Tag Archive: malcolm x


 

2016

Taking stock of the past twelve months…

For the first time (within one calendar year), I auditioned as Othello, Dr. King, and Malcolm X for different stage productions across town. Malcolm came post-November, and it was ‘Nation of Islam Minister Malcolm X’ at that.  I would have given Denzel a run for his money that day!  I’m comfortably in my sweet spot with the character types I excel in.  And it’s starting to mesh with the characters people see in me when I walk in the room and do a monologue.  Good times.

Private life feels settled for the first time in years as well.  There’s the Family, there’s the ‘Fam’, there are friends and there are work friends.  Current events have reinforced the natural bonds between myself and those with a common religious identity, a common racial experience; common politics or just a common vibe with how we look at the world.  More goodness.

One of the first things I took from Stella Adler is still one of the best: “Your aim should be to have a life that includes playing the part…”  Not the other way around.  My defining story of 2016, I don’t think anyone involved will be put out by me sharing this…

I got an invite about a possible job with the Los Angeles Lakers.  My Lakers.  They were looking for someone passionate about the franchise, comfortable with the camera and with live crowds, who they could trust to not talk about grabbing pussies on a hot mic.  They thought I might be a good fit.

But here was the issue: one of my brothers was getting married on the same timeline they needed to see me.  And I was in the wedding party.

Now, when I was say, 25? Would I have burned a personal relationship to the ground for a potential dream job opportunity?  Some of you know the answer to that better than others (and will never let me forget it).

But I’m not that guy anymore.  Haven’t been for years.  The wedding weekend was an experience, and of course the Lakers understood the timing was just bad, so long term they appreciated my professionalism while getting a peek into my value system as a man.  My ego was bruised for a couple days (no need to lie about that), but I did the right thing.

And not that I needed the Universe to further validate me, but not too long after that, my Hollywood patrons reached out to me out of the blue and gave me a part on one of their projects.  So you can look forward to seeing your boy in front of the camera again next summer.  If not sooner.

I haven’t always had the gift of relationship building, but I’ve learned. I’m always learning and still love doing so.

So in the year I’ll always remember for my house being completely put in order, I look outside (or in 2016, I log on) and…yeah.  The goodbyes this year have felt especially hard (like the two beloved people up top, just for starters).  Things seem especially dark on the world stage.  I have no naive optimism for you going into the next year.  Just a renewed commitment to do the right thing, even if it seems like it’s going to be harder than ever to do so.

Onward and Upward.  See you in 2017.

 

X

Ladies and gentlemen, live from Coachella…

Kamasi Washington.

Enjoy!

 

 

HeadofHousehold

When I was about to get married, one of the marriage counseling things was giving this questionnaire to your aces to help you understand your strengths and weaknesses.  The theory being, the people who love you unconditionally both know you the best and you know their critiques of you come from a good place.

I’m paraphrasing here, but one of my aces critiques of me was essentially, he had no doubt I’d be a great husband and father, but when you fully transition into that ‘head of the household’ role, they’re aren’t any more off days when you can just go off and do whatever you want.  Your wife will always be dependent on you in certain ways, your children will be watching you 24/7/365 as the example of what they’re supposed to be (or not be).  So while it was admirable in a way I didn’t project myself as a ‘leader’ to stroke my own ego, the responsibility of that role was something I would have to fully embrace in my next chapter.

Needless to say, I had never been so insulted in my life, and I never talked to that dude again.

(Kidding…)

I never wanted to be a minister. Not because of a lack of faith or understanding of what I was reading, I’ve always felt fairly confident in those things.  It was something else.  When people would argue that religious leaders take advantage of people with low self esteem and use them for personal gain, it was hard for me to call that an outright lie.  In my adulthood, I’ve found few things that draw my disdain more than hearing about some embezzlement, or sexual abuse, or a suicide bomber story that has the money quote, ‘He/she went to these people for guidance…’

