Archive for Racism

Update on Slingshot Hip Hop

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on October 2, 2009 by Jack

A quick update to what I wrote below about the film ‘Slingshot Hip Hop,’: if like me you’re based in Glasgow it’s showing at the Glasgow Film Theatre on October 28th.

The showing will also feature an introduction from Jackie Salloum, the director, and Suhell Nafar of DAM. Sounds really worth making it along, perhaps I’ll see you there.

Below I’ve embedded another short film by Jackie Salloum. It’s an edited together selection of portrayals of Arabs in movies, called ‘Planet of the Arabs.’

Planet of the Arabs is a powerful 9 minute collage of racist stereotyping of Arabs in movies.Out of 1000 films that have Arab & Muslim characters (from the year 1896 to 2000) 12 were positive depictions, 52 were even handed and the rest of the 900 and so were negative. A montage of Hollywood’s relentless dehumanization of Arabs and Muslims.

‘Like a flame in the darkness of a cave,’: Hip Hop in Palestine

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on September 24, 2009 by Jack

Yesterday I finally got the chance to see a film I’ve been wanting to get my hands on for a long time, the documentary ‘Slingshot Hip Hop.’ The film documents the emergence and growth of a strong and impressive hip hop movement among the Palestinian communities, both living inside Israeli territory and in the occupied territories.

The fact that hip hop has taken root in Palestine is testament to its power as a voice for the oppressed. Few peoples in the world face the same level of violence and domination as the Palestinians, and the fact that in the midst of that Palestinian youth have turned to hip hop to express themselves and attempt to bring positive change to their situation gives me a lot of hope and pride for the future of hip hop, and what it could be capable of.

The movement in Palestine really began with a group called DAM (Da Arabian MCs). They formed in 1999, and, in a story that’s familiar from the beginning of many hip hop scenes all over the world. They originally rapped in English, with lyrics that imitated the mainstream US hip hop they’d heard.

What changed the situation for them was the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000. Ariel Sharon, leader at the time of Isreal’s right wing Likud party and a war criminal and mass murderer, visited the third most holy mosque in Islam, located in Jerusalem, in an act of deliberate provocation. This act crystallised the anger of thousands of Palestinians who had failed to see the improvements in their lives promised by the peace process. A huge uprising began, both in the occupied territories and by Palestinians living with in Israel itself.

The massively disproportionate and violent repression that followed at the hands of the Israeli military politicised and angered a whole generation that were to then turn towards hip hop as a means of resistance.

DAM come from Lyd, a town in Israeli territory, and so are part of the community known as ’48 Palestinians. Originally, pretty much all of the land now occupied by Israel was home to Palestinians. With the declaration of Israeli statehood in 1948, the Palestinians suffered what they call the Nakba, or disaster. Now, inside Israel, Palestinians are a minority who are constantly harassed and racially discriminated against.

DAM and the other rappers from ’48 talk about how they feared that Palestinians living directly under occupation would think them privileged. But in fact you get to see the discrimination they face on a daily basis. At one point Mahmoud Shalabi, another ’48 MC, is stopped in the street by a cop. When the filmmaker asks why, is it simply because he was speaking Arabic?, the cop aggressively replies “Yes!”

Following the outbreak of the intifada, DAM turned away from making pretty vacuous music in English, and towards engaging directly with their social and political situation in their own language, Arabic. Their song ‘Meen Erhabi,’ (“Who’s the terrorist?”) tackles a lot of the issues head on, and became a major source of inspiration to other MCs and artists throughout historic Palestine. Within a month of its release in 2001 over a million copies had been downloaded from the arabrap site. It has become a hit throughout the world, especially in France where there is another oppressed Arab minority, and the lyrics have been chanted on demonstrations. Musically, they fuse hip hop with Arabic percussion rhythms, song and poetry, and they clearly have a great love for Arab literature.

We see DAM doing more than just rapping about their politics as well, leading demonstrations against house demolitions by the Isreali military and going to a children’s camp to talk about Palestinian history and identity. As they tell an interviewer on Israeli TV, they believe they need to be in the streets, and politically active.

Watching it, I thought it was particularly interesting how, yet again, oppressed people around the world look to the US and the struggle of black people to what they themselves are going through. As one of the members of DAM, Tamer Nafar, puts it:

“Hip hop is a weapon, and depending where you come from it will have a different velocity. If you come from Beverley Hills, its like a water gun, ta ta ta. If youre from Compton its like BAM!”

DAM also take a progressive attitude towards other issues besides just the occupation, as we see from their support for female MCs and singers. Women have been prominent with in the Palestinian hip hop scene from early on, and some have faced sexist attitudes with in their own society as well as from the occupation. This has led to some being threatened from their own families attempting to intimidate them out of performing.

However, what comes across is that, both as performers and a participating audience, women are far more involved in Palestinian hip hop than many other scenes around the world.

Tamer Nafar was really on point again when he says:

“Today the Arabs face the most discrimination. Palestinians even more. Plus the difficulties in our own society. What could be tougher than that? And who gets it worst? A woman. An Arab woman. Doesn’t get tougher than that.”

