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

JOHN MUIR HIGH SCHOOL CLASS OF 1965 Essay Competition

 

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In honor of the 50th High School graduation of the late writer Octavia E. Butler, the Octavia E. Butler Literary Society and the John Muir class of 1965 are sponsoring an essay competition for current John Muir students in grades 9-12. The first place winner of the competition will receive $100 and the second place winner will receive $50. The essays must discuss one of Butler’s short stories in the collection Bloodchild and Other Stories.

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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.

 

People of Color in the Future

As I come to the end of my Butler’s Daughter’s experience, I want to reflect on how I began it: One of the reasons I joined the Butler’s Daughter’s course is because I am a science fiction junkie. I loved Ender’s Game and Stargate and The Uglies series but I was always somewhat alarmed that there was never any people of color there. What happened to the people of color in the future? Did they die off? Were they massacared in the genocide Hitler dreamed of? What exactly happened?

In many of the books I read, there was this every hipster idea that if we were all the same, there would be no more strife caused by silly divisions like race or gender or sexuality. There would be problems of course, but these problems would be on the scale of alien attacks and world domination. There was a cohesiveness amongst the citizens of science fiction that seemed to branch from the fact that they were all the same.

What I love about Octavia Butlers books, and Dawn in particular, is that nothing happened to the people of color: Lillith is right there, leading the way into the new future. Dawn is an entire book about how not only diversity survives; it is vital to the world. The Oankali cannot live without diversity and seek out partners in order to avoid stagnation. This is in direct contradiction with the redirect of most science fiction novels, where the destruction of diversity results in unity of the world. However this kind of unity is false, achieved only by denying difference and thus denying people their individuality. By embracing diversity, Butler creates a more realistic future and a more achievable Utopia, one that may not be pretty, but is on its way to being equal.

It’s been rewarding to be reading about people of color in the future, to have a story where we exist and where we are working towards gaining equality. I personally feel as more people of color writers are recognized for their brilliance, we will see more of the story lines become common place. I am excited for that day.

Octavia E. Butler Celebration of Arts & Activism Panel Review/ End of the Year Thoughts

Going into this panel, I had nothing but high expectations, and coming out of the panel, I felt pleased. It’s a known fact: people who read and enjoy Octavia Butler’s works are inherently cool. And now I’m one of them. The panel contained a mix of artists and activists, many of who relate their work back to Octavia Butler and are finding ways to use her texts to inspire movements. With a panel chocked full of insightful people, I jotted notes to keep up, but one comment really stuck out to me–no notes required. Junot Díaz (whose credentials are available on wikipedia. Also, Junot, a few girls in my class are hardcore fangirls) said that our subconscious has a way of showing up in the work that we do, and specifically our writing. It was an interesting idea considering many people set out to write about specific issues like racism, feminism, sexism, agism, etc in their writing, but what about the ideas we aren’t even thinking about? As frustrating as it can be, writing is so cathartic. As a Spelman student I actively think a lot about feminism and women’s roles within texts and in real-world situations, and a lot of that shows up in my writing, but I think after Junot’s comment, I am more inclined to regularly journal to see what I’m thinking about when I’m not even aware that I’m thinking. Is my mind ever really off the clock? As we move into the spring/summer/school-less months, I plan to journal for ten minutes a day; I want to know more about my subconscious, and I encourage readers of this blog to try it with me!

On another note, today was the last day of our Butler’s Daughter’s: Imagining Leadership class. I am particularly thankful for this class and glad to be one of the pioneers of this course because it opened my eyes to an entire field of study (afrofuturism), incredibly talented authors, and my own capabilities to write and produce science fiction with black protagonists. I’ve always been interested in science-fiction books and movies like Gattaca and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, for example, but it never occurred to me that I could be the one telling those stories, and that the people in the stories could look like me. Octavia is correct when she writes, “all you touch, you change,” because this course has enlightened me in so many unexpected ways, and moved me into long-term action as a reader, writer and thinker.

To our scarily-patient instructors Dr. Stanley and Professor Due, many thanks.