Brava, Miss Universe! Miss Angola gives an intelligent response to a dumb question

The southwest African nation of Angola won its first “Miss Universe” pageant. Leila Lopes won the title of Miss Universe 2011. Her response to one of the most insensitive questions is commendable and laudable and should serve as a guide for young, Black girls and teens.

When asked, “If you could change one of your physical characteristics, which one would it be and why?” Ms. Lopes responded:

“Thank God I am very-well satisfied with the way God created me, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I consider myself a woman endowed with inner beauty. … I have acquired many wonderful principles from my family, and I plan to follow these through the rest of my life. And now I would like to give all of you a piece of advice: Respect one another.”

Read more on CNN.com

MUBI Lists: Voodoo or Santeria, Somebody’s Gonna Get It

I love a good horror movie.

The best ones are low on gore and high on fright. The scariest ones are the ones where you say to yourself, “That’s not funny. That could actually happen.”

Along with vampires, Hollywood loves a good zombie …and so do I. Aside from the occasional nuclear meltdown, laboratory accident or disease, it seems that in Hollywood, voodoo is a pretty good zombie manufacturer. First, aside from being right with the Lord (as my cousin would say), you have to also be able to separate fact from fiction and stereotype from storytelling. First, go into this list knowing that it’s all crap when it comes to authenticity. Second, the films are good…even if they’re really bad.

So just wrap your head around the fact that voodoo (voudun) is one of the most maligned religions. It has  its history in West Africa —especially, Benin and Nigeria.

Whether you’re a believer or not, you know one thing from the movies in this list…and that’s somebody’s gonna get got in the end…preferably by zombies.

Psychology Today goes psycho

It’s been an ugly, ugly 48 hours, given the racist “study” conducted by Santoshi Kanazawa who concluded that Black women are “uglier” than other races –while contemplating the conundrum of why Black men are so dang handsome.

After reading bits and blurbs of his pseudo-psychological study,  I instinctively knew that this “study” was going to be on the same scientific level as the Nazi-era phrenology, that is, scientists who throw objectivity out the window and instead spend their careers trying to prove the inferiority (or superiority) of one “race” over another based on how “different” people look from white/European, blonde-haired, blue-eyed apexes of human beauty.

Screenshot of the removed article from Psychology Today

 

Chart of Phrenology

Chart of Phrenology

And, guess what? I was right.

The article outlined how evolution had basically made Black women “uglier” because they have more genetic mutations because we are the genetic “Eves” –and therefore, mothers– of the world. The article which was published on Monday received a flurry of backlash and blogger-lash, wherein, PsychologyToday.com, quickly changed the title to: “Why Are Black Women Rated Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?”

According to Kanazawa:

There are many biological and genetic differences between the races. However, such race differences usually exist in equal measure for both men and women. For example, because they have existed much longer in human evolutionary history, Africans have more mutations in their genomes than other races. And the mutation loads significantly decrease physical attractiveness (because physical attractiveness is a measure of genetic and developmental health). But since both black women and black men have higher mutation loads, it cannot explain why only black women are less physically attractive, while black men are, if anything, more attractive.

The only thing I can think of that might potentially explain the lower average level of physical attractiveness among black women is testosterone. Africans on average have higher levels of testosterone than other races, and testosterone, being an androgen (male hormone), affects the physical attractiveness of men and women differently. Men with higher levels of testosterone have more masculine features and are therefore more physically attractive. In contrast, women with higher levels of testosterone also have more masculine features and are therefore less physically attractive. The race differences in the level of testosterone can therefore potentially explain why black women are less physically attractive than women of other races, while (net of intelligence) black men are more physically attractive than men of other races.

Read the entire article here

Huh?

While refusing to admit wrongdoing in publishing a blatantly racist and sexist tome to the hideousness of Black female femininity, Psychology Today’s silence was interpreted as complicity. When Psychology Today couldn’t spin anymore re-titles, they decided to just shut down the article… and removed it.

An unapologetic Kanazawa has no remorse and his past articles have included such outcomes as all women are basically prostitutes.

Given that his peers have distanced themselves from him in the past –and continue to do so– it was irresponsible, unprofessional and questionable as to why his article was even posted.

As of May 18, 2011, PsychologyToday.com has posted a link to an article by Dr. Robert Kurzban titled, “Stopping Stereotyping and Prejudice“. However, the article seems more in defense of evolutionary psychologists and the field of evolutionary psychology rather than addressing the underlying racism attached to the article and the damage done to a group of people in the name of science.

Blacks, in particular, have a very sketchy history with the “scientific community” and there have been countless Black women whose bodies have been used, dissected, put on display, prodded, and probed, in the name of science.

