Introducing Season Two of The Gaze Podcast

The Gaze, our favourite podcast on race and gender representation in cinema, is back with season two. We speak to Maya Annik Bedward and Aisha Jamal, Toronto-based filmmakers and hosts of The Gaze, about what to expect in upcoming episodes. This is Worldtown will be featuring the episodes as they’re released and you can listen to Episode One below. You can subscribe to the Podcast via itunes.

Maya and Aisha focus on Indigenous female filmmakers in season two and “discuss the creative, commercial and emotional labour of making film in Canada”. The first of their three episodes features Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, director of the critically acclaimed doc ANGRY INUK! It’s recommended listening for new and emerging filmmakers, and for anyone interested in representation in film. You can listen now.


We speak to Maya and Aisha about the podcast, being under the Gaze, and what to expect in this upcoming season. 

This is Worldtown (TIWT): How did you decide on doing this podcast?

Aisha Jamal (AJ): Maya and I would often find ourselves in social situations talking about race in film and I think we both used to get worked up over misrepresentation and all kinds of other related issues. Eventually, we joked that we should do a radio show. The joke turned into reality.

Maya Annik (MB): Aisha called me up one day and told me that we were making a radio show. I said, OK!

TIWT: Can you explain where the name came from — why The Gaze?

AJ: It’s related to the idea of the ‘female gaze’ or the ‘racialized gaze’ and the suggestion that the idea of who is looking is as important as who is being looked at. Of course it’s also a reference to Laura Mulvey’s concept of the male gaze and the idea that film (among other visual arts) primarily depicts the world and women from the male perspective. So it’s about all these references on top of the idea of fixating something with your gaze (looking at it with fixed attention). We wanna give ours to topics that we find need more attention: the experience, stories and depictions of gender and race in cinema.

MB: It’s short and to the point. I knew cinephiles would understand the reference to Mulvey’s male gaze right away, and I thought for those who were less familiar with the concept, the title would prompt them to ask the question “whose gaze?” I think it invites people to think critically of the way we look at images, culture, media and the world at large.

Maya Annik and Aisha Jamal (L-R). [Image by Sean Liliani]

TIWT: As women of colour who both work in film, you’re attuned to the most cringeworthy attitudes in the industry. Do you have an example of having to call out this bias in your work life?

AJ: I think it must be having to repeatedly answer the question: “Why would the average, middle class Canadian housewife be interested in this story?” There are so many layers of weirdness in this question when you are pitching a story about refugees or immigrants. My answer is “Why wouldn’t they be?” I guess I go meta and think about our shared humanity but [to me] what the question is actually saying is “why would a white woman with a ‘normal’ life care about your story?” URGH.

MB: The day after I finished shooting my short The Foreigner, I was at an industry event and this white, male filmmaker asked me what I was working on. I told him I had just finished shooting a film and he asked me what my role was on the project. When I told him I was the director, he looked shocked. He told me I didn’t look the part and then tried to pick me up.

TIWT: What are some of the best lessons from Season 2 of The Gaze?

AJ: I have to say personally speaking it was good to hear the struggles that these accomplished filmmakers had to endure. You can’t help but be impressed by these women, their work and their conviction. But to hear what it has taken to get to the finished product convinces you that this is a craft and you have to work at it. Your success relies a lot on tenacity when you make films about difficult subjects.

MB: Filmmaking is not easy – on any front. It will put your personal life on hold. It will make you question your ideas, your craft, and your self-worth. Many doors will close on you before one opens. Sometimes the door that closes will be one that eventually opens. It’s important to remember that no matter what, you are not alone! Filmmakers at any point in their career are dealing with these same struggles, and they persevere and make beautiful work! Season 2 left me very inspired!

TIWT: What are the podcasts and/or media heroes/sheroes that inspire you right now?

AJ: Someone recently sent me a list of podcast she thought I should listen to so I started going down the list and I got hung up on “Sooo many white guys,”  hosted by the comedian Phoebe Robinson. She interviews musicians, artists, authors and none of them are white guys! Well, that’s what she intends but then there’s Tom Hanks in the recent episode…. Regardless, hers is a fun podcast and she can be insightful so check her show out.

MB: A podcast that brought me great comfort was The Anti-casserole by local Toronto heroes Kate Fraser and Loveleen Kaur! They only had one season, but it was great.

TIWT: What else can we expect from The Gaze?

AJ: This season features three female filmmakers, all indigenous, all working in documentary.  We’re interested in the creative and emotional work it’s taken to get to where they are. Maya and I have not decided on future seasons yet but we’re talking about it. I would love to do a season on Afghans in Canadian cinema (yes, very specific but yet lots to talk about) and Maya had suggested looking at genre cinema. So we’ll see…

MB: Let’s just say, I’m all about Get Out right now. But yes, there are so many interesting topics to cover and so many great filmmakers to interview! We’ll see where our hearts and minds take us!

