8 Ways My Third World Parents Were More Zero Waste Than You Are

I wanted to write about Florida for this edition of Cinemulatto, but I decided I can’t take any more bad news without feeling a combination of acute depression and intense rage. It’s become too much for me. So, for now I’m going to concentrate on happy things, and consider the complicated topic of people of color and environmentalism (and reference Florida in an indirect way—be sure to click the link).

Breaking it down further—Cinemulatto’s gonna tell you how the early lifestyles of my Jamaican mom and French Creole dad were greener than the bottom of a compost heap.

I know, I know….Louisiana’s not Third World. But a wooden shack with 12 kids in a backwoods swamp certainly is. We can learn so much from Sylvester Breaux’s and Dorothy Newton’s sustainable examples circa the early 1930s.

Here are 8 items that my parents’ working-class generation grew up with. They make Al Gore look like a 6-pack of aerosol hairspray. Remember when this stuff was everyday and not a hip new trend?

  1. Cloth items: handkerchiefs, napkins, diapers. Brawny was, as yet, nowhere near the picture.
  2. Glass containers and household “appliances” (like a glass churn; how did that work?).
  3. Hand-washed clothes, often in a large tin tub or involving a rock.
  4. “Farmers” markets: otherwise known as “the place where my parents’ families bought their food.”
  5. Gardening: a necessity, not a hobby.
  6. Automatic hand-me-downs: in the case of my father, 12 kids = large-scale reducing, reusing, and recycling.
  7. Naturally preserved foods.
  8. The sun: a useful item for such things as drying clothes and maintaining optimal levels of vitamin D. Too bad it’ll burn out in 6 billion years, so good thing it got replaced by food supplements and petroleum.


Ignore the fact that she dated Chris Brown—this half German, half Black model has a tattoo that reads, “Strength is nothing more than how well you hide your pain.” This makes Cinemulatto wonder where the tattoo’s hidden. Naming Jasmine the July 2013 Mulatto of the Month is a happy thing.

Why I’ll Never Leave San Francisco (For Now)

I have varied thoughts about the BART strike. A friend of mine is one of the employees demanding such things as safer work conditions, a guaranteed and fair annual raise, and low-cost health insurance. I have other friends and acquaintances who always side with unions, and still others who either want to fire all BART strikers on the spot and replace them or who think the strikers are greedy.

I’ve been told BART management is lying in an effort to gain public support. On the other hand, I know that the average salary quoted for a BART worker with a high school diploma, $60,000, isn’t that far off from the average salary of a Bay Area computer programmer with a college degree, $63,000 (unless you work for Facebook or Google). And, programmers constitute a profession that’s part of the current tech-bashing trend largely based on misinformed stereotypes. San Francisco programmers aren’t paid overtime or pensions, nor do they have unions. Then again, BART workers don’t get swanky biotech perks like free stadium-sized concerts or company cafeterias serving catered, organic food like Genentech, my former employer, provides. On the third hand, BART employees make more than public school teachers, who some would say (myself included) have the weighty task of ensuring a well-knit societal fabric and deserve to protest loudly and often.

I fall somewhere in the middle in the Me Versus You cultural war. I frequently find myself in this space when it comes to social justice issues, amid both left and right attitudes that never seem capable of seeing the other side or of not resorting to knee-jerk, prejudicial reactions. I’ve lived in lower-middle-class, brown neighborhoods for most of my life. I grew up poor and now work in tech, as a copywriter and technical writer. The small company I work for is diverse and has an Asian CEO. I love the company and the work I do. Outside of work, I have friends of all backgrounds and persuasions: kinda rich, super rich, moderately poor, very poor, black, white, Asian, Latino, LGBTQI, straight, disabled, large, small, and Canadian.

I’ve come to realize: not only are there mixed-race folk; there are bi-economic folk, able to mingle successfully not only among the brown, the poor, and the otherwise financially challenged, but also among those who break out the scotch at Friday Happy Hour. And this, my friends, is why I’m not leaving San Francisco (for now). Let me ‘splain.

