Tag Archive: Martin Luther King


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!

 

Spike Lee’s third film takes place on the hottest day of the summer in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, New York.  I heard Spike say in an interview this week that while he didn’t know what he was doing on his first film, She’s Gotta Have It, and was finding his way with School Daze, with this film he finally felt like a ‘director’.  And it shows.

On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  Fade in on a solo jazz version of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”  Follow that up with Rosie Perez working it out to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” as the opening credits kick in.  And that’s (literally) just the beginning…

Legacy:  Yes, this was the film debut of Rosie Perez and Martin Lawrence, but is that really the first thing you think about with this film?  As noted, this wasn’t Spike’s first film, and there were (and continue to be) black independent films with equally strong messages.  But moreso than any other film of its generation, Do the Right Thing really put Spike Lee and modern black cinema on the map.

Craft:  You know how you can watch a lot of 80s movies today and cringe at how dated they feel?  Not this film.  The 80s elements here feel (as they do in many classic films) as snapshots of the time they were created.   Radio Raheem’s massive boom box.  The box haircuts of Raheem and Mookie.  The conversation about how certain black celebrities (and now President’s?) go beyond the racist definition of what a ‘n—er’ is.  And how about the cast list?  Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Harris, Danny Aiello, John Turturro, Frank Vincent…yes sir!  And that’s just the talent in front of the camera!

Crossover:  In a big way.  The film was nominated for Oscars and Golden Globes, it made noise at the Cannes Film Festival, it was widely regarded as one of (if not) the best film of the year.  Kim Basinger made a point at the Oscars to tell the worldwide audience that it’s a shame that Do the Right Thing wasn’t nominated for Best Picture.  (And it was a shame.  Spike’s never been close to winning an Oscar, how is that possible?)  Anyway, the moral of the story is Spike Lee had arrived.

Apollo:  In the event you the reader haven’t seen the film yet, I won’t ruin the biggest ‘Apollo’ moment of the film.  Instead I’ll focus on the film’s coda:  two very good quotes.  The first from Dr. King, which references his belief that an eye for an eye eventually leaves everyone blind.  The second from Malcolm, which argues that self-defense is not violence; as a matter of fact it’s common sense.  The film does not in an explicit way express which way ‘is the right thing,’ it’s up to the viewer to decide for him or herself.  An argument that can continue into infinity…

The film countdown ends shortly…

 

eyesontheprize

Eyes on the Prize was a miniseries broadcast on PBS that explored the Civil Rights movement from the mid fifties to the mid eighties.  It is widely considered to be one of the best nonfiction works regarding black history ever produced.

On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  From an ambition stand point alone, to pitch any project by saying “We’re going to attempt to capture the essence of the Civil Rights Movement” is a nearly impossible task.  Among the many things that Eyes on the Prize got right was stressing that the strides made in ‘the Struggle’ were not the result of any one or two men but by an large, diverse group of people who are working toward a common goal.

Legacy:  I don’t know if this is still shown every Black History Month in public schools across the country, (which is how I was introduced to it), but I will speak to two more recent documentaries that follow in this series’ footsteps.  For the various criticisms leveled at Spike Lee and his later fiction work, Four Little Girls and When the Levees Broke are two of the best films he’s ever done. 

Craft:  There’s no way to factually prove this of course, but it’s widely believed that the rise of television (specifically the news) went a long way in helping end Jim Crow in the South.  It’s one thing to read about civil unrest in the morning newspaper, it’s a completely different story to see people getting ran down with fire hoses and attacked by police dogs.  If you’ve somehow never seen this footage, then you need to rent this series.

Crossover:  The series was nominated for Oscars and Emmys, and won Peabody and Television Critic Awards.  Nuff said.

Apollo:  Like other works that deal with the Civil Rights Movement, the ‘Apollo’ factor is somewhat muted since, at least with the nonfiction works, these things really happened.  I’m not the ‘knock you over the head with my message’ type, but in this case I will make the connection between Eyes on the Prize and this Most Important Black Film/TV Show countdown:  know your history.

The countdown continues next month with another historic show…

 

gone_with_the_wind_ver1

You cannot have a discussion about either the craft or the business of Hollywood filmmaking without talking about Gone With the Wind.  Based on a hugely popular novel, the film version lived up to the spectacle of the novel, romanticizing the ‘fighting spirit of the South.’

