [Image description: Harvey Milk stands in front of a microphone smiling with one arm raised in the air and another arm around the shoulder of another person who is also smiling]

As a gay director at the start of his ground-breaking career in LGBT documentary, Rob Epstein felt a connection to the events told in The Times of Harvey Milk (1984). The film shows a personal approach to the political career and untimely death of one of America’s most influential figures. Screened at the New York Film Festival, the documentary gained acclaim from audiences and critics alike, winning Best Documentary Feature at the 1985 Academy Awards. In 2012, the film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”, and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

Acclaimed actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein narrates the film, offering a comforting quality that heightens the joys and brings emotion to the lows. Opening with Milk’s life before politics, the film provides a ‘behind the scenes’ look into his job as a camera shop owner and the discovery of his homosexual identity. The interjection of interviews from colleagues and friends hammers this personal dimension home and conveys Milk’s down-to-Earth nature.

The film also provides an intricate picture of Milk’s political work, ranging from his election as council member in San Francisco and the efforts made to ensure Castro was a safe space for the LGBT community, to the hugely significant efforts that blocked The Briggs Initiative, a protocol that would have seen homosexuals banned from careers within the education sector. The editorial choice to bookend the film with Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone’s assassinations rightfully paints Milk as a beacon of light amidst some truly dark times for the US. However, the film’s closing moments, in which Fierstein’s narration is replaced with Milk’s own voice, reminds its audiences not to dwell on his life’s tragic end, but to celebrate the political career of one of the most honest, true, and hardworking figures in the history of American politics.

Further viewing

Milk (2008) – Dir. Gus Van Sant

Word is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives (1977) – Dir. Rob Epstein

Holocaust Memorial Day

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January 27th is Holocaust Memorial Day. It marks the anniversary of when the biggest camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated in 1945; following the deaths of 6 million Jewish people under Nazi Prosecution. The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust outline the day as an opportunity for everyone to “come together to learn more about the past and take action to create a safer future”, which also includes other genocide including Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur. This year’s theme is ‘Ordinary People’, which: “highlights the ordinary people that let the genocide happen, the ordinary people who actively perpetuated genocide, and the ordinary people who were persecuted”

We encourage you to learn more about Holocaust Memorial Day, by engaging with the range of free in person and online events happening across the day and weekend. You can watch a Kaddish reciting by a representative of the local Jewish community from 11-1:00pm at Gloucester Guildhall, tune into An Online Commemoration for the Day led by Kirsty Wark from 7pm, or participate in poetry reading and singing at Weston Museum on Saturday evening between 7:30-9:30pm.

If you are unable to attend these events, Bristol Holocaust Memorial Day are hosting a pre-recorded talk via their YouTube channel led by Holocaust survivor John Hajdu MBE, available from 12pm Friday. You can also get involved by lighting a candle and placing it safely in your window from 4pm*.

*Please do not leave unattended.

Disability History Month 2022: Disability, health and wellbeing – Part 3

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By Ghizzi Dunlop, Learning technologist, Co-Chair of the Disabled Staff Network and UWE Accessibility Champions Network  

 UK Disability History Month 2022 

We can help you help us 

We could give you access to a manual of me. This is a simple document we can create to help you understand how we work. What we may need your support or understanding. These can work well for small teams too.

  • We can include our working preferences, e.g communications. In my email signature, I include my preferred modes of contact. (text based, teams chat, messages, emails). This accommodates my Audio and Visual processing disorders and my deaf/HoH disability.
  • Asynchronous working on projects is very useful for me. I need time to cogitate, assimilate and process before effectively contributing.
  • Meetings need to be short, structured and managed to target. I also need captions and transcripts (in person and online). Please share the agendas and content in advance. Active walking or standing meetings work well for me.
  • A new tool that will be rolled out soon is helping me manage both email load and scheduling complexity. Watch out for the release of Bookings with me.
  • We can be open with our team about our preferences. We can offer alternative strategies or ask for work accommodations or Reasonable Adjustments. With manager support we can approach Access to Work, Occupational Health or WECIL.

For my processing disorders and deaf/HoH, I am provided with wireless noise cancelling headphones. These help my focus, enable me to take calls (I can’t without) and to move about while on call (Spine injury and sciatica). They also help me cope when I can’t deal with overstimulation, noise, social and emotional. Flexible and hybrid working have also been a big contributor to improving my ability to manage multiple disabilities. As well as improve quality of work and productivity. 

How everyone can help us 

Help us manage workflow demands, so we’re not trying to do everything at once.  