First off, respect to anyone who got fed up and left. I know many who have. For those who can afford it and stayed, great for you. You’re keeping San Francisco diverse. You’re educating where it’s needed and expected. We’re James Temple’s “intelligent, creative and open-minded people,” putting up with the douchebags who are apparently bringing the city to its knees (again). Douchebags, by the way, come in all shapes, sizes, and economic backgrounds. Prejudice and ignorance are odious regardless of the perpetrator.

People like me have done our fair share of educating, interfering, and throwing a wrench into any plan to make San Francisco anything other than what it’s always been—a hub for freaks, geeks, searchers, and visionaries. I had a blast during the first tech boom of the 1990s. Limos ritually dotted Mission Street with drunk assholes standing out of sunroofs. My friend Kortney and I snuck into one during Christmas season and crashed a party of eight, red-nosed Santas. Every now and then, I got people like intoxicated lawyers to pay for my pricy meals. It was awesome. All bilking aside, there were moments of true intermingling, of conversations and interactions that crossed supposed cultural boundaries. It can happen again. We can move beyond labels of “tech people” and actually engage in conversation. We can actively embrace balance and shades of gray, even with something as polarizing as a BART strike.

So, for now, I’m not going anywhere. Until, that is, I decide to take my life savings and retire in Tuscany.

10 Lessons from a French Creole

Sylvester and Dorothy Breaux’s Wedding, Compton, CA, September 1962

This year’s Father’s Day has come and gone. I spent a portion of it recalling that I forgave my father three years ago for how shitty he was to my family when I was growing up. He did horrible things—verbally and physically abused my mother; kept a strong, domineering leash on everyone; ruled with an iron fist and a loud voice; and was prone to tantrums and rage. Still, in hindsight and after an inevitable maturation process (and also during a moment of being massively drugged three years ago for a surgical procedure), I recognized moments of kindness I never saw before, moments previously clouded by teenage anger and a reluctance to see any other sides to my father’s personality. He once told me that if he could read and write better and could be anything, he would’ve been an author. He had to live with the daily reality of his family hating him. We never asked how he was doing, or how difficult it must have been for him to have a schizophrenic wife.

Well—at least we appreciated the damn good gumbo he made! Also the awful but highly memorable Zydeco records. Also the dance moves that looked like he was rubbing out spots on the floor with his feet. In other words, there were some pretty cool things I learned from my 6th-grade-educated and sometimes outwardly charming father, Sylvester Breaux.

Here are 10 of them.

  1. Stanford was named after Fred Stanford. When I was accepted to Stanford my dad thought it was funny that a TV show had the same name as my university. Me: “You mean Sanford and Son.” Him: “That’s what I said. Stanford and Son.”
  2. All good words end in c, as in the credic in credic card. Also, bra is pronounced bray, and Home Depot is either French or one of the Marx Brothers (as in DEH-poh).
  3. The best way to divide a cantaloupe for a family of 5 is into 10 pieces. That way each person can have “two each.” I spent years hearing “two each.” I used to hate this. But how sweet is it for a grown man to always get pleasure from equitably slicing a melon?
  4. If you have menstrual cramps, take Tums.
  5. You can make any sentence funny just by adding “to my bed” at the end. Try it. This is not to be confused with “between the sheets.”
  6. Whenever you’re laughing and you’d like to explain to someone what’s so funny, preface it by saying “I’m laughin’.” They’ll have sufficient time to prepare for your whimsical anecdote.
  7. A safe word for gay is funny, as in “your brother’s funny.”
  8. Jamaicans aren’t black. They’re Jamaican.
  9. Instead of turning out the lights on Halloween to indicate you’re not giving out any candy, yell “Ain’t nobody home!” when small, costumed children knock on the door.
  10. Establish your own bank by hiding all earnings inside coat pockets. Avoid checking or savings accounts.


He mostly passed as Cajun, but Sylvester Breaux was mixed with white, black, and Native American. He was born on May 10, 1917, in time to serve as a truck driver in the 2nd world war, but missing Obama become the first black president—my father was staunchly Democrat but oddly racist; our next-door neighbors were always good family friends and were always black. He was an usher at our Catholic church and said his rosary every evening. I asked him once if the Depression was hard on his family and he responded, “Yeah.” (End of conversation.)

Wish you were around for further questioning. This month, we honor you nonetheless.

