Are we really having dialog about the cultural appropriation of twerking?

I wish the media would cover the changes to the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action the way they covered Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance.

What a waste of real estate in cyber space.  I wrote this in response to a friend posting the third article in this list on my timeline: “I see where he’s coming from in this article, but honestly I give zero damns about white people and the cultural appropriation of twerking. White people can have that. I’m just mad that Miley has insulted blacks and gays alike by taking a form of dance we reserved for “our” cultural institutions and exposing it to the world in an embarrassing ass way. She’s too young to know that 13 years ago a group called The Ying Yang Twins made a song called “Whistle While You Twurk,” that’s all. However, as far as keeping ownership of twerking, that’s an embarrassing cultural landmark, not to mention that teenagers making twerk team videos for YouTube took away the “sanctity” of twerking years ago, if we must call it that. I care about cultural appropriation of the music of our ancestors, but I refuse to insult women who fought for the right to vote by crying over twerking.”

My thoughts on “The Butler”

I went to see the film The Butler last Friday. The movie is about Cecil Gaines and his family. Cecil Gaines worked as a butler at the White House for 30 years, serving every president from Truman to Reagan. Throughout the film we see the country changing, the White House staying the same, and a man trying to figure out where he belongs as black people get more and more rights. Here are my thoughts on the film:

  • It is very rare that we see a quintessential American story that is fiercely patriotic with black people at its center, and that is exactly what The Butler is.
  • Lee Daniels said that in making the film he intended to honor all of men and women who fought and did in the Civil Rights Movement. He definitely did that successfully.
  • Lee Daniels is a superb director
  • Oprah and Forest Whittaker had great chemistry
  • This movie is an American history lesson about black people’s struggle for rights. It starts with sharecropping and goes to President Barack Obama’s first election. There is a lot of historic footage in the film, which enhances the message of the film, but takes away from the suspension of disbelief required to engage with the story.
  • I think it may get some Oscar nods, but I won’t be hurt if it doesn’t. I know that for political reasons, if it doesn’t, people will cry racism. However, there are some movies coming out that look like they will be good. Plus, Fruitvale Station is already out, and I liked it more than I liked The Butler. Fruitvale Station is a more engaging and innovative film. The Butler aimed to evoke emotion from the audience, Fruitvale left the audience to their own devices.
  • If any awards are to be had, they will likely go to Lee Daniels, Oprah Winfrey, Forest Whittaker, and whoever did the make-up/hair.

“Protest Silence. Protest Absence.”

Theatre Communications Group, which is the national governing organization for professional theaters, is hosting a salon series on its TCG Circle Blog called ‪#‎Trayvon‬. The series aims to see if, or how, we as theater artists and administrators can curb the hatred (on all sides) that has come as a result of the not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. Here’s a link to my contribution to the series. Whether you agree or not, I encourage you to read all of the posts thus far, and to consider how going forward we can have discourse without damnation. For those who are unfamiliar with the TCG Circle Blog it is an excellent source for arts news and a great way to keep up with what theater artists are doing all across the country. I am thankful to TCG for the opportunity and I hope to work with them again in the future!

Grow in LOVE

I am an alum of Syracuse University, though I did not attend my commencement ceremony in 2012. However, I feel this speech was right on time. Let this enrich your life, and may we all go forward in kindness.

“Still, accomplishment is unreliable. “Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.” –George Saunders

Read the full commencement speech here.

I saw the movie “Fruitvale Station”

“People tried to make him a sum of everything wrong he had done in his life” –Ryan Coogler, director & screenwriter Fruitvale Station

I saw the movie Fruitvale Station today. I watched the cell phone videos and read articles about the actual incident before seeing the movie. I must say I was impressed. For those who don’t know the story read here (I know it’s Wikipedia, but this one is pretty accurate).

I was sure that this was going to be the type of movie where the commercial gave away the entire film, but that was not the case. The film takes us through the last 24 hours of Grant’s life as if we are going through it with him. We are in the kitchen as he gets his daughter ready for school, we are at his mother’s birthday dinner on New Year’s Eve, we are inside of the train at Fruitvale Station. This is how the director did a nice job of generating empathy for Oscar Grant. He didn’t portray him as innocent, but that was the beauty of the film. What Ryan Coogler set out to do, and what he did very well, is offer us a day in the life of a young man who was loveable, deeply flawed, and doing what a lot of young black men are doing– just trying to make it. Is there a better way Grant could have gone about surviving besides selling weed? Absolutely, but passing judgement is not the point of Coogler’s film.

The movie received wide release just a couple of weeks after George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. The verdict, much like Grant’s murder, evoked anger from those who are frankly tired of seeing young black men killed for being young black men. In light of all of the anger though, I think what the George Zimmerman trial has taught us on a human level is our distance from the concept of redemption. Trayvon Martin’s character was dragged through the mud during the trial. George Zimmerman is now the poster child for evil white men in America. This is not fair. What Coogler’s film dares to ask us is: Can we generate empathy for people who have done wrong in the past? Can we truly let a person’s sentence end in jail? Redemption is the soul of the American dream. The promise of this country is that people could migrate here from anywhere, leave their trials behind them, and become as great as they wanted to be. Second chances are the American way. However, this is a promise that has never been made to black men in this country, and Fruitvale Station in many ways is an expression of that reality, though that is not its purpose as a film.

I can tell from seeing the plot devices he used in this film that Coogler has a long career as a screenwriter ahead of him. Plus, I must also give mention to the cinematographers. There were some very interesting camera angles happening, especially when Oscar sees the gurney rolling toward him after he has been shot. Kudos for a good first time out Ryan Coogler, and I look forward to seeing more of your work.

Check out MSNBC’s Melissa Harris Perry’s interview with the director Ryan Coogler