In 19th-century France, South African Saartjie (pronounced Sart-key) Baartman was put on display at a natural history museum in France while the public probed and remarked at her naked, African shape as something “odd” and inhuman.

Ota Benga was a Congolese Mbuti “pygmy” who was paraded around at a human zoo while “scientists” marveled at whether or not he was human.

In the 20th-century there were more famous cases such as the Tuskegee Experiment where Black men in impoverished Macon County, Alabama, were knowingly injected with placebos as a part of a study to track the outcomes of the sexually-transmitted disease syphilis. In exchange for their lives –and the lives of the people they continued to infect– the men received free burial insurance, “medical care,” and meals. They were never treated for syphilis.

There’s also the story of Henrietta Lacks who’s body was reportedly used as an experiment when it was discovered that her cells never died in a laboratory environment, wherein cells previously died outside of the body within 24 hours. Henrietta Lacks’ cells are now called HeLa cells and are used in every laboratory experiment calling for human cells. She died penniless and her family never knew that they’re mother/grandmother/great-grandmother was used in a scientific experiment until scientist and journalist Rebecca Skloot researched and wrote her book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

There are more examples of how some scientists and some members of the scientific community use biased studies to shield their own racists beliefs beneath the cloak of objectivity and science.

As the public becomes more familiar with these tactics, there are some scientists who are combating these studies and questioning the validity of flawed studies from the past and present.

Psychology Today should use this incident as an opportunity to more closely examine their own ethics and to re-examine how studies are conducted and their validity.

References:

NBC keeps it classy with Miss Universe promotional photos

The Miss Universe pageant is giving the public an eyeful of why they’re the classiest pageant on television.  Since Donald Trump began producing the show it’s kind of become the skank at the debutante ball… you know, she’s pretty but there’s something that’s a little bit off…

Not one to be outdone, Mr. Birther himself has never held the mantle for tasteful self promotion.

Trump’s track record with Miss Universe has cause some eyebrows to raise, even when he came out in support of one of its more controversial contestants, Carrie Prejean, who spoke out against gay marriage during the pageant and was later quoted as saying, “The president of the United States, the secretary of state, and many Americans agree with me in this belief,” a twisted version of Trump’s original comment of, “It’s the same answer that the president of the United States gave…She gave an honorable answer. She gave an answer from her heart.” Trump’s never shied away from controversy or as appearing like he’s crazy like a fox.

Since that fiasco, the attention surrounding the pageant seems to be getting increasingly kooky and the show hasn’t been able to get its bearings ever since.

It seems that their recent attempt to put a 21st century spin on the pageant’s roots as a “bathing beauty” contest that was sponsored by Catalina Swimwear has them putting their 2011 contestants back into swimwear..minus the tops.

The racy promotional photos even prompted former pageant worker Angie Meyer to remark to FOX News that, “It’s alarming that this has been turned into a Playboy-esque masquerade.”

Granted, we’ve seen worse decisions in using women to promote ratings; however, this particular controversy has produced another issue that we’ve seen before –the presentation of the Black woman’s body to attract attention and, apparently, shock and awe.

The image that the media is presenting is strikingly only one, that is, one of an unnamed Black contestant.

Beautifully regal and alluring, and a bit racy, the photo is tame compared to many in fashion magazines and on billboards; however, it seems to be the Blackness of the contestant that’s freaking out the public.

So a larger question for this photos is: Are people upset that the contestant is scantily clad (even though Miss Universe contestants prance out in swimsuits), or that the picture picked up by the media is that of a gorgeous Black body.

Unlike many images that sexual-ize and fetish-ize the Black female body, this contestant’s body isn’t photographically cropped to focus on specific body parts, and she’s not being presented as some exotic siren out to destroy all manhood. Nor is this image that of the subservient eye candy that’s presented in child-like candy pinks for serving sexual fulfillment –like a blow up toy.

Personally, I could care less about the Miss Universe Pageant and Donald Trump (including his tasteless show “The Apprentice”), but I do think that the photos present an opportunity for dialogue around how women –especially women of color– are presented to a larger society that has traditionally controlled how the image of Black women is presented.

Young girl confronts Lil’ Wayne’s negative images of women

I’m really late with this post, but there’s always the hope that someone who hasn’t seen it yet, will. I first saw this video of Watoto from the Nile (her performing moniker) when Maria (RiRi) “DJ Rimarkable” Garcia forwarded it to me on Facebook.

As someone who receives *a lot* of forwarded videos, DVDs, and whatnot, I almost passed it up –but DJ Rimarkable makes good beats, so I obliged. (She sometimes posts her house-laced beats for free, so be sure to check her out…and hire her!)

