Tag Archive: Martin Luther King


 

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.

goodie-mob

Hard to find the right balance between ‘MLK Day’ and ‘the weekend’, but this is probably the song.

Have a good one gang. If you have Monday off enjoy it.  Back Monday night.

Never Forget…

 

mlk-jail

‘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.

Stokely Carmichael. Assata Shakur. Angela Davis. Bobby Seale. Huey P. Newton.  For my generation, if you grew up around a certain dynamic those are all names you knew and heard about often, without living through the Experience.  “The Black Power Mixtape” is a well-edited documentary that casts an eye on what those times were like in the Movement and the connections that have resonated with the next generation.

Narrated in sections by artists Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu, and Questlove, “The Black Power Mixtape” is visually made up of archival news footage from Sweden(?!?), as a group of young journalists came to this country during that time to try to grasp what the Civil Rights Movement was all about.  At the time where this film begins, John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers had already been killed, and the assassinations of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy finished the job of wiping out the optimism of the country.  With Vietnam’s unpopularity on the rise, the climate was rise for a more radical approach.

(On a side note, I believe it was Questlove who conspiracy theoried that the reason King was killed when he was killed was because he was the first outspoken leader against Vietnam AND, as he was doing in Memphis, he was now marching less against race and moreso against class with the Poor People’s Campaign.  I’m paraphrasing but the quote was ‘You want to ride in the front of the bus, OK. You want to cause a fuss for the military and financial institutions?  Nah… Interesting to think about in light of the “Occupy…” movement that’s going now.  Maybe today’s movement is better off without a ‘leader’?  Back to topic…)

The Black Panthers are probably the best known group to emerge out of the 70s discontent.  When J. Edgar Hoover declared their Free Breakfast Program the greatest internal threat to national security (God I hope this is portrayed in the movie about to come out), the lines were clearly drawn.  The incarceration of Angela Davis covers the second act of the film.  The first ‘must see’ clip of the film is when a reporter goes to visit Professor Davis in prison to ask her about the situation. The poor guy was probably sincere in his naivete (being from another country), but Angela Davis’ incredulous response to someone not knowing the history of violence against Blacks in this country is highly entertaining/motivating.  I know without researching it that’s there no way in hell that interview played on American television at the time (if ever before now).

The second must see clip the film provides is of a babyfaced Louis Farrakhan.  Seriously I barely recognized him before he started talking.  Only a few years after Malcolm’s assassination, the young minister shows the ‘polish’ that would soon after reunite the factions in the Nation and begin his own ascent on a larger scale.  It’s another of those interviews that I guess I should have known existed somewhere; it’s interesting to see in the context of this film.

In a sad ‘full circle’, the film begins with the communal depression from the murders of every national leader, and the film ends with the seeds being planted for the drug epidemic that would cripple the black community in the 80s.  I’m a little surprised the film didn’t mention how Huey Newton himself was a casualty, but they probably didn’t have any footage of it.

“The Black Power Mixtape” is available On Demand on many cable outlets.

A Day Later

When something dramatic happens, I try (if I can) to wait a day before really reacting to it.  The gut reaction is usually the right one, but emotions can severely cloud judgment as well.

So to go from the initial reports (‘The President is making an announcement, and it can’t wait until tomorrow’) which create nothing but dread, to the rumors that led to what Obama was really announcing, I had, and continue to have conflicting emotions about it.

Death: as Biggie said after Pac died, ‘There ain’t no coming back from that.’ A few of you have found a great quote that Dr. King that is a more eloquent way of saying the same thing.  While as a country we don’t officially teach an eye for an eye, I know I wasn’t remotely surprised when I saw kids dancing in the streets when the announcement was made.  And I know the next generation of terrorists were watching that too, using it as proof we want to ‘get them’ as bad as they want to ‘get us.’

But how can I not feel a degree of closure in knowing the man who financed the worst terrorist attack on American soil finally met his end?  You know and I know that what happened that day made ripples way outside of Manhattan; it created a dark cloud over every aspect of American life.  The way we travel obviously, the way we react toward other cultures, even in some ways I think the loss of respect between our two political parties.

