I write about culture from a pro-Black perspective

Burden of Representation or a Structural Problem in Hollywood?

Adam Thompson of the great Shadow and Act asks:

So here’s the $64,000 question: Isn’t performance, rather than race, the true representation? When a talented actor delivers a masterful performance and creates an indelible character, does it matter if the role was “negative” or saccharine sweet? Should Washington and other actors of color be forced to play some variation of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life throughout their careers? Do they not “represent” by showing that we can be good, bad and everything in between while neither confirming hard stereotypes or slipping into caricature (see The Wire)? Does bad always mean bad, and does it reflect on our race as much as some believe?

I’ve grown as weary as I think most black people have of the burden of representation. I’m not interested in holding actors to a standard of bettering the race or not embarrassing black people in front of white audiences.

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Posted on December 6th, 2012 - Filed under Film,Television
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Telling Our Own Stories, Black People

Khalil Kain

Khalil Kain, late of the brilliant television show Girlfriends, has a fascinating interview on Ebony.com promoting his new role in the classic 1970s Negro Ensemble Company play, The Great MacDaddy.

I was struck most by this exchange:

EBONY: How do you feel about Black theater and Black film right now? Do you feel like it’s growing?

KK: What African-American film? What African-American theater? I just watched Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway and Daphne Rubin-Vega, Nicole Ari Parker, Wood Harris, these are people that I know personally, ripped it, it was all good. I love the production, but it’s still Tennessee Williams. It’s still not ours.  So now, as opposed to Blackface, it’s Black folks up there doing White work. And I love the opportunity to kind of do a classic piece like that, but at the same time there is a whole bunch of stuff that we already have. Can we do some of that? Paul Carter Harrison is the man. He’s one of those old heads that we have to tap into, because he has so much knowledge. That’s one of the reasons I took the job; the chance to sit next to the man and get up in his head for a little bit and see what I can take away. That’s how it use to go down. We use to learn from our elders, and we don’t do that anymore. I think it’s a huge mistake.

EBONY: Why do you think everybody should go see The Great MacDaddy?

KK: The play is hugely relevant and its part of African-American history. I don’t want to even get into culture because, really, what is our culture as African-Americans? This young man I met in the street, probably in his late 20s, asked me, “So you’re doing plays? Why you doing plays?” And I’m like, “You need to come check it out.” He’s like, “Why would I go?” And I was like, “To get some culture up in you! What does culture mean to you?” He was like, “Culture is annoying.” I was like, “Wow, how do you define where you come from?” He was like, “I know who I am.” I didn’t want to ask. I was just like, “alright bro.” That’s where we’re at now.

I think what Kain is getting at here is really quite remarkable because I don’t feel like we hear enough Black artists articulating forthrightly – Paul Carter Harrison is the man – that to do our own shit is valuable in and of itself. And that we lose something when we don’t.

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Posted on December 4th, 2012 - Filed under Culture,Film,Television
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The Wonderful Deepening of Kaldrick King

Andra Fuller as Kaldrick King

Andra Fuller as Kaldrick King

It was while watching Episode 3 of Season 2 that I began to realize that Kaldrick King, played with remarkable focus and depth by the phenomenally talented Andra Fuller, was quite simply the most complex and truly human black homosexual male character ever on television.

Kal throws a party, hiding his pain and anguish in plain sight, when Infinite Jest, a young upstart rapper played by Steven James, challenges his throne. The rap battle between the two men provided the show with the opportunity to underline the fact that Kaldrick King is a performance, a ferocious character that is suffocating the real man even as it is quite literally the only thing he has left. It’s no surprise it takes him a second to drop the pose long enough to stop the beat down of Infinite Jest. Moving in and out of Kaldrick King is just getting harder and harder to do.

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Posted on September 7th, 2012 - Filed under Sexuality,Television
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On Monifah and White Construction of Sexuality

This AfterEllen (the lesbian sister site to the gay AfterElton) interview of R&B singer Monifah is a perfect example of how the largely white constructs of “gay” and “lesbian” don’t really fit black homosexual people.

AE: I want to talk about the past and I want to talk about now. Did you ever fear being outed back when you were 23, recording your first album?
MC:
 Lindsey, hell no. No! Let me tell you this: I have always lived my life authentically and exactly how I wanted to. I was dating women. People in the industry were very aware of who I was and what I was into at that point. They knew. I never hid it. I didn’t hide it.

AE: Who hid it? I mean, you weren’t out publicly.
MC:
 No! I was out publicly. I would be at parties with my girlfriend. It was very clear. It may be unspoken, but I didn’t feel like I needed to make an announcement. I just lived! You know what I’m saying? I just lived! Like most people I know.

AE: Absolutely. Well have you ever dated anyone that was in the closet?
MC:
 Um — I don’t think — no. In the closet? No. I wouldn’t say in the closet.

