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SPARK Performance in Brooklyn: This Is Not A Safe Space!

on OCTOBER 24, SPARKteam Players presents a new live, outdoor, site-specific performance addressing rape culture:

word on the street is…

This Is Not A Safe Space

an original soundwalk and live performance challenging rape culture

saturday october 24 at 5pm

written and performed by: emma, nicosie & tasfia

directed by: dana (with eva and courtney)

This Is Not A Safe Space is the culmination of a collaborative creation process of the writer-performers along with sexual violence prevention activists and is presented as a contribution towards the goal of ending rape culture and promoting sexual violence awareness and prevention. Audience is limited, so please reserve your FREE ticket HERE:

  • We will be OUTSIDE in Fort Greene, Brooklyn — audiences will travel to different locations, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and dress for the sunny, crisp, fall weather!
  • We will BEGIN at Fowler Square, located at the intersection of South Elliott Place, Fulton Street and Lafayette Avenue.
  • Nearby transportation: 2,3,4,5,B,D,N,R,Q trains at Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center; G train at Fulton Avenue, C train at Lafayette Avenue.

Contact with any questions.

This production has been made possible due to generous funding support from the Frank and Ruth E. Caruso Foundation and the NoVo Foundation


Happy International Day of the Girl!

SPARK Movement is thrilled to co-produce the International Day of the Girl: Girls Speak Out! at the United Nations for the third year in a row. Dana (SPARK’s executive director) is directing The Takeover, an original performance written and performed by teenage girls at the UN – and including writing by girls from 18 countries. Do you ever wonder what the world would be like if girls took over? Come hang out with us at UN and see The Takeover!




Hot Girls Wanted: A SPARK Roundtable

by Montgomery Jones, Aviv Rau, Mariah Hall, Courtney Fulcher, and Jazmin Martinez

Hot Girls Wanted is a documentary that gives its audience a glimpse into the world of amateur porn, looking into the day to day lives of young women in the industry. It’s been on the media’s radar, thanks in part to producer Rashida Jones, who has spoken in interviews about how this film gives a unique opportunity to delve into the basic operations of amateur porn companies and how being in porn affects of the lives of the young women who act in these videos. It looks at their health issues, family relationships after finding out, and social interactions. It definitely caught the attention of some of the girls from SPARK–a few of us realized we had all watched the film (now streaming on Netflix) on our own, and decided to have a roundtable about it. It was a long and complicated conversation, but we wanted to share some of the highlights below.

Montgomery: I don’t think that [the film] was portraying the sex industry [as a whole], just one little sliver. [The film follows] girls that [producers] get off Craigslist. Their lifespan, or their shelf span, is, like, 4 months.

Aviv: It seemed kind of nice that the girls had happy endings or, like, happier endings. But that kind of defeated a lot of the point that I felt the movie was trying to make until then of, like, [the amateur porn industry] is really shitty. But, “Oh these girls all got a chance to get out of it and now they’re happy!” But the industry still continues and they didn’t really do a good job of wrapping that up as much.

Mariah: For me, the film went in depth but [a lot of] it was definitely there for the shock factor and, like, the disgustingness.  don’t think it went deep enough into the issues, so it just felt very superficial. It was more just about shocking people rather than, “Here’s how we can change this, here’s how we can stop it,” and really offer solutions.

Montgomery: I disagree with you guys. I think it went exactly how they said it would with the whole shelf span of 4 months, then you’re out. See, I don’t think this specific corner of that industry you’re sucked in for the rest of your life–I think you’re in and you’re out. Not everyone obviously gets to go home to a happy family and go back to school and stuff, but they made it sound like that usually happens. It’s like a weird summer vacation. Like, surreal.

Jazmin: They made it sound like you go in and then you can go out and not have it that bad. But then there’s nothing else after the 6 months or the year. There’s really gross things you have to do to keep going. Like, Facial Abuse and no condoms.

