Oprah Winfrey’s Butlers – Lee Daniels and Tyler Perry

Oprah Winfrey’s Butlers – Lee Daniels and Tyler Perry


AUGUST 21, 2013

I have a knot in my heart. It was in my throat, it moved along. Eventually, I am sure it will suffocate me if I don’t get this out. Black women, listen, we’ve got to stand up. We need to be mad as hell and not take it anymore.

Please indulge me because I am, admittedly, angry. And, before anyone starts rolling their eyes, I am not an angry black woman (whatever the fuck that is). I put compassion and understanding at the center of all things. Having survived sexual abuse as a child. And, rape as an adult, I have a right to be angry. But, no, I have decided that compassion is essential if I am to walk amongst humans. Because human beings do some foul shit.

The first person I encountered outside of the theater, as I went in to see ‘The Butler’, was a young black woman with a dishrag in her hand. She waited, patiently, for the men to exit the toilets so she could clean the bathroom. People like this woman and the butler have not been on black folk’s agenda for decades. So, why now? Is it simply a good story, provides a good arc and has potential for an Oscar run?

I watched Oprah’s talk show, continuously, for many years. Struggling after film school, I watched one of her home makeover shows. On the show, a lamp was apart of the makeover. She said something along the lines of “If you can’t afford this lamp, you are not doing something right.” The lamp was $20. I couldn’t afford it. And, I was one of those black people who had done everything right. I also thought about my family, in rural North Carolina, that lived in a trailer. At 23, I went to find my father’s family. They knew nothing about me (this is a story for another day). Anyway, fearless, I wanted to know this side of my family.

One cousin lived in a trailer. Children were everywhere. I mean, everywhere. And, the women were, what is considered, dark, overweight and opinionated.  At 4pm, all of the women and children gathered around the television. I wondered what was going on. I asked what was coming on. “Oprah”, my cousin said. She then gave me a side eye and asked, “You got any children?” I knew a ‘no’ was going to bring harsh judgment. But, I gripped the couch and, barely, uttered the word, “No.” Oprah’s show began, thank goodness. No one in that room, in full support of and offering unconditional love to Oprah, could afford that lamp.

We cannot underestimate her influence on American culture. We cannot yet determine how her presence has impacted the landscape. Unlike my mother’s generation, I grew up hearing conversations about child molestation, abuse against women, all of the things that remained in the shadows for centuries. Oprah brought all of that to the center of the conversation. She made it visible. In this regard, she is a heroine of the highest order. To speak, in spite of the shame that sexual violation rains upon you, is serious. And, she did it before the world. And, she did it in triumph.

I watched Oprah’s performance in ‘The Butler’ and I thought about her ‘lamp’ statement. I wondered if the character she portrayed could have afforded that lamp. Would that lamp have been a priority for her character? And, yes, probably. The film is an homage to the middle class. It honors hard work, discipline, loyalty to family, black men who put family before “running the streets”. Unfortunately, we are never inside of the Butler’s head. We don’t experience what he thinks or feels about the unique situation he is in. This is a script issue. The writer didn’t see the world through his eyes.

I am not anti-‘The Butler’. I do not feel that ‘The Butler’ is the male version of the ‘The Help’. I do think Lee Daniels is thoughtful about his work. I do think he has an agenda. What that is, I don’t know. I think the Butler’s story is a moving one. Do I think Lee pulled it off in this film, no. I think it is Lee’s best film to date. So far, he has directed ‘Precious’ and ‘Shadow Boxer’. You can determine if this being his “best film” is significant in light of his track record.

I am, however, anti-Precious. The film was exaggerated horror and poverty pornography. Like Sapphire, I knew the population that she worked with. I, too, worked with girls in group homes. Girls that have survived unthinkable horrors. And, let me tell you, like Oprah, they are some of the most creative, complex and extraordinary girls on the planet. I have known girls that got their heads bashed into the sidewalk by their mother and could dress up in a fierceness that would shame a Parisian runway. Trauma does not equal despair, fatigue or isolation. Depression is not the only result.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was in consideration to write the screenplay for ‘Push’. Ultimately, Lee made his choice. And, it would have been a much different movie had I penned it. But, I went to see it with an open mind and heart, hoping the best for Lee Daniels. Because, in my eyes, black representation trumps all. It is not about me, it is about the images that, ultimately, wind up on the screen. And, to me, Precious was beyond disappointing. But, you see, it received “the stamp” from Sundance, etc. A stamp that was misplaced because white liberals wouldn’t know an “authentic” black narrative if it hit them in the face. It is easier to accept the idea that black people are depraved, grotesque and horrifying than to understand our nuance. But, Lee Daniels got what he wanted- a platform for his demons.

Where am I going with this? Here. And, perhaps you can help me. For the life of me, I cannot understand why Ms. Winfrey supports black filmmakers whose work denigrates black women. Yes, I am referring to Tyler Perry and Lee Daniels. Help me to understand this. Madea?! Madea. Really?!

Now, mind you, I have had to make sense of Madea for myself. Clearly, black people are underrepresented in cinema. Elderly black women, especially. Church going women as well. I get it. There is an emotional connection to the “idea” of Madea that black people may be responding to. Unfortunately, it is hyperbolic and exaggerated. Kind of like Precious, but, the opposite. I’ve watched Tyler Perry’s stage shows on youtube. Only because I needed to understand what people were watching. Okay, I get it. Where in American culture, are you going to hear someone crooning Vandross or Phil Perry? There is an emotional connection, a validation of experience in Tyler Perry’s work that folks can’t get elsewhere.

And, I believe in freedom of expression. So, here’s mine. We have to expect better. We have to do better. We have to stop making a joke out of black women. We have to stop looking at black women as the shrew. Which is what Oprah was in the butler. Oprah was in a Tennessee Williams play while everyone else was in the movie ‘The Butler’. Oprah appears to be angling so hard for an Oscar that she cut off from the rest of the cast and did her own thing. The moments where she showed serious chops were when she was in step with the cast.

Oprah was in a film where the two lead black women were foul (although Yaya DaCosta was a beautiful representation of a black woman from that period). Lee, ultimately, maligned Yaya’s character. He built up this amazing black woman only to undercut all that he had done in one, ridiculous, moment. The two women then go on to detest one another. The black men in the film, however, take care of each other.

Honestly, the best thing about ‘The Butler’, well, other than Forest Whitaker’s sublime performance, was the camaraderie of the black men. That was a thing of beauty. And, it was good to see a relationship between a black man and a black woman that unfolded over time. But, honestly, for most of the film, I wondered why the butler was with such a, glaringly, haunted woman. It made no sense. Oprah’s character could have been sister to the mother in Precious. Did Oprah and Mo’nique share the same acting coach? Oprah has gifts that are unique to her that were not called upon. Oprah’s charm, wit and intellect are her light. Blinded by trinkets like ‘The Oscar’, we got regurgitated Mo’nique.

