Tag Archives: culture

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

Mixed Messages: On Bi-Racial Siblings

by Special Correspondent Fatemah Fakhraie

My brother likes to push my buttons. When I bring up women’s issues, he tells me to get back to the kitchen. When I bring up Iranian culture, he cracks jokes in a fakey Middle Eastern accent.

I love him anyway.

We’re pretty close. We look alike, family members often confuse our voices on the phone, and we crack jokes to keep each other entertained when things get tense or boring. I feel very blessed to have him, and to have the relationship that we do.

Since high school, I have been striving to reconnect with my Iranian and Muslim identities; he hasn’t shown the same inclination. This isn’t to say that he’s remained the same person since high school: he and his interests have developed and evolved, but they have not done so in a direction that seeks to connect with this half of his ethnic identity. He is just as Iranian as I am in his biological makeup, but his identification doesn’t mirror mine.

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Aspiring to whiteness

by Guest Contributor Tanglad, originally published at Tanglad

As we celebrated the eve of November 4th, I was struck by a comment from New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. He pointed out with pride the role of the Latino vote in Obama’s election. I wish I could say that about my fellow Filipinos.

And yes, I know, the Filipino vote is not monolithic. I am specifically talking about Filipinos like me, who have immigrated here in our adult lives. We’re working to make ends meet. Many of you are raising families, go to church every Sunday, support extended families back in the Philippines. The Philippines that would theoretically be a very red state if it could vote.

So yeah, there are lots of factors behind this particular Pinoy demographic’s support of McCain and Proposition 8, but I will dive into the one that presents the most challenges.

Filipinos can be quite forthcoming when talking about race. In news interviews in the Philippines and in Pinoy gatherings, many immigrant Pinoys have made it abundantly clear that their “discomfort” over Barack Obama is not due to the rumors that he’s an inexperienced, socialist, Muslim politician. Their discomfort is from Obama’s blackness. Continue reading

On Being American and African Black

by Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem

The first time I saw “Roots” I was in puberty, but since my birth the groundbreaking miniseries has been a running joke among my maternal relatives.

My mother is a black American, raised Baptist in Tennessee. My father is a Muslim from Nigeria. More specifically, for those in the know, he’s Yoruba.

When I was a baby my American relatives, all natives of small-town Tennessee and wholly unfamiliar with Africans, took to holding me up in the air and anointing me Kunta Kinte, like the character in “Roots.” Although the gesture annoyed my mother to no end, her family members found it hilarious.

Africans, you see, are hilarious. If there is one stereotype about Africans that has lingered throughout my life it is this. Perhaps because of this stereotype, before my birth my maternal grandmother envisioned that I would look less like a baby and more like an offensive cartoon character. She warned my mother to expect me to have coal black skin and bright red lips like Little Sambo. In expressing her fears, my grandmother ignored the reality of my father, who is dark-skinned but not especially so. In fact, he is a shade or two lighter than my mother is. Because Africans are an “exotic other,” however, my grandmother adopted a white supremacist gaze in connection to my father.

She’s far from the only black American to adopt that stance in relation to Africans. In Chicago, where my parents met and lived, my mother recalled being approached by a black woman curious to know if I cried in “African.” Now, I was born in the late1970s, before Akon dominated music charts or Hakeem Olajuwon (a fellow Yoruba) dominated basketball courts. Still, it’s somewhat shocking to note that some of the African Americans in my midst then viewed me as an entirely different entity from themselves. Continue reading

Icing on the cake: The Truth about Marriage

by Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said

Professor Tracey has me thinking…as usual. Over on Aunt Jemima’s Revenge, she has launched a spirited discussion about black women and marriage. Rather than go the usual “why can’t black women get married” route, hand-wringing over dire statistics like these:

The marriage rate for African Americans has been dropping since the 1960s, and today, we have the lowest marriage rate of any racial group in the United States. In 2001, according to the U.S. Census, 43.3 percent of black men and 41.9 percent of black women in America had never been married, in contrast to 27.4 percent and 20.7 percent respectively for whites. African American women are the least likely in our society to marry. In the period between 1970 and 2001, the overall marriage rate in the United States declined by 17 percent; but for blacks, it fell by 34 percent. Read more

…Tracey asked something different–something no one else seems to be asking, since it is easier to cast black women as powerless victims or simply undesirable (too educated, too aggressive, too black, too too). She wants to know, “Do black women really want to get married?”
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Another Hollywood Remake: Oldboy

by Latoya Peterson

Director Chan-Wook Park shocked the hell out of South Korean audiences in 2003, with his theatrical release Oldboy, the second film in the disturbing The Vengence trilogy.

