Sunday, September 18, 2016

Say It Loud: Black TV Got Us Proud!

It happened. It really happened. Without warning, my TV viewing schedule filled nightly with story lines that made me laugh, cry, stand up and shout; gave a platform for characters that made me cheer, fear, and leap out of my seat; provided an outlet for actors and actresses that made me think, gasp, and celebrate. And they were all black. For the first time in a long time, I could say with pride: I See Black People. People that looked like me; my friends; my family; my colleagues. Plots that captured everyday life, yet were handled accurately and with the authentic care and sensitivity that can only be achieved when stories for us are written, produced, and directed by us.

For longer than I care to remember, we've been in a diversity struggle with Hollywood. The last few years have found this battle intensifying as 21st century movies and shows continued to "objectify" our 17th century experience, sans the many accomplishments and milestones we accomplished that lied between and throughout those many years. Even when our vast, modern experience was attempted to be explored, it was often done so through a stereotypically-tinted lens.

But thanks to the emergence and popularity of social media, those conversations we once shared around the dinner table and water cooler, where we expressed our frustrations about an industry that never recognized the whole of us, were now constantly on full display from hashtag protests to YouTube videos to good ol' fashioned boycotts complete with picket signs (shout out to my sister pictured left protesting near the Dolby Theater during this year's Academy Awards). But a notion I have long clung to is that the flaw in these protestation demands was that we were insisting others recognize us; do for us; properly tell our stories. We seemed to never fully embrace that the answer was in not asking for a handout but in taking our hands to create--and fully support--our own.

I, personally, never cared for the Academy or Emmy Award's recognition of our work. What I did care for were the NAACP Image Award's recognition; the American Black Film Festival Awards recognition; the Trumpet Awards recognition. And I really cared that we didn't grasp that this recognition from our peers should have been the only true measure we concerned ourselves with. Now, I'm not naive enough to think we can exist exclusively in the entertainment industry without the "melanin-free-powers-that-be" involvement in many of our projects, but what I do notice is that when we focus less on acceptance and "fitting in," and instead turn our energy towards boldly breaking out to do (and fund) our own thang, "others" will catch the wave. And that wave is indeed now being caught.

Do we still have a ways to go before the fight for more diversity is no longer a topic of discussion? Absolutely. But do I feel optimistic that the tide is beginning to turn? I do. We just have to remain fully engaged and present to ensure it continues, and getting behind the camera (thank you Ava DuVernay and Neema Barnette), thinking outside the box (thank you Shonda Rhimes), taking a seat at the writing table (thank you Donald Glover), keeping the "show running" literally (thank you Courtney Kemp Agboh and Cheo Hodari Coker) and managing the board rooms of own networks (thank you Oprah Winfrey and Cathy Hughes) is critical to that continuous evolution--an evolution that must actively be supported, if change is to be continuous and lasting.

Below are just a few shows--some old, some new (and forthcoming); none borrowed nor blue--that are indeed representing us, front and center, almost every day of the week, in every facet of our beautifully diverse lives that I personally applaud and support. Catch the wave, spread the word, and let's keep dreaming, creating, and moving--in the right direction.

Monday - In the Cut & Family Time (Bounce TV: 9 & 9:30 p.m.)

Tuesday - Atlanta (FX: 10 p.m.)

Wednesday - Black'ish (ABC: 9:30 p.m.);
Greenleaf  (off season) & Queen Sugar (OWN: 10 p.m.)

Thursday - Pitch (Fox: 9 p.m.)

Saturday - Iyanla: Fix My Life (OWN: 9 p.m.)

Sunday - Power & Survivor's Remorse (Starz: 9 & 10 p.m.)

Netflix Originals:  Luke Cage (September 2016)

On the Horizon: Shots Fire (2016/2017)

Photo Credits: N/A

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Review: Welcome to "Atlanta"

On what is usually an uneventful TV night, Tuesday found me having to make a few hard choices. Among them were the much-anticipated Oprah Winfrey-produced-Ava DuVernay-directed original dramatic series, "Queen Sugar,"; one of my favorite sports-meets-human interest series, HBO's "Hard Knocks"; or FX's new, left-of-center comedy, "Atlanta." Based on the title of this post, it's no surprise which one I chose to dive into first. God bless the DVR.

I'll admit, I purposely stayed away from any reviews, or should I say previews, about FX's newest offering, choosing instead to be "surprised" for what it had in store. So outside of its literally backward running promos, I was clueless. Now, I will say, I may be a tad biased as I've been a fan of its lead actor, comedian Donald Glover a.k.a rapper Childish Gambino, for some time. The former NBC "Community" sitcom star has been steadily making his way up the Hollywood ladder, complete with a few sidesteps and unnecessary attacks, in particular when the Internet went into a frenzy with speculation of him being Spiderman's next Peter Parker (Personally, if they were going to cast an African-American to play the Webbed Wonder, I literally can not think of anyone else BUT Donald, but I digress. Shame on the racially narrow minded. Next). While Glover donning a mask anytime soon remains to be seen, in the meantime, he's making his mark in the Dirty South. And so Atlanta begins.

