CAAN-LA Black History Panel

7 02 2018

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position
that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he
has overcome while trying to succeed.”
— Booker T. Washington

One of the great privileges of being part of the Columbia College Chicago National Alumni Board is representing the Board at CAAN events. The CAAN-Los Angeles network has been ably built up and guided by Sarah Schroeder, the West Coast Regional Director for Columbia, and her events are always top notch, well represented by our up-and-coming alumni, and well attended.

Yesterday’s Black History Panel featured our Columbia alumni who are also some of the trailblazers and innovators in Black filmmaking and entertainment: Producer-Director-Writer George Tillman, Jr., who has been the creative force behind some of my favorite movies, including the Barbershop films and Men of Honor; Writer-Director-Actor Kenny Young, the genius behind You Can’t Fight Christmas, Chance, and One Week; Producer-Development Executive Crystal Holt, engineer behind Rebel (BET), and The Swap (Disney Channel); Actress Erica Hubbard, who had pivotal roles in Chicago Med, Let’s Stay Together, and Lincoln Heights; Producer Paul Garnes, who gave us Selma, and Queen Sugar; and on-air personality, Grammy-Nominated Music Producer-Songwriter, and co-founder of Da Internz, Marcos “Kosine” Palacios.

The panel was moderated by some really talented and thoughtful Columbia student moderators: Jocelyn Shelton and Marquise Davion.

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Gearing up for our CAAN-LA’s Black History Month Alumni Panel with some fabulous filmmakers and student moderators Marquis Davion and Jocelyn Shelton.

George Tillman, Jr. discussed how he got into film, and how the presence of African-American creators and filmmakers has grown since he first came to Hollywood.

Kosine talked about his journey, encouraged the alumni still pursuing their dreams to simply, “Stay in the game,” and urged that, “Black History Month is a great time for African-Americans to be networking with each other,” and to take advantage of this and motivate each other towards excellence.

As an actress, Erica Hubbard discussed the high bar set by the writing and talent she experienced on the “Lincoln Heights” set, and how it is difficult to accept projects that don’t meet that standard.

If Paul Garnes did nothing else, he helped launch director-producer Ava Duvernay to the world. Paul shared his journey in filmmaking, how he met and got started with Ava, and working on Selma with David Oyelowo, and Oprah, as well as Queen Sugar.

Kenny Young talked affectionately about his mentors and the people who helped steer him in his career. He also talked about making determinations. He said at one point that he didn’t want to work a full-time job ever again, and he hasn’t since then. He has found a way to juggle, struggle, and forge ahead on his drive and talent, while still earning a living in Los Angeles.

Crystal Holt gave, what I felt was the most powerful and practical advice. “Drive is something you cannot teach, and that goes further than talent… You have a goal in mind, and you are working toward that plan for your life. Don’t give up on that.”

She also gave some sage advice on contracts and equal pay: “Trust no one! Be contract literate, and read it from front to back before you sign.”

While this old dog gleaned from their practical wisdom, I also enjoyed hearing about the endeavors and adventures of our young alumni; like the delightful Toy Monique, who works for Will Packer Media in their scripted and unscripted television department. Toy is a recent transplant to L.A., having gone through Columbia’s Semester in L.A. program in 2016. She laid the groundwork back then, and came back to Los Angeles as an employee at the place where she interned! What a smart lady—we’ll definitely be keeping an eye on her, and very happy to stay in contact via Instagram and LinkedIn.

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Illustrating Absurdity: Rachel Dolezal wins the “WTF” award

12 06 2015

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This is a comedy sketch that’s writing itself. Rachel Dolezal, head of the Spokane chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. has been “passing” as black. She was born Caucasian and raised by two white parents who apparently grew tired of her deception—so they’ve outed her.

I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.

Armed with pictures and a birth certificate, Lawrence and Ruthanne Dolezal are taking to newspapers, cable and network news shows to let the world know this Black activist who has filed police reports about nine different hate crimes perpetrated against her, who is touted as an academic expert on African-American culture, and teaches African-American studies classes at Eastern Washington University is their estranged daughter who is… white.

