april 28: day of mourning for workers killed and injured on the job

April 28 is the Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the Job. 

The canary is a potent symbol and a powerful reminder. 

This tiny, fragile bird was the only thing that stood between miners and a suffocating death. The world over, workers are little more than canaries in their own workplaces.

No worker should ever be killed or injured because of work, yet it happens on a regular basis. The pandemic has put the spotlight on the many dangers that workers face every day -- but it hasn't led to employers or governments bringing an end to dangerous practices. In Canada and the US, a huge percentage of workers don't even have access to paid sick leave. And the pandemic has only extended the long reach of precarious work.

When workers do not have guaranteed work, or don't get enough hours, or earn too little to survive, they are much less likely to speak up about unsafe working conditions. Employers know this. In the precarious workplace, all too often there is scant attention given to health and safety standards.

Privatization of services also causes workplace injuries and death, as companies — with no public oversight — cut corners to squeeze more profit out of services that should not be generating profit.

Understaffing also causes injuries and deaths, as workers are required to do work previously assigned to two or more workers.

Working alone has become commonplace in many fields. Working alone means there is no one to administer CPR, to help if an accident happens, to call for help if there is a violent confrontation.

Injury and death on the job are not merely "accidents" or "tragedies" that just happen. All too often, they are the result of precarious work, austerity measures, and privatization. All too often, they are preventable deaths.

On April 28, the Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the Job, we should pause to mourn our losses and renew our commitment to ending such tragedies. 

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In 2020, 173 workers in B.C. lost their lives to workplace injury or disease. Join us in honouring their memory on April 28. 
BC Federation of Labour Day of Mourning website


the concept of intersectionality: what it is, what it's not, why we need it

Image: Women Friendly Cities Challenge
After the recent, horrific murders in Atlanta of eight people, six of whom were Asian or Asian-American spa workers, there was a lot of discussion online about the nature of these killings. Were they acts of anti-Asian hatred? Were they acts of misogyny? Were they motivated by the hatred of sex workers, as evidenced from the shooter's statements? 

Is there another choice, all of the above? 

This is where the concept of intersectionality comes in. This word was likely in use for many years before I first became aware of it, in around 2015. I am usually quite late to language changes, so we can assume it was in use among activists far longer than that. 

Like most words used by theorists and activists, as intersectionality has slowly drifted into common parlance, it is often misused and misunderstood. Eventually it will be -- or perhaps it already has been, who can keep up? -- co-opted by the right-wing to mean something else entirely.

A friend shared this post about the meaning of intersectionality by Mary Maxfield. Maxfield credits the article "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics" by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw. She also references one of the earliest uses (possibly the original use) of the word, by the Combahee River Collective, a pioneering group of Black feminist scholars. I found some accessible explanations, including video of Kimberlé Crenshaw, on this website: Women Friendly Cities Challenge.

I find Maxfield's post a powerful, elegant explanation in plain language of a concept that is both simple and complex.
When I first learned about Kimberlé Crenshaw's concept of intersectionality, I misunderstood it. I misunderstood it for years, until I started teaching it, and my students started to parrot back my misunderstanding, and then -- as things often do when you teach them -- something new clicked. I want to say a little bit about what I got wrong and what I’ve since come to understand because I think intersectionality is crucial for actually conceptualizing and articulating events like the racist, misogynistic murders in Atlanta. And I don’t believe we can fight or heal what we can’t understand or articulate.

So. When I first learned about intersectionality, I thought the concept was this: Each of us come from a particular standpoint, which is the intersection of our various identities: our race, gender, dis/ability, sexual orientation, class, etc. Because various forms of oppression (like racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and classism) play out across these identities, we all have different experiences of privilege and oppression based on where we stand. For example, some of us—myself included—experience sexism. Some of us—myself included—experience sexism and homophobia. Others experience sexism and homophobia and racism. Still others experience sexism and homophobia and racism and ableism and transphobia and fatphobia and classism... you get the idea. My understanding of intersectionality was that some of us have a burden and some of us have more burdens and that this is important to remember.

I think of this now as the "additive" model. Each new -ism adds on the ones before it, compounding the experience of oppression. At its best, the additive model is useful for remembering that not everyone's experience is like our own, for understanding we all experience some forms of privilege and some forms of oppression, and for keeping in mind that liberation and social justice are never (and can never be) single-issue struggles. But the additive model also sets us up for what people before me have called the "Oppression Olympics" -- the ranking of different experiences to decide who has oppression the worst, who wins Most Oppressed in the grand arena of awfulness that is our world. This is, for starters, not necessarily the best basis for building empathy, coalition, and solidarity. It is also, and maybe more importantly, actually impossible to calculate. Who's more oppressed? A Black disabled immigrant or a Native lesbian? Spoiler alert: there's no answering questions like that. And it's not super useful to ask them.

It's also not intersectionality. Because intersectionality isn't only or even mostly about about how oppressions add onto other oppressions (or privileges add onto other privileges). In other words, it's not about (or just about) what it's like to struggle with this AND that. It's about what it's like to struggle with the place where THIS and THAT are so interwoven that you can't actually tell them apart. It's about how multiple forms of oppression are experienced simultaneously in ways that make them INEXTRICABLE from each other. In the middle of the 8th/ Pine intersection, you can't say whether you're on 8th or Pine. You're on 8thPine -- it's both, it's more than both, it's mixed. Crenshaw argued that the intersections of oppression are like this, that Black women experience racism and sexism in a way in which you can't parse out where one stops and the other begins. The racism changes the shape of the sexism and the sexism changes the shape of the racism. And what's left is a particularly racialized form of misogyny and a particularly misogynistic form of racism that targets Black women, specifically.