Even if ‘religion’ is naturally flawed because it’s man made, that doesn’t mean the world isn’t filled with plenty of good pastors, rabbis, imams, nuns, priests, monks and other good leaders who don’t fall under any easily crafted label but who work for the betterment of mankind.  Long before this election cycle became a circus, I fully embraced my own voice and role as a People’s Champion. (And the longer you’ve known me, the more you know it’s been a journey.)  I’m not remotely this calculating, but like my hero pictured above, I’ve had a full life being ‘out there’, doing things a part of me knew I shouldn’t be doing in the first place, and I don’t run from my past.  Now though, I represent so many things, sometimes multiple things at once.  I fully embrace the responsibility that comes with being ‘on’ all the time, to suck it up on the bad days and push forward, to present myself as someone people can point to and say ‘that’s one of the guys we can take pride in.’  To carry myself as if the whole world is watching.

In 2016, you never know…

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Happy Birthday Malcolm.

 

‘Lemonade’

lemonade

Wow.  Everyone is going to come at this from different angles.  I’ll touch on what struck the biggest chords with me.

Most artists (yours truly included) like to dance that line between what you definitely know about them, and what you think you know, but really can’t prove.  So when the short started, and a lot of the poetry and music was about a cheating man…sure I understood jumping to the conclusion, but mentally I was still fully into ‘this is what she wants us to think.’

Then, came, what was it? Track 3?  With the direct callback to ‘the hottest chick in the game wearing my chain?’ and the ‘God complex’, by the time we made it to the end you got Big Pimpin caressing ankles?!?

None of us can still ‘prove’ anything today that we didn’t know last night.  But…MAN.

Speaking of Track 3, when she broke out the Malcolm reference and cut to the clip of him chastising us because the black woman is the most disrespected and abused person on Earth…I’m very comfortable where I’m at in terms of ‘part of the solution or part of the problem?’  But still, it was enough to hit that Shame button and ask myself ‘Am I doing enough?’  And within the context of that song, not about me at all.

The past few days, a lot of us have been having the conversation of ‘we will always have pop stars, but who’s really going for it artistically?’  I’ve always appreciated Beyonce as a pop star, but these last couple of videos and live performances…I’m here for this evolution.  ‘Lemonade’ really, really works as a ‘visual album’. I don’t think I looked away the whole hour; my film geekness for the imagery mixed with the music was completely peaked.

If you haven’t gotten to it yet, carve out that hour before HBO takes it down.

‘Selma’

 

selma

She did it.

That’s the simple but accurate description of what Ava DuVernay has accomplished with ‘Selma’.  The (still criminally) short list of Hollywood backed films about black history, where black characters are actually the centerpiece of the story, has another worthy entry.  From the opening sequence which contrasts King’s Nobel Peace Prize winning speech to four little girls walking down into the church basement (and if you know black history at all, you know how that ends and you immediately get a lump in your throat), the tone is set.

The title makes it clear: this isn’t a complete biopic of King as Spike’s film was about Malcolm X.  ‘Selma’ focuses on this key moment in time when Dr. King was a big enough name to routinely meet with President Johnson (played by Tom Wilkinson, one of many great character actors in the film), but far from universally loved by the people who were holding up the status quo, or some of the young black students who were already wearing thin on the idea of ‘nonviolent resistance’.

I went to a screening where Ava and David Oyelowo participated in a Q&A following the film.  When asked about his process, David talked about his experience on ‘Lincoln’ and watching Daniel Day-Lewis (very telling).  To do an impersonation of a famous person, if you break it all the way down, is usually mimicry while amplifying a mannerism or a cadence, usually for comedic effect.  What David does in this film is not impersonation.  There’s more than enough in look and cadence so the audience knows this is Dr. King, but it’s deeper than that.  And for what ‘Selma’ does, it should be.  I researched this whole era as a teenager so no information in the film, whether real or used for creative license surprised me.  But, if all you know of Dr. King is what you here one day in January every year, or every February, you…might get some new information.  I like to believe between my film geekness and passion for history, I’ve seen every ‘big time’ portrayal of the man, but I’ve never seen Martin Luther King portrayed so human.  So flawed.  David got all the nuances right.

Award season? We shall see. Timely? Obviously. In my opinion, it’s Ava’s best film to date; if (American) audiences had any doubt David could be the leading man in the right role, let’s squash that now too.

