Octavia E. Butler

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[A photograph of Octavia E. Butler looking absolutely resplendent, found on the blog http://www.winnovating.com/octaviabutlerwinnovatingsciencefiction/]

Here at the HHBlog, we like to highlight people from both the distant and not-so-distant past who have inspired us in their radical, rabble-rousing, or otherwise rebellious ways. The fantastically-talented science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler is one such person, who has remained a captivating literary powerhouse for generations.

Octavia Estelle Butler was born in 1947 in Pasadena, California to a domestic working mother (Octavia Margaret Guy) and shoe-shining father (Laurence James Butler) and was raised predominantly by her mother and maternal family after her father’s untimely death.  In 1968 she earned an Associate of Arts degree from Pasadena’s Community College, and later attended California State University in Los Angeles and UCLA. For the next several years, she studied  at the Screenwriter’s Guild Open Door Program and the Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop where she took a class with her soon-to-be-mentor, Harlan Ellison in science fiction. In 1971, she published her first science fiction short story, beginning a long and successful career as a science fiction and speculative fiction writer.

Although she published many works of science fiction during the 1970s, it was not until the publication of her absolutely brilliant 1979 novel Kindred that she was able to support herself  solely off of her work as a writer. While Kindred is one of her most well-known literary works outside of the science fiction literary community, she also published the Xenogenesis trilogy, Earthseed series, and many other novels and short stories. Throughout her career, she won the Hugo Award multiple times, the Nebula Award, the Locus Award, and in 1995 was the first science fiction writer to be awarded the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (aka ‘the Genius Grant’). Butler continued to win awards for her work even after her death in 2006, including being inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2010.

Today, we highlight Octavia E. Butler on the Blog for many, many reasons. Butler was an incredibly prolific and talented writer who created multiple immersive worlds out of her use of language. She infused all of her writing with important feminist social commentaries born out of her experiences as a Black woman born into the mid-20th c United States. Butler is an important literary figure in 20th and 21st c science fiction writing for the ways in which her talents and identity were bound up in each other. Rarely are Black women visualized by popular mainstream media when they represent what science fiction writers or science fiction fans look like, despite the fact that Butler is one amongst countless Black writers and fans of science fiction. For these reasons, we here at the Blog wanted to celebrate the genius that was Octavia E. Butler. We also wanted to acknowledge that Black women and other women of colour have been science fiction and speculative fiction writers for the entire history of these genres; women of colour have been creating fictional worlds out of our words for much longer than these genres have been named. Today, we here at the HHBlog give many thanks to Octavia E. Butler and all of the Black women who have written, continue to write, and will write science fiction!

~ M

Bibliography

“About.” The official site of the Pen Lifetime Achievement and MacArthur award winning writer Octavia E. Butler. http://octaviabutler.org/bio/. Accessed July 7, 2017.

“Octavia E. Butler.” Octavia E. Butler Literary Society.  https://oebsociety.wordpress.com/octavia-e-butler/. Accessed July 7, 2017.

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Octavia E. Butler

Mifune Toshiro (Toshiro Mifune)

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[Mifune Toshiro* for the film Seven Samurai, looking like the talented hunk he was. Photograph courtesy of Janus Film]

Today’s Historical Hottie is none other than the prolific Chinese-born Japanese actor Mifune Toshiro, known in the western world as Toshiro Mifune.* Mifune was born in April 1920 to two Japanese missionaries in Shandong Province, China. After nearly two decades of living in China, he was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second World War and, because of his experience working in his father’s photography studio, served as an aerial photographer.

After the Second World War, Mifune went on to work in the Photography Department of Toho Productions, where he would meet the masterful film director Akira Kurosawa during film auditions. This meeting would go on to shape both of their careers, creating a partnership that spanned 16 films, many of which such as Rashomon (1950) – a personal favourite of mine, Seven Samurai (1954), and Throne of Blood (1957) – another favourite! – influenced, and continue to influence, the art of cinema around the world. Despite later difficulties in their professional relationship, Kurosawa continued to believe that he was “proud of nothing I have done other than with him [Mifune].” His acting career was not, however, limited to just these 16 films with Kurosawa – which would have been prolific on its own. Mifune acted in over 120 films, various TV shows, and inspired the likes of people like Clint Eastwood in his portrayal of a rough, lone warrior. Mifune’s portrayal of samurai and ronin was groundbreaking as, at the time, film representations never ventured into portrayals that centred on rough or coarse characters, but instead depended upon particular stereotypes of refinement which Mifune broke. After a long, illustrious career that at times was wrought with difficulties (a failed film school from the 1980s, for example), Mifune passed away in 1997,

Mifune is one of the most important screen actors of the 20th c, despite the fact that perhaps few outside of cinema lovers know his name or the impact he has had on modern film. At a time when North America was hostile to East Asians, especially Japanese people due not only to the Second World War but decades of anti-Asian racism enshrined in law and culture, Mifune’s rise to worldwide prominence is even more astounding. In honour of Mifune, we here at the HHBlog urge you to check out some of his films if you haven’t already! What better tribute to a rich and creative body of cinema acting than to sit and watch one of his many incredible performances.

