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.

Fanshen Cox: One Drop of Love

Fanshen Cox

Fanshen Cox is an actor, producer, and educator based in Los Angeles. She’s a co-founder of the Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival and can be heard every week co-hosting the award-winning podcast Mixed Chicks Chat.

In keeping with our recent family motif, we interviewed Fanshen about One Drop of Love, which premieres in L.A. on Saturday, March 9th and has other scheduled dates through June. Check out the One Drop of Love website for the latest news and show dates!

What’s One Drop of Love?

It’s a multimedia solo performance piece about my relationship with my father and the ways in which ‘race’ has both hindered and improved our relationship. Eventually I’ll combine the footage I use in the piece, as well as performance footage and new footage, to complete a feature documentary film of the same title.

What events influenced you to start this project?

In 2006 I got married to my husband, who is Italian. My father, a staunch Pan Africanist, didn’t attend my wedding – and I believed ‘race’ had a lot to do with his absence. This sent me on a journey to discover if and how ‘race’ came into play in our relationship. I wanted to share this journey with others, and I felt documentary film would be the perfect medium for that.

What major challenges, if any, have you encountered along the way?

What kind of budding independent filmmaker would I be if I didn’t say the biggest challenge is: FUNDING? I remember the shock I felt when I completed my first budget for the film – I had no clue how I would raise the money. Yet little by little I’ve uncovered good resources (not just monetary) for getting it made.

The historical context of the title is familiar; what’s the personal significance?

For a number of years I used the history of the One Drop Rule to explain why I identified solely as ‘Black,’ despite my blended origins. Then I began to explore my own relationship to ‘race’ and to look at the parallels and contrasts with my father’s, and I discovered that One Drop had been an excuse. The truth was, I’d chosen to identify solely as ‘Black’ in hopes of being closer to my father. It was his love I was seeking – even if just One Drop.

Oregon or Jamaica?

Oregon for summer, Jamaica for winter. I’m all about the sunshine!

Discovering Dorothy Newton

Dorothy Newton, Jamaica, 1950-something

I mentioned in an earlier Cinemulatto post that I recently watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s for the first time. This was a movie my mother adored, if it wasn’t her all-out favorite. What I imagined would be an overly cheesy romantic comedy turned out to be something quite different. I immediately transferred Holly Golightly’s persona onto my mother: a young, single, female socialite, a hopeless and hip romantic, someone enamored of “the good life” and content to surround herself with friends spouting witty one-liners about yaks.

Whether perceived, concocted, or actual, the image was dissonant with the one I’d developed over the course of 28 years, before my mother’s passing from kidney failure in 1997. Dorothy Breaux was schizophrenic. Her hands had sunken into themselves, crippled from years of rheumatoid arthritis. She’d experienced three different strokes, causing the right side of her face to be slightly deformed and discolored. She was diabetic. Had high blood pressure. Was depressive. Thought the refrigerator talked to her. Was dependent on medication. Tried on a couple occasions to take my life, once with a butter knife, the other by strangulation.

This was different still from the pictures. Ones from the 40s and 50s in Jamaica, before Newton became Breaux—Dorothy Newton on a motorcycle, Dorothy Newton in a flowing, polka dot dress (the photo inscribed with “Jamaica’s Latin Quarter” on the back), Dorothy Newton either in a wide smile or a “tough girl” look. Could there be some actual connection between the woman in these pictures and the high life of a carefree, 1950s, New York ingénue?

During her moments of lucidity, my mother and I discussed many diverse and personal subjects—her sex life with my father (or lack thereof), her relationship with her own mother (similar to the caretaker one I had with mine), an affair she stopped in her late 20s, her father’s death and how she could see a swollen heart through his skin before his passing. Still, I never got a full sense of who my mother was during the years before she came to the United States, from her birth in 1929 to landing in Los Angeles in March of 1962. I know she gave me a love of music and dance. She kept a notebook of all the movies she watched as a young woman, which I found after her death. I have these and other snippets of a life.

I realized I knew so little about my mother. Under the influence of Audrey Hepburn, fresh off the pages of Danzy Senna’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night?and recently inspired by Fanshen Cox’s performance piece on her relationship with her father, I developed a heightened curiosity and a need to know more. Now, I’m on a quest.


