i woke up from my nap today to find martin sheen dishing out raw emotion in the 1986 tv movie "samaritan: the mitch snyder story."
cicely tyson co-starred. she was an old homeless woman. the makeup was horrible. cicely doesn't look that old now and it's 23 years later. it got me thinking though...the makeup and hair departments jack cicely up quite often.
what really caught my eye, was the recognizable character actor standing around in most of the scenes. i know his face, but i've never known his name. as i looked at him today, i realized that he was the original michael clarke duncan.
i couldn't think of what else he'd been in right off hand, so with the magic of google, i was able to discover that his name is stan shaw. he's probably best known for "harlem nights" and "roots: the second generation."
while not a household name, i think his legacy is breaking down barriers for large black men to play gentle souls.
one of the things that i like to do on lazy weekend days is watch old movies. i especially like when there's a film on that it seems like i should have seen and sometimes, in certain company, i will let people assume that i've watched; for example, "silkwood."
today, my early matinee included the last hour of "cocoon" - genius and "gorillas in the mist." i recall that i avoided seeing "gorillas..." on purpose. the whole white woman, going to africa and saving the gorillas thing might have been too much for me at the time.
i decided that this was the day. so i leaned back into my sofa, ready to watch sigourney work her magic in the jungle.
within the first fifteen minutes, i was already squirming. sigourney arrives in africa in this outfit more suited for wimbledon. she quickly adapts to her surroundings and has african men carrying her things around in no time. ahhh...just like home.
at one point, soldiers destroy her camp and she begins screaming, "i'm american!" julia louis-dreyfus did the same thing on this week's 'new adventures of old christine' when she got stuck on the customs office in the bahamas. at least with julia, it was supposed to be funny.
in one "moving" scene, after tracking unsuccessfully with her african guide, sigourney finally sees her first gorillas. sigourney is taken in by their beauty and majesty. i was literally thinking, "just leave them alone."
then out of nowhere, one of the gorillas goes ape shit and begins chasing sigourney and her guide.
i found myself saying, "get 'em." at that point, i knew it was time to shut it down. i shouldn't be rooting for the gorilla to kill sigourney. she was only there trying to help.
“The African-American Influence in Film” was the name of a panel that I participated in at this year’s Mid-Atlantic Black Film Festival. I wasn’t exactly sure where that topic would lead the discussion. How would the moderator frame the conversation? We never really did address the African-American influence, but as in most discussions about blacks in film, the conversation turned to money and power.
Money and power.
One of the films that was mentioned during the panel was “District 9.” I hadn’t seen it yet. There was this idea of ownership of ghetto themes. It was if the film had a responsibility as a social commentary, more than as a piece of entertainment. The thought was that the aliens represented “us” and the film itself was a vague attempt to put a sci-fi spin on apartheid.
I’d read about the Nigerian government’s request that theaters stop playing the film. Admittedly, I didn’t pay much attention to the controversy. I didn’t think much more of it than I did of the uproar over the recent “Transformers” film. Now, after seeing the film, I understand why Nigerians are upset.
Nigerians are portrayed as alien flesh eaters, prostitutes, gangsters and witch doctors. As I type this, I realize it sounds a bit like Lafayette on “True Blood.” The difference however, is that Lafayette represents himself, not blacks. The Nigerian characters in “District 9” appear to paint a broad picture of the entire population. Going back to that money and power theme, the larger problem is that many people won’t make the distinction. They will just have this visual impression of Africans. Sure, they’ll all read about Nigeria’s issue with the film, but will anyone care? Is Hollywood concerned with losing the money from the box office in Nigeria? Probably not.
What I hope doesn’t get lost in the controversy, is the fact that “District 9” is a great film. The film’s core story about a bureaucrat, who doesn’t care much about the aliens until they become a personal issue, rang very true. How many of us become more concerned about AIDS, cancer, homosexuality, abuse etc. after we are personally affected? I watch the news sometimes and wonder why they interview black people after a young black child is killed. I suspect that someone white would also have a compassion for that type of tragedy. It’s that sort of separation being examined in the film; the idea that one person’s pain is different from someone else’s.