I watched the video and was floored. Now, granted Miss Watoto may have had some adult guidance and assistance, but the feel and the intent of her words are all hers.

Posted also on the Urban Grind (and re-posted on Hello Beautiful):

Watoto calls out the rapper for the way he refers to women, saying, “My daddy says that I’m a queen, but you be calling women other things. I hear you’ve got a little girl. Don’t you think the same of her?”

The video was made even more poignant from the debacle of Lil’ Wayne’s appearance at the 2009 BET Awards where he performed a rap with highly adult content but oddly had under-aged girls dancing on stage with him. The imagery was frightful, odd, and infuriating, and BET should have known better, but then again…

Hopefully, Watoto from the Nile will get as much airplay and videoplay as Lil’ Wayne, but I doubt it. There’s no “money” in educating Black girls and the Black boys, right?

When did Mammy become an attorney?

Clutch Magazine reported that BigGovernment.com has produced yet another tasteless, and borderline racist cartoon –this time targeting the United States’ First Lady Michelle Obama.

It seems like the First Couple has been a thorn in conservative sides sense President Obama’s 2002 presidential run to become our 44th President of the United States.

Bucking the images that warm many conservative hearts –that is, Welfare Queens, criminal activity, etc.– the First Couple has been a sparkling reminder of the “good side” of contemporary, mutually-respecting married couples, and not the snapdragon, gum popping, eye-rolling, argumentative representations we’ve seen in American television, film, and media.

The cartoon was so offensive that talk show host Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC’s “The Last Word”, publicly decried on his show that he considered it a “racist obscenity”.

The cartoon history of parodying political figures is a long one and there have been numerous examples of mainstream racist and offensive imagery …during Jim Crow.

In the cartoon, First Lady Michelle Obama is drawn as overweight, darker (than her actual skin color), with neon pink lips, and smacking on  an enormous amount of food (a direct conflict of her policy on obesity).

So why are these images so familiar and hurtful?

During the Civil War, Reconstruction and the Jim Crow-era, African Americans and the subjects of freeing enslaved people and formerly enslaved (and free) people-of-color being elected to public office, getting an education, marrying, and owning land, sparked violent reactions in whites who wanted to continue their idea of white supremacy. By removing obstacles that prevented African Americans from being subjugated, it was becoming increasingly apparent that the propaganda racist whites had been spreading was quickly being upended. The system of racially segregating recently freed African Americans  was called Jim Crow and operated between 1876 and 1965.

In order to justify the system, the media used negative, stereotyping imagery to undermine what little gains had been won after the Civil War. Also, up until the end of the end of the Civil War (1865), African Americans were still considered three-fifths of a human being:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

Common images began to emerge including that of  the “sassy” fat mammy (who was the unflinching defender of white families and children).

Mammy was always presented as obese, dark, wearing a kerchief, and grinning through exaggerated pink or red lips. She was given a back-hand respect because of her role as a wet nurse, cook, and alternate “mother”; however, she was never given freedom or a purpose outside of white service.

According to the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University, “Mammy is the most well known and enduring racial caricature of African American women” (http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/mammies/).

Some conservative web-sites have picked up the mantle of Jim Crow imagery, not only disrespecting the Office of the Presidency, but de-humanizing the Obama family to the point where this pattern is no longer something to be ignored.

In 2009 an altered image of Michelle Obama appeared in Google search results, prompting Google to (finally) make the following statement:

Sometimes Google search results from the Internet can include disturbing content, even from innocuous queries. We assure you that the views expressed by such sites are not in any way endorsed by Google…The beliefs and preferences of those who work at Google, as well as the opinions of the general public, do not determine or impact our search results. Individual citizens and public interest groups do periodically urge us to remove particular links or otherwise adjust search results. Although Google reserves the right to address such requests individually, Google views the integrity of our search results as an extremely important priority. Accordingly, we do not remove a page from our search results simply because its content is unpopular or because we receive complaints concerning it.

However, if the photo were not First Lady Obama would Google have gone to such lengths. I’ve personally contact Google when they were becoming the premiere search engine for the Internet and commented on the fact that search results for “Black women” or “African American women” included a majority of adult images and sites. Their response? Basically, that’s too bad, nobody’s complained. (I wish I had saved that response because it said so much about at least one person working there!)

Negative imagery of African Americans is unacceptable –no matter how much the images are wrapped in the guise of parody. Minstrels were parodies, too.

Brava to Sesame Street!

Most Generation-Xers (those born between 1961 and 1981) have fond memories of “Sesame Street.” It was decidedly urban, inner-city and positive, and showed a diverse community filled with African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and everything in between.

