John Muir High School Class of 1965 Essay Contest Winner

CONGRATULATIONS YENDRICK PORRAS 

The OEB Society sponsored an essay contest to mark what would have been Ms. Butler’s 50th high school reunion. The winner is Yendrick Porras. We are grateful to Ms. Eddie Newman, John Muir class of 1965, for coordinating the essay contest at the California high school. Please read a bit about Miss Porras below.Octavia Essay Winner, Yendrick Parros

Group Picture, Octavia

 From Left to Right: John Muir High School Principal, Timothy Sippel, Reunion committee Chair Gilbert Blades, Yendrick Porras and Eddie Newman, Class of

Coming from a low income single parent household, I had to overcome many difficulties that made me independent and grow as a person. Because of our financial situation, we often moved homes which helped me adapt to new surroundings as I became older. When I entered high school I had a goal of maintaining a 4.0 GPA, but when I became homeless during sophomore year I earned many “B’s” instead of “A’s”. Despite being a minority and first in my family to go to college, I am striving towards a higher education to better my life and the life of  my family.

I am apart of the Engineering and Environmental Science Academy at John Muir High School which has exposed me to the field of engineering and various opportunities that are preparing me for college. Because of these opportunities, I was able to take a college freshman engineering course, with a full scholarship, from Johns Hopkins University. Engineering Innovation made me realize my passion for engineering and helping. I plan to purse a PhD in mechanical engineering. Another goal I accomplished was to get an internship. I interned at Muir Ranch, a two-acre organic farm, for three years. This allowed me to gain customer service skills and exposed me to laborious work that pushed me to dream for a better life through education.

In my quest for higher education, I looked towards those whose footsteps I now walk in for inspiration–John Muir alumni. I came across the Octavia E. Butler Society essay contest and felt that I identified with Octavia Butler’s experiences as an adolescent, so I entered. Octavia E. Butler gave me inspiration and is a true inspiration for young girls like me.

Yendrick Porras

In Honor of Octavia Butler’s Birthday

It’s June 22, 2015. This would have been Octavia Butler’s 68th birthday. Instead of marking the occasion with my own reflections of Butler, I thought I’d share some of my students’ writings. I came upon a review for Luc Besson’s  Lucy (2014)  written by a scholar in my Butler’s Daughters class at Spelman College. I shared this young woman’s disappointment at the plastic role of Lucy and the lack of attention to characterization. As a media scholar, I always pay attention to the numbers and noted that the world-wide box office for Lucy was at least 10 times its budget. This would usually mean a sequel, but there is not much left to work up into part deux. Lucy causes me to ask one of the enduring questions of my intellectual life, “why  have no Octavia Butler heroines been translated to the silver screen?” Like my student, I think surely Lillith (Xenogenesis Triliogy) or Lauren (Parable of the Sower) with their actual substance and purpose trump Lucy? Perhaps those are questions it will take more than 10% of our brains to answer.

Lucy and Why Female Protagonists Have To Be More Than Female

Brielle Ariana

Lucy (2014) is a sci-fi thriller that features an eponymous female protagonist. The character Lucy is forced into becoming a drug mule by having a bag full of volatile drugs inserted into her body against her will. She is then kidnapped and attacked resulting in that bag opening and seeping into her system. As a result, her brain capacity rapidly increases over a 24 hour period. It should have been one of my favorite movies of the year. Instead, I left the film slightly disappointed.

There were quite a few faults with the movie, including the logic jumps that didn’t always make complete sense, the almost total disregard for the separation of national police forces in Europe or how air-travel works (Lucy never used a passport, which I didn’t understand), the fact that it barely passed the Bechdel test (I didn’t think it was going to make it) and the ridiculous Asian villains.

And then there is the other major problem that the whole “We only use 10% of our brains” thing is a myth but we’re not going to go there.

But what really made me upset about this film was that Lucy was not a real protagonist.

In fact, Lucy doesn’t even really live long before she is reborn as LUCY, a psuedo-human, hyper-intelligent, ever-evolving force that cannot be defeated. And LUCY, though much more intelligent than Lucy, still doesn’t meet the requirements of a protagonist.

To be clear, I define a protagonist as a main character(s) who fights against an antagonist or antagonistic force. Neither Lucy nor LUCY ever do this, though there were plenty of opportunities for that to happen.

