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Whitewashing 101

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04/04/2017 – Until yesterday, it hadn’t crossed my mind that I would be writing about whitewashing. After a prod from a friend on Facebook, I realised how frustrated and desperate I was to talk to someone about this. The internet is noise pollution – bigotry and ignorance run amok. It can be really tough to hear your own thoughts and conscience most of the time. Which is where the danger lies.

The topic of whitewashing fits into the ongoing discourse on equality and ethics. But let’s keep it simple by using a Q&A structure. This is the only way I can get my thoughts across and make them as easy to comprehend as possible. As my interest is in film and cinema, I’m going to focus on whitewashing in this art form, but this can be seen in many other situations or industries as well.

QUESTION: What is the line between whitewashing and fiction? If fiction is imaginary, can’t we imagine a white person in any role?

We can.

QUESTION: So if we can imagine, why can’t we actually portray them on the big screen without being white shamed?

You can, but you shouldn’t.

QUESTION: Why not?

The cinema industry and our focus point, Hollywood, is built on pumping out expensive productions. It’s a business. It’s all about money. There are directors, writers and actors that work within this system that do care about art as a form but – this is a huge but – they are still working within the system and therefore, shape the way we think. Once you have the power to shape people’s minds, thoughts, imagination and social conscience, you automatically have the responsibility to be ‘responsible’.

The Great Wall

The Great Wall

Let me elaborate. For years, races and nationalities of all kind have been part of Hollywood productions. Focusing on acting, we’ve seen everyone on the big screen, all colours, all religions, and all accents. How many of them have been the heroes though? To date, the Hollywood system that is all about churning out glorious and escapist entertainment, has utilised non-whites as cannon fodder and stereotypical shortcuts to further profit. They have the ability to promote their films on all media forms, therefore entering our lives on a daily basis. Once you have this amount of power, you have an ethical duty to yourself and to the people of the world to ensure a somewhat balance between what is on offer.

QUESTION: What balance is this you talk about?

Well, let’s start from the mainly white people we see on our screens. They kill the bad guys (usually non-white), save the world (mostly from non-whites), and get the girl (probably much younger than her saviour). This sends out a certain message to our synapses and psyche, that this is ‘right’ and ‘how things should be’. Imagine being subjected to this for over 100 years. It becomes the norm, we unconsciously accept it as normal.

It’s the same thing when females aren’t offered the same level of work as men or why we have stereotypical comic relief roles for certain nationalities with ‘funny’ accents. The more you are subjected, your perception of how the world operates shifts as well.

QUESTION: Okay, but they are pushing this agenda too much, to the extent that it’s everywhere. You can’t just make every famous character a female or every action hero an Asian.

You can.

QUESTION: You can’t! Can you?

Of course you can! We are all human beings, with two eyes, two ears, a nose and a mouth. Our main concern in life, for the majority of us, is to get a job, get married, have kids and ignore our mortality for as long as possible.

If we’ve had years and years of dominance of white characters, why can’t we now have the opposite? How else are we going to achieve equality if we don’t understand or emphasise with how much the other half has been oppressed, and removed from the ‘norm’? Of course the media will write controversial articles about white-shaming. They have also been under the illusion of Hollywood and mass media. We fear what we don’t know or don’t understand. In a world where we scroll easily past mass murder stories in Syria and Iraq, it’s no surprise that we get agitated when ethics and morality gets thrown in our face. We feel guilty. Our sense of truth is being questioned. The natural instinct is to fight back with what we know and believe in.

ghost-in-the-shell

The norm versus the other

To promote and fight the allegations of whitewashing prior to the release of the US remake of ‘Ghost in the Shell’, there were street interviews with the Japanese public in Japan. They were shown footage of Scarlett Johansson kicking arse, and then asked if they believe she was a good choice.

QUESTION: Did they see it as whitewashing?

Nope. They actually liked her.

QUESTION: Then, what’s the big deal? If they can state this for an original Japanese production, why can’t we cast an American actress?

