Not so long ago, I was in a mood. The kind of mood that sticks your bones to your sofa and has you craving childhood. I watched Home, a Dreamworks movie about a little girl who meets an alien. It made me laugh. And it made me cry. Empathically cry. Cry like I don’t remember crying before with a Disney movie.
Perhaps the tears were simply down to the fact that it was a bloody well-written movie. Or perhaps it was my mood.
But it is more likely that it was down to how relatable the main character was. Not the alien, although, yes, I sometimes do relate to aliens more than humans. The girl! An ordinary teenager who wears hoodies, burps, swears, doesn’t burst into ridiculous songs about princes and… is black! She has curls! She has curves! And she doesn’t carry the burden of black character stereotypes, but is just a normal girl who also happens to be a hero (and has Rihanna’s voice – maybe that’s where the relatability stops).
Then I wondered. If I felt so much empathy for this character because she looked so much like me, does that mean I spent my childhood missing out on some precious laughs and cries?
I don’t know. I don’t want to think so. As a child, I read lots of books and watched lots of films that made me both laugh and cry. I entered dreamland with ease and often imagined I was an Irish pirate, a Japanese Samurai, an Australian farmer, a robot, or an alien. Yet, I never cried like that.
The reason why I was reminded of the movie Home and my reaction to it is the recent hysteria surrounding the Oscars. Is it really that hard to understand that everyone needs stories they can project themselves into, stories to laugh and cry to? Watching the story unfold has been painfully hilarious. Well, it’s the outrage over the outrage that has been hilarious. Why? Well, imagine.
Imagine. You are having cake with Charlotte Rampling, Michael Caine and Julie Delpy. You sit quietly, waiting for your turn to get a slice of the cake. The cake is cut by a critically acclaimed waiter from the Academy. In 3 slices. Odd, you think, it’s the 4 of us. The waiter must have made a mistake. Charlotte gets a slice, followed by Michael and Julie. You are perplexed. You raise your hand: “Sorry, sir, I’m here, and I would like some cake too, please!”
Silence. You feel the tension rise across the country. The internet is starting to simmer. From the comfort of your seat, you can feel it. The opinionated fingers of bloggers and non-bloggers have started their trance. You can hear the tremor. Soon, every household will start holding expert conversations about whether simply existing is a sufficient enough pre-condition for cake consumption. And the fragile equilibrium of the Western world will be shattered.
Outrage! How dare you point out that you weren’t served cake! How dare you claim it as injustice! How dare you have the arrogance to say you won’t come to the next cake party!
You look at your table companions, expecting their backing. Big mistake. How dare you turn to them for support! Charlotte is deeply offended and snaps at you: “You didn’t deserve the cake, clearly you were not good enough!” Julie whines: “I have it worse than you, I got the smallest slice! Sometimes I wish I wasn’t given any cake at all, so I could just complain all day!” You look at Michael, your last resort. But he offers nothing except a patronising pat on your back: “Be patient my little one, you’ll get cake one day.” Then the couple on the next table turns towards you and mentions that, two months ago, you had organised your own cake party with people of your own kind. Therefore, if you want cake at this table, you’d better not have cake parties with people of your own kind again.
Have they all gone mad, or is it you? You want to answer, but the words are melting in your throat. You almost wish you hadn’t said anything at all because their outrage hurts even more than the fact that you weren’t given any cake in the first place. You attempt a timid “but… I exist!”
And only cause more outrage.
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Fan Sissoko is a visual storyteller and ethnographer. She currently works as a service designer at Innovation Unit, a social enterprise aiming to improve public services in the UK. She is interested in participatory multimedia storytelling as a way to people having their voice heard. She writes about design, empathy, social change and identitary minefields. She is half French, half Malian, and lives in the UK. Twitter: @whatfandoes
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