~ M

*Traditional Japanese naming customs place the family name first and given name last, unlike common western naming customs which place given name first and family name last.

Bibliography

Lyman, Ryan. “Toshiro Mifune, Actor, Dies at 77; The Primal Hero of Samurai Films.” New York Times. December 25, 1997. http://www.nytimes.com/1997/12/25/movies/toshiro-mifune-actor-dies-at-77-the-primal-hero-of-samurai-films.html

Turan, Kenneth. “Review: In documentary ‘Mifune: The Last  Samurai,’ Spielberg, Scorsese and others  she light on the legendary Japanese actor.” LA Times. December 1, 2016. http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-mifune-review-20161128-story.html

Mifune Toshiro (Toshiro Mifune)

Américo Paredes

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[A rather handsome photograph of Américo Paredes – with his guitar in his hand – in later life. Photo found on the University of Houston’s Houston Public Media Obituary https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/shows/2015/09/26/127130/writer-and-folklorist-amrico-paredes/ ]

Born in the fronteriza city of Brownsville, Texas in 1915, Américo Paredes was one of the foundational figures in the development of Chicano Studies. Working first as a newspaper delivery person, and later as a reporter for the Brownsville Herald during the Great Depression, Paredes served in the Second World War in the Pacific and only returned to the United States in 1950. Upon his return, he enrolled at the  University of Texas and became the first Mexican-American to obtain a PhD from the university.

His first book, “With His Pistol in His Hand”: A Border Ballad and Its Hero (1958) is considered to be one of *the* foundational books in Chicano Studies and has proven to be a classic folkloric text in the historiography of the borderlands/frontera.  This book helped pave the way for his career, which spanned decades and always focused on what he referred to as the “Lower Border” region. His work concentrated on cultural creations like corridos (popular Mexican ballads), fronteriza humour, and folktales. He helped to inspire countless people after him, ranging from historians within the academy to working class people interested in reconnecting with their cultura.

Although it has been several years since Paredes passed away in 1999, his work continues to inspire both already established scholars and those of us like myself who are just beginning our academic careers. His work outside of the academy as a singer-songwriter was just as influential as his work as a scholar taking pride in studying his own culture. It is through the diversity of his passions that his work helped to create the modern discipline of Chicano Studies as it stands today.

~ M

Bibliography

Holley, Joe. “Americo Paredes, a Pioneer In Chicano Studies, Dies at 83.” New York Times, May 7, 1999. Accessed October 13, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/1999/05/07/arts/americo-paredes-a-pioneer-in-chicano-studies-dies-at-83.html.

Medrano, Manuel F.  Américo Paredes: In His Own Words, an Authorized Biography. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2010.

Américo Paredes

Chavela Vargas

           Chavela-Vargas

[A photograph of Chavela Vargas in later years]

The name Chavela Vargas is an instantly recognizable one across much of Latin America and amongst admirers of the ranchera genre of music most commonly associated with México. Born Isabel Vargas Lizano in Costa Rica in 1919, Chavela Vargas left her home country at the age of fourteen to live in México, her adopted home where she stayed for the next eight decades of her life.

To those who do not know much about rancheras, a woman singing them might not stick out as anything remarkable. Yet rancheras are a genre that is traditionally supposed to be sung only by men, for an audience of mostly other men. These songs are spaces where men were customarily allowed to express themselves emotionally, albeit so long as they were confined to particular patriarchal rules of behaviour with an assumed heterosexuality. Therefore to have a woman, and moreover a lesbian woman, sing these songs was a radical and subversive act.

Chavela Vargas was known the world over for not only her singing talents, but also for her affairs with women (including the likes of Frida Kahlo, María Félix, and Lola Beltrán) and her alcohol-fueled partying. She often dressed in “men’s” clothing, smoked cigars (a supposedly “masculine” past time), and partied harder than you can imagine. For a period of fifteen years, Vargas disappeared almost completely, leading some to believe she had even died. She was, however, recovering from alcoholism. Although many people knew she was a lesbian, she did not publicly affirm this until the age of 81 in her autobiography Y si quieres saber de mi pasado (2002).