Remember how I mentioned that seeing white people (mainly men) on our screens, shapes the way we think and affects the way we perceive reality? Hollywood is a global phenomenon – it doesn’t only affect the US but has global implications. Its world view therefore is the aforementioned norm, we unconsciously accept it as normal.

So how can we expect the public of Japan to make an independent choice, without complying with years of external stimuli?

We can’t.

QUESTION: So… what then?

ANSWER: The only way to counter-balance years of work by a huge money-churning industry, is to start doing the opposite, to start demanding the opposite, and to start asking for more of the ‘other’. The ‘other’ being everything but the ‘norm’.

what if?

what if?

More opportunities have to be given to other nationalities, races, religions, and they should be our heroes and love interests. Females can also save the day and choose who they want to end up with. Yes, Scarlet Johansson is a great actress and she can pull off this role. But many other Asian actresses can as well! The same goes for Finn Jones and Iron Fist. Why not cast a non-white actor, and be part of change, a change that will play a small but important role in hopefully one day providing equal opportunities to everyone?

So, when you have the urge to complain ‘that’s white-shaming’ upon reading another media story about casting an Asian actor, stop and take a deep breath.

Ask yourself, ‘why not?’

The 11 year old mature me

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30/09/16 – When I was 11, I remember receiving the best compliment a young boy could get. When this boy, who was extra thin, wore glasses and had braces on his teeth, heard this compliment, he knew he was doing something right. He automatically became better than any of the other boys of the neighbourhood. Different than any of the other boys from any other school. The compliment was simply this: “You are mature, unlike the others”. Coming from someone I liked (liked in that special way a boy likes a girl way out of his league), this meant the world!

Prior to that, while I was still in primary school, all my classmates wanted to be older, drive a car, ride a motorbike. But I clearly remember my preference of not to. Life was perfect, I was happy. I’m a kid. I won’t get these years back. Why change it? Mature thinking, right?

Then came the early 20’s. I was sure of my mature self, of my clearly defined character and of my ‘all-understanding’ personality. So it’s interesting that during my 20’s, I changed the most. I don’t mean one slowly evolving character change. I mean multiple variations over the course of 10 years, where I kept on thinking I’ve reached the ‘definite’ me. I’ve told friends “I now know who I am” on multiple occasions. What I haven’t apparently learned is that surprises are always around the corner and those surprises usually suck big time. Unexpected events shock your core and zap you back into perspective of how little you know yourself.

I guess being an adult and all, it’s normal at this stage for these changes to increase. You now have responsibilities, the future becomes unavoidable and the sway of the reproductive organ gains the power to temporarily blind you, and common sense simply takes unpaid leave. At age 30, the questions have now changed to “will I know myself?” and “Is there a definite me, and if so, when is it going to show up?”. To ramp up the philosophical debate, “Is there a need for a ‘definite’ self?”. Can’t we, constantly renew ourselves, adapting to each scenario, keeping it fresh as they say, living life one experience at a time?

Personally, I love a structure. I love a well-planned life style. I cherish being part of a team. I adore a duo working in unison with each other. As I analyse this defined structure which also defined me, I once again found myself at this seemingly-inevitable loop of change. Like an innocent, unwanted new born baby, I was at a doorstep of a stranger and scared of who was on the other side.

“Knock knock”
“Who’s there”
“Waaaaaaaaaaaa”
“Fuck…”

Lately, I’ve had the chance to think, a lot. Analysing and over-analysing structure and deconstructing the notion of ‘self’. Reading a book like ‘The Dice Man’ perfectly encapsulates the sad dilemma of how to live a life without soul-crushing structure. It makes me realise, as human beings, how fragile we actually are. And somehow, I ended up thinking about that compliment I received at age 11. “You are mature, unlike the others”. Was that the only time I was really, truly, mature? Who was I?

maturity

storytelling and connecting

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18/10/15 – Autumn has arrived. Its golden aura, surrounding most of us with a feeling of being down and miserable. Not me. I never have been a season person, not one of those “I need the sun” addicts. I guess 16 years of Cyprus does that to a person. I’ve had my fair share, so I can deal with moody weather for the rest of my life.

