Tag Archive: President Obama


Obama opens this doc by saying ‘Some people are attracted to the power that is part of being in the spotlight, others work best behind the scenes. Clarence Avant is the latter.’ Truer words never spoken, cause 99% of the audience of this Netflix doc will surely have never heard of this man…

Like a shadow version of Quincy Jones, Clarence Avant has been in every part of entertainment (and politics) for decades (and of course him and Q seem to be best friends.) Unlike Quincy, there is no sense of flash about the subject of this doc (which has the perfect title). Can’t possibly go through every story mentioned in the two hours but a few of my favorites…

In the early 70s, Clarence got the heavy hitters of the time together for a benefit concert. That meant Sammy Davis Jr. got the call. The black crowd boo’d the hell out of him (this was shortly after he hugged Nixon). Sammy said his piece, performed ‘I Gotta Be Me’, and at the end the crowd was cheering again. Sammy is clearly touched. It’s a moment.

I’m old enough to remember the E.T. storybook narrated by Michael Jackson. Apparently that was done without getting clearance from all the parties, legally. But the guy everyone got along with was Clarence, he stepped in and got everyone on the same page. And Michael was so impressed, he asked Clarence to help him put together his first solo tour. Yes, the ‘Bad’ tour. I mean, come on…

Clarence was on board super early when a young man based in Chicago was rising in the Democratic Party. He was asked to speak at the convention, but not in prime time. Clarence fixed that. The rest is history. Even though Clarence really didn’t think that guy would really run the Presidency in a few years. But no one saw that coming. Even though Obama still teases him about it apparently…

Super educational, super informative journey through pop culture. Worth streaming.

 

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Most of you were correct in your assumption of where I stood this year, and I can’t imagine anyone who is politically aware being undecided one way or another at this point, so I’ll try to keep this short.

I’ll go ahead and say his name now.  Given several opportunities to walk back his insulting comments to the Muslim community as a whole, Trump keeps doubling down (and going after the Khan family he seems to be tripling down) on the Islamophobia.  I’m past anger or resentment; I’m not ignoring that he’s giving voice to what his base thinks and feels.  I have reached that fatigue point where I don’t need to see, hear or step foot in any building with his name on it ever again.  Who else gets away with insulting the parents of a soldier who died for this country?  The word that comes to mind that describes this whole charade is ‘privilege’.  Let’s leave it at that for now.

Cynical as I’ve become over the years, the Democratic Convention last week was an ‘event.’  It’s already been lost in the shuffle, but you have Kareem Abdul-Jabbar out here cracking jokes?!?  Am I taking crazy pills?!?

Seriously, going in most of us looked at that lineup of speakers and figured Hillary on her best day would still be third (behind the two former Presidents).  Depending on who you felt personally attached to, she might have been seventh (Khan, Biden, Bill, both Obamas, Bernie).  And saying that, I still think she gave the best and most presidential speech I’ve personally ever heard her give.

Whether your problems with Hillary are valid (DNC corruption, Clinton fatigue) or invalid (you’re uncomfortable with the idea of any woman being the leader of the free world), this election she’s the better choice.  For the third presidential election in a row, there is a historical precedent in play, but somewhat unbelievably, the gap that separates the better major party choice is infinitely wider this year than it was in 2008 and 2012.

#ImWithHer

 

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Caitlin, when this thing blows, there isn’t going to be a magazine anymore. If you want to make this about Mike, make it about Mike. I don’t give a shit. You can resent me, you can hate me, but come Monday morning, we’re all going to have to answer for what we let happen here. We’re all going to have an apology to make! Jesus Christ! Don’t you have any idea how much shit we’re about to eat? Every competitor we ever took a shot at, they’re going to pounce. And they should. Because we blew it, Caitlin. He handed us fiction after fiction and we printed them all as fact. Just because… we found him “entertaining.” It’s indefensible. Don’t you know that?

(Shattered Glass, 2003)

If you come here on a regular basis, you know the state I was born.  On the most extreme end of things, there’s the Westboro church, but on the whole it’s not that conservative.   But I don’t think I’m insulting anyone when I say it’s accurate to call Kansas ‘Bob Dole Country.’  Percentage wise, it’s overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly conservative, overwhelmingly Christian (you discount the college towns, KC, and Wichita, and diversity doesn’t really exist).  I’m also reminded now every time I go home, by and large people in Kansas are SUPER friendly and smile and speak to strangers and are generally nice. So don’t make the leap to me saying conservatives are inherently…anything.

