Wednesday, January 27, 2010
You can’t help but think of one of the world’s biggest humanitarian’s, Michael Jackson, and wonder what he would be doing if he were still alive and aware of all of the tragedy that has impacted Haiti. Would he have been one of the celebrities on the recent Help for Haiti telethon? Would he have done a duet with Wyclef or performed with any of the artists who performed—from Justin Timberlake to John Legend-- who idolized him and use him as a reference for their own career image?
Or, would MJ have dedicated his planned world tour (that didn’t happen) to the rebuilding of Haiti?
Though we will never know what the gloved one would have done, we can surely relive some of his last moments here on earth with us by picking up a copy of the DVD of his movie “This is It.” For all the MJ fans out there, now is a good time than any to purchase the DVD. Places like Wal-mart are making it easier for you to do it by limiting the number of DVDs folks can purchase in one visit ( a new rule started this week it seems) for new releases, so folks can’t buy them in bulk and then resell them more easily, inflating the prices. Sony has also announced that it will be releasing a new bundle including the Playstation 3 game console and the Blu-Ray version of the movie “This is It”.
What’s surprising is that Michael Jackson’s DVD “This Is It” went on sale yesterday amidst surprisingly low fanfare here in the US-- especially given how fanatic the sales for the movie tickets were when the movie first hit theaters at the end of last summer. Granted, the movie was released less than six months after the beloved legend died, it is still a little weird that the DVD’s debut was met with such low buzz.
However, the international excitement was a bit more pronounced.
Check out this video of inmates in a Filipino prison who are dancing in tribute to MJ and his song “They Don’t Really Care About Us” and other songs sampled throughout the routine. This video was uploaded earlier this week and features prisoners from Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC), a maximum security prison, with Michael Jacksons long-time choreographer Travis Payne and dancers Daniel Celebre and Dres Reid teaching choreography from MJ’s world concert that didn’t happen.
It’s weird and kind of odd knowing you are watching male prisoners in maximum lock-up having permission to (and agreeing to do this) en masse, but it’s interesting enough to watch and remind you of MJ’s impact on the world.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Through art, we're able to better come to grips with the complexities of human emotion, as the legacy of our experiences. As a people (African-Americans, African Diaspora) we have an amazing story to convey and share with the world. It is our duty to not just put forth a blank canvas, but to dutifully and honestly create those images: myriad scenes, people, culture, history.
Bill Cosby VS. Poor Black People
After he had given “The Pound Cake Speech” in May 2004 at an event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, Bill Cosby was met with harsh resistance for bringing to light some of the problems facing us as a people. He criticized the use of African-American vernacular English (or “Ebonics”), the prevalence of single-parent families, the emphasis on materialism at the expense of necessities, lack of responsibility and various other social behaviors. The speech was featured and set to cartoon visuals in the landmark 2005 African-American documentary 500 Years Later by MK Asante and directed by Owen “Alik” Shahadah.
Combating Cosby’s claims, Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson wrote a book in 2005 entitled Is Bill Cosby Right or Is the Black Middle Class Out of Touch? Dyson wrote that Cosby was overlooking larger social factors that reinforce poverty and associated crime; factors such as deteriorating schools, stagnating wages, dramatic shifts in the economy, off-shoring and downsizing, chronic underemployment, and job and capital flight. Dyson suggested Cosby's comments "betray classist, elitist viewpoints rooted in generational warfare." I believe that a man with Cosby’s background and upbringing understands first-hand the origins of the plight of a large sector of black people; that’s the very reason that he demands for us to be accountable and demand better for and of ourselves.
Shuffling in Hollywood
Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle for me was the antithesis of what some have come to embrace as the stereotypical, myopic view of the “black lifestyle”. In the 1987 film, Townsend plays an actor limited to stereotypical roles because of his race and ethnicity. Though Townsend’s character is an articulate and educated man with a respectful demeanor, the white establishment that runs the business of film-making cannot divorce themselves from their long-held ignorance and beliefs about African-American men. As he makes his rounds in Hollywood in the hopes of making it big as a highly respected performer, we see a director coach him on how a real black man would react in a given situation, we see him satirize a commercial for the “Black Acting School”, and we see him run lines (the way a “real black man” would speak and gesture) in the bathroom with his young son. They are all hilarious.
Though we are making greater strides in some areas, we seem to be complicit in regressing in others, much to our detriment. In the coming weeks I’d like to journey along the path that has led us to where we are today. I'll go further in-depth, decade by decade, to dissect the evolution of art in the African American community.
Cowards falter, but obstacles are overcome by those who dare. Are we courageous enough, determined enough to stand naked and vulnerable within our own community first?
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Part I: Art as a Reflection of Ourselves by Guest Blogger Kethia Clairvoyant
Upon donating to the founding of Princeton University’s Forbes College, Forbes Magazine’s late publisher Malcolm Forbes stated that "The purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one." Education (learning and learning how to learn) provides exposure to different ideologies and experiences, forming a person who continuously thirsts for knowledge and hungers for intellectual discourse. Not only do I concur, but I believe that every form of art also provides an education, thus combating ignorance and intolerance with knowledge and inclusion.
Through all art media, we are further enlightened as to who we are: who we are as individuals; who we are as a family unit; who we are as a community; who we are as a society, a nation; and who we are as a human race. Art exposes an opened door into our souls, encapsulating a fleeting emotion, a moment in time. We can then see, read, hear, touch, and sometimes even taste how our lives are woven together and interconnected. Art is so powerful a teaching mechanism that it allows us to incorporate all of our senses in the process of uncovering our truths.