Why is Oprah supporting these “filmmakers” who have shown very little respect for black women? Is the dream of ‘the Oscar’ and the cash flow all that important? Perhaps it is. As Oprah stated, she still has dreams. One of them, it seems, is to get an Oscar. And, let me tell you, these black folks are going to get that Oscar if it kills them. Even if they have to pay for it. That’s cool, that’s the marketplace. But, in the midst of the journey, can we show some love to black women? Oprah knows our story. Oprah is aware of the particular pains that black women experience. Is it fair to burden her with “proper representation”? No, I am not asking for that. I love drama. I love haunted characters. I believe in exalted drama. It is possible to work with people who write the hell out of the black experience with sensitivity and depth. Find them! Ms. Winfrey, have a black woman write the Henrietta Lacks story because NO ONE, NO ONE, will write her life like a black woman writer. A black woman who understands what it is to be violated in the most intimate regions of our being.

Recently, a friend sent a video interview to me. In the interview, Oprah asks Tyler Perry (of all people), “Why is it, that you think, Hollywood doesn’t see a consistent space for roles for black women?”  The real question is, why don’t you two see a consistent space for talented black women writers and filmmakers? That’s the question. Why aren’t you all employing and lifting us up?! Black women will flock to the theaters if Oprah began to create portraits of black women that sing us true. The way to make this happen is to hire black women to tell our fucking stories. And, if you don’t know where to find us ask Lee Daniels, he knows.

As we prepare for the 50th anniversary of the ‘March on Washington’ let us all remember, ain’t nobody cared about the butler or the woman cleaning the toilets -for generations. The Black 1% has to learn to lift up all black folks -not just the ones whose stories have the potential to garner an Oscar or a bright new shiny lamp.


Follow Tanya Steele on Twitter at @digtanya. Or on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SteeleInk. Or visit digtanya.com.

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The Oscars, Quvenzhané & The C-Word

The Oscars, Quvenzhané & The C-Word

  on Feb 26, 2013

By Tracy Clayton



I watched every piece of the Oscars Sunday night, from pre-shows to the very end, which means that I was in front of my television for roughly 23 hours.  My viewing experience began in anger and fury, and it ended the very same way.  And thanks to some despicable behavior from the internet, that anger and fury is persisting hours after the show has ended.

It began when I heard Ryan Seacrest say that “they” (meaning, I assume, he and his E! red carpet cohorts) had decided to call Quvenzhané Wallis, the 9-year-old dynamo nominated for her role in Beasts of the Southern Wild, “Little Q” instead of her actual name.  Here’s a quick breakdown of the problems with this:

1.  That isn’t her name.
2.  To my knowledge, neither Quvenzhané nor her family OK’d this nickname.
3.  That nickname wasn’t given to her out of love or adoration; it was given out of discomfort and a need to control what they deemed as “other” in society.

Naming and names are important because they are entwined in our identities and the ownership of us and our bodies.  We name things that belong to us.  We name our children.  We name our pets.  We name our cars and our plants and our stuffed animals and even our hair.  The act of naming and/or re-naming something is absolutely about power and control, and this is something that slave owners knew very well–a standard practice in “seasoning” and “breaking” a slave was assigning them Anglo-Saxon names.  This established that those men and women were, without a doubt, property of their purchasers, and completely severed them from the identities they knew.  Further, the names that were assigned to enslaved black men and women were often diminutive versions of common names–Billy instead of William; Donnie instead of Donald.  These were verbal reminders that you were not a whole man or a whole woman, that you were not fully human.  And when that wasn’t enough, they were stripped of those names and called “boy” or “gal,” because acknowledging a person’s self-approved name is to acknowledge the humanity in someone.

This is still the function of naming, and precisely why the insistence on not learning how to prounounce Quvenzhané’s name is so problematic and outright offensive.

The erasure of Quvenzhané’s name is an attempt, consciously or unconsciously, to step around and contain her blackness.  Yes, sometimes black people have names that are difficult to pronounce.  There aren’t many people of European descent named Shaniqua or Jamal.  Names are as big a cultural marker as brown skin and kinky hair, and there has long been routine backlash against both of those things (see: perms, skin bleaching creams, etc.).   This insistence on not using Quvenzhané’s name is an extension of that “why aren’t you white?” backlash.

Calling Quvenzhané “Little Q” is a lazy way to keep from having to deal with the discomfort that race causes.  It is easier to be colorblind, to simply turn a blind eye to the differences that have torn this nation apart for centuries than it is to wade through those choppy waters.  And Quvenzhané’s very existence is enough to make the societal majority uncomfortable.  She is talented, successful, beautiful, happy, loved, and adored–all things that many people don’t figure that little black girls with “black” names could, or should, be.  Their answer?  Let’s make her more palatable.  If she insists on not fitting the mold of the ghetto hoodrat associated with women with “urban” names, let’s take her own urban name away from her.

Refusing to learn how to pronounce Quvenzhané’s name says, pointedly, you are not worth the effort.  The problem is not that she has an unpronounceable name, because she doesn’t.  The problem is that white Hollywood, from Ryan Seacrest to the AP reporter who decided to call her “Annie” rather than her real name, doesn’t deem her as important as, say, Renee Zellwegger, or Zach Galifinakis, or Arnold Schwarzenegger, all of whom have names that are difficult to pronounce–but they manage.  The message sent is this:  you, young, black, female child, are not worth the time and energy it will take me to learn to spell and pronounce your name. You will be who and what I want you to be; you be be who and what makes me more comfortable.  I will allow you to exist and acknowledge that existence, but only on my terms.


– See more at: http://uptownmagazine.com/2013/02/the-oscars-quvenzhane-the-c-word/#sthash.VMIh9xPr.dpuf

The Limitations of Rebellion in “Django Unchained” l

The Limitations of Rebellion in “Django Unchained”

Jennifer Epps's picture
by Jennifer Epps | February 24, 2013

The spirited antebellum western Django Unchained is nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture, and it could win for Quentin Tarantino’s screenplay and for Christoph Waltz’s supporting performance as bounty-hunter Dr. King Schultz. (It has won in these categories at the Golden Globes and at the BAFTAs.) Indeed, the script is clever and compelling, with moments that induce giddy delight – like the fact that a notorious, lethal plantation is ironically named “Candieland”, and like the way Django makes known that “the ‘d’ is silent” in his name. These are interwoven with scenes of gripping, slowly-mounting tension. Also, it is true that Waltz is endlessly enjoyable as a wryly articulate, understated assassin. Though not nominated, Jamie Foxx also adds a great deal to the film’s strengths, being undeniably charismatic as the proud, sharp-shooting titular slave who turns the tables on his oppressors, while Leonardo DiCaprio steps outside his normal range of positive role models and portrays cruel, wrathful plantation owner Calvin Candie with surprising gusto. And in a classic, inspired bit of Tarantino casting, Don Johnson puts in a cameo as a genteel, paternalistic slave-owner (whose minions carry out the brutal side of slave-owning while he dresses in white).