After the obvious jokes and the laughter subsides, you then start to think about how many people this fraudulence hurts, not in the least her Caucasian parents.

I explore the role of the feckless N.A.A.C.P. in this mess, and social media reaction over at Communities Digital News: The self-loathing Rachel Dolezal marks the irrelevant N.A.A.C.P.’s demise.

In the meantime, listen to her seemingly shell shocked parents talk about the daughter who has rejected them and her race, because #whitelivesdontmatter.





Black History Month 2015: Zora Neale Hurston

5 02 2015

zora-neale-hurston

“It would be against all nature for all the Negroes to be either
at the bottom, top, or in between. We will go where the internal drive carries us like everybody else. It is up to the individual.”

Zora Neale Hurston

Zora is one of my favorite writers. Her language is beautiful, uplifting, elegant, and scarcely seen in modern literature. Literacy across the board is becoming a thing of the distant past, much to the detriment of of our people.

I explore this a bit more over at Communities Digital News, Black History Month 2015: Let’s promote a return to literacy:

“Sadly, the richness of literacy exhibited by her and her contemporaries—like Langston Hughes, who would have been 113 this week—is sorely lacking in today’s literature. Do our young people even know the names of these and other great writers, or the titles of their works? If the crisis in our culture is any indication, we are failing our children by starving them of the substantive words and sweeping vision of great writers while spoon-feeding them the steady pabulum of gangster rap and reality television.”

Read more here.





Black History Month 2015: Harriet Tubman

2 02 2015

harriet-tubman

“I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand
more if only they knew they were slaves
.
-Harriet Tubman

This famous quote by the “Black Moses” could well be applied today. The chains of slavery are evident in the mind, attitudes and allegiances of our race, and are being reflected in the lack of leadership and focus in the modern civil rights movement:

“Seeing the power, presence, and passion of Dr. King artfully portrayed by actor David Oyelowo, as well as the re-enactment of the give and take between Ralph Abernathy and Andrew Young of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and John Lewis of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, merely spotlights the total lack of conviction or moral authority in the civil rights movement of today. In place of an intelligent, articulate, and anointed Dr. King, we have the mush-mouthed Al Sharpton, and the empty bumper sticker slogans of “No Justice, No Peace,” and “Black Lives Matter.”

Dr. King is flipping in his grave.”

Read the rest at my Communities Digital News column: Martin Luther King Day, Selma, and the moral scarcity in modern-day civil rights.





A Tempest in a “T”-Cup…

12 04 2013

filizanka-do-kawy-porcelana

So here’s my daily fun: My Twitter compatriot, @BlackRepublican, re-tweeted the nonsense of Marc Lamont Hill. I’m glad BR does, because I have no desire to follow him on a regular basis.

Marc Lamont Hill is a host/contributor at the Huffington Post and HuffPo Live. He is also an associate professor at Columbia University, and a former Fox News commentator. His last bit of opinion/commentary that captured the interwebs was a piece on “The 15 Most Overrated White People”. Had a white columnist written such a piece about “The 15 Most Overrated Black People” (and there are way more than 15), the Left would have been up in arms. Maybe I will set my hand to that particular list–but I digress… Marc Lamont Hill is one of the Left’s creations, the same as Touré;  so he is allowed to spout fallacies and pablum about race and conservatives under the guise of original thought.

Taking nothing away from the good work of Twitchy, the re-tweet in question was one where Marc Lamont Hill decided to diss Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice because she accepted the invitation to be one of the FIRST women to join the Augusta National Golf Club. The club has been exclusively male throughout its history, and Secy Rice, along with Darla Moore, eliminated that barrier.

MLH Tweet-Rice Advocate for ALL WOMEN

Stunning logic here.  But I felt this arrogant tweet warranted a response:

ATGT response to MLH re Token Comment

It still rankles me that our own people will not give Secy Condoleezza Rice her due. No matter what her political affiliation or anyone’s issue with President George W. Bush, it does not eliminate the fact that Secy Rice is an accomplished Black woman and a historical figure. She was FIRST in many respects, blazing trails for Black women in academia, government, and world affairs. Yet, the Left finds any excuse to denigrate and  demean her legacy and her choices.