The vindictive drug cartel run by the nameless Asians could have been suitable antagonists but they are never any match for LUCY. They are such a laughable foe that it becomes really unbelievable that they don’t just pack up their bags and go home.

The threat of LUCY’S imminent death because of the drugs that incited Lucy’s transformation could have been a suitable antagonist force, but LUCY, being a super-human genius, quickly discovers a remedy to this and proceeds to find no real hinderance to achieving this remedy.

The dilemma of what to do with all of the knowledge LUCY is acquiring could have been a suitable antagonistic force, but Morgan Freeman’s character solves this problem two minutes into their phone conversation in the beginning of the film.

The threat of LUCY losing all of her humanity could have been a suitable antagonistic force and for a while this seemed to be where the plot was going. There are three scenes where LUCY seems to struggle momentarily with her feelings, but each last so briefly that they come across as footnotes to the plot rather than conflict.

Furthermore, any problems LUCY comes across are solved almost immediately after they are proposed. Lucy faces no real conflict, at least not for an extended period of time, because Lucy’s struggle with an antagonist isn’t the driving force of the film. The driving force of the film is the constant question of what is going to happen when LUCY reaches 100% brain capacity. LUCY, then, isn’t a protagonist or even the antagonist.

She’s the problem.

The story cannot be about Lucy’s journey because neither Lucy nor LUCY have a journey. She faces no conflict, she learns no lessons, she has no growth. Lucy seems to be a story that is entirely unconcerned with it’s main character as a character.

Now as far as plot-driven movies go this one keeps you entertained with the multiple national government drug cartel take-down, the crazy Asian drug cartel not even noticing that the girl they fight on multiple occasions has superpowers though she blatantly uses them, and, of course, Morgan Freeman.

But it’s really frustrating because the commercials, the poster, the title, all lead you to believe that this is a science fiction movie with a female protagonist and it’s not. It’s a sort-of-science fiction, more like fantasy because it has no real basis in real science, movie with a female conflict.

The cop in the film begins a hardworking man fighting for the greater good. When he encounters LUCY, he is not quick to accept how out of his depth he is. But by the end, he is much more open to accepting what he doesn’t understand.

Morgan Freeman’s character begins as a brilliant scientist who has spent a lot of his life researching the human brain. When he encounters LUCY, he finds the epitome of all his research and has to decide whether he is really ready for all the knowledge he has been searching for. In the end, he ends up with all the knowledge of the universe in his palm.

The nameless Asian villains begin as drug dealers who are on top of the world with no worries. This changes when LUCY appears and threatens to destroy everything. They pursue LUCY relentlessly, even though she beats them without any effort every time. Each time they face off with her, the stakes are raised, but they never learn from their previous mistakes. This results in their deaths.

Some of the other characters evolve in authentic ways, over time. They are multifaceted. They have character growth. Or they die because of lack of character growth.

Lucy begins the movie a scared young woman and continues to be that until she transforms into LUCY.

LUCY begins the movie as an ever-evolving superhuman force and continues to be that until the movie ends.

The leap between the two is instantaneous. There is no growth. There is no conflict. There is no personhood.

Instead of a character dealing with a problem, they made a character who is a problem to be dealt with. Instead of Lucy they made LUCY.

The one thing I adore about Octavia Butler is that she makes every single one of her characters, and especially her female protagonists, people.

For instance, in “Mind of My Mind” the protagonist is a girl name Mary. Like Lucy, Mary becomes extremely powerful after a painful and nearly sudden transformation. Like Lucy, she has control over people that extends beyond normal humans. But unlike Lucy, Mary faces conflicts and trials, has to deal with how her power affects her humanity, changes and evolves as she the story goes on.

Mary has a journey.

I dislike Mary because she is selfish, vindictive and power-hungry. But I am invested in her as a character because she is more than just a plot twist. Octavia Butler ensures that you are invested.

Butler makes you care.

We have so few female protagonists in popular media that it’s always a major disappointment to see one written so incredibly poorly. Lucy was the only female character of note in her film, was the star of the film, and she STILL wasn’t a real person. It’s not enough for female protagonists to be women. They need to be people. 

No matter whether they have supernatural abilities, or live on a spaceship, or aren’t human at all, Octavia Butler ensures that every one of her characters are fully developed and believable. Lucy could learn something from Lauren or Lillith or T’Gatoi in what it means to be a real character.