There is much that the movie does very well. Most importantly, the fact that Django single-handedly takes on the apparatus of slavery feels thrillingly subversive. Django’s resourcefulness, strength, and sense of dignity are immensely appealing. Though there has been much controversy over Tarantino’s prolific use of the n-word (110 times during the movie, it is reported) the iconography of a heroic, brooding Django who simmers with moral outrage until the time is right to boil over is ultimately much stronger than the word is. We are all encouraged to identify with the iconic, brave Django, to want to be like him, to leave the theater thinking “I am Django” — to paraphrase the famous “I am Spartacus” line in Dalton Trumbo’s 1960 slave revolt epic.

But as political philosophy, Django Unchained is the opposite of Spartacus. Tarantino is fully committed to the Western movie trope of the stoic lone gunfighter. His hero, like the Western archetype, faces down a horde of villains, dispenses justice, and then, ever self-sufficient, rides off into the picturesque sunset. In this case, he takes his beloved (Kerry Washington), but it is still likely that they are going to live on the edge of society. For one thing, Django’s going to have to go into hiding after all he has done.

Though Tarantino shows plenty of horrors in the system of slavery, making it clear that power over other human beings was maintained by savage violence, he celebrates the rugged individualist principles of the Western genre above all; when Django and his lady ride off together, it doesn’t seem to matter to them that, in the larger world, that system is still in place and slaves all over the South are still suffering.

Tarantino really has no interest in the collective action that forms the backbone of the slave revolt in the sword-and-sandal epic Spartacus. None of the slaves inDjango are inspired by the titular character to throw off their own chains. (An astonished chain-gang at the beginning of Django does decide to gain freedom by killing the slave-trader transporting them, but it is white Dr. Schultz who gives them that option.) Instead, pampered house slaves continue business as usual even after their master is gone; when they do eventually flee, it is because Django forces them to – and they look just as foolish running in their layers of petticoats as the landed gentry would. The slave women of Candieland are almost all depicted as courtesans – they dislike seeing male slaves murdered in front of them, but like gangsters’ molls, they accept it with an averted glance. Even the talented Washington is in the movie just to motivate Django with her beauty and fragility; her dialogue consists almost entirely of shrieking and crying over her abuses by whites. Though she is described as willful, we never get to see her will in action. She just waits passively and admiringly while Django wages his “unconventional and asymmetrical warfare” alone.

Understandably, Django cares more about his wife than he does about other slaves. His romantic quest to rescue her provides an urgent throughline to the movie, and is overtly likened to the German legend of Siegfried and Brunhild. But this mission also brings out a kind of selfishness in Django. His first use of his new freedom is to strike back against wicked plantation overseers who are whipping a young female slave, but Schultz warns him that his wrath isn’t strategic. If he’s going to save his Brunhild, he has to play it cool and make sure he doesn’t cause trouble, no matter what he sees done to his brethren in front of him. In essence: to get what he wants for himself and his wife, Django has to betray his race. (It is worth noting that Schultz the reserved diplomat isn’t constrained by the same caution. When he explodes in moral indignation, Django and Broomhilda are on the threshold of freedom, and he recklessly destroys their chances.)

Spike Lee took issue with Django Unchained sight unseen because he didn’t think Tarantino could present slavery with sufficient gravitas. In my opinion, the fact that Tarantino tackled such a serious subject actually ought to be applauded, since it shows some personal growth, but it’s true that all that Tarantino panache and effervescence really ends up just in the service of entertainment, of mere diversion. And this is not too much of a surprise considering who made the film.

It was during Pulp Fiction that I began to suspect that Tarantino was not going to be the kind of director he seemed to be in Reservoir Dogs. When hit men John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson were talking and a loose gesture with a pistol accidentally killed their back-seat passenger – and the audience guffawed – it occurred to me that Tarantino might not be interested in using his gifts, which are obviously prodigious, for a very serious purpose. And I realized that I couldn’t relate to the way he found movie violence so supremely amusing. Little did I know how high the body count would climb as his career went on.

The complexity and intensity of the bond between the Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth characters in Reservoir Dogs had been deeply moving – at the time, it seemed like Tarantino was going to make movies about human beings. It’s true that Pulp Fiction also had some of those strong relationships between characters – its assets weren’t only its boldness, wit, sense of fun, and structural ingenuity. By Kill Bill,however, he seemed to lose interest in genuine characters and in the human condition. He seemed more intrigued by aerodynamics (of bullets, swords, etc.) than by psychodynamics.

And so he ends up with Django Unchained, a film about an enduring American shame – and a film that frequently lacks insight. The bounty-hunter subplot aligns the picture early on with the Western genre; conveniently hooks Dr. Schultz up with Django; and provides a slave, who would otherwise have no marksmanship opportunities, with the training he needs to become an avenger. It also lets Tarantino have scenes of violence in the pre-plantation half of the movie without alienating audience sympathy from Schultz. This erudite German calmly announces himself as “an officer of the court” and assures us and whoever on-screen will listen that the people he kills deserve to die because it has been so decreed. Schultz comes across as a good guy, an enlightened free-thinker – he abhors slavery, he is willing to share Django’s quest to liberate Broomhilda from bondage, and he knows that novelist Alexandre Dumas’ grandmother was an Afro-Caribbean slave. But he also seems to have absolute trust in law and order, far beyond his appreciation of the money he collects from bounties. The movie doesn’t contradict this faith, either; while being trained as a sniper, Django dispatches, from a great distance, a farmer peacefully sowing his fields — because he is a ‘wanted man’. It looks not unlike a drone strike, but neither Django nor Schultz have any misgivings about whether the ‘intelligence’ on him is accurate.

This is odd, since Tarantino otherwise shows the society to be fundamentally corrupt and unjust. Not only did the society consider some human beings property, it was also rife with many other examples of oppression — unmentioned in the film — such as a centuries-long genocide against Native Americans; the disenfranchisement of women, slaves, and wage laborers; and a system that abused the workforce while it bucked up the railroad and mining companies. It is unlikely that those laws which Schultz prosecutes with such reasonableness and deadly aim were only used to target legitimate criminals like stagecoach robbers. Considering how much of the process was conducted behind closed doors – and how unequal the criminal justice system is even now, when it operates in relative sunlight – one can assume those ‘dead or alive’ warrants were issued, at least occasionally, in order to entrench the existing power structure. But credulity in the bounty-hunter’s legitimacy helps mark the film as a Western. The fact that the genre may have really been propaganda for the U.S.’ westward expansion, for the overpowering of those people who stood in the way (such as Native Americans and Mexicans) and the subjugation of the wilderness, doesn’t seem to bother Tarantino. He loves movies so much, he is tickled by them in such a pure, fan-like way, that it would actually be hard to imagine him coming from a more critical theoretical perspective.

