Take ten minutes out of your evening to watch this brave video from Jeez Loueez, outlining some of her concerns after participating in the New Orleans Burlesque Festival. The following is an introduction to the clip, written by Jeez for 21st Century Burlesque Magazine readers. Please share your views and thoughts in the comments section below…
The New Orleans Burlesque Festival is known to many as one of the most glamorous and coveted events of the year. My first time attending was in 2010 as a fan, where I saw Coco Lectric set the stage on fire with a passionate and well-deserved win of the queen pageant. The two years following I performed in the newly added Bad Girls of Burlesque showcase, described as a celebration of “the wicked, the wayward, and the wanton” of burlesque. While I enjoyed the thrill of being in New Orleans with friends, I left both shows feeling underwhelmed and conflicted. Having not attended the last two years because I was skeptical of the way the festival is curated and the questionable ethics of the producer, on a whim I decided to apply for the queen competition. While I was (not surprisingly) rejected for that slot, I did secure the job of emceeing the Bad Girls of Burlesque show. Knowing about the lack of POC visibility and the preference of ‘classic 1950s’ style I was excited to represent for the people. Unfortunately, once again I left feeling upset, conflicted and angry.
After The Incredible Edible Akynos posted a video about her issues with the show I decided to follow up with my own opinion piece in regards to the lack of diversity and abundance of cultural appropriation. I took a week to reflect on how I felt and what I wanted to address. I ran out of space to continue talking, so I didn’t get to touch on points such as the New Orleans Burlesque Festival not being representative of the New Orleans burlesque community at large, and New Orleans being a city with a large PoC demographic that isn’t represented whatsoever, and the questionable ethics and business practices regarding the queens competition.
Please know that the views expressed are mine and mine alone, but I think it’s important to ask these questions and start conversations that lead to solutions. These are real issues that affect our community in real ways. I’m human, and this is completely unedited. I wanted to speak freely and without censorship. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to host at the festival, but I need to let you know what’s up and we need to really start thinking about what our participation in such practices mean and represent.
Sunni days, I 100% agree with you, and love your argument. We need to stop dividing ourselves and come together to explore each other’s worlds instead of excluding each other.
It really bothers me that Ruthe Ordair is ok with the portrayal of a “racist” character only because it was portrayed by a person who wasn’t white….if that wasn’t your intent, you may want to re-read your post, because that’s how it came off!
We should all be ok with respectful representations of other cultures. It means we are exploring and growing. Stop hating each other.
In response to Ruth Ordare:
– A costume is just a style of dress and does not have to use historically accurate materials or design. The inaccurate materials and design of this feather Mohawk or any Native American Costume from Party City or any materials used in a kimono costume does not deter the message. Please google native feather hairpiece or google the significance of feathers in Native American culture and spirituality (Indians.org). Also, why were feathers used at all in this Rufio costume (the original costume had none)? What makes a red man red?
-Your approval of Jeez’s Rufio costume because you are NA argument appeals to the authority fallacy, where the person speaking is portraying himself or herself as a figure of authority empowered to make a definitive ruling on the topic. You do not speak for the 500+ Native American nations. I myself am 1/4 Blackfoot NA and straddle several cultures like many others in the burlesque community.
My main points in the original post were to distinguish the difference in appropriation, plagiarism and racism/mockery and to share some self reflective questions about cultural exchange within the arts. Before you point out flaws in others take a look at your own racial or cultural hygiene and think about your gender-neutrality as a watchdog. We are all hypocrites.The question of who owns culture is tricky with many grey areas. How has globalization changed culture?Where is the line between appropriation, adoption and exchange? We each have many different chapters in our lives. The culture we grew up in may not be the one we live in now. Far more appropriate would be to communicate with the performer who appears to be appropriating cultural practices “not their own” to discover their reasons for doing so, rather than making rash, misogynistic assumptions.
Thank you for bringing this to light. I stopped applying to this festival when I started to see the pattern that would work against me. I think that even though many cultural tea dances have an aspect of hip/butt isolation, that your articulating what is discomfiting about who gets recognised & rewarded for incorporating twerking into their dances is worth turning a spotlight on. I’m sure that NOBF will keep going. The question is whether we will continue to hold it up if things don’t shift for the better.
I support you, darling. I do hope Rick will take a moment to speak with you, and try to be open-minded regarding this article, etc. Love you, darling.
I HAVE to respond to this first comment by Sunni Days regarding “A feather mohawk is a Native American symbol of honor and religious practice.” And Jeez’s Rufio performance…
AS a Native American from the Mohawk nation who is VERY sensitive to cultural appropriation I can tell you that you are wrong. Straight up.