Uh huh.  You probably see why I picked this one.  Tale of the tape time…

Relevance:  One of the longest running gripes of black actors and audiences is when we do appear in mainstream TV shows and films, we’re often confined to the part of ‘one-dimensional sidekick’ to the main (white) character and their story arc.  Well, whether you believe that is paranoia by black audiences or consider it a valid point, I dare you to find a more prime example of this theory at work than in Gone With the Wind.  The beautiful (but shallow) Scarlett O’Hara and her main (full of common sense) slave, Mammy damn near set the standard for every interracial partnership seen on screen since.  I’m willing to hear counterarguments…

Legacy:  While Jaws set the standard for the modern day blockbuster, it pales to comparison of what Gone With the Wind was in its day.  Not quite 100 years after the Civil War, the film premiere in Atlanta was nothing short of a state holiday (look it up).  Many of the city’s black clergy decided to boycott the festivities as a sign of their displeasure with the film, but among those who went to the ‘afterparty’ (or whatever they were called in those days) was Rev. Martin Luther King.  And he took his son along.  You may have heard of him.

Craft:  Over 50 years old, the film is undeniably one of the most grand and beautiful shot for the big screen.  The story of the spectacle itself has had books dedicated to it; no need for me to rehash the numerous rewrites and casting decisions and other mini-dramas that went into getting this film made.

Crossover:  Hattie McDaniel (who I just learned is a native Kansan like myself) is the first African-American to win an Academy Award. For playing Mammy.   That’s in the record books forever.

Apollo:  “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies!”  My teeth clenched up just typing that; like many other black folk, that line was symbolic of the constant ‘guarded appreciation’ we have for great American works that don’t paint us in the best of lights.  Gone With the Wind wasn’t the first; I know good and well it won’t be the last…

The film countdown continues later with a film from the era that tried to correct the black stereotypes…

The Movement

During one of my recent courtships, I was asked the ‘life’s ambition’ question.  While the answer hasn’t really changed much, the method has changed slightly, and at least publicly, I’ve never acknowledged how much my religious background plays into my ‘lot in life.’  Since many of my readers come from outside my religious background, I’ll re-print my answer here for your reading pleasure.  If I come off with a little more braggadocio than usual here, well friends, that’s the dating game.  Enjoy.

There are usually four names that come up when people start talking about the history of American Muslims:  Elijah Muhammad, Louis Farrakhan, Malcolm X, and Muhammad Ali.  Of course, there have been thousands more who have made their mark in ways that existed under the radar, and that continues to this day.  I mean no disrespect to the brothers and sisters who are out there doing their thing right now; we all have to make our mark in the best way we know how.  But in my mind the fact remains that there has been a void since Ali lost his voice, of that ‘American Muslim’ who through his or her talent and personality can stand center stage and show the world that we’re part of the solution and not the problem.  Now I’m not billing myself as the new Malcolm or the new Ali, there will never be another version of either of those brothers.  What I am saying is that I see myself as a ‘link in the chain’ that connects the past history of American Muslims to however we’re perceived in the future.

The link in the chain concept is something that all black people are familiar with, and most who know their history participate in it in one way or another.  It’s fairly self explanatory: my life (as a black person) has been made easier because of those who came before me, now I have to do my part so the guys and girls who come up after me won’t have to put up with the shyt I put up with.  Some links are bigger than others of course, but Dr. King didn’t do everything by himself, Rosa Parks didn’t do everything by herself, the Black Panthers didn’t do everything by themselves.  But they all did something that had an overall positive effect.  It seems to me most cultures do it; even professionally the concept is something that was stressed to me in grad school.  Tying it back into our people, I feel that we are in the most desperate need of having someone step up and make themselves a ‘bigger link’.  Our community’s natural tendency to keep to ourselves backfires on us a little I think; that’s not how America works.  Americans respect privacy to a point; but you also have to be at least somewhat accessible.  To completely keep to yourself here only makes people suspicious and makes people feel uncomfortable. 

I have no interest in becoming a preacher. (Americans don’t like to be told what to do anyway.)  I have friends who have dedicated themselves to theology; it’s a beautiful thing to be able to quote Scripture easily but it’s not my thing.  Rather, the talents, the career and the personality that I’ve been blessed with have set me up to follow in the path of the ‘symbols’.  Three of the artists I admired greatly when I was younger were Michael Jackson, Marlon Brando, and Paul Newman.  Each in their own way used their talents to garner fame or fortune, then in turn used whatever light was shining on them to bring attention to issues or people who might not otherwise ever get noticed.  When you start to bring any political element to it, you’re setting yourself up so that for every person who is glad to see someone make a stand, you have someone else waiting right there to tear them down.  The bigger you get, the more zeros you add to the number of people who love you and hate you.  But that’s part of the price that has to be paid.