10 Meaningful Statistics for
Lazy, Filthy Artists

Feng shui is old news—very mid-1990s (along with aloof lesbians). As artists of the New Millennium, we’re well-acquainted with clearing the house before emptying the soul. After cleaning up our act, we’ve gone on to suffer through some incredibly nasty roommates and lived to tell about it. With any luck, we’ve grown up. There should be no more excuses for being a lazy, filthy, immature artist, since in addition to having learned from past experience, you now probably live with a partner who’s whipped you into shape.

If you’re still a dirty, good-for-nothing, artistically inclined bum, it’s simply time to get a domestic clue. To this end, Cinemulatto has scientific, grant-funded evidence to support you no longer being a repulsive slob.

Here’s how long it takes to complete 10 common household tasks. You have time for all of these, you rotten, unclean sluggard.

  1. Changing an empty roll of toilet paper: 10 seconds
  2. Washing ten dishes: 5 minutes
  3. Taking out the trash: 4 minutes
  4. Doing something—anything—with leftover food: 2 minutes
  5. Wiping down one kitchen counter: 2 minutes
  6. Dusting one room: 5 minutes
  7. Disposing of bathtub hair: 30 seconds
  8. Wiping up a small puddle of water: 1.5 minutes
  9. Opening a window to air out a room: 4 seconds
  10. Making sure toenail clippings land in the trash: 0 seconds
Now go clean up, then make a movie or draw a picture or write a song/novel.

The Cinemulatto Broke-ass
Film School

Cinemulatto almost made this an entirely farcical post on things you can do to save money as an indie filmmaker—like using your kids as crew. Well, not everyone has kids. Plus, we’ve come a long way since Robert Rodriguez and his 10-minute film school, even though his advice is still relevant. We can go deeper and learn more, however. We can even go to the library.

So, here are a few things that neophyte, broke-ass filmmakers can do to save a few bucks and still become a pro. These have all been helpful to me over the years.

8 Things You Can Do to Get Some Film Skillz
(Cinemulatto’s Zero-budget Film School)

  1. Study cinematographers. Roger Deakins has a great forum, plus lots of really awesome cinematographers are willing to share information with you. Stroke a few egos! I was fortunate to receive an email response from Marcel Zyskind about the bare-bones lighting he used for 9 Songs. (If you have a rich friend with access to IMDB Pro, wash their car in exchange for DP contact information.)
  2. Go to the library. Read books and more books. Find a comfy chair and read back issues of American Cinematographer Magazine. Get a damn library card. Then check out books. Just a few of my favorites are This is Orson Welles, Master Shots, The Films of Akira Kurosawa, and The Oxford History of World Cinema. Never stop reading, and throw in at least one screenplay a month.
  3. Get on film festival mailing lists or visit film festival websites. Festivals often offer tips via their email distribution lists or directly on their sites, and frequently offer links to free films. Two good ones are Raindance and Sundance.
  4. Save money. Before crowd funding, there was good old-fashioned piggy banks (or analog begging, borrowing, and stealing, i.e., “O.G. crowd funding”). You can save money fast if you actually budget for it. And, since the cost of making a simple, short film is so dirt-cheap these days, AND since this is your passion, save some money! Make yourself a tip jar. You won’t owe anyone anything.
  5. Get equipment off craigslist. But, go with a knowledegable friend who can also be a bodyguard if needed. Then learn how to use the equipment.
  6. Make movies, however horrible. Don’t show them to anyone if you don’t want to. But make them. Hold a camera. Develop a close relationship with it. Not doing this is like expecting to know how to drive a car the first time you get in.
  7. If you can afford it (or, see tip #4), selectively take classes. But, do this only when you need to. Figure out what you’re not good at, take a class, then get good at it. Over the last 10 years I’ve taken such classes as producing, lighting, color correction, and DSLR cameras spread out over time to guess what? Yes! Save money!
  8. WATCH MOVIES. I can’t believe how many film folks I know who don’t constantly watch movies. Make it a goal to watch at least 3,000 of them. Study the shots, the lighting, the sound, the acting, the design. Watch shorts and classic epics. Black and white and silent. Films you think you’ll love and others you know you’ll hate. Watch Criterion and B movies and buddy flicks and rom coms and documentaries. For as long as director commentaries exist, listen to them, but turn them off after 10 minutes if they’re stupid. Netflix is still relatively cheap and yes, the library has movies!

