Born Into Brothels: Charity, Hollywood-style

I saw this movie, Born Into Brothels, at the E Street Cinema the other day. It’s about this British woman, Zana Briski, who goes into the red light district of Kollkata, India, to shoot photos. Eventually she decides to teach the children living there how to take pictures and tries to use this as a gimmick to raise funds for them to go to good schools. It’s charity, Hollywood-style.

While it was interesting watching her navigate the international and Indian systems to try and save the kids from what all can agree is a pretty horrible life, you can’t fight the feeling that for her they are no more than “noble savages” whom she has decided to civilize. Plus she only succeeds in getting one or two of the children to actually stay in school. The rest of them are either held back by their own lack of discipline or by their parents who need the children to sustain their livelihood in the sex trade. Letting these kids play with cameras and taking them to the zoo ends up giving some of the kids false hope. Suchitra, one of the most enthusiastic photographers, ends up becoming a whore despite hoping for the best: “When I have a camera in my hands I feel happy. I feel like I am learning something…I can be someone.”

Also, the director had a very narrow and gimmicky approach to helping these kids. They were only worth helping insofar as they remained photogenic, their families and the rest of India be damned. There are lots of scenes of hopeless Indian bureaucracy — forms are filled out with old typewriters, moldy records litter offices — but they aren’t put into any context except to serve as barriers to Briski’s mission to save these children through the magic of photography. One gets the feeling that she doesn’t understand much about India’s problems save for what she can see immediately surrounding her.

Now that the movie has won an Oscar for Best Documentary, however, protests have arisen from a Kollkata NGO that claims that the woman didn’t follow proper protocol. The filmmakers didn’t check in with the largest NGO in the area before filming in a dangerous location, and in addition ignored attempts by the organization to contact them. At first, the NGO’s complaints sound like territorial bickering and sour grapes. Like many institutions, they are looking to get a piece of the pie and are probably bitter that they didn’t get an ounce of credit in the film for the work they do. But take a look at this:

DMSC officials, who have not seen the film but heard about it from other sources, said they fear the documentary is inauthentic in not being shot in Sonagachi, but in some other neighbourhood in the city.

Doubts are also being raised about the identity of the children showed as offspring of sex workers of Sonagachi.

“No one told us that a documentary was being made on the lives of the children of sex workers. We are not unhappy about that, but we wish a balanced view of things were presented. Also, we want the collective uplift of the children and not only a few individuals,” said Dutta.

OK, now I feel cheated. These people weren’t even in the *real* Red Light District! Was this lady pulling a fast one on us? It sounds like the lady who made this probably had a good reason to avoid a legitimate NGO — this stinks of the crass heart-string pulling filmmaking that Oscar loves. She was doing exactly the kind of stupid crap that they would frown upon — going in and exploiting the kids to get a few good photographs and a lot of recognition.

I had my doubts when watching the film — not only is the film woefully light on background, the film leads you to believe that these kids are totally uneducated and don’t speak English. But in certain parts of the film you can overhear kids speaking English or they’ll say something in English with a far-too-good accent.

Don’t get me wrong — you don’t doubt the woman’s sincerity when watching the film — it’s just that her approach is so wrongheaded as to be harmful. Now that it’s won an Oscar, people might actually believe that this kind of behavior is legitimate charity work.

Not Everybody’s Happy With the Bitches

Those of you who know me will know that I am currently in my last semester at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. As one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the former colonies of North America, Rutgers has a long history of largely forgotten traditions; her many accomplishments range all the way from inventing the game of American Football to losing more matches of said game than almost any other school in the country. And now, one of the Raritan’s most noble traditions is under attack.

As the Rutgers student newspaper, The Daily Targum reported a week ago (2/11)

The Grease Trucks, a staple of University life, were forced to cover up several of the items on their menus last night in order to comply with University rules following complaints of harassment and inappropriate sandwich names.

The cluster of fast-food trucks – which open at 6 p.m. and close early in the morning – have been the source of food for Rutgers students, staff and faculty alike on College Avenue.

The complaints have mainly come from members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community at the University, who said they have experienced a different side of the trucks – one they see as being homophobic and intolerant toward sexual minorities on campus.

Read rest of article here

Not all students are as joyous about the censorship as the complainers.

A Grease Truck worker – who wished to be identified as “Mr. C” – was visibly upset yesterday about covering up certain names on his truck.

“I’m very upset. We’re all very upset,” he said. “I’ve been selling [Fat] Bitches for 14 years.”

John Graney, assistant director of Operations at Parking and Transportation Services, asked Mr. C to cover up the names as soon as possible.

But Mr. C said he has never had a complaint about the menu names.

“Everybody’s happy with the Bitches,” he said.

Read rest of article here

This has apparently made its way into the ‘serious’ New York City area television broadcast news, so I’ve decided to provide some coverage of it myself, presented Masamania style.
Click below for a series of photographs.

The trucks.
Continue reading Not Everybody’s Happy With the Bitches

Dangerous Revolving Doors

In the course of one of my jobs, I encounter many newfangled electronic revolving doors like the one above. The idea is that you can have all the elegance of revolving doors without the hassle of actually pushing them (a convenience as useful as Mustardayonnaise if you ask me). That would be great if they weren’t DEADLY. Check this out from The Economist:

Many to blame

Six executives are facing charges of criminal negligence after a six-year-old boy was crushed to death last March in a revolving door at Roppongi Hills, one of the city’s glittering new skyscraper complexes. Police are charging three executives from the Mori Building Company, which runs the Roppongi Hills complex, and three from Sanwa Tajima, which made the door.

The police decided to go forward in January after finding out that six other accidents had occurred at the same place. They allege that Mori executives did not act on all of the safety recommendations their companies devised. One of the accidents was nearly identical to last year’s fatality: a six-year-old girl had her head caught in the door, but was freed with minor injuries. Hisanobu Kubo, who worked for Sanwa Tajima, allegedly failed to report a blind spot in the censors that stopped the door, fearing unattractive safety measures and slow sales. The case seems to have spurred many to act: one survey found that 30% of building managers have removed or plan to remove their revolving doors, and 30% more have stopped using them.

About half of the major hotels in DC use these death-traps, and I almost get caught every time I pass through the things. Stop the killing now!

Meitantei Adamu (Adamu the Sleuth)

Today was quite the day. The gf had her bag stolen today so we spent the afternoon trying to track down the culprit. She was in the basement of the library and left her bag unattended for two seconds when some crackhead-looking guy made off with it. She lost $200, her license, a nice wallet, her bag that went to India and Canada with her, her Social Security card, and the guy used her credit cards to buy dog food and a tank of gas of all things.

When we cancelled her credit cards it showed what he bought and where, and it looked like the cops werent gonna do shit so we went and checked it out. The guy left an authentic looking signature on the receipt at the pet store in addition to showing up on camera, and the gas station manager was very cooperative and said he’d help us out in the morning.

Our hope is that the gas station caught his car, so we can get a model and make and maybe the plates. Then we can submit the signature and the car info to the cops and ask them to run it for people with records in the area. At first i didnt even take a photocopy of the receipt at the pet store because i assumed the cops would come check things out. But then i tried calling them with the info and the woman who answered was a BITCH. We asked to talk to the officer we were speaking with before and she was like ‘he’s gone try back tomorrow at 7am’ and then took down our info really curtly.

All in all it was kind of fun playing detective, although not quite $200 worth of fun. I’ll let you know what kind of dogs the guy has if we catch him.