LINCOLN

February 24, 2013


Dear Mr. Spielberg:

There is a lot about your movie that I found entertaining. However, there is something about the movie that I just cannot get beyond. This is the fact that the Black people in your movie, with the exception of S. Epatha Merkerson, seem cognitively limited; well, retarded. Unfortunately we only see Merkerson for a few minutes on the screen.

It was startling as well that you did not feature any of the Black intellectuals of the day, such as Frederick Douglass, who had actually developed a close relationship with Lincoln at that time. Seriously? Are you trying to convince us that all the Black people of the time were docile and their freedom was about the rebelliousness of one guy. It’s unfortunately the same story that was told for decades in history books and perpetuates the same ideas, no matter how unlikely and absurd. The ideas are that African Americans for the most part are limited and unable to advocate for themselves or do anything for themselves. These ideas derived from some history books hypnotized generations into thinking this was/is the case. Were you hypnotized?

For me, Lincoln was this season’s opposite of Beasts of the Southern Wild, where if you add a few Caucasians to the movie maybe nobody will complain about African Americans living like savages in a modern world. With Lincoln. maybe if you add a few African Americans then maybe nobody will complain about the fact that they most seem to be quite slow, and had very little to do with accomplishing their own freedom. They were simply not capable. Unfortunately, in terms of their portrayals of African Americans, we come out losing in both these movies.

For my money, Lincoln, The Vampire Slayer, was a better movie (and I don’t even like Vampire movies for the most part). But the screenplay was was smart and creative and the Black characters seemed to have more depth and intelligence.

Sincerely,

makeitplainonline

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Look to Aspire

September 24, 2012

I hadn’t heard a doggone thing about it.  I’m talking about Magic Johnson’s new ASPIRE network.  However, I am so glad I found it.  I was scrolling through the television guide and noticed “Flip Wilson” was on.  Okay.  Had to see that.

Three hours later my television was still tuned to this channel, and I don’t even watch that much television.

I have always been a fan of TV One because it seemed that it mattered to them what kind of material they were feeding to us.  It seemed that they were careful about it.  I thought this was so critical in a world where images of us in the media have historically been a massive onslaught of stereotypes.

I think ASPIRE is doing the same thing but they have what seems to have a bit more of a focus on the Arts.  I spent three hours watching Black independent films on ASPIRE that day.  Just prior to the discovery of the channel I had been wondering how to get more access to these films.  Then, there they were.

Check it out.  You will not be disappointed.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/28/aspire-network-launch-earvin-magic-johnson_n_1635238.html

So it does seem here lately that people want to know what Black women think. I mean there is so much hype today over “The Help”. Look, I appreciated the movie. And Viola Davis was extraordinary as usual. But there were no surprIses there AT ALL. Did you think the Black maids would say they were kicking up their heels to be degraded everyday? I don’t think so.

On the contrary, “The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl” offers something very different. Developed by Issa Rae, it gives a voice to a Black woman who tends to be invisible altogether in the media, an awkward Black woman, just trying to make it through her awkward life. Now that is a big surprise.

It is a comedy and I actually found myself laughing out loud. That almost never happens with me watching any sort of sitcom. The writing is crisp and smart and you feel this woman’s pain. We are laughing at her and ourselves for those times that we have all felt at least a little awkward.

It is an internet program that almost halted production because they ran out of money. They were able to raise money through an online donation service to keep it going. They exceeded their goals in terms of the money they raised, because so many folks did not want to lose this great show.

In a way it is powerful because it represents the freedom to be awkward or to be anything other than a stereotype.

Run to your computer. Check it out and tell me what you think:
awkwardblackgirl.com

Southern Exposure

December 31, 2010

 
 

The few trips I have had to the South were mostly pleasant experiences, such as meeting my maternal grandmother’s family in South Carolina at a reunion in 2000.  There were some unpleasant experiences as well that I will address in the following blog:  ” Southern Discomfort”.

This year, for my summer vacation which did not occur until November, I had the pleasure of spending some time in Savannah, Georgia and Sea Islands (Islands off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina) known for their beauty, but less well-known for the exquisite culture of the Gullah people.  

