I got a hypochondriac flow that get real ill, get nauseous to the beat, I spit sick at will.

Fixing ‘The Boondocks” Huey Freeman Problem

I, like a lot of people of my generation, am excited that The Boondocks is returning because it remains one of the sharpest examples of satire in modern pop culture. And I’m excited to see what cultural moments from the last four years (since Season Three aired) Aaron McGruder will work into the show.

UPDATE 3/28/14: Apparently, McGruder is no longer involved with the show and was not involved in the creation of the upcoming 4th season. I wrote this before that information was available. I hope he still owns the rights. Read his explanation here.

But the one thing I really want him to do is recognize that there’s a problem at the center of the show: Huey Freeman.

Huey, by virtue of being the show’s most passive, reactive character, has all but receded into the background in favor of the more flamboyant active characters like Riley and Uncle Ruckus. This, despite the fact that he’s ostensibly the lead character (e.g. the trailer above).

In the strips, that was sort of the point since the satire in the strips was always deeply rooted in Huey’s observations about the world around him (particularly his brother and the people in Woodcrest). But The Boondocks TV show is different, as Aaron McGruder has found by building out the world around Riley (with the addition of Ed Wuncler III, Gin Rummy, Gangstalicious, and Thugnificent) and Granddad (Uncle Ruckus and the DuBois family).

But Huey is frequently adrift in episodes where he’s not the protagonist (especially Riley-centric stories) and damn near silent in ones where he’s the driving force (i.e. “It’s a Black President, Huey Freeman”).

If Huey is to regain the power he had in the strips and truly move to the forefront of the show, McGruder has to build out the world around Huey as well.

And there’s a way to do this:



Posted on March 19th, 2014 - Filed under Television
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My 13 Favorite Pop Culture Moments of 2013

I don’t have a long preamble for this. This list is just my way of trying to pull together a lot of disparate pop culture moments that struck me in some profound way during the year. I think the more you engage with pop culture the more it can feel like you’re always having the same conversations, with the same people, in the same way. So when something disrupts that monotony, frustrates the dominant ways we think and talk about our relationship to one another, I think it’s important.

Here are the 13 moments this year that made me sit up and look at the world just a little bit differently.

 



Posted on December 31st, 2013 - Filed under Best of 2013,Culture,Film,Music,Television
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On J. August Richards’ Webseries, ‘The Hypnotist': Black People and Science Fiction

I’m struck by the fact that the great J. August Richards is developing a sci-fi webseries, The Hypnotist, featuring black people that seems to center blackness.

“…African hypnosis. It was essentially lost during the slave trade, but goes back thousands of years.”

I’ve had many a conversation about why it is so uncommon for Black folks who have money to explore science fiction; and how this limits the kinds of stories that black people have access to and how it limits black people’s ability to see themselves as expansively as they could. There has yet to be an adaptation of an Octavia Butler or Tananarive Due novel and yet we make a fair number of romantic comedies, comedies centered around a black comedian, hood tales, and Black American historical epics.

The Hypnotist posterSo good on J. that The Hypnotist seems to not only be a science fiction story but one that plays with blackness and Africanness. This is a teaser so one can’t know how deeply these themes will be explored, but I’m struck by the fact that this 50-second trailer so forthrightly names blackness, Africanness, and slavery. That. is. just. dope.

The question then is: how will this all work?

I’m wondering if The Hypnotist will be a play on Egyptian doctor Imhotep’s “temple sleep” and if part of what is explored is this notion of reconnecting to that subconscious Africanness that was erased by white supremacy and centuries in North America. There is a lot of subtextual room to play here that I think could give the show some deeper resonance that is specific to the Black American experience and psyche.

These are big questions, to be sure. We shall see just what J. has in store.



