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Archive for the ‘Hollywood’ Category

Love & Basketball (2000) is a Hollywood film, a love story starring Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan. It was written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (I will do a post on her). Lathan and Epps grow up next door to each other in the 1980s in Crenshaw, a black part of Los Angeles. They both love basketball – and, even when they do not want to admit it, each other. Basketball brings them together – and tears them apart.

This was the film that made Sanaa Lathan’s name and got Boris Kodjoe noticed (he takes her to the spring dance). Tyra Banks got a bit part but was already world-famous as a supermodel.

Gabrielle Union is in it too, then also pretty much unknown. She tried out for the lead but lost out to Lathan. Instead she got a part as one of Epps’s girlfriends. Union was to make her name that same year by starring in “Bring it On”, a cheerleader film.

Supporting characters: Debbi Morgan and Dennis Haysbert play Epps’s parents, Alfre Woodard plays Lathan’s mother.  In addition to the love story and the basetketball, the film shows Lathan’s relationship with her mother and Epps’s with his father. Debbi Morgan was great as a woman past her prime in a failing marriage.

The best scene except for the end was at the the spring dance: Lathan is dancing with Kodjoe and Epps is dancing with Union and they are playing Zapp and Roger’s “I Want to Be Your Man” (1987). Not only do I love that song but Lathan looked absolutely beautiful in that scene.

It is one of those movies I kept hearing about but never saw – till the other day. At the time it came out I had no reason to see it: I did not know Lathan then and my wife is no fan of Epps (too short?). I like Alfre Woodard but she is no big Hollywood star so I never know if she is in something until I am already watching it: “Hey, look, Alfre Woodard!”

It was a sweet story – though, truth be told, I would have probably watched it if it was just two hours of Sanaa Lathan breathing or waiting for a bus. If Halle Berry is bread, Sanaa Lathan is cake. With icing.

Lathan had played basketball only twice in her life before she got the part. They had to shoot the basketball scenes so you could not tell – partly by shooting the action from her point of view.

All the basketball players wear Nike shoes: because Nike had enough shoes from the 1980s for a period film. Prince-Bythewood, the director, tried to stay as in period as possible – though right in the opening scene set in 1981 she plays a song from 1983 (“Candy Girl” by New Edition). In the director’s commentary I found out that she knew that – she was just about the same age as the main characters in 1981 – but thought the song was too good to pass up.

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“Alice in Wonderful” (2010) is the second Disney film of that name, this one directed by Tim Burton, who did “Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993). Johnny Depp plays the Mad Hatter. Unlike the first Alice film by Disney in 1951, which used straight animation, this one uses live actors with computers drawing in the background and even parts of the characters. It also features an older Alice, 19 (played by Mia Wasikowska) who is faced with a Wonderland that has become dark and evil.

I loved the Alice books and I loved “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, so I was looking forward to this film. I thought it could be a masterpiece. Sadly, it is not. While the acting, the sets, the special effects and the costumes were all great the plot was not.

The plot was tired. It is the very same plot you see in Star Wars, the Hobbit and the Wizard of Oz: our hero is an ordinary person who finds himself fighting against some great, terrible evil power. On his way to face said evil power he gathers an odd set of companions and a bit of magic power.

So in place of Chewbacca or the Scarecrow you have the Mad Hatter. In place of the Force or ruby slippers or a ring you have a vorpal sword. In place of Darth Vader and the Death Star you have the Queen of Hearts and the Jabberwocky. Blah blah blah.

A plot like that has plenty of built-in suspense, but I was never in suspense. I blame the writers for that.

So the plot seemed weak and tired and not-again. I felt like I was watching cable television on a large screen. It would make great late-night television. Sorry to say, but it should have gone straight to DVD.

I saw it in 3-D: they give you special glasses for that. That was a waste too – the film did not gain much by being in 3-D. I am glad I did not pay even more to see it at an IMAX theatre.

It is a shame because Tim Burton certainly has the imagination and the right spirit to make a great Alice film. It being Tim Burton I expected a dark Alice but I also expected to be surprised and wowed, like I was with “Nightmare Before Christmas”.

Johnny Depp was good. I particularly liked Anne Hathaway as the White Queen. She was always holding up her hands and had this wide-eyed stare and kept telling us she took a vow not to use violence – even as she let her subjects do their worst to the forces of the Red Queen.

