Tag Archive: muhammad ali


 

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.

 

Picture 2 (2)

First, Kaepernick.  Don’t have much to add here.  My father, uncles, cousins, good friends are all veterans so I’ve always stood for the national anthem out of respect for them.  But if the man doesn’t want to do it, and he’s expressed why he doesn’t want to do it, I’ve been there too.  And I’m the last person to tell someone to do something they don’t want to do for the sake of appearances.

My original topic for this Sunday was going to be ‘black masculinity’, and how everyone from Nate Parker to Jaden Smith are making us think about what that’s meant, historically and what it means right now. As I sit here, my thoughts feel like a work in progress and not a fully formed idea.  Not yet anyway.

So today is as good of a Sunday as any to say ‘Thank You.’  The more personal impetus behind the masculinity idea I’ve been thinking about this week is I had to ask someone for help.  Out of all the demons I’ve beaten, my ego and my pride are the last two I haven’t yet fully conquered.  Everyone has that problem to a degree, but there’s a deeper complex black men are given at birth about not looking ‘weak’.  A lot of brothers with much more serious problems than I’ve ever had never ask or seek out the help they need because they don’t want to look like a ‘punk’.  I promise I’ll come back to this topic (on a large scale) before the year is out.

A lot of trial and error, but swallowing my pride is easier for me now because I’ve spent a significant part of my life surrounding myself with quality people and attracting like minds.  Ali passing at the beginning of Ramadan and the rise of Trumpism took me from year 4 of my 5 year plan to be a more vocal advocate for my community to year…11; but the pieces of my life had already fallen into place before things beyond my control happened.

So thank you to all of you who contribute to, support, and encourage me to be ‘MALIK AZIZ.’  The Wyandotte folks, the Jayhawks, the Trojans, the Ummah, the Frat; the music geeks, the film geeks, the nerds, the artists, the activists, the politicos; the Romantics who work for true love and friendship over notches on an imaginary belt or friend list, the old heads who worry for the kids coming up behind us and are determined to do what you can to make it easier for them than it was for us.

You all matter to me and I appreciate you.  I carry the public image of a loner, but I’m reminded daily how many people have my back.

bruce-crypt

Deep breaths.

That was my initial reaction when it occurred to me how much Arabic I have forgotten over the years.  It’s one (admirable) thing to commit to breaking your bad habits; it’s another thing altogether to really wrap your head around how much work you have in front of you.

So, the Buddhist influence kicked in. Take your mind off how far away the top of the mountain is, and focus on the hill you can climb right now. (And truth be told, even my meditation technique was comically broken.  I was in horrifically bad shape; not physically, but in almost every other way.  One of many reasons I appreciate this time to step back and reassess.)  So I corrected my meditation.  Once the muscle memory kicked in, it wasn’t as difficult as it seemed to relearn what I had lost.  But, none of this was ‘new’ information to me.  So I considered, ‘What has been taking up time and space that should be dedicated to more important things?’

This Ramadan for me was dedicated to ‘housecleaning.’  If I was in shock with how much information I forgot, I was truly embarrassed by how much junk occupied that space.  Literally and mentally.  Every weekend for the past month, I picked a different section of the Batcave and examined every single thing in it.  The people at Goodwill fell in love with me, which is nice, but I don’t imagine I’ll be giving away this many material things again until I jump to the next tax bracket.  I come home now, and it almost feels like I’ve moved.

Unpacking my mind was less taxing.  No surprise to you, but the Dark Knight enjoys his time off the grid quite a bit.  There were of course a few things serious enough for my people to tell me, ‘Hey, you need to read up on this right away (Brexit and Orlando to name two)’, but on the whole this month has been more ‘normal’ than Ramadans past.  I haven’t been a complete recluse, but I definitely have taken enough time to fix the things that were broken.

So we continue.  I can’t log on anymore without feeling like war is on my doorstep, but I press forward.  On one of my rare nights out this month, I was driving home from a friend’s show.  As I came through Hollywood, I passed by the Capitol Records building.  ‘In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning’ came on the radio at just that moment.  And all my problems disappeared.  In that moment, I was reminded, ‘I’m home.’  Nothing else mattered for a few minutes.  I was happy.

am happy.  I have a family, a ‘Fam’, and an endgame to finish.  I wish I could still point to Ali as a living example of what the best of us are, but he’s gone in that sense.  And I’m one of many who beyond Ramadan have committed to take another step forward, to be more disciplined, to hold myself more accountable at all times, to be the best living example I can be for this beautiful community I represent.