Good luck and happy filming.


Just because I’ve been thinking about Eartha Kitt lately.

Galasso Made Me Do It:
Lars von Trier’s Antichrist

Galasso Made Me Do It is where Cinemulatto occasionally reviews movies recommended by friend and actor Thomas Galasso. These are movies I swear I’ll never see. After the seed’s planted, the unconscious pressure mounts until I break down and watch the movie.

The following review is a text message exchange with Thomas Galasso involving Lars von Trier’s Antichrist. In the movie, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe have gorgeous, cinematic, black and white sex at 1,000 frames per second; their toddler son sees them, is traumatized, and jumps out of a window (in equally magnificent shots, in falling snow); Dafoe insists that he become Gainsbourg’s therapist; and rampant, psychotic sex and violence ensue—including such delights as Gainsbourg impaling Dafoe’s leg with a grinding wheel and jerking off his damaged penis until it squirts blood.

Cinemulatto: I watched Antichrist. Me #1 thinks it’s the most brilliant movie she’s ever seen, while Me #2 wants to stab it to death then burn it.

Thomas Galasso: Haha. Why does Me #2 feel that way? I just want someone to break down Lars von Trier for me. I liked the movie. I feel like now he has created an even more intense niche as the “guy with disturbing movies.”

CM: It goes deeper than that for me. It’s a will to live versus an urge to die, of recognizing horror in the world but choosing lightness and life. To accept the essence of that movie, for me, is to ultimately renounce love and embrace a dark vision of the world. I can analyze and explore darkness but I fundamentally believe in goodness. He’s stepping back into the madwoman in the attic, a tradition/trend that feminists have worked to change for a long time. At least this madwoman’s in a cottage. It’s also very Brechtian. I know von Trier is influenced by Brecht. Also lots of religious and psychosexual symbolism and iconography. So, it’s a smart movie, but I just can’t get on board with the underlying message.

TG: Interesting. I’ve seen the “madwoman” in various films and stories.

CM: He’s a master of bending genre. The problem with that, however, is the movie becomes more realistic, despite the Brechtian devices he tries to use.

TG: The dark and the hopelessness has always been von Trier’s angle. I’ve always liked that about him. Sometimes I see the world the way he does. In total chaos. Explain the Brechtian. What is that?

CM: Yeah. If you haven’t already read The Yellow Wallpaper, read it. I just checked and it’s available online for free. Lezley Saar mentioned her daughter compared it to Antichrist. [Non-texted note: See the Cinemulatto post from 1/3/13.]

TG: I’ve heard of the Yellow Wallpaper. Damn. I can’t recall where though.

CM: Brecht also deals with dark subject matter, but always reminds you you’re watching something somebody created. He creates alienation and distance between the story and the viewer. Use of inter-titles, like von Trier does. Yellow Wallpaper was written I think in the 1890s. It’s usually on the syllabus of creative writing classes. Chaos reigns, ha. I just don’t accept chaos, or more specifically that one should give in to it.

TG: Interesting. Yeah I have to admit, I would love to work with von Trier. I see some of the same with David Lynch at times. Lynch is more steeped in deconstructing the nuclear family though.

CM: You’d be perfect in a von Trier movie. It should’ve been you instead of Shia LeBeouf.

TG: Haha I know.

I Don’t Care If He’s Gay. But I Kinda Do.

Michael Quercio, early 1980s

I saw The Three O’Clock at Great American Music Hall last week, a reunion show that placed me as an audience member some 30 years after seeing them at The Palace in Los Angeles at age 15. Mod Male recently wrote a blog post about their influential music and fashion sense. Here I was, however, dragging my lesbian child-bride to something I hoped would spark distant memories and create new ones.

