Formerly held at Berkeley’s La Pena, “Queendom” came to Oakland for the first time this year. Produced by “Vinyl Mama” DJ Zita, a popular record-spinner who holds monthly residencies at the Layover, Lukas, John Colins, and Lazlo, Zita says that the series’ future—she’d produced five prior events, dating back to 2010—was up in the air, until Betti Ono’s Anyka Barber asked her to stage the proceedings at her gallery. Previous “Queendoms” had mainly been showcases of women involved in hip-hop’s four elements: rapping, DJing, B-Girling, and graff writing; this time, in addition to music and dance showcases by some fresh-faced newcomers, the proceedings also included an interactive discussion led by artist/educator Jazz Monique Hudson, as well as DJ sets by Zita and Pam the Funkstrees.

Coco Peila gets open

Coco Peila gets open

How needed are pro-woman hip-hop events right now? At the time of this writing, the blogosphere is reporting  that female rap trio PTAF has just scored a major record deal on the strength of their viral sensation, “Boss Ass Bitch,” which has clocked more than 14,000,000 YouTube views. (Yes, that’s 14 MILLION.) It’s not even worth noting the song’s lyrics, which make former Kreayshawn cohort V-Nasty look like Anais Nin. It IS worth noting that rewarding rachet rap with record deals sends out a dubious message to aspiring female artists.

Ladies United @ Queendom

Ladies United @ Queendom

More egregious evidence of the negative stereotyping of women artists can be found on popular website Bossip.com, which regularly features posts like ‘10 Greatest “Hoodrat R&B” Albums of All Time’.  These include K’Michelle (described as “flamin’ hot Cheeto soup for the hoodrat soul”), Keyshia Cole (“the face of Section 8 soul”), Fantasia (“thirsty side chick”), Destiny’s Child (“Beyonce’s finest hoodrat moments”), Teedra Moses (“hood boogery”), Monica (“classiest hoodrat of her era”), and Nivea (“Princess of Hood&B”). Even eight-time Grammy-winner Mary J. Blige gets dissed; it’s stated she’s “worshipped by an entire generation of thug love-scorned hood chicks.”

Ninja B-Girls: Mix'd Ingredients

Ninja B-Girls: Mix’d Ingredients

Dayum, whatever happened to positive representations of female hip-hop artistry, like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Monie Love, Roxanne Shante, Lauryn Hill, the Conscious Daughters, Sistah Souljah, and Mystic? Has pop culture devolved to the point where we are now living in the Age of Rachet?

Not if the ladies behind “Queendom” have anything to say about it.  The feminist-friendly hip-hop showcase was part of the Betti Ono gallery’s recent, groundbreaking “My Art, My Culture” series.  Its mission, says Zita, is to address the gender imbalance in hip-hop, uplift women involved in the culture, and “give them a platform to shine.”

Hudson’s presentation, subtitled “Who You Callin’ A Bitch?,” could have been a direct response to the rachet rap of PTAF, as well as to the ever-present misogynist sentiments voiced by male rappers. She began by examining a very disturbing audio clip from Oakland legend and hip-hop pioneer Too $hort, which purported to offer “fatherly advice” to young black men. That advice actually consisted of instructions on how to sexually abuse young girls. As $hort’s dubious words echoed over the speakers, the room’s energy level sunk, as if weighted down by an invisible stone.

Shy’an G gets open

Shy’an G gets open

Hudson followed that by addressing another misogynist meme, with a clip showing young black women replacing the last 3 lines of the rap lyric, “all I want for my birthday is a bad-ass bitch” with conscious sentiments, among them, “stop dancing to or listening to music that hurts our spirits and does not take into consideration the livelihood of black and brown children.”

The energy in the room began to rise again as Hudson asked audience members, ‘what should the role of women in hip-hop be?’ Emcee Aima the Dreamer answered: “100% leadership, responsibility.” Female rappers, she said, needed to avoid self-exploitation and “think about who’s listening?” Another woman expressed her frustration with twerking and “stripper culture.” Hudson calmly explained that these forms of expression were rooted in indigenous dance, but had become perverted by “oversexualized culture, not just oversexualization of women.”

Ladies United

Ladies United

Then Hudson asked what the role of men should be with respect to women in hip-hop. One man, who said he was a father who had come to see his daughter perform, suggested, “what we offer is a counterpoint : we address the issue… we represent that with our actions.”