One day at a time. One moment at a time.

Eid Mubarak!

cassius

Relieved.

Way back when, I was an intensely serious child.  Most everyone admired me for it, in different ways.  I was intelligent.  I was curious.  I was ‘angry’, in the sense I was fascinated by all the whys and hows of what brought all of us to where we are.  I was an avid student of Black history.  Hollywood history.  American history.

It’s always the little, ‘insignificant’ details you remember.  At some point, during senior year as we were saying our goodbyes, one of the guys said to me simply, ‘We all love you and definitely need to have brothers like you around.  But don’t forget to have some fun.’

That’s how it started, it was really that simple.  A lot more often, my choices became a reflection of someone who could take the weight of the world off his shoulders once in a while, and enjoy this life.  Spending a spring at the Playboy Mansion. The ‘Tony Montana Dream Weekend’ in South Beach. Dinner dates with WWE Divas.  And a million other episodes I’ve either genuinely forgot about, or deliberately refuse to talk about publicly.

So I’ve had fun. Too much fun? That’s debatable. Fun at the cost of other things? Sure, but even at my least responsible, I always accepted every decision I make comes with a price.

I have been doing this long enough to accept the question, not in my own mind, but in the minds of others, of whether I still had it in within myself to be the completely focused, passionate, articulate and intelligent, socially conscious and driven boy I was when so many friends, family, and mentors invested in me, and told everyone who would listen ‘Malik is the one who’s going to ‘do it’ and he’s not going to sell out what he stands for to get there.’

So I’m relieved.

I’m relieved I’ve lived long enough to grow from a pure ideologue into a three dimensional human being.

I’m relieved more often than not I’ve surrounded myself with people who gave me the latitude to grow, to make mistakes and learn from them.

I’m relieved that I’m able to live my life on my terms without doing major harm to anyone else (to my knowledge).

I’m relieved I’ve found avenues that allow me to honor those who came before me, and ideally allow me to do things that will benefit the next generation of people who look like me or have names like mine.

I’m relieved I’ve been able to build a personal and private life where the only agenda is ‘Do we enjoy each other’s company? Do we have a good time together? Do we support each other’s dreams?’

I’m relieved I’ve lived long enough and worked hard enough to get to the point where all the different elements that make up my life finally complement each other.

I’m relieved that while I know something will eventually go bad, on the whole I’ve grown into a man who enjoys life and loves life and is motivated to keep going.

All praise is due to Allah, only the mistakes have been mine.

Eid Mubarak.

Back after 4th of July weekend.

rockworkout

Identify what it is you want, and go after it without hurting anybody else. And I’m talking about life as well as the film business.’ – Larry Turman, ‘So You Want to Be a Producer’

I’ve been around too long to believe it will always be like this, but to climb the next rung, to achieve the most immediate goal, I believe I’ve put myself in a position where I just have to outwork any and all obstacles.  That of course isn’t an easy feat, but it does create a new confidence, it reveals a different tone.  It always matters, but when I don’t have to burn any energy defending my identity or playing politics; when everyone who matters is either encouraging or understanding; when all that’s left is me proving I’m more than deserving of what I seek, well, let’s do this.

The ‘hard’ part right now is saying ‘no’, or really, ‘not yet’ to hanging out as much as I like.  The ball games and the concerts and Vegas, I will get it all back.  But not yet.  This moment is about my discipline. Not winning a battle, but winning the War.  I feel I’m very, very close to…something.  That’s part of what’s driving me.  And it seems to be working, I already finished one project a week ahead of schedule, trading fun for work has the project I’m working on now being done way ahead of deadline as well.  ‘Appreciation’ is the best word I can come up with for the feeling of being on ‘third base’.  I wasn’t born here, and the sacrifices I make to try to get ahead, well. I’m not looking for sympathy.  Most people have some degree of ambition; out of that group, some of those give things a go; and out of that group, most quit.  A few of us won’t take no for an answer and keep hustling until they get what they want.  So maybe we can call this my ‘killer instinct’ phase? The sports fans among you will appreciate the analogy.

