What is it with these celebrities who result to insults and a false sense of victimhood just because their creative integrity is in doubt? Case in point: John Ridley and Freida Pinto at the Guerrilla Q&A in London back in April of this year. While at the Q&A, a Black woman questioned why John Ridley chose a non-Black woman of color as lead, and why there were no Black actresses with prominent roles in the miniseries.
This question was met with shock, awe, and tears on behalf of its cast. Having seen Guerrilla, this is a legit question and critique. Black women were instrumental in the civil rights movement in the U.K., so why are they left out of this story? The media then tried to spin it to make the question seem like an orchestrated attack on the cast by placing blame on the Black Lives Matter movement. Because of this debacle and how it’s been negatively perceived by the general public, the Guerrilla miniseries premiered to just under 200k views for its first episode. That’s just meager ratings for any fledgling show.
Director Ana Lily Amirpour (Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) will probably meet a similar fate.
At a Q&A in at the Music Box Theater in Chicago, Amirpour made an appearance for her new movie, The Bad Batch. During the Q&A, Amirpour made a conscious choice to humiliate a Black woman who questioned her about casting choices and direction in the film. But don’t let me be the one to tell you about what transpired. I spoke with Bianca Xunise, and she gives the full details about what between her, Amirpour, and what occurred subsequently.
***Interview contains major spoilers***
VC: How did you hear about the screening of The Bad Batch? When and where was the screening? And did you know there would be a Q&A featuring director Ana Lily Amirpour?
BX: Well, I heard about the event through Twitter. I follow The Music Box Theatre twitter handle and saw they were having a special screening. I love Lily’s former work, plus I’m such a stan for Keanu Reeves. So I grabbed my girls, and we headed over to the theater.
VC: I’ve never heard of the film until I read your thread. Can you briefly describe what it’s about?
BX: It’s a post-apocalyptic/dystopian future where people cannibalized one another as a means of survival. The world is a dehydrated wasteland, so people are the only source of nutrients.
VC: Now I know things got popping when the Q&A started with Amirpour. You took some issues with casting and the treatment of people of color in the film, particularly Black People. Can you talk about that in relation to the movie?
BX: To be clear, it wasn’t me who brought up Jason Momoa playing a Cuban character called Miami Man. It was the moderator of the Q&A that asked the question. Amirpour shrugged off the colorblind casting simply as, “I love Miami,” which is where she grew up. She never considered the implications of what it means to cast someone racially ambiguous like Momoa to play someone of an ethnicity he doesn’t identify with. Nor did she bring attention to the uncomfortable “generic Latinx accent” he was directed to speak in.
Despite the colorblind casting of Momoa, there’s also this sense of objectifying his body throughout the whole film. I can understand taking the male gaze and directing back at the male body, however, the way Momoa’s body is objectified in the movie made me uncomfortable. It reminded me of how strong Black male slaves were objectified for their strength. There’s also another muscle-bound Black man that has an altercation with Momoa later in the film who picks up the protagonist Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) and throws her over his shoulder. It amplified this stereotype of threatening black male bodies over fragile white women. This man is later slaughtered by Momoa and decapitated on camera, which brought me to my question to Amirpour during the Q&A.
VC: It’s clear these things didn’t sit well with you. These issues made you curious about Amirpour’s directorial choices and treatment toward certain characters, so what did you ask her and why?
BX: The full question I asked Amirpour at the Q&A is as follows: “Was it a conscious decision to have all the black people in the film die the most gruesome deaths on screen? And what was the message you were trying to convey with the Arlen character (who is white), killing Maria (who is black) in front of her black daughter Honey — and then having Arlen replace Maria as the mother figure?
VC: Can you go into detail about that?
BX: To break it down, the film follows Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) after she gets kicked out of the last livable land in Texas. Outside of this compound is the cannibalistic world of the ‘bad batch’. Arlen is subsequently get kidnapped, and at some point, her leg and arm are cut off and eaten. Why I harp on this detail is the way this particular scene is shot. The camera doesn’t linger on Arlen’s limbs being cut off. The camera cuts to her face, then cuts to another woman eating her body parts, and then the scene is over.
Look, I knew what I was walking into regarding the film, so I was mentally prepared to see extreme violence. In this apocalyptic future, Amirpour seems to want the audience to relate with the cannibals because they are doing this just as a means to an end. Nothing wrong with that. Things get dicey when Arlen decides she wants revenge for her lost limbs. Instead of just taking revenge out on the person who harmed her, she starts killing random folks for no explained reason.
