Movie Reviews Through a “Poverty Skola” Lens

By Lisa TIny Gray Garcia, Editor, Poor News Network

“I live in there, its my home,” Frances McDormand “playing” a houseless woman named Fern in the new movie Nomadland, says to mechanics who tell her it will be $5,000 to fix her van, which she “lives” in, in the movie. These and other moments are some of the excellently “crafted”, lines by brilliant actor McDormand and are classic examples of Hollywood’s ongoing dedication to performing poverty, disability and homelessness. to feed  the ever-hungry, ever-exploitative film, media and akkkademik industries.

Another example is Adarsh Gourav, “portraying”  Balram Halwaia,a very poor chauffeur working for Indian wealth-hoarders, scamlord class in the movie White Tiger a depiction/performance/portrayal of Poverty in India.

Both of these movies are artistically powerful, both of them have critiques (albeit way too subtle in Nomadland) of wealth-hoarding, employee slavery and CorpRape entities like Amazon. White Tiger is a deeper and more powerFULl critique of the scam-lord “upper classes” and even politricks itself. But they both are depictions of us poor people without us poor people. (Notwithstanding the only redeeming part of Nomadland,  three poverty skolaz “playing” themselves)

Aravind Adiga, author of the book White Tiger and Jessica Bruder, who did a “story” on houseless “Nomads” for Harpers magazine and then published a book of the same name, are both themselves middle class/owning class academics, journalists, who have “never missed a meal” as my mama would call it, but who were “fascinated” with the “underbelly” aka Bleeds it leads possibilities of writing about poor people. And as my OG ghetto poverty skola mama would also say, because they are well-educated mofos, they are excellent editors and writers, story-builders and are able to create spins and slants and stories out of our messy, CONfusing realities. But the thing they both share with countless writers before them who write, perform, and create an endless stream of “about us without us” narratives about poor, houseless, landless, disabled, indigenous Black, Brown, and immigrant/migrant communities, from Dickens to Steinbeck to most recently, the fake Raza writer Jeanine Cummins of American Dirt, is what I call By-line privilege and linguistic dominance. 

In other words these writers had a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs and shoes on their feet, while growing up so they could focus and learn what I call in the Poverty Scholarship book- linguistic domination skills, so they could carve a powerful story arc, and create these beautiful portrayals.  In both cases, the filmmakers of  these movies, Chloe Zhao and Ramin Bahrani, were also schooled, clothed, loved and protected so they could go to institutions and “learn” expensive software editing programs, get high-priced computers, meet people who would finance them and make connections to Sundance festival and other spaces, to fund their budgets so they could create powerful productions with excellent sound, and cinematography , and more.

These are subtle and silent privileges of media and art producers that are rarely if ever spoken about,  overstood, or understood,  And so Hollywood and Bollywood rages on making beautiful pieces of “art” from our lives of struggle. 

Fed and fueled by akademia, who are generators of an endless production of work, studies, papers, articles and panels talking, producing, fetishizing  about us without us work.

Now you might be arguing right, well then how else would poor peoples stories ever be told? To which I would reply, maybe they wouldn’t or maybe they would in the ways that we poor people, disabled people, indigenous people want to tell them. Stories that would lift up our manifestos and dreams, survival Shero-and hero-ism, and our deep and powerful poverty scholarship. 

I would also counter, what did poor people get out of these movies? Empathy, Savior Sympathy or? Actually most of the time as in the horror story ( documentary) called Daughter of Danang showed us, just for one example,  a documentary about a poor Vietnamese family that lost their mixed race daughter through imperial war adoption traffiking, and her family in Vietnam exploited depressed and badly translated in the “documentary”, while the rich wite directors and rich Vietnamese academics acquired  a notch on their filmmaking, researching, surveying belt, which led , as it always does, to more acclaim, grants and fellowships from more institutions and an Oscar(SoWhite), while the family remains un-helped and wrongly depicted and the protagonist lives with the trauma caused by that movie.

Equally dangerously, the story when filtered through the Hollywood lens, is always a story of krapitalist enabling and Wite middle class, Wealth-hoarding. Indian Owning class visions of success, colonization and hoarding are held up as the softly critiqued, rarely questioned dream that we all need to aspire to..

“Don’t let Grandma make a you a slave,” Now that he has a taste of the capitalist wealth-hoarding dream, Balram’s character in White Tiger is no longer engaged in eldership, indigenous community remittances, which is basic interdependence practiced by poor people in the diaspora across Mama Earth and now undermines,, disrespects and talks shit about the entire Sheroism of a matriarchal led family surviving through absolute horror of a scamlord-led Slave creating class in their tiny town, where he is from.