Even among friends, I’ve heard reference to me in this mode as ‘angry Malik.’  I laugh.  I’m not angry at all.  I’m still a complete goofball, I’m still not sweating the small stuff.  I still just take everything one moment at a time.

In these moments, I’m just hyper focused.  Not angry.  Serious, but not angry.

Let’s do this.

‘I Am Ali’

 

iamali

I Am Ali is the newest documentary on one of the Great American lives.  The early great ones (When We Were Kings) gives you an insight into his athletic greatness, last year’s fantastic The Trials of Muhammad Ali finally broke new ground on analyzing his role in the politics of his time.  But just, as a man, flawed and imperfect like the rest of us, who was he?

This is the successful angle I Am Ali takes.  Primarily structured through tapes of Ali talking to his children, we see the Champ as less as the everlasting icon, and more in a role most of us can relate to: husband trying to provide for his family, father trying to instill self confidence and worth into his children.  We do of course get glimpses of the public figure; in this case it’s important in showing us how his children viewed ‘Muhammad Ali’ as Daddy turning his silly, charming personality up to 11.

That voice.  It’s good to hear from his family that Ali doesn’t seem ready just yet to leave us, but hearing his voice in its youthful, playful, powerful peak here.  You all know how I feel about appreciating the people you love while you have them.

Nice 2 hour documentary, now streaming on iTunes and other outlets.

 

Actor. Writer. Director. Producer.

End of Production Day. Shot in Culver City, CA by Nathan Richardson.

(Also, let me shout out the Rock and Roots of Fight, because, a black and gold Muhammad Ali training shirt had to be the most predictable swagger jack/impulse purchase of my life.)

(Coming Soon…)

 

aliunderwater

Not looking at the outside world to start this week, but looking inwards.

Been building something for awhile now, and this week will be the payoff.  (I’m not being overly cryptic to be a jerk in this circumstance; rest assured I will share it with all of you when the product is finished.)  I haven’t been this dialed in with my full skill set in a long time (possibly ever), so there’s already something of a victory in that knowing (internally)  my passion still burns white hot when I sense the opportunity.

I’m also (as my fellow sports fans know) naturally competitive, so as much as I sincerely love watching and rooting for peers to succeed in their individual careers, there’s still very much a voice inside of me that’s always saying, ‘That was cool.  Now, look at what can do when I put myself out there.’  My ego is not a ‘That guy is in the spot I’m supposed to be in,’ but more of a ‘There’s a spot in the Machine tailor made for me if I can position myself into it.’  (You’ll have to tell me down the line if that statement is still too vague or perfectly expressed.)

So what can I tell you specifically about the project I’m building toward?  Working on a new title since the working title gives away some of the biggest jokes.  So yes, film wise I’d consider this more of an all out comedy than anything I’ve done before.  A lifetime building personal and professional relationships has made this possible.  Begging doesn’t suit me, but we all need help sometimes, and every business runs on calculated risks.  All continues to go more or less to plan, you’ll see it before the end of the year.

Ninety percent of the research, the planning, the coordinating is done.  I can allow myself to start thinking as a ‘creative’ again; I can look forward to solving new ‘in the moment’ problems with the people I’m working with.  My signature is all over this, but…I guess I can find moments in between bringing my vision to life to have a little fun.  I guess.

Not much more to say.  Time to make the donuts.

billiejean

Let’s enjoy this peace, for however long it lasts…

As I’ve been rolling over in my mind, not how, but why I’ve been enjoying this really long period of complete harmony in all phases of my life, the one word that comes to mind is: transparency.  When all this started, sheer necessity demanded that I protect myself and by extension, my dream at all costs.  And as life goes on, I’ve made allies, sure, but through words and through actions, you learn that not everyone is your friend.  And even among friends, there’s going to be some people who feel some kind of way if their perception of your life looks ‘better’ than their perception of their own lives.  So if you’re wise at all, it takes time and a little luck and a lot of trial and error to figure out who your closest allies are.

But eventually, everything does line up.  The homies man, it’s never ending trash talk, and jokes, and all kinds of brotherhood based on common interests in sports, or movies, or women.  And with the women, I would define all of my active relationships as ‘adult’ now: two way roads of communication and support, and on my end at least, asking myself ‘How do I keep her in my corner?’ and ‘What can I do to build on what we already have?’