The closing scene was a nice touch – reminding you that the earth itself is a wonderland.

You also get to see a bandersnatch. I do not remember Tenniel ever drawing one for the Alice books. Tweedledee and Tweedledum were played by the same actor, by the way, not by twins.

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“Shaft” (1971) was Hollywood’s first blaxpoitation film to become a hit. It starred the then unknown Richard Roundtree. It is most famous for the Isaac Hayes song that opens the film:

Who’s the black private dick
That’s a sex machine to all the chicks?
(SHAFT!)
You’re damn right

You see this cat Shaft is a bad mother-
(Shut your mouth)
But I’m talkin’ about Shaft
(Then we can dig it)

The parts in parentheses were sung by Stax singers Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson, who later became the Dawn of Tony Orlando & Dawn.

The opening scene shows John Shaft, a black New York City detective in a long brown leather coat, walking through Times Square as the song plays. A wonderful opening but then it  becomes like a late-night movie. Shaft tries to save the daughter of a Harlem crime lord to prevent all-out war with the Mafia. It only gets good again towards the end.

Blaxpoitation films were made by Hollywood in the 1970s for black audiences. They were mostly crime dramas with black leads. Pam Grier made her name starring in them. They pushed stereotypes of blacks as oversexed, badass and violent. Shaft himself is a good example of all three.

Civil rights leaders condemned it but black audiences loved it: back then almost no film had a hero who was unashamedly black.

“Shaft” had a black director, Gordon Parks, and two white screenwriters. One of them, Ernest Tidyman, created the character as a sort of black James Bond, writing seven books about him. Tidyman is one of the few whites to win an NAACP Image Award.

Sex machine to all the chicks: He has a main chick, Dina, who wears a wedding ring, another one on the side, Ellie, and, to put the “all” in “all the chicks”, he picks up a white chick at a bar for a one-night stand and has a shower scene with her.

Ellie: I love you
Shaft: Yeah, I know. Take it easy.

Shaft lives in a huge, well-furnished apartment and always takes the taxi – like he is made of money. He reads Essence magazine and uses what seems like too much slang. He likes to say “Right on!” and holds up his fist, like some bad stereotype of the 1970s.  Everyone is cat, dude or baby. That slang, I later found out, was put in over the protests of Tidyman.  But in the end it did not matter: the language was picked up by black teenagers. So was Shaft’s habit of crossing the street without looking.

In the opening scene, at the newsstand, you can see Naomi Sims on the cover of Essence.

It is amazing how much New York looks the same nearly 40 years later.

The film cost $500,000 (370,000 crowns) to make but brought in $13 million! Two sequels and a short-lived television series dutifully followed. In 2000 John Singleton brought it to the next generation with Samuel L. Jackson playing John Shaft’s nephew.

– Abagond, 2010, 2016.

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Paul Newman

Paul Newman (1925-2008) was a Hollywood actor and sex symbol, from the 1960s and early 1970s. He was married to Joanne Woodward for 50 years.

On this blog at the end of 2009 he was voted the eighth most gorgeous man in the world – over a year after he died at age 83!

His best films (those receiving an IMDb rating of at least 8.0):

  • 1958: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  • 1961: The Hustler
  • 1967: Cool Hand Luke
  • 1969: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • 1973: The Sting

The first he did with Elizabeth Taylor, the last two with Robert Redford, both Hollywood sex symbols in their own right. He is known for playing anti-heroes. He was acting almost right up to the end of his life.

His name was put up for an Oscar for best actor eight times, but only won once, for “The Color of Money” in 1987. Some say his acting got better with age – the Oscar nominations seem to bear that out.

He was born the son of a Cleveland shopkeeper. Both sides of his family come from Eastern Europe (Slovakia, Hungary, Poland). Like his father but unlike his mother he is Jewish.

In the Second World War he wanted to be a pilot and fly planes but his colour blindness prevented him. He almost fought in the battle of Okinawa but the pilot of his plane got an ear infection and they stayed back. Everyone else in their detail died in battle.

After the war he went into acting, at first on Broadway and television and then in Hollywood films. He did terribly in his first film, “The Silver Chalice” (1954), but then did well two years later in “Somebody Up There Likes Me” (1956) – a part he got through the death of James Dean. Soon he was starring opposite Elizabeth Taylor. His acting was not as good as, say, Marlon Brando’s, but his good looks made up for it.

