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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Whirlwind Weekend in Wakanda

Trying to keep spirits lifted can seem an insurmountable task lately.

The highly hypocritical and near-farcical antics spilling from Washington, D.C. The steady revelations about the depths of depravity concerning sexual harassment and assault. The hail of bullets too often visiting communities large and small – along with the obligatory “thoughts and prayers” that have all the hollowness and even less usefulness of a toilet paper tube.

And on. And on. It’s been tough just finding air amid the ceaseless swell.

And then came Black Panther.

Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther
Howard University alum Chadwick Boseman as the Black Panther

The landmark Marvel film is helping to make this February a blackity black Black History Month for the pop culture ages. The President’s Day weekend debut has surpassed all box office expectations and proven a lie of the black-themed-films-don’t-sell excuse studios have used to justify limited releases featuring diverse casts.

While the usual Marvel fanboy crowd is nestled in those seats, make no mistake. The engine powering this record-breaking surge of sales is coming from those deemed “sons of bitches” as well as those from “shithole countries” – recent descriptors of advocates and immigrants by the current U.S. president (among other choice racist diatribes).

In droves, we piled into theatres with family, friends, church groups, school mates and loved ones to refute such sentiments and instead watch an intelligent and complex protagonist who looked like us swoop across the screen to save the day. This time, his name wasn’t Obama but T’Challa – the Black Panther, ruler of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, and, after 50 years of existence, finally getting his close up on the silver screen.

Certainly, this latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t solely a “race” movie. It is a Marvel superhero flick, after all, with all the requisite and entertaining whiz bang effects, tensions and laugh lines. But what sets this one apart clearly are markers of black excellence featured full frontal, compliments of director and co-writer Ryan Coogler and his own assemblage of Africana avengers.

The lineage of his actors spans the Diaspora – including Uganda, Zimbabwe, Tobago, Kenya, Guyana, Iraq, South Africa and the United States. Coogler drew talent trained at the finest institutions, which of course includes HBCUs like Howard and Hampton. And he presented a story of a place ground in myth, inflected with urban reality and glistening with progress uninterrupted and untainted by colonialism, sexism or any other ill-placed “ism.” 
Healthy black love, Black Panther-style
The Wakandan view on relationships: partners and equals
Coogler lifted the idea of Wakanda from a comic book’s pages and planted its aspiration firmly in the imagination of millions, of all ages.

The response was immediate and evident in the resplendent fabrics, cosplay and Huey P. Newton-styled apparel of resistance showcased by moviegoers worldwide using full sartorial scope to convey solidarity.

Indeed, it was a Calgon-like moment to be swept into a world where brown-skinned characters played center stage, not just sidekicks on the fringes; where a woman’s grit did not negate her softness or equality; where men display affection as easily as strength; and where tradition did not hamper modernity.

Black and brown people showed we are here for that – from LA to London, Lagos to Lahore, and beyond.

Ever since the official trailer about Marvel’s first African superhero started circulating last year, tongues were wagging and panting for this release. A film helmed by charismatic non-white leads has provided both a welcome distraction and reframing of our collective cultural lens. It has led to a zeitgeist exploring what heights could exist if we no longer accepted European standards as the only one worthy of merit. The embrace of this film and concept could be seen in celebrity and citizen philanthropic efforts to send kids to see the film to celebratory screening parties such as the Wakanday/Vibranium Nights affair hosted by I Am Black Sci-Fi.

Celebrating Black Panther
Escapism remains one of the markers of strong filmmaking, and the best movies often arise in the worst of times. Given all that faces us, this weekend retreat in a mythic space where neither blackness nor any of its physical, cultural or spiritual attributes equated inferiority created a new kind of rejuvenation.

Its effects may even prove lasting. That's an Afrofuturistic outlook that truly would be welcome.


Friday, October 20, 2017

In Weinstein's wake

I knew enough to do more than I did.

– Director Quentin Tarantino on behavior of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein

We've seen the likes of Angelina Jolie, Gweneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Kate Beckinsale and the still unfolding list of glamorous actresses reporting run-ins with one-time power broker and alleged serial sexual predator, Harvey Weinstein. We're reading and debating op-eds by Lena Dunham, Mayim Bialik and Lupita Nyong'o.

Cue now to the lives of everyday American women, where the role of Weinstein has been played, repeatedly, by men who, by dint of their position and will, inflict unwanted sexual attention and selfish, often untoward and, alternately, illegal, gratification. These close encounters of the repulsive kind are, to the surprise of some and chagrin of many, plentiful.

Amid this emerging zeitgeist lies the question of whether this is a mere moment of confessional cleansing before the usual retreat to established norms or the dawn of a structural reordering as it relates to our society’s sexual harassment tolerance.