I highpoint of “Sesame Street” is their educational videos that teach children basic skills and positive behaviors while using fun lyrics and music.

This time “Sesame Street” has introduced a video teaching young girls of color (or anyone with coarse or non-straight hair) to love their bushy ‘fros and natural hair! This message is impact-filled in that it’s the opposite of what young girls and women see everyday online, on television, in films, and in media. We can even look to magazines that supposedly cater to the Black community and rarely will you see a Black woman without straightened hair –chemically or flat-ironed.

Granted, straightened hair is a styling choice, but the proliferation of it as a representative of Black women around the world is shattering. The message is seemingly that the natural appearance of Black women is unacceptable, ugly and not the standard of European beauty, therefore, companies spend billions of dollars selling us products (that have no long term health studies associated with them) to tell us to change what we can to appeal to a “wider audience.”

Some actors have seen their value rise by straightening out the kinks and desperately following a European standard of beauty –some to the point where you have to question their mental health. However, when women-of-color are bombarded by the constant images of European standards of beauty, and more men of color (not just Black men) are choosing those standards as a “trophy” or as a template of women of color should look like, you can’t blame some women of color for drinking the Kool-Aid.

Personally, I’ve worn my hair “natural” for over 15 years (it was chemically-relaxed until from age 16 to 24 years old). Though I understand why African American women do it (family pressure, peer pressure, media reinforcement, playground taunts, etc.), I’ve never commented to any woman about “needing to go natural.” However, I cannot count the number of times women with chemically-straightened or flat-ironed hair have made negative comments or (literally) glared at me with a snarl in an elevator, on the subway, in the workplace, etc., etc., etc. With the “Sesame Street” video it is teaching our young girls early that a rite-of-passage doesn’t necessarily have to coincide with your first chemical burn or rantings about “not scratching your head” the night before a caustic agent is placed on their hair to straighten it.

With a younger generation of Black girls, hopefully, the adults will make a better effort at instilling pride in their hair in it’s natural state and the endless styles they can create from them. Willow Smith, daughter of Jada and Will Smith, is adding to the new acceptance of a natural hair aesthetic with the seemingly contradictory song, “I Whip My Hair (Back and Forth)”.

Seeing the irony of the song, Fraggle Rock Nation has even produced a remix of the video, which shows that people are at least thinking deeper about the implications of a natural hair aesthetic for Black women in popular culture.

With more acceptance of different hair textures, colors, looks, and self-defined styles, hopefully, we will need fewer videos like this one. But for now, “Sesame Street” deserves one big BRAVA!

WTF…? Proenza Schouler’s 4-Minute Bizarre Ode to Black Girls

Fashion designer Proenza Schouler has presented a 4-minute commercial thinly disguised as a film called “Act da Fool.” (I kid you not.) The writer is Harmony Korine who wrote the controversial film “Kids” which starred actress Rosario Dawson. That doesn’t give him “street cred,” though…

Many designers have dabbled in film as art/commerce, but this one leaves has the potential to leave a very bad taste in one’s mouth. Narrated by an obviously southern (or southern-dialect laced) African American girl, the film dabbles in the murkiness of urban America. Listening to the film, I got the feeling that it was more of a southern, urban area. (Yes, I’m a dialect junkie, and the dialect sounds like southeast America.)

In a post-“Precious” world there’s a delicate balance between exploitation and stereotyping, and rawness and honesty. This film borders closer to the previous, not the latter. With such awe inspiring lines like: “Sometimes we act like animals,” I can’t help but to cringe because African Americans –especially women– were treated like chattel and bred, treated, and presented as animals and animal-like. Sadly, the first 3:30 minutes of the film are bizarre displays of how someone “thinks” young, African American girls act –and the thinly veiled reference to pedophilia is also disturbing. (When the sexual exploitation of young African American girls is discussed, the larger society [and to a certain extent, our own community] turns a blind eye –now we have a “fashion designer” exploiting it?) Just when you can’t take the film any further, yes, the last twenty seconds are beautiful and dreamlike.

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 03:  Director Harmony Korine arrives at the AFI FEST screening of 'Trash Humpers' at the Chinese Theater on November 3, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI)

I still do not understand why film, television and media feel so comfortable presenting Black women and girls as “animals,” especially in regards to how –and who– controls the Black woman’s body and soul.

There are some who consider this film art. Sorry, but I don’t. (Then again, I couldn’t stand the film “Kids” or “Gummo” –both written by Harmony.) Nsenga Burton at The Root, wrote an insightful commentary about this same film, writes:

“It is exploitation masquerading as high art; its creators, in order to make themselves cool, misuse the very people — young people of color, girls in this instance — who inform and inspire the fashion industry.” (The Root, Act Da Fool’ Is Exploitation, 21st-Century Style)

Those who don’t critically-think about film or fashion will think this film is like a documentary –i.e., that’s really how “we” really think and act. (Let’s not even start with what other countries already think of African American girls.)

