Monday, May 19, 2014

Happy Birthday Grace Jones: Fem Film Rogue Icon Spotlight

Zula (Grace Jones) stole the show in Conan the Destroyer.
I remember gathering at the television set, the whole family making it a big deal that Conan the Destroyer was coming on for the very first time. As our little hands dug into a mass of buttery special movie occasion popcorn, the appreciation in my mother's large hazel eyes grew. Not at the sight of star- Arnold Schwarzenegger. She gazed at the sight of Grace Jones with pure awe, excitedly shouting, “I didn't know Grace Jones was in this!” Now anyone at school would call Grace Jones unattractive and dark skinned calamity. No one would ever wear their hair that short and "masculine" trimmed into box formation. Especially not without a relaxer. In my mother's eyes and joyful tone of her voice, she admired this woman and so did I. Jones' Zula battled men twice her size and killed them with ease, expression wild and dangerous. Before Xena the Warrior Princess's yodeled cries and The Walking Dead's Michonne burst into the world slashing zombies with a machete, dreadlocks flying high, Grace Jones' Zula thrust herself into my heart like an arrowed dagger, piercing tender flesh asunder. As a child, I couldn't comprehend that emotion. Still, idealizing straight hair, thinner lips, and lighter skin- I had wanted that real American dream no one wants to talk about. 

Of course, Grace Jones set me straight real quick.

Jones is the diamond in the rut.
Hailing from Jamaica, born on this beautiful day (like playwright Lorraine Hansberry) in 1948, Grace Jones is all guts and glory. A fashion icon, a model, a musician, and a sexy firecracker, she sparkles every composition appealingly chiseled face and lithe body sets foot upon. She gives the most boring space pizzazz and personality. Taking charge, this bold, rebellious, creative genius has inspired millions since she stepped on the scene. Boxed haircuts and tailored men suits aren't just for the male equation anymore. From the hip 80s to beyond, Jones took "masculine" styles and gave them her own signature flare, marketing a brand new campaign of terming beautiful fashionista. 

There is power in Jones' version of sexual freedom. Some say it's embarrassing. Others say it's demeaning to a culture, a race that is often viewed as overly promiscuous. She is blunt and real. By acknowledging what drives others discomfort, she isn't afraid. Nope. She isn't sugar coating to the massively uptight agenda. Most protestors only despise Jones because she doesn't "look" sexy to them. That aesthetic reveals itself in a rather glaring manner. Skin nearing ebony shade, thick, pouty lips, African jawline, and choosing to wear hair in a short boyish natural makes certain characters clench their teeth in disgust. Top off that appearance with men's clothing and hell breaks loose.

An old American dream of whitewashed beauty revealed- disturbing and utterly wrong to glorify one race over another...
Whilst growing up, I disliked myself for all the wrong reasons. For not meeting idealized standards of beauty. Elle, Glamour, Vogue, and Vanity Fair told my teenage self countless times via imagery and startling text that to be lovely, to be desirable is to be pale with long straightened hair and thinner facial features, to be so bright, one looked like a halo missing angel from a period painting. That above image of Jones decked in "whiteface" was my dream- blue eyed, light skinned, and "perfect" haired fantasy. To scrub away darkness, the brown stained skin that seems to still symbolize grotesque monstrosity.

However, one day, I happened upon a stark black and white image of Jones that shattered my brainwashed mind. She looked stunning. So stunning that I observed the portrait for quite a while. Sensuous black eyes staring out at me, daring and challenging. Not whispering quietly. Like she knew things that she shouldn't know. Dressed in squared suit, no shirt underneath, revealing toned breastbone, she spoke loud despite lips closed over stemmed white cigarette. That day she told me to stop hiding behind those magazines, that those ideologies are not me, not catered to me. That I must be proud, free-spirited, and reckless. There is a wisdom in knowing true self- in being so genuine in that self that no cruel words could ever break that loyal, courageous bond. Loving self should be the strongest relationship in a human being;s life before loving another. At least I think so. I also felt a burgeoning love for Jones blossom, as well as the beginning of accepting myself, my appearance in the mirror- afro haired, brown skinned, and thick featured. I respect Jones and have always viewed her as a role model, a worthy inspiration.

I still recall Zula and her bravery. Zula seemed to be Grace herself. Fighting battles that media tossed. She always hits right back, widening, expressive eyes and opened mouth cross between shock and a smile.

Grace Jones is definitely a rogue, a fiery, amazing rule breaker. We need more women to be this passionate about running from the pack. She teaches us to stand out from the crowd and please ourselves first. 

Who cares about anyone else's perspective right?

A picture is worth a thousand silent words.
Closing off with some of the birthday girl's best quotes:

“I’ve always been a rebel. I never do things the way they’re supposed to be done. Either I go in the opposite direction or I create a new direction for myself, regardless of what the rules are or what society says.”

“Men are terrified of me. I can easily step into the man’s shoe, and that puts the man in a position where he has to become the female. That’s what sets off the tension. But my image is supposed to frighten men…”

“It doesn’t surprise me that people can’t see beyond my image. It’s amazing, but I can understand it. That’s what image is for. But it’s never a problem for me. It’s only a problem for them. I don’t really care. I do what I want regardless.”

“I think I’m doing a service to black women by portraying myself as a sex machine. I mean, what’s wrong with being a sex machine, darling? Sex is large, sex is life, sex is as large as life, so it appeals to anyone that’s living, or rather it should.”

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