celebrating people of color in the arts

Archive for December, 2008|Monthly archive page

“Seven Pounds” Too Heavy

In film on December 30, 2008 at 12:01 am


Troy Jeffrey Allen of the Typographic Era desperately tries to find something nice to say about Will Smith’s latest, “Seven Pounds.” The best he could muster, “Smith doesn’t belong here” – in his own film that is. 

Will Smith is starting to become a deal breaker for me. Now don’t get me wrong…I like Smith. During the course of his charismatic career, he’s managed to surpass royal freshness and Hollywood stereotypes. However, like any marquee player, he also tends to force himself onto roles (Don’t believe me?  Check out   “I Am Legend,” “Ali,” and “I Robot” ).  His presence can weigh a movie down. Case in point, “Seven Pounds.” 

Smith plays IRS auditor Ben Thomas, who carries a secret. But what has compelled him to help out seven people less fortunate than himself? I’m willing to bet the frequent flashbacks of Smith kissing his wife and cars tumbling on winding roads have something to do with it.

It’s almost ridiculous how heavy handed this film gets at times. You’ve already had your fill of obscured details and heart-puppetry when Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson) shows interest in Ben. She’s his newest acquisition to pay it forward. Emily has a cardiac problem, and just in case you didn’t get that the first time, so does her dog…and just in case you need another depressing reminder, she wears a charm bracelet of a heart on her wrist.

Director Gabrielle Muccino (who must not have seen “Crash,” “Babel,” or “21 Grams”) demands you to notice how serious “Seven Pounds” is. He wants you to believe every performance is award-worthy, especially Smith’s. Ironically, it’s Will Smith’s presence that burdens an already trying film. He doesn’t belong here. His acting consists of plenty of depressed, far-away looks cued by soft piano music. It’s such an unabashed call for attention that it almost washes away the pleasant feelings of “Pursuit of Happyness.” 


Anish Kapoor, oh so sublime

In art on December 20, 2008 at 1:18 am


Photo: AFP

Anish Kapoor, Indian-born artist and visionary (in every sense of the word) currently has a solo show, “Memory,” at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin, Germany. In a recent review of one of Kapoor’s monumental pieces, “Cloud Gate,” art critic Meenakshi Thirukode writes:  

“On its surface the viewer sees the reflection of the phallic skyline, the clouds above and himself; as if the sky, earth and the human soul have been conjoined in a transcendent communion…It is not just joy that generations of Kapoor’s audiences have experienced but, fear, tranquillity and a sense of awe standing in front of the Maya or “cosmic illusion” that are his sculptures. It is an experience anyone could partake in regardless of one’s cultural, social or religious conditioning.” 

Read more at The Hindu 

the art of the letter

In books on December 18, 2008 at 7:57 pm


When’s the last time you received a hand-written letter? Rare these days, isn’t it? To put pen to paper requires thought, intimacy, patience, reflection, and penmanship. The hand-written letter is increasingly becoming a lost art – soon we might only find them in dusty attics or museums enclosed in glass cases.

That’s probably one of the reasons why Pamela Newkirk finds the art of letter writing fascinating. Over coffee today, she handed me an advanced copy of her upcoming book, Letters from Black America (February, 2009) – a sequel to the previous collection, A Love No Less, Two Centuries of African-American Love Letters.

It’s an extensive collection with a diversity of letters penned by well-known politicians, artists, and entertainers, as well as the private correspondences of slaves, servicemen, and domestic workers. Of course, I’m very pleased to see a chapter dedicated to Art and Culture featuring letters from Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay among other men and women of note.

– Grace A. Ali

would you trust this man with your daughter?

In art, off the wall on December 17, 2008 at 2:08 am

“Would you trust this man with your daughter?” If you said no, then you just turned down Nelson Mandela–Nobel Peace Prize winner, humanitarian, global change maker, etc., etc., etc.,–as a future son-in-law. Shame on you.

I attended the opening of “Marlene Dumas: Prints + Multiples” at the Kyle Kauffman Gallery last night and was immediately taken with the provocative question scribbled under Portrait of a Young Nelson Mandela. Dumas, who grew up in South Africa under apartheid, turns racial (and dating) profiling into art.

Since she doesn’t care too much for labels I won’t attempt to categorize her, but I will say that like Portrait, much of Dumas’ work is provocative and controversial.

In conjunction with the Kauffman’s exhibit in Chelsea, MoMA is displaying a more extensive collection of Dumas’ work that reflect “themes of race, sexuality, and social identity…to create a unique perspective on important and controversial issues of the day.”

– Grace A. Ali

Slumdog Millionaire

In film on December 12, 2008 at 4:48 pm
hr_slumdog_millionaire_3In his review, Troy Jeffrey Allen of the Typographic Era treats Slumdog Millionaire as this year’s version of It’s a Wonderful Life.  

It doesn’t happen often, but once in awhile you hit paydirt at the movies. You realize you’ve been a cynic and someone was going to pull your card. That person is director, Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, Trainspotting, Sunshine). That movie is Slumdog Millionaire. In a season of faux-inspirational films and a President-Elect invoking the potential of the human spirit, this film couldn’t come at a better time.
Slumdog Millionaire falls in the category of Pan’s Labyrinth and Children of Men–movies that humble the viewer and make you ask obediently for another. The base is largely straight forward, but the energy of the film is unique. Boyle attacks the underdog story instead of directs it. He orchestrates a crime tale, a love story, a familial story, a commentary about the class system in Mumbai, India, and a story of persecution like it was a fist fight. It reminds me alot of Martin Scorsese’s Kundun – a director, going against the grain and wielding an inspirational story like a weapon.
Slumdog Millionaire is about the ideals as much as the story. That’s what makes it so damn interesting. Jamal Malik, a kid from the slums of Mumbai, loses his entire family to selfishness. Chance brings him to the Hindi version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, (I guess “Who Wants to Win A @$$load of Rupees” doesn’t have the same kick). But is it chance that allows him to answer all the questions correctly or is he cheating? Nobody believes that a “slumdog” can be THAT smart. The local law enforcement gets involved and the day before he’s set to break the show’s record, he’s subjected to torture. What unravels is not just how he answered the questions on the show, but how he answers the big question: “Can money buy you happiness?” It may sound like an Indian regurgitation of Quiz Show, but it’s much more forceful.
Boyle, Loveleen Tandan (co-director), Simon Beaufoy (screenwriter), and an amazing cast of young actors fooled me into thinking Slumdog Millionaire was a biopic. It’s not. The energy is just that palpable, the ambition just that unshakable.