Feminist Activist Zainab Halbi Talks ‘#MeToo, Now What?’

Image courtesy of PBS


Sexual assault has long been a problem, not just in Hollywood but around the world. And the justice system hasn’t helped much either. According to RAINN, out of every 1000 rapes, only 310 are reported to the police, and out of those, only 6 rapists will ever be jailed. Over the last year, women have finally decided to fight back, sharing their stories and calling out abusers using the hashtag #MeToo.

The result has been revolutionary. Celebrities like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Aziz Ansari have been outed and punished, and women are banding together to finally say #TimesUp to sexual abuse. But what happens after you share your story and log off Twitter? That’s the question posed by PBS’ latest docuseries, #MeToo, Now What?

Through five episodes, host and activist Zainab Salbi tackles the crucial issues behind the #MeToo movement, exploring how sexual assault can be prevented and what women can do going forward. Bringing together journalists, activists and pop culture personalities like Editor in Chief of The Establishment, Ijeoma Oluo, executive editor of Teen Vogue and co-author of Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance and Revolution in Trump’s America, Samhita Mukhopadhyay, and Nadine Strossen, the first woman ever to lead the ACLU, #MeToo, Now What? doesn’t just discuss sexual assault  it provides an outline for real change.

As the docuseries comes to a close, BlackBook sat down with Salbi to talk activism and what to do, even after the protest ends.


Tell me about the program.

#MeToo, Now What? is trying to contribute to the discussion of #MeToo that’s currently happening. In my mind, to really contribute to that conversation, we need to look at the issue from a complete 360-degree angle. That includes not just looking at individual stories, but looking at our culture at large and how it plays into what’s happening, which means exploring things like money, race, the normalization of behavior between women and men and class. The reason we need to examine all of these layers — from the treatment of women in the workplace and not just in regards to harassment, but with wage inequality and everything else — it all adds up to the images we are portraying in how we treat women. All of this has just been boiling over for so long, and it really shouldn’t be a surprise. I know a lot of men seem to be surprised, but I’m not. It’s overdue — long overdue. And to ensure that this movement leads to lasting change, we need to get to the root of this issue. It’s just not good enough for me to name these people — that’s a great first step, but this needs to transform culture as we know it.

How does this series add to the conversation? I mean, like it says in the title — #MeToo, Now What?

Right. I hope the series is contributing to the discussion, not just replicating it. For example, the part I’m proudest of is in one of the episodes, where we discussed an accuser and the accused. Beyond just discussing what happened and what he did to her, she basically said, “If I really believe in restorative justice, I need to really examine how that applies in my life.” He came around, after he lost everything in his life and said, “You know, I’m a liberal progressive man, and I did this. If I really believe in the values I thought I did, like I’m a feminist who believes in women’s rights, then I’ve failed myself. How do I fix that and make amends to her?” That, for me, is another layer that shows what we’re trying to do with this program. If the nation is taking about naming names and behaviors, this particular episode was taking it a step further and looking at the meaning of reconciliation. Can we have restorative justice? In another episode, we look at the culture and the mass objectification of women. Of course, these issues have been discussed many times before, but sort of on a small scale — like in the Women’s Studies department at colleges. So, our goal is really to bring these kind of topics out into the open, on a national level, and start a bigger dialogue.

What made you want to get involved with this project, personally?

I’m a women’s rights activist — that’s what I do with my life. After 20 years of being in the humanitarian world and exploring all aspects of it, I came to realize in the process that what really needs to be done, beyond humanitarian work and education, we really need to inspire a new discussion. The secret ingredient to change is inspiration — I really believe that. What we’re trying to do here is take this movement — the #MeToo movement — and make it have a lasting impact. It’s like, how can we use this moment of crisis to look at ourselves and actually grow?

#MeToo has actually been around for awhile. A lot of people don’t know this, but Tarana Burke actually started the movement online in 2006. It just happened to go viral last year. So, what do you think it is about the current political climate that made it finally erupt?

Yeah, it’s been around forever. I was even looking at my speeches from 2010 and I was saying even then that we need to band together and break our silence. But I think women’s issues on a larger scale have always been more like thirld world women’s issues, or women of color issues, instead of the overarching problems all women face in our culture, you know? That’s frustrating for me — when we limit women’s issues. But I think it took a couple of things, one of them has definitely been the celebrity aspect. I know that’s made some people kind of cynical like, “Oh, it’s taken a bunch of celebrities to say something for this to be real?” But you know what? I’m glad they did. As a woman of color it’s like, “Finally! White women are also breaking their silence. This is real. This is sisterhood.”

Right. But I think culturally, everything has sort of lined up to create this moment. First, Trump was elected, which immediately gave women more of an incentive to speak up, and then Hollywood broke their silence. So, why do you think now is such a good time for this to happen?

