Where Is the Gil Scott-Heron Documentary?
The BBC's '03 film on the American "bluesologist" has yet to air in U.S. Plus: Psychology Today apologizes for post on black women.
Since the death of spoken word musician Gil Scott-Heron on Friday, more than one post-Boomer - Scott-Heron was 62 - confessed online that the so-called "godfather of rap" was unknown to them.
Savvy television producers might rush to fill the vacuum by obtaining a 2003 documentary from the BBC, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," by Don Letts, a black British filmmaker who multitasks as a disc jockey and confidant of the English punk band the Clash.
The documentary has been sliced into chunks and posted on YouTube, but is not believed to have ever been televised in the United States.
It's our loss. Scott-Heron admirers tried to fill the void in social media by swapping video clips and articles. Letts takes a more comprehensive approach, telling the Scott-Heron story through interviews with longtime partner Brian Jackson, rappers Chuck D and Mos Def, writer Greg Tate, crossover folk singer Richie Havens, spoken word pioneers the Last Poets, playwright-performer Sarah Jones, record executive Clive Davis and others, including Scott-Heron, the self-described "bluesologist."
Sam Delaney of Britain's Guardian newspaper wrote at the time, ". . . when Letts travelled to America earlier this year to meet Scott-Heron he found a slightly derelict figure, struggling with a fading career and a seemingly hopeless drug addiction. What might have been a harmonious meeting of minds turned out to be a fractious encounter that became strained almost to breaking point.
". . . The result of this frosty encounter is a compelling documentary. There's Chuck D and other Scott-Heron fans putting him in cultural context. There's very funny archive footage of him ad-libbing a stand-up routine on stage in the 1970s. . . . But best of all are the eloquent thoughts of Scott-Heron today, taken from the rare moments in which Letts managed to get him to sit still."
Jay T. Harris compares the failure of American television to broadcast the BBC documentary on Gil Scott-Heron with the reluctance of U.S. media to air the views of those whose perspectives populate the Al Jazeera network, the Qatar-based news operation that has a difficult time gaining access to U.S. cable and satellite television.
"They have a very different perception of what's going on," Harris said of American and Al Jazeera news executives.
Harris, 62, is in a unique position to make such a comparison. He made his way up the ladder in the American media, having been publisher of the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News. He is now the Wallis Annenberg Chair in Journalism and Democracy at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. And Harris went to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania with Scott-Heron and considered him a close friend.
Scott-Heron "came in my sophomore year. . . . He was funny as hell and unbelievably smart. A really great person to be around." In his "negative critique of American society, there was a hopefulness about it," Harris said. "That if you call things by their name, change is possible."
It is important to remember the context of the early '70s, when Scott-Heron burst on the scene, Harris said in a telephone interview.
With "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," the maiden work that has come to be the most referenced in the Scott-Heron obituaries, "for some people, 'revolution' was the key word, not 'televised' - that revolution was going to happen. We saw it happen in Africa, in various countries. . . . These were the times of Frank Rizzo," the Philadelphia mayor and former police chief considered by some to be unduly harsh with blacks, and the activist poet and playwright Amiri Baraka.
Harris remembers the day in 1970 that Lincoln University closed after incidents that left students shot and killed at majority white Kent State University in Ohio and historically black Jackson State College in Mississippi.
Scott-Heron, Harris and a handful of others drove to Washington, Harris' hometown, to demand of the Justice Department that the killings at historically black schools be treated as seriously as the others. The students carried weapons, but left them at the Harris family home before their confrontation at Justice.
That most major newspapers ran Scott-Heron's obituary was a victory, Harris said. "In the world of the white press in 1973, he didn't exist," he said of Scott-Heron. "We would have had to fight tooth and nail to put it in the paper. The fact that it was there spoke to what a lot of us in our various areas of endeavor - music, journalism - we were trying to make that happen."
In another striking development, nearly all the obituaries were written by white journalists, despite Scott-Heron's strong identification with African American issues. That spoke to a universality in his message, Harris said. "He had a way of telling a story that you knew was real. You knew that as a moral perspective it was correct," regardless of your political philosophy.
Scott-Heron's songs preached against addiction and alcoholism, but he fell victim to crack addiction and served prison time for cocaine possession. He looked years older than he was.