My grandmother would try her best to distance herself from this massive group, but I suspect that our heritage is closer to theirs than she really wanted to admit.  Some of the language she used was just too similar and some of the recipes were EXACTLY the same when I looked in Gullah cookbooks.  I think the close linkage to Africa that is clearly accepted in Gullah culture and maybe some of the religious differences and beliefs may have been the point of concerns for my grandmother and her family who were trying very hard to just be “American”.

Africans in this region during slavery, were often left without a Caucasian presence, to tend  land in the “lowcountry” where their Caucasian owners found the weather difficult to bear.  This made it possible for them to retain many aspects of their African language and culture.  To this day, many are able to trace their history directly to Africa, many from Sierra Leone. 

The language is what many linguists would call a” pigeon” which is a mixture of languages, like Creole, or West Indian dialects.  The culture is also mixed and this is evidenced in the religious practices which tend to be Christian, but outside of the church sustain a African based belief structure on healing and how to learn life’s lessons.  These beliefs coexist in the same way they do for those who practice Santeria (which is fundamentally African) in Latin cultures.

There was representation of this culture in 90s cinema and on television with the movie Daughter’s of the Dust by independent filmmaker, Julie Dash which was a story about a Gullah Island family at the turn of the last century.  I think the movie has some of the most beautiful cinematography I have ever seen.  Take a look: 

Ronald Daise and his wife Natalie have shared about Gullah culture through their very popular 90s children’s television show: “Gullah Gullah Island” which continues to air on Nick Jr. in the middle of the night.  The videos are available through their website http://gullahgullah.com/, and on Amazon.  Their delightful show focuses less on the language and more on the way of life and spirit of community in Gullah culture.  Ronald Daise also has some children’s books that I find beautiful in their presentation of this little talked about and little understood area of the world.  These books have positive Black imagery and relationships for African American youth.  They would make great Kwanzaa gifts.

The power in all of this is the recognition that we come from somewhere, and there is a link to whence we came, as much as we try to deny that at times.

For more information on the subject see: http://www.penncenter.com/

I also like this blog about the subject:

http://www.rosalindcummingsyeates.com/blog/labels/Gullah%20Culture.html

The Santa Claus Bag

December 12, 2010

 

When I was very small my mother transformed all our Caucasian Christmas figurines to African Americans.  The Santa right down to the elves.  I did not witness her doing it but I could tell she’d painted them.  And the thing was my mom was no Black Panther.  She was not the rebellious kind by any stretch of the imagination.  But something about her very young child looking at all these representations of joy and none of them appearing to look like her daughter bothered my mother.

Now that I have a child, I know what she felt.  Is it alright to have children of color looking to the Caucasian Santa as the source of all the goodness and excitement.  I say no. Especially since the real Santa Claus bag essentially belongs to me, and I don’t look anything like a fat, jolly white guy.  I am saying the source of the joy is really in my hands.

I think children need to experience the possibility that Santa can be from any group.  On a subconscious level it is dangerous to believe that only white stuff can be good stuff  and yet I still see so many people, young and old falling into that trap.  I plan to teach my child that Santa Claus looks like him when he enters our home, and he looks like others when he enters theirs. 

Why participate in the Santa thing at all if it has to be this complicated?  Why don’t we just do Kwanzaa instead?  Well I remember believing in Santa was great fun, and it is a chance to believe in magic which I think is good for the imaginations of little children.  But I want to  handle this consciously, in a way that is sensitive to self-esteem development.

And by the way, these days you don’t have to put your figurines into blackface (although I used some brown powdered foundation on one of my decorations and I think it turned our pretty good).  You can buy them already Black. There are several websites I found on line including: 

http://www.itsablackthang.com/AfricanAmericanChristmasDecorations-Black-Santa.html

I also love this post from a couple of years ago where a journalist interviewed several Black Santas:  http://weekendamerica.publicradio.org/display/web/2008/12/13/inside_blackness_black_santa/

Happy Holidays Everyone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

See: The King’s Speech

December 1, 2010

Add King George VI of England to our list of famous people alive or deceased with a learning disability.

I am usually so disappointed with movies that I expect very little from them. 

The King’s Speech, however, shattered my beliefs about going to the movies these days.  I actually could be entertained and maybe even learn a little something.  The cast included people you may be familiar with including  Geoffrey Rush whom I predict will get the Oscar for playing the king’s speech therapist. 