In 1958 he starred with Joanne Woodward in “The Long Hot Summer”. That year he divorced his first wife of nine years and married Woodward. He has three children by each wife. In 1960 he and Woodward moved to Connecticut.

In 1978 his only son died of a drug overdose at age 28.

Newman was a race car driver. He came in second at Le Mans in 1979.

He used to make salad dressing as a Christmas gift. It caught on and in 1982 he started selling it under the brand name Newman’s Own. He later branched out into spaghetti sauce and popcorn. Since Newman was not interested in getting rich, he gave the profits to charity – education, health, the environment, disaster relief, etc. He joked that Newman’s Own brought in more money than his acting ever did (true).

In 1988 he started the Hole in the Wall Gang, a free summer camp in Connecticut, between New York and Boston, for children who are dying or who have spent a long time in the hospital.

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Angela Bassett in “Waiting to Exhale” (1995) in her most iconic scene.

 

Angela Bassett (1958- ), an American actress, is perhaps the best black female actress alive in Hollywood. She is both more beautiful and far more talented than Halle Berry, the only black woman so far to win an Oscar for best actress. Bassett has played Tina Turner, the wife of Malcolm X (twice) and the mother of Biggie Smalls.

Some of her films:

  • 1991: Boyz N the Hood
  • 1992: Malcolm X
  • 1993: What’s Love Got to Do with It
  • 1995: Waiting to Exhale (pictured above)
  • 1995: Strange Days
  • 1998: How Stella Got Her Groove Back
  • 2006: Akeelah and the Bee
  • 2008: Meet the Browns
  • 2009: Notorious

I already knew who she was by the time she appeared in “Malcolm X” but apparently it was playing Tina Turner a year later in “What’s Love Got to Do with It” that made her name with mainstream American audiences.

She lost the lead in “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” (1999) to Halle Berry. She turned down the lead in “Monster’s Ball” (2001) because of how it shows black women – and because she does not do nude scenes. Halle Berry took that part and went on to win an Oscar for best actress.

Angela Bassett was born on the very same day as Madonna: August 16th 1958. She was born in Harlem but her mother soon moved to St Petersburg, Florida, where she grew up in public housing.

In 1974 she saw James Earl Jones in “Of Mice and Men” on a school trip to Washington, DC:

I just sat there after the play, boo-hoo crying, weeping. I couldn’t move, and I remember thinking, “My gosh, if I could make somebody feel the way I feel right now!”

From that moment she began to think about becoming an actress.

She got a scholarship to Yale. After getting her degree in African American Studies, she studied acting at the Yale School of Drama. She had to unlearn her Southern accent. There she met Courtney B. Vance, whom she would one day marry.

After Yale she acted in some television ads, the soap opera “Guiding Light” and two August Wilson plays. Then her friend Larry Fishburne helped her to land a part in “Boyz N the Hood”. She played the mother of the main character – but to her she was playing her own mother. That got her noticed as a serious actress in Hollywood.

In 1993 she starred opposite Fishburne in “What’s Love Got to Do with It”, with her cast as Tina to his Ike. She broke her hand during shooting – but that only helped her to play Tina Turner even better. Tina Turner did her make-up and taught her the dance moves. One reviewer said that Bassett, “captures the erotic youthquake that was Tina Turner in the ’60s and early ’70s”.

In 1997 she married actor Courtney B. Vance. He played her husband when she appeared in the last season of “ER” (2008-2009). They have a boy and a girl: Slater and Bronwyn, both born in 2006 by means of a surrogate mother (Bassett was 47 at the time of their birth).

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White Saviour

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White Saviour (1700s- ) or Mighty Whitey is that thing where a white hero saves the “natives” (people of colour). It is so unlike white history, yet so beloved in white fiction.