It's like this: When we're taught about sexism and feminism in predominantly white institutions, we learn that women are stereotyped as weak, in need of protection, and kept at home. But this is really only true for white women. If we think about sexism centering Black women, we come up against entirely different (and in some cases straight-up opposite) stereotypes: the strong Black woman, the loud aggressor, the laboring Mammy who never got the chance to stay in the home with her own damn kids in her life. And if we look at Asian-American women we're met with entirely different stereotypes, including the sexualized stereotypes that are already being used to justify or dismiss the murders in Atlanta. Sexism looks different and operates differently for AAPI women, Black women, Latinx women, and Native women because of the ways it's racialized. Sexism against white women is also racialized, but in ways that go unmarked. We (white women) find our experience generalized to stand in for "what sexism looks like." But it's not. It's what sexism looks like for white women. And the point isn't to try and figure out whose version of sexism is most heinous. The point is to try and understand how sexism is operating against different populations of women so we can begin to fight for all women. This isn't "just" about sexism, obviously, or even "just" sexism and racism. Crenshaw was writing about the experience of Black women, but her point applies more broadly, across the different axes of identity, including ability, sexual orientation, size, etc. It also applies to other women of color, including AAPI, Native, Latinx, Middle Eastern women and others.

It's also not just about stereotypes (like the ones I used as an example above). Crenshaw is a legal scholar and she coined the term intersectionality as a challenge to one particular social institution: law. She laid out this framework as a specific challenge to the limitations she saw in anti-discrimination law, namely its failure to protect Black women. Basically, she pointed to particular court cases in which Black women weren't allowed to sue for sexist discrimination because their experience was racialized (not the "universal" experience of sexism applied to white women) and weren't allowed to sue for racist discrimination because their experience was gendered. (If Black men were getting hired, clearly racism wasn't in play... or so the courts said). Her point was that the particular intersection where racism and sexism met targeted Black women in a way that was invisible to people who insisted on universal experiences of "sexism" and "racism" as separate forces.

In that original piece, she compares the harm done by these "interlocking oppressions" (to borrow from some more badass Black feminists, the Combahee River Collective) to being struck down by a car while you're in the middle of an intersection. Imagine that, before you're allowed to get medical attention, you have to name the direction the car came from before it hit you. Sure, you're plastered to the pavement, but did the car come from Racism Drive or Sexism Ave? It's often literally impossible to say, and more so to "prove." And in the meantime, people bleed out.

I say all of this (and god love you if you've read it) because I think we desperately need this nuanced concept of intersectionality to be as viral and internalized as the additive version that's become a buzzword over the past ten years. It's only when we can see the ways that racism and sexism (and all the other -isms) are fusing together in particular ways that we can challenge them effectively. If you're lucky enough to reach a point in your education where you learn about anti-Asian racism, you will probably learn about the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the first U.S. law that barred a particular nationality from entering the country. But hopefully you will also learn about the Page Act, which passed 7 years prior, and barred Asian women, specifically. Barred them, moreover, on the basis that they were considered likely to be prostitutes. Because it's only when we start to learn the history of oppression in the U.S. not as a single story or a series of separate stories (the racism history, the sexism history, etc.), but as a clusterfuck of interlocking stories, that we can begin to challenge them.

And when someone tells us that what happened in Atlanta wasn't racist because it was misogynistic, we can know two things for sure. 1) We are being gaslit because those things co-exist. And 2) the murder of Asian American women based on some dude's sexual fantasies and fears is an age-old version of what misogyny looks like when it targets Asian women. It couldn't be more racist if it tried.

But it will try. I hope we'll keep trying too.

[Note: I have not included an update where Maxfield cites sources and credits (I've linked those, above), and explains why she is not responding to Facebook friend requests from random readers.]


topsy-turvy land: u.s. states make protest illegal and driving into protestors legal

It seems that state lawmakers in several U.S. states need a refresher course on the First Amendment. 

It's a very simple amendment, really. 

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

While the beloved First Amendment has always been selectively applied -- cue the firehoses and Pinkertons -- its intent is quite clear and straightforward. Peaceful assembly and peaceful protest is legal. Full stop.

Despite this, so far this year, 34 state legislatures have introduced more than 80 bills that very clearly aim to abridge and prohibit these inalienable rights. So far, four Republican governors have signed the measures into law. More are on the way.

So far, Florida has passed the most draconian of these laws, creating a new, loosely defined crime called "mob intimidation".

It gets better. 

In Oklahoma and Indiana, motorists who drive their vehicles into protestors will enjoy protection and immunity. Similar bills are pending in four other states. 

Silver lining: this is the kind of arrogant over-reach that prompts backlash.

Our friends in the ACLU have been documenting this trend for years: the map on this page shows which states introduced anti-protest bills as of 2017. Most died in session, but several have since passed.

These laws are obviously unconstitutional, and are unlikely to hold up in court. However, until that happens -- a lengthy and expensive process -- many or most people are unlikely to risk stepping onto a street with a placard. Those who are both courageous enough and privileged enough to do so, will be at great risk. In Minnesota, for example, anyone convicted under these laws will be barred from receiving student loans, unemployment benefits, or housing assistance.

Plus, some states don't give a shit about court rulings. Anti-abortion-rights laws in South Dakota and elsewhere that have been ruled unconstitutional have not been repealed, and are still being enforced.  

The ACLU has also documented how these anti-protest bills -- often called anti-riot or pro-law-enforcement -- are largely linked to protests that Republican-controlled legislators don't like.

After President Trump enacted his discriminatory Muslim ban at U.S. ports of entry, protests immediately erupted at airports nationwide, including a weekend-long protest at Denver International Airport. In response, the airport started enforcing a rule that requires protestors to submit an application a week before holding any demonstration.