Now, dear readers, I hate horror movies but I love psychological thrillers. Hence, I watched Oldboy. And while I really enjoyed the movie, it is definitely *not* for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. So, imagine my surprise while perusing Dramabeans to see a post describing how Will Smith is going to star in the US remake.

Javabeans, main poster on the blog, is not pleased. Continue reading

Vibe Magazine Asks That You Barack the Vote

by Latoya Peterson

In this month’s issue of Vibe, Barack Obama receives a formal endorsement from the magazine. Danyel Smith’s Editor’s Letter is an impassioned plea to get involved and help push Barack all the way into the White House. She writes:

We value freedom and aspire to be better than we are, and to live in a country that will be better than it is. We must vote for Senator Obama and for Senator Joe Biden. We must make sure our friends get to the ballot box. We must reach deep for every bit of idealism we had at the beginning of rap music. We must not be cool. We must not again make manifest the “apathy” label that has been thrust upon us. This is not a moment to be reviewed or dissected, or gazed upon from an ironic distance. This moment in history is ours. Our country will not be okay if Obama loses.

The issue goes on to provide three key pieces of political commentary: Obama’s own letter to Vibe readers, Jeff Chang’s “The Tipping Point,” a piece that explores the shifting nature of our political landscape, and a compilation of 99 hip-hoppers positions on politics.

Obama’s letter cuts straight to the heart of the apathy Danyel Smith describes in her intro piece:

Now, I’ve heard people say, “My vote doesn’t matter,” “My vote won’t count,” or “I’m just one person, what possible difference can I make?” And I understand this cynicism. As a young man attempting to find my own way in the world, I faced many of the same choices and challenges facing many of you today. I sometimes doubted that my thoughts and actions really mattered in the larger scheme of things.

But I made a choice. I chose to check in, to get involved, and to try and make a difference in people’s lives. It’s what led me to my work as a community organizer in Chicago, where I worked with churches to rebuild struggling communities on the South Side. It’s what led me to teach and run for public office. And even today, I hear the skepticism. Too often, our leaders let us down, They don’t seem to do much to make our lives better. So I understand the temptation to sit elections out.

But this year, when the stakes are this high, and the outcome will be so close, I need you to choose to vote.

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The Reggaetón Factor in the U.S. Elections

by Guest Contributor Marisol LeBron, originally published at NACLA (North American Congress on Latin America)

Who would have thought when Daddy Yankee released “Gasolina” in 2004 that four short years later the song would become the butt of jokes about John McCain and offshore drilling? If there were still sectors of U.S. society that didn’t know about reggaetón, this year’s presidential race certainly changed that.

Daddy Yankee caused a stir in August when he publicly endorsed Republican presidential candidate John McCain. The reggaetonero recently made headlines again when he agreed to help moderate a debate on October 9 among candidates for governor of Puerto Rico as part of the “Vota o Quédate Callao” (Vote or Shut Up) initiative to get young voters to the polls in November.

Not to be outdone, Barack Obama has also had a number of reggaetón artists come out in support of his campaign, most notably Julio Voltio and Don Omar who appeared in the video “Podemos con Obama,” directed by Yerba Buena’s Andres Levin. Calle 13 is even rocking the vote over at MTV. The duo can be seen in ads on MTV and MTV Tr3s urging young people to listen to their new album on the way to the polls.

Does this signal the emergence of a “reggaetón vote”? Pundits have wondered about the weight of the “hip-hop vote” in this year’s election, particularly regarding Barack Obama’s potential appeal to young African American and Latino/a voters. But in 2012 will political pundits be asking candidates what they’re doing to win the “reggaetón vote”? Continue reading