Title screen

Title screen

What I’m trying to say is that, weather never has dictated my mood. Working three days a week and the other four being devoted to myself is what makes me feel good! Part-time bitches!

You see, I’m at the stage of editing my film. Just watching the progress of it getting shorter yet more concise, and therefore becoming a more coherent and watchable piece of work, is a gratifying experience. Only three months ago, I had just completed the production of ‘Weekend’. A small cast and crew worked endlessly to film my script to the best of their capabilities. It’s a very weird feeling to return back to normalcy after such an extreme schedule of concentration and long hours of production. But it’s done, it’s really really done.

still from 'Weekend'

still from ‘Weekend’

‘Weekend’ is a film that uses the cypriot landscape not just for aesthetics. It’s a land of tradition but also a land of ever-going change. Therefore I believe that international audiences, if given the opportunity, will feel certain familiar aspects to their own lives as well. But in the end, who knows if anyone will really connect with the story or appreciate the nuances that we hope they, the audience will get? Or maybe, there isn’t anything to get? Art is subjective, some will find meaning where others will find a blank canvas. Some will interpret a blank canvas according to their own life experience and fill it with philosophical and psychological subtext. I can only hope to reach hearts and minds that are willing to go along with me on this journey. Liking or disliking is secondary compared to connecting; once you connect, a discussion can be held on the film itself. That’s what I hope to achieve.

still from 'Weekend'

still from ‘Weekend’

‘Weekend’ coming to life – Part two

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14 shot1

14. EXT.HASAN’S HOUSE-BACK GARDEN.DAY

FATMA(60) is kneeled down, watering the vegetables with a
hose pipe. She turns her head as she realises someone is
standing behind her and sees Hasan looking at her. Fatma,
slightly hunched, stands up and wipes her wet hands on her
clothes before walking towards Hasan.14 shot2

14 shot3
FATMA
Welcome, my son.

Fatma holds Hasan’s cheeks and kisses them, then embraces him.

FATMA
You really came.

HASAN
I did mother.

*storyboards courtesy of Alasdair Bayne, storyboard artist on ‘Haftasonu’ (Weekend)

‘Weekend’ coming to life

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10 shot1
10. EXT.HASAN’S HOUSE.DAY

The car parks in front of the house. They both get out.
Hasan grabs his bag from the boot. They hug.

IRFAN
I’ll see you tomorrow then.

Hasan nods. Irfan gets in the car and drives off. Hasan
turns his head to the house in front of him. A white
walled bungalow with visible signs of restoration made
over the years with a small garden and patio at the front.
On the side, there is a small dirt path of the driveway
leading to the garage. Hasan lifts the squeaky handle of
the gate and enters.

10 shot2

11. EXT.HASAN’S HOUSE-PATIO.DAY

An old WOODEN CHAIR is on the concrete part of the patio.
Hasan looks at it, then walks past it towards the open
front door.

11

*storyboards courtesy of Alasdair Bayne, storyboard artist on ‘Haftasonu’ (Weekend)

Identifying the stain

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26/10/14 – I have to say, I was hesitant at first. I had already did my fair share of travelling in the past 9 months and took some unpaid time off from my day job so I wasn’t jumping with joy with excitement when I received the email saying I had been accepted to attend a screenwriting workshop in Lithuania. It took me some time but in the end, I decided to go. ‘Weekend’, my short film written to be shot in Cyprus had been selected on the basis of its synopsis. As it’s been my passion project since I conceived of it back in 2010 and following failed attempts to shoot in 2012 and 2013, I didn’t have much to lose. Well besides the tuition fee.