Welcome to the Gyallery: A Toronto Exhibit Celebrates Black Female Photographers & Black Women

By Leyla Jeyte

On April 6, 2017 Gyalcast in partnership with VICE Canada held an evening that celebrated black female photographers in Toronto and their subjects – black women.

Photographers (L-R) Brianna Roye, Setti Kidane, Martika Jabari. [Leyla Jeyte/This is Worldtown]
On April 6, 2017 Gyalcast in partnership with VICE Canada held an evening that celebrated black female photographers in Toronto and their subjects – black women. The show, called Gyallery, was inspired by the #GYALCAST, a popular Toronto collective of Black women creatives. Featuring three, locally-based black female photographers, the show centres on female black identity in Toronto. As noted by the curators “[t]he beauty of Black womanhood has influenced nearly every aspect of culture from music to politics. In spite of this, they’re rarely given proper recognition for these contributions and yet still they remain resilient. Black womxn are sisters, mothers, friends and so much more to each other and the world around them. Through the ‘Gyallery’ we will explore and showcase their power, beauty, strength and grace.”

I walked into Geary House, an event space in west Toronto, that was packed with beautiful people drinking and dancing to tunes served up by DJ Dre Ngozi @drengozi. The event sold out in one day, blowing away the expectations of the organizers and showing the need for spaces like this in the city.

As a black, female photographer myself, I appreciate what Gyalcast is doing. They are not only highlighting black female photographers, but also putting the lens on everything that black women are, uncovering layers that go beyond beauty and resiliency into what is “magical and majestic” about them. Each of the photographers had their own interpretation for black womanhood – in friendship and the intimacy within it, in celebrating the skin we live in and just how real we are in our power despite myths.

Here are some photos from the night, and the talent of the women — Brianna Roye, Setti Kidane and Martika Jabari — who brought the theme of black female identity to light through their work.

[Leyla Jeyte/This is Worldtown]
[Leyla Jeyte/This is Worldtown]
[Leyla Jeyte/This is Worldtown]
[Leyla Jeyte/This is Worldtown]
The three featured photographers Brianna Roye, Setti Kidane and Martika Jabari briefly spoke about what black womanhood means to them, and how they convey that in their work.

Roye, Kidane and Jabari pose for a selfie. [Leyla Jeyte/This is Worldtown]
Brianna Roye. [Leyla Jeyte/This is Worldtown]
Setti Kidane. [Leyla Jeyte/This is Worldtown]
Martika Jabari [Leyla Jeyte/This is Worldtown]
 

BLMTO’s Tent City in artistic context one year on from protest

By Shaghayegh Tajvidi

For two weeks in March, Syrus Marcus Ware, Melisse Watson, Ravyn Wngz and Kike Otuije were artists in residence at the Gladstone Hotel, where they created diverse artworks in contemplation of the movement for Black lives at Black Art City.

March 9: Melisse Watson (front) and Syrus Marcus Ware (back) work on illustrations hours before Black Art City’s launch [Shaghayegh Tajvidi/This Is Worldtown]
In a light-filled art hut in Toronto’s west end, artists are labouring away on their distinct pieces, hours shy of their installation’s launch. Even with the minutes ticking, everyone maintains their calm. That’s because every day for the next two weeks they’re the resident storytellers behind Black Art City at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. Over this time, their visual works will transform daily, become more pronounced, and the exhibit at large will expand. Like the artworks on display, the room too transforms into a networking hub and invites gathering. It is reminiscent, by design, of Black Lives Matter Toronto’s Tent City action exactly a year ago; a 15-day protest that took aim at an entire system of racial injustice following the police shooting of Andrew Loku.

 

Early stages of Syrus’ hand drawn portraits of local activists [Shaghayegh Tajvidi/This Is Worldtown]

“We call [the installation] a ‘meditation on the movement for Black Lives,’” Syrus Marcus Ware says. It’s “a variety of different art projects that really think about the ways we want the world to look”. He emphasizes that this is what the world without anti-Blackness could look like, as he refines the shadows of a large, intricate portrait of a local activist that is adhered to the wall.

“I ask [activists] questions about their movement building as I draw them. It’s a way to make visible their labour, and hopefully to make people curious about their organizing.”

Syrus at work hours before the installation’s open [Shaghayegh Tajvidi/This Is Worldtown]

This is the first time I am watching Syrus create art. But in 2016 we were enmeshed in very similar conversation outside Toronto police headquarters. I was covering Tent City. Syrus, a key organizer with BLMTO, was breaking down the systemic underpinnings of why racialized people continue to be profiled and killed by police.