During his inaugural address, the President made reference to looking for more of an open dialogue with our people.  Yes, he’s a politician first and foremost, but I also took that as a personal challenge.  There’s an old parable that I’m sure you’re familiar with, since Spike Lee used it in his film about Malcolm.  If you give people a dirty glass of water as their only option, then eventually they’ll drink from it when they get thirsty.  But if you show them your clean glass, you don’t have to tell them to take it.  They’ll recognize your glass is clean and want to drink from it. 

What I’ve tried to be in my personal relationships with non-Muslims is that ‘clean glass of water’ that contradicts a lot of the negative imagery associated with our people.    This is what I mean about not being a preacher.  There are those of course who have nothing but disdain and disrespect for us; I don’t worry about them and I don’t waste time trying to prove myself to someone who I know will not be won over.  But the vast majority of people (in my experience) will respect your right to do things your way if you extend them the same courtesy.  So to answer your question, a major part of my life’s ambition is to take what I feel do now, and extend my reach to show the world (especially Americans) that we are as diverse, as patriotic, as human as everyone else.  To paraphrase JFK, we all breathe the same air, we all want to provide a better tomorrow for our families and our children, and we are all mortal.

If my father was my benefactor, my biggest fan in the family was his brother’s wife, my godmother.  My father is very laid-back, which is where I get it from.  My aunt was the one who would stick up for me (all of us really) if someone was bullying us.  I chuckle at how many times I pouted my way into a Happy Meal whenever my older cousins picked on me.  The first job I ever had was as a bagger in a grocery store.  My grandfather made his sole visit to Kansas City, and the family was taking him to a Royals game.  My boss told me straight up not to come back if I took the night off.  Well…I told my aunt, and long story short, I got the night off paid and still had a job.  My godmother was that black woman.

Not long after that, my godmother was diagnosed with cancer.  The downfall was quick; the chemo left her bedridden after only a few months, and she passed before my senior year of high school.  Deniece did make it to my high school graduation; I was the ‘black’ student speaker at Commencement.  But our dynamic had changed.  She was a year older than me, so she went to college first.  The phone calls and hanging out became a lot more sporadic.  Losing both her and my aunt within a 12 month span put me in a very ill mood, truth be told.   I didn’t understand why college was such a big deal, but I would stand corrected soon enough…

Spike’s movie about Malcolm had made black nationalism as ‘cool’ as it had been in decades.  I started to mimic Malcolm physically (horn rimmed glasses, goatee), and in terms of speaking out.  I joined my high school speech team and took to it pretty quickly.  I had my first couple run ins with the police, so I wrote a speech about the stereotypes young black men always face.  I ended up winning a few contests and started to get noticed.  The first time I appeared on TV, it was on the Kansas City version of the ‘Black Perspectives’ show that airs on Sunday at 3:30 in the morning.  My teacher/coach took a shine to me and asked me if I had any interest in acting…

The first acting piece I tried was based on the play ‘The Meeting’, a short piece about a fictional meeting between Malcolm and Dr. King.  I picked the scene apart and started breaking down the cadences of each man until I felt comfortable in each role.  I was 17 years old, so nobody was calling me the next Brando now, but again I would win competitions and end up going to State.  I enjoyed it but I didn’t care for the attention just yet.  All of this looked good on my college applications…

I had dreams of filmmaking so you can guess what my college choices were: NYU, Columbia, USC, UCLA.  A tier below that I had some contingency schools, Florida State, Northwestern, TCU and Xavier showed interest in me.  I got a letter from Harvard which was nice for my ego, but I knew I wasn’t going there.  Naturally I had a couple HBCUs on my radar: Grambling and Prairie View to be specific.  After I filled out my film school applications, my father took me on a College Road Trip through his alma mater and Texas.  I still had respect for these places, but I wasn’t a kid anymore.  KC had made me way too ‘city-fied’ to want to spend four years there.  I came back home ready to mail in my apps to film school proper.  One problem.  Moms had thrown out all my film school apps.

There’s a sequence in The Shawshank Redemption where Andy meets a kid who can prove his innocence.  So the Warden has the Kid murdered, and Andy’s sent to the Hole for a couple months by the Warden as a way to set him straight.  This was how it went down with me and her: all the different daily arguments about my hair, my clothes, my grades were love taps compared to this.  This wasn’t the Argument of the Day; this was my life.  I had done everything that was asked of me, and I come to find out it didn’t mean shyt.  I had to start questioning my father too; if he wasn’t part of the plan, he was enabling it.  In retrospect, I had no business in LA or NYC at 18.  The real issue though was I wasn’t given a logical excuse (like money, since all the top film schools were at private schools).  The reason I was given was ‘distance,’ which coming off a massive road trip through the South smelled of extreme hypocrisy.  Of course I lost this battle.  What could I do but take it?  So for the first time in my life, I was waking up every day pissed the phuck off.

