Maybe Damon Wayans said it best about Sunday night:
Surprising? No. But still disconcerting to see play out, both on TV and online, perhaps most vividly after Scandal‘s Kerry Washington lost the award for Best Actress in a Dramatic Series to Homeland star Claire Danes. Not only were regular viewers ticked off, but as Trudy at Gradient Lair pointed out, even Washington’s castmates called the voters out:
Hopefully nobody holds Columbus Short’s remarks against the show when nomination season rolls around again. Continue reading →
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.”
Oh yeah, watching Michael K. Williams as Omar Little smile and dance his way through a jazzed-up version of “The Farmer In The Dell” was definitely designed as a cringe-worthy moment–and that’s why it’s the perfect response to something like this becoming part of the legacy of The Wire:
By Guest Contributor Aymar Jean Christian, cross-posted from Televisual
It’s an old and uninteresting complaint: black characters on TV–and horror movies–get killed or written off too early. Clearly, that is what’s been happening on The Walking Dead with T-Dog. (UPDATE: The arrival of a new character signals a possible shift in season three.).
I’m going to try to push the debate further, past “isn’t it a shame characters of color get short shrift.” The truth is the T-Dog Problem signals broader problems with The Walking Dead and some other prominent dramas. It’s a symptom of an ailment the writers might actually care to remedy, beyond appeasing black viewers.
First, the basics. Earlier this season T-Dog told Dale he was concerned about being black and a weak link in the group. This was an insightful moment from the writers, foregrounding the idea that being different after the apocalypse might be a problem–after all, in times of stress, people stick to their own–and an interesting meta-commentary on the fragility of being a black character on TV. T-Dog was a great candidate for a quick kill. Then T-Dog disappeared. I literally forgot all about him until last week, when he had one line that was almost comically interrupted. This week T-Dog was similarly marginalized, leading Vulture‘s recapper to state: “By this point, the casual dismissal of one of two minority characters…on this show is feeling extremely suspect. The only thing saving it from being full-on offensive is that the same treatment is being given to Hershel’s entire white family.”
The problem isn’t only about a tired debate over representation.
I was beyond thrilled when I got word that the first African-American actor to have a major role in a Bollywood film, Jonnie Louis Brown, was willing to speak to me for this interview series. However, when I mentioned to some friends that I was going to be interviewing Jonnie, the responses I got were all some variation of, “He’s so scary!” In the United States, Jonnie is best known for his portrayal of the sadistic Officer Eddie Walker on HBO’s The Wire, a standout performance on a show packed with talented actors. Bollywood fans will know Jonnie from Apne, in which he played the toughest, fiercest boxer in the world.
Jonnie laughs when I tell him of my friends’ reactions. “You want to hear something funny?” Filmi Girl always wants to hear something funny. “What’s funny about all those roles is that I almost did not land any of them because the directors and writers thought I was so nice that I could not do it!” The good-natured man on the other end of the line certainly doesn’t sound as if he would steal money from kids, as Officer Walker did on The Wire. “It was just completely ridiculous, they were like, ‘He’s too nice, too clean looking! How can he… I don’t believe it.’ And then when they see me perform it’s like, ‘OH MY GOD!’”
Bollywood audiences also cried “Hai Bhagwaan!” when they saw Jonnie in Apne. For those of you who missed the 2007 Deol family film, Apne is, naturally, the story of a father and his two sons. Dharmenda plays an ex-boxing champ trying to repair his family ties by training up his son, played by Sunny Deol, to become a boxing champ. Jonnie plays the World Champion Sunny must defeat to gain closure. A Bollywood hero is only as tough as the villain he defeats and Jonnie’s performance in the ring allowed Sunny Deol to give the audience a victory that meant something.
“My first impression of Bollywood films was that I didn’t have one,” begins Jonnie. “I didn’t know quite what to make of the films; I had to really sit down and absorb and concentrate on what I was seeing, on what my senses were actually feeling.” But unlike some of the less enlightened film critics who enjoy mocking the filmi style of Bollywood, Jonnie’s years of acting experience allowed him to see past the cultural differences. “I came to realize right away how good the actors and actresses were in Bollywood. They are so good at what they do and they are so centered in the fundamentals of acting that it almost goes unnoticed because the creativity in their films is so high and their dance numbers and sequences are so large that their acting often gets overshadowed by that.”
