Monthly Archives: January 2012

Support for Red Tails, but What About Pariah?

This past month, two great films were released : Pariah and Red Tails. Both films star a majority Black cast, but only one of the films has received big attention. The director of the film Red Tails, George Lucas, financed the film with his own money. He stated that Hollywood would not finance the film because of its “all black cast.” To get viewer support, many have suggested that Black movie lovers support the film because of the all black cast. Wait…support the movie because of the Black cast? Not support the film because of the good plot, good actors, and potentially good message? I have mixed feelings on the propaganda being used to promote the film. I understand the issues surrounding minority actors in Hollywood. I understand the history surrounding the limiting roles that minority actors often get. I understand the issues and I am able to sympathize. However, if we’re in the business of supporting films solely because of the race of the cast, then why are we not showing the same amount of love for the film Pariah?

The film Pariah also delivers a heart-warming story that is sure to be interesting to viewers across the country. The film also explores the relationships between race, family, and sexuality. Although I have not read any articles about potential hindering factors for the film, I suspect the taboo subject of Black queers may be part of the problem.

Additionally, it is problematic that the film has not been promoted and supported in a similar fashion to the Red Tails promotion. Unlike others, I urge everyone to see both films. Red Tails is a gripping story that explores the events of World War II from an often ignored perspective. Pariah is an emotional story about a teenage who struggles to balance her race and sexuality in a conservative household. Both films have something to offer audiences everywhere. Give them both a chance. I know I will. For more information on the two films, read below:

Possible Voting Restrictions for Blacks and Latinos/as

Recently, many articles have been released about potential threats to voting rights for Blacks and Latinas/os in the upcoming Presidential election. Considering the history of disenfranchisement in this country, the recent news has been alarming for many activist groups. Furthermore, the potential disenfranchisement of several minority voters could possibly be helpful for Republican hopefuls who are looking to for a big election win. For those who are not familiar with the new legislation that has been passed in several states, read the articles below:

One of the most interesting sections of the first article was the block quote below:

Studies have showed that the proportion of voters who do not have access to valid photo ID cards is much higher among older African-Americans because they were not given birth certificates in the days of segregation. Students and young voters also often lack identification and are thus in danger of being stripped of their right to vote.

This block quote was interesting for me because it highlighted the intersection between two critical groups: young/student voters and minority voters. As a young student of color, it could possibly seem as though voting is an impossible task. However, instead of feeling defeated, all students should look up the requirements for voting in the their state. If you happen to me an out-of-state student like myself, absentee voting is also a possibility. Check out the link below to see the process:

Sadly, some states have restrictive laws that make it impossible for college students to vote, regardless of their eligibility. Some of the restrictions arise from issues of government identification, residency, and school identification. For more information on this issue, read the articles below:

Overall, the issue of voting restrictions is very problematic. Instead of allowing these political tactics to defeat minority voters, we must educate ourselves about the alternative options available to us. We can spread information about early voting, acceptable forms of identification, required amounts of identification, absentee voting, and so on. Voting is an important right that should not be taken away. The election will be here in no time, and we do have the power to rock the vote and take what is ours.

Are We to Blame?: A Reassessment of Poverty in Black and Latin@ communities

Poverty is a big issue that plagues American families across this nation. Poverty is even higher amongst Blacks and Latinos/as (at 16.7 percent and 11.3 percent respectively). Solutions to the poverty issue have been thrown around for centuries, including various welfare programs, work programs like Job Corps, education programs like Head Start, and the list goes on. A significant portion of these programs have been successful, but programs aimed at helping the poor do not retain popularity for long. Also, these programs are not structured to reach out to all poor individuals living within our cities and states. It may not be fair to summarize the sentiments of some of our politicians, but Ill take a stab at it. For the most part, opponents of help programs state that individuals have to learn how to help themselves. Those who persistently live in poverty only have themselves to blame. Sound familiar? To me, these ideas sound alot like the “culture of poverty” theory. For those not familiar with this theory, read below:

According to Oscar Lewis, “The subculture of the poor develops mechanisms that tend to perpetuate it, especially because of what happens to the world view, aspirations, and character of the children who grow up in it.” Lewis argued that although the burdens of poverty were systemic and therefore imposed upon these members of society, they led to the formation of an autonomous subculture as children were socialized into behaviors and attitudes that perpetuated their inability to escape the underclass.