And tell me, how many women golfers are fighting to wear a green blazer in Atlanta? Is it even a valid argument? I have my doubts about that.

I decided to expand my comments on Marc Lamont Hill’s “Token” reference:

ATGT re MLH Tweet-Was Robinson a Token

From there Marc Lamont Hill’s logic became even more… circular:

MLH Tweet-Rice First is unnecessary

So there are no longer necessary FIRSTS in Marc Lamont Hill’s world.  Interesting…

MLH Tweet-Rice and Real Change

But I couldn’t let that one let slip by either:

ATGT-Why do your care MLH if her first is unnecessary

Marc Lamont Hill continued to double down on his line of reasoning–or lack of it:

MLH Tweet-Only Minority in the Room

Perhaps he speaks from experience? Are there many under 40 associate professors of color at Columbia University? I speculate that if Marc Lamont Hill were not a Left-wing youngster of a particular race, he would not have the perch he now enjoys. A perch, frankly, that was blazed for him by Secy Rice and other blacks who had to suffer more discrimination and denigration than someone of his generation, or mine for that matter, ever have.

After hitting bottom with that last comment, he continued to dig:

MLH Tweet-Rice is Selfish

By calling Dr. Rice “selfish”, Marc Lamont Hill just destroyed the first part of his statement.

Marc Lamont Hill finished his attack on Secy Rice with this complete falsehood:

MLH Tweet-Nothing to do with Black Repub

Black Republican’s final response was worth the price of admission:

Black Republican Tweet on MLH

Eye roll indeed, along with shaking my head.





In My Orbit

17 01 2013
Digital Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Digital Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Too much swirling in the universe in general, and in my own world; so I’ll touch on the hot topic for the week: President Obama signing 23 executive orders in yet another step toward attacking the Second Amendment and trampling the Constitution. Ed Morrisey’s column in The Fiscal Times does a good job of pointing out the incompetence and pretentiousness of this latest action from the Smoke and Mirrors Presidency.

“The President also announced almost two dozen executive orders that he will sign to bypass Congress on gun violence, a threat that had civil libertarians outraged over potential abuses of power. Instead, the list is a demonstration of executive impotence, procrastination, and an approach that has little to do with the actual Newtown mass murder.”

Obama Thumbs Nose at Congress on Gun Control

On the other side of the spectrum, Gary Younge of the Guardian waxed eloquent about how principled President Obama is for doing something about this problem of gun violence and starting a national conversation:

“His address implied that, after four long years, he had finally worked out what both the office of the presidency in general and his presidency, in particular, were for. Appealing over the heads of a stubborn and gridlocked Congress to the nation at large, the president sought to rally the nation to both a moral cause and much-needed civic engagement.”

Excuse me while I yawn. It appears Mr. Obama is very selective about what rallies him to action. Why did it take the tragedy at Sandy Hook for the President to take action? Were the 532 homicides in his adopted hometown of Chicago in 2012 alone not enough of a clarion call?

Urban Grounds blog points out that Illinois has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation; yet, this does not prevent young black men from shooting other young black men on the regular, with young girls and teenagers caught in the crossfire. “10-year Old Daughter of a 24-year Old Mother Shot While Playing Outside on Chicago Street at 11:20 p.m.” and “Obama Visits Chicago, Gun Violence and Murders Drastically Reduced in the Presence of The Won“.

When has Obama sermonized, lectured, and vowed to do something about it? From my general Google search, next to never.

So much for sweet home, Chicago.

So while President Posturing did his dog and pony show with children in tow on Tuesday, Charles “Chuck” Hicks chose to use Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday to walk for Civil Rights and the Second Amendment. Courtland Malloy in his Washington Post column profiles this Civil Right’s leader and his dual stance that marching for Civil Rights includes marching for gun rights:

“‘The Klan would drive through our neighborhood shooting at us, shooting into our homes,” recalled Hicks, 66, who grew up in Bogalusa, La., and has been a civil rights activist in the District for more than 35 years. “The black men in the community wouldn’t stand for it. You shoot at us, we shoot back at you. I’m convinced that without our guns, my family and many other black people would not be alive today.'”