It’s an astute observation from an actor who is used to thinking outside of the box. When I ask Jonnie why he decided to audition for a Bollywood film, he explains, “Being an African-American male in the United States, the work is very sparse, very difficult. Most of the writers and screenplay writers in the United States are Caucasian and they’re also male, so African-American males are mostly thought of, when it comes to screenplay writing, like an afterthought. The roles for us are sidekick or best friend until you reach that status of, say, a Denzel Washington or a Will Smith. The new opportunities are not necessarily there for us like there are for other ethnicities, unfortunately. So the chances for me playing Superman out of the blue will not happen. It’s one of those things where that’s just how it is.” He laughs. “What’s funny is that I hear my Caucasian actor friends say that there are so many more of them and that the competition is so fierce. But what I tell them is that there are more jobs for you, too. The experience for us [African-American actors] is a little bit different and because of that experience, that’s when you start considering things outside the box.” Continue reading →
I thought about The Wire in context of the controversy over Huckleberry Finn for this reason. The n-word is used constantly. So is the f-word. Take away those two words and half the script would disappear. Black gangsters use the n-word freely to describe one another; so do the cops. To my knowledge, no one has protested to HBO or the producers. This is popular culture, so who cares?
This is a strange juxtaposition: Our schools are cleansed of all that is troubling, offensive, and challenging, while our popular culture deals bluntly, graphically, and harshly with the ugliest realities of our time. I would not want our schools to include all the vulgarity and obscenity that is commonplace in the popular culture. Indeed, I wish that our schools would elevate the popular culture and give young people a taste for something finer than what they see on television and in the movies. In my dreams, the schools would teach the best that has been known and said in the world.
They cannot do that by bowdlerizing classic literature, by pretending that bad things never happened and that we live in a cotton-candy world. Bad things have happened.
Far too often, in the blog world, we can sometimes forget to take the time to reach out and connect. Time is short, and we often communicate with friends and comrades through links or twitter @ replies, leaving many relationships in the online realm. Indeed, there are many people whose work I read, whose blogs I follow, whose work I enjoy that write under a pseudonym – this person is unknown to me in real life.
When I discovered the Undercover Black Man blog, it was a few years back. Our relationship, like many online, existed only through reading and links. I read the blog frequently, but not regularly – he would occasionally drop a note to Racialicious, and added us to his blog roll.
On Wednesday, March 30th, Twitter started blowing up with sad news: David Mills, journalist, DC local, and creator, collaborator, and writer on iconic television series like The Corner, Kingpin, the Wire, and the upcoming Treme. I must have been the last person on earth to not know Undercover Black Man’s identity, but when I read Karsh’s tweet linking both identities, a fresh wave of pain arose.
Mills didn’t do safe. He wrote for NYPD Blue because he had challenged its creator, David Milch. In a writer’s workshop, Milch had said that African Americans didn’t write well for television because they couldn’t adapt their experiences for a general audience. Mills wrote him and said: Try me. Milch became his boss and his long-time mentor.
Nor did Mills play it safe when it came time to creating Kingpin, a short-lived (but well-done) NBC series about a Mexican drug dealer. Kingpin was big and adventurous and filled with Spanish dialogue-a language which Mills, the show’s creator/executive producer, cheerfully admitted he spoke “not one lick.” But a story was a story. As he told me in an interview, “I don’t know anything about Mexican culture. But I know about the human condition. . . . The breakthrough here is, this is a story about the condition of a man’s soul. . . . Often in TV, to get that deeply in the psyche of a character, that character is white. It’s pretty rare that a nonwhite character [gets that kind of attention].”
Mills ran with his visions, and contributed depth and nuance to an environment all too willing to relegate stories about people of color to flat, two-dimensional representations.
David Mills, thank you for all of your work, and thank you for the courage to share it with the world.
by Guest Contributor Aymar Jean Christian, originally published at Televisual
Get ready for reason #573 why The Wire was the best television show of the aughts. In the wake of Scott Brown’s upset in the Massachusetts special election for the U.S. Senate, I’ve been thinking a lot about the cycle of politics. I’ve been a pretty steady proponent of the politics of idealism and, borrowing from Tony Kushner, the ethical responsibility to hope, but the aftermath of Martha Coakley’s defeat may test my resolve. Where can I find the blueprint for my incipient cynicism? The Wire, of course!
The Wire’s central thesis was simple: short-term politics and the quest for power kills long-term progress and social justice. From gangs to government, the media to schools, the same rule applies. Everyone, sadly, violates the rule. They think about themselves and the system never gets fixed. This is the fundamental cynicism of The Wire: it perfectly diagnoses how groups and institutions kill hope. Continue reading →
Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World