Some of the characteristics of the poor living within the “culture of poverty,” according to Lewis, are provided below:

The people in the culture of poverty have a strong feeling of marginality, of helplessness, of dependency, of not belonging. They are like aliens in their own country, convinced that the existing institutions do not serve their interests and needs. Along with this feeling of powerlessness is a widespread feeling of inferiority, of personal unworthiness. This is true of the slum dwellers of Mexico City, who do not constitute a distinct ethnic or racial group and do not suffer from racial discrimination. In the United States the culture of poverty that exists in the Negroes has the additional disadvantage of racial discrimination. People with a culture of poverty have very little sense of history. They are a marginal people who know only their own troubles, their own local conditions, their own neighborhood, their own way of life. Usually, they have neither the knowledge, the vision, nor the ideology to see the similarities between their problems and those of others like themselves elsewhere in the world. In other words, they are not class conscious, although they are very sensitive indeed to status distinctions. When the poor become class conscious or members of trade union organizations, or when they adopt an internationalist outlook on the world they are, in my view, no longer part of the culture of poverty although they may still be desperately poor.

Although I do not completely agree with Lewis’ assessment, is he partially correct? Are there some people, whether they be Black, Latin@, or White, who adopt this “lifestyle” because they know that they can survive with the help of government aid programs? Are there some people who remain unemployed because of welfare benefits? I wont answer any of those questions. Regardless of the validity of this situation, a few individuals’ actions should not be representative of entire groups. There are SEVERAL people who work hard each day for minimum wage who still need government aid and there some who do not.

Ultimately to answer the headline of this blog post, there is no simple solution to ending poverty in minority communities. However, we should still strive for better schools, better housing, greater health awareness (a post on Diabetes is coming soon), and continue our long and often tiring job searches. Hardwork is rewarded.

Oscar Lewis :

The Root article on unemployment:

Culture of Poverty 1 and 2:

Ten Classic Movies for Black History Month

With Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday just past us, Winter Study ending quickly, and Black History month coming up, now’s a great time to snuggle up and rent a good movie. Until the early sixties, the portrayal of black characters in movies was confined to servants, porters, and other demeaning stereotypes. Only with the advent of the Civil Rights movement did the film industry wake up and start to portray black people as three-dimensional characters with intelligence and pride.The 10 titles listed  celebrate blackness and give perspective on the fight for freedom and opportunity that some take for granted. (photo taken from one of my personal favorites, Crooklyn) PS–This list is very Denzel heavy…what can I say?

A Raisin In The Sun (1961) — An absolute classic. The title comes from Langston Hughes’ poem, ‘Harlem’, more famously known as ‘A Dream Deferred’. Walter Lee Younger (Sidney Poitier) is a proud, but frustrated young man who asks his recently widowed mother, Lena (Claudia McNeil), to let him invest her $10,000 life-insurance check in a business which could lift him and his family out of their dead-end poverty. Despite her son’s entreaties, Lena plans to buy a home and leave Chicago’s South Side for good, stoking Walter’s anguish and resentment. Based on Lorraine Hansberry’s play, Poitier’s raw desperation is palpable as his one chance to get out slips through his hands.

Nothing But A Man (1964) — In this landmark indie film by Michael Roemer, Duff (Ivan Dixon), is a struggling black railroad worker who meets Josie (Lincoln), a shy, refined preacher’s daughter and they fall in love. However, Josie falters as she tries to quell Duff’s frustration as he faces discrimination in his repetitive, dead-end job. How they surmount these obstacles and stay together shines a penetrating light on the black experience of the time. A film of unusual grace and power, both Dixon and jazz singer Lincoln give heartfelt portrayals as Duff and Josie, and look for the late, great Julius Harris playing Duff’s drunk, delinquent father.

The Autobiography Of Miss Jane Pittman (1974) — Originally a TV movie, traces the life of the title character from a childhood in slavery all the way through to the civil-rights movement. The film begins in 1962 as an aged Pittman is visited in her Baton Rouge home by journalist vetting material for a book which prompts her recall both tragic and inspiring events from her long life. The gifted Cicely Tyson is marvelous as Jane, gradually transforming from a young girl to a wizened but spirited lady of 100+ years. Pittman is a revealing history lesson and tribute to the sturdy spirit of one human being who endured through periods of vast change, this important and touching film feeds both brain and heart.

Killer Of Sheep (1977) — Another personal favorite. Living hand to mouth in the Watts section of Los Angeles, Stan (Henry Gayle Sanders) toils at a slaughterhouse where the dispiriting, mind-numbing routine of dispatching livestock leaves him emotionally distant from his wife (Kaycee Moore) and young son. Under these circumstances, life’s pleasures come in small and unexpected ways. Charles Burnett’s tender film doesn’t have much of a plot, but deftly illustrates the melancholic daily existence of an impoverished Black neighborhood. Its neorealist aesthetic, lugubrious pace, and minimal storyline are the ingredients for a surprisingly moving film that depicts ghetto life with lasting beauty and an authentic sense of humanity with a sweet jazz score.