There’s a huge disconnect between historical context and daily life… that’s when things fall apart…

Below is the entire film. Take the poll and tell me what you think!

Did Conde Nast Reject VOGUE – Africa?

Fashion photographer (and Cameroonian Parisian) Mario Epanya had a wonderful idea: VOGUE Africa. There was already a VOGUE India, Teen VOGUE and VOGUE China, why not a VOGUE Africa –it’s only the largest continent in the world?

He started a campaign for such a magazine and pitched the idea to a friend who had a connection at Conde Nast, the publisher of VOGUE.  With an amazing array of photo spreads and layouts, he envisioned what VOGUE Africa would and could look like. However, Conde Nast was apparently not having it.

According to a blog post by Claire at the Fashion Bomb:

It was my understanding that Conde Nast France is itself a license of Conde Nast International, the originator and creator of the Vogue brand. Does Conde Nast France have the authority to reject Vogue Africa? And shouldn’t Vogue Africa have been discussed in a proper business meeting instead of via e-mails shuttled between friends?

Makes sense to me. As deflating as the experience was, Mario was more philosophical about the outcome. In the same interview, he states:

“…About a month ago I sent the director of Conde Nast France a message, via my friend, asking how I would go about getting a license for Vogue Africa. He replied that no, it would not be possible to do the project…”

So, just like that, it just isn’t going to happen? What does that say about Conde Nast’s and Vogue’s philosophy about beauty “colored outside of the lines”? Hopefully, the mantle will be picked back up.

You can find out more at Mario Epanya’s Facebook group, and read more interviews about this interesting –and hush-hush– issue.

The “Doll Test” 60 Years Later –Surprising Results on Tonight’s Anderson Cooper

CNN.com

CNN correspondents Anderson Cooper and Soledad O’Brien address the “Doll Test” that was given in the 1940’s to contribute to the studies about how segregation impacts society. Sixty years later, surprising (to some) results show that today’s white children still have an overwhelming white bias: 76% of the white children picked the two darkest skin tones to reflect the “dumb” child; 66% of them chose the two darkest skin tones to reflect the “mean” child; and 66% chose the two darkest skin tones for the color that adults “don’t like.” Hmmm…

Some of the children have parents who obviously know the impact of race in America, and those children were more impartial to their selections. A bright point are many of the responses from Black children, including a young girl who says, “I like the color that I am,” when asked which color she’d like to be.

See parents talk about the different ways they address race with their young children as part of “AC360″ special coverage “Black or White: Kids on race” tonight 10 p.m. ET

FLASHBACK: 1997 Interview with Dorothy Dandridge Biographer Donald Bogle

If you aren’t familiar with Donald Bogle’s work, then you’re missing out on one of the quintessential biographers and researchers of the documented history of African Americans in film and television. His books include Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films, Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood, and Brown Sugar; Eighty Years of America’s Black Female Superstars.

In this 1997 interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose, Mr. Bogle is joined by two legendary actresses: Ruby Dee and Cicely Tyson (making a rare appearance… replete with leather gloves).

All three guests are discussing Donald’s 1997 book, Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography, as well as an intense discussion about the actress herself and Black actresses in Hollywood.

Madea is the Only Black “Woman” That Can Open a Film?

“…when you think about a black woman who can open a film, I mean they will green-light the film because of her presence in the film — you know there’s only one person, and that’s Madea.”

Atlanta, Georgia’s, online publication “Rolling Out” wrote an insightful article about the dearth of roles for Black women in film. Of course the article was highlighting the Black Women in Film (formerly, Black Women Film Project) luncheon featuring some of Hollywood’s leading Black actresses in film and television. The article outlined a number of concerns with the roles of Black women –something the IBWFF has also been highlighting for years.

The rub was to promote how much work there is in Atlanta, as well as how much Tyler Perry’s films and studio have impacted roles for African Americans. Personally, my mother’s family has been in Atlanta for over four generations, so I always took for Black achievement and success for granted –i.e., it was something you did, not something you undermined, like in many urban centers.

For many African Americans, Atlanta is a burgeoning, Black metropolis for actors and performers. Tyler Perry’s studio is another example of ingenuity, need fulfillment and entrepreneurship, in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Sadly, the strength, purpose and vision of the luncheon was cut short by the closing statement by Roger Bobb, executive vice president of Tyler Perry Studios. After actress Terri Vaughn’s impassioned plea about roles for Black women in Hollywood, and after outlining the impact of such a worthy luncheon, one small statement seemed to dismiss and undermine everything that was just presented.