Malloy points out that Hicks and his family are under constant threat for their stance and presence in the Civil Rights struggle:

“In the current debate over gun rights vs. gun control, predominantly white pro-gun groups such as the NRA and Second Amendment Foundation cite oppressive British rule over the American colonies as the basis for the “right to bear arms.” The terrorism cited by black gun owners such as Hicks, however, is much more recent.

“Just last year, for instance, on the King holiday, arsonists burned a car that belonged to Hicks’s sister in Bogalusa and attempted to burn the home where she and their mother live. His sister is an outspoken advocate for civil rights in Louisiana. Last week, a car was seen circling the block around their home, parked, then suspiciously sped away when neighbors approached. The FBI is investigating both incidents.

“According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, more than 1,000 hate groups are operating today in the United States, most of them neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, neo-Confederates and racist skinheads with a particular antipathy for black people.

“Infringe on the Second Amendment? No way, say 30 percent of African Americans (myself included), according to a recent Pew poll. No doubt many of them believe, like Hicks, that it’s better to have a gun and not need it than not have one and wish you did.”

Damn skippy–count me among them.





In My Orbit: We are NOT the Zero Percent…

23 08 2012

Digital Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Girl has been having way too much fun on Twitter today (and gaining some new followers to boot)! All because of a skewed poll.

The collective wisdom of NBC News and the Wall Street Journal put out a poll that gives our dear President Obama a four point lead over Governor Mitt Romney. What is noteworthy about this poll’s details is that it says Mitt Romney has zero… you heard me, Z-E-R-O percent of the Black vote. Read the details for yourself: NBC/WSJ Poll: Heading into conventions, Obama has four-point lead.

Apparently I missed the call from NBC, because they never asked me. I’m Black and I will be voting for Mitt Romney. You can click on my tag for “Obama” “B.H. Obama” and “Obama Presidency” to read the posts that highlight all my reasons why. Off the top of my head, I can name at least 10 Black people whom I know personally that will be casting their vote for the Romney/Ryan ticket. Then there are the hundreds of Blacks that I know peripherally, either on Facebook, Twitter or some other form of networking, who will also be casting their vote for Romney/Ryan. So what gives?

More interesting than this poll’s obviously flawed sampling, is the backlash from some known Black Conservatives, and a multitude of us lesser-known ones. We are here, we are vocal, and we are tired of being marginalized!

Shout out to my new favorite conservative blogger, Kira Davis who was the first person I read who pointed out this ridiculous: “Did the ‘professionals’ at NBC/WSJ even leave their own office buildings to conduct this poll? ”

A just question, since when looking at both the masthead of WSJ and the faces on NBC News, you wonder where the diversity lies in these organizations… but I digress.

For the past few days the hastag #BlackConservativesforRomney has been trending on Twitter, and we have been having a pahtay!, pointing out this polls false conclusions, pointing out why President Obama does not deserve a second term, and getting to know each other in our collective stand against the ridiculous meme that we do not exist.

Twitchy was smart enough to pick up on this trend, and The Blaze also took note. Haven’t heard from CNN, Fox or any other news outlets on this, but they tend to always be late to the party.

The law of unintended consequences–methinks WSJ and NBC did not envision this when they ran with this story.

#Epic Fail for them–maximum exposure for #BlackConservativesforRomney!

As an additional shout out, here’s a documentary video from Hip-Hop Republican.  And these are the young people:





In My Orbit: A Tale of Two Videos

17 08 2012

Digital Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s actually a tale of three, but I loved the title and didn’t want to change it!

It is the story of my life that in most social and business situations, I am among the few, if not the lone Black person. It is more a point of curiosity, than a point of discomfort, and when I am among the chosen few, I sometimes sit back and observe the level of discomfort among the other Blacks in the same situation. I find this kind of sad–something I’ll expound upon on another day.