And the movie industry could learn a thing or two from Butler in how to write one.

 

PANELISTS: Octavia E. Butler Celebration of Arts and Activism (Spelman College) 4/16/14

Last March, Spelman College celebrated the life and legacy of Octavia E. Butler with a panel of her friends, teachers and colleagues called the Octavia E. Butler Celebration of the Fantastic Arts. Readers and fans from around the country came to the campus to participate in the historic event.  [See the video HERE.]

In 2014–on the 50th anniversary of civil rights milestones–Spelman’s celebration of the science fiction pioneer’s work expands to the realm of social justice with the Octavia E. Butler Celebration of Arts & Activism. This is the Culminating Event of Cosby Chair in the Humanities Tananarive Due, who also organized last year’s event. The Celebration will include a panel, a Black Science Fiction Short Film Festival, and a presentation of papers by Octavia Butler student scholars at Spelman.

All of the panelists both admire Octavia’s work and have embraced roles as artist/activists in different ways. More information about the schedule to come.  (Please “like” our Facebook page for updates.) 

CONFIRMED PANELISTS:

Nnedi Okorafor 

Image

A leading international voice in black speculative fiction, Nnedi Okorafor is the author of the groundbreaking novel Who Fears Death, a 2011 World Fantasy Award winner that tackles real-world issues such as rape and female genital mutilation. The Nigerian-American author has also published several young adult titles: Akata WitchThe Shadow Speaker and Zahrah the Windseeker, which was awarded the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. She recently published a short story collection, Kabu Kabu. Find her on Twitter @Nnedi.

Junot Díaz 

Image

Junot Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey. He is the author of the critically acclaimed DrownThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and This Is How You Lose Her, a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist. He is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, PEN/Malamud Award, Dayton Literary Peace Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, and PEN/O. Henry Award.  A graduate of Rutgers College, Díaz is currently the fiction editor at Boston Review and the Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He is the cofounder of Voices of Our Nation Workshop.

dream hampton

Image

Dream Hampton is a writer and award winning filmmaker. She’s a senior fellow at Moms Rising.  She was an Associate Producer of VH1’s Emmy-award winning “Behind the Music: Notorious B.I.G.” and Co-Producer of “Bigger than Life”, the first feature-length documentary on the rapper, directed by Peter Spier. Her short film “I am Ali” was an entry at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival and won “Best Short Film” at Vanity Fair’s Newport Film Festival. She was a Co-Executive Producer of “An Oversimplification of Her Beauty”, 2012, Associate Producer of “The Russian Winter”,(2012) Director of the music video “QueenS”, 2012 for SubPop artists TheeSatisfaction! “QueenS”, which NPR named one of the most stylish of 2012. Hampton directed the feature length concert film Black August: A Hip-Hop Documentary Concert, 2010. Hampton has written about music, culture and politics for 20 years. She was a contributor to Vibe for 15 years, beginning with its launch 1993, The Village Voice, and Spin. She is noted as a “pioneering” black female journalist. Other publications her writings have appeared in include The Detroit News, Harper’s Bazaar, NPR, Essence, Ebony, etc. Her Essays have also been included in over dozens of anthologies, including Born to Use Mics: Reading Nas’s Illmatic, 2009 (edited by Michael Eric Dyson) and “Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness”, 2012 (edited by Rebecca Walker). Hampton collaborated with Jay-Z on the New York Times bestselling book, Decoded.  She also writes for “BET Honors” and co-produced 2013’s “Black Girls Rock.”

Find her on Twitter: @dreamhampton

Adrienne Maree Brown 

Image

Adrienne is a 2013 Kresge Literary Arts Fellow writing science fiction in Detroit, and also received a 2013 Detroit Knight Arts Challenge Award to run a series of Octavia Butler based science fiction writing workshops. She is the co-editor of the forthcoming anthology Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from Social Justice Movements with Walidah Imarisha (coming 6/2014). Learning from her 15 years of movement facilitation and participation, she approaches Octavia’s work through the lens of emergent strategy – strategies rooted in relationship, adaptability, and embracing change. Adrienne has helped to launch a loose network of Octavia Butler and Emergent Strategy Reading Groups for people interested in reading Octavia’s work from a political and strategic framework, and is building with Octavia E Butler Legacy Network on other ways of extending Butler’s work.