[picappgallerysingle id=”8322789″]

The statement?

“…(W)hen you think about a black woman who can open a film, I mean they will green-light the film because of her presence in the film — you know there’s only one person, and that’s Madea.”

Wow. Did he just state that a Black man dressed as a Black woman is the only “Black woman” who can open a film?

Tyler Perry as Madea

Oh, but he did add, “Now you do have some exceptions — Halle Berry and Queen Latifah. But after that, the list goes way down.” Goes down? Goes down to what? Zoe Saldana? Angela Bassett? Gabrielle Union? Alicia Keys? Beyonce? Mo’Nique?

I respect the work (and jobs) that Tyler Perry Studios provides; however, I wish that Mr. Bobb had edited his words more carefully, especially considering that he just attended a luncheon where Black women in film were discussed for over an hour and a half.

Maybe he was taken out of context, who knows? But please, Black women in film are “dissed” enough… we don’t need to be dissed at our own events.

Read the article: http://www.rollingout.com/insiderohome/ro-today/8882-are-black-women-blackballed-in-hollywood-insiders-sound-off.html

Am(erykah)’s Artistic Statement

Okay, let’s cut right to the chase. Erykah Badu’s video “Window Seat” has been heating up Facebook pretty much for the past couple of days. I was hit with an onslaught of links and “whadya thinks?” since March 29, 2010. To say the least, people were “vexed,” distraught, titillated, mortified and stupefied.

Comments ranged from questioning her sanity, to outright anger, and to kudos.

Though Miss Erykah is one of my favorite music (and performance) artists, I hadn’t taken two minutes to watch the video because I’m just not one for a hard sell (no pun intended). I like people to get all of their nutty comments, talk show appearances and morning show battles out of the way before I actually feel compelled to view something objectively.

In this case, it was the subject matter that was so compelling that I had to finally watch: the perceived exploitation of the Black woman’s body, and controlling the image of the Black woman’s body. (What could it hurt, right? Plus it’s free, so stop complaining.) I click on the one of many links and sat, and sat, and sat.

First, I wasn’t that blown over by the song itself. It was pretty standard, and I felt it was more of a “filler” song. There were no vocal pyrotechnics, or note gymnastics, but it was listenable.

I started getting that Coldplay feeling like, “Oh, here we go again. Another film school experiment in an attempt to make some big –albeit undecipherable– artistic statement.”

For those who haven’t seen the video, Ms. Badu is in the same location as President Kennedy when he was assassinated in Dallas. (OK, keep that point in mind.) Dallas is also Ms. Badu’s hometown. (Point number 2.) The film is grainy and shaky. (Nothing good can come from that given the first point.) The camera is unflinching and Erykah is never out of view.

But wait… there’s more!

As Miss Erykah is walking down a busy Dallas street, she is slowly taking off clothing. By the time she takes off her top, you’re pretty sure it’s going down a slippery slope. (No pun intended, again.)

Yes, she strips down to nature’s own scuba suit… in public. And, no, there was no permit to for the filming.

In the end is a simulated assassination.

Wow. I didn’t see that coming… given the first point. But for many Am(erykah) it was just a little too much.

As someone who still cringes at nude scenes in film, I was a little floored, and somewhat impressed that she dropped it like it was hot. One side of me thought, good for her! The other side thought, now that was just unnecessary.

Of course people are outraged, including the City of Dallas. Folks in Texas don’t take to kindly to public nudity, especially when it’s filmed.

Talk shows, including the “Early Show,” went 5150. (That’s city code for “crazy.”) Morning co-host Maggie Rodriguez almost lost her breakfast while spewing out her distaste for the video, even bringing President Kennedy and how Ms. Badu disrespected the assassinated President. (Maggie, chill the f– out.)

My own mother had an interesting (and funny) comment, “You can’t expect a child not to be traumatized by seeing a nekkid Black woman… or man!” (Of course it was said in the humor.) We laughed because it was definitely in the humor of one of my favorite Mel Brook’s movies, “Blazing Saddles”: “Excuse me while I whip this out!” Aaaaaagh!

It also brought to light a bigger issue: How does America (still) respond to the Black body?

Erykah responded via Twitter to everyone’s ire:
@fatbellybella character assassination due to mob mentality/ groupthink is the theme of the window seat video . The message is encoded.

OK, I got that, but I think that a deeper message about the Black body, America’s perception of it, and the fear, fascination and loathing it still possesses for people who never have an opportunity to see it in a positive light.