Having Trump as President has definitely ignited everyone to act. But I’ve been working on this since 1993 and there’s really no perfect time. Like I said, it’s happening now, so I’ll take it. I’m glad. But I also think all of the men who are chiming in negatively are fueling it. You have people calling it a witch hunt or saying it’s gone too far, and this is progressive men saying this — not just Trump. It’s easy to blame him, or Harvey Weinstein. It’s a lot harder for these men, who think they’re liberal and support women, to look at themselves and see that they’ve done wrong. I think that’s inspired women too, because this isn’t just about the bad guy. It’s about the good guy — every guy, the ones who have been silent while all of this was happening and hid behind the fact that they’re not so obviously bad.

Do you think the movement will actually change anything in Hollywood?

I look at it like this: follow the money. I would want to see much more money behind female filmmakers, making sure every actress receives equal pay. I want to see true transformation in the culture of HR departments, I want to see more women all around the board. We cannot stop here. But the day I actually believe things have changed is the day I see more money behind women — not just in Hollywood, but in Silicon Valley, in politics, in the grocery store, everywhere. And that hasn’t happened yet.

I’ve talked a lot about this with my female friends and co-workers, and this is also why I responded so strongly to your program, because it’s easy to show up for the Women’s March, or to share your #MeToo story on Facebook, and then go back to your regular life. What do we do to keep this momentum going, to keep women inspired and interested everyday, not just International Women’s Day?

I struggle with this too, of course, because I want people to walk the walk and talk the talk. But we have to be patient. We’re in a place where so many more women than ever before are finally waking up and saying something — and that’s huge. But we have to remember that it’s a process, a journey — it can’t all happen at once.


Watch ‘#MeToo, Now What?’ in its entirety, here.

Watch Harmony Korine’s Father Sol Korine’s 1981 PBS Documentary ‘Mouth Music’

Sensational filmmaker and artist Harmony Korine is known for his strangely brutal and oft twisted works that expose the absurdities in everyday life and the unique worlds lying just beneath the surface. And when it comes to the places he loves to inhabit, it’s his affinity for the American south and the particular culture of everyday people that strike him.

When I asked Korine about his attraction to a very certain class and the abandoned landscapes of the south, he explained that:

It’s probably from being a skateboarder and being very young and free and, like, “My parents are letting me do what I want to do,” and spending the summer on rooftops and just floating and hanging with different characters and getting drunk in abandoned parking lots. It becomes that world, that vernacular—it just becomes part of what you know. It’s hard to say what attracts you to a blonde-haired chick with big tits—it’s just like, you go where you go.
But speaking of his parents, Korine’s father Sol Korine was an artist in his own right, making and producing films for PBS. And in 1981, he co-produced a ten-part series with Blaine Dunlap called Southbound which “documented roots music throughout the United States.” Speaking to the doc, The Seventh Art notes that:
Viewed today, it almost seems that Harmony Korine’s directorial works — most notably Trash Humpers (2009) and Gummo (1997) — are nearly an extension of his father’s, both aiming to show the South, in all of its idiosyncratic wonder, as an animate and culturally rich section of America.
You can watch the first episode of the series below, titled Mouth Music, which is a fantastic look into a world that has obviously played a tremendous influence on Harmony and his work. The Seventh Art also refers back to an interview with Death and Taxes in which Korine spoke about his father’s influence and living in the south, saying:
It’s just life there. You see a lot of stuff. But there was an energy: something kind of strange and sinister, something fun, but something bubbling beneath the surface. Something really American.
Check out Mouth Music below.

‘Sesame Street’ Plans Post-Hurricane Sandy Episode

Even though Romney’s loss has washed away fears that PBS funding could be cut, it seems that Big Bird still has some worries down on Sesame Street. The show has announced a very special hurricane-themed episode, which airs on Friday, and it’ll lend some awareness to disaster relief. Never too early to teach kids how to help out, I’d say.

Per the Sesame Street tumblr:

A hurricane has swept through Sesame Street and everyone is working together to clean up the neighborhood. When Big Bird checks on his home, he is heartbroken to find that the storm has destroyed his nest. Big Bird’s friends and neighbors gather to show their support and let him know they can fix his home, but it will take time. While everyone on Sesame Street spends the next few days cleaning up and making repairs, Big Bird still has moments where he is sad, angry, and confused. His friends help him cope with his emotions by talking about what happened, drawing pictures together, and giving him lots of hugs. They also comfort Big Bird by offering him temporary places he can eat, sleep, and play. Big Bird remembers all the good times he had at his nest and realizes that once it is rebuilt, there are more good times and memories to come. Finally the day has come where most of the repairs to Big Bird’s home are done and his nest is complete. As he is about to try it out, though, the city nest inspector says it not safe, yet, because the mud isn’t dry. Big Bird is sad that he has to wait another day, but Snuffy comes to the rescue and blows the nest dry and he passes the test! Big Bird thanks everyone for being his friend and helping to rebuild his nest and his home.