My friends have always been people of different races, and I am happy to say I have never experienced racial animus in my 27 years of working life. I have been persecuted for being smart and efficient (too many times), but never, ever, because I was Black.

This doesn’t mean I’ve never experienced racism, been called a nigger, or had negative fallout from being Black; that would be unrealistic and untrue. I’m just saying that compared to what my parents and grandparents had to walk through, my life thus far has been a cakewalk.

My mother grew up in the deep South (Arkansas and Tennessee), suffered under Jim Crow, and had lots of racist horrors perpetrated against her and those she loved. So while I could not agree with her perspective on all white people, I did understand her mistrust and hostility toward them; except at the voting booth: Mamma made sure Richard J. Daley stayed in power by voting straight Democrat every election. Heck, the way Chicago runs elections, she’s probably still voting, even though she passed in 2001. This type of disconnected political thinking exemplifies by some in my family (and other Blacks) has always befuddled me… but I digress.

Now to Video #1, which I cannot embed here, unfortunately, but here is the link: The Daily Caller: Toure-Niggerization of Obama.

The video comes from MSNBC’s “The Cycle,”, which should tell you all you need to know right there. Apparently the co-host Touré  said that Governor Mitt Romney was using racial code against President Obama.

How Touré and his ilk come to these perspectives mystifies me. These Gen X and Gen Y Blacks who grew up with more privilege than my mother could have ever imagined, who didn’t have to use the back door or sit in the back of the bus, yet somehow they look for, and find racism under every rock.

Here is my theory: we have become so far removed from REAL racism, that we feel the need to dig it up as the excuse for all ills against Blacks in general, and this so-called Black President, in particular. It makes no difference that he is doing an abysmal job (unemployment above 8 percent for three years, 1.5 percent GDP growth), and that he seems to care less about the rule of law or actually working within the bounds of his office, using executive privilege like “get-out-of-jail-free” cards.

Yet, this meme is being plugged among the mainstream media, and among Black communities. Setting up the President as some new Black martyr, to cover up and excuse what is simply fecklessness, lies, and overreach.

Which leads to Video #2, another MSNBC laughfest, which has Ron Reagan (son of the late President Ronald Reagan and now a liberal commentator), saying he is “astounded” at the level of disrespect from Republicans toward President Obama. Why? It must be because he’s Black!

I snagged the video off a relative’s Facebook page where said relative ranted (and used scripture) that we need to respect the office of the President, and that this treatment of President Obama is obviously racist. I rebutted this view in the comments, then left the page. This is also a discussion for another day.

It continues to amaze me that when it is mentioned that our economic situation is dire, and the two wars we are in continue  to drag on and on, that Blacks and others always want to blame George W. Bush. But when it comes to the maligning and disrespect of the office of the President, President Bush is conveniently forgotten.

One of my nephews expressed outrage when Representative Joe Walsh famously yelled, “You Lie!” during President Obama’s 2009 State of the Union. My nephew immediately labeled Representative Walsh as a racist. When I mentioned in the comments that worse things were said and done to President George W. Bush, my other nephew commented, “Well, he was an idiot!”, as if that excused what was done toward President Bush while he held that same office.

Appropriately named “Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS)” by Charles Krauthammer, BDS started manifesting sometime before the 2004 elections, and became a full-blown epidemic once President Bush’s reelection was secured. Terms like “BushMcHitler”, T-shirts that read: “BuckFush”, “Kill Bush”, and assassination artwork and films all targeted our 43rd President. It was all Bush-bashing, all the time, and rarely did I hear any protest about “respect” for the office of the President, even if we disagreed with his policies. Crickets, from the Left and in many cases on the Right–no one was clean.

Michelle Malkin recently reminded us of exactly how hateful the climate was, and how conveniently Dems and Leftists forget this, now that they are trying to protect their pet President. How Quickly They Forget.

Dems and Leftists also acquire convenient amnesia about President Obama having a fully Democrat House and Senate at his disposal for the first two years of his presidency. Despite his promise of a  “laser-like focus” on jobs, he decided to push through a bloated stimulus, where Solyndra, SunPower and foreign companies got much of the money, and to work at instituting Obamacare, which is already costing us more than it’s actually giving back.

