R.I.P. Robert F. Chew: Just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the passing of Mr. Chew, best known for playing Proposition Joe on The Wire. But in the wake of his passing, his work off-camera training young actors in Baltimore is also coming to light:
Born in Baltimore, Mr. Chew graduated from Patterson High School and attended Morgan State University where he sang in the school’s world-renown choir. He was working full time in Baltimore area theater since the early 1980s. He continued to teach in the Arena Players Youth Theatre after “The Wire” ended production here in 2007.
“He was a triple threat,” said Catherine Orange, director of Baltimore’s Arena Players youth theater. “He could act, he could dance and he could sing. He was an extraordinary teacher and director for us. He believed in our kids and was a task master.”
In 2006, Mr. Chew helped 22 of his students land parts in Simon’s landmark series.
“Whenever I had to dig deep and find kids who not only had the talent but the reality and the belief, kids who didn’t look like the ones in a Jell-O commercial, I called Robert,” Moran said Friday.
He was a teacher who worked really hard to give kids growing up in the inner city exposure to the arts, which no an easy task, especially when you consider that art is always first on the chopping block when people criticize the school system and insist we need to trim the budget to get rid of “waste.”
If you’re a regular R reader, you’ve been noticing that quite a bit of the stuff on TV–and by “stuff,” I mean “how characters of color have been treated”– has given us the blues while we’re not giving side-eye to what’s on the tiny screen. It’s hard to be optimistic given everything, but dare I say that network television might be listening? It’s pilot season, and if you’ve been out of the loop and hadn’t heard about some of the more diverse bits of new casting, I’ve got you covered.
The news of Lucy Liu as Watson on CBS’ Elementary was the first of a few announcements that piqued my interest this spring. BBC’s Sherlock fandom went predictably ballistic over: first, the news of an American Sherlock Holmes story (forgetting en masse, I suppose, that House has existed for eight years now); then the casting of a female in the Watson role; finally. that the wardrobe department would dare put Holmes (Johnny Lee Miller) in a scarf “so similar” to the BBC’s version’s. (you thinkI’m joking?)
[Note: The version of the film I saw was a screener in NYC about two weeks ago, and I'm writing this having not seen the final Jan 20th release. If anything has drastically changed (like –I hope-- the horrid opening credits sequence in bold, unevenly placed red text) I invite notes about that via comments!]
The summary, as provided by IMDB: “A crew of African American pilots in the Tuskegee training program, having faced segregation while kept mostly on the ground during World War II, are called into duty under the guidance of Col. A.J. Bullard,” is fairly accurate.
There hasn’t been a movie screaming, “GEORGE LUCAS MADE ME!” this loudly since Attack of the Clones. Sometimes, it isn’t a bad thing. (And since Lucas, the film’s executive producer, recently claimed this is as close to Episode VII as we’ll ever get, maybe that’s what he was aiming for.)
Red Tails features a wonderful young cast of black actors who should be on all our radars. You’ll feel better for having a little Nate Parker in your life– and don’t be ashamed if you have flashbacks to the first time you saw Will Smith in Air Force gear in Independence Day. It’s okay, you’re not alone.
For all the red tape and controversy surrounding its release, Red Tails doesn’t explicitly touch upon race as much as it could. Yes, there are the requisite scenes where older, white members of the army tell Bullard (Terrance Howard) that negro pilots can’t ever be expected to fly proper cover for his white bomber pilots; a scene where one of the Tuskegee crew, Joe “Lightning” (David Oyelowo) Little, gets into a fight with white airmen inside their Whites Only soldiers’ bar; and be sure to listen for any and all references of “Black Jesus.” Race is certainly mentioned, and important part of the film. But given the time period, are there other racial issues they could have given a platform? And should the film be chastised for silencing the experience of all African-Americans of the era – specifically women?