- In opposition to the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, protestors and water protectors camped out for more than a year near North Dakota's Standing Rock reservation. The protests were effective: They led the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny a permit for the pipeline and delayed construction for weeks. The response? Legislators in North Dakota introduced a cascade of bills that would allow drivers to run over protesters obstructing a highway, as long as the drivers did so accidentally; would punish wearing a mask in any public forum or in a group on private property; would sentence protestors at private facilities with up to 30 days in prison; and would punish protestors who cause $1,000 in economic harm with 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

- In Minnesota, following the police shooting death of Philando Castile, protests caused part of a highway to shut down. Then, at the beginning of the state legislative session, Minnesota legislators drafted bills that would punish highway protestors with heavy fines and prison time and would make protesters liable for the policing costs of an entire protest if they individually were convicted of unlawful assembly or public nuisance.

Perhaps Republican lawmakers need a history lesson, too. New York University's First Amendment Watch reminds us:

America was born in the protests of 1765 to 1776. Large crowds assembled around liberty trees and liberty poles, hanging British officials in effigy, and thousands of people paraded through the streets of colonial towns voicing loud dissent against British taxes and other measures they considered oppressive. 

Looking for the Canadian equivalent, I found Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's Critical Infrastructure Defence Act. The Conservative government in Manitoba has tabled a similar law

These laws are obviously aimed at protests against pipelines and the tar sands -- but not only those. Wondering what is considered "critical infrastructure"? Writing in The Sprawl, Taylor Lambert explains:

There's a list of categories included in the legislation, such as highways, pipelines, railways, refineries, utilities, dams, and so on, all of which have their own legal definitions -- a "highway" under the Traffic Safety Act, for example, includes all city streets, sidewalks and ditches.

In addition to this sweeping list, the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act grants cabinet the power to declare things "essential infrastructure" as it likes. It sounds a bit Pythonesque -- "Look, everyone knows this infrastructure is absolutely, utterly essential, we just forgot about it when we drafted the law" -- but its absurdity doesn't make it any less dangerous.

People who understand what this law does have been more than a little freaked out by it, particularly constitutional scholars, and Indigenous and activist groups.

This law is one of the more blatant and obvious examples of Canada's priorities I've ever seen. You can have your own opinions -- just don't get in the way of property or commerce. If you do, you must be American.

In the US, this follows a long-established pattern of efforts designed to bury dissent, disenfranchise dissenters, and ultimately disappear the people who have the most to protest about. 

You kneel in silent protest? Now is not the time.

You gather in front of government buildings? We will expand loitering laws. 

You gather in the street? We will kettle you or pen you in. 

You want to vote us out? We will curtail your voting rights. 

If these measures aren't enough, we will lock you up (mass incarceration) or send you off to die somewhere (the poverty draft). 

george floyd + 1,000 others annually: justice is not possible, but accountability might help

Derek Chauvin, the police officer who murdered George Floyd, was found guilty on all charges. At long last, after millions protested around the country and the world, a police officer was held accountable for murder. Or as one of the memes says, we only had to burn down the country to do it. 

Between May 25, 2020, the day George Floyd was murdered, and April 20, 2021, the day of the verdict, 640 Americans were killed by police.*

In the 24 hours following the announcement of the Chauvin verdict, six Americans were killed by police. That number includes Ma'Khia Bryant. Bryant was 16 years old. She called the police for help. A police officer got out of his car and shot this Black child at close range.

"We won't rest until the killer is brought to justice." If you watch detective shows, that's a familiar phrase. For victims of police murders, there is no justice. Even when there is video evidence of the killing, police murders might as well be lynchings that take place in the middle of the night.

But perhaps if there was accountability -- if there were actually serious consequences for these crimes -- we'd see fewer of them. Approximately 1,000 Americans are killed by police annually. Since 2005, 140 officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter. Seven were convicted of murder. 

Black people comprise only 13% of the US population, but are more than twice as likely to be killed by police as non-Black Americans. Brown people are also disproportionately killed.

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Black Lives Matter is calling on the US Congress to end The Law Enforcement Support Office -- known as the 1033 Program -- which allows the transfer of surplus military-grade equipment to local law enforcement agencies. This would not de-militarize existing police agencies, and it would do nothing towards a new vision of policing, and it would do nothing to end the racism that underpins this seemingly endless parade of murders. But it would halt a n unnecessary practice which has resulted in countless injuries and deaths. Click here to sign the petition, and look for #End1033 on Twitter.

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* If you are unfamiliar with the Washington Post's police-shootings database, it's a grim, essential tool. Statista is also important tool.

what i'm reading: sometimes you have to lie: the life and times of louise fitzhugh, renegade author of harriet the spy

Until very recently, I didn't know anything about Louise Fitzhugh and had not thought about her at all. 

Of course, as a child I read and loved Harriet the Spy, Fitzhugh's iconic and groundbreaking children's book. For a good portion of my life, I dreamed of writing a similar book. Many years ago, when I started writing serial fiction for a children's magazine, I bought a handful of tween books to re-read, and Harriet was among them. But I knew nothing about its author.

On my birthday last year, my book-loving partner surprised me with a copy of Sometimes You Have to Lie: the Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of 'Harriet the Spy'. This was a thoughtful addition to my biography reading list.

It was an inspired gift: the book turned out to be fascinating! Louise Fitzhugh's life was very interesting, and author Leslie Brody digs deep into the historical context, revealing several hidden histories along the way. 

Louise Fitzhugh was principally a visual artist, and she wrote several other books. But the most noteworthy parts of her "life and times" are Fitzhugh's original family background, a window into lesbian history, and a capsule history of children's literature and publishing.