The women featured in the film are really impressive vocally, and their music definitely shows the influence of more traditional Arab song. One artist in particular, Abeer, really had a story that blew me away. Abeer was sacked from McDonalds for speaking Arabic, and went on to successfully sue them for discrimination. In her home town of Lyd she helped found a youth club to try and give Palestinian youth somewhere to break the monotony and boredom in a town where there’s nothing to do and no support from the state. And as an artist she’s really talented. Since the film was made she’s emigrated to the USA, and is still recording. Here’s a video of her performing in Baltimore:

My personal favourites in the film though came from a place that recently has suffered the worst brunt of the occupation: Gaza.PR (Palestinian Rapperz) are brilliant. They had a really engaging flow even for a non-Arabic speaker, and when you see their lyrics in translation in the film they’re really powerful.

PR are from the Gaza Strip, and at the time of filming had never been allowed to leave by the Israeli authorities. For those that don’t know, Gaza is a strip of land surrounded by the Israeli wall, and filled with Israeli military bases and checkoints. In this gigantic open prison 1.5 million Palestinians are incarcerated and kept under siege. It’s extremely difficult to leave.

The Israeli wall

Mohammed from PR tells of how he decided to become an MC-during the second intifada he narrowly escaed death when he turned just in time, meaning an Israeli bullet hurt his arm rather than penetrating his heart. At the time he was listening to hip hop, and in his own words he “started to think about another way to resist.”

In the film, PR’s greatest dream is to be allowed to enter the other parts of Palestine and meet DAM and other members of the Palestinian scene.

Although they have never been able to meet in person, like so many other places in the world they embrace new technology to break through state barriers, staying in touch with other groups by phone and internet. The fact that in a place so besieged as Gaza digital technology can help break down walls and segregation is obviously very positive.

What ‘Slingshot Hip Hop’ brings home is that in many parts of the world, hip hop is the natural expression for opressed youth. The Palestinians in the film identify with the struggles of the oppressed in the US, and want to use their voices to try and bring about positive change to their situation.

Their successes in doing that are proof of the ongoing social power of hip hop as a movement, something that movements for progressive change in the US and UK have barely scratched the surface of.

Nigeria bans ‘District 9’

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 20, 2009 by Jack

Over at the Leftfield blog, where I also sometimes post, I recently put up a review of District 9.

The long and short of it was that I thought a great action/adventure/sci-fi movie (the only thing that really stands up to it to have come it this year genre-wise was the brilliant Moon) was seriously marred by some pretty heavy racism. The film is about a group of aliens whose ship gets stuck hovering over Johannesburg. The aliens then are forced to live in a segregated, disgusting slum, under the control of an archetypal evil corporation and their paramilitary mercenaries.

The real problems arise from the sub plot about Nigerian gangsters who have taken up residence to exploit the aliens. They are portrayed as thuggish and savage, which on some level you can excuse as a portrayal of gangsters. What crosses the line is that, in their desperation to gain control of alien technology, the Nigerians turn to “witch doctors” and eat the body parts of the aliens “to gain their power.” On top of this we’re told that they operate prostitution rings, with Nigerian women servicing the aliens sexually.

The portrayal of black people as cannibalistic, sexually voracious savages repeats all the worst stereotypes perpetuated by Hollywood for over a century now. It’s also really disappointing because I was looking forward to the film not only as a blockbuster, but perhaps as well as an intelligent allegory about Apartheid and its aftermath in South Africa. However, the ability of the film to tackle these issues is pretty fatally undermined by its racist depiction of actual black people (as opposed to allegorical alien ones.)

Now its emerged that the Nigerian government is furious about the portrayal of Nigerians in the film. Information Minister Dora Akunyili has asked cinemas to stop showing the film and has demanded an apology from producers Sony Entertainment. The government are also unhappy that the gang’s leader’s name closely resembles that of former President of Nigeria Olesegun Obasanjo.

Former Nigerian President Olsegun Obasanjo not amused by his name being used for a savage gangster. And yes, I couldnt get a picture of the actual character in the film so I used him instead.

Former Nigerian President Olsegun Obasanjo not amused by his name being used for a savage gangster. And yes, I couldn't get a picture of the actual character in the film so I used him instead.

“We have directed that they should stop public screening of the film,” said the Minister. “We are not happy about it because it portrays Nigeria in bad light.”

“We have written to the producer and distributor of the film, Sony Entertainment, expressing our displeasure and demanded an apology. We have asked that the areas where Nigeria and Obasanjo are mentioned should be edited from the film.”

Personally, I still really enjoyed a good portion of the film, although I felt let down by its rehashing of typical movie racism. It’s good to see Nigeria standing up against it, although I think banning the film might be going a bit far. It is certainly fair that Nigerians should expect an apology, and there’s also a Facebook page now called ‘Nigerians offended by District 9.)

The Minister also said that the government is trying to get the indigenous Nigerian film industry (which some reckon is the third largest in the world after the US and India, and which I intend to post about later) to help portray the country in a better light.