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Movie Review : In the Heights

One of the most exciting composers/creators of the music industry at this time is surely Lin-Manuel Miranda. He is currently most known for the hit musical Hamilton which retells the story of the American revolutionary via rap and involves a diverse cast and crew.

Miranda’s first musical was In the Heights, which premiered off-Broadway in 2007. At that time, nobody knew who he was. The New York Times published, “his name was a household name only in his household.” Since then, he has received much recognition and awards through his song “See the Line Where the Sky Meets the Sea” in Disney’s Moana, his role in the revival of Mary Poppins, and eventually Hamilton.

One of the best movie-musical to date

In the Heights was very recently produced into a movie-musical, and I must say it is THE BEST movie-musical up to date. It brings the genre up to another level. It is both movie and musical, and the final product here is a sum far greater than each of its parts.

What struck me most and left me breathless was how the movie was able to get out of the box of cinematography to create unforgettable, magical moments. The two most mesmerizing scenes were Benny and Nina’s dreamy duet “When the Sun Goes Down” and Abuela Claudia’s showstopper subway solo “Paciencia y Fe”. I mean, I’m a huge believer in the power of old ladies. Anthropologist Frances Bowden Affandy once told me that she believed old ladies are the apex of human evolution. They carry so many memories and wisdom in their minds and bodies, that it is no wonder old ladies as often seen as powerful witches. Yet, I have to say, I never see musical solos of glorified old ladies. Here, In the Heights pulled it off with hair-chilling choreography.

Motifs that hit home

The immigrants’ theme is a leitmotif with Miranda, as he himself is also an immigrant. This show focused on Latino-Americans’ lives and values: work hard, save up, make a better future for yourself than where you came from. This is always touching for me. There is one line where Nina’s father says what made me cry:

“This is where you become greater than me. Not because of some fancy degree, but because you can see a future I cannot.”

In the heights

This hit me personally because you know what? My father never said that to me. Never ever. Many times I share my dreams, my work, my passions. But for him, it didn’t matter. All that mattered to him was that I was not living the life girls should live, according to him. He saw one future for me, and that was that. It didn’t matter that I saw a thousand possible futures for myself. It took a long time for me to learn to distrust his figure of authority, and instead go with my guts.

This is why I love In the Heights and Miranda, because all of his work has a strong angle of women empowerment. From Elisa Hamilton to Nina, he always writes women alongside men in the narrative.

The music? Was there any doubt from the beginning? Never.

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Belakang Panggung, the Musical

For International Women’s Day last year in 2020, my colleagues and I initiated Belakang Panggung the Musical as part of Lentera Sintas Indonesia‘s campaign of awareness towards sexual harassment. We staged 5 shows (plus an open dress rehearsal) on the weekend of 6-8th March at the French Institute Auditorium in Jakarta. The next day, Indonesia went into lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

I’m so glad we were able to “get away” with it, as it was a project I had been working on since 2017 after I met Sophia Hage.

The show gathered a huge amount of press recognition. Our main actress Mian Tiara, came out with harassment that was done to her in one of her recent films: Perempuan Tanah Jahanam.

Synopsis

A theatre company is staging the epic Ramayana. During rehearsals, sexual abuse issues surface and threatens the show and the reputation of its director. What happens when the main actress speaks up on the opening night?

Belakang Panggung was our critique of a society that judges, shames, and punishes survivors who speak up. At the same time, it was our plea to leaders in Indonesia to acknowledge this issue. They can start with approving RUU PKS, the proposed bill to eliminate sexual violence and support survivors.

We thank all patrons and individuals that supported us financially for the project. If you are interested to watch a recording of the musical, please contact me. It’s in Indonesian with English subtitles.

This year, I did a small campaign on my personal social media channels from the 1st of March until today, the 8th of March. It’s been a wonderful week of speaking up and advocating awareness surrounding an issue that is so personal to me. I thank all of you who have joined me with your voice, internet bandwidth, time, and resources.