If President Obama was any color other than Black, we’d be calling for his impeachment and doing all we could to get someone else elected. But not so. Any criticism or obstruction to this President is because Republicans, the Tea Party, and anyone who disagrees with his policies are simply racists.

Which leads me to the Video #3. I found this gem via HotAir. Ms. Kira Davis‘ “Open Letter to Toure of MSNBC” says it much more succinctly and articulately than I ever could. This young, Black, conservative woman remained respectful, while speaking truth to power.

Ms. Davis opens up a greater argument: all this irresponsible, and dare I say, illegitimate bandying around of these terms cheapens and waters down what was truly reprehensible and racist in our past, and any acts of present-day racism that still exist. This nonsense needs to stop, and it needs to first stop with the people who were (and still are) affected by it.

I’ve said it before, and I say it again: This is not a fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream, but a perpetuation of a fraud.

Wake up, my people.





Black Heritage Month: Week 4–Black Progress

1 03 2012

So leap day came and went, and Black Heritage month has officially ended. But I wanted to conclude my series with some thoughts on Black Progress.

The word “Progress” among Blacks is a relative term, and its parameters change depending on who you talk to. If you talk to a black young man in the inner city, he would probably say that Blacks have made little progress, and racist systems still hold our people back. Talk to a different black young man from a middle class neighborhood, who has greater access and opportunities, and he might see it differently. I know I had a much different take on Black progress growing up in a home that (initially) was in a middle class neighborhood, than my older brothers and sisters who spent much of their formative years in an apartment in the Cabrini-Green housing project.

Black Progress is a lens which, dependent upon the filter, projects a different image.

Which brings me to a pivotal gauge of Black Progress: How Blacks are portrayed on screen.

The Helpa movie about Black maids in the 1960s telling their stories to a white writer, was the talk of 2011. But despite its critical and box-office success, the movie was not received with open arms by everyone: liberal film critics dismissed the movie as racist, and certain aspects of the Black community were also up in arms.

The consensus among the detractors was that this was simply a rehashing of old stereotypes of “maids and mammies”, in a pastiche, cookie-cutter way. The fact that it was adapted from a book by white author Kathryn Stockett, who modeled her fictional character on the Black maid who raised her, didn’t help matters either.

The Association of Black Women Historians went as far as penning “An Open Statement to Fans of The Help“, decrying the stereotypes, phony dialects, and the glossing over of serious issues suffered by Black domestics like sexual harassment and physical abuse. Jessica Cumberbatch Anderson of the Huffington Post even felt the need to counter what she felt was a one-dimensional portrayal of Black women during the time period in which The Help is based, penning an article and slideshow “Black Female Trailblazers in the time of ‘The Help’“.

This last piece is informative, and nicely written; but it summarily discounts the acts of defiance, and the trail forged by the maids portrayed in The Help. What they did and chose to do was as much a part of the struggle for freedom as a Rosa Parks or a Fannie Lou Hamer.

The New Republic (of all places) actually called critics on the carpet for dismissing the movie as racist, and talked about the subtle nuances, rich characters,  and good storytelling that gets missed when projects such as this are rejected on their face. “‘The Help’ isn’t Racist. It’s Critics Are.”

The movie continued to stay in the forefront of conversation, particularly since it received several nominations. Viola Davis, played the central character “Abileen”, and Octavia Spencer played the supporting role of “Minny”. Both were nominated for Best Actress and Supporting Actress nods, and Octavia Spencer won the prize.

I have loved Viola Davis‘s work for many years; so the fact that she was nominated for an Academy Award came as no surprise. I consider Viola to be in a league of her own, creating seminal work and characters that are multi-layered, diverse, and amazingly credible.

Granted she was amongst her strongest peers, particularly Meryl Streep, who is also in a league of her own, and known for doing transformational work to achieve a character. Seventeen nominations and three wins says volumes.