Examples of White Saviour stories:

  • 1826: The Last of the Mohicans
  • 1912: Tarzan of the Apes
  • 1962: Lawrence of Arabia
  • 1975: Shogun
  • 1987: Cry Freedom
  • 1988: Mississippi Burning
  • 1990: Dances with Wolves
  • 1995: Dangerous Minds
  • 1997: Amistad
  • 2003: The Last Samurai
  • 2007: Freedom Writers
  • 2009: Avatar
  • 2009: The Blind Side
  • 2011: The Help
  • 2012: Lincoln

I remember watching “Cry Freedom” thinking it was going to be about Steve Biko, a hero in the fight against white rule in South Africa. Imagine how I felt when I found out that the hero of the story was – a white reporter!

White paternalism is what these stories push: White is right, whites are better, therefore natives need their help. The truth is, whites are no better than anyone else – just more powerful. Power does not equal wisdom. Far from it: power corrupts, it morally blinds. So the truth is often the opposite of these stories – which makes them all the more appealing.

Some White Saviour stories are, in fact, true. For example, “Freedom Writers” was not made up. But why a story about a white teacher who gets through to poor ghetto students and not the far greater number of black and Latino teachers who do the very same thing? Because those stories do not help whites to feel good about themselves.

Sometimes the White Saviour goes native, like Tom Cruise in “The Last Samurai”. Sometimes they force their culture on the natives, like Michelle Pfeiffer in “Dangerous Minds”. But either way the racist message is clear: whites are better than natives.

Sometimes White Saviour stories are turned on their head: In “To Sir, with Love” (1967) Sidney Poitier, who is black, plays the White Saviour character while white English students play the natives. In “Apocalypse Now” (1979) the White Saviour goes mad.

Are White Saviours just Magical Caucasians – like Magical Negroes? While both help whites feel at peace with the way race is in America, Magical Negroes are mostly just plot devices while White Saviours are the main character of a story. Also, the White Saviour’s powers do not seem like a mystery to the white audience – even if they go against all common sense, like in Tarzan.

Some might argue that White Saviour stories are a simple business decision: whites will only see a film where the main character is white. Except that it is not true. Even the 1960s Sidney Poitier proved that was not true.

Most people who see Hollywood films are not White Americans. For example, during the first weekend of “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” (2009), they made up only a third of the audience at best. But most Hollywood directors, writers and producers are White Americans. And they determine what makes a good story for the rest of us. It is part of the structural racism of our times.

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bechdeltest

The Bechdel Test (1985) says that a film is not worth watching unless it fulfils three conditions:

  1. It has to have at least two women who
  2. talk to each other about
  3. something besides a man

It comes from Allison Bechdel’s comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For”. She in turn got it from Liz Wallace at her karate class.

It can apply to any story but Hollywood fails the test at a surprising rate, even now more than 20 years later.

NPR did a piece on the Bechdel Test a year ago. In it Eric Deggans, who writes about television for the St Petersburg Times, gave his own form of the Bechdel Test for race:

  1. At least two non-white characters in the main cast …
  2. in a show that’s not about race.

I did not know about the Bechdel Test till I read about it in Alaya Dawn Johnson’s post yesterday at the Angry Black Woman, but even I had something like it in my head:

  1. At least two black characters
  2. who are not stereotypes
  3. whose love lives we know about and
  4. who have their own storyline

“The Secret Life of Bees” would pass (the storylines of Alicia Keys and Sophie Okonedo), while the “Imitation of Life” would not (black characters are stereotypes).

Johnson gives the strict form of the Bechdel Test for race:

  1. It has to have two people of colour in it.
  2. Who talk to each other.
  3. About something other than a white person.

Like Deggans, I would add that talking about race would be, in effect, talking about white people.

deniseJohnson says most shows fail, though “Battlestar Galactica”, “True Blood”, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Veronica Mars” pass.

A show can pass the Bechdel Test and still be racist – and, likewise, it can fail and yet not be particularly racist at all. But it is a quick way of separating those that probably are racist from those that probably are not. And, more importantly, it gives you a way of thinking about stories and how white male they are in their point of view.

Deggans says that most shows fail the Bechdel Test because most successful television writers are white men. They just do not know what women or blacks talk about when they are not there.

Jennifer Kesler at The Hathor Legacy says it is worse than that: when she was learning to write for Hollywood they told her, in so many words, to fail the Bechdel Test: main characters should be white men and no one cares what women (or presumably blacks or anyone else) talk about unless it is about the main characters – who are white men!

But why? Because the white men who run Hollywood say it is what the “target audience” wants. But just what is this target audience? Kesler says in their minds it turns out to be “a construct based on partial truths and twisted math – to perpetuate their own desires”.