Fitzhugh's parents had been a golden couple; their wedding was the social event of their Southern town. But when the relationship soured, and Fitzhugh's mother sought a divorce, the father used his privilege and power to destroy his ex-wife. The local newspaper (which he owned) and the all-male court proceedings conspired to gaslight Fitzhugh's mother and strip her of custody of her infant daughter. Louise, raised by her paternal grandmother and an African American servant, was told that her mother was dead. 

When Louise's father remarried, her smart stepmother knew that young Louise needed to know the truth sooner rather than later. Imagine learning that your mother, who you thought was dead, lived in your town! Later, when Louise got her first job with the local newspaper and spent time in the "morgue" (newspaper archives), she learned the public version of the story for the first time. 

Brody tells this story with both great compassion and the proper social context: how a wealthy, white patriarch used the system that was designed by and for others like him, to discredit and destroy a woman who got in his way. 

Fitzhugh was queer -- and out. She lived as a couple with several different women during her lifetime, and was part of a very lively lesbian social scene, made up of professional women, mostly (but not only) in the arts and/or entertainment fields. Sometimes You Have to Lie is a window into this rich subculture, which thrived in bars and beach houses throughout New York City and The Hamptons. 

Published in 1964, Harriet the Spy was a groundbreaking work, part of the vanguard of a sea change in children's literature. Where most children's literature had been written for parents, full of moralizing and no shortage of condescension, the new kid-lit spoke to children with respect, and reflected the realities of their children's lives. Sometimes You Have to Lie situates Harriet in that context, and offers a mini-history of children's publishing.  

To a lesser extent, but still present in the book, there is also the context of the civil rights movement and the escalating war in Vietnam. This isn't discussed in detail, but it is part of the backdrop of Louise Fitzhugh's life and her motivations. Ending both segregation and the war were important to Fitzhugh, and both figure into her life and art.  

Sometimes You Have to Lie: the Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of 'Harriet the Spy'  is a fast, lively, and enjoyable read, great for anyone who loves history, has an interest in LGBT history, loves children's books, or just loves a well-crafted biography.


what i'm reading: the sword and the shield: the revolutionary lives of malcolm x and martin luther king jr.

When I read a review of The Sword and The Shield: the Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., I knew it was a book I'd been waiting for someone to write. 

I despise the way Martin Luther King, Jr. has been sanitized and diluted for public consumption. The version of King that is widely celebrated is a pile of sentimental goo that the real King would not have recognized, let alone endorsed. King's radical legacy is reduced to a kind of bland "why can't we all just get along". His memory is used as a pacifier. King is officially lauded because of the fear of Black violence, and the ruling class' desire to promote docility among Blacks.

So the public doesn't see King. Doesn't see the King who railed against the U.S. war in Southeast Asia, the King who marched with labour unions, the King who knew that without economic justice, desegregation was a hollow promise. The anti-capitalist King. The anti-imperialist King. The anti-war King. That King doesn't fit the program. (I used to write about this all the time, but at some point decided to discontinue this as an annual event on this blog. )

And of course, this diluted version of King is contrasted with an equally simplistic and false version of Malcolm X, reduced to a handful of scary quotes, and also without any real understanding of Malcolm's message or his methods. 

Malcolm connected the American civil rights movement to independence, anti-colonialist struggles all over the globe. He reached wide swaths of African Americans who were overlooked by, shut out from, the dominant civil rights narratives of the time. He questioned why violence against Blacks was accepted -- tolerated, condoned, promoted -- but Black people were expected to pledge not to defend themselves. 

Historian Peniel Joseph challenges us to see both of these leaders clearly. In The Sword and the Shield, Joseph contrasts the intellectual, philosophical, and political growth of both  men. He demonstrates how, over the course of their short lives, Malcolm and King's philosophies were moving towards each other, coming closer together, and how, by the time King was assassinated, their views had overlapped.

For me, one of the biggest takeaways from this book is that within movements, there is room for -- there is need for -- a multiplicity of methods. Sit-ins, freedom rides, mass demonstrations, Black Power, uprisings (so-called riots), teach-ins, government lobbying -- all of it worked together to create change. This includes violence or at least the threat of violence. No revolution has ever succeeded without that, an inconvenient fact that the deification of King is meant to mask.

I also enjoyed looking at what made both Malcolm and King great leaders. They both had tremendous personal charisma, and an uncanny ability to easily relate to people in all different circumstances, while always being genuinely themselves. They were both tremendous listeners, and humble. Perhaps most importantly, they both had the courage to allow their thinking to evolve. While their values were profound and unshakeable, they knew that we all have much to learn. They understood their lives as a journey of learning.

I found this book important and edifying, and I wish I could say I enjoyed it. It's less narrative nonfiction, and more academic and didactic, and I didn't find it an easy read. However, it's an important piece of the history of the U.S. civil rights movement, the Black liberation movement, and all people's movements. 

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I rarely do this, but I'd like to share one of the blurbs on the hardcover edition of The Sword and the Shield. There are four blurbs from an impressive quartet: Ibram X. Kendi, Diane McWhorter, Michael Eric Dyson, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. I thought Gates nailed it.
Arguing against facile juxtaposition of the political philosophies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, Peniel Joseph has written a powerful and persuasive re-examination of these iconic figures, tracing the evolution of both men's activism. The Sword and the Shield provides a nuanced analysis of these figures' political positions in addition to unfolding the narratives of their personal lives. Well-written and compelling, this important new book brilliantly explores the commonalities between the political goals of Malcolm and Martin.

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Researching this post, I found this excellent piece by human rights activist Imam Omar Suleiman.
Every semester in which I teach a course on Muslims in the Civil Rights Movement at Southern Methodist University, I give my students a selection of quotes from both Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X and ask them to guess who said what. So for example, I will posit the following two quotes and ask for their proper ascription:
"Ignorance of each other is what has made unity impossible in the past. Therefore, we need enlightenment. We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity. Once we have more knowledge (light) about each other, we will stop condemning each other and a United front will be brought about."