I was very happy with the script which I had written 10 drafts of, the most I have ever written for any script. All I wanted to attempt to change was taking out the role of the children. The narrative had elements of abuse which I knew were gonna be hard to achieve on a island like Cyprus. It’s still a sore subject that pre-production came to an abrupt stop due to parents not wanting their children to be a part of a project that talks about this kind of a sensitive subject.

My acreditation card

My acreditation card

So once I reached Lithuania and the small resort town of Druskininkai, it was hard to hear from the tutors that I would need to do a lot of more changes than just that – the core of the film would need a major overhaul. It took me a day or two before I got used to the idea that I would need to open my mind to the various feedback that I was getting. “Make it more personal” and “Write what you know” were the two points that were repeated many times. This can be hard especially when you are so passionate and protective of something you believe you know the best – your idea.

Druskininkai

Druskininkai

After day two, I managed to think of it as an alternative version and start writing a synopsis around this new universe. Same characters, similar structure but a more real and grounded approach. By the time I reached day five which was the final day, I had completely removed all the child roles and reshaped the core relationship of a father and son into something more relatable and definitely more Cypriot. It became the definitive version.

hanging out

hanging out

You see, I’ve never really made a proper film in Cyprus. Actually, I’ve only ever directed one short which I can kinda show to anyone else. But this one has always been very clear in my head. Not in the sense of narrative but in feeling and mood. I want to tell the story of the people of Cyprus. I want to talk about the generation gap, the different ideologies, the pressure of growing up and becoming an adult, not living in the shadow of someone and the plain fear of “where do I belong?”. Identity is the key word in this short script. “What does someone do if they can’t identify themselves in a familiar environment?”

Participants of the workshop

Participants of the workshop

During our lifetime, we see change all around us. Friends appear and disappear, family members come and go, some die. Sometimes we don’t realise the changes around us and sometimes we hope that things will change. But there are moments when you know that no matter what happens, nothing will change. Some stains can’t be removed. Hmm, maybe I should put that on the poster? 🙂

So I returned to London, inspired and ready to get back to writing. I thank all the great writers and directors, both the tutors Jan Fleischer and Angeli Macfarlane and the organisers of InScript for creating this environment. You gave me hope at the most perfect time.

T

Moving on with a load of memories

6/7/14 – The concept of returning back to familiarity has always fascinated me. Looking upon something which once ignited a certain feeling and remembering the visual, the smell, the texture and how it straight away brings you to a moment we experienced. It makes the past ever so more real – it proves it actually happened. Yet, nostalgia usually has a negative connotation in the sense that it evokes the limitations of humanity. We aren’t able to relive any moment in our lives a second time; each one is unique. As we grow older, those very special times in our lives become distant and hard to replicate.

Due to being half Cypriot, I have the compulsory ‘responsibility’ to complete my military service, serving my country as each male citizen has to do. All that bull aside, I’ve found myself again on the small island of Cyprus, which I lived between the age of 6 and 22.  As I stepped into my bedroom, what struck me was the unlived nature of its current state. All the walls had been painted, posters taken down, furniture moved around, a new lamp shade, a new clock and some new wallpaper. My room also has a very interesting cupboard which was the main reason I had chosen this room long ago when I was 6 – a walk in cupboard. A small playground of my own. It had stored all my notebooks from my school years, my various Nintendo consoles, boardgames, puzzles… Luckily they are still there, stored away or in neat piles. The walls are bare though, showing no evidence that they were once covered in stickers of the series Baywatch or World Cup ’94. No photo exists of the interior of this cupboard, only what lives on in my memory and the memory of the ones who once entered it. Although it may not seem significant at all for a stranger, for me it meant the world.

90s kid

90s kid

Memories mean everything for me. I have always been one who thinks about the past and hopes to be able to grasp it one more time. Even as I enter the final years of my 20’s, each dream at night takes me back to a combination of my friends who I used to play with at primary, secondary or high school as we try to avoid the many disaster scenarios my brain likes to conjure. So when I found a section in my bedroom that hadn’t been painted over, a piece of my childhood and puberty that still existed, a giant smile on my face appeared, followed by laughter. This was indeed the same room I grew up in but just like me, had become mature, more understanding of how the world works and more in peace with himself.

