Day 4 of The Valor Project guest blogging on FAC. Our Kickstarter campaign has 7 days left!
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There it was. A side by side Zapruder film like analysis, outlining the omission of key historical figures.
Hollywood had failed to accurately portray the inclusion of key participants in a piece of history. Certainly not the first time this had happened, or the last time.
The uproar was justified and the questions mounted. “Why would they do this?” “Why did they give credit where credit was due?”
But you only have to look at the makers of the picture to realize why it was this way. They told their own story.
The film is the new movie about Cesar Chavez, directed and produced by prominent Mexican’s in Hollywood. Director Diego Luna told a Chicano studies audience, “We have to send a message to the industry that our stories have to be represented. And with the depth and the complexity they deserve.”
They told the story of Cesar Chavez, not Larry Itliong.
And other questions were raised, “Why can’t the Filipino community make a biopic about Larry Itliong?” “Why must we wait for others to tell the story, why can’t we tell it ourselves?”
“Money.” They replied.
Does the old maxim still hold truth in this day of Youtube and Kickstarter, and social media? Do we need to wait for Hollywood to tell our stories? Complex questions with undoubtedly several complex answers, but I think that there is one answer that is simpler: We must tell our own stories.
TEDtalks had a talk by African author and storyteller, Chimamanda Ngozi Aidichie, in which she talked about the “danger of a single story.” She grew up reading about characters in stories that were, “white and blue eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked about the weather” . She went on to say this:
“What this demonstrates, I think, is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story,particularly as children. Because all I had read were books in which characters were foreign, I had become convinced that books by their very nature had to have foreigners in them and had to be about things with which I could not personally identify. Things changed when I discovered African books. There weren’t many of them available, and they weren’t quite as easy to find as the foreign books.
But because of writers like Chinua Achebe and Camara Laye I went through a mental shift in my perception of literature. I realized that people like me, girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature. I started to write about things I recognized.”
To Aidichie she realized that throughout history people have been telling a single story and it has defined whole continents
“This single story of Africa ultimately comes, I think, from Western literature. Now, here is a quote from the writing of a London merchant called John Locke, who sailed to west Africa in 1561 and kept a fascinating account of his voyage. After referring to the black Africans as “beasts who have no houses,” he writes, “They are also people without heads, having their mouth and eyes in their breasts.”
Now, I’ve laughed every time I’ve read this. And one must admire the imagination of John Locke. But what is important about his writing is that it represents the beginning of a tradition of telling African stories in the West: A tradition of Sub-Saharan Africa as a place of negatives, of difference, of darkness,of people who, in the words of the wonderful poet Rudyard Kipling, are “half devil, half child.”
The single story is about power.
“How they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power. Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.”
So who holds the power when Larry Itliong is not shown as one of the key leaders in the workers strikes? Will the definitive story of him be that he wasn’t an integral part of the strikes?
Who is telling our stories? Or more importantly, why aren’t we telling our own stories?
Are we doomed to only tell the only the narratives that we can get rich benefactors to provide patronage to? Is it a zero sum game where all tales can only be told by the power of the people with the fattest wallets or can a community rally around a story and pitch in to get it told?
In my interviews with WWII veterans on thing is clear, each story, regardless of American or Filipino, is equally filled with valor, courage, horrors, and heroism. Yet, we do not honor or tell the stories equally.
Arturo Garcia of Justice for Filipino American Veteran’s gives such an impassioned plea about how equity is denied thousands of Filipino Veterans. “They fought the same war” but are denied the same rights.
There is a single story being told about WWII in the Philippines, and we need to regain it. There is a single story being told about Larry Itliong and we need regain that power. And I believe we can use platforms like Kickstarter to do it.
Yancey Strickler said this about Kickstarter on a recent appearance with Charlie Rose, “”We’re creating the culture we want to see rather than accepting the one we have.”
The mediums have changed, the gatekeepers of the stories no longer hold fast and block our way, WE may block our own way, but we have tools at our disposal that allow us to tell the stories we want to tell, create the art we want, and we don’t have to abide by what is spoon fed us. You can be a patron of the arts for $5 or $5000. With a few clicks you can share an idea to hundreds if not thousands of people. We live in exciting times.
Let’s tell our own stories.
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