  • Give us clear work priorities. With clear deadlines, broken down into manageable actions and to dos. 
  • Written instructions email, Teams message etc, again clear priorities and deadlines by task. 
  • Keep group work to small groups. 2-3 is optimal and allow for asynchronous collaboration. With regular informal check-ins agreed with all team. 
  • Ensure everyone in team is aware of colleagues working preferences. Any reasonable adjustments and that this is not ‘special treatment’. Foster open and inclusive behaviours and attitudes. 
  • Be an ally and, with our permission, an advocate. Sometimes we’re not in a place when we can speak up. Don’t assume please, we need you to check with us. 

In the general work life situation, be flexible about where, how and when. Optimise your team’s creativity, happiness and therefore productivity. Give them as much control as you can, over when, where and how they work together. We are all responsible people, who want to work well, for all our benefit, so please trust us to do so.

  • External stimuli – give us the option to control our environment. In my office the lights are on sensors, they are horribly bright, and the damn sensors don’t detect me either! I’m too short, I have to wave a mic stand at the sensor in the ceiling to get it to come on in the winter evenings. I’m sure it entertains everyone passing by! 
  • Shared office spaces and hot desking. The noise levels are atrocious, painful and distracting. Give people noise cancelling headsets and cram less people into spaces. Once we are overloaded with that overstimulation, overprocessing, we shut down. At that point, we can’t even function like a computer with a single document that’s offline, we black screen. Hot desking is anxiety inducing for many disabled people. For neurodivergent people, consistency, routines, and safe spaces are crucial. Our desks are now where we spend most of our waking lives, which is an appalling thought! They need to be ours, safe, familiar, where we have set up everything to work for us. In fact, I think this is crucial for all staff and students. 
  • Motivating us – we really need to understand the purpose and meaning in our work, we need to see the value. Instructing ‘you do this’ without context will disengage us. Doing this repeatedly, leads to us leaving or rebelling. No micromanaging please. 
  • Hybrid, flexible and working from home. Working from home can give people more control over work life. Over the environmental factors that impact them. However, this is very much if their home environment circumstances allow. Those of us who have access to space and connection at home are in a privileged position. Many of us, staff and students, aren’t in that situation. Managers and team members need to agree at an individual level what works best for them. Obviously, also in the context of the job roles requirements. 

This is by no means a definitive list. I know other neurodiverse people and for other aspects of neurodiversity than processing, there are many more possibilities.  

Nothing I’ve suggested here is new or earth shattering. All of us would benefit in adapting to be more inclusive for all, in what we do and how we do it at work. 

Disability History Month 2022: Disability, health and wellbeing – Part 2

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By Ghizzi Dunlop, Learning technologist, Co-Chair of the Disabled Staff Network and UWE Accessibility Champions Network

UK Disability History Month 2022

Personal Perspectives

I’m a practical, pragmatic person, very direct. I want to ‘solve problems’. I have a very powerful internal drive for social justice, often to my own detriment 😉. Can we create inclusive ways of working together when we are so diverse? I know we can. I think most human beings can change deep rooted behaviours, if they can relate to other peoples’ experiences. Sharing our stories and what works for us is essential to achieving this. For Disability History Month 2022, UWE Disabled Staff Network will be releasing a series of interviews. These are stories from our members. You can view them with captions on UWE’s YouTube channel (link) and social media.

Sharing just a bit

Right here and now I want to share a part of my story. I have a complex mix of multiple and variable disabilities. I want to focus on an aspect I don’t view as a ‘Disability’ in the medical sense. It does mean I experience disabling barriers in the Social sense. I view it as just who I am. I’m Neurodivergent, an element of which is many Processing ‘disorders’.

I don’t like this characterisation as a ‘disorder’, it’s how my brain works. My official diagnosis states my processing speeds are 4% of the national average! Unusually I was ‘awarded?’ 30% extra time for exams (it really doesn’t help me 😉). I wonder, how do I do anything, if that’s the case?

This is how I think of it. It’s not that I’m processing too slowly. It is that I’m processing huge amounts of data. Across multiple input sources (no screening, overstimulation), in relation to multiple hypothetical possibilities. Hence the strengths in pattern recognition, spatial awareness et cetera.

I try to explain this with a very poor analogue for the human mind. Think of the different ways a computer uses its processing power. If it’s offline and working on a text document, it’s not actually processing much information or data at a time. It can easily cope with this demand on its resource. This is how I wistfully imagine neurotypical people experience processing. Clean, focused on a single task at a time. With cognitive capacity left over for other operations. FYI I’m probably totally wrong about this! 😉 After all I’m not living in their shoes.