Usually I’d bemoan a spoiler, but this sounds like a pretty sweet episode all-around. 

Follow Tyler Coates on Twitter.

‘Million Muppet March’ Planned Nov. 3 To Support PBS

Two weeks ago, Big Bad Old Man Mitt Romney put Bird Bird and the rest of the cast of Sesame Street in his crosshairs. Now, two  dudes in the entertainment biz have responded by with a Million Muppet March in Washington, D.C. on November 3.

Chris Mecham and Michael Bellavia plan to protest on behalf of saving funding for public broadcasting and "keeping full employment for all Muppets" — which will surely be music to the ears of prolific tweeter @FireMeElmo. The march is planned on the National Mall from 9a.m. to noon and attendees are encouraged to bring Muppet paraphrenalia. More deets can be found on the protest’s Facebook page. (Wow, what do you think Abbie Hoffman would say about that sentene?) 

Sounds like a good time. Maybe anti-Semitic Elmo will take the Fung Wah down? (Then again, maybe not.)

Contact the author of this post at Jessica.Wakeman@Gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter and Tumblr.

The Best Of The FireMeElmo Tweets

Mitt Romney stated his intention on Thursday night’s presidential debate to cut the minute part of the federal budget that funds  PBS.  I sat quietly while you came after reproductive rights and gay marriage but I will not stay silent when you go after Downton Abbey, Mr. Romney. Are you trying to look like a major dick? Anyway, in short order, smartasses on Twitter did what they do best and hence, we have @FireMeElmo tweets. Let’s look at some of the best after the jump:





Awww. These are actually sadder than when people I actually know get fired. Hang in there, Elmo! That mean man is not going to get elected.

Contact the author of this post at Jessica.Wakeman@Gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter and Tumblr.

Channel Your Inner Mrs. Patmore With ‘The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook’

Season Three of Downton Abbey (now with 100% more Shirley MacLaine!) won’t hit American shores until January of 2013, which is a very long time to wait. But for the fans who need to start planning their premiere night dinner parties immediately and want to channel their inner Mrs. Patmore in time, there’s the Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook.

The work of Emily Ansara Baines, who also wrote an unofficial fan cookbook for The Hunger Games trilogy (featuring survival-focused dishes for tributes and the more lush fare of the Capitol), the Downton cookbook will be released September 18 and is divided into two upstairs-downstairs sections: “Dinner With the Crawleys” and “Sustenance for the Staff.” The Crawleys’ section sports the sort of elegant Edwardian dinner party fare you’d expect, from “Lady Mary’s Crab Cakes” to “The Earl of Grantham’s Green Turtle Soup” to Lobster Thermidor. “The “downstairs” section features a lot of hearty meals for hard-workin’ people and classic British pub fare, including the usual spreads of fish and chips and black pudding (the Guinness beef stew and Colcannon are both named for former Crawley family driver / radical / Mr. Lady Sybil Tom Branson).

Obviously, these dishes are best served with the most Downtonesque of accoutrements: deception, jealousy and awkward sexual tension with your third cousin once removed. 

Goodnight, Everybody! PBS Releases Own Mr. Rogers AutoTune Video

Meme-tacular AutoTuned viral videos (and "please make this go viral" videos) are nothing new. But when PBS goes out of the way to make a viral video starring an AutoTuned version of the late Fred Rogers, host of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, it’s worth paying attention. Bringing everyone into the weekend is what happens when T-Pain enters the Land of Make-Believe, and it is great. 

The dialogue and B-roll chosen of Mr. Rogers work perfectly in tandem with the vocoder’d track, from "Did you ever see a cat’s eyes in the dark/and wonder what they were?" to "You can grow ideas / in the garden of your mind," and ultimately, this doesn’t sound too unlike a lost track from a lost, buried-on-an-island R&B album. Mr. Rogers’ words are always relevant, especially with a lush piano backing track.

Watch and listen: 

PBS Hackers Pinpoint Tupac’s Location in New Zealand

Over the weekend, a group of hackers took aim at PBS’ News Hour by breaking into the company’s system and posting an article that claimed Tupac is hiding out in New Zealand. The news item—“Tupac Still Alive in New Zealand’—was deleted about an hour later, after more than 3,000 people had read and shared the false story, ignoring the fact that conspiracy theorists have long thought Tupac’s current hiding place is Cuba.

The hackers, who have identified themselves as a group called LulzSec, explained that the attack was prompted by PBS’ Frontline documentary WikiSecrets and its portrayal of former U.S. soldier Bradley Manning. In addition to writing up the false news piece—which also claimed that The Notorious B.I.G. was hiding out down under with Pac—LulzSec posted a public list of usernames and passwords of PBS’s admin members, the same strategy that the cyber organization took against Fox News and Sony recently.

According to LulzSec’s Twitter page, Sony is a prime target for their next attack, but for now, isn’t it comforting to know that Tupac really is dead, or at least, still hiding out in Cuba?