Courtney: Yeah, none of the sets use condoms. Also, they didn’t know anything about birth control which freaked me out!

Montgomery: I felt just so bad for these girls, honestly. One of the girls was saying, “Yeah, I’m 18, it’s easy to take advantage of me.” She says it like she’s heard it, but I don’t think she really understands how manipulative these people are. And she walked away with $2000, and she got paid, like, $35,000 or $45,000.

Jazmin: They go in for the money but they don’t realize they have to spend it on flights.

Montgomery: And how creepy was it when all the girls left and we started a whole new cycle with the new girls? It was like the end of a horror film, where you think you’re done but then it’s like, “Whoa, brand new girls start all over!” It’s like a neverending cycle. And [Riley, the girls’ manager] is there again, with his creepy self.

Mariah: The one thing that really struck me too was that [the film] didn’t address it rape or assault–[a lot of times, girls] did not give consent for things. It was not talked about, and I wish that had been addressed more, the fact that girls do have a right to say no. Even the fact that they didn’t feel like they did means that something is wrong.

Montgomery: I think the messed up part is, they’re kind of the lucky ones, in a weird way, because they got to walk away like we said. There are so many people that are in other sexual situations and industries and things like that that don’t get to just walk away. We talk about sex slavery and stuff, and I saw a lot of parallels in that world, except that it was in front of a camera. It was so manipulative because it was like, “Oh, I’m gonna be a star and I’m getting paid so it’s not bad at all.”

Jazmin: And this is not even the worst of it! Like when Rachel flew out to L.A., and she paid for it with her own money, but they didn’t tell her it was, like, Facial Abuse. She was like, “What was I gonna do?” And then she had to do it. Then there was this other scene where she was like, “You have sex with these gross men that you wouldn’t have sex with in real life.” Then they cut to a part where she’s like, “I didn’t know if I could say no.” And that was awful!

Montgomery: And it’s just so weird because they’re a lot of our ages. A lot of it comes from boredom, loneliness, this kind of feeling that they need to get out and this is just a quick way to do it. I feel like a lot of us have felt that way before. I didn’t mean to be pitying them, but I just felt so bad the entire movie. Everything Riley was saying, I was like, “Ugh! You’re such a pig. You’re disgusting!” And he just had that stupid smirk on his face. I was like, “Oh, shut up! Get out of my face.” … Because we’re in that generation where crossing over from the sex industry to the mainstream is more common now–it’s a little bit more accepted. So I’m not dissing–I don’t know so much about the porn industry. By all means, if you are protected, if you’re not being abused and all that, if you wanna do it I don’t care. But it’s these young girls that are being recycled and used for their [youth]. And [the porn directors] kept saying, “Don’t wait for her to say yes, just go.” Okay, that’s rape. That’s not funny, that’s not cool. It made me so angry.

Jazmin: I think that’s also part of the problem. When men watch this and internalize the power, they think sexualizing women is powerful.

Montgomery: I really think that these stories [affect our ideas about sex]. Rashida even mentions it–11 is now the average age to watch porn or whatever. But if it’s a healthy story about sex–not these weird, demented little fantasies that are, like, forcing women to do things…It just hits you, and you’re like, “Oh, okay.” It normalizes it. You’re desensitized. You’re like, “Oh, cool, that’s how you do it.”

Aviv: Definitely. And I think the big thing is what you were saying before, about things being uncensored and there not really being any clear boundaries. I mean, even if somebody looks for what’s supposedly “healthier porn” or what depicts a less awful thing, the fact that it’s so easy to stumble into a completely different niche is terrifying. And that seems like what a lot of the girls were getting into, too. They didn’t realize that they were gonna do things that are beyond just “run of the mill” porn. They ended up doing all these things that they probably never expected to, just because it’s so easy to hop from one thing to the next, and there’s no clear boundaries given.

Mariah: Like the niche porn or whatever it was.