Hopefully the video will deliver a larger message and start a larger dialogue. Read Natalie Hopkinson’s take on the video and the Black woman’s body at “The Root,” and visit Erykah Badu’s Twitter account for her deeper insight into the controversy.

Stop Dissing Kim Porter

Normally I don’t comment on the foolishness of today’s “celebrities,” but Sean “Diddy” Combs recent comments about Jennifer Lopez are starting to become nauseating and publicly humiliating for his so-called girlfriend and “baby mama” Kim Porter –especially since he just threw Ms. Porter a birthday party less than a week ago in West Hollywood.

Though they’ve been on-again-off-again for more than a decade, and though they have three children together, he still openly pines for his ex-girlfriend, Jennifer Lopez. It wasn’t enough that when he *was* with La-Lopez, he wasn’t yet “through” with Ms. Porter, yet and still, he made such outrageous proclamations that he was “in love” with J-Love, and went as far as to purchase signage in NYC to proclaim it.

The message this is sending is not about unrequited love, or “two ships sailing in the night,” it’s obviously about setting a dollar sign on a relationship and placing a social hierarchy on a relationship –and the Black woman is still the lowest valued in both. This also sends a message to young, Black women about their personal worth, and can only chip away at the delicateness of young, Black, female self-esteem. Imagine the countless hip-hop fans who are young, Black women who are witnessing this repeated public disrespect of Ms. Porter? To have our magazines hold up this dysfunction as a “healthy relationship,” while one of the partners publicly declares his love to another on gossip blogs, gossip magazines, and in Playboy Magazine, is too much. (Read The Dish here…)

Please, let’s stop co-signing on this kind of public humiliation of Black women and stop feeding into its dysfunction and self-hatred.

I’m officially off of the soap box…

Related News:

South African Union Threatens to Boycott Jennifer Hudson

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Last month Jennifer Hudson announced that she will play Winnie Manikizela-Mandela in the Equinoxe Film WINNIE (due out in 2011). The Creative Workers Union of South Africa (CWUSA) promptly issued a statement to South African newspaper The Citizen protesting the fact that a South African was not cast in the role, and locals haven’t been sought to star in or work on the film. The union is composed on South African creatives, including filmmakers, actors and musicians. Renowned South African theater actor John Kani pointed out that, “the problem was not Hudson playing Madikizela-Mandela, but the lack of respect and acknowledgment for local creatives.”
Ms. Hudson’s casting also highlights a recent trend toward casting entertainers and singers as actors. Actress Nia Long –in response to Beyonce Knowles starring in yet another film– even went as far to state, “It’s just not about how talented you are anymore. It’s about, ‘How much box-office revenue will this person generate?’ ” But Ms. Hudson is not alone in the push toward entertainers, especially African American entertainers. She’s one of many in a long line that includes Ludacris (CRASH, GAMER), Alicia Keyes (THE NANNIE DIARIES, SECRET LIVES OF BEES), Ice Cube (FRIDAY, BARBERSHOP), Eve (BARBERSHOP, TRANSPORTER 3), and a host of others.
This brings up several issues that have been plaguing Africans/African Americans in film: 1) The right to accurate representation, 2) the dearth of roles for Blacks, and 3) trivializing the “craft” of acting. The movie industry in the United States is focused on the business of show business, and rarely do African Americans have the luxury to present “art” that doesn’t “make money.”  If African Americans in film can’t bring in an audience, then Hollywood –and some Blacks in film– will not bother to cast them in other films, or back films starring them. This is part of the reason why Hollywood continually brings in entertainers, and not actors.

Middle-America more readily recognizes Ludacris than it does Ruby Dee.

However, the entertainer-as-actor is not new to Hollywood. Many films have starred “entertainers” in non-musical films just to attract audiences. Nat King Cole in ST. LOUIS BLUES, Diahann Carroll in CLAUDINE, Eartha Kitt in ANNA LUCASTA, etc. Granted, all of the aforementioned –other than Nat King Cole– were also stage performers, and have starred in plays. Some will argue that Ms. Hudson received an Oscar® for DREAMGIRLS. Others will argue that the role wasn’t a stretch since it was about an R&B singer who doesn’t fit the mold of a successful lead singer of a girl group.

In regards to representation, African Americans have been battling Hollywood for decades. How we’re presented in film impacts how we’re received in public. Image and media strongly impact perception. A “repeated” image can destroy self-esteem, social gains and cultural acceptance. Starting with such films as D.W. Griffith’s BIRTH OF A NATION, Blacks have understood the power of the moving image. Many of the roles in BIRTH OF A NATION were white actors in “blackface” –a demeaning and intentionally hurtful practice of “blackening” an actors face with burnt cork or shoe polish and acting out Black stereotypes for entertainment. It was in part due to the lack of accurate representation that such filmmakers as Oscar Micheaux and Tressie Sauders filmed their own films starring Black actors in human, believable –and even comical– stories.