Go see it.

 

aliesquire

Alright, let’s start here.  I fully acknowledge I’m WAY too invested emotionally in this one.  So I’m not going to try to tell you this is the ‘best’ of the several great Ali documentaries.  It’s easily one of my favorites though.

And why?  Because THIS is the one that finally tries to go into detail about ‘the Exile Years’: everyone knows Ali gave up part of his prime because he wouldn’t go to Vietnam.  But whereas pretty much all the other stories give you that one line summary in the context of his athletic career as the Greatest, ‘The Trials of Muhammad Ali’ goes in the other direction, using the boxing career as the dressing in the story of this uniquely American life.

So a lot of the basics of his athletic life is the setup: the boy from Louisville, Olympic gold medalist, supreme confidence from the beginning.  While this is going on, the viewer is introduced to the Nation of Islam. Point one for the film: whatever your feelings on the Elijah Muhammad brand of Islam, you (should) get why his teachings struck such a strong chord with urban blacks (among them of course, a young man by the name of Malcolm X).  Clay winning the title is near the beginning of the rift between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad; Ali siding with Elijah and Malcolm’s assassination set the stage for the real story of this film.

The Ali of my lifetime is very much a hero, but refusing to go into the Army (even in a symbolic way like Joe Louis), it’s a sacrifice I still can’t imagine.  Millions of dollars and the prime of your career.  Everyone wants to criticize athletes today for not taking stands like this, but hell, I don’t know many people in any walk of life that principled.  Score another point for the film in how it humanized Ali during this stage; he wasn’t an icon just yet, but a still pretty young kid unsure if he was making the right decision. He was a smooth talker promoting fights, but learning how to connect with the college audiences who were often not Muslim or black but who supported his stance; that was a process.

The technicality the Supreme Court used to overturn his conviction (a story I never knew in detail, another point for the film) is really quite hilarious; you have to love lawyers I guess.    After that, it’s the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, and, I’m guessing you know the rest.

A must see if you’re any kind of Muhammad Ali fan; the film starts airing on PBS next month.

Madiba

 

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I won’t try to use any single quote or group of quotes to describe the man’s legacy.  I would encourage you to do your own research, learn about the man’s life, read his works and speeches to understand why today we lost one of the true ‘world leaders’ of our lifetimes.

I can’t help myself though so I will echo this point: the man was imprisoned (which you know) in the 1960s for standing up to his native government against laws he felt were fundamentally unjust.  Just keep that in mind, in comparison to what was going on in this country at the exact same time period. Along those lines, consider the parallels between him and Muhammad Ali, our own ‘living legend’ who is almost universally popular today, but in his prime; the acts and actions that drove him to be seen as a great social activist.  Just saying.

So on that note, here is his cameo at the end of Spike’s film.  Even at this point (so the story goes), he wouldn’t allow Spike to film him saying the final four words cause he was all too aware of how his enemies would spin it.

You’ll never be forgotten Madiba.

 

 

yaslinbey

I just finished re-reading Manning Marable’s analysis of Malcolm X.  Marable ends with his belief that Malcolm would have denounced the 9/11 attacks as being fundamentally against everything Islam stands for, despite the claims of those who carried out the terrorism.  Marable’s thesis at the end is Malcolm should be held up as a symbol for hope and dignity across all cultures, in the way he’s an icon among the culture he fought the hardest for (the black underclass).

I use that introduction because that definition of Malcolm is very symbolic of how important, in a much larger sense, the ideal of ‘community’ is in Islam.  It’s tied into how we greet each other (Peace be unto you, and unto you be peace).  It’s tied into our facing the same direction, using the same physical prostrations.  It is, I believe, why we are considered to perfect half of our religion when we marry.  Beyond our internal community, I also feel that it extends to our larger sense of ‘community’, and our interdependence on each other as beings who are ‘renting’ this physical space we’re all sharing for however long we’re meant to share it.