In the documentary, Scott-Heron, Chuck D, Sarah Jones, Mos Def and Brian Jackson, longtime collaborator and Lincoln schoolmate, all comment on the change in popular culture brought about in the mid-'70s disco era.
Chuck D said, "What happened to black music as a social message once it was appropriated by the record companies and they could put soul and culture into a package or a box and regurgitate it back to the masses is that it was limited to that, and it doesn't transcend the original meaning that spawned it in the first place."
That helped lead to "the frustration, the helplessness," Harris told Journal-isms. "He was sadly increasingly marginalized, as was the black cultural scene. The hopelessness that was in his songs . . . the isolation, the growing sense that the ideals would not be realized hit him very hard, not unlike the artists who left the country in the '30s and '40s. It's a terrible thing to be rejected by your own country. That happened to Gil."
Others of his generation were "willing to make compromises in order to succeed. That's not something that he did. It turned into a self-destructive set of behavior that you see in our community today.
"It's a story that's not new, but you hate to see it happen," Harris continued. Yet "he stayed with his values all the way through. He found comfort and solace in the very worst places to find them, but he never left his values."
* Atlantic City Central blog, Atlantic City (N.J.) Press: The World Has Lost One of the Greats - Gil Scott Heron Passes.
* Jamie Byng, the Observer, England: Gil Scott-Heron, my brave and brilliant friend
* Tommy Christopher, Mediaite: Gil Scott-Heron Dead At 62, Whitey No Longer On The Moon
* Jim Carroll, Irish Times: Archive: Gil Scott-Heron
* Ta-Nehisi Coates blog, the Atlantic: Close All of the Places We've Been
* James Fallows blog, the Atlantic: Gil Scott-Heron
* Patrice Gaines blog: Who Killed Gil Scott Heron?
* Don Geesling, the Brooklyn Rail: An American Griot: Gil Scott-Heron with Don Geesling
* Arlene Goldbard, The Chasm: Remembering Gil Scott-Heron
* Earl Ofari Hutchinson, syndicated: Gll Scott-Heron was more than the 'Godfather of Rap'
* Martin Johnson, theRoot: Gil Scott-Heron: Poet, Singer and Visionary
* Linda Jones blog: My Gil Scott-Heron memorial moment
* Tris McCall, the Star-Ledger, Newark: Gil Scott-Heron, poet, rhymer, and inspired protest singer, dead at 62
* Nate Patrin, pitchfork.com: Appreciation: Gil Scott-Heron
* Rollo Romig, the New Yorker: Gil Scott-Heron's "The Bottle"
* Ujala Sehgal blog, the Atlantic: Artists Pay Tribute to Deceased Gil Scott-Heron
* TaRessa Stovall, thedefendersonline.com: Genius Burning Brightly: The Unraveling of Gil Scott-Heron (2009)
* Neil Tesser, Chicago Jazz Music Examiner: The triumph and the tragedy of Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011)
* Lauren Vance and Dean Schabner, ABC News: Gil Scott-Heron, Called Godfather of Rap, Dies at 62
"The PBS Web site briefly carried a fake story claiming that the famed rapper Tupac Shakur was alive and living in New Zealand after a group of hackers took over the organization's computer systems on Saturday night," John Markoff reported Monday for the New York Times.
"In addition to posting the fake news story, the group, which identified itself on Twitter as @LulzSec or The Lulz Boat, began posting passwords and e-mail addresses of people from a wide range of news organizations and other information belonging to PBS.
"As late as 2:30 a.m. on Monday, PBS had still not regained control of its Web site as the hackers continued to post defaced pages.
"Comments posted by LulzSec indicated that the group was unhappy with a Frontline program about WikiLeaks that recently aired on PBS."
* Elizabeth Jensen, New York Times: Florida Governor Vetoes PBS Funding
"President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel were clearly of two very different minds about the prospect of Israel reverting to its pre-1967 borders. The official White House photo by Pete Souza - showing the two leaders huddling outside the Oval Office . . . - didn't make life easy for picture editors, Stephen Crowley wrote last week for his "Lens" column in the New York Times.
"By releasing this single picture, was the White House trying to convey a sense of comity? Of presidential confidence? Of a deep understanding between president and prime minister? There was no answering these questions, because no journalists witnessed the moment."