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DavidCarradineDavid Carradine (1936-2009) was an American actor best known for playing the lead in the television show “Kung Fu” (1972-1975) and Bill in “Kill Bill: Vol. 1″ (2003) and “Kill Bill: Vol. 2” (2004). He is a famous example of Hollywood’s racist practice of yellowface – using white actors to play Asian characters. He was found dead last week in a Bangkok hotel.

Carradine was not one bit Asian. And when he was on “Kung Fu” he knew nothing about kung fu or Eastern philosophies – that came later. He was just an actor making a living. Even the writers on the show were white Americans. The Buddhism, if that is what you call it, was watered down too.

“Kung Fu” was a new twist on the tried-and-true shoot-em-up cowboy Western: the hero was not a cowboy with a gun but a Buddhist monk who knew martial arts. Somehow he always avoids getting shot dead.

Bruce Lee came up with the idea and wanted to play the lead. Hollywood thought he looked too Asian: Asians only played supporting characters. So they gave the part to Carradine, who had played the lead in another television Western, the short-lived “Shane” (1966). They named his character Kwai Chang Caine and said his mother was Chinese and his father was white American. They made up the difference with stereotype and make-up.

White American stereotypes about Asian men were such that it was hard to make one the hero of a television show. That is still true. Yet you could not simply throw out the stereotypes either: then the hero would not seem “Asian enough” to white people.

The answer was to have a white man play the Asian hero: he would play to stereotype to “seem Asian” and yet he could go beyond the stereotype when the story required it without it seeming strange. It is why you have white samurais, like in “Shogun” (1980) and “The Last Samurai” (2003).

The show has entered the American bloodstream: my children know the phrases “young Grasshopper” and “snatch the pebble from my hand” but do not know where they come from.

“Kung Fu” showed the racism that Asians faced in America in the 1800s – while helping to strengthen it in the 1900s.

The yellowface thing still goes on. Carradine himself was still at it in 2006 when he did an ad for Yellow Book.

After “Kung Fu” Carradine appeared in over a hundred films. A few were good but most went straight to video and were beneath even his middling talents. He appeared in the 1990s remake of “Kung Fu” on TNT but his star did not rise again till one of his fans from the 1970s grew up and became a famous Hollywood director: Quentin Tarantino.

To Tarantino’s credit he did not make Carradine play an Asian in “Kill Bill”. He had read Carradine’s autobiography, “Endless Highway”, and wanted him to play himself: an offbeat white man who loved martial arts.

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I saw this on Siditty:

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halleHalle Berry (1966- ) is an American actress, the first black woman ever to win an Oscar for Best Actress. In America she is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful black women alive, even now in her 40s. She was Miss Ohio USA in 1986, a Bond girl in “Die Another Day” (2002) and has long been a face for Revlon.

While she is beautiful, I would not go to see a film just because she is in it, like I would with Gabrielle Union.

She won the Oscar for playing the lead  in “Monster’s Ball” (2001), where we see her make love to the white racist prison guard who put her husband to death. Angela Bassett refused the part because of how it made black women look. Berry took it and won an Oscar.

After the Oscar win and her success playing Storm in the X-Men films (2000-2006), she was given the lead in “Catwoman” (2004). Few black actresses are given the lead in any film  aimed mainly at white people, at least not without appearing opposite a white person. Unfortunately, “Catwoman” was terrible – so terrible she won a Razzie Award for it, which she accepted with good grace.

She does not try to just get by on her pretty looks. When she was going to play a crackhead in “Jungle Fever” (1991) she talked to crackheads and went for ten days without a bath. I can still remember her performance.

Apart from the Oscar she won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for what I think is her best film  by far: “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” (1999).  She was perfect. She is something of a latter-day Dorothy Dandridge herself.

She has been married twice: first to baseball player David Justice (1992-1997), then to singer Eric Benet (2001-2005). She is now in a long-term relationship with Canadian model Gabriel Aubry, who is white and ten years younger than her. They have a daughter together, Nahla, born in 2008.

Life with Aubry seems to be a happy one, but her past with men has not always been so happy. One boyfriend hit her so hard that to this day she cannot hear well out of her right ear. When Justice asked for a divorce she was in such pain she came close to killing herself – only the thought of her mother finding her body pulled her back from the edge.