In fact Balrams big “liberatory/revolutionary character move in the movie (spoiler alert) i.e, killing his wealth-hoarding, more user-friendly “master” which enables him to get access to millions of dollars to launch his own business, means his whole family in the village will be wiped out. And although he is conflicted about this impossible situation, he decides to go for that choice as it means he is “free” and its all ok because he has become a better, nicer wealth-hoarding boss, someone who actually supports the people he runs over and accidentally kills in his driver business, 

There is a line in White Tiger “The Brown Man and the Yellow Man will lead the future,” and refers to the notion that POC led krapitalism will save us all.. with no critique of how it is still krapitalism, meant to exploit, hoard, displace, and NEVER share or re-distribute, no matter what color it is. This dynamic is beautifully unpacked in Jared Ball’s book the Myth and Propaganda of Black Buying Power.

And don’t get it twisted, im not utopicizing indigenous family businesses, village, campesino, poverty, angry, bossy, powerFULL matriarchs and patriarchs who do desperate measures to stay alive like Balram’s grandmother’s character, who forced Balram to work in the tea shop as a kid and give up his White Tiger education dream.

I am lifting this critique up as a poverty skola who had to drop out of school in the 6th grade to take care of my mama and work as a vendor on the streets so we could barely survive in a micro-business. This was not fun or cute and my mama was fierce and we were constantly in deep poverty and struggling with endless homelessness and criminalization. But we came out of it together, my mama was not left to be ghettoized, warehoused or destroyed. Mama didnt leave me in a foster home, even though survival was really hard, and instead together without any use of fake bootstraps narratives we survived, in coalition with other poor people, poor artists, media makers, writers and poets to live into a poor people revolution called POOR Magazine and lift up our own stories into a theory of survival and resistance and self-determination we call Poverty Scholarship. 

What i am critiquing is the fact that while we disrespect and destroy our own mamaz and elders and cultures and villages, and by any means cultural survival methods we lift up, love up and fetishize the concept of wealth-hoarding, scam-lording, and land -stealing as the solution to our collective happiness. 

Like Balram, in the soft- Krapitalist hero narrative, we were told in the delicate story arc- that its ok if his entire family was killed, so that a nicer, gentler krapitalist entity ( his business) could be born.

In Nomadland, CorpRAPe Amonstrazon is barely “seen” as the CorpRape monsters they are who enable and cause the destruction of entire towns economies, through their push to “order everything on-line”  and falsely cheap costs, their absolute Unsafe and violently un-supportive work conditions, lack of benefits and their enabling and causing of homelessness through their meager wages, things that fierce Amonstrazon workers are striking for right now as this story goes to print as AmonstraZon keeps colonizing land, lives and work so their is no room for anything or anyone else.

Instead Amonstrazon is just seen, sort of benignly, as one of the places Fern works, launched with a weird “safety” training, like amazon EVER worries about their employees or their insanely unsafe working conditions. But Nomadland filmmaker Chloe Zhao would not know that or fight for that, cause she has never worked at amazon to survive. 

Out of the mouth of one of the three actually houseless characters who played themselves, there is a soft edited down critique of krapitalism and accumulation, but then  Van life is utopicized and fetishized and instead of seen as what it is , which is responsible for the death of houseless people all across the US, due to poLice sweeps, endless ticketing, exposure and harassment by “owners” There is exactly one time in the movie that Fern’s character actually gets asked to leave from the parking lot she is in. Which is also absolutely so untrue, as a houseless person who among other things slept in broke-down cars when me and mama were lucky enough to have one, I can tell you it was a constant battle to not be seen, ticketed, arrested, or worse of all “towed” 

In addition the disturbing aspect of two of the main characters in Nomadland being depicted as a “choice” to be houseless is a whole other critique specific to krapitalism lies of success and support, And this is where amerikkklan cult of independence, specifically wite middle-class culture which has pervaded even POC families,  which demands a constant move away from your elders , your adult children, your siblings as a measure of your success and sanity, only to feed the ongoing gentriFUKation and away nation of colonial colleges and the Dorm industrial complex and beyond, which we all have pounded into us from birth, 

Many houseless elder, disabled women have adult children who are all pimped and played into the aforementioned “away-nation” so they dont reach out to their adult children and the adult children dont reach out to hosue , live inter-dependently with their elders, because they have been sold and told on the concept of their elder-ness being a “burden” and elders being time-consuming and annoying and keeping them from more krapitalist pursuits – a crucial narrative of krapitalism – to keep a mobile workforce and everyone constantly renting over-priced apartments and “buying” hoarding mama earth and feeding the elder dependent ghettos (Senior citizen homes)  

People aren’t encouraged to live interdependently or support their families as a village, conversely if that does happen, folks are labeled “failures” by family members if they stay at home, live with relatives, their mamas, their communities. Jokes and aspersions and insults are routinely told about people for living inter-generationally. Which cultivates and relies on the inherent shame held in the hearts of people who are houseless. 

“I’m not homeless, im houseless,” Fern says to a young daughter of a friend in the movie, not proudly as a poverty skola who has managed to live houselessly on her own skills, but embarrassedly, defending the fact that she isnt a bum, because her friend offers her to move in with them.