I wasn’t too worried it would happen, but it is nice to know the powers that be recognize they’ve only killed the figurehead of an anti-American movement that will continue.  It would be nice to believe that we could bring all the troops back in six months, but that doesn’t seem practical.  There’s a whole new set of questions to start asking now (that I’m sure my more politically minded friends are already working on).

You know who I’m happiest for?  Our military.  I had and have family and friends stationed all over the world, and it has to be gratifying for them to know this ‘goal’ they’ve been working on for so long has been accomplished.  You’re aware of it, but last night was one of those reminders that there are cats risking their life everyday to protect our way of life.  Can’t say that about my job, can you?  So to any of my people in the military who happen to reading this, thanks again for what you do.

Now let’s see what comes next…

King

 

Like most black kids of my generation, I had the idea that Dr. King was ‘somebody’ before I had any real concept of who that ‘somebody’ was.  It was his picture and Jesus on the back of our church fans.  At my grandfather’s house, there were two pictures in the house that weren’t family: John F. Kennedy and MLK.  There wasn’t a ‘King Holiday’ in the early years of my childhood, for awhile he was just the ‘black hero.’

When my sister and I were still in our ‘kiddie’ stage, we made the family road trip to Walt Disney World.  My father decided one of our pit stops would be Atlanta, which struck me as a little odd since I knew at the time we didn’t have any family on either side in the ATL.  As it turns out, he timed our pit stop on the weekend of some type of “King Fest.”  My mother still has a picture of herself with Yolanda King that she treasures; we stopped by Ebenezer, we went to the Center, we visited Dr. King’s tomb.  It was the first time I went to the gravesite of someone outside my family.  It wasn’t a morbid thing since it’s right there with the museum, but it made me think.  In retrospect, it was probably the beginning of my interest in Black History.

Once I got to an age where I could understand race and America, I started with Dr. King’s life and works.  All of them.  His own words (“I have a Dream,”, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,”) some of the well written biographies about him and his crusades (Selma, Chicago, Birmingham, D.C., and Memphis), his allies and his adversaries (the Kennedys, Malcolm, Sammy and Brando, Hoover). I wouldn’t call myself an expert but I’d say I’d know “more than average.”  It played a large part in shaping my identity and what I value.

In practical and satirical ways, people often ask a) has Dr. King’s Dream been fulfilled and b) what would Dr. King be fighting against today?  The answer to both questions of course is that we’ll never really know.  Even in his eerily prophetic final speech, he said “I may not get there with you, but we as a people will get to the promised land!”  For better or worse, part of the practical nature of giving your life over to a larger purpose means you will not see the ‘end result’ of what you’re fighting for.  In the cynical times we live in, it’s something of a minor miracle that anyone does something knowing their good deeds can and sometimes will be taken in vain.

But as the man himself wrote “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  (That’s also my single favorite quote of his.)  As a child looking at his final resting place, I had no idea what ‘injustice’ meant.  As a man, I understand it too well.  I don’t have the hero complex I had as a teenager, but I will always care enough about the world around me to do what I can.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Building the Dream

 

I was approached recently and asked if I would be willing to use this space to help promote a ’cause’.  I have several personal ‘connections’ to this particular cause so I’m more than happy to use this space to help out.

Several years ago, the idea of a Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. was hatched.  The idea blossomed into a groundbreaking ceremony; at this point of the process the fundraising is almost done.  But not quite…

I could give you a quick rundown of the history of the project and where it’s at, but the main site has the complete story and convenient places where if you choose you can contribute to the project:

www.mlkmemorial.org

 

So you came by today because you want to know how I went 7 for 10 in my Golden Globe predictions right?  No?  Oh yeah, that ‘other thing’…

I’ll try to knock this out quickly and in chronological order, frequently asked question format…

Woke up, went for my Sunday run, came home, my stomach was in knots.  I’ve never understood the idea of being nervous over something you did months ago until today.  A lot of people were blowing me up, which was fantastic, but none of them saw the piece, so they really couldn’t tell you if the film was, you know, entertaining or good. 