Courtney: This  movie was very scary to me. I just ended up feeling terrible for all of the girls. Really, it seemed like all of them were just young and naive and desperate to escape their hometowns. Amateur porn seems like a terrible, exploitative industry.

Jazmin: The film made me feel so sick about the state of the porn industry. It doesn’t seem like the people in it care much about protecting the participants’ health and mental wellbeing. It also gave me a better understanding of the consequences of living in a country where violence against women is constantly being sexualized and normalized in mainstream media. I want to cry and scream and punch that guy Riley and steal his puppy, he doesn’t deserve that puppy.

Aviv: What struck me most about this movie was how manipulated those poor girls are. Many of the girls in the documentary are literally fresh out of childhood–just eighteen years old–and lured into the porn industry with the promise of money and fame. From the moment they enter the industry, they are exploited by shady older men like Riley. These men capitalize on the girls’ youth physically, mentally, and emotionally, then “recycle” the girls as soon as they scout a newer, younger group. It’s kind of like some larger-than-life pyramid scheme where young girls are the currency.

Mariah: Rather than feel pity for these girls, I think it’s good to use our anger at seeing how this exploitative industry can be made more safe for the women working in it. It’s seeing films like these that help spark a revolution to end the abuse they face. One thing that I liked about it as well is that it kind of brought it back to the consumers. The porn industry is making films that are wanted by society. It brings us back to the larger issue of society of dehumanizing and sexualizing girls and women. Women of color are especially fetishized. Unapologetic fetishization and dehumanization is something that porn makes very apparent.

SPARK Reads: Nell Zink’s Mislaid

by Courtney Fulcher

I first saw screenshots of Nell Zink’s Mislaid when Rachel Dolezal became a news story. I had heard about the book before because it was one of those “10 Books You Must Read This Summer!” but I hadn’t  intended to read it until I read those screenshots. They were all wickedly funny passages deftly satirizing racial politics of the 60’s and 70’s in ways that felt fresh but true to the period. Summarizing the book beyond that is difficult because I don’t think I can capture the tone of it,  which was vintage and dark and often hilarious.

Anyway, Mislaid follows Peggy and Lee, a lesbian woman and a gay man who marry in Virginia in the 1960s. Over the course of ten years (and several pages), their marriage implodes, eventually leading Peggy to escape in a car with their daughter, leaving her son behind. Peggy, for complicated reasons, raises their daughter to believe they are both black.

Peggy’s daughter, who goes by the name Karen for most of the book, grows very much into the protagonist. She’s smart, naive, and childish, a welcome contrast from her parents, who are completely believable and unlikeable narrators (and terrible at parenting). Many of the funniest moments come from Karen’s interactions with patronizing Southern liberals. Karen is a smart girl in fiction who does not behave like a tiny adult, an unfortunately refreshing characterization. I found her really interesting but was disappointed that she wasn’t really fully utilized as a character until the later half of the book. Another character I adored was Temple, Karen’s boyfriend. His understanding of the world filtered mostly from mid-century authors in completely recognizable and hilarious way.

I didn’t start reading this book with the highest of expectations. I expected a stiff and cringe-worthy tale that ignored the privileges of whiteness and bordered on voyeurism. I was surprised to find a deft farce instead. The story that emerges is a funny Trojan Horse of a bildungsroman, albeit one with incredibly strange pacing. Zink is unfortunately at this point an oddity in the literary world as a white author who explores the race interestingly and effectively.

Overall, Mislaid is a sometimes uneven, funny book that works best in excerpts. The pacing works amazingly in some places and terribly in others. Zink’s use of narration struck me as charming, but was inconsistently utilized. The ending is by far the weakest part of the story in my opinion, but I hate Shakespearean comedic endings and fun, generally. I really hope that Zink continues to publish for larger audiences. She’s clearly an accomplished writer even in her sophomore novel.