AE: What would you call it?
MC:
 Not in the closet, but not necessarily making any public statements.

AE: I guess that’s my question then.
MC:
 [Laughs] What’s your question?

AE: If you are a celebrity and you are gay and you are asked “Are you gay?” by press and media and you choose not to discuss it, to me and to a lot of people, that is in the closet.
MC:
 OK, got it, got it!

AE: So I guess that’s the divide. Do you feel that living an openly gay life or being open and honest, that there is a line drawn at press and media?
MC:
 Well yes because that’s still a personal thing. Your personal life is your personal life. Heterosexual couples do it all the time. Men and women that are in the business or whatever — whatever they choose to do! I am gonna say with entertainers and people in the public eye, I think that it’s a personal choice. I don’t discredit — I don’t have a problem with anyone not discussing certain aspects of their personal lives at all. It doesn’t bother me. What I chose to do was what I chose to do was because I never had an issue anyway. The show was about my life, and my life emcompasses the person I love and who I’m sharing my life with, which means my mom, my daughter, my girlfriend now, and whatever else is going on! I’m in a place where I’m walking in transparency. I’ve been through some struggles and I have nothing — you’re as sick as your secrets. I mean that in the things that can harm us — not with my sexuality; I mean drug addiction, sex addiction, things like that. I have to walk the truth. And so I was fine with sharing my personal relationship, which has uplifted me and given me a great new perspective and has given me such great support. This woman has been such a blessing to me and so I would never even think twice about celebrating that openly.

AE: You talked earlier about how everyone deserves the same rights. And I think that is something we all have to stand up for and I can tell by the way that you’re talking you believe that. So how do you feel about role models. You say it’s a personal choice but if we are fighting for equal rights —
MC:
 Right, I agree. Let me back up on this Lindsey, I got you. I do wish that it wasn’t such a big deal but I think that’s still, again, a private and personal thing. Because I think people are conflicted within themselves. It’s not even about what other people think; I think that’s the second door you have to open. The first door, is the acceptance of self. So if you’re still conflicted with acceptance of self, how do we expect for you to be honest and feel comfortable? I wish people really — it’s a scary thing. I get it, I’ve done it. I’m doing it. It’s an everyday process. It’s not some “Oh now it’s over.” I wish that people would take those steps and move out of the self-loathing pocket and more into the self-acceptance pocket. Once you’re not conflicted within yourself, speak out because this needs to be normalized. It has to stop. We do need to see these images of self. These children do need to see that there’s nothing wrong with them. They do need to see that so-and-so is amazing, talented and is taking over the world, handling his business and so can I. And they’re just like me! We need to see these images. Our children need to see them.

AE: Absolutely. Did anyone ever tell you, even though you were living an open life, did they say you might not want to speak publicly about your sexuality?
MC:
 Oh yeah, all the homophobes in the business. Yeah, oh my God, yes! Mostly everybody who was in control, who runs the industry. It’s a male-run industry, basically. And in my opinion, a gay-male run industry. That’s crazy to me. Overall! It’s Jewish gay males, right? I mean, am I crazy? [Laughs]

AE: No, I think what you’ve seen what you’ve seen, for sure! [Laughs] I think it’s really important to understand the reasons why that someone as famous as you, nobody knew until now!
MC:
 Yeah. I do think that Middle America, across the board, may not have known, but the people that are kind of privy and in the circle you run in – I’ve hung out at Girl Bar parties. I’ve lived my life! And I didn’t really — People would say “Oh she likes girls” especially now with blogs and stuff. It’s way more prevalent with social media and technology is more prevalent; way more in your face. In the entertainment industry, it’s become such a tool. It was definitely out there. People can believe what they like to believe and that’s depends on what they need to believe.

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Posted on September 1st, 2012 - Filed under Music,Sexuality,Television
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Racializing Male Violence: Chad Ochocinco and VH1

My good friend Alyssa has a post up about VH1’s decision to pull Chad Ochocinco’s reality show with his wife, Evelyn Lozada, after reports of Ochocinco beating up his wife.

But in comparing Charlie Sheen and Ochocinco, Alyssa makes the wrong conclusion:

Johnson is hardly a money machine like Charlie Sheen, so the decision to drop him isn’t as painful to the network as it would be for the networks of the world to collectively and permanently turn their backs on that particular member of the Estevez clan. But still, it costs money to shoot a show and then shelve it. I’m glad that for now, VH1 isn’t interested in peddling that fantasy, and is willing to take the hit on the show.

I get that Alyssa is trying to make what she probably thinks is a larger point about VH1’s willingness to take a financial hit. But she fails to actually interrogate why it will take that hit — race — and in doing so, gives VH1 more credit than it deserves.

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Posted on August 15th, 2012 - Filed under Television
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