But I was still greatly disappointed that Viola did not take home the Best Actress prize. It was, as they say, Meryl’s year. Among certain black–and white–peers, was the sense that despite The Help’s amazing performances, and focused reflection on an aspect of history that gets little regard or mention any more, Viola’s performance was possibly passed over by the Academy simply because the character was a “stereotypical maid.”

Back in August of 2011, Octavia Spencer spoke with Chris Witherspoon of The Grio about her role in the movieYou can watch the video (linked below), but one quote from her interview that stood out was when Chris Witherspoon asked her how she felt about playing a “stereotypical maid”:

“What is a stereotype of a maid? I’d like to know. Is it because she’s wearing a gray uniform serving people? Our moms do that every day, they just don’t wear a uniform […]

“We all serve as women: we serve our husbands, we serve our children, we serve each other in a sisterhood. So, I get really pissed off because I think that it’s discounting a person’s value.

“Do you know the some of the doctors and lawyers that we somehow aspire to be on screen are probably, perhaps, the most one-dimensional characters you ever get to play? These women–men and women–whether they’re butlers or gardeners or whomever; just because it’s not your station in life, doesn’t mean that you get the right to discount it. So, if it’s a maid, and if it’s a maid with dimension, if it’s a person with redeeming qualities, hell yeah I want to play her, and I don’t have a problem playing a maid.”

Octavia Spencer defends her role in The Help

In 1939, Hattie McDaniel was the first Black, and first woman to win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the maid “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind. As Blacks moved into more empowerment in the 60s and 70s, Hattie’s performances were criticized, demeaned, and not considered an image that reflected Black Progress. But Hattie herself said, “I’d rather play a maid than be one.”

The next time the Academy saw fit to convey this honor on a Black person was in 1963, when Sidney Poitier won the Best Actor statuette for his portrayal of an itinerant handyman in Lilies of the Field. Fast-forward to 1982, 19 years later, when Louis Gossett, Jr. won Best Supporting Actor for his turn as “Sergeant Emil Foley”, a role originally written for a white actor. Seven years later, in 1989, Denzel Washington won Best Supporting Actor for his role in Gloryabout the first all-Black regiment during the Civil War.

Since 1989, nominations and actual wins became more consistent. Whoopi Goldberg won Best Supporting Actress in 1990 for her portrayal of the medium “Oda Mae Brown” in Ghost. In 1996, Cuba Gooding, Jr. won Best Supporting for “Rod Tidwell” a failed football player who gets a resurrected career in Jerry Maguire.

Two-Thousand One was a high water mark: Denzel followed in Poitier’s footsteps, winning Best Actor for Training Day. Denzel played against type, taking on the role of a corrupt L.A. Police detective “Alonzo Harris”. That year was a two-fer, as Halle Berry took home the Best Actress prize for her performance of the brokenhearted widow “Leticia” in Monster’s Ball.  A mere three years later, Morgan Freeman won for his role as “Eddie ‘Scrap Iron’ Dupree” in Million Dollar Baby.  Then 2005, gave Jamie Foxx the Best Actor prize for Ray, as he powerfully enveloped the legendary Ray Charles. And the year 2006 saw Jennifer Hudson take home Best Supporting Actress for her turn as the talented, proud, and determined “Effie” in Dreamgirls.

Forest Whitaker won Best Actor in 2008 for The Last King of Scotland, channeling the crazed dictator Idi Amin.  Mo’Nique won Best Supporting Actress in 2009 for her frightening role of “Mary”, the abusive mother in Precious, and in 2011 Octavia Spencer picked up the same prize for her turn as “Minny”.

And this is only a list of Academy Awards for movie portrayals. There are countless television movies and series, from Roots to House of Payne that reflect Black images that have been lauded, applauded, and related to by audiences, as well as the award purveyors.

Among those Academy Award winners, we have a gamut of portrayals: dirty cop, military officer, washed-up football star, crazed world leader, medium, widow, boxing trainer, abusive mother, and maid. Why is one any greater than the other? They ALL represent the wealth of the Black experience–the wealth of life experiences of any race or color. Not to mention, we now have a substantial group of Black talent who can pick and choose not only the roles they wish to play, but make the movies they wish to see, and create the images they feel worthy to be portrayed on screen. Anyone heard of Spike Lee? John Singleton? Julie Dash? F. Gary Gray? And that’s just the short list.