Now think of the same computer processing a huge video in an editor package. Whilst simultaneously connected to the cloud through various systems or packages. Meanwhile, you also do browser-based research (at least 30 tabs, and 3 browsers open). You answer emails, hold Teams Meetings. You have the Chrome autocaptions on and run a Screen Reader. That computer at that point is facing an enormous demand for processing! FYI I regularly make ridiculous demands of my poor computer! This is my brain too. I try to field and process every sensory input, all the data in that sensory input simultaneously. Then like the computer, we hit blue screen or melt down, you’ll find us hiding out stimming, trying to reboot!

You, as the operator of the computer, control and make decisions about your workflows. You do this on the basis of the demand on capacity. For many neurodivergent people with processing disorders, we don’t have control of that. We are trying to do that level of processing all the time. Sounds chaotic, stressful and anxiety inducing, doesn’t it?

Flip side: it’s incredibly creative. Left field problem solving, deep and broad awareness and can be totally absorbing. You won’t be able to get my attention if I’m in hyperfocus mode at all, as my poor mum can attest.

You can help encourage the positive and diminish the negative impacts, and we can help you to do so. We need to collaborate to play to our strengths.

Disability History Month 2022: Disability, health and wellbeing – Part 1

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By Ghizzi Dunlop, Learning technologist, Co-Chair of the Disabled Staff Network and UWE Accessibility Champions Network

 UK Disability History Month 2022

Disability

Our individual disability experience very much depends on perception. Models are a way that we think about this. The medical model is the societal norm, though this is changing. It views disability as the disabled person’s problem. Their difference is the problem, it is a medically diagnosed problem. Something is wrong with them.

The difficulty with this model is that it:

(a) doesn’t recognise the disabilities caused by the way we do things in society.

(b) It defers to medical diagnosis as the only determinant of disability. What we don’t know about health, disability and medical conditions far outweighs what we do know. What we know changes as we learn more. Our knowledge and responses to health challenge are dynamic. Our learning is constant, so it is a poor model for determining disability.

UWE has adopted the Social model of disability.

The Social model says that people are disabled by barriers in Society. Not by their impairment or difference.

Barriers

  • Prevent people having the opportunity to get involved
  • Limit people from achieving the best of their ability
  • Block people from completing a task or activity completely

Physical

These barriers can be physical. Buildings not having accessible ramps, toilets or lifts.

Digital

They can be digital barriers. Websites that aren’t keyboard navigable. Documents that aren’t structured with Headings and Styles. Hyperlinks that don’t say what they are or where they will take you when you click them. Or no Alt Text for image content.

Attitudes

All the barriers so far are a consequence of the biggest cause of barriers – peoples’ attitudes. The classic example is assuming that as disabled people we can’t do certain things.

The assumptions we make, we build into what we create and how we behave in the form of barriers.

1. Assumptions we make about peoples’ bodies, physical, mental, emotional and social abilities.

2. Assumptions we make about peoples’ environment and situations, (physical, digital, social, economic).

The Social Model is a lens, that helps us to recognise barriers that make life harder for disabled people. Removing these barriers enables equality of access. It offers disabled people more independent choice and control. As disabled people, we want those capabilities as much as everybody else. We are still human beings. We want to be able to control as much of what we do in life as we can, as all people do. We do also need to be aware that not every disabled person, chooses to use the social model and that’s okay. How anyone chooses to talk about their health or disability is up to them. Listening to us is the important thing.

‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue’ – Black Male Intimacy in Moonlight

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By Izzy Aghahowa and Khadisha Massey

Screenshot from Moonlight directed by Barry Jenkins, Altitude Film Entertainment, 2016.

Barry Jenkins’ 2016 masterpiece Moonlight is a coming-of-age drama set in the ghetto of Miami. It is based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. Moonlight follows the life of protagonist Chiron at three different stages. It brilliantly showcases life as a young black man in America struggling with sexuality, masculinity and living in poverty. It is both heart-breaking and uplifting as we watch Chiron grow and develop into a young man, in many ways mirroring Juan, his protector as a child but also a drug dealer.

Jenkins expresses the importance of the black experience through Juan teaching Chiron that black people are everywhere and were on the earth first. Juan discusses when he was a child and a stranger told him in moonlight black boys look blue, which the audience then gets to visualize with shots of Chiron in the moonlight. The moonlight shot reflects Chiron being vulnerable and his true self, which the audience only gets to see when he’s with Juan or his friend Kevin.