So, yeah.  This is nice right?  So looking forward I naturally wondered, ‘What could mess this up?’  When I saw the Ali doc last week, I think I realized the answer to that question: I’m going to mess this up.  I know that phrasing is a little on the rough side, but let me explain:

 It’s the story of the (black) entertainer in America, but it is what it is.  As long as he was the big mouth amateur making people laugh, everybody was more or less on board.  When he became the status quo challenging, stand up for what he believed in World Heavyweight Champion, then the vultures came out with no mercy.  And let’s be clear, I’m not saying on my best day ever, I will be in the same league of Muhammad Ali.  What I am saying is that right now, sure, you may care when I feel compelled to talk religion or politics, but ‘the world’ doesn’t really know I exist.  So if I was truly serious, about making sure that I never leave my current state of nirvana, here are the things I should do:

Don’t stand on a stage in front of hundreds of people. Don’t stand in front of a camera in front of millions of people.  Stop writing and directing stories about the black experience in America.  Stop writing and directing stories that touch on religion.  If someone asks me to help out on an issue that does not directly impact heterosexual, middle class, African-American Muslim men who live in Los Angeles, turn to that person and say, ‘That’s too bad, but it’s not my problem.’  Close or at least never post on any social media sites.  For that matter, shut down malikaziz.com.

You get the picture.  In a really fucked up, sad, one sentence summary: if I am truly not willing to give away any of this peace of mind I’ve worked my whole life to have, if I want to remain almost completely critic proof, then right here, right now, I have to shut down pretty much every single thing that defines me as ‘Malik Aziz’.  And yes, if I dwell on that statement for too long, that really, really depresses me.

Of course I can’t do that, and I won’t.  I’ve never been more confident in what I believe to be the purpose of my life, and I will use all of my intelligence to analyze, all of my compassion to help the world around me, all of my creative skills to entertain, and all of my professional ambition to climb the ladder and fulfill that purpose.  I haven’t worked this hard to like the man I see when I look in the mirror every morning, to choose any other course of action.

So…let’s enjoy this peace while it lasts.

If I start naming names, I will inevitably slight someone, which is no good.  But if you’ve made it this far and you’re still reading this, then I’m going to assume you have made some type of contribution to the life of Malik Aziz, and for that I thank you.

Now, let’s have some fun, shall we?  The reason for today’s post is this is the beginning of ‘Lik Week 2014’, so with that said…

ASSEMBLE YOUR CREW AND PREPARE YOURSELVES FOR A WEEK OF MICHAEL JACKSON SONGS!!!!

[1st Verse]
Looking Out
Across The Night-Time
The City Winks A Sleepless Eye
Hear Her Voice
Shake My Window
Sweet Seducing Sighs

[2nd Verse]
Get Me Out
Into The Night-Time
Four Walls Won’t Hold Me Tonight
If This Town
Is Just An Apple
Then Let Me Take A Bite

[Chorus]
If They Say –
Why, Why, Tell ‘Em That Is Human Nature
Why, Why, Does He Do Me That Way
If They Say –
Why, Why, Tell ‘Em That Is Human Nature
Why, Why, Does He Do Me That Way

[3rd Verse]
Reaching Out
To Touch A Stranger
Electric Eyes Are Ev’rywhere
See That Girl
She Knows I’m Watching
She Likes The Way I Stare

[Chorus]
If They Say –
Why, Why, Tell ‘Em That Is Human Nature
Why, Why, Does He Do Me That Way
If They Say –
Why, Why, Tell ‘Em That Is Human Nature
Why, Why, Does He Do Me That Way
I Like Livin’ This Way
I Like Lovin’ This Way

[4th Verse]
Looking Out
Across The Morning
The City’s Heart Begins To Beat
Reaching Out
I Touch Her Shoulder
I’m Dreaming Of The Street

[Chorus]
If They Say –
Why, Why, Tell ‘Em That Is Human Nature
Why, Why, Does He Do Me That Way
If They Say –
Why, Why, Tell ‘Em That Is Human Nature
Why, Why, Does He Do Me That Way
I Like Livin’ This Way
[Repeat Chorus – Ad-Lib/Fade-Out]

 

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.