Posted on June 10th, 2013 - Filed under Film,Television
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On Beyoncé’s HBO Documentary, ‘Life Is But A Dream’

beyonce-life-is-but-a-dream-cover

I just finished watching Beyoncé’s documentary, Life Is But A Dream, and I think what I was most struck by is an overwhelming sense that vulnerability is hard for this young woman because she’s trying to live up to an impossible ideal.

I didn’t get the sense that she wasn’t interested in being truly vulnerable so much as unpracticed at  it. I have this profound sense that this is a 31-year old woman who has never allowed herself, or been allowed, to feel deeply.

So this film is an exercise I think in watching Beyoncé learn to be vulnerable. There’s that moment where she says, almost surprising herself, that she can’t do it alone. Or the way she conveyed more deeply the hurt she feels that people would think she would fake a pregnancy than she does relating what it must have been like to have had a miscarriage. 

And then there’s that moment early on when she’s talking about how hard she worked for her father’s approval and how he withheld it, presumably to make her into the very thing she is: this hyper-poised star. This is the most revealing, honest and vulnerable moment in the entire film precisely because I think it cuts to the core, for me, of who Beyoncé is as a figure and a person.

And it helps me understand her vocal approach – the very thing that for me makes her such a frustratingly disappointing artist to listen to. So much talent, but such a profound inability to connect to the emotion of whatever it is she’s singing*. We see her singing “Listen” and “Resentment” and I know it’s supposed to be deep emotion, but it’s not. It’s Beyoncé trying to approximate what she thinks it must feel or sound like, or more accurately, willing herself to get there.

For the first time, I feel genuine empathy and sadness for what it must be like to be Beyoncé. It is just for reasons different than I expected.

 

*There are exceptions of course, “Speechless,” “Lay Up Under Me,” “Crazy Feelings” – and yes through sheer force of will, “Resentment” – chief among them.



Posted on February 18th, 2013 - Filed under Music,Television
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Race, Ethnicity, and ‘The Vampire Diaries’

In a fairly inoffensive, if silly, roundtable discussion post on AfterElton about The CW’s brilliant, The Vampire Diaries, this jumped out at me:

There’s yet to be much of a gay presence on the show. (Sorry folks, Caroline’s deceased Dad doesn’t cut it). Do you think a gay vamp making all sorts of snappy one-liners about the pretty boys in Mystic Falls would be a good thing?

Robyn Ross: I love that the show often blissfully ignores race, ethnicity, etc. because these kids have a lot more to worry about than those kinds of social issues. But sexual orientation (and sex in general) is such a huge part of the show that I think taking on a handsome gay vampire could add a lot to the mix. And let’s be honest, the banter between him and Damon would be priceless.

Because race and ethnicity are “social issues” one has to “worry about?” Wait…what?

Race and ethnicity should be central to creating character, particularly if you’re going to have a diverse cast, as The Vampire Diaries does. And so this is the one area of the show that drives me fucking crazy.

bonnie-bennett-profile

Bonnie, one of the all-powerful Bennett witches

I mean, this is a show that is set in Virginia, with frequent flashbacks to antebellum South and constant celebrations of antebellum Southern culture that conspicuously sidesteps the fact that that period was defined by American chattel slavery. This is a show that nearly always casts black actors to play witches but provides no mythological reason for this even though it’s clear that the producers are consciously deciding to always. every. single. time. cast a black actor as a witch.

Not even for the Bennett witches, who are central to the show’s mythology.

But here’s the thing? The vampire Katherine Pierce, who is also central to the show’s mythology played by lead actress Nina Dobrev, is Bulgarian because Dobrev is Bulgarian and speaks the language fluently.

The show’s producers are aware enough of Dobrev’s ethnicity to not only reference it in the show, but also make use of it (via Dobrev speaking the language in flashbacks), but there can be no indication in the show at all that the black actors are playing black characters with history, ethnicity and perspective.

In other words, race and ethnicity aren’t ignored, blissfully or otherwise. Just blackness.



Posted on February 3rd, 2013 - Filed under Television,Uncategorized
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