Next, Hudson turned to the woman rappers in the building, and asked what their role should be in hip-hop culture. Coco Peila noted that often, “little girls don’t get a chance to cipher” like their male counterparts, and said it was important to make space for women in hip-hop and also for women “not to shout each other down, [but] build each other back up.”

Queen Latifah portrait live-painted at Queendom

Queen Latifah portrait live-painted at Queendom

The performances which followed highlighted the dynamic women bring to hip-hop culture:  dance groups Ladies United and Mix’d Ingredients’ performances veered between acrobatic B-Girl footwork and more theatrical performance art.  Interestingly, both dance crews came out in masks – Ladies United’s blue, white, and black ones suggested a multi-hued female version of Blue Man Group, while Mix’d Ingredients evoked breakdancing female ninjas.

Emcees Shy’an G, Coco Peila, and Aisha Fukushima all showed that women rappers can hold the stage without resorting to rachetness—earning applause in the process—but Fukushima took it to the next level by performing an experimental version of an Azerbaijani folk song which built up layered a cappella melodies, over which she both rapped and sang.

Aisha Fukushima gets open

Aisha Fukushima gets open

While the rest of the country seems to be finding new ways to put women—especially black women—down, Oakland is finding ways to uplift them. The correct response to rachet? As Latifah once said, “U.N.I.T.Y,”
***
It’s that time again. Time for the 12th installment of the Oakland International Film Festival . Presented by the Oakland Film Society and its Executive Director David Roach, OIFF has become a much-anticipated event, a chance to immerse oneself in the pathos, unexpected poignancy and originality of independent film.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m415YfsUBQs]

This year’s lineup looks like one of OIFF’s best ever; in addition to a highly-anticipated biopic about “Toussant L’Overture,” the leader of Haiti’s unsung slave rebellion, highlights include “93 Til,” a documentary on legendary Oakland hip-hop crew Souls of Mischief ; “Set Me Free,” a ‘hood drama’  which follows four friends through trials and tribulations of urban life; “To the Moon,” a story of Temescal neighbors bonding over sharable homegrown fruit; “Control,” about a teen’s harrowing descent into the prison-industrial complex, and “Black and Cuba,” the tale of Yale students who travel to Cuba in search of an identity outside of Ivy League prepdom.  OIFF is also showing “The Ghosts of March 21,” which tackles the controversial story of Lovelle Mixon, the ex-con who murdered four OPD officers after being pulled over for a traffic stop. And, at every program, there are shorts, quirky mini-movies which you probably won’t see anywhere else. As has been the case at the past festivals, films screen this year at multiple locations, including the Grand Lake, Berkeley Repertory Theater, Le Bal, and Geoffrey’s Inner Circle.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EyB4-9q9sw]

New this year is the “Film Market,” a networking event for directors, producers, and writers which happens Saturday (April 5) from 6pm-9pm at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle. As Roach–who’s a board member at Urban Releaf, a non-profit the author does consulting work for– explains, he felt he needed to do something to help the festival become more of a platform for cultural sustainability, networking and economic development, after noting the OIFF website was getting an incredible 18,000 hits daily.

Over the phone, Roach discoursed on his long-term strategy for OIFF, which includes events throughout the year and involving a new generation of filmmakers through BAVC and Youth Uprising, as well as the challenges of doing an independent film fest with minimal support from the city, and the importance of hosting a film fest in this city (“when you think of Oakland, you think of resistance,” he says).

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jP_hExFSclw]

It’s a challenge, he said, to program an annual indie film festival (“Every year, we almost have to start anew”), but he believes the wealth of programming offered, plus the contributions to local culture, make it all worthwhile. Showing films related to sustainability, movies that spotlight the underdog, and art which follows an alternative narrative from the mainstream view isn’t necessarily a recipe for commercial success, but it is an equation for integrity. That is precisely what OIFF has built it’s rep on, over 12 years. As Roach says, “we have a responsibility.”
***
This Week’s Picks:
Town Futurists, April 2, Legionnaire Saloon, 2272 Telegraph Ave.

Oakland International Film Festival, April 3-6, various locations

Zulu Nation Thursdays, April 3, 6pm, 1 Fam, 1606 7th St.

Sugar 2.0: New Works by Eesuu Orundide, April 4, 7pm, Solespace, 1714 Telegraph

Runway Style House Boutique Open House, April 4, 7pm, RSH, 1635 Broadway

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