But this issue is nothing compared to Candie’s right-hand man Stephen, a shuffling, obsequious ‘Uncle Tom’ played by Samuel L. Jackson, and a character criticized by many in the blogosphere as an offensive stereotype. I’m not sure that ‘stereotype’ is the right word, however, since Stephen is far from servile underneath his bent-over posture; he in fact turns out to be a power-hungry manipulator who relishes sitting in Candie’s armchair, calmly warming brandy in a glass for himself while he reveals to Candie what he has discovered about Django. He’s not one-dimensional, he’s actually deceptive; he’s a collaborator or colluder who loves to be on the winning side. Moreover, as the story proceeds, he becomes more and more eager to inflict pain on the powerless. His obsession seems to be to beat down anyone who dares raise their head.

Tarantino never asks why Stephen is like this. Is he so molded by his enmeshed relationship with his owner that he has developed a kind of Stockholm Syndrome emotional dependency? It’s hard to believe that, no matter how emotional he seems over Candie, since we’ve already seen him swiftly and slyly change tones. Is he so circumscribed in his own life that he has become an unthinking rule-enforcer? Again, there’s a sadistic gleam in his eye which belies this; he doesn’t seem panicked by Django’s liberated attitude, but merely full of hate. Is Stephen so proud and committed to doing his job well that he’ll vigilantly protect Candie from all blows, even threats which emanate from his own people? (A precedent for a character like that exists in Alec Guinness’ British colonel, a prisoner-of-war who loses perspective in The Bridge on the River Kwai.) But if he were delusional that way, you’d think that he’d whole-heartedly embrace the decisions of his Mr. and Mrs., not be disappointed when they interfere with his agenda of black-on-black violence.

Fundamentally, Tarantino doesn’t care what makes the head house slave tick. Stephen shows up because a villain is needed in Act 3 and he needs to be worse than the villains who came before; Django needs to go from the frying pain into the fire. Maybe there’s racism behind the portrait of Stephen (it’s worrying that the character’s name has some similarities to a famous black buffoon of early 1930’s films, the persona of ‘Stepin Fetchit’) or maybe Stephen is just a plot contrivance. It’s hard to know, because Django isn’t really about slavery or racism, it’s about Tarantino’s one abiding subject: movies.

He has certainly made no secret of his adoration of the blaxploitation genre. Since he’s such an expert on it, however, one would think he might be more concerned about the arguments that were made at the time against the blaxploitation tidal wave. 50 movies in the genre came out between 1971, when the success of the legitimately revolutionary Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song inspired Hollywood to cash in with a slew of imitations, and the fad’s end in 1975 – and this glut of cheap and quickly made flicks aimed at black audiences led the NAACP, National Urban League, and Southern Christian Leadership Conference to join forces in protest. When Junius Griffin, the head of the Hollywood NAACP, coined the term ‘black exploitation’ in a 1973 article, he called it a “form of cultural genocide.” He lamented the black community’s children being “exposed to a steady diet of so-called black movies that glorify black males as pimps, dope pushers, gangsters and super males with vast physical powers but no cognitive skills.” Perhaps in part because these movies operated outside the mainstream, however, Tarantino the former video store clerk has long been fascinated with them, as if he has discovered a secret. He differs from some other directors – like Peter Bogdonavich and the French New Wave filmmakers who started out by writing forCahiers du Cinéma – artists who embraced what they regarded as old cinematic treasures too, because he is really not a theorist. He doesn’t seem particularly adept at evaluating what the flicks he loves actually mean, or how they fit into a social context; he just gets excited about them. If he were not a director, perhaps he would be a film programmer. In fact, when Django Unchained screened at the repertory cinema he owns in L.A., the New Beverly, it was preceded by an assemblage of trailers for 1970s exploitation movies which he had hand-selected to show the audience some of his influences for the film.

If Tarantino actually was more of a theorist, perhaps he would pay more attention to the fact that for much of the film, Django has to squelch his impulses and allow other slaves to be horrifically murdered in front of him. Though these and similar moments do highlight the barbarism of slavery, at the end of Tarantino’s Grand Guignol opus, the code seems to be: successful revenge cancels out suffering experienced by victims. One can’t help wondering if the violent atrocities against slaves that are included in the film do really exist to condemn the brutality of the culture, or if they serve mainly as strong motivators for the climactic, massively bloody revenge sequence that may be Tarantino’s real aim.

As a paradigm of how to overcome oppression, Django happens to give the worst possible advice, and in an age where our real world is beset by a great many senseless shootings, some of it clearly influenced by on-screen mayhem, one wishes Tarantino had more awareness of what he’s doing. Django runs the danger of encouraging people like Chris Dorner – who, incidentally, saw the film — to believe that a) murder is justified as a response to injustice; b) it is not self-destructive to try to fight on its own terms a historically violent and richly well-equipped power structure; and c) it is nobler to go out in an attention-getting blaze of glory than to actually do painstaking and largely invisible work on the grassroots level.

Django only speaks to whites; he is never seen forming relationships with other slaves (he barely even has one with Broomhilda, despite all the self-conscious romanticism). He may be a rebel, but he’s no revolutionary — he doesn’t bond with others who are oppressed. Though a film about a slave rising up would seem on its face like a left-wing enterprise, Django could just as easily be seen to perpetuate the right-wing mantra that has spread so widely in America: that we are each on our own, that it’s only individual action that is a source of pride, that none of us should identify with any particular caste but should see ourselves as having gotten to where we are purely on our own merits.

Tarantino is in an unusual position because even if all he really wants to do is make movies celebrating B-movies, he is too creative a director and too captivating a writer to operate in counter-culture obscurity. He is instead very much a part of the mainstream – everyone knows his name, more so than they know the names of filmmakers of blandly formulaic fare – and what he puts out there is going to get analyzed. Whether he likes it or not, his films become part of the national conversation. Even if he is constantly signaling that it’s ‘just a movie’, he’s going to fall under fire, sometimes, precisely because he has made ‘just a movie.’

Original Creator of Matrix & Terminator Wins $2.5 Billion In Lawsuit

NOVEMBER 17, 2009

Original Creator of Matrix & Terminator Wins $2.5 Billion In Lawsuit

After a six year dispute, prolific writer and profound spiritualist, Sophia Stewart has received justice for copyright infringement and racketeering and will finally recover damages from the films, The Matrix I, II and III, as well as The Terminator and its sequels. Yes, you heard that correctly – the entire Matrix & Terminator franchises, and her suspected pay off is expected to be the highest in history – an estimated 2.5 billion.

Her case is a true landmark, and far too uncommon as countless creatives are exploited by the snake-like dealings of the movie industry. Here’s a recap of her triumphant journey by way of George2.0:

“Stewart filed her case in 1999, after viewing the Matrix, which she felt had been based on her manuscript, ‘The Third Eye,’ copyrighted in 1981. In the mid-eighties Stewart had submitted her manuscript to an ad placed by the Wachowski Brothers, requesting new sci-fi works.