As I said last week, framing the conversation and achievement within certain parameters does a disservice to those who fought, blazed trails, and worked just as hard to change the face of America in their corner of the world. They were as much a part of that Civil Rights Movement that transformed the nation, and they deserve rightful recognition.

Picking and choosing what Black images are an acceptable portrayal does the same thing as hunting for a “national black leader”. Freedom and equality is about looking at the full tapestry of the struggles and experiences, and these have no racial designation.

In discussing the role of “Abileen” in an interview with Urban Daily, Viola Davis challenged:

“I just feel like the most revolutionary thing that you could do is to humanize the Black woman. What I mean by that is there is no way, I am not going to believe this, that if Jodie Foster, or Meryl Streep, or any number of fabulous caucasian actresses were sitting in front of you–Emma Stone–is that you would–or anyone would ask them why they did a role if there was something about that character that they didn’t feel was politically correct. They would just look at the role. They would look at the complexities of it […]

I don’t want to play an image. I think the most revolutionary thing for me as an actress is just play the role. Whatever it is. However ugly it is, however politically incorrect it is. If I can do that for me, then I am sitting in the same seat as a Jodie Foster, or a Meryl Streep, or an Annette Benning.”

Hattie McDaniel did not have these options in 1939. In 2012, Viola Davis sets the tone and makes the choices. Is this not representative of Black Progress?

We would do well to clean the lens and adjust our filters.





Black Heritage Month: Week 3–Black Leadership

24 02 2012

Do We Still Need Black Leaders?” is the question Britni Danielle unpacked in Clutch Magazine this month. She mostly pulls from a more substantial article in the Washington Post by Kevin Powell, one of the new breed of “Black activists”. Powell writes in “Black Leadership is dead. Long Live Black Leadership“:

“This search for a national leader of the black community does a great disservice to the influential young African Americans who’ve done powerful activism, in some form, for a number of years. They hail from fields ranging from education (Dr. Zoe Spencer, Steve Jackson) to media (Melissa Harris Perry, Marc Lamont Hill) to technology (Malaney Hill, Tracey Cooper).”

The gist of both Powell’s and Danielle’s writings is that searching for a “de facto” Black leader to represent all Black concerns is futile. Leadership needs to come from a range of places in order to represent the myriad (and common) concerns faced by the varying economic, social, and political shades of the Black community. The very fact that we as a people continue to be trapped by this model means that true Black Leadership is either not recognized, or there are sectors of the community where a void is left.

While Powell’s bent and argument is decidedly left-leaning, I agree with the essence of his piece. I have long said that “Black Leaders” that are paraded in front of our face by the media and political class mostly represent themselves and their myopic point of view: whether they be an academic like Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, or a hack like Jesse Jackson. Powell makes an excellent point that the election of our first Black President, hailed with pomp, circumstance, and the supposed fulfillment of a “post-racial” America has led to dissatisfaction among the very Blacks that helped usher him into office. It is high time to chuck the model of some national voice or leader, and recognize the leadership that has already risen to address the specific faces and concerns of our communities.

And why does it always have to be about political or social activism? Back in the day it was about protecting and promoting strong Black families, communities, and supporting the education and spiritual growth of our people. The “activism” came into play by necessity–it wasn’t always the mode of operation. Activism is not all that Black Leadership entails, and often activism takes different shapes and forms. Hattie McDaniel and James Baldwin were as much activists as Sojourner Truth or A. Philip Randolph.

Merely thinking in terms of activism excludes a number of our leaders who are simply excellent at what they do, and give back to their people and the community in front of–and behind–the scenes. They lead with the fruit of their life and gifts, rather than the mounting of a soapbox. Both Powell and Danielle point out that behind the visible leadership of a Frederick Douglass or Dr. Martin Luther King were many other Black (and white) leaders and voices who partnered with these visionaries to see change come about.

My take? Stop looking for a leader, and be one.

 








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