It also evokes acknowledgement of something I left out in previous discussions of learning disabilities and that is that some learning disabilities may have an emotional piece (either triggered by or exacerbated by emotional stuff.) 

The movie may be good for teens, especially because it helps to know learning disabilities do not discriminate.  I would not go younger as some of the language can be inappropriate. 

You may think,” How could I possibly relate to a King;  even if he never had to utter a word, all his needs would be met; he doesn’t have to face the real world with a learning disability?”.   King George could have withdrawn from his life and from service,  but he chose to do his best in spite of his limitations.  It is a story of courage and that is relevant to anyone who is feeling hindered by circumstances outside of their control. 

See Colin Firth’s  interview on Charlie Rose:  http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/11313

See Related Post:  Learning Diablilities 101:  https://makeitplainonline.wordpress.com/2010/11/06/learning-disabilities-101/

Angelique Kidjo

November 21, 2010

 I had a surreal experience a few weeks ago; I was in a room with so many African American celebrities all at the same time. I am talking about a ton of these people.   Some of them people were people you may have always wanted to be close to or ask questions of or would simply just want to scream your head off when you saw them; Black people on tv, and in movies, and who sing. 

Out of this sea of many people of whom I could to approach, I chose Angelique Kidjo.  Probably for two reasons: 1) she seemed approachable, and 2) her music has meant a great deal in my life.

When I approached her just to say that her music has meant a lot to me, she gave me a hug and started talking to me like we were old friends.  An unbelievable experience for me.

There is something about Angelique’s music that is soothing and spiritual.  She sings in many languages, but tends to transcend them all.  She is a unifying priestess with her music. 

Last week I caught her show at Carnegie Hall.  She brought together African descended people from throughout the diaspora to show the path of the drum from Africa throughout the world, and the power it has had for not just African diasporans but for the entire world.   Her guests included Diane Reeves and Yousou N’Dour.  A wonderful event.  I think the drum (and music, really) lives inside of us and we have carried the drum around the world in this way. 

I saw her this morning on Nickelodeon, Jr.  She is everywhere.

And how timely since I have talked recently here about the connection between the drum and IQ (See: https://makeitplainonline.wordpress.com/2010/09/26/the-back-to-school-series-iq-and-you/  and http://ppstix.wordpress.com/2010/09/26/the-benefits-of-being-a-drummer/ .

If you do not know Angelique, get to know her.  In a world full of  studio-manipulated bad singing she has a power that will grab you and keep your attention. She will put you in touch with the music inside of you.

Just in case you were wondering why this shrink is so concerned about the media, I have an answer for you.  We digest massive amounts of information each day through radio, television, billboards, music, magazines…  Sometimes we are not paying close attention but suddenly we are singing a song we didn’t know we knew, or wanting that new thingamajig because, “well, I don’t know, I just want it”.  Media and advertising are powerful: there is a whole branch of psychology geared toward shaping your behavior through advertising that makes it so.  Unfortunately, stereotypes about Black people loom large in this media.  Living consciously means making every effort to take control of what we digest from media.

Anyway, when I stumbled upon this work, I thought it had positive, clear messages about developing countries in Africa;  essential in terms of undoing all those negative stereotypes about Africa many of us grew up with.

Anyway, I adore Jill Scott, but I had not been a huge fan of her acting.  I also loved Anika Noni Rose’s singing, not necessarily from Dreamgirls where I just feel like her gifts were downplayed, but from a Broadway play, Caroline or Change which I despised except for Rose’s singing which was amazing.  I was mad at Rose for doing The Princess and the Frog which I thought was a catastrophe in terms of psychologically healthy Black roles.  The author of the book The No 1. Ladies Detective Agency (Alexander McCall Smith) was an African citizen from birth, although not Black, a mild concern for me.  With all of this you would think I would never go out and rent the series, but all 7 episodes later…

This beautiful little show takes place in Botswana. You really get a feeling for the communities there.  Scott and Rose pull off the accents, and confirm for me what I believe true, that there are more similarities between people of African descent than distinctions although we have tried so hard to distance ourselves because of the negative images pounded into our heads usually from mainstream media about who we are.   The characters are real, all like people you may know, but they are out there solving crimes and shedding light on relationships between lovers and families.  The characters themselves have issues.  Scott’s character, Precious Ramotswe is struggling with the early death of her child and a divorce from an abusive man. Rose’s character, Grace Makutsi is the perfect tightly wound anxiety ridden secretary with great ambitions.  Together they are brilliant.  The ensemble works together magically.  (And hey, please name for me any other Black women sole leads on TV anywhere before this.  I cannot think of one).