Black Women Create, even from behind prison walls

by Alice Wilder

Latoya Dickens and I have been pen pals for a little over a year. In that time, I’ve moved four times. I’ve worked three different jobs and traveled to four different states. But several times a month, without fail, I’ve scooped thick envelopes out of my mail box and unfolded yellow lined pages filled with Latoya’s neat cursive. I’ve written her letters in boring classes (sorry, Professor Fhunsu), on my apartment’s staircase, at picnic tables after a hike. She writes her letters to me from the Lee Arrendale State Prison, in Georgia.

Probably my worst quality is my impatience, and it is what makes writing to Latoya so frustrating- it has been a year and she is right where she was before. Prison does this. Our power dynamic is inescapable- I am constantly moving around Chapel Hill and she is in Lee Arrendale State Prison, where she has been for nearly twenty years. I get to sit at this cafe and write about her life. That’s power.

But it would be dishonest to define Latoya as a powerless victim of the prison system, although she has, without a doubt, been negatively impacted by it. She is currently serving a life sentence for the death of her husband Otis, who abused her for nearly their entire relationship and threatened her life.

Although she is inside of this building, she is continuing to flow and grow. She tells me in her letters about her theology classes, her poetry classes, the books she reads. How she admires Serena Williams and loves the show Empire. She tells me about the ministry she wants to start when she is freed: she wants to focus on counseling people who are dealing with domestic violence and other forms of abuse.

Latoya loves to write poetry, so I sent her some questions for our Black Women Create series. Her poetry centers around womanhood, God, and love in all its dimensions.

Love Is

Love is beautiful
Love isn’t blind, it can see
It sees the beauty within, not
the skin
It isn’t a sin
Love is you
Love is me
Masculinity, masculinity
Femininity, Femininity
Love is love, let it be

Why do you enjoy writing poetry?

I never really thought about why I enjoy writing poetry. Since you asked, I honestly believe I can say it gives me peace, a sense of release and renewal. It is also one thing that can’t be taken away from me.

What advice would you give to a girl who wants to write poetry but is nervous to do so?

Sweetheart, it is definitely a way to release all that you may be holding in. Embrace that fear and find your voice as well as renewal. No fear, because fear immobilizes us. For example, Maya Angelou, she speaks volumes and where she came from was her foundation. She never sugarcoats.

What is your inspiration?

I’d have to honestly say that my family is my inspiration. I sometimes look back at where I used to be and it helps me to focus on where I want to be. And definitely my higher deity. As well as wanting to assist younger women and men to strive for better. Having the freedom to continuously elevate educationally, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, is inspiring in itself.

Latoya comes up for parole in 2016, this means that she will go in front of a parole board and have to make a case for why she should be free. With support and some luck, she could be out, free, in another year. But parole is incredibly difficult to get. Click here to learn more about her life, and how you can be part of a letter writing campaign to her parole board.

Research Blog: Why don’t I look like her?!

By Allison Cabana

It’s those pink walls that really take me back. Sitting in my childhood bedroom, staring at those walls, I remember exactly how it felt to live here. I was dreaming of getting a date, whispering to my friends on the phone, and stressing out about homework. But what I remember most is my big sister. Dani was my idol. Hers was the bedroom across the hall, and as a kid I wanted nothing more than to be just like her. What can I say? She was (and still is) one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. Only a few years older and a few grades above me in school, she was somehow always light-years ahead of me in sophistication. Her clothes fit a little bit tighter (and she filled them out in a way my body refused to do); she shaved her legs and wore a bra; and her eyeliner was always a little bit darker than I could seem to pull off. I wanted her clothes to look the same on me as they did on her. When her friends teased my friends and me, for looking young or not being quite as hip as they were, I felt bad about myself. Why couldn’t I just look and dress like them? A few years couldn’t make that big of a difference…could it?