The Weinstein fallout has highlighted the consequences of the reverberated message of accepting how things always have been and just are. In the process, it has unearthed a litany of flashbacks that have transported women to times they most wanted to forget, when they lost command of their bodies. To that classmate in middle school. The teacher in high school. The co-worker at that summer job. That minister/rabbi/imam/priest after service. The supervisor on the first job. Or second. Or current one.

By freeze-frame recollection, girls and women are re-living when they were shown, by threat or by action, that how they felt or what they wanted had no bearing as far as the males in question were concerned.

Fondling. Grinding. Groping. Uninvited hugs. Insistent kisses. Demanded intercourse. Rape. The statistics are harrowing, and today social media campaigns are giving these numbers assigned faces.

The most heartbreaking aspect of these revelations is the stunning volume and frequency of their occurrence, as if an obvious but unspoken tax borne by women for the mere sake and misfortune of their sex. It lies embedded in the codified lore of the “casting couch.” Its attitude permeates psyches, joked and shrugged about as a cultural fixture. That same “couch” appears in boardrooms, stockrooms, classrooms, stairwells and other spaces where opportunity and dignity are snatched in equal measure.

So in this moment of awakening, rather than simply dismantling or packing it away, let’s torch this couch and all that it represents.

Awareness of the prevalence of these acts provides some kindling, and that's intensifying far beyond the Weinstein stories that are stretching from Hollywood to London.

The #MeToo effort is giving average Janes, Julias, Jing-lis and Jahans voice and conversation where both had been absent. Women talking to each other, shedding the embarrassment and shame these encounters spawn and finding strength in one another’s stories, serve as a necessary gambit. But the discussions, like the solutions, cannot be one-sided, or single-gender. Men need to actively help incinerate the attitudes that give rise to these unhealthy and dehumanizing experiences, generation after generation.

Failing to do so serves to ignore the unnecessary plight of more than half of our population – daughters, sisters, cousins, aunts and mothers alike. Settling back into our familiar constructs would continue constricting and crippling the full humanity of legions of boys, wriggling into manhood under the false assumption that the option to lord over the opposite sex is not only viable, but somehow ordained. Worse, it would ossify further the belief that this entitlement can be exercised whenever things are economically sour for men. There are no grounds to accept that men have no stake in this evolving conversation; some of them, also, bear the pain of unwanted sexual advances and assaults. But it shouldn't have to happen to you in order to recognize the evils that can and do emerge from unchecked, boorish behavior. And mansplaining has no place or currency.

Simply dismissing the stark reality of having to navigate debauched circumstances or feigning ignorance in light of this multitude of revelations neither engenders strength nor enshrines masculinity. Active listening, concerted empathy and a commitment to action, will.

Tarantino's quote unlocked that which had been churning in the background since this scandal erupted, an admission that hints at Martin Niemöller’s cautionary poem, a haunting epitaph for any conscience. Because there is enough known to do more, and for sure we know second-class citizenry for girls and women deserves no glow of nostalgia, or oxygen of the present.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

DVR Alert: A women-focused "Inside Story"

So you weren't one of the lucky -- or well-organized -- people who snagged a ticket for the 14th Annual Pennsylvania Conference for Women, taking place on Oct. 3. And you're kicking yourself harder after realizing you'll be missing the chance to see powerhouse TV mogul Shonda Rhimes interview Michelle Obama, among dozens of other highlights at this year's confab.

Here's a consolation prize: Inside Story this week dedicates itself to the kind of insights and advice to be had at this event. Yours truly, along with a table of other outstanding and accomplished women, will dig in deeper to help you lean in harder.

Led by Tamala Edwards, it's an engaging conversation worth watching, and it starts 11:30A Sunday.

Busting the work-life balance myths and developing real tools to thrive. Bouncing back from life's blows. Finding the best way to push forward. Beating the challenges women in the workforce still face. Keeping yourself charged up. There's something for every working woman to hear and consider.

If your conference registration already is set, consider this conversation an appetizer for what's sure to be a nourishing day.

(l-r) Mastercard's Carol Lee Mitchell, Meeks, Cancer Treatment Centers of America's Nancy Hesse,
host Tamala Edwards, Penn Mutual's Ande Frazier, Bristol-Myers Squibb's Ann Powell Judge
and Jefferson's Donna Gentile O'Donnell bring real-world notes for women looking to succeed
But if for some reason you sleep this show, here's a final save: catch it online next week, part of 6abc's conference digital guide. Take advantage of it all, and soar higher!

