celebrating people of color in the arts

Archive for January, 2009|Monthly archive page

Playing for Change: Peace Through Music

In music on January 25, 2009 at 9:54 pm


Be Moved. Be Inspired. Be Change(d).

Playing for Change: Peace Through Music is a musical exploration that glides across four continents, revealing a relentless insight of humanity that strives for global unification. It is a story of hope, struggle, perseverance, joy, and celebration.  It is a story of human ambition to overcome prejudices, separation, natural hardships, and evil existing in our world today.” 



How the Movies Made a President

In film on January 18, 2009 at 5:59 pm

Sidney Poitier with Katharine Houghton and Spencer Tracy in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” (Everett Collection, courtesy of The New York Times)

Sidney Poitier with Katharine Houghton and Spencer Tracy in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” (Everett Collection, courtesy of The New York Times)


In today’s New York Times, film critics Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott argued that “Evolving cinematic roles have prepared America to have a black man in charge.”  In light of  the many films–annoyingly too many–that confine black men to stereotypical, demeaning, and one-dimensional roles (the “yes massuh” slave, glorified gangsters, absent fathers, rappers with nothing else to talk about than rims and bling, oh and the latest trend of the fat-suit wearing, cross-dressing black comedian), my first response to Dargis and Scott was “Have you two missed the last 50 years of cinematic history?”

Well, clearly they think not. With examples like the presidencies of James Earl Jones in “The Man,” Morgan Freeman in “Deep Impact,” Chris Rock in “Head of State” and Dennis Haysbert in “24”, Dargis and Scott argue that Americans were being prepared for “Mr. Obama’s transformative breakthrough before it occurred.”  

Dargis & Scott: “Make no mistake: Hollywood’s historic refusal to embrace black artists and its insistence on racist caricatures and stereotypes linger to this day. Yet in the past 50 years — or, to be precise, in the 47 years since Mr. Obama was born — black men in the movies have traveled from the ghetto to the boardroom, from supporting roles in kitchens, liveries and social-problem movies to the rarefied summit of the Hollywood A-list. In those years the movies have helped images of black popular life emerge from behind what W. E. B. Du Bois called “a vast veil,” creating public spaces in which we could glimpse who we are and what we might become.”

As much as I agree that there have been some cinematic roles that have broken down and broken through barriers for black men, we have to keep in mind that the roles (“savior, counselor, patriarch, oracle, avenger, role model, hero”) played by these men are fictional – their successes and acceptance in America carefully crafted and plotted.

President Obama doesn’t have that luxury. He has no script.   – Grace A. Ali 

Read more at The New York Times





The 5th Inning

In books on January 6, 2009 at 5:44 pm



In March, poet and literary activist, E. Ethelbert Miller will release his second memoir, The 5th Inning. In an exclusive essay for of note, Miller reflects on the family photo that inspired the cover art for the book. “Years before Michelle and Barack, we were the Millers,” he recalls of that ‘family-next-door’ moment.  

But as he unwraps the story behind the photograph – the story of a family and of years passed, he crafts a narrative about the fragments, the spaces, the isolation within our lives. “This is what we do as writers,” he says, “We write about the smiles we can no longer wear and the suffering that we do.”

I’m looking at the book cover of my second memoir, The 5th Inning. The cover features the artwork of my friend Andy Shallal, the owner of Busboys and Poets in Washington D.C. Andy was able to create a collage from a photo taken by Dan Moldea. He took the picture back in 2005 on the day my son Nyere-Gibran graduated from Gonzaga High School. It’s a remarkable photo in that it captures my entire family laughing and in a moment of complete joy. I have no memory of what we were laughing at, other than Dan perhaps saying just relax and disguise yourself for history. We are all standing in the backyard of our house on Underwood Street. In the picture with me are my daughter, mother, sister, son, and wife. What the picture doesn’t capture is what took place in front of the house before Dan arrived. 

It’s my son’s graduation and he is happy. My wife has fixed up the entire house, ordered chairs and tables for the backyard, cooked food and made arrangements for about 50 people or more. Standing in front of the house waiting for people to arrive, my son and I soon realized very few people were coming. I could feel the disappointment in his voice overshadowed by the jokes we  passed back and forth. We both knew that this special day was another day in our lives–that connected us more than blood or flesh. If I was a blues singer I would have presented my son with a guitar and congratulated him for graduating into my world.

Read more

Read the rest of this entry »

authors of our own image

In documentary, photography on January 3, 2009 at 4:10 pm


THROUGH A LENS DARKLY: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People documents black photographers and black subjects who use the camera as a tool for social change.

The film honors the work of pioneering black men and women photographers whose images helped reclaim the collective self-worth and humanity of African-Americans for over 160 years. In their struggle to be the authors & editors of their own image, the upcoming documentary depicts how African American communities have used the medium of photography to construct political, aesthetic, and cultural representations of themselves and their world.

Produced by Thomas Allen Harris and Deb Willis.

* The video presented above is a fundraising trailer to raise funds to complete the two hour film and multimedia project.

Donations can be made directly at http://throughalensdarkly.tv

India on my mind

In bookmark on January 2, 2009 at 2:28 am



While “Slumdog Millionaire” continues to captivate the global cinematic spotlight for its poignant commentary on the class system in Mumbai, Aravind Adiga, the 33 year old Indian author has nabbed the Man Booker Prize for his first novel “The White Tiger.”

In an interview with the BBC, Adiga described “The White Tiger” as “the story of a poor man in today’s India, one of the many hundreds of millions who belong to the vast Indian underclass, people who live as laborers, as servants, as chauffeurs and who by and large do not get represented in Indian entertainment, in Indian films, in Indian books. My hero—or rather my protagonist—Balram Halwai is one of these faceless millions of poor Indians.” 

At a time when many refer to India as “an economic miracle” citing an economic growth rate of nearly 10% per year, and “the world’s largest democracy,” Adiga challenges these notions. “It is important,” he says, “to introduce other dissonant chords into the largely triumphalist notes. It is important to realize that large numbers of people are not benefiting from the economic boom, that social tensions are increasing.” 

On NPR radio Adiga said he wanted his book to “entertain and disturb.” “There’s no reason that a book dealing with poverty can’t be viciously funny at times,” Adiga told the BBC after being awarded the Booker Prize. 

Read more at International.



In photography, profiles in color on January 1, 2009 at 6:39 pm


Hank Willis Thomas is often scathing, and unapologetically so, in his critique of the racialized images and language pervasive in advertising. His B(r)anded series centers on the appropriation of the black male body – specifically, the ways in which that body has been commercialized.  

Of his work Branded Head (pictured above), Thomas “reflects on how 18th and 19th century slaves were branded as a sign of ownership, and in the 21st century their descendants perpetuate a state of branded consciousness.”  

Essentially, Thomas shows the body of color as product, selling yet another product.

– Grace A. Ali