On Rachel Jeantel, Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, and Who is Presumed "Innocent"

Source: batman.wikia.com

I started watching Dark Knight Rises, last night. That’s the latest Batman movie if you don’t know.

It’s about 164 minutes long, and I only got through half of it.

But  so far, I have to admit that thus far, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did the first several. I think what really distracted me was Anne Hathaway’s Cat Woman character. The movie is supposed to be a social commentary about class warfare and the oppression of the poor by the greedy elite of Gotham. I get that and appreciate it. I really do.

But yea, I kept on thinking about race and gender; the narrative of what it means to look like Anne Hathaway. All these men who encountered her were ‘tricked’ more easily because they just assumed that she is non-threatening. Let’s face it, that is the narrative fed to mainstream America for decades: white, slim, young, able-bodied, conventionally beautiful females are so desirable, that they can easily convince the white men in that movie (assumed all to be heteronormative) that they are innocent and non-threatening. There is the scene in the movie when the SWAT team comes in to rescue the congressman that she ‘abducted’, but she gets away because she collapses to the bar floor, screaming in hysteria, as soon as the police enter. She is pretending to be that ‘frail white woman’ who would never be implicated in the violence happening in that room; she literally walks out the door. At that moment, I turned to my husband and made the comment, “Yea, that wouldn’t work if she were Black man. She’d be presumed ‘criminal.'” Well, that probably wouldn’t work if she were a Black woman either who resembled the look and talk of Rachel Jeantel. Jeantel has been dragged through the mud, constructed as a ‘stupid black’ woman with invalid testimony; who deserves no sympathy for the emotional anguish of being grilled and having lost a close friend. Jeantel is simply the EXACT opposite of Anne Hathaway’s Cat Woman; the exact OPPOSITE of the mainstream meanings applied to that representation of Catwoman. It may seem random, but I kept on thinking about Rachel Jeantel as I watched Catwoman’s interactions with everyone.

The movie is supposed to be about class, but I just kept on thinking about how Catwoman’s focus on being “done wrong,” due to her class and not being able to escape her record. I just wonder to what degree her anger came from the fact that her whiteness didn’t garner her the social mobility she expected it would. Her white ‘pretty’ female privilege go completely unnamed to the audience. She could even ‘pass’ as the upper-echelon of society because of her whiteness; for example, when she was at the [all white] benefit ball put on by Ms. Tate. She is so ‘distracting’ that even Batman didn’t know that her ‘kiss to him’ (though he didn’t ask for it, of course he wants to be kissed by her! What ‘normal’ man wouldn’t want that!?) was a distraction to steal the valet ticket that gave him access to this expensive car.

Anne, you do play the part very well. I’m not focusing on your acting ability at all.

Anyway, of course I think about these things because I do critical race feminist analysis. You may not think about these things 🙂

Trayvon Martin, “White” Worldview, and the Importance of Context and Culture

George Zimmerman Trial Continues

Rachel Jeantel


The other evening, I received an email from the author, and my friend, Dr. Gwen Fortune. She gave permission for me to re-post to my blog. Her perspective on language and meaning, within the context of the Trayvon Martin witness testimony of Rachel Jeantel, brings critical race, critical class, and critical age analysis that I have yet to see in the mainstream media depiction and interpretation of the trial.

From: Gwendoline Fortune <>

To: A. Breeze Harper <breezeharper@gmail.com>

Sent: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 5:30 PM

Subject: The important of context and culture

Reluctantly, I am preparing for another gross miscarriage of justice in the American judicial system. Beginning the, undoubtedly, confrontational and confounding task of observing the George Zimmerman trial, I watched and listened to the young woman, Rachel Jeantel, who was on the telephone with Trayvon Martin just before Zimmerman shot him, being interviewed. Within five minutes I discerned that the young woman, age 19, is of modest intellect and achievement, from a community that probably is “labeled” working class. She is not unintelligent! She is a product of her environment. It is amazing to read and hear the opposite of what SHE said, transcribed in the media. She said they were not boyfriend and girlfriend, but friends. Much is being made of Trayvon’s comments to her of “creepy-ass white cracker “and,” The nigger is” following me. These were not racial epithets said to Zimmerman, but the way in which black kids talk to one another in their own territory.

What is needed and will not be recognized is the cultural difference between this woman and her adversaries in the court. The situation is one that demonstrates a persistent duality in American society. Seriously, the use of a language translator would be appropriate. Although the language of Zimmerman’s attorney and that of Miss Jeantel sounds as if it is the same, it is not.