According to court documentation, an FBI investigation discovered that more than thirty minutes had been edited from the original film, in an attempt to avoid penalties for copyright infringement. The investigation also stated that ‘credible witnesses employed at Warner Brothers came forward, claiming that the executives and lawyers had full knowledge that the work in question did not belong to the Wachowski Brothers.’ These witnesses claimed to have seen Stewart’s original work and that it had been ‘often used during preparation of the motion pictures.’ The defendants tried, on several occasions, to have Stewart’s case dismissed, without success.

Stewart has confronted skepticism on all sides, much of which comes from Matrix fans, who are strangely loyal to the Wachowski Brothers. One on-line forum, entitled Matrix Explained has an entire section devoted to Stewart. Some who have researched her history and writings are open to her story.”

Although it’s long overdue, and buried in large part by the media machine, Stewart has finally received official credit (and hopefully financial settlement by 2009) for her prodigious contributions to both Hollywood, and the world for her ground breaking sagas, both the Matrix & Terminator franchises. Let us hope that this landmark ruling provides a measure of hope for other ripped off screenwriters seeking justice even if only by way of public recognition.

To echo her 2004 victorious press release:

‘The Matrix & Terminator movie franchises have made world history and have ultimately changed the way people view movies and how Hollywood does business, yet the real truth about the creator and creation of these films continue to elude the masses because the hidden secret of the matter is that these films were created and written by a Black woman…a Black woman named Sophia Stewart. But Hollywood does not want you to know this fact simply because it would change history. Also it would encourage our Black children to realize a dream and that is…nothing is impossible for them to achieve!’

We’d like to believe that the justice she received was not in name only, and she is able to reap the benefits of her enormous creative contributions.

A Black Feminist Comment on The Sisterhood, The Black Church, Ratchetness and Geist l The Feminist Wire

A Black Feminist Comment on The Sisterhood, The Black Church, Ratchetness and Geist

January 28, 2013


Unknown-1There’s been much talk about TLC’s new show The Sisterhood, a reality show about the lives and struggles of Ivy Couch, Domonique Scott, Christina Murray, DeLana Rutherford, and Tara Lewis, five pastor’s wives in the Atlanta area.  While some critics are threatening to boycott the show, and others are framing it as evidence of black [male] preachers loosing their way (which I guess is synonymous with the Black Church loosing its way, but that’s another issue), millions of others, myself included, a former “first lady” and black feminist scholar of religion, race and media, are flocking faithfully to the television screen on Tuesday nights with popcorn and bottled water in hand.

And let me be clear: like many, I’m “sick and tired of being sick and tired” of the operative mediation of the global racist and sexist imagination through black women’s corporeal realities.  I’m tired of mass mediated notions of “black womanhood” being both the adjective and the noun that modifies and constricts space, time and meanings. I’m tired of black women consistently serving as—through both overdetermination and consent—televisual artifacts for establishing white, black and other “normalcy.”  And yes, I’m sick and tired of black women functioning as cultural mediums for soothing primal fears, representational tropes for suckling the collective fascination with black female sexuality, and work horses for demonstrating a mastery of unscrupulousness and otherness.  I’m tired.

SisterhoodAnd yet, I’m also admittedly drawn in to this show and others like it, week after week.  Like so many others before them, Ivy, Domonique, Christina, DeLana, Tara and many other reality TV women, inspire all kinds of repulsions, attractions and anxieties.  However, they also satiate [some of] our ratchet taste buds.  Can we have a moment of honesty?  The Sisterhood is a hit show.  And this isn’t because no one’s watching it.

So what’s the draw?  The Sisterhood creates a conflict between public politics, private realities and personal taste.  However, this war between the emperors’ coat of high culture and the everydayness of his nakedness is nothing new.  This ongoing juxtaposition highlights the ever increasing tensions between the “cultured” and the “ratchet;” the former drawing attention to so-called taste, tact, refinement, civilization and genius, and the latter calling attention to the so-called vulgar.  While the former is purported to arise out of the Geist – the intellectual inclinations – of our times, the latter is purported to spring forth from the worst of black culture.  However, what better communicates the spirit of the time than the ratchet?  And no, I don’t mean the ways that ratchet gets deployed to project a collage of derogatory meanings onto black women’s bodies.  I’m referring to the ways that ratchetness often undergirds the ricocheting of raw emotions and missiles of unfiltered truths.

The-SisterhoodTo uncritically bash The Sisterhood is to toe the expected party line.  To demonize the show is not only an attempt to maintain a position of moral superiority, but an assay to construct and limit meaning for the audience—an audience that may in fact connect with the human qualities of the ratchetness therein.  And trust me, I get the critiques regarding black female representations in media.  This needs to be called out everyday all day—but not while asphyxiating black women’s complex identities with mythological notions of black women’s heroic genius.  In short, binary oppositions don’t work.  They set up “us” versus “them” politics, which are both totalizing and reductive.  I think a better suggestion might be to think about the heroic qualities of black women’s genius, that is if you buy this argument, as at times being a bit ratchet. Identities and tastes shift in shades of grey, not monochrome.  That said, we don’t need another schemata.  And we damn sure don’t need another exceptionalist social fiction to cancel out our complex subjectivities, which can neither be packaged nor wholesaled, by the way.

images-3The Sisterhood isn’t “hurting the church image…[or] giving God a bad name.” Religious people have already done that.  Neither is it “abominable and offensive to the Christian/African American communities.”  I can think of a few other things, all ending with “isms” or “phobia,” to fit that bill.  And finally, it’s not evidence of black [male] preachers or the historical Black Church loosing its way–I haven’t even mentioned how the eve/gender politics here are troubling at best.  And to be sure, I’m not saying wether the Black Church or the black [male] preacher has lost their way or not.  That’s an entirely different conversation.  For starters, I think I’d first need to know what the “way” once was or imagined to be.  And truly, The Sisterhood isn’t even a representation of the Black Church.  As far as I can see, there are only two wives from historical black churches (hold this thought) on the series–whose church would likely define themselves in such a way, Ivy and Domonique.