Midwest and East Coast saw the show first, so the emails and texts started coming in a little after 9-ish my time.  Many congrats and good jobs sent my way.  I was going to send out a sarcastic post saying “I only hope Sanaa says my name correctly,’ so my curiosity definitely peaked when I got a few ‘Man she was putting you on blast!’ type, sarcastic comments. 

The Minnesota game was more or less over so I was able to start flipping into the show before I left the house.  Saw the introduction (nice), and I have to admit, when I saw my logo with the little BET logo in the corner, that was hype time (and I told the brother who designed that logo as much).  I flipped in and out the next 5 minutes (you have no idea how many times I’ve seen the short by this point), and came back in for the credits.

Definitely wasn’t expecting the split screen, so sorry to my crew that they didn’t get the ups they also deserved.  As far as Sanaa doing my bio, I’m being pragmatic when I say my film was 5 minutes in an hour long show, i.e., they had a little time to burn around my film.  I honestly wouldn’t read any more into that, but regardless that’s on permanent DVR status for yours truly. 

Favorite anecdote: one of my close friends put the show on when he came from church, and asked his 2 year old if she recognized the man on TV, and she said, ‘That’s Uncle Mister Malik!”  That tickled me good; my goal of making/working on projects I can show to my entire family without feeling embarrassed is in full swing.

Film geek time: yeah I did throw a lot of information at you for a 5 minute story, but judging by your response the story works.  Everyone seems to like the ‘Until the End of Time’ reference; do people get every beat of that joke (he has a habit of running late so she buys him a watch?), or is that too cerebral?  Hell, I wish a woman would buy me a nice watch, and I’m big on punctuality. I’m digressing…

A few people have mentioned that Lens on Talent is a contest; this is true.  In all sincerity though, my ‘goal’ was to have this national showcase for this project; I wasn’t thinking about it as a competition today or at any point in time in dealing with BET. 

That said…IF Lady in My Life is selected as one of the finalists, THEN I will go into full on ‘competitive’ mode.  If any of my people at BET are reading this, rest assured we have another short story we’ve wanted to do for YEARS waiting in the wings, just give us the opportunity to make it.  I’m just saying…

Finally and most importantly, I’m not remotely an old man, but over the past few days I’ve been reminded by how many paths I’ve crossed over my time on this Earth so far.  I’m the ‘star of the show’ so to speak, but if you read my first L.A. piece you know Magic was my sports hero growing up.  Meaning I love being a ‘point guard’ in life.  I do enjoy taking the big shots, but my past, present and future are directly tied to my ‘team’, and staying in the game long enough just to have an opportunity to take those shots.  While I know these people are around on the regular, now is as good a time as any to say:

Thank you Sumner Academy of Arts & Sciences

Thank you Fradieu Family, Washington Family and all my blood relatives

Thank you Black Entertainment Television

Thank you University of Kansas, McNair Scholars Program, and my Jayhawk Family

Thank you University of Southern California, Peter Stark Program and my Trojan Family

Thank you Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., especially Upsilon Chapter

Thank you to my Ummah

Thank you to HNTB, THQ, and the numerous gigs I’ve held over the years

And of course thank you to my beautiful cast and crew on this project and all the past projects.  I learn something new every time.

Last word then I’m out: one of my heroes growing up was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  A lot of you have the day off to celebrate his birthday.  While it’s not my place (or anyone else’s really) to tell you what Dr. King ‘would have’ done if he were around, it’s pretty easy to figure with his history he would have been involved in the Haiti situation trying to help out.  A whole country with an infrastructure in ruins, it’s still hard to imagine.  If giving cash is not your thing, trust in this situation there’s probably another way to help.  Give blood, donate clothes, do a little volunteer work.  A lot of you took the time on email, Twitter, Facebook or what have you to tell your people a friend of yours had a short film that was going to be on TV this weekend (and trust me I’m eternally grateful).  At the end of the day though, I’m just a guy making movies.  Now if you put that same call out to your people, except this time you said “Send me one dollar so I can send it to Haiti,” how many dollars could we put together? 

And on that note, those of you still on vacation, enjoy your MLK Day.  Peace!