The film also explores how black men struggle not only with vulnerability but also intimacy, their friendships as well as their relationships – often keeping other black men, especially, at a distance so as not to show weakness. The film is set in beautiful hues of blue, purple and sometimes green, often contrasted against the warmth and darkness of black skin, highlighting its beauty. Jenkins masters quiet, soulful and heart-breaking affection in this film, a thing rarely seen on screen between black men. For it to be done in such a touching and honest way is truly one of a kind. Black men deserve a variety of representation as so often they get put in a box, not being able to show the many sides of their existence. The film takes on hard-hitting subject matter with grace and beauty and puts its heart on its sleeve for all to see and witness and it does so impeccably. There is a reason why this film is still looked upon with such admiration: its representation of black men will have a place in history forever.

Further Viewing

Girlhood (2014) Dir. Celine Sciamma, available on Box of Broadcasts

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) Dir. Barry Jenkins, available on Box Of Broadcasts

Ganja & Hess: Experimental Black Horror

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By Izzy Aghahowa

Bill Gunn’s sophomore film Ganja & Hess (1973) is a strange, experimental, hallucinogenic horror filled with dread and discomfort as it follows characters down their individual paths of temptation, murder and despair. Dr Hess Green (Duane Jones) is a wealthy black anthropologist who is doing research on the Myrthians, an ancient African nation of blood drinkers. Through a series of unfortunate events, Green is faced with a journey of depravity when a curse is put upon him, meeting an unlikely accomplice, Ganja (Marlene Clark), in the process. This interesting blaxploitation film has three black main characters, which was incredibly rare in 1973. Its experimental take on the horror genre and on vampiric folklore is fascinating.

The film’s lack of music and spellbinding sequences leave you feeling very uneasy and wary of what is going to happen next. The presence of sensual black bodies in the film adds a real sense of importance to Ganja and Hess as not many films gave black men and especially black women physical autonomy or power. Ganja’s personality is compelling, as a black woman with sexual agency, commanding the scenes she’s in and with a good amount of presence in the story. It earned its place as a seminal blaxploitation film and as one of the most challenging and distinctive pieces of vampire cinema. The commentary on class and social dynamics in the film should also be acknowledged as Green’s wealth is a big part of his characterisation. His aura of pompousness and elitism is notable as it helps him mask normalcy to those around him: someone like him would be above the complications of a regular, lower-class black man. Its abrasive editing and weird, unorthodox progression of events leave a real feeling of anxiety and awkwardness, the awkwardness being increased by Green’s uncanny behaviour throughout the film. It is a must-watch black horror film with great performances from the main actors.

Further viewing:

Blade II (2002) directed by Guillermo Del Toro, available on Box Of Broadcasts

Queen Of The Damned (2002) directed by Michael Rymer, available on Box Of Broadcasts



Lovers Rock: Steve McQueen’s Ode to Black Joy

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By Khadisha Massey

Screenshot from Lovers Rock, directed by Steve McQueen, BBC1, 2020.

Lovers Rock is one film in a larger collection by Steve McQueen called Small Axe. Lovers Rock is a heartwarming and wrenching combination of music, flirtation and cruelty. It takes place at a reggae house party in 1980: the music genre gives the film its name and incredible soundtrack. The film starts by following friends Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) and Patty (Shaniqua Okwok) as they sneak out to a house party. Once they arrive, though, reggae becomes the main character, with incredible dance sequences and costume that perfectly captures the identity children of Caribbean immigrants created for themselves. The plot of Lovers Rock is loose and there is much more to focus on than in a straightforward drama.

House parties were often the safest option for black people as the clubbing scene in the 1980s was exceptionally racist. These house parties allowed a place of freedom and self-expression that was not granted to black youth in the UK. Lovers Rock shows the space that black people created for themselves, and had to fight to keep, in a country whose hostilities and prejudice were made their problem every day. The media (with good reason) likes to focus on the struggles black people face so it is refreshing to see McQueen explore other aspects of the black experience and the beauty in it. Lovers Rock is a celebration of black joy. Even in the momentary moments of darkness there is optimism and joy within the community. However, McQueen is sure to highlight the blatant racism that was unavoidable, even when black people were in their own spaces.

The other films in the Small Axe collection feature racist police officers and the corrupt legal system. Lovers Rock showcases the soul and magic that happens when white people aren’t looking and reminds people that although there is racism thriving in our environment, we must take a moment to celebrate black joy.