She is diabetic, the kind where you need to take shots all the time.

She is 5 foot 5 (1.66m), too short to be a model.

She is named after Halle’s department store in Cleveland, where she grew up. Her mother is white, her father is black. Her father left when she was four. He came back once but then was gone again for the rest of her childhood.

When they moved out of Cleveland to live in the suburbs people called her “zebra” and put Oreo cookies in her mailbox. Her mother told her that when people look at her all they will ever see is someone black: they will not know that her mother is white – nor will they care.

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bruce_almighty_fullThe magical Negro has been a stock character in American fiction since at least the late 1950s. It is a Negro, a black person, who comes out of nowhere with strange powers or deep wisdom to help white people, sometimes even giving his life.

Examples:

  • Whoopi Goldberg in “Ghost”
  • Will Smith in “The Legend of Bagger Vance”
  • Michael Clarke Duncan in “The Green Mile”
  • Ruby Dee in “The Stand”
  • Morgan Freeman in “Bruce Almighty”
  • Laurence Fishburne in “The Matrix”
  • Sidney Poitier in “The Defiant Ones”

Magical Negroes are common in the books of  Stephen King.

Will Smith in “Six Degrees of Separation” plays on white people’s seeming need to believe in magical Negroes. It is based on the true story of David Hampton.

Most magical Negroes are not fleshed-out characters that we come to care about – for the most part they are plot devices. They come out of nowhere and often disappear.

Black-skinned people with strange powers is not limited just to American stories in our day. “The Legend of Bagger Vance” is based on an ancient story from India, one where Will Smith’s character was often painted with black skin!

A thousand years ago in China there were stories of black slaves of great strength and secret knowledge, who saved their master’s lovers or found hidden treasure for them. They could cure people with their strange, black skin.

Is the magical Negro a racist character?

Magical Negroes often put black characters in a good light – Morgan Freeman gets to play God and Ruby Dee becomes the wise and good Mother Abigail. It also shows them giving their lives for others – a noble thing.

Their strange powers allow them to escape white stereotypes of blacks as incapable. It allows them to deal with whites on equal terms.

Yet it also shows blacks as being strange and different, as other. The idea that blacks might have some deep power or wisdom comes from viewing them as being closer to animals than whites are and therefore more in tune with nature. It is the same sort of thinking that leads to stereotypes about blacks as being oversexed.

Blacks giving themselves selflessly in the service of whites is something you see in the Mammy stereotype of older Hollywood films. It is an idea that goes back to slave days.

Is Barack Obama a magical Negro?

His blackness makes him a great unknown to many whites. This causes some to fear him because there is no telling what he might do. But it also causes other whites to have unfounded hope in him – because there is no telling what he might do (in a good way, that is). Something that became important after the fall of the Wall Street banks. That is seeing Obama as a magical Negro.

Barack Obama is also a David Hampton character: some whites, because of their hangups about blacks, want to think well of him and, again, have an unfounded confidence in him.

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Thandie Newton (1972- ) is a British film actress. She starred opposite Tom Cruise in “Mission Impossible 2″ (2000) and was Will Smith’s hateful wife in “The Pursuit of Happyness” (2006).

Born in London to a white father (English) and a black African mother (Shona), she grew up in England and later came to Hollywood. She was shocked at how much her skin colour mattered there – more than in Africa or England. Tom Cruise had to fight for her to star opposite him.

She says that both whites and blacks in Hollywood thought she could only play a black woman and, not say, just a woman. It would be like limiting Lauren Bacall to parts for Jewish women.

But it gets worse.

For some parts she is seen as not being “black enough”. And yet in at least one case a white actress got a part that she would have been great for: in 2006 in “A Mighty Heart” the half-black wife of Daniel Pearl was played by Angelina Jolie (white) and not by herself (half-black).  (On the other hand, Newton did get to play Sally Hemings, who was only one-fourth black).

Her beauty and sex appeal:

  • In 2008 she was one of the most beautiful black women according to white people. In the lists that white English-speaking people make of the most beautiful women and put up on the Web, only Beyonce, Mariah, Halle and Tyra make more lists than she does.
  • In 2002 Stuff magazine ranked her as the 48th sexiest woman in the world.
  • In 2000 the readers of Black Men magazine picked her as one of “The 10 Sexiest Women of the Year”.

