When I heard that Joker was premiering at the Venice Film Festival, I was shocked. DC movies, as of late, have not been as appealing and enjoyable to me as an average movie goer. I found the writing to be forced at times and the story arc falling all over the place. The Dark Knight, however, remains an all-time favorite, mostly because of Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker. I always claimed that Ledger’s interpretation would always be my favorite. But after seeing Joaquin Phoenix’s take on the Joker, I’m finding it hard to pick a favorite, as both of them highlight intriguing parts of the comic book character in captivating ways. I was interested to see the movie with a more critical lens and heightened expectations after I heard the rave reviews, although some told me to expect more of the same: pretty good acting, underwhelming story... I wanted to see for myself. When the credits rolled after the film, the two names I kept repeating out loud were Todd Phillips, writer and director, and Joaquin Phoenix. It might be the writer in me, but it felt like I was behind the scenes hearing the director’s vision while it was coming to life on screen; as if I heard Phillips’ and Phoenix’s conversations on set. Below are few of the many decisions that caught my eye, making this movie one that I won’t easily forget.
Cello, cello, and more cellos. As a lover of string instruments, I know a cello when I hear one and cello is the perfect instrument to articulate the Joker’s depth and heaviness. It seemed to be the main score of the movie, the cello’s bellowing growl made an appearance at key moments of the Joker’s downward spiral and haunting acceptance of his true nature. The score filled the silent moments with ominous certainty, making you want to lean back in your seat to gain space from the inevitable: he was only going to get worst. Joker’s voice was another decision that added to the complex auditory experience. Phoenix’s voice remained innocent, soft, and light, even in anger. I believe it forced viewers to see the human underneath the sickness and provided a complicated juxtaposition to his actions. But it was his horrifying weight loss that sent me over the edge. It’s nice to see Joaquin Phoenix in post-production interviews looking healthy.
As someone who does not know DC comics and the many origins of the Joker in detail, I was surprised at how much I supported for the Joker’s redemption. In this movie you see first-hand the Joker’s demise, as he tries to get better and join the “normal” world saying, “I just don’t want to feel bad anymore.” It seemed like he was really trying! But Phillips and his team wanted you to sit in his defeat in silence. Viewers experienced his failure and desperation intimately just long enough so that by the time he decides to embrace his madness, take control, and cease compromising, you’re super excited for him, almost happy! There was one violent scene in particular that my boyfriend and I didn’t even flinch at because, yeah, that guy deserved it after what he did to Author Fleck. The movie played on a delicate balance of redemption and madness. You awaited the Joker’s self-realization, but you don’t feel prepared for what is going to come as a consequence of that. And I will tell you now that you’re not going to be prepared.
It is no secret that the Joker is crazy. But how the movie navigates the topic of mental illness resonates with a somber reality in today’s America. The Joker speaks explicitly on mental illness and the resentment he has for those who chose not to see that struggle or refuse to understand him. In one scene, he expressed his frustration in giving the world kindness, joy, and laughter but receiving nothing but disrespect and erasure in return. This is not just the complaints of crazy villains in movies, but anyone who’s met this unforgiving world with kindness only to receive nothing or worst based on their mental illness knows how that can feel. The first thing that came to mind at that scene was the many suicides and violent acts completed by those trying to live with a mental illness but being met with silence or shame (I’m talking about mental illness here not white privilege used in court to justify hate crimes). It was a worthy theme and a timely one. How easy it is to record, make fun, or stigmatize those who’s mental illness is spilling on the streets in the eyes of the homeless or the weirdo at school. The Joker is an extreme reminder that those people, like all people, have breaking points. But it seems only when it is too late that mental health becomes a topic of discussion (insert every school shooting in the last year).
The only other thing I heard about the Joker before going to see it was that there were heightened police presence at certain theaters on opening night, after authorities learned of some chatter on the dark web from inspired individuals. I don’t know DC Comic characters (or any comics for that matter) very well, but I’m not sure if there is another super hero or villain that inspires such a response in the real world. There is something about the Joker that disturbs but also stirs people. I had to shower that film off of me when I got home, because it was so potent with the disturbing reality of humanity’s capacity for darkness. The Joker is fiction but the themes are made real by Todd Phillips, his team, and Joaquin Phoenix.
Recently I found a sweet spot on Instagram. Among the celebrity gossip, funny videos, memes, nature videos, and ADORABLE pet videos, there is a special corner of Instagram users that are devoted to healing. It seemed to pop up right in the middle of my own healing journey, and it was comforting to know that thousands upon thousands of others were working on boundaries, self-love, and self acceptance. From there, I saw posts and accounts dedicated to Black healing, which I think we all can agree is a bit different. Words that I identified with: healing, spirit, ancestors, energy, guides were all over my explore page. One word in particular hit home when scrolling one day: inter-generational trauma.