There is nothing like it I have ever seen on TV that is so engaging and fun, and at the same time able to bring to light some serious issues, such as the AIDS epidemic.  The whole family can watch.   I would say 10 years old and up is okay.  A great way to spend a rainy day; no cursing and limited violence.

I know that HBO has terminated the series, but there is blogging going out there about them brining it back periodically as “movies”.  I hope so.  In the meantime, maybe I’ll go read the books.

See: “In Treatment”

July 19, 2010

I just finished watching the first season of HBO’s In Treatment, as it was all the rage with a few of my clients.  HBO will be going into its third season of the show this upcoming fall.  It was a goal for my summer to try to catch up. 

I did not anticipate being so drawn in.  I do not have HBO so I was getting the videos from a service that mails the videos to you.  I started out ordering one at time and that quickly increased to two or three depending on what time would allow.  There were 43 episodes in all, about 1/2 hour per episode.

Dr. Paul Weston, played by Gabriel Byrne, is exquisite as the psychotherapist.  We see four of his weekly sessions with four different clients.  In addition,  Paul is struggling with his own issues when we meet him.  His issues force him back into his own treatment which is an interesting element to the show, and provides the fifth session for the week.   It has been a while since I have seen complex fictional characters on television, and it may have been even longer since I have seen complex African American characters.  Blair Underwood as “Alex”  is just amazing as is Glynn Turman who plays his father. 

If you are pressed for time I would say focus on the “Alex” character.  I found the teenage girl character “Sophie” a little slow at first, but it gets better midway through the season.  Really, all the episodes relate to the others so ideally see them all.

The therapist here is using a predominately psychodynamic style of therapy which focuses on the childhood years of the client’s history as well as howthese  early relationships get played out in the client’s current life.  Information about the client is often revealed in not just what the client talks about but how they relate to the therapist.  Paul makes some decisions that would make strict analysts cringe (what some may call boundary violations), but overall he is a good therapist. 

From the standpoint of learning about this kind of therapy, this program is remarkable.  However, it just makes for interesting and thought-provoking television, and how often does that happen?

If you believe you are ready to find a mental health practioner see: https://makeitplainonline.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/how-to-find-a-therapist-part-i/

Ok, now on to Season TWO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Viva Viola!

June 13, 2010

I am not prone to gushing over celebrities.  Ok, maybe a few times over Lenny Kravitz when I crossed paths with him. 

Anyway, is there anything Viola Davis cannot do? She pulled a Dame Judi Dench, getting a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination, just after a few minutes on screen in Doubt.  After I saw the movie, I understood completely how she could be nominated. Here she gave us a woman in deep conflict, making extremely difficult choices to ensure the survival of her son. 

Viola is a brilliant and often underrated actress, maybe because sometimes she is so good at morphing into characters that you don’t even recognize her.  She is presently on Broadway now in Fences with Denzel Washington, and up for a Tony Award tonight. Good Luck Viola!!!!

I was awed when I saw her interview on Charlie Rose the other night (To see interview,  go to  http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/11051.)

She was talking about how the “Strong Black Woman” stereotype needs to die.  I have felt the same way for a very long time.  She longs for the day when we can “just be”.  Boy, that would be a relief.  I would put a few other stereotypes to rest as well, including “The Angry Black Woman” and “The Mammy”, and “The Sapphire”.  I am sure there are others.

She talked about how often her personality confuses people because she is quirky. I can relate to this.  She said often people have difficulty reconciling “quirky” with Black women, as if those are mutually exclusive traits.  Ridiculous.  There is texture to the personalities of most people who I know, especially Black women.  But I find that we are often boxed in to a very limited number of personality traits when viewed from the outside.  Unfortunate.  She discussed how she rarely sees characters she can relate to.  Boy can I relate to this.

Well for those missing out on the rich textures of Black women, Ms. Davis makes it a goal to present women she portrays with complexity and texture.  I say to her, thank goodness for your awareness and that’s probably why you are so great.  Thanks for bringing complete people to the stage and screen!  People like me I know are quite grateful.