Syrus’ opening speech on the first night of Black Art City [Shaghayegh Tajvidi/This Is Worldtown]

On this, the first anniversary of Tent City, the exhibit explores the protest’s artistic recreation. Black Art City resuscitates the ephemera from the occupation, celebrating the art and organizers who brought it to life.

A banner that reads, “Which Side of History Are You On” was destroyed at Tent City and has been recreated for the installation [Shaghayegh Tajvidi/This Is Worldtown]

I ask Syrus if he thinks anything has changed since the protest a year ago.

“We’ve seen a really public conversation around anti-Blackness,” he says without hesitation. “ We need it to be trending issue. The reality is that it’s been pervasive in Toronto for many decades, centuries really. A public conversation allows us to document and record the breadth and scope of it – that’s important. At the same time we saw the death of another black disabled woman, Amleset Haile, at the hands of police [on January 1st this year]. She was in distress. Police came, [but] within 15 minutes she was dead. The same kinds of things we were fighting for in Tent City are still pervasive now.”

Kike Otuije creates body cast art [Shaghayegh Tajvidi/This Is Worldtown]

Across the room, Kike Otuije is sculpting body casts. On a textile-clad table there is a plaster face, frozen in expression, as well as a hand with its middle finger raised.

I ask if that’s the face of someone in the community, and Kike confirms that it is.     

Body casts [Shaghayegh Tajvidi/This Is Worldtown]

Kike explains:

“It’s supposed to talk about the act of shedding. Lots of people went through a lot… because of the trauma that went on at Tent City and outside of that. Everyone gets to choose what part of their body will be cast and they get to interact with it, write about things they want to let go of.

At Tent City, there was this intense moment when Black elders came out and said, ‘We’re so happy you’re doing this, but at same time it makes me sad that you’re doing the same thing we were doing decades ago.’ That was a powerful moment for me.”

Kike pauses, “I don’t want my children to be doing the exact same thing, decades from now. We need to uplift each other.”

Melisse Watson produces digital illustrations before printing them large-scale [Shaghayegh Tajvidi/This Is Worldtown]

Metres away, Melisse Watson is absorbed in an entirely different medium. “I’m doing digital portraits of individuals who were at Tent City, either physically, spiritually, mentally. A year later, it feels like it was yesterday and it also feels like it was a long time ago,” Melisse reflects. “What I hold on to is the degree to which community was built in that space. Our relationships deepened. I want to show the different ways people can participate in the fight for Black lives. Sometimes we can be invisibilized […] I’m drawing these portraits and collecting stories from these ten individuals – mostly so they and others can see themselves as relevant, important, valid. And that their experience and participation was necessary.”

Banners from Black Tent City [Shaghayegh Tajvidi/This Is Worldtown]

“Hopefully moments of reflection are still catalytic moments,” Syrus adds, looking up from his portrait. “There’s a lot more work to be done.”

 

 

Watch this poetic documentary on self-worth and fear

 

Enough is Taouba Khelifa‘s short poetic documentary uncovering the inner thoughts of four women as they speak intimately about their inner fears, doubts and worries.

Khelifa’s film aims to visually uncover the idea of self-inflicted shame, and beautifully portrays vulnerability among these women. Khelifa describes it as “an abstract conversation between our current self and an idealized version of our self – a self we believe we can never attain.” It’s a beautiful rendering of the concept of “are we enough?” In Khelifa’s words, “inevitably, this conversation becomes the woven narrative for the film: we are enough, others believe we are enough, and deep down inside, perhaps buried behind years of doubt and layers of uncertainty, there lies a voice of power that reminds us of our worth. Yet, time and time again, shame makes us question if this voice can ever be trusted, and if we will ever really be enough.”

 


Taouba Khelifa is an Algerian-born, Saskatchewan-raised community activist, documentary photographer and freelance filmmaker, of Berber descent. She currently lives in Edmonton, and works as the Program Manager for The Green Room youth initiative. Her work in the community and in grassroots organizing has allowed her to document and tell various stories of community, people and humanity. Through her camera lens, she has had the opportunity to witness the rare glimpses of human struggle, strength and spirit. Her interest lies in using art and storytelling as mediums for enriching communities and engaging citizens.

This Pregnant Hijabi made a rap song and it’s this year’s most subversive art piece

Image c/o Mona Haydar

This week’s unexpected viral video comes in the form of a rap video by Syrian-American artist Mona Haydar. #hijabixMona is not just an ordinary rap. Haydar is pregnant and surrounded by a crew of women, also in hijab, performing a rap about: wearing hijab and existing. Through slick visuals, choreography and unapologetic lyrics, Haydar and her crew of women make the case for hijab and liberation as well as wearing hijab and just living your damn life. Although previously known for her more educational take on life as a Muslim through her project Ask a Muslim, Haydar presents a different take on being the token Muslim educator with lyrics like:

Not your exotic vacation
I’m bored with your fascination
I need that PayPal, PayPal, PayPal
If you want education

Haydar’s also about calling out haters who reject diversity. She’s celebrating Muslim women and pushing buttons of those who cherish monolithic experiences on each end of the spectrum. It’s a new way of showing the Muslim female experience to a broad range of folks. “I hoped that a pregnant woman who is obviously Muslim [and] creating art and speaking truth would inspire people and offer some levity, joy and hope,” as Haydar tells the Huffington Post. 