The Sisterhood is evidence of our obsession with brown women’s lives and our pornotropic desire to lift their curtains and see everything.  In addition, it’s evidence of the fluidity between religion and culture, and the myriad ways that each cross-pollinates the other, thus broadening, limiting and confusing all kinds of meanings.  An example of this is the construction of the “first lady” concept for the show, a Black Church conception structured in both politics of respectability and patriarchal dominance, aimed at constructing alternative identities–distinct from the hypersexual/sexual savage trope–for black women, particularly during the early twentieth century.  As with the FLOTUS, it’s a title of respect for wives in religious contexts that are often theo-socially hostile to women in general.  With regard to black women, there’s a long history here apropos race, gender, sex, sexuality, respectability and wifehood.  However, I’ll save the politics of race, ladyhood and wifedom for another day.

images(Side note: background, I’d be interested to see how the “first lady” title operates for Christina, a Dominican woman married to a black new wave evangelical pastor, and DeLana, a white southern woman who, akin to her co-pastor husband, seems to fancy all things “plantation” (27:56 mark) and soft Christian rock.  I’d be even more interested in seeing how this works for Tara, a black body builder married to a Jewish Christian former pastor, both of whom appear to be working with a different set of gender politics.  But this, again, is another story.)


Ultimately, The Sisterhood is evidence of not only our obsession with brown women’s lives, the constant interpolation of religion in culture and vice versa and the static nature of meanings in our society, but our very own and ever expanding frailties, contradictions and complexities as human beings.  These women represent the thorny nature of our inner selves, particularly when situated in hostile, novel, and/or uncomfortable environments.  Sure.  Ivy, Domonique, Christina, DeLana, and Tara aren’t really sisterly (or are they?) and they argue like the women in the Basketball Wives and Real Housewives franchise.  But wouldn’t you if pimping your story on reality television somehow became a necessity, or if you found yourself in the midst of a group of others who were geographically, theologically, racially, economically, politically, contextually, and socially different than you?  Would you not have differences of opinions and take up, forcefully at that, different positonalities?  Seriously.  Are we above drama and contradictions?  Have we never been pushed to the edge to the point where we want to or choose to take it there?  Are our lives without mistakes, conflict, struggles, pain, stresses and moments of dehumanization?  Show me a person devoid of these realities and I’ll show you a straight up liar.  Yes.  That simple.

UnknownThe bottom line for me is this: these women are human.  They are women with problems from autonomous churches that differ, at minimum, theologically.  And like it or not, for Christians and others, theology shapes how people understand themselves in the world. Yes, it shapes both Tara’s unyielding “prayerbush” (s/o to Birgitta Johnson) at the 37:18 mark of the 4th episode and Domonique’s ongoing quest to live out and within her own truth.

Consciously or not, theology re-appropriates politics and ways of seeing by constructing a veil that recolours reality with simultaneous taken for granted notions of truth, hope, transcendence, capitalism, injustice and intolerance.  Moreover, the “first lady” position often serves as a protective shield against disagreement.  That is, Ivy, Domonique, Christina, DeLana, and Tara are likely used to participating in discourses where their politics and ways of seeing go unchallenged, especially within their congregations.

images-2But what happens when removed from that context?  Basically, shit goes awry—just as it would with any other group of strangers with different theo-political-socio-cultural-historical backgrounds and value systems.  My favorite on the show is Domonique. Not simply because she keeps it all the way real and clearly isn’t afraid to get it poppin with her co-stars, but because her struggle between the politics of respectability, the structures of dominance that frame her sexual past, and her quest for financial independence and selfhood are real.

Wherever we land in terms of this show being good or bad or something in between, it’s pretty significant to see a reality TV show centered on people of faith who are flawed with real issues.  Perhaps we might interpret The Sisterhood  not as an “abomination,” but as an imperfect, yet useful intervention–for the Black Church, black popular culture and black folk living in various communities.  These ladies disrupt the monolithic image of the puritanical (and irrational) religious person on one hand, and the exemplary religious heroic genius on the other.  These tropes are death-dealing.  No one can live them…or live up to them.  Let’s face it, we are messy inter-subjective beings with troubles, longings, complications, and inconsistencies–just like Ivy, Domonique, Christina, DeLana, and Tara.

And this is why we watch—and yes, with popcorn and bottled water in tow.  Because, unlike the black [male] mega church prosperity gospel preacher constantly being shoved down our throats (pun intended) as the symbol of black churches U.S.A, these folks—these women, are trying to make it and make sense of their messy lives—just like us.  And hey, like so many others in academe, the Black Church and without, they want to do it on TV.  That said, perhaps we’ve all lost our way.

 Dr. Tamura Lomax is an OUR COMMON GROUND Voice. She was guest in our “Black Women in the Prism” series

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A Theory of Obama Cinema? “Killing Them Softly” is the Defining Movie for the Age of Obama

We are respectable negroes


A Theory of Obama Cinema? “Killing Them Softly” is the Defining Movie for the Age of Obama

I am suspicious of unifying theories which try to explain the relationship between popular culture and politics. However, A.O. Scott’s piece in the New York Times on the defining Hollywood films of the Obama era is pretty compelling:

Last year in The New York Review of Books the critic J. Hoberman wondered when we would see an “Obama-inflected Hollywood cinema.” “The longing for Obama (or an Obama),” he wrote, “can be found in two prescient 2008 movies,” citing “Wall-E” and “Milk” as releases about creative community organizers, with Harvey Milk also a political symbol of hope. It may be too soon to identify an Obama Cinema, but the president’s second inauguration seems like an appropriate time to try.

Film is one of the sites where societies negotiate meaning, develop and challenge their own mythologies, and express the hopes, anxieties, and feelings of the collective subconscious. Films talk to us, talk to each other, all the while revealing the “spirit of the age.” In total, popular culture is an informal type of public opinion, a barometer for the attitudes of a given society.

Obama’s election in 2004 was supposed to usher in postracial America. It did not. Hope and change was met by the twin realities of a coordinated assault on the legitimacy of the country’s first black President, as well as how practical governance is an exercise in realpolitik. As such, hope and change had to be surrendered to practical realities–here Obama’s right-leaning centrism was greeted by upset on the part of Progressives, and recast as treason and Socialist-Communist-anti-white tyranny by Conservatives.

How do the films in the Age of Obama reflect these dynamics?

Films can be considered political in a number of ways. They can deal with explicitly political matters of public policy or public concern as plot devices. Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty fit this mold.

[Question: Am I the only person who thought both movies were exercises in tedium? Am I the only person who thought that Cloud Atlas was one of the year’s best movies and should have been nominated for an Oscar?] 

Films can also be implicitly political as they reflect changing attitudes, beliefs, anxieties, or social relationships in society without offering explicit commentary on “politics” per se. Likewise, films can tell us something about politics and society by how they reflect unstated cultural values and tropes–the lies and stories we tell to make sense of ourselves as a nation and community:

Some of the connections between politics and movies are obvious, but we wanted to go beyond the topical resonance of films like “Zero Dark Thirty” and enter into the realms of allegory and national mythology.

What these period pictures have in common is a sense that righting our wrongs is a shared burden. Or, as Nick Fury, in describing another battle between good and evil, puts it: “There came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth’s mightiest heroes found themselves united against a common threat.”