Turns out, I wasn’t the only one to compare myself to my older counterparts as a teenager, and to be honest, sometimes, I still do it now with the slightly-older people in my life. And, I wasn’t the only one to wonder if other girls felt that way too. Could comparing myself to older girls have had something to do with feeling bad about my body and my appearance? Researchers Jaine Strauss and colleagues[1] decided to investigate just that. They did a study that explored the relationship between girls’ school environment (i.e., who they go to school with and see everyday while they’re there) and their body satisfaction. They were wondering (much like I was): could the grade levels that girls go to school with have anything to do with the level of body dissatisfaction in adolescent girls? Is there a relationship between hanging around older girls and body image? After all, we know that body image changes as girls enter adolescence and become older teenagers.[2]

So, the researchers categorized fifth and sixth graders as the ‘younger girls’ and seventh and eighth graders the ‘older girls.’ Then, they looked at three types of school groupings: 1) Grades K-6 in the same school, and Grades 7-8 in another school; 2) Grades K-5 in the same school, and Grades 6-8 in another school; and 3) Grades K-4 in one school, and Grades 5-8 in another school. The girls who participated in the study filled out a survey that measured their body satisfaction. There are a lot of different ways to measure ‘body satisfaction’ (basically, how much you like the body you’re in). The researchers chose to ask about things like wanting to be thin, idolizing super skinny folks (like the models in magazines), disliking your body, and “body objectification” (an idea that a person’s worth is connected to the way their body looks).

Lo and behold, this research confirmed just what I had wondered before! The researchers found that the younger girls who were grouped with the seventh and eighth graders in the same school had lower body satisfaction than the girls who were in school with younger grades (K-4). As we all know, girls’ body image tends to become more negative as they get older, so the researchers think being in a social context with older girls may expose the younger girls to a more negative context sooner. It seems like hanging out with my older sister and feeling bad about my body and appearance afterward is a part of a pretty common dynamic that happens when adolescent girls hang around older girls.

Now, I know that reading about other girls feeling similar to us can’t stop us from feeling some type of way when we get that urge to compare ourselves to those ‘cool older girls,’ but if we think also about all the good things we learn from those older girls, maybe we can re-imagine what this research says. I certainly did. As much as my older sister and her friends sometimes made me wonder if I looked trendy enough, they also taught me about periods and tampons, and gave me the confidence to go for varsity my freshman year and say yes to that person who asked me on my first date (and then have fun on it)! I remember feeling bad about my body sometimes, but when I think about it (and this research), I know that the older girls were in the same boat with me—it wasn’t their fault at all. What this research tells me is that girls, young and a little older, are keen learners. We’re perceptive and ambitious. Society often tries to teach us that what matters most about us is how we look—no wonder this is what we take away from hanging out with older girls. But just because we’ve all been taught this doesn’t mean we have to keep believing it! Now it’s time to change the script. We, along with those folks slightly younger and slightly older than we are (and every other age!), can uplift ourselves and each other to tell the appearance-obsessed society that we’re more than what we look like.  Hanging out with those slightly older girls, together, we can write our own script that disrupts the idea of what women are ‘supposed’ to look like and that tells the world that our appearances aren’t the most important things about us. Because only when people are valued for more than just the way they look will we all be free.

[1] Strauss, J., Sullivan, J. M., Sullivan, C. E., Sullivan, S.J., & Wittenburg, C. E. (2014). Contextualizing the “Student body”: Is exposure to older students associated with body dissatisfaction in female early adolescents? Psychology of Women Quarterly, 39(2), 171-181.

[2] There have been many studies on this, but for just a few examples: Lindberg, S. M., Hyde, J. S., & McKinley, N. M. (2006). A measure of objectified body consciousness for preadolescent and adolescent youth. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30, 65–76. ; and Bearman, S. K., Martinez, E., Stice, E., & Presnell, K., (2006). The skinny on body dissatisfaction: A longitudinal study of adolescent girls and boys. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35, 217–229.