Further Viewing:

Mangrove (2020) directed by Steve McQueen, available on Box of Broadcasts

Red, White, and Blue (2020) directed by Steve McQueen, available on Box of Broadcasts

12 Years A Slave (2013) directed by Steve McQueen, available on Box of Broadcasts

Babylon (1981) directed by Franco Rosso, available on Box of Broadcasts

“Its Not Your Loss, Its San Franciscos”: Home, Displacement and Gentrification in The Last Black Man in San Francisco

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By Izzy Aghahowa

Shot from film, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, dir. Joe Talbot, United International Pictures, 2019.   

Joe Talbot’s excellent directorial debut The Last Black Man In San Francisco (2019) tells the true story of Jimmie Fails (playing himself), a young black man coming to grips with the loss of his family’s Victorian home, after they are forcibly relocated. It is a history many black and POC residents of San Francisco understand and have experienced. He and his best friend, Montgomery, an aspiring playwright, traverse the various landscapes of San Francisco, taking in the different sides of the city they both love and hate.

Gentrification has haunted and heavily impacted San Francisco’s black residents, causing homelessness, dislocation and, again, a disillusionment that has followed Black Americans with centuries of generational trauma and identity loss. San Francisco has had a very turbulent history, often being reformed with every new breath of residents that settle upon it, bringing about another new history, but also a very traumatizing end to one for others. In 1942, Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated from San Francisco’s Chinatown to internment camps due to Executive Order 9066, which prescribed certain areas as military zones and cleared the way for the incarceration of nearly all 120,000 Japanese Americans during the war. In neighbourhoods like the Mission and the Haight, the erasure of Latino and Black communities can be seen and felt by the residents left in those areas. The grey gentrification homes have become a symbol for San Francisco’s new affluent residents and a sign of the death of the diversity and joy of the city.

Black Americans have tried to make San Francisco their home, despite the city getting increasingly more white and middle class. The Last Black Man In San Francisco beautifully and heartbreakingly articulates the feelings of loss and a growing lack of belonging around Black communities and families within San Francisco and examines who gets to call San Francisco their home as well as the anger and frustration felt by those who had their sense of home pulled from under their feet. The film highlights these issues prevalent in the city, in a way accessible to all while having a sense of warmth and comfort throughout even with the heavy subject matter, mainly through its radiant and romantic cinematography and soundtrack.

Further Viewing:

Forever, Chinatown (2016) – Dir. James Chan, available on Kanopy

Priced Out: 15 Years of Gentrification in Portland, Oregon (2016) – Dir. Cornelius Swart, available on Kanopy

Blindspotting (2018) – Dir. Carlos López Estrada, available on Box Of Broadcasts

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In honour of Black History month, third-year Film Studies students, Khadisha Massey, and Izzy Aghahowa, are providing a series of weekly reviews capturing this year’s theme of “Time for Change: Actions Not Words.” First up is Khadisha’s review of Get Out (2017)

‘Black is in Fashion’ – Jordan Peele’s Take on Liberal Racism 

Shot from the film, Get Out, dir. Jordan Peele, United International Pictures, 2017.   

Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out (2017) is an easily accessible film that will hopefully educate white people and make them aware that not being obviously offensive and aggressive towards black people is simply not enough and is, in fact, less than the bare minimum. 

Get Out is a psychological horror film that explicitly focuses on modern racism. It was met with high praise on release, earning almost 57 times its budget at the box-office. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is a black man who travels to meet his white girlfriend’s family for the first time. Sensitive to the issues that can come with being an interracial couple, Chris makes sure her parents know he is black before setting off. Once he arrives, he immediately becomes aware of their odd behaviours but assumes they are putting on a front so as to seem okay with their daughter dating a black man. The story very deliberately progresses from relatively subtle ‘accidental’ racism to direct violence and shows the inextricable link between the two.

Peele uses gaslighting as the way in which the villains of the film degrade and ignore Chris. This gaslighting is mostly prominent through microaggressions: for example, a white person tells Chris that he is lucky as ‘black is in fashion’. Peele’s focus on microaggressions in Get Out is exceptionally topical. Whilst there are still blatant acts of violence against black people and communities, what many black people tolerate every day is liberal or ‘polite’ racism. ‘Polite’ racism is often excused by white people as seemingly innocuous. In Get Out, Chris has to tolerate people touching him without asking permission and objectifying him both sexually and physically and is then expected to appreciate their approval of his existence. The ‘compliments’ made towards Chris at the gathering are disguised as loving but are however just feeble yet accepted forms of the constant dehumanization of black people. 

Peele successfully highlights this issue in a way in which white people can understand.  

Further viewing: 

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) – Dir. Stanley Kramer, available on Box of Broadcasts 

Us (2019) – Dir. Jordan Peele, available on Kanopy 

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