Like Andy, I had to momentarily take my sentence and deal with it.  Four years without the possiblity of parole.  I no longer trusted anyone; it was a hard way to learn it, but I began to appreciate the fact that playing by the rules and being the ‘nice guy’ sometimes leaves you assed out.  Sometimes to get your way, you just have to straight be an asshole and hustle your way out. 

With a chip on my shoulder the size of a Redwood, I made my way to my version of the Hole.  Also known as the University of Kansas.

I can remember with clarity the effect Roots had on me the first time I watched it.  Awe, shock, pride, anger.  I cried pretty good the first time I saw the scene where they whipped Kunta Kinte until he said his name was Toby.  I was one of the first in my family to be born outside Louisiana.  I knew the towns my parents grew up in.  I had been to the homes of my grandparents, my great-grandparents.  But like many others, Roots made me feel as though I knew nothing of my own heritage.  I was always an avid reader as a kid, so it didn’t faze me to search out and read the novel the miniseries was based on.

Diving into the history of the civil rights movement and the history of black people in this country altered the way I looked at life to say the least.  I took to it like a fish to water.  I hardly digested one book when I was already seeking out something else: Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Eyes on the Prize, Go Tell It On the Mountain.  The more I read, the more aware I become of an ‘angrier’ side to the Movement.  But I personally wasn’t there.  Yet.

The next logical step, once I became a true student of black history, was to become a conspiracy theorist.  My grandfather had the prototypical three way portrait of JFK, Jesus, and MLK sitting above all the family photos.  It struck me for the first time that all three of these men were murdered; now I wanted to know why?  And how was it possible Jesus looked the way he looked on all the church fans if he spent his entire life in the Middle East?  My questions no longer just had teeth; they were growing fangs.  The Tuskegee experiments, the ‘war’ on drugs, Rodney King…I was swiftly morphing into a nice little cocktail of paranoia, social consciousness, and teenage rebellion. 

The mid 90s also doubled as the second perfect storm of my life:  Spike brought a lot of social consciousness into his films.  He broadened the audience for guys like Wesley, Sam Jax and Denzel to eventually become what they became.  Hip hop was going through its political phase, where acts like Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, and Arrested Development could get major airplay.  One man’s name kept appearing over and over again in a lot of the things I was reading, watching, and listening to.  I eventually found a picture of him: another brother who wore glasses like me.

Of course I really loved Roots the novel, more than the miniseries even.  I went to the library one day looking for other books written by Alex Haley.  And I found one…

heatofthenight

In the Heat of the Night is considered one of, if not the defining film of Sidney Poitier’s career.  It spawned an equally popular TV show, and is often earmarked as a ‘defining’ film of the 60s.  On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  Well, the story of the film revolves around a black detective from the North coming into the heart of the racist South to solve a murder.  And it stars the one of the original black movie stars, Sidney Poitier.  Any questions?

Legacy:  I’ve already made reference to the TV show.  Sidney’s co-star was Rod Steiger, a well respected Hollywood vet in his own right (On the Waterfront is the first film that pops into my head).  Oh, and you may be familiar with this line: “They call me Mister Tibbs!”

Craft:  A solid, ‘important’ film by the standards of the time it was made in.  From a technical point of view, it’s still very watchable.  But in terms of addressing the racial issues, very dated.  It’s one of those movies that’s very interesting to watch when you realize there’s an African-American in the White House now.  There’s a very famous scene where a white man slaps Sidney, and Sidney slaps him right back.  At the time it was shocking, now…not so much.  The look on the poor butler’s face still cracks me up; there was a damn porch monkey in the front yard!  No I’m not joking, go back and watch it.  All that said, I’m sure there’s more than enough white people who still think like the characters in the movie; I’m not naive or cynical.  I grew up driving past rows of Confederate flags to get to my grandfather’s house.  OK, I’m getting way off topic, back to the ‘movie’…

Crossover: Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Norman Jewison), Best Actor (Rod Steiger), Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay.  You add in the ‘Sidney Poitier’ factor, the score by Quincy Jones;  they don’t get much more crossover than this.

Apollo:  Now it seems pretty tame, but put it back in its historical context: 1967.  JFK and Malcolm had been dead for a few years, but RFK and Dr. King were right around the corner.  And you have this major Hollywood film where an ‘uppity Negro’ is talking back and fighting back any white person who challenges him.  In that context, I don’t even know what would be the equivalent today of doing a film like this.  With all due respect to all the other minority groups in America, the story of black people in this country carries the deepest (ongoing) connection.

Back later this month for #19…