Why are white Americans still surprised that African-Americans are a group of people genetically impacted by something other than west African?
In case you haven't heard: First Lady Michelle Obama has mixed ancestry. You don't say! Somebody's pulling my leg. She's part European, African and... drumroll... "Indian"! Honestly, what American isn't? Okay, I know discovering one's family genealogy is a very satisfying endeavor. Particularly for black people who struggle to fill in genealogical holes due to a lack of record-keeping during slavery. But why are white Americans still surprised that African-Americans are a group of people genetically impacted by something other than west African? More importantly, why are some folks trying to single out one of Michelle Obama's maternal biracial ancestors as a 19th century Barack Obama?
In today's New York Times, writers Rachel L. Swarns and Jodi Kantor have this to say about the First Lady's maternal great-great grandfather:
"Dolphus Shields was in his 30s and very light skinned – a church-going carpenter who could read, write and advance in an industrializing town... Dolphus Shields served as a rare link between the deeply divided black and white communities. His carpentry shop stood in the white section of town, and he mixed easily and often with whites... Dolphus Shields believed race relations would improve. "It's going to come together one day," he often said..."
Now I appreciate Swarns and Kantor's need to share with their readers the complexities of some of our First Lady's ancestors. It's some interesting stuff, but it's nothing new for black folks (or whites either if they'd just come clean about their so-called clear-cut ancestry). I also can appreciate Swarns and Kantor's need to show the uncanny parallel between Michelle Obama's biracial great-great grandfather and her biracial president-husband. But the danger in their parallel could mislead readers to think only biracial men made political and social impacts in the early 20th century. Or that literacy, trade and the belief that race relations would improve wasn't also the dream of darker-skinned African-Americans.
Again, I think Swarns and Kantor's parallel is an interesting one. I'm just not sure if they're suggesting Michelle Obama has a history of literate, biracial men in her family so choosing Barack Obama as her husband makes sense; or if they're suggesting Barack Obama's presidency and successes are rooted deep in his biracial, light-skinned appearance and the privileges it provides. But for many, that's not news at all.
Tyler Perry's confession of sexual and physical abuse is horrible. It could also help his audiences appreciate and buy tickets for the film Precious.
Tyler Perry finally revealed the details behind his abuse-ridden childhood. Inspired by the forthcoming film Precious (co-presented with Oprah and starring Mo'Nique, Mariah Carey and Gabourey Sidibe), Perry decided to get real with his fans and post the details of a lifetime of physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
"I'm tired of holding this in. I don't know what to do with it anymore, so, I've decided to give some of it away... "
I don't know if there's something in the celebrity cosmos, but lately the Who's Who are stepping out and sharing their ugly pasts. I'm not complaining. Confession and truth is historically good for the soul and stress levels. It's just a tad bit transparent when the abuse news coincides with a film release or a memoir launch.
I appreciate Perry's candidness. I really do. It takes a lot of courage to confess to millions that one's life has been marred by ongoing abuse. It's particularly courageous for a black man to post a list of confessions about male-on-male sexual abuse, violent beatings by a parent, sadist sexual encounters with a friend's mother, or being bathed in ammonia by an adoptive grandmother. Revelations like Perry's are bound to spark more discussion (and hopefully not just ticket sales for Precious).
But I can't help to think there's something missing from Perry's online confession/Precious promo. He mentions forgiveness quite often, but neglects to mention the importance of counseling or therapy. He doesn't even mention the power of his own therapy. Forgiveness is certainly important for anyone who has endured what Perry claims he's endured, but I just hope Perry's fans realize there's much more to surviving abuse than forgiveness and testimony. Those things are a start, no doubt. A very crucial start. But there's also counseling and forums and groups and more counseling. Again, I appreciate and respect Tyler Perry's courage. It's just hard for someone like me to run with the truth when it's tagged to the release of a film. Then again, maybe this is the perfect union of art and life.
The film Precious examines sexual abuse in the black community. But this time it's pointing the finger at women.
So I saw a screening of Precious this weekend. The New York Film Festival centerpieced Lee Daniels' much-anticipated, controversial film of an obese teen and the abuse she endures. I don't want to brag, but I will anyway: I stood in the $10 Rush Ticket line and walked away with two free $40 tickets. A brother was sitting front and center. Now I'm going to be real with you: the reviews from the Hollywood Reporter and Variety were right. There's no stone left unturned in Precious. Incest, rape, child endangerment, AIDS, the adoration of the fair-skinned, lesbianism, deep self-hatred, illiteracy, excruciating emotional and verbal abuse, it's all explored in the 109 minute film.
Now I'm known for my ability to sit through the most extreme of films. I saw the 2007 psychological horror flick Funny Games and barely cringed, but Precious—an urban tale about a soul unloved—made it hard. With that said, there was also something magical about the film. Lee Daniels was able to thread in enough fantasy and humor to balance the real-life ugly and keep me from fleeing from the theater. However, blogger Tambay over at Shadow and Act doesn't quite feel the same. Tambay wanted more gut and grit from the film and less afterschool special:
"I expected much more. A film of this nature, and the subject matter it covers, should feel more like a punch in the gut. I wanted to be overwhelmed, and be really consumed with the characters and the story. However, it wasn’t what I’d hoped for, and needed, in order to really like the film; instead, it felt rather watered-down, and simplified; in fact, if it weren’t for the rich performance Mo’Nique gives, and of course the profanity, this could easily be an after-school special."