"The majority of white Americans consider themselves sincerely committed to justice for the Negro. They believe that American society is essentially hospitable to fair play and to steady growth toward a middle-class Utopia embodying racial harmony. But unfortunately this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity."

And every single time, they have been unable to identify the first quote as belonging to Malcolm, and the second to Martin. But it is not just a few students that have gotten it wrong. The American education system and most mainstream portrayals of Martin and Malcolm have been simplistic and sanitizing.

Martin is the perfect hero who preached non-violence and love, and Malcolm the perfect villain who served as his violent counterpart, preaching hate and militancy. The result is not just a dishonest reading of history, but a dichotomy that allows for Dr. King to be curated to make us more comfortable, and Malcolm X to be demonized as a demagogue from whom we must all flee. Reducing these men to such simplistic symbols allows us to filter political programs according to how "King-like" they are. Hence, illegitimate forms of reconciliation are legitimized through King and legitimate forms of resistance are delegitimized through Malcolm X.

Malcolm was never violent, not as a member of the Nation of Islam, nor as a Sunni Muslim. But Malcolm did find it hypocritical to demand that black people in the United States commit to non-violence when they were perpetually on the receiving end of state violence. He believed that black people in the US had a right to defend themselves, and charged that the US was inconsistent in referencing its founding fathers' defense of liberty for everyone but them.

Malcolm knew that his insistence on this principle would cause him to be demonized even further and ultimately benefit the movement of Dr. King, which is exactly what he had intended. Just weeks before his assassination, he went to Selma to support Dr. King and willingly embraced his role as the scary alternative. In every interview, in his meeting with Dr. Coretta Scott King, and elsewhere, he vocalized that the US would do well to give the good reverend what he was asking for, or else.


we movie to canada: wmtc annual movie awards, 2020-21 edition

Like everyone in the time of Covid, I'm watching a lot! I'm also reading a lot and walking more than ever, so I have zero qualms about an increase in screen time. 

The annual recap has started to use too much real estate, so this year, I'm putting it at the end of the post. 

Last year I used 💉 -- the syringe -- as the rating symbol. This year I'll use perhaps the most enduring symbol of the pandemic: the mask. 

There are some viewing themes this year, as we completed The Guardian Top 10 Noir Film list, and I became interested in the modern western genre.

Also, since I now see movies much closer to their release dates (because I'm not watching baseball), I'm noting the best movies of the year.

* * * * *

Here are the movies and series I watched from April 2020 to April 2021, alphabetically, ranked on a scale of five. 
Five = the very best and most memorable of what I saw, flawless (fives include images)
Four = excellent, a real stand-out, not to be missed
Three = good, solid, worthwhile
Two = something kept this from being completely horrible
One = crap

A Confession

A solid little detective series. It would be better if Martin Freeman were a better actor.

The Abolitionists

This three-part series was originally a PBS "American Experience". Those documentaries are consistently excellent, and this was no exception. It drives home the extreme danger faced by everyone in the anti-slavery movement, and how utterly vast and hopeless their cause often seemed. History both chilling and stirring.

Alex Wheatle (Small Axe #4) (Best of 2020)

Similar to the work of Ken Loach, the Small Axe films have a deeply authentic feel, an immediacy that seems to transcend fiction. The personal is always profoundly political. This one follows the development of writer and activist Alex Wheatle, through the 1980s Brixton riots, imprisonment, and self-discovery. See all five films in order.

All In My Family

A lovely little autobiographical documentary about a gay Chinese-American couple raising two children, and how they deal with their traditional family's response. The filmmaker's surprising point of view makes the film unusual and thought-provoking. 

The Assistant (Best of 2020)

Spend a day with the junior assistant to a powerful media boss, and witness the insidious, near-constant abuse that's as integral to her job as her phone and computer. Parts of this movie are almost too painful to watch -- especially when you consider that filmmaker Kitty Green interviewed about 100 assistants who had worked for Harvey Weinstein's production company. One of the most powerful movies I have seen in a long time.


This show about the first humans to work on Mars was interesting and thoughtful, until it turned into a soap opera with a space-mission background.

Ball of Fire (1941)

A hilarious, ridiculous screwball comedy, full of laughs and more than a little social commentary. It includes this priceless line, as someone looks down the the cheeky dame's throat to see if she's sick: "It's as red as the Daily Worker and just as sore!"

The Bay S1

Another good British detective show. Doesn't break any new ground, but so far so good.

The Big Sleep (1946)
(Guardian Top 10 Film Noir #1 pick)

A Howard Hawks adaptation of a Raymond Chandler novel, a script co-written by William Faulkner, starring real-life couple Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. What could be better? Not much, actually. I've been an avid Humphrey Bogart fan since around age 10, and I love that these films have held up for me.

The Blacklist

The show features plot holes a cast of thousands can walk through, and it won't stand up to reality testing. But Raymond Reddington may be the greatest anti-hero of all time, and I'm kind of in love with him. With storylines that are constantly doing backflips, a killer soundtrack, and the best collection of secondary characters I've ever seen -- who doesn't love Dembé and Mr. Kaplan? -- I find this show irresistible.

Blood Simple (1984) (Guardian Top 10 Film Noir)

Not sure how we missed this in the 80s, but thank you to The Guardian for turning us on to the Coen Brothers' debut (also the feature-film debut of Frances McDormand). An absolute corker of a noir -- harrowing, suspenseful, with a sickening sense of foreboding that never ends.

The Bodyguard S1

Police-detective meets paranoid thriller in this above-average series. 

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Exactly what you expect from a Borat film: some uneven but great laughs, at least one hideous, hilarious gross-out scene, and dead-on social commentary. Fun!