Both were the case. More on that in a moment. For the time being, as I picked out a perfect tie for the show, I thought about a mention of the band in Frontiers LA’s article, Gay for Play, where lead singer Michael Quercio is referenced as “openly gay”. A link to the article was posted on the Three O’Clock Facebook page along with spirited responses, including one from Quercio (“F-OFF”) that I tended to agree with. Openly gay? What’s that got to do with 1980s psych-pop? Or the reunion of one of my favorite childhood bands? (They still sound so great!) Would someone really go see a band just because someone in it’s gay? Why hadn’t the gay press given Quercio the time of day over the last 30 years? Had the gay police widened the search for musical icons? Have we once and for all moved beyond house music, Tracy Chapman, and Tegan and Sara?

On the one hand, new gay icons are fantastic. Gay culture needs as much diversity as it can get. On the other hand, going to see the Three O’Clock only marginally brought up issues of sexual identity for me. What it did more than anything is, indeed, bring back those original memories of seeing them at age 15. The excitement of my first concert. Taking a bus from Duarte (near Pasadena) to Hollywood and Vine with my older brother. Giving change to a homeless person for the first time. Using the fakest ID in history—handwritten by a friend. (The door guy told me, “I guess this’ll have to do” and let me in.) Witnessing two people French kiss for the first time. Seeing Michael Quercio, who I had a huge crush on, from right near the stage. Hearing songs in person that I’d only appreciated from the privacy of my cloistered teenage room, and singing along to all of them. Being showered with falling balloons at the end of the show. Trying to get home after being told we needed exact change for the bus—change that had gone to the homeless guy.

Maybe I’m old, or world-worn, or perhaps I’ve lived in San Francisco too long. Or maybe loyalty to teen idols trumps everything else. I’m certain of one thing only: the gayest moment of the evening came not from seeing Michael Quercio on stage, but from running into our lesbian gynecologist. How gay is that?

10 Practical Ways to Pass As White

Cinemulatto is confident the U.S. Supreme Court will do the right thing when it decides on marriage equality. Until then, if a gay person wanted to engage in some act of national freedom such as, say, taking a cross-country trip through states supporting at least civil unions, a path could be reasonably made (if one assumes speeding through Utah and Nebraska, then taking a detour through Canada).

Mulattoes have a similar liberty! Having long ago earned the right to marry whomever we want (as far as race goes, at any rate), we now have sure-fire ways to safely straddle the social fence between black and white. We’re taking Cultural Frame Switching to a new level—and officially recognizing things a fun-loving mulatto can do to pass as white.

Stay tuned for future tips for passing as black.

  1. At office mixers, talk boldly about the thread count on sheets.
  2. Lose any hint of an accent. Practice diction.
  3. Engage your white friends in discussion on high-interest savings.
  4. Share made-up stories with strangers about a past summer job in upstate New York.
  5. Make up further stories about a childhood pet rock collection.
  6. Attend a ragtime festival. Take pictures and post to social media sites.
  7. Go fruit picking while wearing a sun hat and oversized shorts.
  8. Tend a flower garden during times of high foot traffic.
  9. Read Winning Chess Tactics on public transportation.
  10. Take up snag fishing.


Half-white Miller

We’ve mentioned him several times on the Cinemulatto Facebook page. When it comes to passing, Wentworth’s claim to fame is playing a white man on a television prison drama. A prison drama, where he plays a building engineer who holds up a bank to get thrown into prison on purpose to save his brother.

Who better to play this role than a mulatto?

Screenwriter, actor, model, producer, and Tigertone, this month we celebrate a man whose hand can almost cover the entire top of his head.

Lawrence Nathaniel Newton

Cinemulatto is in London this week with her family, mostly showing her teen daughter touristy things and eating at places like Nando’s. I’m also visiting relatives on my mother’s side I haven’t seen in 23 years, plus new ones I’ve never met.

Not only is the search for Dorothy Newton continuing, but now there’s a beginning to the story. This beginning is my mother’s father, Lawrence Nathaniel Newton.

Lawrence Newton, circa the early 1930s.

I never met my maternal grandfather. I only heard about him in stories, and knew (as mentioned in a previous Cinemulatto post) that my mother had spoken about his swollen heart as witnessed on his deathbed.