Some say she was born in Africa, but she says she was in fact born in London when her parents were there for two weeks. Her mother comes from Africa, from a country now known as Zimbabwe, but then called Rhodesia.  Newton says her mother was a Shona princess.”Thandie” comes from thandiwe, which means “beloved”.

She grew up in Zambia in Africa and in Cornwall in England. Growing up watching her mother dress as an African taught Newton to be proud to be black.

At 11 she went to London to study dance, but hurt her back and went into acting instead. While pursuing her acting, she got a degree in anthropology at Cambridge University.

When she first came to Hollywood she had a hard time getting parts in film – not only was she black, she had a British accent. But in time she got noticed.

Some of her films:

  • 2008: W (out now – she plays Condi Rice)
  • 2007: Norbit
  • 2006: The Pursuit of Happyness
  • 2004: The Chronicles of Riddick
  • 2002: The Truth about Charlie
  • 2000: Mission Impossible II
  • 1998: Beloved
  • 1995: Jefferson in Paris (plays Sally Hemings)
  • 1991: Flirting

Doing “Mission impossible II” meant giving up a lead in “Charlie’s Angels” (2000) to Lucy Liu.

In 1994 she dated Brad Pitt.

In 1998 she married a British television writer and director, Ol Parker. They have two daughters, Ripley (2000) and Nico (2004). Ripley is named after Sigourney Weaver’s character in “Alien” and Nico after the German singer who was once part of the Velvet Underground.

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Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962), the stage name of Norma Jeane Baker, was an American beauty and Hollywood actress. She appeared in the first issue of Playboy magazine and in dozens of largely forgettable films in the 1950s. What she is most remembered for is her beauty and a life cut short.

The best-selling song of the 1900s was written by Elton John about her: “Candle in the Wind”. Andy Warhol’s most famous painting is of her. She is far more famous now than she ever was in life.

Her best-remembered films are “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953) and “Some Like it Hot” (1959). She wanted to be a serious actress, not just a blonde beauty. She modelled herself on Jean Harlow and Lana Turner.

The daughter of a Hollywood film cutter, she grew up in Los Angeles never knowing her father and barely seeing her mother, who was in a rest home. In 1942 she married at age 16. Two years later her husband went off to war. While he was gone, she worked at a parachute factory and started modelling.

In 1946 she signed with Twentieth Century Fox as an actress, making $125 (150 crowns) a week. She coloured her hair, took the stage name of Marilyn Monroe and divorced her husband. “Monroe” was her grandmother’s name.

On May 27th 1949, short on money, she posed naked for some pictures for Tom Kelley for $50 (70 crowns). Four years later in 1953 those same pictures would appear across the country in the first issue of Playboy magazine. It made her famous.

She was different than most Hollywood beauties that came before her. In the 1940s they tended to be thin with dark hair and great legs. But Monroe had light hair (coloured, not natural), large breasts and an hourglass figure. She acted innocent and brainless, not worldly.

She shaped white American ideas of beauty and its effects can still be seen today more than 50 years later. The hourglass figure is out, but the blonde hair and large breasts are still in. Madonna in the 1980s and Anna Nicole Smith in the 1990s both modelled their look directly on hers.

Monroe was briefly married to baseball great Joe DiMaggio in 1954. Then she went to New York to study acting and there she had an affair with writer Arthur Miller. They were married from 1956 to 1961. He wrote “The Misfits” (1961), the last film she appeared in. He wrote her part especially for her.

Some say she slept with President John Kennedy in 1961 and maybe his brother Robert Kennedy. She certainly knew them.

She was found dead on August 5th 1962 at age 36 of a drug overdose. The police called it a “probable suicide”, but some suspect murder, perhaps at the hands of the Kennedys. The police said “probable” not because they thought it might be murder but because it is unclear if she meant to kill herself.

Her body is in a crypt in Los Angeles. Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy, owns the place next to hers.

In 1986 feminist Gloria Steinem wrote a book about her life.

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Watching television you would think that black ghettos in the big cities are the poorest and most dangerous parts of America. Well, it is not quite that simple.