Coonery VS. Art
In the last month I’ve seen countless postings and commentaries debating whether or not what Tyler Perry does is art, and whether his films help the African-American community or function more as a “new minstrel show”. A year ago Spike Lee had written a scathing letter denouncing Perry's body of work as "coonish and buffoonery." That depiction has also been applied to television programs like Martin, In Living Color, and Good Times with their tendencies to pander to a low-level of entertainment, imposing white-bred stereotypes upon us once again with a parade of demeaning and unflattering characters.
In years both recent and far back, there have been major controversies over topics tackled in films such as: overt, deep-rooted societal racism; the alarmingly high occurrences of black men incarcerated; the perception of black women as hyper-sexed objects for the use of white men; interracial coupling and the desire that many (particularly black men) have to elevate one’s status by dating someone who is white; racism within the black community with our complexes and preferences towards lighter complexions, long, straightened hair, and European features; the accepted dominance and degradation of black men over women; and the child-like complacency of blacks in being subservient to whites. These major themes are explored in the films Monster’s Ball (2001), Jungle Fever (1991), The Color Purple (1985) and Gone With the Wind (1939). Though they broach a vast array of different subject matters, they all share one common theme: difficult and painful problems that are pervasive in the African-American community. Prominently featuring each one as though it were a living, breathing cast member places the issue on a pedestal for the entire world to view.
Since we as black people have been portrayed in mainstream artistic media,--film and television in particular--at the true heart of these criticisms is that these artists could boldly air our dirty laundry. But can we not stand up and applaud those visionaries that are daring enough to explore, reflect upon, and bring to light our “secrets”--even our insecurities and fallibilities--in vivid, graphic, and soul-stirring portrayals of every facet of life as it exists?
Though we have been major (but silenced) contributors to all components of American society since our ancestors set foot on this land, as black Americans we continue to feel oppressed and underappreciated as we still are not always recognized as an integral part of American society. It’s understandable that after centuries of being denied our accomplishments and having been made to feel invisible that we now do all we can to bring forth our contributions and positive aspects of whom we truly are as people. We crave for all people to become aware (finally!) of the great minds and the culture that have been bred within the black community. But we do that sometimes while trying to cloak the more negative aspects of who we also are (or can be) as black people. And to deny ourselves our history and truth is to deny who we really are just as people -- and a people who need to continue to progress and not simply become complacent and shuffle along. We must always be challenged (challenging each other and our detractors) into looking deep within ourselves in order to move forward. What’s worse than regressing and moving backwards is remaining inert and not attempting to move forward.
Homosexuality in Black Film
One pressing issue that has finally made its way to the forefront of our psyche and discourse is homosexuality, particularly among black men. Before E. Lynn Harris passed away in July of this year, he had helped to usher in the first-ever prominence of gay literature in the African-American community. He was the first renowned writer to expose the down-low phenomenon among black athletes, entertainers and everyday men.
I feel that many men who are critical of Tyler Perry espouse a touch of homophobia when they complain that they oppose his choice to be in drag in order to get his point across in his films. In The Color Purple there are lesbian overtones, and even a mouth-to-mouth kiss and sexual relationship shared between Celie and Shug Avery.
Today in 2009, we are being pounded with a barrage of newly reported HIV/AIDS infections that is so rampant within the African-American community that it claims black women among the highest newly reported rates within the country. Closeted gay men (or down-low brothers) are not too far behind in those statistics. At the onset of the disease in the ‘80s and then throughout the 90s and earlier part of this new millennium, HIV/AIDS used to be perceived as a white or gay person’s disease and most of the predominantly black churches wouldn’t acknowledge its force and potential destruction within our communities. But faced with indisputable, tangible data, what will we do now? Will we willingly depict this current truth and allow it to find its way into our art? In this instance, artists share with the community the burden of health, safety, and education. We hold the power to be outspoken with our voices and through our art.
COMING UP: Part II: Art as a Reflection of Ourselves by Kethia Clairvoyant
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Not since Hurricane Katrina has a natural disaster galvanized so many people to action as has yesterday's tsunami earthquake that shook Haiti, devastating the tiny Caribbean island. AP News reports that Haitians are piling bodies along the streets of their capital after a powerful magnitude-7 earthquake flattened the president's palace, the main prison, the cathedral, hospitals, schools, and thousands of homes. Untold numbers are still trapped beneath rubble.
Haitian president Rene Preval says he believes thousands of people are dead. His prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive told CNN" "I believe we are well over 100, 000 [deaths]", though he gave no basis for that estimate.
Wyclef Jean, the famous member of the hip-hop group The Fugees, has led the online advocacy for aid to the region, encouraging folks to either you use their cell phone to text "Yele" to 501501, which will automatically donate $5 to the Yele Haiti Earthquake Fund (it will be charged to your cell phone bill), or visit www.Yele.org and click on DONATE.
Jean released this statement yesterday:
"Haiti today faced a natural disaster of unprecedented proportion, an earthquake unlike anything the country has ever experienced. The magnitude 7.0 earthquake - and several very strong aftershocks - struck only 10 miles from Port-au-Prince. I cannot stress enough what a human disaster this is, and idle hands will only make this tragedy worse. The over 2 million people in Port-au-Prince tonight face catastrophe alone. We must act now. President Obama has already said that the U.S. stands 'ready to assist' the Haitian people. The U.S. Military is the only group trained and prepared to offer that assistance immediately. They must do so as soon as possible. The international community must also rise to the occasion and help the Haitian people in every way possible."
Liberated Muse Productions would like to encourage everyone to keep this region in our prayers as they work on reconstructing their country.To check the status of family member in Haiti please call the U.S. State Department at 888.407.4747