* Michael H. Cottman, BlackAmericaWeb.com: President Obama's Uplifting Irish Welcome
* Joel Dreyfuss, theRoot.com: Dissing Obama on the Middle East
* Juan Gonzalez, New York Daily News: President Obama's upcoming trip to Puerto Rico is a PR move
* E.R. Shipp, theRoot.com: Blacks and the Arab-Israeli Conflict
"Earlier this month, the popular magazine Psychology Today published an article by evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa titled 'Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?' that was met, expectedly, with mass outrage," Ujala Sehgal reported Saturday for the Atlantic. "The article used data based on another study to make several claims such as 'black women are objectively less physically attractive than other women' yet 'subjectively consider themselves to be far more physically attractive than others.'
"After some attempted editing of the title, the magazine retracted the post from its website in its entirety. Kanazawa in turn is facing an investigation by the London School of Economics, where he is a professor, after a unanimous vote for his dismissal by the student union.
Contributing writers to Psychology Today moved quickly to do some damage control. Dr. [Scott Barry] Kaufman, in his blog for the magazine "Beautiful Minds," wrote a post re-analyzing Kanazawa's data.
". . . Considering the level of outrage," Sehgal wrote, "the apology was some time coming. Kaja Perina, the Editor-in-Chief, issued the following statement on Friday:
" 'Last week, a blog post about race and appearance by Satoshi Kanazawa was published - and promptly removed - from this site. We deeply apologize for the pain and offense that this post caused. Psychology Today's mission is to inform the public, not to provide a platform for inflammatory and offensive material. Psychology Today does not tolerate racism or prejudice of any sort. The post was not approved by Psychology Today, but we take full responsibility for its publication on our site. We have taken measures to ensure that such an incident does not occur again. Again, we are deeply sorry for the hurt that this post caused.'
"However, there was no word on whether the magazine will continue to publish articles by Kanazawa. He has not published on entry on his blog since the one removed, although there is no indication that the blog will be terminated."
* Jenice Armstrong, Philadelphia Daily News: Article trips alarm bells
* Faye Flam, Philadelphia Inquirer: Racism still contaminating science
Rodgers was asked by Thomas Umstead of Multichannel News last week: "How do you see the African-American cable market developing over the next few years?"
Rodgers replied, "I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised if BET and TV One remain the only major [African American] targeted networks. What I do foresee is a large number of multicultural networks where you don't know whether [it's] black, brown, green, yellow or whatever, but it has multicultural sensibilities that I think we as a nation are headed towards."
Umstead also asked, "If you were to return to the entertainment industry, would you remain in cable or do you see the future in other distribution platforms?"
Rodgers said, "I still love cable, however I do believe that digital is the real future."
According to the Federal Communications Commission, "Digital Television (DTV) is an advanced broadcasting technology that has transformed your television viewing experience. DTV has enabled broadcasters to offer television with better picture and sound quality. It also offers multiple programming choices, called multicasting, and interactive capabilities." Since June 12, 2009, full-power television stations nationwide have been broadcasting exclusively in a digital format.
A survey for the Radio Television Digital News Association [PDF] found that broadcasters were using their digital channels for news, weather, informational programming, sports, traffic and programming in another language.
"Full Disclosure," based on Brian Palmer's experience as an embedded reporter with a Marine battalion in Iraq, airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific times, the Documentary Channel announced. "Premiering on the fourth Tuesday of the month, 'Full Disclosure' is also presented as part of Black Documentary Cinema."
Palmer is a fellow at New York University Law School's Center on Law and Security and a faculty member at the School of Visual of Arts and Baruch College in New York. He was a New York-based correspondent for CNN from 2000 to 2002.
He "followed dozens of missions of the First Battalion/Second Marine Regiment during two of their deployments in Iraq," according to the Documentary Channel. "Tuesday's 'Full Disclosure' documents the consequences of the unit's actions for both Americans and Iraqis. Footage shot on patrols and missions with rank-and-file Marines forms the bulk of the documentary," which has already been shown in some theaters, "but it also reaches into the present through interviews at home with one Marine who suffers serious physical and emotional damage from his experience in Iraq. '"Full Disclosure" is a cautionary tale for all Americans about the hidden but very real consequences of war,' says filmmaker Palmer."
