14 Rappers, 14 Countries for UNICEF: Where are the Women MCs?

by Tom Nguyen

Dear San E and UNICEF,

I was excited to discover your music video #HIPHOPISHIPHOP – Hip Hop for the World bringing together 14 rappers from 14 countries to express the unifying love of hip hop. I love that this video was made in the tradition of the iconic song We Are The World, to bring light on an important global issue: children’s access to education. Except for the venerable KRS-One, I love that I didn’t know any of the rappers. Thanks for giving talented rappers around the world a chance to shine!

Now, I ask…where are the women? I was quickly disappointed to see that out of 14 rappers, there was only one woman, YACKO from Indonesia. Why does this bother me? While every rapper in that video is talented and deserving and I applaud each of them, I have so many reasons for why this gender imbalance in your video upsets me.

Hip hop has historically been a very unfriendly and unfair place for women and it still remains so. Misogyny, homophobia and transphobia are big problems in hip hop songs, lyrics and culture. I’m afraid your video only reinforces the exclusion of women in hip hop. If We Are The World had better inclusion of women in 1985, I’m sure we can do better in 2015.

Since you are using hip hop as a platform for children’s education and your own statistics show that girls suffer greater disadvantage and exclusion from education in so many parts of the world, wouldn’t you have wanted to represent more women as role models? If you had included more women cyphers, I think your message would have been much more powerful and inspiring in your quest for gender equality in education.

After all, you released this video during Women’s History Month and right before International Women’s Day. I think you squandered a very good opportunity to not only address the inequality of access to education, but to also give strength to the message that the ones most affected by that inequality are girls around the world. You could have shown young girls everywhere that they have the same right and ability to succeed in any male-dominated space.

However, I have faith in an organization that is doing so much to achieve gender equality. We’re far from achieving equal human rights and opportunities for one half of the world’s population and it’s critical to keep empowering girls and women worldwide. There are no lack of girls and women on the front lines of society fighting for equality and freedom every day in every part of the world, and hip hop is no exception. In many countries, just being female, queer or trans in male-dominated hip hop is defiant and revolutionary. Below are just 14 of so many countless talented female, queer and trans rappers (in alphabetical order) who are not only rapping but doing so by challenging the status quo and giving voice to marginalized communities around the world. I hope you’ll consider them in a second hip hop video.

Tom Nguyen

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Recent Film Reviews from German Currents, LA Brazilian and LA Eiga Film Festivals

by Tom Nguyen

It goes without saying that we’re pretty spoiled as film lovers in Los Angeles. Filmmakers from around the world flock here to premiere their films in Hollywood and our pleasant weather makes LA attractive for film festivals throughout the year! Some weeks when it’s not uncommon to have 3-5 different film festivals all over LA, I consider myself lucky if I manage to see at least one film from each! Our site’s film focus is on foreign and independent films and documentaries…so no time to waste on big budget Hollywood films here! Here are some excellent foreign films I’ve seen at 3 recent film festivals from 3 continents: German Currents, LA Brazilian Film Festival (LABRFF) and LA EigaFest.

Beloved Sisters (Die Geliebten Schwestern) – This period film is based on a complex love triangle between German poet and playwright Friedrich Schiller (Florian Stetter) and two sisters, utterly devoted to each other: an unhappily married Caroline von Beulwitz (Hannah Herzsprung) and the shy younger Charlotte von Lengefeld (Henriette Confurius). Taking place in late 18th century Germany, the film is an absorbing look at the mores and values of the time, particularly within the conservative German nobility and the sisters’ conflicts between marrying for security and standing vs. marrying for love. It seems that both security and love might just be possible as they both fall in love and decide to share the same man. The costumes, set designs and cinematography were excellent but I just didn’t feel the chemistry and passion in this menage à trois. It’s Germany’s official Oscar submission so we’ll see if the film manages to raise any emotions from the Academy members.

Now how about this for an international film: Dark Valley (Das finstere Tal) is an Austrian film that is a cowboy Western taking place in the Alps, with English actor, Sam Riley, playing an American named Greider. The story is already well-traveled territory in this genre: a quiet stranger rides into a small town and both the local residents and the bullies who control the town don’t know what to make of his arrival or his motives. So does the director Andreas Prochaska succeed in putting a fresh spin on a classic tale of revenge and retribution, by setting it high up in the snowy Austrian mountains? Absolutely! Everyone was perfectly cast in this film and the purposely gray, dark cinematography really brought out the beauty, harshness and isolation of the forboding mountain setting. Even though things go predictably by the numbers plot wise, fine acting, especially by Riley, Paula Beer as the headstrong Luzi resigned to her fate, and Tobias Moretti, as the head of the band of cruel brothers, kept me engaged through the end! Austria’s got a strong Oscar contender with this one!

The two films were the opening and closing films of the 8th Annual German Currents film festival, one of my favorite and well-run festivals of the year. The festival is put on by the Goethe-Institut Los Angeles and the American Cinematheque, which runs the Egyptian Theatre where the festival screened. The Goethe-Institut Los Angeles has lots of great cultural programming throughout the year, including regular free screenings of recent German cinema, so don’t worry if you missed this festival. They’re located on Wilshire near LACMA, with convenient cheap parking (which is a blessing in the Miracle Mile area) and they are also very supportive of other community programming, like the first ever International Yemeni Film & Arts Festival they hosted this past January. The Goethe-Institut Media Lounge has a vast film catalog of German film and for a small membership fee, you can rent films for free!

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Newport Beach Film Festival Film Showcases & Galas April 25-May 2

Having grown up in Orange County, I’m proud to say one of the most dynamic and well-run film festivals in Southern California and OC’s largest one is the Newport Beach Film Festival and this year’s 14th annual festival runs Thursday, April 25 – May 2. They screen an enormous amount of films in a week in many categories: Features, Documentaries, Action Sports, Shorts, Art, Architecture and Design (AA+D), Environmental, Music, Family, Youth and Collegiate. This year, they’re also partnering with the OC Music Awards to feature music videos. My favorite of the festival are the Showcases spotlighting films from different regions of the world, followed by a gala parties in the beautiful outdoor courtyard of Fashion Island in Newport Beach. These after-parties offer hordoevers  from select area restaurants, drinks by Absolut and Stella Artois, and live entertainment and are well worth the additional ticket (Discount tickets for some of them available below!). The OC Weekly has a good run-down on this year’s festival and here are the showcases: Continue Reading →

Hapa Japan Festival April 2-6

Hapa Japan Festival is April 2-6 and explores mixed race and mixed roots Japanese people’s history, identity, and representations through film, music, scholarship, an exhibit, and community activity. Come join them for a concert featuring emerging hapa artists, a comedy night at East West Players, readings by award-winning authors, a historical exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum, film screenings of great documentaries, and a 2-day academic conference at USC. Presented by the Hapa Japan Database Project and the USC Center for Japanese Religions and Culture. All events are free and you can register here. Continue Reading →