The film made me think back to the festival panel. There were those who felt strongly that like the aliens in “District 9,” they were relegated to the ghetto of the filmmaking community. They are forced to take the scraps that Hollywood dishes out. In some ways I understand the frustration, but I believe that we have more power than we give ourselves credit for. In the film, one of the aliens, with his own resources, creates a spaceship in the hopes of finding his way out of the ghetto. In terms of film, Tyler Perry has created his own spaceship. The brothers at Rainforest Films have as well. There are others doing the same. The availability of inexpensive digital equipment makes it more possible than ever for people to tell their stories. So while for some, “District 9” is another example of the exploitation of people of color, I saw a film about the power of hope and ingenuity. If I’d seen the film prior to the festival panel, I would’ve told everyone to build their own spaceship and stop waiting for a ride on someone else’s.
nene leakes is a star. period. anderson cooper loves her and so does ryan seacrest. the breakout star of bravo's atlanta version of 'real housewives' is making moves in hollywood.
this past week she co-hosted the red carpet of the emmys on E!. it was great fun watching the annoying mr. jay get upstaged by nene. it was even more fun to watch nene not shift gears because of her new surroundings. she was as "refined" as she is on her 'real housewives.'
i could just imagine lisa wu and sheree eating chips and being totally annoyed that they were not on the carpet. i mean, they are the ones who know the fashion world. (if this is your first time reading my blog, i am being sarcastic.)
i was celebrating nene's keep it real success and then all of a sudden a flash of nell carter went through my mind. i guess it wasn't really nell carter. it was nell carter as her character in 'gimme a break.' big, loud, sassy. then the flashes kept coming...
monique (pre-"precious"), louisse beavers, effie white, etc.
ms. leakes falls into a long line archetypal mammy characters that america has fallen in love with. she's nurturing, even with kim's kids. she's loud, sassy and tells it like it is.
and i love it.
there's a part of me though, that wants to see lisa and sheree get their own little piece of the pie. for me, that would actually be a forward step. they are "soulful," but in a much different way than nene is. ironically, there success hampered by their chiseled features and silky hair. i root for them in the same way i root for aisha tyler. not everybody has the capacity to suck their teeth, roll their eyes and necks as nene and monique, but there's room for all of us right?
my gut tells me that sheree might actually have a better go of things if she embraced the gays. she's a bitch, has high cheekbones and created the BEST catch phrase of the year, "who gon'check me boo?" she could have a good three year run at pride festivals just off of the catchphrase alone.
all this nell carter talk has me wanting to bump my 'ain't misbehavin' soundtrack.
I was watching the “Tyra Show” recently and there was a young lady of mixed black and white heritage speaking of her dislike of black people. The young woman had chocolate brown skin and resented the fact that she didn’t benefit from her whiteness in terms of her complexion. She wants to pass.
In addition to that young woman, there were several other guests of mixed heritage who complained that they didn’t like part of who they are. Most were using broad stereotypes of the culture they were choosing to deny. Putting aside how sad I felt for these women, I couldn’t help but notice how flawed their positions were.
As I begin another year as a professor at an HBCU, I realize that I cherish the university I work for because of its unique characteristics, not just because it’s black. In this supposed post-race era we live in, many are asking if there is still a place for black colleges and universities. I find the question itself exhausting. I usually don’t respond to the question, but many who address it, speak of how different and special the experience of an HBCU is.
As a HBCU alum, I do feel that my experience was special, but much of the experience was unique to my alma mater. While there are many similarities between HBCUs, the bands, the Greek life etc.; going to Spelman is not the same as going to Lincoln. The schools are as individual as we are as people. Also, I don’t like the subtext that attending an institution that isn’t an HBCU is somehow less special. At best, I will say the experiences are different.
As I sat listening to the guests on “Tyra” unable to give specifics on what they hate, or love about whites, blacks, or Latinos; I thought about this HBCU discussion. The truth is, I can talk in some generalities about the HBCU experience versus a different type of college experience, but I think specifics work best.
As an undergrad, Hampton University was an oasis. The education, environment and support changed my life. As a professor at Hampton, it is still an oasis. The only difference is that I get to cherish the experience my students are having, in addition to my own. I am sure that most alumni and academics feel this way about their institutions. Ultimately, it’s about the students. As long as students seek the type of education that HBCUs provide, there should be a place for them to go.