I was on the forensics team in high school, and I recall on one of our overnight trips I got into a discussion with one of the guys who was running the Young Republicans (really, again, not an exaggeration).  It certainly wasn’t about recruitment; it wasn’t about tearing each other down either.  It was the debate team: talk me through the logic of your point of view, let me see where we agree and where we disagree, and then I’ll present my side and why I came to my point of view.  All these years later, I couldn’t tell you if we were in Lansing or Leavenworth, but I do remember something he said to me that night that still sticks with me: ‘The older you get, the more conservative you become.’

We were teenagers, I was in the apex of my militancy.  I laughed and laughed.  Never me.

But he was right.

It’s very dependent on where you start from and what values are passed down to you, of course.  But once you start owning property, when you’re not the child but the protector who has to look out for your own children’s best interest; when you get the first pay stub that says ‘Here is what you grossed, here’s all the money the government is taking that you likely will never see again, and here’s what you get to actually take home with you. I’ve seen people genuinely change .1%.  And I’ve seen people BECOME the 1%.  But every adult I know has felt at some point, on some issue, ‘the Government needs to mind their own business on this one.’

So, for those of us who lean in a certain way but who genuinely want to hear both sides make their argument, what’s happened to the Republican Party has been appalling.  Where it’s at now isn’t completely surprising; we’ve watched things gradually move farther away from ‘these are the detailed policies we’re fighting for,’ and more name calling and ‘let’s just shut everything down because we can’t get our way’ for 8 years now.  There was no one single incident, I believe, that changed things from ‘a political party’ to a ‘reality show’.  But it’s outrageous to me that with a four to six year window to plan ahead for the best possible candidate to run for the open Presidency in 2016, the candidate presented by the GOP is someone with no experience in government at any level, and either completely ignorant or arrogamt to the constitutional limitations that every President is bound to.  And yes, the fact that he has a realistic chance of winning is incredibly telling for what people think of the Democratic Party and their candidate.  I have to let them get through their convention before I start throwing daggers their way.

But as many others have expressed this week, I kind of don’t even want to critique her (right now).  Going back to my simpler, teenage train of thought, ‘why is the Republican candidate even running for President?’ Seriously?  Because Obama cracked some jokes on him at a Correspondent’s Dinner?  Or because he wants to make America ‘Great’ Again?  Hear me out.  Successful businessmen are heavily involved in politics all the time.  That’s how these campaigns get funded.  The majority of these people we don’t know by name unless you’re following very closely.  But you can point to Bill Gates or Warren Buffett as men who use their influence to express their politics in one way; you can look at (my fellow Kansans!) the Koch Brothers as men who, up to a few days ago, seemed to have their fingerprints heavily involved in more conservative pursuits. Being the President of the United States would probably be a step down for all these guys, honestly.  So again, why does this ‘successful businessman’ feel that being the leader of the free world is the best way he can use his influence?  Or is it just an ego thing?

Is it?

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Soon to be retired Kobe Bryant said something once I liked. Paraphrasing here, ‘Before you get the ring, they’ll say you’re one of the guys who can’t win the ring.  You get one, they say you can’t get two.  And on and on, so the talk never stops.’ So just focus on the work, knowing people will find some reason to criticize you no matter what you do.

This year, more than any since I first moved to L.A., I really fell in love with ‘the Process’ again.  I wake up every morning with a smile on my face like I used to. Having a year plus of meditation under my belt helps.  I think to be truthful getting burned a few times around the block helped as well.  I don’t have ‘plans’ anymore.  To be clear, I have goals and strategies in place to accomplish the goals.  But we know what God does to plans.  So I always give myself enough flexibility to deal with whatever unexpectedly comes.  I’m more relaxed with this mindset and it shows.

‘Trojan War’ is the gift that keeps on giving.  Having some space now since when it came out, I can digest all the different lessons I took from that experience.  My personal biggest takeaway from that project?  If I can contribute to and be a major part of a ‘dream’ project, without crossing a line I don’t feel comfortable crossing, either as a black man, a Muslim or a generally ethical human being?  Why cross the line on projects that are straightforward jobs?  Why cross the line in life? So everything I’m building and everything that’s coming, you can thank Aaron and ESPN for raising the bar and proving I can do it my way.