In 2007 the four precincts in New York City with the worst rates of major crimes were these:

  • Bed-Stuy
  • East Harlem
  • Midtown South (42nd to 34th Street)
  • Lower East Side

Only Bed-Stuy is mainly black. East Harlem is Hispanic, Midtown South is white and the Lower East Side is Asian and Hispanic.

True, taken as a whole the black and Hispanic parts of the city have a higher crime rate than the white and Asian parts. But each part of the city is different. You cannot just go by race or even poverty or even the two together. For example:

  • The middle of Harlem, which is mainly black, is safer than Midtown Manhattan, which is mainly white – and far richer.
  • In the late 1980s Jamaica, Queens and Harlem were both mainly black, but Jamaica had way more of a black middle-class – and yet it was far more violent.

So you cannot make general rules. Different things are in play in different parts of the city. You have to go case by case.

Likewise, here are the five poorest parts of America:

  • Indian reservations
  • South-west Texas
  • The middle of Alaska
  • The Mississippi Delta
  • Appalachia

Only the Mississippi Delta is mainly black. Appalachia is mainly white, south-west Texas is Hispanic and the Indian reservations and the middle of Alaska are Native American.

Most people do not even think about these places because you hardly ever see them on television or even hear much about them in school.

The reason black ghettos star on television is because they are the main example of poverty – and of Black America too – if you live in the two places where most of American television comes from: Hollywood and New York.

Most poor people are white. Most poor people do not live in cities, but in places where reporters and film-makers hardly ever go.

And, just as you almost never see the poor Indian reservations on television, so you barely ever see black suburbia either – further strengthening the idea that most black people are poor and most poor people are black, neither of which is true.

And even when television does present poverty it rarely explains it. So people think what they want about bootstraps and all that – a comfortable thing to believe if you are middle-class or rich.

Television is not a mirror of American society. It is not even an imperfect mirror. Television is the creation of a very small number of people – most of them white, male, liberal and well-to-do – who have their own ideas about America. Many of those ideas are not true and many come from yet older Hollywood output, so the thing feeds on itself.

But their picture of America becomes our picture of America – even if the little bit of America that we know first-hand is nothing like what we see on television.

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“Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs” (1943) is an American cartoon, Warner Brothers’ answer to Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937). It is seven-minute long comedy set to jazz music and has an all-black cast.

Some say it is one of the best cartoons ever made, yet Cartoon Network, which owns the rights, never shows it. It was pulled from American television in 1968 and became one of the “Censored 11” – cartoons that are so thoroughly racist that editing out a racist joke here or a blackface character there could not save them.

While it is clear that it is well made and that you are supposed to be laughing your head off, it keeps hitting you over the head with image after image of blacks as being little better than monkey men, as creatures with huge lips and big eyes.

The only character who looks like a black person in a cartoon and not some creature is So White, the main character (called Coal Black in the title to avoid trouble with Disney). But even she is a stereotype: she shows way more flesh than Snow White, a sort of early video vixen.

The evil queen is a big, ugly black woman who sounds like a man.

Prince Chawmin wears a zoot suit, drives a big car and has gold teeth.

The cartoon was directed by Bob Clampett, who gave the world Porky Pig, Tweety Bird and Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent. He was white. He loved jazz and got the idea for doing a black cartoon set to jazz from talking to Duke Ellington two years before.

Clampett took great pains to make the cartoon as true to black life as possible:

  • He went with his men to Club Alabam in Los Angeles to get a feel for black music and dance.
  • Clampett hired as many black musicians as the company would allow.
  • He used only black voice actors, like Dorothy Dandridge’s sister, Vivian (she plays So White).

Herb Jeffries, one of the black musicians, was proud of the cartoon. In fact, for its time it was one of the better cartoons featuring blacks!

Yet except for So White, all the black characters are drawn in blackface. Since when do black people have big white lips? But for over a hundred years whites had been watching blackface entertainers – white men with black faces who “acted black” to get laughs. It became how whites saw blacks. So much so that Clampett could not see the difference between black and blackface (neither could Mark Twain).

Even in the 1970s and 1980s Clampett still defended the cartoon:

 There was nothing racist or disrespectful toward blacks intended in that film at all… Everybody, including blacks had a good time when these cartoons first came out. All the controversy … has developed in later years merely because of changing attitudes toward black civil rights that have happened since then.

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