For those who say that black institutions don’t give a “real world” experience, should we get rid of everything catered towards a specific market? I don’t ever hear anyone rallying against black clubs, or radio stations. Many people who will complain about HBCUs will gather exclusively with black folks on the Vineyard and at Essence Fest. They’ll join black sororities and fraternities. Why is that okay, but not a HBCU education?
It all comes down to personal choice. Sure, society has changed. We can go to any school we want. For that reason, I think it’s especially noteworthy that HBCUs have survived. Integration was the death of many things that were exclusively black. Many businesses and neighborhoods crumbled once blacks were free to live and shop wherever they wanted. That these schools still exist, speaks to their relevance.
In this “insta-fame” world we live in, an artist can be both relevant and irrelevant all within the span of a single year. Sudden fame and then equally sudden invisibility, is most noticeable in the music industry. Back in the old days, like five years ago, we used to actually buy whole CDs. Now, with the rise of iTunes and the enormous amount of money that can be made with a hit single, an artist can need a comeback after only having one song. 2009 has seen two major “comebacks.” First, Maxwell returned after a long hiatus to a patiently waiting audience. Next, we had Whitney Houston dropping new material after a seven-year absence.
Maxwell’s recent success is only slightly shocking. Both radio and the audience have changed a bit since Maxwell first hit the scene. Fortunately, despite the narrow playlists of most stations, radio made room for him. More interesting, is the return of Miss Houston.
Truthfully, I didn’t expect to see Whitney pull through what appeared to be very tough times. I hoped that it would happen, but after about four episodes of “Being Bobby Brown,” I was nervous. Now, after listening to Whitney’s new music and watching her purge with Oprah, I believe that she’s made it through. Sure enough the personal issues were alarming, but even in the midst of her troubles Whitney released good music. Check out “Fine” and “If I Told You That” on her 2001 greatest hits collection.
Many articles have been written debating Whitney’s relevance. In some ways, the amount of interest in her should have answered that question. I took a look at the top selling albums of 1985, the year Whitney released her debut album. Whitney’s album was the best-selling record of that year. Heart, ZZ Top, John Cougar Mellencamp and Dire Straits followed her. So, what is that some of you are asking about relevance?
If Heart drops a CD this year that debuts at #1 with 300,000 copies sold, that would be a comeback. Whitney doing that with her latest project is at best a rebound. Twenty-five, or so years after her debut, she's doing okay. Ciara debuted with 82,000 with her recent effort. LeToya Luckett sold 33,000 of her latest in its debut week (I was one of the few, it’s not bad). Both of those artists are just a handful of years into the game, with sales that don’t equal the amount of attention they receive. Still, some, including columnists at ew.com, question if a debut at the top of the charts is enough for Whitney? Give me a break. I suppose once you’ve sold fourteen million copies of one album, you’re expected to do it all of the time.
Speaking of comebacks, there are a couple I’d like to put a bid in for. In no particular order, I’d like to see the following artists back on the charts - Shanice, Dionne Farris, Lisa Lisa and Brownstone. Can anyone of you reading help make that happen?
I've worked as journalist, marketing executive, essayist, producer and flunkie. Former publications include Black Meetings & Tourism, Sister 2 Sister and most notably the National Enquirer. Yes, I went through trash, crashed weddings and on occasion, spotted UFO's.
Deciding to not permanently damage any chance of having the career that I moved to Los Angeles for, I left the tabloid for creative pursuits. We all know that you can't eat off of dreams; "Fame costs." So, while writing and attending American Film Institute, I held various positions from the mundane - answering phones; to the ridiculous - being Sheryl Lee Ralph's personal assistant.
I did the executive thing and ran an agency. It killed my creative spirit.
I decided to change my life. I packed up, sold my my excess junk on craigslist and drove back east to spend time with my father who has been ailing and to just take a breath.
Now, I am an English/Cinema studies professor. I'm getting to do something I love, at a place I love.
Life is good.
When I'm not working, writing and performing, I sleep.