You see, I used to write under the window sill. A word or two every couple of months or each year. The window sill itself isn’t very long at all so I had to be very precise on what I decided to write. It wasn’t going to be expressing deep thoughts about the world and it was certainly not going to be any mathematical equations that could rival the String Theory. It was going to be exactly what a stupid teenager who was fighting every single hormone in his body to act like a grown up was going to write. Love, computer games and football. The difference with me was that I always (and I still do) add the date and sometimes the time on.

An entry in 2003 (day and month not visible due to fresh coat of paint) states excitedly that “I’m growing up!!!” By entering the exact date, in my mind I have a proof that this exact moment took place and it will exist forever within this marking. It’s a weird fixation I have with the past and the time passing – even when I play scrabble, I tend to note down the date and time above the players name. It’s kinda emotional, as I now have papers with the time and date of when I played with my granddad who has now passed away.

Rectify

Rectify

Another entry under the window sill entered on 7 June 2003 at 23:42 simply says “I’ve gotten my final school report and school is over sob sob”. My high school years were over and I would never be a kid in that sort of environment ever again. Ever since primary school, my friends wished to grow up whilst I preferred for time to stand still. Maybe that’s why I included dates and times everywhere, wrote under the window sill and was affected so much by my now new looking bedroom. All of that is my childhood which I will never get back and seeing them disappear also is a bit sad. But then again, growing up is maybe just that right? Moving on with a load of memories.

ps. For a more quality look on how time passes or being lost in time, Rectify is quite an interesting tv series on this subject.

A splice of Poetry

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24/8/13 – I remember writing a version of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ around the age of 5 or 6 at school. I can’t entirely remember if it was a word for word copy of the original story or an iteration of my own mind. What I do remember is my mother telling me that I should be a writer, a storyteller. Somehow that must have stuck with me, as over the years I’ve written so many short stories, some which I have been lucky enough to see on a cinema screen, acted out by actors, with accompanying music and even credits. But I’ve also, like many pubescent younglings, dabbed my pen on an empty piece of paper and wrote some poems!

Poetry has entered my life from time to time, normally when I’m really down or super in love(or both). The ones from early teen years are embarassingly cheesy and very direct whilst the later ones, at least, have a richer vocabulary. I thought it would be fun to compare one of my earliest works written when I was around 11 with another I wrote in 2009, which to this day, I still like a lot. Keep in mind that the earlier poem was written in turkish so the one below is a translated version. I will do my best to keep the cheesiness intact.

YOU

If I could,
All my life,
I would look into your beautiful green eyes.

Seeing you,
Listening to you,
is the biggest reason
for me to lose myself.

I’m alone without you,
I’m by myself without you,
I’m searching for you, where are you?

cheese

I was deeply in love, on the verge of obsession and knew that this person was the one for me and anyone else would not be worthy of even comparing to this platonic relationship. I did mention I was 11 right? Let’s try the next one, written at the age of 23.

THE SOURCE

One needs respect in times of dire
So long a soul can wait in despair
The Giving Hand has clenched it’s fist
To deprive, starve, kill…

One becomes inanimate and too weak to be
As the candle melts, so does the light to see
Neverending dilemma takes it’s toll
To chant, taunt, tease…

One flows throughout the shivering current
Heavy and timid as the wreath swirls
Source of fruition ends it’s journey
To hate, cry, die…

Never hopeful, ever so there
Blind eye opens, catching the lair
Seeking truth, although no share
Upon it shines, meet me there..

dis-turtle

I remember writing the lyrics for this, kinda making up the words and then searching for similar ones I could use instead. It’s hard to be objective but I really like this poem. It sounds angry but beautiful at the same time. I guess it could work better as a song for Metallica, ala Fade to Black or Nothing Else Matters. I would like to think that anyway…