Friday, August 25, 2017

TV Alert: On Rizzo, Nazis, Free Speech and more

Your favorite writer-thinker settles in for another round of observations on All That Transpires in the World, but in particular in Philadelphia, the Delaware Valley and aspects of life in Harrisburg and D.C. It's time for another visit to the Inside Story table!

This week is an exploration into the ongoing bruhaha surrounding the statue of the late Mayor Frank Rizzo, the faux pas of flirtations with neo-Nazis (or any kind, for that matter), legislative "remedies" for protest aftermaths and more.

Host Monica Malpass keeps us panelists in check, the conversation flowing and you, the viewer, informed. 

Of course, yours truly plays a proud role in keeping this program the most watched in its time slot in this, the fourth-largest media market in the nation. 

Tune in 11:30A Sunday. If you happen to miss it -- gasp! -- never fear! Check out the recap on the 6abc site posted Tuesday. Just click here

Monday, August 14, 2017

Racist rampage: Charlottesville, revisited

It really can’t be lost that those today decrying a preservation of whiteness are rallying around iconography that celebrates a rejection of the United States. Nor should the level of violence that broke out in Thomas Jefferson’s backyard come as a real shock. It’s been brewing for some time. 

Last weekend’s assembly in Charlottesville – Unite the Right – descended on the small liberal Virginia college town under the guise of protesting the proposed removal of statutes of leading Confederate figures.

But they actually came because they are racists and are desperate to retain the vestiges of power racism offers, especially as wealth and the world passes them by. Those excusing their behavior are participants by proxy. Period.

Defined, racism is the ardent belief that one race’s superiority – in this case, white people – not only exists, but should be exercised and maintained by every available social, legal, financial and policy means available.

The neo-Nazis, the white nationalists and Ku Klux Klan that gathered in Charlottesville hold this view. And these torch-bearing Neanderthals traveled from across the country to spew racist, anti-Semitic bilge under the guise of protecting “white heritage.”

Believing that the First Amendment prescription for hate speech is more speech, counter protesters met them, to defend their town and ideals. Mayhem and even death ensued. 

Heather D. Heyer, 32, along with Virginia State troopers H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Berke Bates, days from  turning 41, lost their lives in the aftermath.
 That so-called conservatives are laying blame for the violence on the counter protesters besmirches America. There are others who say white nationalists have “legitimate” concerns. 

There is a shorter explanation for this alt-right placation: "Racism works for me, thanks. Just don't call me a racist."

You see, “racist” has taken on the connotation of the vulgar and ugly, and no one wants to be so linked. It’s so unsophisticated, so impolite.

Better to believe things just happen for certain groups, as if by osmosis, an inherent abundance or lack of fill-in-the-blank –  intellect, talent, ethic, breeding, looks, charm or so on.

And never mention any type of unspoken edge or “privilege.” That would assume some mindfully requested advantage, as opposed to self-determination (see above fill-in-the-blank).

Chris Rock famously pointed out back in 1999 that when it gets down to it, average white people wouldn’t want to change places with even rich black people. They’d prefer things as they are, with some folks on top. Since most of those on top look alike, that must be the natural order of things, goes the thinking.

In Jefferson’s day, it was understood that only white (Anglo-Saxon, if you please) men counted when it came to possessing power, and those who gathered in Charlottesville deeply hold that conviction. They were determined to exercise it on behalf of all white people, even those who are content to blithely enjoy the fruits of their racist labor.

So they swathed themselves in symbolism to demonstrate their contempt for anything other than what truth they hold to be self-evident. Like those Confederates before them, they stood in open rebellion to the values of the United States of America. Like the Nazis who stood in open rebellion to the world, seeking to divide and conquer.

Both are textbook definitions for enemies of the state. So are terrorists, except when those doing the terrorizing are white. Then, heinous misdeeds seem to find new nomenclature.

That split view wasn’t lost on those rally participants, declaring they were just there to defend against affronts to “white heritage.” 

Brandishing Nazi swastikas is a harder sell. There’s little that could be less patriotic, something pointed out vigorously by a range of people across the political spectrum, from U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, all more forcefully than the U.S. president.

It took this president two passes to address Charlottesville, the second landing 48 hours after the carnage and only slightly stronger than the first. Both came couched amid braggadocio regarding plans for the U.S. economy. To borrow from his vocabulary, “Sad!”

The president's party succinctly says what he couldn't manage
It confirmed what many suspected, even feared, with his election. There’s no evidence that he’s an ardent alt-right follower, though key administration figures such as Stephen K. Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, Stephen Miller and others are near-celebrities in such circles.

But he’s clearly an opportunist, and the ways of this president bring
a heavy moral baggage that left unchecked will translate into more wink-nods of tacit consent to those wailing to “take their country back” – by any means necessary, including more American bloodshed.