Watch the full video and relish the multitude of ways Muslim women express themselves. We hope to see more of this subversive feminist art. Remember, you can always PayPal if you want education.

How one photographer is changing representations of Muslim women

Earlier this month, Getty Images announced a new partnership to promote positive images of Muslim women online. Muslim Girl founder Amani Al-Khatahtbeh identified how a Google search result for “Muslim women” only showed one-dimensional stock footage. There’s a lack of creative images that portray positive representations of Muslim women and truly show the diversity of their lived experiences.

Alia Youssef, a Toronto-based photographer, saw this problem and set to solve it through her work. She started capturing images of Muslim women, from all backgrounds, in spaces that are meaningful to them. It’s as simple as showing a scientist in her lab as she prepares experiments. Or an athlete that is getting ready to train. The common feature is that all the women are Muslim, and shown in unconventional ways. Well, unconventional if you are only used to seeing tired tropes and stereotypes that completely miss the diverse experiences of muslim women’s lives, and further dehumanizes them. Below you’ll see some of the portraits that comprise Youssef’s The Sister’s Series, which will be shown at the Ryerson School of Image Arts on May 4th.

Soad, an environmental design student.

“The hearts of all humans are my nationality: a quote from the poem Jawaz Al-Safa by a dear poet to my heart, Mahmoud Darwish.” Was Soad’s answer to my question “what’s your nationality?” It gets better — when asked her what sect of Islam she is she responded, “Love”. (Alia Youssef)

In Youssef’s words:

“From pre-19th century imperialism to Trump’s Muslim ban, colonial representations of Muslim women have circulated in literature and media time and time again. These representations depict Arab women as voiceless, oppressed, demure, and helpless, essentially complete victims of their patriarchal societies. This one-dimensional image is stamped repeatedly on the bodies of every single Muslim woman, all 850 million of them, Arab or not. This “sameness” has had a part in motivating a 42% increase in the number of hate crimes against Muslim women in the past three years and has become the basis for widespread Islamophobia.

The Sisters Project counters the idea that Muslim women can be painted with one brush by humanizing and diversifying the narratives of Muslim women. The project asserts that agency and individuality is broadly present in Islam, intrinsically and extrinsically, in the everyday lives of women across the globe. The portraits that make up this project show Canadian Muslim women doing and creating, showing their abilities, and excelling on all levels in their communities. Whether a kinesiology student considering medical school, an ESL teacher who eases immigrants into Canadian life, or the program manager of Ecotrust working tirelessly to preserve the British Columbian rainforest, these women make up the fabric of contemporary Canada. This project subverts labels and false associations, counters voicelessness and lack of agency, and shows women in control of their lives.”

Amal, 22-year old Somali-Canadian

When I asked Amal how she thinks she’s perceived she responded, “To be honest, being Muslim is one thing, but being a black muslim woman is the most powerful combination of things and it scares the hell out of people.” (Alia Youssef)

Dina, 22-year old kinesiology and health science student at York University.

“I think I am perceived as if I am in a shell. I know nothing. People get surprised when they  see how well I play tennis, or that I speak three languages, or that I ride bikes, or that I sing, or that I do anything normal people do.” She wants to instead be “perceived as someone who can do anything, can speak about anything, and someone educated that knows what I am talking about.” (As told to Alia Youssef.)

Randa, Kinesiology student from Egypt.

“When I asked Randa what she thinks the biggest stereotype of Muslim women are she responded, ‘That she is severely oppressed, which is the biggest joke too. Every time I hear this I laugh, I laugh at the ignorance.” (Alia Youssef).

Sahar, 33 regulatory affair specialist in pharmaceuticals from Iran.

Sahar told me if there is on thing she knows for sure it is that, “we are nothing – everything is nothing but love.” (Alia Youssef)

Lobna, 19 year old student at York University.

When I asked Lobna how she thinks she’s perceived she responded, “I don’t think I am perceived as a Muslim woman since I’m not visibly muslim, people usually don’t guess my ethnicity, but, as a woman, I think I am more perceived on my appearance than I’d like to be. I would like to be perceived as a human being without judgemental tags, and for people to get to know the person I am instead of the person I appear to be.” (Alia Youssef)