Vargas continues to be a treasured cultural icon across the Americas, and is a key figure in queer Mexican and Central American history. She is important in broader queer history as often queer people of colour, and especially queer people of colour from outside of Canada and the United States, are marginalized or entirely erased from the broader study of queer history. Chavela Vargas passed away at the age of 93 in 2012. Her last words were “I leave with México in my heart.”

~ M

Bibliography

Garsd, Jasmine. “Chavela Vargas, Legendary Ranchera Singer, Dies.” NPR, August 5, 2012. Accessed on November 12, 2015. http://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2012/08/06/158166344/chavela-vargas-legendary-ranchera-singer-has-died

Moser, Benjamin. “Postscript: Mexico’s Majestic Lesbian Chanteuse, Chavela Vargas.” The New Yorker, August 17, 2012. Accessed on November 12, 2015. http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/postscript-mexicos-majestic-lesbian-chanteuse-chavela-vargas

Vargas, Chavela. Y si quieres saber de mi pasado. Madrid: Aguilar, 2002.

Chavela Vargas

Sessue Hayakawa

A photograph of Sessue Hayakawa [Advertisement, Moving Picture World, July 1918]
A photograph of Sessue Hayakawa [Advertisement, Moving Picture World, July 1918. Accessed September 25, 2015 on Wikipedia]

Born Kintaro Hayakawa in Chiba, Japan on June 10, 1889, Sessue Hayakawa was an Issei* actor famous in both Hollywood and non-American films. Hayakawa appeared in well over 80 films, and following his film acting career, went on to become a theatre actor, producer, and director. In 1957, Hayakawa received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Bridge on the River Kwai, however his prolific career began decades before he was recognized for this role.

Although in the twenty-first century East Asian men are often represented in American popular culture as effeminate, and therefore – according to Western heterosexual patriarchal standards – not sexually attractive, Hayakawa was well-known during the early twentieth century as the first male Hollywood sex symbol. Yet being venerated as a sex symbol was not without its discriminatory elements, as this was often done by typecasting Hayakawa as a villainous and sexually domineering “exotic” man. Throughout his film career, Hayakawa was cast as a man of various ethnic backgrounds, all of which were always presented to Anglo audiences as a “foreigner” who therefore commanded a taboo eroticism. Examples of his constant casting as a non-descript “foreigner” include roles such as an Arab donkey tender, an Indigenous man, a Chinese Tong warrior, and a Burmese ivory trader.

By casting Hayawaka as a sex symbol only so long as he adhered to villainous and sexually domineering roles that rarely ended with a successful interracial relationship, Hollywood continued to emphasize the white supremacist ideals that upheld anti-miscegenation statutes in the United States. Due to the continual typecasting of Hayakawa in roles that depended upon yellow peril and other racist stereotypes, he eventually created his own production company in 1918. By doing so, Hayakawa openly showed his disagreement with the racism that Hollywood production companies upheld during this era of American film.

Hayakawa’s battle to be positively represented in film – even stating that his one ambition was to be cast as a hero and not a villain – forced him to pave a path for himself in Hollywood. Despite receiving negative attention for his so-called extravagant lifestyle, Hayawaka refused to compromise how he chose to live his life in order to make Anglo-Americans comfortable in their stereotypes of East Asian men. Hayawaka is a man who deserves much praise for both his artistic and activist achievements. For this, we here at Historical Hotties tip our proverbial hats to him and other people of colour who have paved the way for future generations.

~ Monique

* Issei, literally translating as first generation in Japanese, refers to the first generation of immigrants in a Nikkei (Japanese diaspora) community. Issei were born in Japan, and then immigrated to various countries such as the United States, Canada, and Brazil.

Bibliography

Andre Soares. Alt Film Guide. “Sessue Hayakawa: Pioneering East Asian Hollywood Star.” http://www.altfg.com/film/sessue-hayakawa-portrayal-asians-hollywood/.

Laberge, Yves. “Review: Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom by Daisuke Miyao.” Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific 25 (February 2011). http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue25/laberge_review.htm.

Saltz, Rachel. “Sessue Hayakawa: East and West, When the Twain Met.” The New York Times. September 7, 2007. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9907E3DC143BF934A3575AC0A9619C8B63.

Sessue Hayakawa