“Marvel’s The Avengers” might have been called “Team of Rivals” — the title of the book, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, that was one of the sources for “Lincoln.” And Joss Whedon’s Marvel costume party is, like Mr. Spielberg’s historical costume drama, largely about an urgent response to a political crisis. It is also about community organizing, as Fury mobilizes a fractious group of individuals whom he must persuade to pursue a set of common interests.

As such, “The Avengers” may be the exemplary Obama Era superhero movie, replacing the figure of the solitary, shadowy paladin with a motley assortment of oddballs and, despite the title, focusing less on vengeance than on interplanetary peacekeeping. A similar ethic informs “X-Men: First Class,” which takes place around the time of Mr. Obama’s birth (at the height of the cold war and the civil rights movement) and which shows how the idealistic pursuit of justice and tolerance can end up tragically divided between radical and conciliatory impulses…

A.O. Scott omitted the movie Killing Them Softly from his theory of Obama Cinema. This is unfortunate. I would suggest that no other movie has captured the cynicism, anxiety, fear, and liminal moment between the end of Bush’s tenure and Obama’s election in 2008 with such clarity and insight.

The Great Recession is in almost every frame of Killing Them Softly. The disappointments of how easily Hope and Change became more of the same–where the banksters win, and the drones keep killing innocent people, while the 1% laughs all the way to the bank–lingers over the final scene of the movie as an ending note on what is a 90 minutes or so meditation on life in the Bush era and how it did (or did not) transition into “Obama’s America.”

Watching the hope embodied by 2008 election of Barack Obama in 2012, four years after we have seen the realities of his tenure, in a film about how even hitmen and gangsters are impacted by a failed economy is a profound comment on the American dream, and the realities of “austerity” and neoliberalism/hyper-conservatism.

Killing Them Softly came and went in the theater during the course of a few weeks. Maybe it spoke too much truth to power to be popular among the masses.

What do you make of A.O. Scott’s list? Are there any movies which you think speak to the Age of Obama with a particularly sharp amount of clarity and insight, and which should have been included in his theory of Obama Cinema?



Chauncey DeVega is an OUR COMMON GROUND Voice

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Is Trinidad James an Artist or a Buffoon? Dr. Chistopher Emdin (OUR COMMON GROUND Voice)with Dr. Boyce Watkins

Is Trinidad James an Artist or a Buffoon? Dr. Chistopher Emdin discusses

December 28, 2012 |

trinidad-chrisDr. Boyce Watkins had a conversation about the impact that hip-hop is having on the youth that listen to it. To add to the conversation, he invited Dr. Christopher Emdin to weigh in on the conversation about what rappers like Trinidad James are actually doing to young people when they release records full of destructive messages.

The interview is below:

Dr. Watkins:     Hi.  I’m Dr. Boyce Watkins from YourBlackWorld.com.  Last week I was in New York City and I stopped by a radio station, in the City, called Power 105.1, which is a hip-hop station.  One of my buddies is one of the hosts on the show called the Breakfast Club.  His name is Charlamagne Tha God.  So, I stopped through to talk to Charlamagne and we were talking about some of this nonsense with BET and whether or not it’s affecting our kids and stuff like that.

I asked Charlamagne,

“What do you think about this guy, this new rapper, Trinidad James?”

Charalamagne said,

“Oh, yeah.  Trinidad was here right before you got here.”  I said, “I’m so happy I didn’t cross paths with him on my way in the door because I think that might have been my first arrest for assault because I probably would have tried to beat this brother down.  His music just bothers me so much.  But, then again, maybe I’m just a hater because he’s got more money than me.”

So, to kind of get some perspective on this, I wanted to bring in one of my buddies who is one of the scholars I respect the most in the country, Dr. Christopher Emdin.  He’s not just a Professor of Education at Columbia University, which is impressive enough; but he’s also a very, very good hip-hop artist.  I’ve literally seen him bust freestyle in front of a group of high school kids and at the same time talk to them about how the power of hip-hop can be used to teach them science.  So, I’ve got Dr. Emdin on the line.

Dr. Boyce:          How are you doing today, brother?

Dr. Emdin:         I’m doing well, man.  I’m really appreciative that you gave me the opportunity to share some insight on this situation with Trinidad James.  He’s blowing up over night.

Dr. Boyce:          Yeah.  He really is.  Is it true he’s been rapping for about  8 or 9 months?

Dr. Emdin:         The interview narrative has been about 8 or 9 months but I think he’s been rapping a little bit longer.  I vividly remember actually being in Atlanta about a year and a half ago and I was talking with some young people.  Some of them were saying, “Yo.  Trinidad James is next.  Trinidad James is the truth.”  So, I think he’s actually been rapping a little bit longer than the narrative that’s being put out to the public.  His fan base has been there for quite a while.

Dr. Boyce:          Really.  Okay.

Dr. Emdin:         Yes, sir.

Dr. Boyce:          So, Trinidad just got a deal with Def Jam Records.  It’s so interesting because I’m kind of, mentally, in that space.  I literally had an hour and a half long meeting yesterday with Russell Simmons talking about bringing in hip-hop artists to support our campaign on mass incarceration.  You’re also in that space because you just finished an extraordinary event with Gza from the Wu Tang Clan on how to use hip-hop to teach science.

So, what is your take on the legitimacy now – or the perceived legitimacy of this artist who is producing music that many people might call straight coonery and buffoonery?

Dr. Emdin:         See, this is my take and I want to be very, very clear.  I do not blame Trinidad James for his over-night success.  I don’t blame Trinidad James for the fact that he is on every radio station across the country.  Nor do I blame him for the fact that he has become an over-night phenomena.  What I do blame is a record company that will sign this artist, support this artist, give him money, and continue in this trajectory or piggy back off of this underground success he’s made at the expense of promoting a caricature of blackness.  I don’t blame the brother.

The black experience has its nuances.  There is somebody who Trinidad James raps to and for.  Just like there’s somebody that Gza raps to and for.  There’s a wide array of that.  There’s intellectual rap.  There’s street rap.  There’s pop and molly rap.  I don’t advocate for the negative but I realize that it exists.

In my view, my issue is not with the artist himself.  My issue is with a public and with a corporate hip-hop system.  We call it hip-hop.  We call it something — an institution that’s supposed to advocate for our culture only identifying the negative caricature and making sure that that becomes what the picture is of the entire culture.  That’s what I have a problem with.  I have a problem with radio stations choosing to take Trinidad James and put him on their station in New York City or across the globe as what is the newest and hottest artist in the country.  Because they have the power to be able to identify another artist that is much more talented and perhaps has a different robust subject matter, and make that person be the picture of hip-hop.

So, I don’t blame the man.  The man that’s speaking based on his experiences, or his circumstances, or what he sees in Atlanta everyday, or his

self-construction, however flawed that may be.  I won’t critique that one publicly.  I would like to have a conversation with him about why that is how he constructs who he is; why it is that he sees the world this way.  I’ve heard interviews with the brother.  He’s actually quite articulate.  So, I’d like to talk to him about, “Why don’t you pull forth more of the complexity of who you are into your music?”  That’s conversation between me and Trinidad James or anybody who loves hip-hop or loves black men and wants to see them be more then what they are portrayed to be.  That’s a conversation between us and Trinidad.