On NPR's "Tell Me More" on Monday, substitute host Allison Keyes asked, "You yourself describe this documentary as, quote, 'a cautionary tale about the hidden but very real consequences of war.' What do you mean by that and do you think people here that are not in the military get it?
"PALMER: In a word, no. When I started this project as a journalist in 2004, just writing articles and taking pictures I thought I could affect the national debate on Iraq. I don't believe that anymore. What I do believe is that I can reach people on a one-to-one basis. If they'll look at this film and they'll see the individuals behind it, maybe they'll have some understanding of what such occupations are about. Maybe they'll start to think a little bit more critically and perhaps a little bit more empathetically about what's going on in Afghanistan.
"You know, troops coming into someone's living room in Helmand province or a firefighter, something like that, we don't know that. I think we need to develop a curiosity, a hunger to learn about these things, because these policies are being made in our name and they will affect us."
* Chris Ariens, TVNewser: FNC's Kelly Wright on the meaning of Memorial Day
* Allison Keyes, "Tell Me More," NPR: Black Female Pilot Breaks Racial, Gender Barriers
* Dwight Lewis, Nashville Tennessean: Our military need physical, emotional support
* Bob Richter, San Antonio Express-News: Memorial Day is not a celebration of war
* Ruben Rosario, St. Paul Pioneer Press: For parents of gay soldier, vote compounds their loss
* Albor Ruiz, New York Daily News: U.S. forgot that an all-volunteer Puerto Rican unit, the Borinqueneers, served bravely
* Goldie Taylor, theGrio: Sistas in the service: Why we love our black women in uniform
* Rod Watson, Buffalo News: As vets die suspiciously, we need truth
* Armstrong Williams blog: Memorial Day Remembrance
* "Fewer young people watched TV on traditional sets over the past television season, the second consecutive year of decline as viewers face a proliferation of ways to watch TV shows," Sam Schechner reported Friday for the Wall Street Journal.
* "Ernest Sotomayor has been inducted into the National Association of Hispanic Journalists Hall of Fame, Veronica Villafañe reported Monday on her Media Moves site. "The ceremony will take place on June 17, during the NAHJ convention in Orlando. Before joining Columbia University as Assistant Dean for Career Services in 2005, Ernie spent almost 30 years in journalism."
* No sooner was freelance television producer Donna Walker elected president of the Washington Association of Black Journalists Tuesday than she was part of WTTG-TV's nightly newscast. Walker was interviewed because she is originally from Joplin, Mo., site of last week's devastating tornado.
* "There's another name to add to the rising list of editors-turned-designers: W Magazine's Karla Martinez," Women's Wear Daily reported on Friday. Martinez, "who, by the way, is not quitting her day job - is launching a line of loungewear with longtime friend Cecilia de Sola, whose own résumé includes stints at Marie Claire and Vanity Fair. 'It's been in the works for a year,' said the Chile-based de Sola. 'We thought there was a hole in the marketplace for luxury loungewear.' "
* "Peter Walker, president of Univision Local Media for just about a year, has decided to leave the company effective June 3 'to pursue opportunities in Chicago,' according to a staff memo from Univision EVP-COO Randy Falco," Mark K. Miller reported Friday for TVNewsCheck.
* Sheryl Nance Nash, who has written about money for such prominent publications as the New York Times, Crain's, Money Magazine, Essence and Working Mother, will write regularly for AOL Finance on "the nitty-gritty issues that confront every household," TalkingBizNews reported Thursday. AOL Daily Finance "was taken over by the editorial management of The Huffington Post earlier this year" and "named a new staff to be managed by Huffington Post executive business editor Peter Goodman."
* "This week, the new owners of [W]DUQ announced a format shift from jazz to news and information. Jazz will be limited to six hours on Saturdays, although it will be available 24/7 on the station's online stream and HD channel," Tony Norman wrote Friday for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "As a longtime listener, I can't say this is a mix that excites me. I like and appreciate NPR as much as the next journalist, but I also appreciate DUQ's role as the one local institution committed to remembering and even celebrating Pittsburgh's jazz history."
Facebook users: Sign up for the "Richard Prince's Journal-isms" fan page.