Bring It On: Appreciation vs. Appropriation

Feb 7, 2018 by Nick Staff on The Nickelodeon Blog

Travel back to the year 2000 with a Millennium party night! Enjoy a selfie-booth, treats, trivia, and, like, totally major prizes.

“When you go to nationals…bring it.”

Fan favorite Bring it On returns to the big screen as Micaela’s Staff Pick on February 10 at 10pm. In advance of the screening Development Assistant Micaela Arnett examines the film’s depiction of cultural appropriation.

I grew up flipping through television channels out of boredom and often ended up watching Bring It On; I guess ABC Family couldn’t get enough of it.  Given how many times I have seen it, I am shocked how different it feels to me now,  as an adult. The film is an unusually smart investigation of cultural appropriation. It is the story of the East Compton Clovers, a predominantly Black cheer squad, putting in the hard work to create and choreograph routines that are stolen by the predominantly white Rancho Carne Toros so that they can attend cheerleading Nationals year after year.  This theme is made explicit by Clover’s captain Isis (Gabrielle Union) who states that the Toros  “stuck some blonde hair on it and tried to call it something different” and feels more relevant than ever.

As I watch the film now it’s clear to me that the Toros’ opportunity, money, and privilege allows them to rip off the Clovers and gain attention at Nationals. It’s a fantastic example of how people (because of their race, resources, connections and bank accounts) can take advantage of other people (especially folks who have been historically oppressed —  it’s American history guys, duh) and profit from stealing elements of culture and creativity. The Toros use the Clovers to get ahead, benefiting from routines derived from hip hop music and dance. Understanding the longstanding structures of power in America is crucial to this conversation. The history of those in power benefiting from the artistic achievements of people with less power is a long one that encompasses the history of jazz, rock n’ roll, dance, pop music, and literature and it ain’t right. It’s exploitation.

The reaction of the Toros’ captain Torrance (Kirsten Dunst) is a striking example of the “white guilt,” after discovering that the Toros have stolen the Clovers’ routines she asks her to dad to pay for Clovers’ to go to Nationals. However, Isis declines, determined that the Clovers pay their own way, and tells Torrance to quite literally “bring it,” challenging the Toros to come prepared with an original routine. The pendulum in this film  has swung from white supremacy to white guilt, which can be just as damaging. Guilt about  historic oppression does nothing to advocate for change, if anything, it perpetuates racism as an inevitable element of our society’s culture.  The Toros didn’t initially feel bad for stealing the Clovers’ choreography because they hadn’t been exposed or had to reckon with consequence for their actions. Instead, Torrance only becomes guilty after Isis calls her out for her insensitive and racist behavior.  

When you culturally appropriate, you are totally crossing the line.

When you culturally appreciate, you are acknowledging the history of the culture in which you are participating, without taking any personal credit.  For example, participating respectfully in a traditional ceremony of a culture other than your own as a means to be more inclusive and to better understand those around you.

Bring it On isn’t the only production that explores this issue.  Remember in Broad City when Illana wore the gold bamboo hoops that read “Latina”, and Jamie had to call her out? Illana is not Latina, so wearing those earrings is most definitely cultural appropriation. He says to her, “It’s almost like you are stealing the identity from people who fought hard for it against colonial structures.” IT’S TRUE!

I’m really excited for this screening and the potential for great conversation that awaits, so while you are enjoying the film, be sure to ask yourself these questions throughout; How might different people see this media product differently? Who and what is shown in a positive light? In a negative light? What conclusions might audiences draw based on these facts?

I cannot wait to see everyone this Saturday!!! Be sure to RSVP on Facebook and purchase your tickets here: http://nickelodeon.org/films/bring-it-on/

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