Tambay certainly makes an interesting point, but I wonder if a "punch in the gut" would be too much. Matty Rich's Straight Out of Brooklyn was one of those "punch in the gut" urban films where mothers cringed in corners and fathers drank in excess. It was relentless and depressing. At least in Precious, the title character flashes to fantasy whenever abuse encroaches. For example, her mother hits her with a flying plate and Precious is transported to a glittering red carpet event. I just don't think a modern audience (black or white) wants to sit through 104 minutes of relentless abuse and incest. Folks have a hard enough time in their personal lives. Tambay also had a few things to say about the saving graces in the film all being fair-skinned, but I'm going to leave that alone for now.
But I'll tell you what: Mo'Nique scrubbed off her usual rambunctious cattiness (a la Betty in Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins) and went bare bones. Her performance as Precious' mother was both honest and difficult to watch. The woman throws a TV at her daughter and grandchild. However, the real-deal magic comes from the 26-year-old Brooklyn-born Gabourey Sidibe. Her performance conveys so much intelligence, steadiness and vulnerability that I didn't want to provide the standard sentimental hug; I just wanted to give her a thumbs up for her endurance.
It's no secret that Precious feels much like Alice Walker's The Color Purple. You know, unloved and "unattractive" black girl knocked up twice by daddy. In fact, Sapphire, the author of Push, which the film is based upon, said she was inspired by both The Color Purple and Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. And with stories of incest in the black community, there's always the vilified man. (Although Roman Polanski and MacKenzie Phillips's father have garnered support. Interesting.) Anyway, except for Lenny Kravitz's character, every other black man in the film Precious is absurdly abusive. But I will say this: the real person accountable for the crazy in the film is Precious' mother. She's demonized until the very end—a rare feat for stories of black women and abuse. Is this progress?
I liked the film Precious. Except for a few manipulative scenes of excess crying and make-you-feel soundtrack, I thought the film posed a very interesting question to its audience: If Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and now Sapphire, is examining incest in the black community, well, isn't it time we really turn over that stone?
Bromance films don't depict black men favorably. And why should they? No one's ready for a multi-layered, human black guy.
The Root's very own Saaret E. Yoseph scribed a provocative piece today about the depiction of African-American men in bromance films. In the last few years Hollywood and indie filmmakers have been providing audiences with angst-filled, politically incorrect depictions of white men suffering from arrested development and a need for a man hug or BFF. From the indie favorite Hump Day to I Love You, Man with Paul Rudd and Rashida Jones men expressing their inner-homo has been on the rise, getting laughs and making bucks. However, Saaret Yoseph introduces a glitch in the bromance game: black men aren't getting their fair share of man hugs. Yoseph writes:
"But what happens when one of the bros is a brother? So far, nothing good. Bromanticism has been unkind to “the black friend.” We’ve seen plenty of funny moments, but most at the black buddy’s expense."
Yoseph hit the nail on the Hollywood head, baby. I would also add that Hollywood hasn't yet embraced the idea that black men can be stationary fixtures of emotional support. It's fine as long as black men serve as the urban homie who provides occasional relationship advice, in three comedic scenes or less. But the idea of a black man and a white man exploring homo-emotional latency with one another is as farfetched as programming an entire season of black shows on ABC. There's just too much social and political baggage when it comes to black male characters. Now it's cool-breezy to have a 7 foot black transvestite or finger-snapping hairdresser blow through a bromance film and send the laugh meter through the roof. But an actual full-fledged black guy? A full-fledged emotionally-vulnerable black guy who suffers from arrested development and a need for a man hug, well, not so much. I have a sneaky feeling that black audiences aren't ready for that either.
George Bush and a few of conservatives snubbed Harry Potter author. Why? Well, all of that witchcraft, of course.
Entertainment blogger Geoff Boucher over at the L.A. Times has brought something to my attention. J.K. Rowlings, the prolific scribe of the Harry Potter franchise, was overlooked for a Presidential Medal of Freedom by the Bush crew for encouraging witchcraft in her books. Geoff Boucher picked up the news from former speechwriter Matthew Latimer's new book Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor. In Speech-less Latimer writes:
"This was the same sort of narrow thinking that led people in the White House to actually object to giving the author J.K. Rowling a presidential medal because the Harry Potter books encouraged witchcraft... or that Ted Kennedy was liberal..."
Like Boucher, I think this is ridiculous, laughable and depressingly primitive. Encourage witchcraft? So I guess Bush and his crew were concerned our Harry Potter-reading youth would run into the streets burning bibles and pictures of dead presidents. They were concerned these same warlock-wannabes would create national covens where toads and the thinning hair of conservatives would be used in potions. Oh dear God no. Potions that could end a corrupt government that encouraged its citizens to consume-consume-consume and remain dumb-dumb-dumb.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the country's highest civil award. It's given to those individuals who have contributed to security or national interests, world peace, or cultural endeavors. Maybe J.K. Rowlings ability to encourage youth across the globe to step away from the PS3 and actually read isn't worthy of praise. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is more fitting for a former recipient like John Wayne, whose films encouraged the massacre of Native Americans and the uplift of the American West. Yeah, that seems much more fitting and it certainly contributes to national interests.