Happy International Women’s Day!

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A Survivor’s Response to Theologian Ravi Zacharias Sexual Abuse Reports

Recently Christian religious communities around the world have been shocked and aghast by Ravi Zacharias sexual abuse reports. He was a superstar preacher and theologian, with many books on Christianity. Apparently, he had as many pictures of naked women as books. He died at the age of 74 in May 2020, after denying allegations by Lori Anne Thompson since 2017. Many people did not believe her and actively slandered her. The organization (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) finally took action to investigate, and recently published a report on his many sexual abuse cases. (Trigger warning for the rest of the post!)

As a survivor of sexual harassment, one of my worst experiences was in a church setting, by the son of a deacon (church leader). Listen to the whole story here on Zoya Amirin Youtube Channel. It’s in Indonesian, but I’ll give an English translation in the next blog post. I first started speaking up on my experiences back in 2016. As a result of that, I met Sophia Hage of Yayasan Lentera Sintas Indonesia. This non-profit hosts private closed group discussions to support survivors. Lentera also actively campaigns about sexual harassment awareness and laws that need to be changed in Indonesia (RUU PKS). RUU PKS is a proposed bill focusing on the prevention of sexual violence in Indonesia while increasing victims’ rights. It was proposed in 2016 but dropped by DPR (People’s Representative) in 2020.

Back to the Ravi Zacharias scandals. I observed quietly as many people in my Whatsapp groups bravely attempted to digest this difficult news. I would like to share my voice here from a survivor’s point of view.

Not surprised at all.

All the signs were there-superstar, powerful, rich figure of patriarchal background. It is all too easy for someone in that position to abuse well, everything and everyone, really. Unless there are proper checks and balances set in place, then it’s just much too easy for him to do whatever he wants. Especially to village girls that have limited options in life due to poverty.

I wish discussions would be more empathetic and supportive of survivors.

Can you imagine how you would feel if your pastor was groping your thighs? Or how you would feel, if you were looking for a job because you desperately needed money to get through the week, and your boss offers you financial support in exchange for sexual favors? How would you react?

Statistics say that 1 in 3 women worldwide has experienced physical and/or sexual violence. They just haven’t spoken up about it. This is a staggering number.

What will you do about the issue?

Do not think your place is exempt from this social issue. Use the momentum of this news to bring it up to the leaders of your religious organization, workplace, school, to see if there are protocols set in place to ensure that everyone is safe. That people can speak up if they feel they have been mistreated. It can be as simple as an anonymous abuse hotline where you can report your case. Or an email where people can send anonymous stories to. Or let your family members (especially your children) know that if anyone ever touched them without their consent, then they can talk to you. You will not judge them. You will listen and believe them, and you will love them.

Let your children know that if anyone ever touched them without their consent, you will not judge them. You will listen, believe, and love them.

However you choose to act, my plea is this: do not stay silent on this issue. International Woman’s Day is coming up on 8th of March. They are campaigning for the hashtag #ChooseToChallenge. Speak up, use your voice. If you have money, find a campaign you like and donate to it. If you are in a leadership position, use your power to create better systems for your community.

What you do now will not be forgotten by your sons and daughters.

If you have been sexually abused, you can talk reach out to Lentera Sintas Indonesia, Zoya Amirin, or many other nonprofits and worldwide organizations. Have hope. The world is changing-slowly, but surely.

You can also talk to me. I’ve been there. You’re not alone.

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Towards International Women’s Day 2021

For International Women’s Day this year, I am so excited to be doing a campaign on my various digital channels. For each day from the 1st of March to the 8th of March, I will do one activity with the hashtag #ChoosetoChallenge. Here is my plan.

March 1

Publish a picture of myself with my hand raised, as suggested on International Women’s Day official website. I am going to tag 5 friends and see if any of them take up the picture challenge before the 8th of March.

