Visual metaphors in film-poems and digital stories #1

Watch along as Laura explains how to start using the images in your film to add deeper meaning to your words.

Letter to a Minnesota Jail by Anathema Jane McKenna

‘In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the…Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note…Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”’ – Martin Luther King, 28th August 1963.

‘Around 12:30 am on June 5, 2011, CeCe McDonald was walking to the grocery store with some friends, all of them young, African American, and LGBTIQ or allied. As they passed a local bar, the Schooner Tavern, a group of older, white people who were standing outside the bar’s side door began hurling racist and transphobic slurs at them, without provocation…When CeCe approached the group and told them that her crew would not tolerate hate speech, one of the women said, “I’ll take you bitches on,” and then smashed her glass into CeCe’s face. She punctured CeCe’s cheek all the way through, lacerating her salivary gland. A fight ensued, during which one of the attackers, Dean Schmitz, was fatally stabbed. CeCe was the only person arrested that night… After her arrest, CeCe was quickly charged with second-degree murder. In short, she was prosecuted for surviving a violent, racist, transphobic attack.

On May 2, 2012, as jury selection for CeCe’s trial was underway, CeCe accepted a plea agreement: she pled guilty to a reduced charge of 2nd degree manslaughter, which carries a sentence of 41 months. CeCe was officially sentenced on June 4th, 2012.CeCe is currently being held in the men’s prison in St. Cloud, MN.’ – Homepage of the Support CeCe! Campaign.

‘…the judge was willing to take tiny things into consideration to prejudice CeCe’s character evidence (i.e. evidence that she once wrote a cheque that bounced) but nothing to say anything about the character of the attackers.’ – Forty Shades of Grey blog.

Your cheque bounced, CeCe.

That was held against you.

The cheque, they said, spoke to

the content of your character.

They never said a word about the swastika

tattooed on the body of the man they said you murdered.

You were as American as he was: more

American, you never wore the symbol 

of an old-world so-called master race

that never was: but they didn’t talk about the swastika,

the fact he said go back to Africa,

his violent past: they talked about your cheque.

They never talk about the cheque

King tried to cash in Washington,

the one dated 7-4-1776

that said all men are created equal.

In school they say for men read people

but we know that isn’t true:

for men read white, for men read male

assigned at birth and happy to be so,

even if some gambled, titillated,

in the Lloyd’s of London betting pool

on the gender of the Chevalier D’Eon.

For men read Thomas Jefferson,

fathering children on his slaves;

for men read Hoover, closeted,

obsessed with sin and plague;

for men read Richard Nixon,

for men read James Earl Ray,

for men read us in killers’ eyes,

the eyes of those

who beat Crain Conaway to death,

who shot Deoni Jones,

who gagged Rosita Hidalgo, stabbed her body, slit her throat;

who shot Coko Williams

who shot Tyrell Jackson,

who shot Paige Clay in the face,

who shot Brandy Martell,

who burned Lorena Escalera’s house down, choking her with smoke;

who shot Tracey Johnson again and again,

who stabbed Tiffany Gooden again and again,

who shot Deja Jones,

who shot Kendall Hampton,

who put a gun to Kyra Cordova’s head and pulled the trigger:

American eyes looked down those barrels,

American lives flashed by in the light of those blades.

These are only the murders in 2012.

These are just the American names,

and they are black names, and Latino names,

the kind of names we know will get turned down:

a white name on an email, a white voice on the phone,

has less chance of being refused a loan,

less chance of cheques bouncing: and what if they do?

If you’re white a bounced cheque won’t be held against you,

won’t be taken as proof you’d cold-bloodedly kill a man:

whites who kill have excuses made. Look at George Zimmerman.

They say he was frightened. Well, what about you?

They say he was threatened. Weren’t you threatened too?

He carried a gun: you only had scissors,

but he was a white man and wasn’t transitioning,

he occupied a much safer position

in the hierarchy they say isn’t there:

he was white, he was straight. You were black. You were queer.

They said all men created equal,

they told us for men read people,

but we were read wrong when we came

into the world. They branded boy

on us. To name is to destroy,

to enter in the register of births is to erase.

We spend our lives like Virginia, dragging around our colonial names,

the names in the murder reports, the obituaries:

that day in the car, when I could barely breathe,

I gasped to my ex, as she drove me to hospital,

make sure they use the right words at my funeral.

Did you think that, CeCe, when you were attacked?

When the truth of who we are conflicts with their facts

it’s their facts which get printed instead of our truth.

There are documents. Papers. The burden of proof

is on us, and we can’t testify when we’re dead.

It’s a double-bind: die and your corpse gets misgendered,

fight back and be punished for having defended

your life. We aren’t the ones stand your ground laws intend

to protect: they expect us to dutifully beat

a retreat from abuse. Blessed, they say, are the meek,

but there’s a limit to how often you can turn the other cheek.

How many times can we just walk away,

 avoid causing trouble, keep playing it safe

‘til we finally decide that we just cannot take

it? You didn’t attack. You talked back. Remonstrated.

And in taking that act, CeCe, you demonstrated

what they hate most of all: calm and reasoned defiance.

Satyagraha. Soul force. They met it with violence

as they did in Birmingham, Selma, and Memphis.

It’s true you fought back, that you offered resistance

that was active and desperate, not measured and passive,

but comfortable white folks who style themselves pacifists

have no clue what the stakes are. There weren’t any cameras,

and what if there were?

The shots which kill us are not heard ‘round the world.

You fought as we all would in fear of our lives

and you won. That’s why they hate you, CeCe: you survived.  

We’re not supposed to fight back; when we do we’re meant to fail;

when we succeed then we’re supposed to meekly go to jail:

we’re supposed to keep accepting that that cheque is in the mail.

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