A few of you know this, but 2Pac has been my example more than Malcolm when it comes to community works.  Specifically, 90 percent of your service is off the radar; only you and God and the recipient needs to know about it.  I’m not suggesting you’re wrong if you want more ‘credit’ for the good things you do, but I may be questioning who you need credit from if it’s truly a selfless act.  Truthfully if you find it in yourself to do anything for others, you’re one of the good ones.  This came up in the dinner conversation I had last night, and most of us see it whether you live in a metropolis or not, but the gap between the haves and the have nots isn’t getting smaller.  That’s just the way the world is going; what’s a little worrisome now though is that the haves seem much less inclined than ever to have empathy for the have nots.  Yeah, this could be a whole blog into itself, so let me get back on point…

As I’ve settled into my ‘spot’, I’m very thankful to have likewise found the right wavelength where I can contribute in whatever way I feel comfortable to spreading good karma in the world I live in.  As I’ve been telling friends recently, I bring 100 percent of my ego to my professional life, so it’s nice to balance that with trying to make the world a better place in relative anonymity.

Last Ramadan post for the year next week.

 

ali-liston

Last weekend, there was talk that Muhammad Ali’s health was quickly fading.  The man is the definition of an icon: a great in his chosen profession with a likability and an authenticity that attracted the world.  You didn’t have to be a Muslim to pause when we thought Ali was about to expire, but of course I noticed that within my own ranks, there was that cold shiver; like having a grandparent or parent pass who you know was nearing the end but it doesn’t really take away the sting of it.

I don’t know if it’s a practice they still use, but in Malcolm’s day the Nation would preach for a minimalistic funeral.  If you didn’t express your gratitude for someone when they were living, well, it’s too late now.  That’s a hard line to take if you’re grieving, but I have to admit at least philosophically I always admired that logic.  Life is short, and it’s fleeting, and none of us are guaranteed any tomorrows or any second chances to tell someone we care for them or love them or admire them.  So do it now, do it before it’s too late.

So with that prologue, here are a few of the infinite reasons I admire ‘the Greatest’.

  1. He was on both sides of the Vengeance Scale. – which was a testament to his humanity.  When he first converted to Islam and he had a fight with Floyd Patterson, Patterson refused to take the high road and respect their differences; calling him ‘Cassius Clay’ in every interview.  HUGE MISTAKE.  The in his prime Champ was widely believed to toy with Patterson throughout the fight; refusing to knock him out so he could keep punishing him.  ‘What’s my name?  WHAP!’  But Ali was on the other side of it too when he resorted to calling Joe Frazier a gorilla and an Uncle Tom.  Even if it was for show, it set Smokin’ Joe off something fierce; he lent Ali money when he couldn’t fight, now he was an Uncle Tom?  Even though Frazier said the right things before he died, I think he held that grudge over Ali into his grave.  Just my opinion.
  2. Pop culture icon. – At different points, he was mentored by Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad. He was one of those once in a generation guys who made being ‘the Heavyweight Champion of the World’ the coolest title in sports.  He had a famous photo op with the Beatles at the beginning of BeatleMania.  He won an Olympic Gold Medal. He had an OK feature film but more than one great documentary made about him. He has a star on the Walk of Fame (but it’s posted on the wall because ‘no one should walk on the name ‘Muhammad’).  He fought Superman in the comics!!!!  He’s beloved by the Hip Hop Nation, athletes, entertainers, hippies, Muslims…the vast majority of whom at best only saw him fight well past his prime.  I could keep going but the point has been made.
  3. Vilified in his prime. – When we get on Jordan or LeBron’s case for not being more political, I always chuckle a little.  Ali was very much like Dr. King or Malcolm or any number of ‘beloved’ figures now; part of the love/respect comes from taking a unpopular stand back in the day, but in the present we like to gloss over the toll it takes to be ‘that guy/girl’ who’s willing to look the lynch mob in the eye and pay the price (in Ali’s case, being stripped of the Heavyweight Title and a few years in the prime of his career).  I just don’t see any superstar athlete from here on out taking that kind of stand; their ‘careers’ are short enough as it is.

I could go on forever as you know, but the best thing to say is the other thing you already know: so many of us admire him and try to take parts of his style and image and drive and make it our own, but none of us can ever hold his jock.

In your debt forever Champ.