It seems more common for people, especially Black people, to openly talk about trying to break the chains of inter-generational trauma. It can go back as far as our ancestors! And some of us finally are ready to create new inter-generational traditions and patterns that uplift. More than often we were taught the behavior, belief system, defense mechanism when we were young and took it with us in adulthood where it might've worked for a while but doesn't work as well these days (which is a good thing!). As we heal, and there are many ways to approach healing, we dedicate ourselves to the reconstruction of our brains and spirits to embrace and connect to living a life that serves who we are today. I can tell you from personal experience that this is not easy nor linear work.
So when I see yet another parent or guardian publicly berating their child in public, I am reminded of inter-generational trauma and the long road ahead for that child. I've heard everything from "fuckin' dumb" to "are you retarded?" to "Imma punch in your fuckin' mouth you keep playin' with me" and much more. When you're going about your day and hear these words cut through the air, it forces you out of your world. You see the child's eyes, the bag under the parent or guardian's eyes, and the scared silence between them and surrounding them. Some of us know that silence all too well and the toll it takes on our spirit, whether we are 6 years old or 26 years old.
Unfortunately, this is more political than some realize, as race, gender, class, and history play a large role in every generation. This is more than just a simple decision to not yell at your kids or to somehow stop others from doing the same (not possible). The more I witness the public humiliation of kids getting yelled at, the more I want to explore what healing can look like on a community scale. What would it look like to do a workshop series in a community center where we begin with documenting family history stories and in the process partner with artistic communities that bring those stories to life. What would it look like if in the process of documenting these stories, healing practitioners from the community participated and informed and worked with participants? What would it look like to have a celebration at the end that leads them to resources to continue the journey that began through art? This is what I would love to do. Connect communities to their resources and their power in a way that is sustainable. That is my calling and every time I see a parent/guardian lose their patience with their child, I am invigorated to continue searching for dynamic ways to empower and uplift our communities.
***If you know of any organizations that work with healing in communities, meeting them where they're at, let me know in the comments!***
I just turned 26, which means two things: I’m entering the last year of my “mid-20s” and more importantly, I got 30 days to get health insurance since my parental coverage is coming to an end. Naturally, I went straight into adulting mode and got all my check-ups in one day before transferring to another healthcare provider. What I got after those two back-to-back appointments was a somber reminder of what my identity and voice is worth in a typical white doctor’s office. In addition, I got to see what it feels like to be truly heard by a doctor who was a woman of color.
I started my first appointment at 8am. OBGYN. I thank my mothers for teaching me early to write down my questions before my appointment, as well as document any pain and its location for reference. It was a revolutionary act to teach me that advocacy. Upon walking into my appointment, I was disappointed to learn that my previous doctor, a woman of color, had left the office but I was already here so I figured might as well get this check-up over with. After my exam, I asked a question regarding something I’ve been meaning to ask since my last appointment.
White Doctor: Oh? Okay
I repeated my question just in case she didn’t hear what I just said was actually a question. She had the same answer and concluded my appointment and I walked out. At that moment I considered that a normal appointment. She said everything was fine. Out of sight out of mind. If it wasn’t for my next appointment in the afternoon, I wouldn’t have noticed how silent my first appointment was. Around 2pm I went to my next appointment for my general check-up. When coming in she asked how I was doing in life and how my boyfriend was then prepared to take my blood for testing. I asked my primary doctor the same question I asked the other doctor this morning.
WOC Doctor: Oh? Let’s look at your imaging… I’m going to ask them to look at this again just to make sure everything is normal. They might’ve missed something. Oh! I looked at your zip code. It might be good to double check your immunity to measles. You know about the outbreak right? I just want to make sure.
She asked me questions to gain more information and then asked more questions based on my experience. We worked together. We laughed. We chatted. I left. The stark contrast between the two appointments almost brought me to tears. I started to question why I didn’t push the doctor this morning to actually address my concerns. Then I remembered how easy it is to walk out of most doctor’s offices with less answers and more “facts” that need to be accepted. I couldn’t get certain test done just because it’s not usually done at this time of my life. I’m too young. I was being prescribed medicine because it would “stop the damage.” What about the damage already done? Not addressed. Not important.
Apparently, I am used to not being heard and after finally being listened to, I cannot go back to being satisfied with silence. Pregnant Black women are 3 times more likely to die from complications than white women. An alarming statistic but the antidotes and funerals hit different. I’ve heard too many stories (one from an ICU hospital bed) from women of color whose experiences were invalidated in the name of protocol or completely ignored. It becomes a fight every appointment and sometimes we’re just tired of fighting.