March 2

I am going to research and choose 3 international nonprofits working towards women empowerment and gender equality and invite my followers to take a look and donate to the charities.

March 3

Publish a blog post as my response to the recent Ravi Zacharias scandals, writing from a survivor’s point of view.

March 4

Lobby at least one of the 5 friends I tagged to join the picture challenge. Hopefully one of them does! If you would like to join, please go ahead, and tag my Instagram.

March 5

Publish a blog post of one of my #metoo stories-the one in 2014 by a church member who turned out to be a sexual predator.

March 6

I am going to research and choose 3 local (Indonesian) nonprofits working in this field and invite my followers to take a look and donate to the local charities.

March 7

Make a TikTok video for Breaking the Silence- a 58-minute episode from the Leap Forward Podcast by the Global Network. I was one of the five people invited to discuss domestic sexual violence along with Sophia Hage of Lentera Sintas Indonesia, Kumudini David (Voice with Kumu), Jerry Winata (Bawa Anambas Foundation), and Ayesha Shaukatullah Awan (SEALA Network Manager).

March 8

I will be sharing the recording of Belakang Panggung the Musical, an original musical on the topic of sexual harassment which I initiated for International Women’s Day 2020 in Jakarta. If you are interested to watch the recording, you can contact me to request the link.

That’s my plan for this year’s International Women’s Day! #ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021

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Orange the World 2020

16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is an international campaign initiated in 1991 by Center for Women’s Global Leadership. It starts on 25 November and runs until 10 December (International Human Rights Day). UN Women’s activism this year is coordinated under the global theme Orange the World : Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect.

I’d like to shine some light on this issue through one of my short stories, Hazelnut and Potato. It is based on too many true stories, and fits all the global statistics regarding the issue.

  • 1 in 3 women have experienced physical/sexual violence.
  • Most of this violence is from people close to the women.
  • In many societies, it is still a taboo to speak about these issues.

Here is an excerpt of the short story.

When Hazelnut was younger, Father made Mother stay home to watch out and take care of the lovely little one. Now that Hazelnut had been taught to care for herself at home, Mother also joined Potato and Father outside. It was necessary : the rice fields called for all the hands they could get. It was difficult toil. Grab and cut, grab and cut. They only paused for lunch break. They had their lunch out in the fields, underneath the shade of the bamboo gazebo. Hazelnut was not allowed to go out during the heat, so she always stayed at home having her lunch alone.

Potato’s back hardened, and her hands became rough and calloused. At night, Hazelnut would massage Potato’s hands with oil from the white wood trees. Father carefully watched the sisters, while Mother prepared food and various delicious spices.

One particular afternoon, while Mother and Potato were eating lunch, Father got up suddenly without finishing his rice. “I heard a strange sound from our house. There has been rumors of a buffalo gone mad. Hazelnut is all by herself there. I must see that she is alright. I will make sure, and return soon.”

Potato became sick with worry, but Mother said, “There will be nothing you can do against such a large animal, Potato. It is not a small field rat. If there is indeed any danger, let your Father see to it. We must tend to our fields, for the greater danger of the smallest creatures here might destroy all our hard work this season.”

After what felt to Potato like hours, Father returned to the fields.

“It was nothing,” he said. “Perhaps I heard it in my mind. I am getting old. The heat of the sun is getting to my brains, and my back.”

“What about Hazelnut?” asked Potato.

“She is perfectly fine. Perfectly fine,” Father replied.


The complete story is available in the shop. Gender-based violence is too real all around us, especially if you live in a patriarchal society. Please, please, please educate yourself on the topic. If you have daughters, find out how to raise them so that they can protect themselves. Don’t pretend gender-based violence doesn’t exist, or it will be too late when you or your loved one is the next one taken prey.

Visit WHO statistics to understand the actual data on this issue. To know more about the campaign globally, visit the 16 Days of Campaign’s website.