I remember deliberately speaking a form of Chicago black ghettoese to a young community representative and not having my white suburban middle-class students able to decipher the two or three simple sentences exchanged.

The attempts by Zimmerman’s attorney to trap the young woman in his “standard American legal jargon (argot)” made me want to grab him by the neck (I mean b@###) and throw him out of the court. The young woman explained that she had lied about her age, because she did not want to be involved with the law. She explained that she did not go to Trayvon’s wake and service because she felt guilty for her having been the last person  to speak with him, and her concern for his parents. I saw the taboo of seeing a dead body in her comments. She mentioned that her mother was out of the country at the time of the killing. Her heritage is Haitian. She grew up speaking Spanish and Creole. I hear other than “standard” US cultural influence (read “white”) as well as class and caste differentials. Within  cultural context I comprehend what she is saying and why. She said that she does not watch “any news,” but she is conversant with TV shows. She referred the court to a show “48…” as why she didn’t contact law enforcement. “They always call you,” she said. When the only knowledge of an institution–legal or other–is formed from exclusively watching TV entertainment, her inquisitor, trained in the legal system, is not able to comprehend her world-view, language or affect. I observed the defense–and later TV commentators–to be totally off the mark in interpreting the woman’s testimony. Being able to understand something of the actuality of her perspective, perception, and experience, I find her report of the final hour of 17 year old Trayvon Martin completely credible, while the western-white court and media judge her testimony on the basis of a world-view, as alien as any two widely separated cultures.

 The commentator Toure tried to get some of this viewpoint across to a white woman commentator a bit earlier. Cultural difference was totally missed–denied by the woman commentator–not a woman of color. . THEY cannot hear what is being said–on the terms of the witness. Knowing the makeup of the jury I hope that the prosecution has a bridge over these troubled waters or Trayvon Martin will not get justice. 

I compare this trial, so far, with the indulgence given to Jodie Arias a few weeks ago; this was a young, white woman who is obviously emotionally and mentally in arrears. Her lies were obvious; still she was able to bamboozle one jury member away from the death penalty in the sentencing phase of the trial. I am not in favor of the death penalty. but seeing how Miss Arias ruled the court, and one of her expert witnesses, a woman psychologist who was taken in by her, was amazing. She was attractive–by European standards–and an articulate liar, who was allowed to remain on the stand for 18 hours.

Unless some “expert” who is knowledgeable in cross-cultural affect is allowed to testify, the accurate testimony of this important witness will be lost in the misapplication of a majority culture norm, against an equally valid minority culture norm.  How is this to be accomplished? During a long lifetime of observing equal and similar unawareness of cross-cultural  validity is the reason for my refusal to acquiesce in the matter of “a jury of one’s peers.” No one in a controlling role in that Florida courtroom is a PEER of Rachel Jeantel. If Zimmerman is judged “Not Guilty,” it will be due to socio-cultural-historical ignorance, as well as conscious and unconscious manipulation by ruling power.

Gwendoline Y. Fortune, Ed. D.


About Dr. Fortune

A native of Texas, with paternal roots in the Carolinas, Gwendoline Alpha Young Fortune has lived most of her life in Illinois.

Gwen Fortune’s intent and goal are to share perspectives on American life that differs from the stereotypical model of people of color. BA elementary teaching, grades 4-8. H. C> Smith U, cum laude. MS, Social Science, South Carolina State University. Master of Philosophy Roosevelt U. Ed. D. in Higher Education from Nova U. She began college at Bennett College,  continuing at Juilliard School of Music.  Courses: U of MA, Michigan State U for study-tours in Africa and China. Taught:  Chicago Public Schools.  Instructional Team Coordinator/LASS teacher, Old Orchard Junior High, Skokie, IL. Professor of History and Social Science, and Coordinator of Ethnic Studies Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, IL.  Ethnic Studies Consultant, Chicago Consortium of Colleges and Universities, Loyola U.

Novels are Growing Up Nigger Rich, and, Family Lines. A poetry chapbook Dancing as Fast as We can and Inner Scan.

Papers at Meredith College, the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching,, the African American Association of Historical Research and Preservation, Seattle University, with essays on aging among African Americans and more.

Dr. Fortune recorded a thirteen program series titled, “We do it all, classical music composed and performed by people of African descent.”

A non-fiction memoir monograph, “Outsider in the Promised Land: A Black Family in a Jewish Community,”is under contract. It reflects her family’s experience in the tumult of the 1960s.  She has three adult sons and three granddaughters. She enjoys having a “one-world family,” called by her son “Afro-Eur-Asian. Find our more about her at : http://gyfortune.com

Gwendoline Y. Fortune, Ed. D.


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