Some of you ‘Scandal’ fans became familiar with a line a lot of grew up with: ‘You have to work twice as hard to get half of what they have.’  So with my double minority status, does that mean I have to work four times as hard?  Or, actually, to get everything I want and feel I deserve, eight times as hard to really finish the job?

Challenge accepted.

I’ve never really had a ‘perfect example’ of a single person who’s covered all the bases I try to cover in life (racial, spiritual, professional).  It’s been a huge blessing and a huge curse at times to see no one really filling what I feel is ‘my spot’.  What I have embraced the past year, especially in the climate we live in, is the impossible standard I have to hold myself to, to even have a chance.  I make a genuine mistake, it gets used as proof I ‘don’t deserve the opportunity.’  I get approached sideways, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a genuine competitive threat, or an attempt to pull me down and away from my goals, I always have to take the high road.  Even if human nature would make it obvious I’d be more than willing to handle it another way.  Can’t do it.  Nine times out of ten, I’ll have a lot more to lose by getting involved in every minor slight.  For all intents and purposes, it’s been the progressive removal of my ‘off switch’ in service of something bigger than myself.

So, thanks Obama, for giving me an example to shoot for.

Been a great year, but more to come.

Back next week.

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I fell into this before Oscars week when I posted her covering Michael.  I generally try to space out using the same artist too close together.

BUT…

When you successfully cover my single favorite Stevie song…

In the genre that’s the soundtrack to my life…

In front of the President AND the songwriter…

And kill it so hard I have to watch it 100 times to question ‘Do I like this better than the original?’

Impressive.  Most impressive.

Enjoy!

 

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As someone who literally wore an ‘Angry Black Man’ t-shirt during his college days, I feel uniquely qualified to drop my two cents on this one…

First, here’s the truth about 90 percent of the ‘angry black people’ you see…

Now, I know anger.  My blood has boiled red hot, especially in the younger ‘trying to figure life out and where I fit in’ days (though most of that was frustration).  Like most black folks who know their history, there’s a latent anger in my bones that goes back generations.

But let’s make the distinction: being less playful/serious at times is NOT the same as being angry.

Exhibit A (as in Aziz): You’re reading him.

Exhibit B (as in Barack): he lives in the White House for 2 more years.

I don’t believe this will happen (he’ll still have way too much political capital if he doesn’t have the same political power), but I would love to hear Obama admit how many times hourly/daily/weekly he wanted to absolutely ream somebody, but like every brother alive he knows he has to be VERY smart and careful about when he chooses to show his teeth so to speak and be threatening.

(Because even when we’re not trying, we know the idea of being threatening can be fatal.  No, not covering that again today, not specifically.  Just a reminder.)

How is this resolved?  I believe this is one of those ‘not in my lifetime’ solutions, but I also said that about a black President of the United States.  Saying it more on the nose, (one of the positives of) information becoming more democratic is that slooooooowly not just the artists but everyone being a little more available to each other breaks down preconceptions faster.  One of the things I already admire about the kids who are coming up behind me is there seems to be a higher demand to be your authentic self to fit in, than to fit in under false pretense and be exposed as a phony after the fact. That could very well be an L.A./Hollywood thing though.

So we understand each other?  Good!

(Just don’t make me angry.  You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry…)

 

Big Words

 

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Now streaming on Netflix is Big Words, the feature writing and directing debut of Neil Drumming.  Taking place on the eve of President Obama’s first election, the story traces the path of three friends (played by Dorian Missick, Gbenga Akinnagbe, and Darien Sills-Evans respectively) who were once a prominent rap group, but now in their 30s have each carved separate lives for themselves.  As the story plays out, we spend time with each of the brothers, watching them attempt to put their past lives behind them (at least the two MCs seem to be trying to), and get little hints here and there as to why (which I won’t give away here for those who haven’t seen the film yet).

The major cast is rounded out by Yaya Alafia as the love interest of the title character, a cute, down to earth homegirl who lives hip hop. I’m especially biased here as someone who spent a good portion of the Golden Age rocking XXXL jeans and Triple Fat Goose coats in 100 degree weather, but still, I think she nailed her part.  The film is a quiet character study about people growing up and growing apart, which is life, but set in this still relatively untouched world, it’s a pleasant (and quick) hour and half film aimed at my generation.