1. A feather mohawk is not a symbol of honour. A feather headdress in the Plains style is (Google Plains headdress). Our Mohawk men (of all ages/positions in the community) wear hats called Gustoweh which is where the mohawk hair style is named after. (Google search Mohawk Gustoweh). Jeez’s hair piece is not inappropriate as it is not made from Eagle feathers, is more than three feathers and is not on a base that resembles ours. AND Jeez is not portraying an “Indian” character.
2. The Mohawk hair style is not a religious practice. Ours is the hair is plucked from the head into a small square or kept long. Mohawk people do not consider it offensive to wear hair in a “mohawk style”. Additionally, the hair style has existed in many cultures around the world.
So please educate yourself before you speak on our behalf.
I will say that I agree with all the critiques of Peter Pan, it’s an awful portrayal of Native Americans. But Jeez’s portrayal of Rufio does not cross into the idea of a subservient Brown person who gives up a position of power. Instead she gender-fucks it in the face and plays up the rebellious nature/leadership qualities of the character. As a Mohawk person, at no point did I feel she was appropriating or insulting my culture.
Finally, intersectionality in feminism is an important concept for you to research. Are women oppressed? Yes. But guess who’s more oppressed, women of color. So when we criticize White women for the cultural stealing just calling it “sexism” – or saying “Well what about meeeennnnn?” – is not a get out of jail free card.
Jeezy, I’m thankful for you using your voice when so many others were unable to speak out! You are doing important work! <3
My jaw dropped when I saw this article on cultural appropriation and Jeez Loueez’s Rufio performance photo. A feather mohawk is a Native American symbol of honor and religious practice. It is well known that Peter Pan is an offensive portrayal of Native Americans and many schools have banned it. Rufio is an incredibly racist stereotype portrayed as a violent, uncivilized villain, juxtaposed next to the archetypal hero: the virtuous, white Anglo-Saxon. Peter Pan has been described as a Disney-fied red-face minstrel show that cheapens their rich history and culture. Do you really want to start identity policing and impose racial or cultural purity tests on everyone? Do you plan to scrutinize and segregate people on your own stereotypical ideas? No one fits into a perfect little segregated box. You would marginalize people who straddle more than one culture. I am also saddened at our burlesque community for disproportionately applying cultural appropriation to white women. Everyday, I see misogynistic articles in my social media feed judging women (typically a white woman, in dreads, twerking, Iggy, etc.) Rarely are men mentioned (tribal tattoos, Eminem, Macklemore, etc.) or the Drag Community? Why are we allowing this? Also, keep in mind that cultural appropriation, plagiarism and racism/mockery are 3 very distinct ideas within the arts. Cultural appropriation does not equal plagiarism. Within the creative arts, a blanket prohibition on cross-cultural appropriation can actually be counterproductive, especially in environments where the majority of artists are dominated by a majority culture, leading to segregation within the art form.
Thank you, Jeez, for writing this thoughtful piece and posting your thoughts on video. Your courage is such an inspiration. Thank you so much, 21st Century Burlesque, for your attention and concern with this very important matter.
Based on what you have said I think this is one of those instances where if you don’t like the conversation, change it. We can’t force this producer to be different but we don’t have to participate in the shenanigans either. I’ve been dancing professionally for over a decade. NBA, WNBA, AFL, etc….do you know how many auditions I went to where I obviously killed it but a bouncing blonde who stumbled out of a single pirouette went on to the next round and I did not? It’s industry wide and unfortunately White, upper income, men you grew up in an era where this was the norm are running the show. The only way to change the thought process moving forward is to run our own show until diversity becomes the norm and not the exception.
Thank You Jeez Loueez! For taking initiative on behalf of this video segment. I have a lot of these conflicts as well. But the real matters are never addressed because of our attitudes that only get in the way, first. When we use the common courtesy to communicate about these issues, we don’t always get where we need to with others, but we still make the break through that counts for the moment of eye opening impact. As a guy in the burlesque communities, I’m already an outcast by the way of my sexuality and believe it or not, it may feel hopeless more than anyone can handle, but that’s when we have the most doubtful moments that WILL only kill our vibes. Keep going for what you believe in, and learn about these issues, and how we can create an interesting atmosphere, without the conflict. I’m learning new things everyday I continue to Ron Dez Vous.
Thank You 21st Century Burlesque Magazine & Jeez Loueez.
I am thankful and greatful for Jeez Louise, she has expressed what is on the minds of many performers of color.
Honey Badger don’t care, Honey Badger smacks the shit out of it. True courage. To have an ecdysiast show in New Orleans and few POCs in the audience demonstrates something is seriously amiss. Using the “classic” excuse is revisionist history. Women of color were always important performers.