Broad City S1 only

Smart, funny comedy, plus NYC. It didn't hold up in S2, but the first season was fun.

Caché / Hidden (2005) (Guardian top 10 crime films)

This strange film has all the hallmarks of a suspenseful thriller, but the baffling ending -- or non-ending -- ruined it for me. Roger Ebert had to watch it three times before he understood the ending. It's difficult for me to see that as a valid artistic choice.


I love a good redemption story. This exploration of anger and grief, told with dark humour, is moving and compelling. Jennifer Aniston's performance is impressive.

Captain Fantastic

A surprisingly complex family story -- a coming-of-age for an entire family. The descriptions online give too much away. Sweet, sad, uplifting, but not sentimental.

The Capture

I love to read a detective or spy thriller that transcends the genre and offers something more profound. It's equally satisfying (and rare) in a movie or series. While every British TV detective is examining CCTV footage to solve crimes, The Capture focuses on the potential for abuse, corruption, and a much darker side of the surveillance society.

The Children Act

Stilted dialogue, endless expositions, and a script so wooden that even Emma Thompson and Stanley Tucci couldn't bring it to life. Yikes.

Clarence Clemons: Who Do I Think I Am?

A strange and unwatchable documentary. I loved the Big Man, so I'm giving it a generous two.

Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962)

Two hours in the life of a beautiful, worried woman. Paris in the 1960s. French New Wave by the often-overlooked Agnes Varda. A delight.

Collateral (this, not this)

A solid detective conspiracy drama, with some excellent writing and acting. It really needed a second season.


I finally watched this cult favourite, created by Jimmy McGovern and starring Robbie Coltrane. If you like characters who are difficult and initially unlikable, who may or may not grow to reveal the darkness that drives them, Cracker fits the bill. It's also notable for the darker, more realistic perspective on policing, similar (but not as good as) Prime Suspect.

Deadwater Fell

A solid, serviceable British crime drama, notable for David Tennant and a healthy dose of ambiguity.

Designated Survivor (S1 and part of S2)

Is this The West Wing or a paranoid thriller? It's a hamfisted amalgam that just doesn't work. Note: if a bomb blows up the U.S. Capitol building during a State of the Union address, killing the President, Vice President, and every member of Congress, you might want to show some evidence of a country in shock and mourning. 

Dial M for Murder (1954)

My first time seeing this Hitchcock classic, and it did not disappoint. Suspenseful, creepy, and unpredictable. 

Dick Johnson Is Dead (Best of 2020)

A breathtaking, heartbreaking, joyous documentary about memory, love, life, and loss. An attempt to understand life's most profound mysteries, and a realization that we simply cannot. A triumph. 

Django Unchained

A blood-soaked, action-packed, hilarious burlesque of revenge, and a completely over-the-top tribute to the spaghetti western. I've never been a Tarantino fan, but seeing Black slaves take revenge on slavers and collaborators in this deadly comic way was just so much fun.  

Dolly Parton: Here I Am

We all love Dolly but this doc is a carefully managed PR piece, with too much left unsaid. It's also sad to see Dolly's exuberant beauty mangled by so much cosmetic surgery. I understand that looking visibly old may be off-limits for entertainers, but on the other hand, would Dolly's legions of fans desert her?

Echo in the Canyon

This is a nice little documentary about the music scene in Laurel Canyon, California in the 1960s. I could have lived without the recreations by contemporary artists. Really.

Education (Small Axe #5) (Best of 2020)

The final Small Axe film focuses on the failures of the formal education system, and a community's determination to change it. I especially loved learning about the British West Indian "Saturday Schools", reminiscent of the community-created learning Ken Loach depicted in The Wind That Shakes the Barley. Heartbreaking and inspiring.

Elevator to the Gallows / Lift to the Scaffold (1958) (Guardian Top 10 Film Noir)

I am indebted to The Guardian for introducing me to this, Louis Malle's first feature film. You can feel the Hitchcock influence, and see the infancy of French New Wave, all folded into a tense noir -- plus a young Jeanne Moreau and an original score by Miles Davis. A perfect, brilliant movie.


I didn't mean to see a rape movie. I confused the title with a movie I've been searching for -- Pour Elle (which was remade into The Next Three Days). Elle was all rape, all the time. I give it credit for the scenes being purely violent and not sexual. But there's a lot of it. 

The Expanse S5

Seasons 1 through 4 of The Expanse blew me away. S5 is very good, but on plot terms, it dipped down to the 4 category. War alliances and strategies are just not as spectacular as the protomolecule. I eagerly await S6.

First Cow

This begins as the story of two long-ago travelers with a scheme to strike it rich, a kind of quiet, period-piece buddy movie. But the plot thickens. And becomes unstable -- and dangerous. Although it didn't rise to the level of 5, First Cow is an excellent film.

Flight of the Conchords (re-watch)

We loved this the first time we saw it, but I found the humour didn't hold up. The music video spoofs are as clever and dead-on as ever, but the sitcom scenes in between are tedious. Everything is too one-note. But it was great the first time. 


Most reviews of this movie praised the cast's great performances. I'll have to take the critics' word on that, because the movie is too awful to watch.


The American West in the 1880s. Survivors, revenge, forgiveness, redemption, and more than a little feminism. Plenty of western-style violence, including a shoot-out for the ages. I loved it.


Billy Bob Thornton plays a disgraced lawyer in a show that feels written for him. Conspiracies grow wider, deeper, and less predictable. A solid series, with some particularly disturbing violence. 

The Good Lord Bird

I suppose this was an attempt to tell the story of John Brown while avoiding the white-saviour route. John Brown is a fascinating historical figure -- a political terrorist committed to abolition, a white man more than willing to die for the Black cause. His story is gripping and surreal. This, however, feels like an afterschool special.