I encourage women of color to not accept silence as medical care. I encourage you to find a doctor/healer who sees your humanity completely and responds to your demand for quality care. Our livelihood depends on it.
Cancel culture, or the practice of utilizing public pressure to seek accountability or repercussion for a harmful act, lives on a spectrum of productivity.
It is hard for me to engage in the outrage every time someone is “cancelled.” Sometimes the outrage leads to an outcome that further represents the world most of us want to live in: Safe and just. I’m then inspired to use my talents and strengths to support the effort/cause. I’m reminded of R. Kelly’s most recent cancellation that went from a trending hashtag to protests to a documentary to court dates. Albeit, it took many many years, but it seems that his music is cancelled, his management team cancelled him, and he was forced to be held accountable in court.
Then there was Nate Parker’s rape allegation scandal from 1999 that imploded on the cusp of the release of Birth of a Nation. Unlike previous moments of public outrage, this time did not feel as righteous. The hashtags and on-brand opinion pieces saturated my timeline, as a shadow loomed over survivors still living in secret or silence. What was Nate Parker’s public shaming doing for them? It seemed like everyone was yelling into the void without real focus or intention. Each new bout of public cancellation makes me question how much I can participate in the act of cancelling someone and how much it aligns with the way I want to implement change in this world. At some point I had to ask myself what do I hope to accomplish with someone being cancelled? Healing and education are a part of my mission. Where is that seen in cancel culture?
Do I want them to go to jail? Do I want an apology? Do I want someone to feel shame or be shamed? Do I want justice or healing for the harmed party? What does that look like? And if I got all of these things, who would it help? How productive is my public display of outrage? Is it sustainable or necessary for me to be outraged every time someone is cancelled?
I have yet to see someone get cancelled gracefully and the person who got cancelled respond in a way that pleases the general public. I have yet to see the general public "un-cancel" someone. Jussie Smollett was an interesting case in that he was cancelled by some and supported by others. The justice system investigated and seemed to make things worse and more complicated. The general public, who did the cancelling, seemed to be misinformed and exploited the issue. Did you know there are Jussie Smollett shirts for sale? With that said, cancel culture has put a spotlight on how powerful the people can be when they’ve had enough, which is a practice I can stand behind sustainably with intention. There seems to be a heightened awareness of the power of our dollar and our time. When the numbers decline, they have to reply. That’s why Georgia is scrambling right now to keep the production companies in their state after signing the “heartbeat bill”.
The number of things to cancel and be held accountable for keep rising, which is not a surprise considering the era we are living in and the physical, psychological, and political violence that we are experiencing every day. The message is clear: We need to ACT NOW and time is running out. But how I react needs to align with my mission or I am moving without purpose or focus. Hence, how WE act and mobilize sustainably is an important question worth holding space for.
April 30: Hood River
On the edge of the river
resting between piano chords
I looked at you and knew
that my God's inspiration far outgrew
my prayers for love on this earth
April 29: Abundance Affirmation
I offer you (and me) a God
that does not treat your life
April 28: HEAL
April 27: TRAUMA
April 26: May
I was born in Tornado season for a reason
I too twirl and twist
wear historical destruction like a dress
and go dancing still
(Fear of Black Woman Strength is my favorite song to dance to)
I have no problem being a spectacle
unexpected but guaranteed
composing the heat of my roots with
the cool of my crown forcing the horizon to change its tone
I rather go to bed in the core of a thunderstorm
sleep in the chaotic justice of an earth who knows all too well
the balance and acceptance that comes with the
crackle and rumble
and fade to silence
April 25: It's Time
There is a time for waves to rest
on the chest of earth
breathe into her
before she releases them
and the time comes
April 24: Unsure (Haiku)
Not sure. Faith. Unknown.
All composed delicately
in my praying hands
April 23: Flatbush Asylum Music Festival
In some room
Painted like white supremacy
Smelling like stale memories
The R&B must’ve penetrated under the airtight doors
Barely recognizable at first
Then the beat begins to speak and overcome the silence
the constant shoes against linoleum
The walkie-talkie chatter and lack of choices
So close to the barred windows
Yet so far
Almost convinced that the concert was organized
(Not for the free, the clinically sane, the unburdened,
or those whose words don’t incarcerate)
just for you
The soulful voices take over the room
As it is intentionally devoured by the night
The jeers of the crowd transform into cheers for your recovery
And it almost feels like a possibility to remember again
What it was like to be outside, at a concert, choked by summer air
in Flatbush Brooklyn
April 22: Numb (Haiku)
I crave slow motion
the chance to stop and embrace
everything but fear
Tayllor Johnson currently resides in New York City where she has begun her journey into Poet. Passion. Period. In between those learning moments, she sometimes has just enough time to jot a few lines...