Category Archives: history

Cadillac Records

by Guest Contributor SLB, originally posted at Postbougie

I think if we’re all quite honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that the methods to approaching big-screen biopics are finite—especially biopics about musicians. In order for people’s lives to warrant the silver screen treatment in the first place, those lives have to possess extremes—a series of extenuating events that can be exploited for the highest dramatic impact the actors can generate. And face it: biopics are only as good as their actors. Sure, the writing has to be passable. If you’re lucky, the writing makes the actors’ jobs easy, but to our main point: the lives themselves provide the pathos. The writers need only heighten it. Yes, there are glaring historical omissions. Yes, there are all kinds of melodramatic liberties taken—especially in the film’s second to last scene of this film. But that, too, comes with the predictable territory of biopics, and good actors mine that melodrama for all its worth. That’s what makes a decent biopic so watchable.

Everyone involved in Darnell Martin’s Cadillac Records understands the pecking order of the biopic genre—which is precisely why this one works so well. Fortunately, the casting directors brought their A-game, tapping Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess, the Jewish-Polish immigrant who founded the most successful Blues and R&B label in Chicago history, Chess Records, and the incomparable Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Chess’s flagship artist.

With Brody and Wright anchoring the film, the substantial supporting cast had no choice but to tow the Oscar-caliber line and, with very few exceptions, they did. Granted, Cedric the Entertainer was probably miscast as songwriter Willie Dixon. He always sounds like he’s faking an accent, rather than playing a role. It’s as though his acting ability doesn’t extend beyond varying the tenor of his voice. But since he was only in a few scenes, total (even his role as the narrator didn’t yield him that many lines), he wasn’t distracting at all. Continue reading

Erasing the Mexicans

by Guest Contributor Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, originally published at Write.Live.Repeat

This photo shows my mother on her wedding day. That’s her, in the middle. Her sister “Sis” is on the left, her sister Janis on the right.

Notice how the sisters exchange a strange look across my nervous, uncertain mom (who was 24 at the time). Knowing my aunts, and the family narrative, I have a feeling I know what that smirk was about. It was a smirk of superiority, for my mother had chosen to marry a short Cuban man who spoke little English – while the sisters themselves had both already married conservative white men.

At holiday gatherings, my mother’s family – which self-identified as “anglo” – often made derogatory comments about “Mexicans,” that being the only group they could readily find to lump my father (and his children) into.

When I was in my teens, my mother’s paternal aunt Gladys researched the Conant family tree (my mother’s maiden name is Conant) and discovered, among other things, that my mom’s father’s grandmother’s maiden name was Marquez, and that she hailed from Anton Chico, New Mexico. Her family, Gladys assured us all, could trace its roots directly to Spain in the 1500s, with a land-grant from the King. She was, in other words, royalty. “She was from the Northern part of Spain,” I often heard my grandmother (who married into the Conant family) say, following up with “they’re blonde-headed up that way.”

Well, this week I began researching our family tree myself, for a memoir I’m working on. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Barbarita Marquez (listed as “Marcus” on her death certificate in California, ha!) was not exactly as Spanish as the Conants have wanted us all to believe. Continue reading

Blackface Goes HD? The Case of Resident Evil 5

by guest contributor Jason, originally published at microscopiq

OK, we all know zombies gotta die. And I loved Resident Evil 4. So why do these early images from the next installment of the Resident Evil franchise make me so queasy?

After all, in RE4, you spend the game shooting equally out-of-their-mind Spaniards. But, then, the Spanish haven’t been so egregiously misrepresented as blacks through the ages, have they? Not even close.

From Birth of a Nation to Black Hawk Down, black folk are apparently responsible for some of the most mindless and evil activities you got. Rape, murder, satanic voodoo. With bulging eyes, simian super strength, and a room temperature IQ, we’ve been portrayed as savages beyond redemption. So, when we see images like these, it doesn’t just resonate with the long lived zombie genre, it also triggers memories of so many awful stereotypes — and what those stereotypes have been used to justify past and present. Put down the crazed negroes before they take the white women! And so on…

But perhaps the most troubling part is that these scenes seem to be set in Africa; the “dark continent.” With all the positive steps being taken of late to raise awareness of the good things happening in Africa as well as the urgent need in some parts of the continent, we really can’t afford this kind of step back. We need to find ways to humanize Africans, not dehumanize them. CONTINUE READING>>