My critique is not him.  My critique is the system.  My critique is the corporate system that allows us to force-feed this nonsense to our young people.  My critique is of the fact that we are now at a point where we are advocating for these who are spitting nursery school rhymes as if that’s complex hip-hop.  I don’t think Trinidad James is a product of isolation.  He didn’t come out of nowhere.  Trinidad James is the ancestor of Rick Ross.   Rick Ross has a nursery school rhyme and he pauses and says, “uh.”  And then, Trinidad James says, “Hot tamale, I’m sweating, whoo.”  That’s the same cadence.  It’s the basic baseline nursery rhyme cadence.  You know, Trinidad James is the evolution of Rick Ross.  And, there will be many more incarnations of that simplistic rap if we don’t get to the point where we start critiquing it and saying, “Hey, Company, there’s a brother right now, called “X”, who is spitting hip-hop on a consistent basis about every social dynamic of our time.  Every social construction where he talks about black maleness, politics, the media, and corporate entity, he talks about all these things that really affect black men but you’re not going to offer him a deal.  You won’t give him the debility.  He won’t get spins on 105.1 or Hot 97.  Then you blame the audience like the audience is asking for it.  The audience isn’t asking for it.  The audience is asking for complexity and blackness.  You take that as the message you want to show us and then you blame us because we’re the one’s consuming.  We’re consuming because you’re feeding it.”

And this is why I go back to what a great man once said, “It is that time that we turn off the radio, turn off the BS, and we get to the point where we start supporting artists who speak to and for us.  And when we have those artists that don’t do that, we critique them individually; we critique them personally.  We have a conversation about them because those brothers are hurt.  They’re lonely.  They’re speaking those narratives because they’re still trying to find themselves.  I hear Trinidad James.  I don’t get angry at the brother.  I get angry at the circumstances that allowed him to feel like this is the only way that he can get some visibility.

So, where we are right now is to really focus on the entities who push these messages upon us. , that take one artist out of Atlanta and put him on a National billboard.  And the question we have to ask ourselves is not why Trinidad James is creating that rap, it’s why is the public and the company and the record label and MTV and Viacom and Clear Channel and 105.1, 97.1, or whatever radio station it is that you’re listening to throughout the country, singling him out as what we should be showing our young people as an example.  That’s who I blame, not the man.

Dr. Boyce:     I’m in complete agreement with you.  And, I’ll say this: anybody who hasn’t seen Trinidad James’ video has got to check out his song.  The song that made him successful is called “All Gold Everything.”  And, it’s about the biggest caricature of black manhood that you’ve ever seen in your life.  Everybody in the video is pretty much running around with guns and money and drugs. Every buffoonish, ignorant, self-destructive stereotype that is fed to our black men on a regular basis is featured in this video. The next book that I’m releasing is related to what I call the gospel of black-male self-destruction, which is being fed to African American males through this music.  It’s being played out all around us and we see black boys imitating this on a regular basis.  It only leads them to either prison or the morgue.  We’ve got to stop it and we’ve got to deal with it and get it where it stands.

Now, I want to ask you the last question, Dr. Emdin.  One of the things that bothered me about Trinidad James is…I would have felt more comfortable if somebody had said, “Well, you know, he just doesn’t know what he does.  The poor boy, his IQ is about 80.”  Which is why his lyrics, as you mentioned, sound like kindergarten nursery rhymes.  But, one of the hosts at Power 105 said to me, “You know, he’s actually quite articulate and very intelligent.”  And, I said, “That is a damn shame that an intelligent black man has to be ashamed of his intelligence.  He has to hide his intelligence in order to make a dollar.”  That is pathetic to me.

So, what is your take on that, Dr. Emdin?  How deep is this anti-intellectualism issue within commercialized hip-hop; within the broader culture?  What is this doing to us as black men?

Dr. Emdin:         Well, it’s ruining us.  I mean… I’ll just be completely frank.  I’ve listened to a bunch of Trinidad James’ interviews just because I’ve been curious about this man’s psyche.  When I initially saw the video and heard the song, I thought the song was catchy.  I’m not going to front; when I heard it the first time, I said, “Man, it’s a catchy beat.”  I heard the song and I knew the lyrics were trash and I also watched the video. So, I started researching and listening to interviews.  I heard him on 105.1.  And, yes, he is articulate.  Yes, he can form a sentence.  But, the problem is why is it that we should be surprised when a black man can be articulate?  Why does it have to be like, “You know what, he actually is.”  Why can’t the stuff that he presents from the beginning be that articulate and that complex self?  Why does he have to play a character in order for him to be able to be successful?

But the reality is…my solution and my take on it… and this is not something I’ve created: There’s a bunch of hip-hop scholars and African American scholars that have said this for a very long time.  What I’m saying is we’ve got to reach the point where we start showing people that there is a different narrative.  And the piece of that different narrative I’m talking about is that you can have the hypothesized identity. You can rhyme, speak intelligently through that rhyme, be articulate through that rhyme, be aware of politics in your environment through that rhyme and be validated for it.  You don’t have to be stupid to be accepted.  You don’t have to play stupid to be accepted.  Because, what happens when you’re playing a character?

Psychologists tell us this all the time that individuals have core identities and they have role-like identities.  The core identity is who you really truly are which expresses your intelligence.  Your role identity is the identity that you have to construct in order to be successful in a social stair.  If you have a role identity that you enact so consistently, what happens is that it begins to rot your core.  You can have a core self and have played a character for so long that you play a game with your mind and you alter your true self by enacting a character for too long.  And so, the big problem here is deeper than just this one artist.  It’s in the fact that this artists creates a narrative that young people start emulating.  And the more that they emulate that narrative, it becomes part of their self-construction.  It impacts their core identity and starts to rot the intelligence that they have within them – that’s the issue.

Dr. Boyce:     Wow.  That’s really deep- life imitating art.  Anybody who doesn’t believe that the music affects the minds of our kids needs to go to talk to a good psychologist. They will tell you that the repetition of mantra, laced over a smooth continuous repetitive beat, makes your mind open to suggestion and therefore it sinks so deeply into your subconscious that you don’t even know it’s there.  Adolf Hitler said, a long time ago… and people said it before him, that those who control the minds of the people control everything.  So when you look at what our kids are absorbing, you can’t help but feel that we’re in a state of emergency.

So, I appreciate you, Dr. Emdin, for stepping on the front line to deal with this issue and to provide that voice that so many of us need.  Thank you so much.

Dr. Emdin:         Thank you, sir.

Dr. Boyce:     Thank you all for checking us out at YourBlackWorld.com.  Until we meet again, please, stay strong, be blessed, and be educated.


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