With quick-witted, dead pan, humor, I was only five minutes into episode one before I found myself giggling...and then I realized those giggles continued throughout, which let me know I was sold on the show only halfway through its 30 minutes. In what feels like Adult Swim's "Black Jesus" meets a real-life episode of Nickelodeon's "The Boondocks," Glover plays Earnest "Earn" Marks, a 20-something, Princeton dropout, airport working, bus riding, kicked out of his parents house (let's say, for not being focused), single father, whose daughter's mother has no problem letting him know she has a date, only moments after crawling out of bed with him. He has dreams of making it. Making it in what, he's not yet sure. However, the first episode finds him discovering a possible path to success by managing his local rapping cousin, Alfred a.k.a. Paper Boi. But Paper Boi, who considers Ernest more "Martin and not enough Malcolm" is not convinced he has what it takes to take his music career to the next level. And that's just the doubt Ernest needs to push himself--and, thus, the series--forward. In keeping with the style of its promos, the episode begins at the end before backing up and showing how it got there. And let's just say it ends and begins with a bang--literally and figuratively.

Complete with a supporting cast of characters that we've surely all seen before--the rapper; his-always-high sidekick; the party-hoppin' best friend; the on again/off again girlfriend--Atlanta somehow makes it all work, while also making it feel fresh and new, even while employing stereotypes you'd come to expect. However, it does do its part to cast a conscious eye on real-life issues plaguing the black community. That's wholly due in part to Glover's unique ability to play a character that wears both optimism and pessimism like a perfect pair of pants, questioning all that sees, while pursuing his dreams with both boyish charm yet grown-up realness. He's not the hardcore gangsta or wannabe thug from the 'hood. He's just an every day guy smart enough to know the real money making happens behind the rapper yet naive enough to even bother gambling on making it in the dog-eat-dog music business in the first place. You root for his success but, deep down inside, know he's always going to be one step behind in his quest to reach fame on his terms--a quest that's probably going to go very wrong before it's even close to going right. And that's a premise that can keep a show like Atlanta, with both slick humor and gritty, Southern street style, going for a while. Will it? That--and ratings--remains to be seen. But, if the series keeps the same momentum as its first episode, I'm here for it as long as it's here for me.

Tuesdays at 10 p.m.

Photo credits: N/A

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Oh Say (What?) Can You See....

Nothing tickles me more than a group of people speaking on behalf of another group of people to try and solidify an argument, only to discover that very group of people is actually on the side of the "perpetrator" in question. Such is the case with the recent Colin Kaepernick fiasco, and his choice to exercise his right to not stand for the National Anthem before his NFL games largely in protest of the continuous, unfair and unequal treatment of his fellow African-American counterparts at the hands of law enforcement. According to Kaepernick, "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL Media. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

There's no need to rehash the arguments in favor and opposing the star quarterback's actions, but a large part of the debate from the naysayers are centered on his disrespect for both his country, and the men and women who fought, and continue to fight, for the very liberties he (seemingly) is allowed to enjoy--like playing football. Pause. Ironically, after every sports commentator, political pundit, "bleeding heart American," and everyday Joe exhausted every breath they had on the topic, the uncanny hashtag #VetsForKaepernick began trending. That's right. The very people who put their lives on the line for those liberties are supporting the San Francisco 49er's player's freedom to not stand for the Anthem in protest.

Now, of course, those veterans supporting the hashtag do not represent all veterans; I'm sure a great number of veterans are in opposition to his stance. However, as a daughter and sister of four military veterans, there's one thing that I've always been made aware of: the racism that lies even within those branches of military. It's a racism that first found itself kneaded in the soil of our country, woven in the stripes of our flag, and etched out in the verses of our "beloved" Anthem. And, so, it actually is no surprise that those who've given their lives for our freedom, yet whose skin color at times may not allow them to enjoy every liberty that's been promised to them under out great Constitution, finds Kaepernick's convictions both relateable and supportable.

Even more peculiar (read: hypocritical) is that in this moment in time, where we find ourselves less than two months shy from the possibility of a new world leader, whose every sordid, racist remark has been shrouded in his belief that America is no longer great, that Kaepernick's stance is being deemed unacceptable. When in fact, his choosing to not stand for the Anthem is shrouded in the very same belief that America needs to do better and be better, to everyone who was promised all of its virtues, regardless of color or class.

As writer Ta-Nehisi Coates so eloquently explored in his book, "Between the World and Me," the black body has always been seen as something that needed to be controlled and not only is Kaepernick controlling his own body in this, he's doing so with what our own President Barack Obama refers to as the "audacity of hope." Love it, like it, hate it, abhor it, this type of audacity to stand, sit, speak, or protest driven by the hope of a better tomorrow is indeed what the flag and, thus the Anthem, truly represents. When we start to question one person's interpretation of what that means to them, is the moment we put all of our own liberties at stake. And that is something that should never be debated. Salute.

Photo credits: N/A