Hidden (2018)

This Welsh detective series was mostly good, but the blatantly bad detective work that served as a plot device was too obvious for us. Still worth it if you're running out of things to watch.

Hold the Dark

A ridiculous premise, horrendous acting (why is everybody whispering?), and a completely predictable plot. I guessed the supposedly twist ending immediately, then fast-forwarded to confirm. One saving grace: wolves.

The Investigation

This somber, serious mini-series recreates the investigation into the murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall. Purposefully not flashy, and one of the best procedurals you'll ever see.


A dark comedy-drama about loss and redemption, bright-siding and gaslighting, love and loyalty. Jim Carrey and Frank Langella are both wonderful. Rarely a sour note. 

Killing Eve

Another genre-blender, mixing dark humour and drama with a cold-hearted spy thriller. There are the plot holes and inconsistencies that one often finds in thrillers, but they didn't detract from Sandra Oh's and Jodie Comer's performances. I really enjoyed this.

Knives Out

Funny, entertaining, cute. Meh.

The Leisure Seeker

A fun premise, a great cast, a terrible movie.

Line of Duty

Police conspiracy, corruption, murder... who can be trusted? There are a few clunkers here and there, but it's a solid show.

Look Through Any Window

A good documentary about The Hollies, a band whose members intersect on a large music family tree, and whose influence is often overlooked.

Lovers Rock (Small Axe #2) (Best of 2020)

The second film in the Small Axe anthology brings us to a reggae house party, for an immersive view into the British West Indian immigrant community that is the focus of these films. The music, dialogue, and visual detail impart a richness and immediacy seldom seen in historical drama, and includes one of the best music scenes in any movie, ever. A triumph.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

I am a huge fan of the playwright August Wilson, and grateful that I lived in New York while his plays -- each representing a decade in the African American experience -- were being staged. The screen adaptation of Fences was disappointing, but this one hit the mark. Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman, in what turned out to be his final role, stand out, and the view into the exploitative music industry is well done.

Madeline's Madeline

If you like watching film from a distance and contemplating postmodern-self-conscious-meta structures, this may work for you. For me, this felt like a concept rather than a movie.

Mangrove (Small Axe #1) (Best of 2020)

The first entry in Steve McQueen's Small Axe anthology, Mangrove is a singular triumph. Among many things I loved about this movie, the filmmaker understands movements -- how they are born, how they grow, what makes them succeed. If this were a Hollywood film, it would probably focus on Ian McDonald and tell a white-saviour story. Instead, it's about a community. Don't miss this.


I wanted to love this movie. It was clever, and visually beautiful. But similar to Madeline's Madeline, I couldn't get past the concept; the self-consciousness held me at a distance. (At this point, someone usually tries to explain the concept to me. Trust me, I got it.)

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

This biopic focuses on Miles Davis' music and his career, and barely mentions his very problematic personal life. If you've banned Miles from your playlist because he was a violent asshole, you might not approve. But if, like me, you separate art from artist, you'll like this. Miles was a genius, and a pioneer, and this film captures the how and why.

Money Heist S1-3

I love a good heist movie, and this series delivered and then some. An abundance of suspense and plot twists more than compensate for the non-credible story. And really, isn't that what a good heist movie is all about?

Murdoch Mysteries S13

Can you believe I'm still watching this? It's like an addiction to Froot Loops. Or maybe spinach?

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Best Film of 2020)

An austere, gritty, incredibly authentic look at a pregnant teen. A ground-level view of what the anti-abortion-rights laws do to real people and real lives. Painful and essential. The best film of 2020, closely followed by The Assistant.

One Night in Miami

A bad idea made into a ghastly movie.

Out of the Past (1947) (Guardian Top 10 Film Noir)

Robert Mitchum, silent and inscrutable as always, and a femme fatale for the ages. "She can't be all bad. No one is." ... "She comes the closest." A satisfying, classic noir.

Pretend It's a City

I enjoyed watching Martin Scorsese interview Fran Lebowitz, had some good laughs, and felt wistful for my old hometown. But several of Lebowitz's assessments are obtuse and seem to contradict her own expressed principles. It's a fun documentary, but I liked it more in the moment than I did in retrospect.

Rebecca (1940)

Daphne du Maurier's novel, and Hitchcock's classic adaptation, have always been two of my favourites. No matter how many times I see this movie, I always find it satisfyingly suspenseful, creepy, and gothic. There have been multiple failed remakes, and I don't have high hopes for the most recent adaptation on Netflix. Why does anyone remake Hitchcock?

Red, White and Blue (Small Axe #3) (Best of 2020)

Can a system be changed from the inside? Can the policing of a Black community in a white-dominated society ever be just? Can a Black man embrace the system with his integrity and identity intact? The third film in the Small Axe anthology explores these and other questions through the real-life story of Leroy Logan. It's a stunning film and the fulcrum of the series.

Rita S1-2

I thoroughly enjoyed this comedy-drama about a rebel teacher, her school, and her family. I stopped watching only because reading subtitles (from the Danish original) plays havoc with my evening relaxation. I can do it for a movie, but for binge-watching, it's too much work. The show -- or more likely, Denmark -- gets major bonus points for normalizing abortion.

Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb

We stumbled on this documentary, and since we visited Saqqara on our 2017 trip to Egypt, we clicked, albeit with low expectations. To our surprise, it's a rich, engrossing look at archaeology and how ancient history can be known. Truly fascinating.

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

I was surprised to discover a 1940s Hitchcock movie that I had never seen. (This only means the New York-area station that showed all the old movies didn't have this one.) A solid psychological thriller in the 40s style.

Silicon Valley (re-watch)

When the final season of Silicon Valley became available on Crave, I decided to re-watch the whole series from the beginning. It's a really smart comedy that manages to skewer pretty much everything while also being warm and compassionate. It keeps you rooting for the little guy, even when that little guy is a jerk.