For example, she finds Maria and Honey (the Miami man’s wife and daughter) scavenging through a trash heap. Arlen finds them and decides to confront Maria right then. Arlen says some lines about revenge and then suddenly shoots Maria in the head. By this time Arlen has already found killed the woman who cut off her limbs, so killing Maria felt unnecessary, especially in the presence of her daughter, Honey. The camera lingers on Maria’s blasted head, as Honey tries to wake her — she doesn’t conceptualize what just happened and showed no remorse for her dead mother. Then Arlen kidnaps Honey and runs off without the Miami Man.
By the end, they all end up as a big happy family. I never got the sense that Momoa’s character cared about his wife’s death. Is the presence of a young, thin, white woman enough for him to forget the important people in his life?
Why did Arlen kill Maria who was just trying to survive? Was it to drive the plot? I mean what is the point here?
VC: Having read a bit about what happened with you at the Q&A, it’s clear Amirpour didn’t give you the explanation you expected. Can you talk about that her response to your question?
BX: I could tell as soon as I asked that question, I had suddenly become that disrupting, angry black woman that ruined the fun for everyone. I rewatched the video that someone took of the event and you can see Amirpour body language change. I was nervous to stand up to the microphone and ask her this question. I had to read it from my phone. I was sweating, shaking, and my voice is quivering.
Instead of answering my question directly, she moves the focus to talk about the violence in the movie as a whole, which I took no issue with. I don’t mind violence in film. I love John Wick, but even in that universe, there’s a fairness and an understanding. None of the “bad guys” are just PoC “thugs” which is something that I take issue with in action movies. When watching a movie, I always ask myself if the bad guys of dark skin, and if the camera lingers on their deaths. It brings out the bigger question of why are we as a collective group desensitizing us to feel nothing when a black person is shot in the head by a vengeful white person?
VC: You spoke of embarrassment on behalf of the Amirpour’s dismissal of your question, can you discuss what that entailed?
BX: After she heard my question three times, (twice by me, and once from the moderator), Amirpour interrupts me. She asks me once again what my question was and then dismisses me by saying “I don’t make a film to tell you a message,” and the crowd cheers. She then shrugs it off with a “Sorry.”
I have never felt such embarrassment in my life, so I slinked away from the mic humiliated. I walked out of the Q&A and deduced that the movie is racist. People hugged me and said they were proud of my bravery in the lobby after the screening ended.
VC: Now, you were pretty vocal about the situation via your Twitter page. Can you talk a bit about what happened post-Q&A?
BX: After sharing what happened to me on social media, things got worse. Amirpour calls me crazy, and she says I attacked her, (paints me out to be a hysterical angry black woman), and then she blocks me.
All I did was ask a question and share my experience. I didn’t accuse her of anything. I just wanted to know what she was trying to convey with the images from her film that could be perceived as anti-black. I shared my story on Twitter because I wanted Amirpour and others to understand that you can’t sweep questions regarding race under the rug. I thought I deserved an explanation that didn’t teeter public embarrassment.
I get it. No one wants to be questioned about their work, especially if their work associates with anything racially negative. People would rather get defensive then understand what is about their actions that hurt marginalized communities.
VC: Amirpour’s behavior doesn’t surprise me. It seems like directors of all people should be prepared for all types of questioning, right? With that said, what do you hope industry professionals and creatives learn from your experience?
BX: Artists across all mediums should understand that their work won’t always be loved, and could be questioned at some point. Artists should prepare for how their work will be interpreted by an audience. Tough questions aren’t attacks or bullying. They are just what they are — questions. The beauty of art is to spark a conversation and learn from one another. Even if there are no answers, at least be respectful. Through this whole ordeal, I must say I am grateful and humbled by the support I’ve received — in person and online. I just want folks to know respect is a two-way street.
VC: Now Amirpour did issue an apology, but you’re having difficulty garnering up a response….
BX: I don’t feel comfortable responding to her message. Why would she embarrass me publicly, only to apologize in private? I will get back to her once I have a moment to heal from this situation, but right now I need to step back. I don’t fully understand this apology. She seems to still stand by the idea that I attacked her publicly at the screening and on Twitter, while her followers continued to harass me.
None of this is surprising being as though Ana Lily Amirpour has an old history of odd behaviors:
Whether Amirpour has learned anything from this experience remains to be publicly seen, but I think what we can all gain from this exchange is that respect goes a long way. Yes, some folks are assholes, but if someone is asking a general and respectful question, why get defensive? Even answering by saying “I don’t know” is better than humiliating a potential fan.
If you want to view the Twitter thread where it all started, please click here
You may not be able to see the tweets as Bianca has privatized her account. To this day, she continues to be harassed by Amirpour apologists who feel she is in the wrong for speaking her truth. This is what Black women go through. Demonized for speaking up and patronized for not saying enough.