Born in Kingston, Jamaica, on September 7th, 1929, Dorothy Theresa Newton was one of five children and one of three girls. She was born at home to Mary, who by all accounts was white. (In pictures, Mary appears fair-skinned but her race is dubious.) Dorothy’s father, who was black, took her to get her first portrait taken when she was 12, where she held a hand-made purse in a neighborhood photo studio. Her younger brother, Leo, once ripped the head off one of her dolls. Other than this girlhood trauma, Dorothy had a great life in Jamaica and was admired by friends, family, and young men. She was a bona fide life of the party. She knew how to foxtrot and jitterbug. She worked as a seamstress in a department store. She smoked, drank, and made merry.

Traveling to Los Angeles in March 1962—with the promise of Hollywood and an introduction to a handsome young man—caused a distinct change in Dorothy. She was married to Sylvester Breaux on September 8th of that year. Twelve years her senior, he was later blamed for Dorothy’s transformation from confident, independent young woman to dependent, stay-at-home, mentally ill mom. There is evidence that Dorothy exhibited signs of schizophrenia the year she left Jamaica. Still, many thought Sylvester’s erratic, angry, controlling behavior exacerbated the problem and fed Dorothy’s predisposition toward mental illness.

We celebrate Dorothy this month, as we continue to excavate her life before sickness.

Ringing in the New Year with Lezley Saar

Happy New Year, everyone!

Cinemulatto had a few epiphanies during the last quarter of 2012 having to do with identity, history, family, and creativity, chief among them “discovering” a part of my mother, Dorothy Breaux, after finally watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s (her favorite movie). This and related topics will be covered in future Cinemulatto posts. We thought it fitting, however, to have our first post of 2013 focus primarily on art and the mother-daughter relationship, as seen through the aesthetic lens of artist Lezley Saar.

With a rich and diverse history that includes public radio, book cover design, photography, ink drawing, and other forms of visual expression, Lezley Saar’s work spans over 40 years. She’s collaborated with such authors as Ishmael Reed and her work has been featured in numerous art forums. Cinemulatto asked her a few questions about her most recent installation and the state of the Mulatto Nation.

Lezley Saar
Lezley Saar

You recently had an exhibition, Madwoman in the Attic, at the Merry Karnowsky Gallery in Los Angeles. How did this project come about?

My exhibition was actually inspired by my daughter, Sola. She did her thesis at Berkeley on a comparison of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story, The Yellow Wallpaper, and Lars von Trier’s film, Antichrist. So I decided to do portraits of insane heroines from Gothic 19th century novels. The installation portion of my show, “Madness and the Gaze,” explores the phantoms of 19th century “feminine afflictions” such as melancholia and hysteria.

What are some movies you’ve seen recently and how did they affect you?

I recently saw Lars von Trier’s film, The Five Obstructions. Apologies for mentioning him again, but this is a great film where von Trier demands that Jørgen Leth remake his classic film, The Perfect Human, five times, while obeying these ridiculous criteria and restrictions.  It helped me with my approach to my work by incorporating certain “obstacles” to encourage new ideas.

What are some subjects or areas you feel you have yet to explore?

My next show will deal with Mysticism and the Occult mixed with Afrofuturism of the 1970s. I am very interested in Madame Blavatsky and Sun Ra from an historic sense as well as the future. I feel the Mulatto Nation should explore new galaxies.

What would you include in an address on the State of the Mulatto Nation?

You know, it’s interesting how with a Mulatto president, how little the subject of mixed race is discussed. But of course it’s amazing right? I believe the Mulatto Nation has to propel itself into the future by embracing duality, contradiction, hybridism, and the ether. And remember, “Mulattos are always half right!”

How is Baby Halfie Brown Head?

Just fine.


Dreadlock Mulatto Rasta

In anticipation of future blog posts concerning Dorothy Breaux (born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1929), we thought we’d go back in time to trash a few silly Jamaican stereotypes and perhaps create new ones. These explorations will be devoid of the words “mon” and “Irie”.

Tuff Gong is reggae’s best-selling artist and Jamaica’s most famous son. People the world over are familiar with his songs of liberation and struggle, and yet his dreadlocked image is a far cry from the social structure my mother experienced from 1929 through her arrival in the U.S. in 1962. In other words, my mom and her sisters didn’t like people like Bob Marley and weren’t all about ganja and skank (for better or worse). Regardless, this month we honor the most acclaimed icon of his hurricane-prone, balmy island country.

One love!