My time in London has unearthed several facts:

  • He died from too much drinking, not heart disease, and it was his swollen liver my mother saw.
  • He was Indo-Jamaican. I don’t know anything about my great-grandfather or where in India he came from, but I now know my brothers and I are one-eighth Indian (!).
  • Lawrence was prone to violence. My mother was the only one among his wife and five kids who wasn’t subject to frequent, physical outbursts.
  • He was a tailor. Thus the snazzy outfit above.

I couldn’t stop staring at the picture when I saw it. The prominent eyelids. The downward-curving mouth. Clear signs of “Newton” and traits I’ve inherited.

Why was my mother his favorite? What drove him to drink? What was the nature of his relationship with Mary Dawson, his wife? What are the other parts of his legacy?

More questions, plus the continued search for answers….


Dakota B-B

Due to popular demand (and her personal request), we have a late-March 2013 Mulatto of the Month: my daughter, Dakota Billops-Breaux. Her racial background: Black, White, Native American, Vietnamese, and Chinese. (Our theme song: “One of your own five kinds, stick to your own five kinds.”)

I won’t go into the many, many ways this young woman is extraordinary (bias be damned!), but I will say that our most recent “deep conversation” made me rethink genetics and family history.

It’s a given that in any gay or otherwise blended family, DNA is often secondary to the filial bond. There’s the occasional curiosity about the donor. There are blood lines traced through the birth parent. This has always been part of our family’s reality but only in a cursory way. It’s never determined in any real way how we relate to each other on a day to day basis.

During our London trip, however, as I became obsessed with the image of my grandfather and bonded with my cousins on family matters, Dakota expressed disappointment that she’d never have the “Newton look” or possess that particular connection to me that comes with genetics. My motherly response: I’d rather you have my sense of humor than my nose. Still, tracing one’s family history, even in a gay family context, includes at least partial discussion of blood line. And although it’s the case–even more so with the Supreme Court about to make history–that our relationship is recognized by family, community, and nation, to not respect all the feelings one’s child may encounter in becoming her own person is to do an injustice to all the things that make our gay household loving and tight-knit in the first place.

Happy March, Dakota! Thanks for continuing to teach me things.

10 Ways to Know You’re a Queer Woman of Color Making a Low-Budget Film

Not everyone’s born related to Francis Ford Coppola. Most of us have to walk the long walk of continuous trial and error, cobbled-together resources, or costly film school. If you’re a queer woman filmmaker of color, you have to work exponentially harder. Chances are you’ve worked on some of the grungiest sets known to humankind, although with some of the most spirited and eager (and often unpaid) partners in filmic crime. You’ve done the same long hours as those paid 200 times more than you. You, like your higher-budget counterparts, probably also occasionally survived on Twizzlers at the craft services table, if you even had a craft services table.

You’ve had to put up with the most unique and odorous bullshit.

Fresh off International Women’s Day, Cinemulatto offers 10 sure-fire ways of confirming, once and for all, that you’re a queer woman of color making a low-budget film. Holler if you’ve experienced any of these on a film set. These are all based on true stories.

  1. You’ve appeared in at least one of your own movies. You based the lead on yourself. This is usually a bad thing.
  2. Half the crew responsibilities are covered by your girlfriend/wife/significant queer other/person you’re sleeping with. Although limiting, this is usually a good thing.
  3. While filming in public, people who see you tell you how to shoot the film, including parents, college students, and homeless guys.
  4. There is one straight white male on set. He offers frequent advice because he knows someone who knows how to run sound.
  5. Someone eventually freaks out, usually an actor. They turn to you for resolution of past abuses and ills. You become Mother Teresa therapist just to finish the movie.
  6. The (usually male) DP starts directing the film.
  7. There is a marked lack of deodorant.
  8. There is that one person. We all know her. She complains. About everything.
  9. You survived on Twizzlers at the craft services table.
  10. After your first film, you vow to never do it again. But you do, repeatedly.


What a feeling.

Thinking of trials and tribulations makes me think of the day (or was it evening?) in 2004 when I found out Jennifer Beals would be on The L Word. Although I ultimately ended up hating this show, here was my main high school crush (we’re talking closeted 1980s crush!) starring as a lesbian in prime time. The consummate intellectual and humanitarian, Jennifer’s transformative effect on me runs deep!

Remember your female idols this month. It’s never too late to show 80s appreciation!