The Resistance Is Love

By Lisa Pryor 

This concept of resistance has really intrigued me as I’ve thought about writing this blog post. I’ve heard many phrases that include the word, yet I had never really broken it down into a basic understanding of all the meanings resistance can have. 

To resist simply means “to withstand the action or effect of.” 

When I think of women who have resisted there are so many that come to mind. I immediately think of Angela Davis. I think of Pauli Murray and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I also think of Mary Magdalene. I’m not about to go full-on religious, but the story of Mary fascinates me. Here is a woman who becomes one of Jesus’s most trusted confidants, who for thousands of years was reduced to a prostitute, but who played one of the most important roles, if not the most important, in the story of the resurrection. I see her as withstanding the action of Jesus being killed and the effect of his death as she comes back to where he was buried to find that he had risen. She stood by him even when most others had already moved on. 

This story is significant to me because I see all kinds of women showing up this way, and it is often overlooked. When women withstand actions and effects they are often called names and downgraded to less than. But, without women, who would give us the message that we need to strengthen our faith? 

I have seen women sending messages for the entirety of my life. There are so many ways in which those messages are relayed. However, for me, the messages that I am most fascinated by are stories, similar to the story of Mary Magdalene. 

Some of my favorite, recent stories are in the form of films and songs. Have you seen The Woman King? If not, I will not give it away, but I thought it was so powerful. According to Sony Pictures, The Woman King is the remarkable story of the Agojie, the all-female unit of warriors who protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s with skills and a fierceness unlike anything the world has ever seen. Inspired by true events, The Woman King follows the emotionally epic journey of General Nanisca as she inspires the King to take on the enemies determined to violate their honor and destroy their way of life. Some things are worth fighting for. 

After seeing this film and being very aware of the aftermath during award season, I believe making this film in the first place was an act of resistance. Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, the film won exactly 0 awards from the Academy. Nothing, despite the brilliance of Viola Davis, among the other phenomenal female cast and the literal blood, sweat, and tears that went into the training to make this movie. Nothing, despite the fact that this movie draws attention to the history of women protecting an African Kingdom. Nothing, given the fact that this film brings a part of history to light that no one wants to talk about. The very movie itself was resistance. 

Jennifer Lopez just released a film called This is Me . . . Now. This short film chronicles Lopez’s journey to love over a period of years. According to the documentary The Greatest Love Story Never Told, which came out shortly after, Lopez talks about financing the film on her own because no one wanted to assume the risk that was involved in making it. She is also very open about the number of individuals who turned down a role in the film as they were not willing to take on the risk of appearing. I see this film as an act of resistance. She put up 20 million dollars of her own money to create this film and did it anyway. The film was eventually bought for an undisclosed amount by Amazon Prime, after it was complete. 

One last example that comes to mind is the movie The United States vs Billie Holiday. Andra Day gives an incredible performance, winning an Academy Award for her portrayal of the singer. As I watched this movie, which is ultimately about how the FBI targets Holiday in an undercover narcotics investigation, I was struck with the resistance of both Holiday and Day. For Holiday, the resistance was to continue showing up, night after night, venue after venue, singing in resistance, especially the song “Strange Fruit.” I wonder if her disobedience and refusal to stop singing this song is what made the FBI so interested in addictions and the need to put her in jail instead of rehab? Andra Day’s resistance shows up for me in the dedication to accurately portraying this jazz legend. Her willingness to take on all the parts of Holiday and make them her own speaks to her willingness to withstand what came along with taking on the mindset of an addict. Day became Holiday for this performance, resisting the negative narrative of Holiday during her life and after her death. 

I see similar trends in the music industry: beautiful music that speaks to resistance, withstanding the actions and effects of others. When Alicia Keys declared she was a girl on fire. When Aretha Franklin demanded R.E.S.P.E.C.T. The song “I Can’t Breathe” by H.E.R. Everything Lizzo puts out. Beyoncé continuing to be Beyoncé and leaning into all the genres of music, not just the ones that she’s “supposed” to sing, reclaiming history. 

What I now understand about resistance is that it means to keep showing up . . . over and over. 

But what are we showing up for? I think it’s love. The goal is to divide us, it always has been and, more than likely, always will be. In order to combat this desire to divide, we have to be intentional about showing up for love. I am certain that those women who showed up day after day to make a movie about an all-female unit of warriors showed up because of love. I am certain that Jennifer Lopez made the film because she wanted to tell a story of love. I am sure Andra Day came from her love of music and Billie Holiday and that is what helped her transform into Billie herself. 

As Jay-Z said in his Grammy acceptance speech, “You got to keep showing up until they give you all those accolades you feel you deserve,” he said. “Until they call you chairman. Until they call you a genius. Until they call you the greatest of all time.” 

Let’s keep working together for resistance. 

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