The Sisters Brothers

This western is funny, entertaining, and surprisingly tender. As much about brotherhood than it is about murder. Solid and worthwhile. 

Slings and Arrows (re-watch)

I'm grateful to the former wmtc reader who urged me to see this, more than 10 years ago. It's as funny, clever, and thoughtful as ever. And so Canadian! Really a joy to watch.

Sorry to Bother You

Wow! This movie was a wild surprise -- a darkly comic, slightly surreal labour story. So clever and funny, with a touch of magic realism that makes it startlingly unique. 

Sorry We Missed You (Best of 2020)

Another devastating story by the incomparable Ken Loach, this one focusing on the lies and deceit of the so-called gig economy. A companion to I, Daniel Blake, with the same immediacy and authenticity that makes them both among Loach's best.

Spellbound (1945)

Every time I see this movie, I appreciate it more. Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Alfred Hitchcock, Salvador Dali -- and the nascent recognition of the  effects of the unconscious mind. Brilliant. (You may notice we were on a Hitchcock  tear.)

Star Trek: Discovery S3

I really enjoyed S1 of Discovery, and liked S2 with some reservations. In S3, the pompous, overwrought tone I disliked in S2 became the whole show, and I gave up. Oh well.

The Stranger

A solid thriller, with the usual gaps and plot holes, but also good mystery and suspense, from Harlan "Name Above the Title" Coben.

Team Foxcatcher

A strange, compelling story of obsession, paranoia, misplaced loyalty, betrayal, and murder. This is the documentary, much better than the fiction version.

The Third Man (1949) (Guardian Top 10 Film Noir)

The masterful Graham Greene screenplay, the haunting zither score, the atmospheric cinematography -- everything about this film draws you in and keeps you off-balance. Not a wasted word or an extraneous shot, not an extra intake of breath. Plus a surprising Orson Welles! I don't know why I had never seen this film before, but I look forward to seeing it again. Truly a masterpiece.  

They Live By Night (1948) (Guardian Top 10 Film Noir)

It can be a fine line between noir and parody, and this movie crosses it too many times.

Touch of Evil (1958) (Guardian Top 10 Film Noir)

An aura of threat and menace hangs over this movie about murder, revenge, and police corruption in a border town. The racial overtones don't hold up -- it's tough to buy Charlton Heston as Mexican -- but there's quite a lot of evil without it.

True Grit (2010)

This movie skillfully avoids the many plot clichés the premise leads viewers to expect. A good movie with some nice moments. Won't change your life, but I wasn't sorry I saw it.

The Twelve S1

An interesting legal drama from Denmark with enough potential to wait for S2.

The Two Killings of Sam Cooke

I love Sam Cooke's music, but I think this movie oversells his activism and influence. Despite that, it's a solid, concise documentary about a committed and talented artist.

Uncut Gems

This movie is full of noteworthy performances, especially Adam Sandler bringing a scary, manic energy to his role as a gambling addict. Alas the story -- like every story about compulsive gambling -- is entirely predictable. You've probably seen it many times before, but it's quite well done.

Unforgotten S3

This show -- an understated British version of Bones -- continues to bring a level of profound emotion to the forensic procedural. Each cold case reveals a web of people who have been affected by the loss. Always moving and very well done.

The Vast of Time

A wonderfully suspenseful period piece, with the creepy, supernatural vibe of The Twilight Zone. Very enjoyable.

The Walk

See the excellent documentary Man on Wire, and skip this silly nonsense.


There is some very fine acting in this movie, and it was great to see J. K. Simmons in a central role. But I found the premise disturbing enough to ruin the movie: abuse is justified, even celebrated, if it produces great art. Might this art have flourished under some other teaching method? We don't know. Is it OK for humans to treat each other this way if there's a claim to a higher purpose? Nope.


This is an unusual and engrossing drama, nominally a heist movie, but really just good characters, an unpredictable plot, and a backdrop of social commentary.

Yellowstone S1-3

This modern western is all about land -- who owns it, who controls it, who has moral, ethical, or legal claim to it. It often explores Indigenous issues, including racism and missing and murdered women, and how the past reverberates in the present. It's also action-packed and super violent. 

Young Wallander

I really wanted to love this series. I loved Wallander, and I hoped this would be its Endeavour. Alas, I couldn't make it through S1. Not complete garbage, but when you can't stand the sound of the lead actor's voice, it's tough to watch.

Tried but didn't take

Mad Men (second attempt)
Sons of Anarchy

Comedy Before Sleep

Community (entire series; re-watch S1-4)
On my second time through the series, I appreciated it so much more. It's no small feat for a show to be simultaneously earnest and ironic. Clever, smart, hilarious, and meaningful.

New Girl S5-end
A few years ago, I quit this show when the focus changed. Picking it up again, that no longer bothered me. Very enjoyable.

Big Bang Theory S1-7
A smart, funny, meaningful, character-driven comedy. A wonderful surprise. However, the best opening theme since Malcolm in the Middle does not make up for the most intrusive laugh track I've heard as an adult.

30 Rock (entire series; had previously seen S1-2)
I thoroughly enjoyed this. It did get a bit zany, but it never jumped.

Recap of previous years

- Canadian musicians and comedians (2006-07 and 2007-08)
- my beverage of choice (2008-09)
- famous people who died during the past year (2009-10)
- where I'd like to be (2010-11)
- vegetables (2011-12)
- big life events in a year full of Big Life Changes (2012-13)
- cheese (2013-14)
- types of travels (2014-15)
famous people who died plus famous people who died, part 2 (2015-16)
- the picket line (2016-17)
- movies (2017-18)
2018-19: 1-5 ☮s
2019-20: 1-5 💉s