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.

 

My First Encounter with Octavia Butler

Brace yourself. That’s what someone should have told me when I mentioned that I was going to be studying Octavia Butler this semester. Her use of alien otherness in Dawn made me re-evaluate not only how wonderful it is to be human but also how wonderful it has to have choices. She also touches on agricultural preservation in Parable of the Sower, co-habitation in “Bloodchild” and historical understanding in Kindred. I soon realized that Octavia Butler’s works are intended to make readers question the way they view the world and understand that they have power to make change. With her in-your-face approach to prevalent issues combined with a buffer of speculative fiction situations, I was able to finally get the message–and get started.

Niaya Little reflecting on her independent study on Octavia E. Butler at Spelman College,

Barnes and Due: Danger Word Short Film

Tananarive Due and Stephen Barnes have released their short film based on their novel Devil’s Wake to youtube.

 

A 13-year-old girl and her grandfather, hiding out in a wooded cabin after a plague, meet the challenge of their lives when her birthday trip to a trading post goes horribly awry. Starring Frankie Faison (The Silence of the Lambs, “The Wire,” “Banshee”) and introducing Saoirse Scott (“One Life to Live”).

Nominated for Best Narrrative Short: Pan African Film Festival and BronzeLens Film Festival.

Directed by Luchina Fisher (Death in the Family).
Written by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due, based on their novel Devil’s Wake.

VISIT OUR WEBSITE: http://www.dangerwordfilm.com
LIKE US ON IMDB, FACEBOOK and TWITTER:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3566474/c…
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Danger…
https://twitter.com/ZombiesFreak

Royalty free music licensed by http://www.stockmusic.net

For more on Luchina Fisher: http://www.deathinthefamilyfilm.com
For more on Tananarive Due:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tanana…
For more on Steven Barnes: http://www.diamondhour.com
For more on Frankie Faison: https://twitter.com/FrankieFaison
For more on Saoirse Scott:https://www.facebook.com/SaoirseKScott

Winds of Change: Recognizing Octavia In My Short Film

Winds of ChangeImage

Spelman is full of traditions: There is an arch that no one is to walk under until they graduate or they will be cursed to spend more than four years pursuing their degree; All Spelman Women must wear a pure white dress with sleeves and a hem that falls past one’s knees for momentous traditional events, such as your first Founder’s Day; There is an age-old preconceived notion of how a “Spelman Woman” should dress, talk, and act that is prominent on our campus.

Spelman is also full of opposition to those traditions: People dismiss the arch lore as merely superstitious. Many argue that the white dress represents dated ideals of femininity and purity that contradict with the progressiveness of the school. Pushback against the traditional “Spelman Woman” is also prominent on our campus.

Faced with such either/or situations, I am often tempted to choose a side when it comes to the complexities of Spelman. But if there is one thing Octavia Butler has helped me come to grips with this semester, it is truly embracing the idea of nuance. None of her novels allow you a black and white, good and evil interpretation of anything. She gives an almost inordinate amount of care with her gray spaces, lavishing in them, whether it be through the exploration of the relationship between Nikanj and Lillith in Dawn or in the evaluation of consent between Shori and Wright in Fledgling. Octavia doesn’t allow you to pick a side by quickly pointing out that the sides are not as easy to define as we would like to believe. What she is more concerned with is how we navigate the space we are given, how the choices we make influence our realities.

As the Octavia E. Butler Celebration of Arts & Activism Short-Film Festival approached I found myself immersed in a story of disappearing time and disappearing women and that was all behind the scenes. After plans for one short film fell through, I set to work on another, writing the script in a few days and cobbling together a makeshift crew and cast. I had my DSLR camera, a borrowed tripod, and some enthusiastic volunteers: I was ready to go. Of course, like most well laid (if somewhat last minute) plans, I found my film schedule falling apart as I faced my deadline. Two separate actresses casted for the lead ended up backing out of the project last minute and so I had to take on the role myself. One of the big scenes I planned on filming needed too many people and I had to rewrite. And then, perfectionist that I am, I spent all of my free time leading up to the festival editing. The morning of the event I fell asleep at my computer as I waited for it to upload and woke to a tweet from Professor Tananarive Due asking for my link. In the end, things fell into place and Winds of Change debuted as the first film in the festival and the only student film.

Winds of Change revolves around Cassandra, a gifted psychic who, at fourteen, was approached by the being Oya to be a warrior of change and bear the responsibility of changing the world for the better. Cassandra, however, could not bear the burden of this responsibility. Years later, Oya, recognizing that a single human couldn’t accomplish her goal, begins collecting a variety of world-changers to merge with her and become one super-warrior. The film focuses on this process, called “The Claiming”. It begins with two girls who dare to walk through the arch and are absorbed by Oya. The climax is a face off between Cassandra and Oya after Oya claims Cassandra’s best friend, Talibeh. At the heart of the story is Cassandra’s horror at the thought of Oya’s super warrior, a conglomerate of young women who lose their free will in pursuit of Oya’s “healing”. But Oya argues that the woman who are claimed share the same will, to make the world a better place, and that their merging will allow that on a scale never seen before. In a way these issues mirror the issues I find myself confronted with on my campus, the issues of being a “Spelman Woman” without losing my identity. To what point is the adherence and love of our school and tradition a betrayal of my free will? To what point does “A Choice to Change the World” become a choice to stop making choices? And the ultimate question: Is it worth it?

Winds of Change doesn’t answer any of these questions. It was written in three days and filmed in two but more than that, it is embedded with an Octavia Butler ethos, her rejection of simplicity finding its way into my five minute short without much conscious effort on my part. Instead of allowing a simple good/evil dynamic between Cassandra and Oya, I presented two beings who are equally flawed, Cassandra by such a desperate desire to keep her life as her own that she is unable to sacrifice anything to fulfill her destiny, and Oya who requires such a complete sacrifice of self, individuality is completely lost.  But Cassandra and Oya are also equally strong, Cassandra loyal and freethinking, Oya determined and full of good intentions. The ending of the film still unsettles me because though it implies “The Claiming” is inevitable, it refuses to confirm whether this is good or bad, because it doesn’t acknowledge if Oya is right or wrong. After a semester with the Oankali and the Ina, I find this discomfort familiar if not enjoyable.

At first, as I reminisced about the film, I thought that with more time I might have ferreted out some kind of middle ground between Cassandra and Oya that truly captures what it means to be a Spelmanite who adorns both her white dress and free will with pride. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that both Oya and Cassandra have the capacity to fill that role, to choose differently, to shape their reality in a way that allows this nuance. For me that is my next step, to not only write a gray area, but to also allow my characters to dive into it headfirst.

The Octavia E. Butler Celebration of Arts & Activist was full of brilliant activists and storytellers from Dream Hampton to Junot Diaz who discussed how Octavia had shaped the way they saw their worlds, both fictional and physical. Winds of Change has many flaws, the worst of which being my acting, but I know that I will always prize it, not only because it is my first truly eerie wor, or because the sound wasn’t as horrible as I feared it would be, but because it is a crucial part of my Octavia Butler story.

And it just makes sense that that story is inextricably linked with my Spelman story as well.