She is on Twitter @adriennemaree.

FEATURED YOUNG ARTIST/ACTIVIST:

Bree Newsome 

Image
Bree Newsome’s mug shot after her arrest (July, 2013)

Bree Newsome is a North Carolina writer, filmmaker and singer/songwriter and progressive activist who was arrested at a sit-in in July of 2013. She and five other protesters were arrested while protesting changes to North Carolina’s Voter ID law that restrict voting. Her short horror film, WAKE, was featured at last year’s Black Science Fiction Short Film Festival at Spelman.

She graduated from New York University with a B.F.A. in Film & Television. While still in high school, Newsome created an animated short, “The Three Princes of Idea” which earned her a $40,000 scholarship from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. In October 2004, YM Magazine named Newsome one of the “20 Coolest Teens in America.” While at NYU, she wrote and directed “Your Ballot, Your Voice” a humorous PSA encouraging youth to vote. The PSA went on to win Grand Prize in the Tisch/MTV Rock the Vote PSA Contest. Newsome wrote, produced, directed and edited “Wake”, her final short film as a student at NYU. “Wake” has received numerous awards and honors. It was selected for official competition in NYU’s prestigious First Run Film Festival where it went on to win numerous awards including an Audience Choice Award and craft awards for Producing, Art Direction and Acting. The film was also named as a finalist for the festival’s highest honor, the esteemed Wasserman Award. Newsome is the first African-American to be nominated for this award in the undergraduate category (Spike Lee had previously won the award in the graduate category). As such, she was honored in June 2010 with an invitation to screen her film at the Directors Guild of America in Hollywood. The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures recognized “Wake” as one of the best student films of 2010 and awarded Newsome a student grant. The film also won the Paul Robeson award for Best Short Narrative at Newark Black Film Festival. Newsome was subsequently invited to screen her film in several other major film festivals including the 63rd Festival de Cannes in France, the New York International Latino Film Festival, the International Black Film Festival of Nashville, Montreal Black Film Festival in Canada and Cucalorous Film Festival in Wilmington, NC. “Wake” concluded its festival run by taking the top prize at BET’s Urbanworld Film Festival in 2011. Newsome was invited in 2011 to serve as the first ever Artist-in-Residence at Saatchi & Saatchi, a global creative communications and advertising company headquartered in New York. In August 2012, Newsome wrote and recorded, “SHAKE IT LIKE AN ETCH-A-SKETCH!”, a song that skewers presidential candidate Mitt Romney and criticizes the Republican Party for policies that promote classism and bigotry. Newsome then directed and edited a music video for the song which she released on YouTube. The video immediately drew attention and praise from political bloggers, including The Huffington Post. Most recently, Bree Newsome has served as a consultant and teacher for the Cinema School in the Bronx, NY. She is the frontwoman for Powerhouse, a Charlotte-based funk and r&b/soul band and she is currently at work writing and recording her first EP. A staunch advocate for civil rights and social reform, Newsome was arrested last year during a sit-in at the North Carolina State Capitol where she spoke out against the state’s recent attack on voting rights. She continues to work as an activist and youth organizer in North Carolina.

Bree is on Twitter @BreeNewsome

Moderator: Tananarive Due 

Image

Tananarive Due is serving her second year as the Cosby Chair in the Humanities at Spelman College. The American Book Award winner is the author of more than a dozen novels and a civil rights memoir, Freedom in the Family: a Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights, which she co-authored with her late mother, Patricia Stephens Due. Octavia Butler said of her novel My Soul to Keep: ““I enjoy reading the kind of novel that seduces me right into it and makes me forget about work or sleep. My Soul to Keep does that beautifully.”  She and her husband, science fiction novelist Steven Barnes, recently co-produced and co-wrote a short horror film, “Danger Word.” 

Due’s mother, Patricia Stephens Due, spent 49 days in jail after a sit-in at a Woolworth lunch counter in Tallahassee, Florida, in 1960, arrested while she was a student at Florida A&M University. Her father, civil rights attorney John Due, is still active in the fight against racism.

Due and Spelman College English Department Chair Tarshia Stanley are co-teaching a spring course at Spelman entitled: “Butler’s Daughters: Imagining Leadership in Black Speculative Fiction.”

Due is on Twitter @TananariveDue.