When the Civil Rights Movement gained steam in the United States in the 1960’s, African Americans took representation even further. Diversity in how actors looked was pushed (no more “paper bag tests” for Black actresses), and “authenticity” was expected (see Abbey Lincoln and Ivan Dixon in NOTHING BUT A MAN).

During the Black filmmaker renaissance in the late-1980’s and early-1990’s, the deluge of Black directors, actors and films, were the norm.

Children raised, or born, during this time period have always assumed that’s how Hollywood looked. Jennifer Hudson is one of those young adults. She would have been an adolescent when the Black filmmaker renaissance blossomed.  In regards to her role as an actress, it will require her to look deep and dark into the recesses of human indignity and violence to truly understand the impact of apartheid-era South Africa. Hopefully, she’s grown beyond her comments that she “didn’t know who the BeeGees” were when she was asked to sing their songs on “American Idol.” The Bee Gees? Really? I also hope that she breaks the acceptance of many young adults to totally disregard any history that pre-dates their adolescence.

Growing up, I was always aware of things that pre-dated me–including music, performers, film, etc. It wasn’t something I considered as “old,” and, therefore, negligible –like clothing. If she and Hollywood are going to stand by their decision to cast her in the role, then let’s hope that she takes the role seriously, and makes a concerted effort to improve her craft by researching Ms. Madizikela’s history, her life, and the era (and country) that produced her. And most importantly, let’s hope that Hollywood and Equinoxe Films respect Black actors in South Africa enough to heavily involve them in the process.

Sophie Okonedo Stars in Skin

Sophie Okonedo stars in the true story of Sandra Laing, a Black woman born to white parents in apartheid era South Africa. The complicated story explores race and class and the tenuous relationship between them all in an unjust society. Unlike many of the “tragic mulatto” films, this story takes a deeper look at how we define race, and how it effects every aspect of who we are and who we think we are. This film also stars Sam Neil and Alice Krige as Sandra’s parents.

Read the SF Chronicle review: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/11/06/MVB31AEGCI.DTL

Minstrels are back… and they’re women!

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Is everyone in on the same joke? Apparently blackface –that degrading and demoralizing leftover of 19th century entertainment in America– is back.

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If is wasn’t the recent Jackson 5 blackface “skit” by some of Australia’s medical elite on the hit show “Hey Hey It’s

Saturday,” it was fashion designer Carlos Diez’s ode to the minstrel on the catwalk. Well, apparently French Vogue

didn’t want to be left out of the fashion trend, and immediately jumped on the bandwagon. Online magazine Clutch (www.clutch.com) –and 2009 Tressie Award winner for Best Online Magazine— broke the fashion world wide-open by exposing French Vogue’s dirty little secret.

As most African Americans will tell you, there’s nothing cute, post-racially ironic, or nostalgic about blackface.

Maybe French Vogue thought it would spark a new trend to help whittle down the cosmetics industry’s over-stock of bronzer –who knows? Regardless, the increasing re-emergence of old racial stereotypes in the media is gaining steam, and the targeting of Black women is getting ridiculous. The sting of the fashion industry’s and French Vogue’s history dearth of Black models on the runway and in print is all too fresh.

In 2008, the passing of iconic fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent brought a brief recollection of his commitment to featuring Black models in his shows and in print. Apparently, the French couldn’t wait until he passed. (Can you imagine the conference room at French Vogue, “He’s gone? Good! Bring on the blackface!!” …in French, of course.)

Interestingly enough, both Glamour and French Vogue are publications of Conde Nast. (Remember Glamour Magazine’s 2007 debacle that “Afro”-textured hair and braids are a “Don’t”? http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=3710971&page=1&page=1)

So what’s the best way to address this issue? I have no problems in not buying French Vogue because I never bought them, anyway. (Sorry, I’m far from a Size 0.)

Check out the facts, first. The best way to start is to email or write to the magazine expressing your issue with their little layout. Chances are you’ll get a pat response from customer service. What works are letters in numbers. Recruit your family, friends and email lists, and have a standard –or suggested– letter prepared for them. (Most people hate writing. Do them and your cause a favor and write it for them.)

Also, check around to see if there’s a larger protest from an advocacy group, or anti-discrimination group. Join their letter writing campaign if they have one prepared.

Either way, most companies could care less about your opinion unless it means they’ll lose money or their reputation will be at risk. As Black people, are history, culture and person are not for sale… so stop letting people buy it.