Say Amen, Somebody
 (1982) — The unparalleled exuberance and healing power of gospel is brought to life in this uplifting documentary. Part-history lesson, part-revival meeting, and regardless of anyone’s race or creed, this movie is about love and hope. Its infectious, especially poignant characters are the elders “Professor” Thomas Dorsey and “Mother” Willie May Ford Smith. Director George Nierenberg’s inspiring portrait demonstrates how music has sustained  Black people through adversity for so long.

The Great Debators
(1987) –Drawing inspiration from a true story, an outspoken professor and debate coach boldly challenges the Jim Crow laws of the 1930s and molds the students of Wiley College, a small East Texas HBCU, into a fierce team that gives Harvard’s elite squad a run for their money. Denzel Washington’s The Great Debaters features the director himself as the ambitious educator, and Forest Whitaker as the resentful father of a student whose loyalties now lie almost exclusively with his coach. Melvin B. Tolson (Washington) is the kind of educator who truly recognizes the power of knowledge . The tireless educator implores his students to take responsibility for the future while furtively attempting to protect them from his clandestine role as an organizer for the Southern Tenant Farmers Union. Chief among Tolson’s promising young students is a 14-year-old prodigy named James Farmer, Jr. (Denzel Whitaker). Farmer’s father, James Sr. (Forest Whitaker), is a renowned scholar who has not yet learned how to truly harness his knowledge through action and assertion. James Jr. has seen the raving effects of racism all around him, and longs to live in a future where no one must be in fear simply because of the color of their skin. Other talented debaters on Tolson’s team include fiercely independent student Henry Lowe (Nate Parker), and Samantha Brooke (Jurnee Smollett) — the first ever female ever to join the Wiley College debate team.

Glory (1989) — This is the true story of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick), son of Massachusetts abolitionists, who is appointed to lead the first black regiment for the Union in the Civil War. Before this group is able to prove themselves in battle, Shaw must fight injustice within the Union hierarchy as superior officers doubt the regiment’s ability to fight and are unwilling to even equip them properly. Edward Zwick’s vivid Civil War epic boasts terrific battle sequences, but what sets this movie apart is the incredible acting in between the gunfire. Broderick brings to Shaw a nuanced mix of determination and vulnerability, but Denzel Washington steals the picture as a defiant enlisted man and he won an Oscar for this role. Morgan Freeman also shines as a wise, seasoned regimental sergeant.

Malcolm X (1992) — Simply the best. My absolute favorite movie, story, historical figure, thinker, activist, inspiration. This film chronicles the remarkable life of assassinated civil-rights leader Malcolm X (Denzel Washington), born Malcolm Little, from his early years in a Harlem gang to his religious conversion in prison, marriage to Betty Shabazz (Angela Bassett), and  rise to international fame as a controversial orator and spokesman for the Nation of Islam, led by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad (Al Freeman Jr.). A life-changing pilgrimage to Mecca, however, not only modifies Malcolm’s radical views of race, but tragically alienates him from his mentor. Built around a commanding performance by  Washington, Spike Lee’s Malcolm X is the writer-director’s most ambitious, impassioned film to date, as it presents the turbulent and eventful life of Malcolm X that was constantly in a state of transformation.

4 Little Girls (1997) — Spike Lee’s documentary revisits a shocking crime that shook the nation in 1963 when a Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama was blown up, killing four Black girls. The film combines reminiscences of the girls’ families and friends with observations on the times and the event’s broader significance within the Civil Rights movement. Heartbreaking and essential, Lee revisits an atrocity we should never forget. The overwhelming sense of personal loss and moral outrage is striking, especially when we remember how this unthinkable tragedy accelerated the progress of the civil rights movement. The barbarity of the southern segregationists’ act thrusting the race issue right to the front of the world stage, these four promising, innocent girls are now martyrs to the age-old struggle for racial equality.

Freedom Riders 
(2010) — During the turbulent Civil Rights era, over 400 men and women, black and white, challenged segregation laws by riding buses together into the Deep South. As a result of this non-violent act, these activists endured beatings, tear gas, imprisonment, and sometimes death. Based on the acclaimed book by Raymond Arsenault, Riders brings together interviews with the participants , as well as journalists, government officials, and first-hand witnesses. The result is a vivid account of a gallant struggle against racial injustice. While most Americans have probably heard of the Freedom Riders, this meticulously researched work, presented by the acclaimed PBS series American Experience, provides a level of immediacy and detail that brings the whole period into vivid focus. Nominated for three Emmys, the film is a superb story of ordinary citizens taking extraordinary risks.