The crimes of about us without us media and art are many, from the poverty, elder skola resistance of the International Hotel in San Francisco’s Manilatown district to the life of Harriet Tubman- ourstories just continue to get told and sold by people with more resources, power and access. The Fall of the I-Hotel, a powerful documentary produced by Manilatown’s own Curtis Choy, rooted and informed by the community of Manilatown was created and not given anywhere enough acclaim, while a  well-funded theatre company ACT based in SF staged a play about Manilatown without Manilatown. Similarly, POOR’s own Leroy Moore has been making the connections between Harriet Tubman as a disability and poverty skola for years and the recent Hollywood treatment barely mentioned her disability.  

And then the CorpRape media endless about us without us jounalistic exposes and “Faces” campaigns about “homeless people” as Paul Boden, Poverty skola from WRAPhome. org calls it. Poverty Porn or Poverty voyeurism as my Mama Dee and me call it. These aren’t our stories told by us for us and more importantly for collective liberation. They are fodder for the ruling class and the Charity Industrial Complex.  

POOR Magazine/Prensa POBRE, like Abahlali baseMjondolo  (ShackDwellers Union) in South Africa, are militant on this issue, POOR Magazine has been teaching it and living it since 1995, creating art, theatre, poetry and movies by us with us, Hotel Voices, welfareQUEENS, and the most recent production on stage in 2019 Poverty Skolaz based on the teachings and lived poor people-led theory we call Poverty Scholarship. 

Laure McElroy, member of the welfareQUEEN’s project a powerful poor mama led art and cultural Theatre project of POOR Magazine

As well we have helped to launch the writing, art and resistance of countless independent poverty skolaz through the poor-people -led press known as POOR Press which has helped to lift up the visual and literary art work of Aztlan Press, Ace Robles, Krip Hop graphics novels, radio & video, Aunti Frances Moore, Bella Martrice Leroy Moore, Muteado Silencio, Angel Heart, Dee Allen, Bruce Allison,  – as well, our comrades and collaborators, The San Francisco Bay View Black Newspaper, Keith Jones , Min King William, Sean Ramsey, Kevin Epps, Emmit Thrower, and this povertyskola’s childrens book series with houseless, disabled protaginists and upcoming 2021-22 Theatre monologue series entitled Broken, 

Some powerful examples of filmic push-backs to Hollywood so white was the recent Fred Hampton movie Judas and the Black Messiah by Shaka King, which alot of revolutionaries were not happy with, but Fred Hampton Jr refused to give up and worked alongside the director to get the story of his father revolutionary Fred Hampton as right as they could.

In literary work when the American Dirt redunkulous amerikkklan dream book was released, the critique was led by powerFULL Latinx writers like JosiahLuis Alderete, and Matt Sedillo. In visual art, the powerful poster art launched by artists at Western Regional Advocacy Project, some of which as created by Ronnie Goodman, a street artist who lived and died houselessly on the street in San Francisco. POOR Magazine’s magazine’s, all filled with poor people-led art and liberation.

Original art for by Houseless Artist Ronnie Goodman

Grassroots powerful writers and artists like Ayodele Nzinga and the Lower Bottam Players, and Emmit Thrower, filmmaker of Where is Hope, on disability and poLice brutality.Kiss My Black Arts creating comeUnity based art and liberation. White Ally directors like Peter Menchini, Michele Grace Steinberg, for making movies as collaborators, resisting the othering of us about us- movies like Beyond Recognition on Sogorea Te Land Trust’s Indigenous land reclamation and Soar Torian Soar with Audrey Candy Corn, on the struggle of mamas who have lost their babies to gun violence. 

We the people, communities of color, workers, migrants, grandfathers and grandmothers, mamas, daddies, elders, babies, young folks, indigenous ancestors and aboriginal peoples who have spent time and love and sweat and tears and prayers caring for, working, dreaming and loving this community, this barrio, this street, 

and now only exist as a cultural memory, an “art-I-fact” a reference, a brush stroke, a photo, an exhibit, a dream to be studied, theorized, painted over, documented and/or forgotten and erased completely as though we were never here. 

(GENTRIFUKATION TOURS “R” US exists to document the theft, reclaim & take back the stolen spaces,  memories, images, pictures, lives and dreams. ….from the Art & Culture Chapter in Poverty Scholarship – Poor People-led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth

About us Without us Media, art, words and cultural work, also acts as dangerous a tool of gentriFukation and removal. I have written countless stories on these connections which continue today and in POOR Magazine’s case one of the main reasons we launched the cultural poetry liberation theatre called GentriFUKation Tours R US…., 

In the end poor, houseless, disabled, indigenous communities are a multi-verse of art, and love and thrival and resistance. We actually have our own theories and powerFULL art and media and solutions, we are already creating self-determined community run media and art projects, and that media needs to be seen, respected and honored for what it is Art, Truth and self-determination. By us With Us.