The Oscars Grew Tired of Us.

Academy Awards to Ava DuVernay: “Love your movie. You, not so much.”

It’s not so much I’m mad about Selma and its directory Ava DuVernay being screwed over by the Academy Awards, because I haven’t seen Selma yet and I thinking I’d get around to it in my own good time but since Selma and DuVernay were snubbed now it’s a holy mission.

There’s a certain irony Martin Luther King fought a strategic battle in Selma, Alabama against racial discrimination and 50 years later along comes a woman who makes a movie about the battle ends up facing racial discrimination all over again.

Columnists, bloggers and social media blew up with a collective Now this is some bullshit when the Academy Awards nominations were announced and Selma was limited to one category it won’t win (Best Picture) and another nobody cares about (Best Song).   New York film critic David Edelstein summed up how Selma got screwed, “I tend to think that the Academy collectively thought it had discharged its duty to the African-American experience with 12 Years a Slave. How else, in a year in which black people confronted inequality with greater urgency than any time in the last 50 years, can you account for the omission? You say it wasn’t a very good movie? You’re wrong. Selma has scale and depth. Ava DuVernay was robbed.”

Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deuts...

Too black, too strong to be honored by the Academy

Here’s a plausible reason for the exclusion and  it’s right there in the title of an 2014 article in The Atlantic:Oscar Voters: 94% White, 76% Men, and an Average of 63 Years Old.” Blacks make up only two percent of the Academy Awards voters and to drive the point home of how White the folks are who decide who goes home with the little gold man, if they were a state, Oscar Voters would be the eighth Whitest state in America.

Well. Damn.

How embarrassing it must be for Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first Black president of the Academy of Motion Pictures to be the diversity hire thrust in the spotlight and have to represent, but represent she did.   Or at least she tried as Boone Isaacs looked to score a few brownie points,  “In the last two years, we’ve made greater strides than we ever have in the past toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization through admitting new members and more inclusive classes of members. And, personally, I would love to see and look forward to see a greater cultural diversity among all our nominees in all of our categories, “

The sad thing is Boone Isaacs knows what she said is a steaming load, but she has to say it anyway.  The old White guys who hired her in the first place exactly for a bit of cover provided by the a Black face in a formerly all-White place.  Let’s cut the crap.  Cultural diversity was the big hit of 2014 with all that 12 Years A Slave stuff.   Throwing an Oscar, if not jobs at Lupita Nyong’o gave all those good liberals a warm, fuzzy feeling especially when Brad Pitt showed up to free the slaves,  but there’s no time to linger on faded glories.  Hollywood is getting back to doing what it does best:  Celebrating White men making movies about White men doing White men stuff.

We gave you people a holiday. You want Oscars too?

Being blown off by withered old bastards of the Academy is nothing new for someone like Spike Lee, no stranger to Oscar snubs for both Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X had some explicit advice for DuVernay about being passed over by the bosses,  “…That doesn’t diminish the film. Nobody’s talking about motherfuckin’ Driving Miss Daisy. That film is not being taught in film schools all across the world like Do the Right Thing is. Nobody’s discussing Driving Miss Motherfuckin’ Daisy. So if I saw Ava today I’d say, ‘You know what? Fuck ’em. You made a very good film, so feel good about that and start working on the next one.”

“Anyone who thinks this year was gonna be like last year is retarded,” said Lee. “There were a lot of black folks up there with 12 Years a Slave, Steve [McQueen], Lupita [Nyong’o], Pharrell. It’s in cycles of every 10 years. Once every 10 years or so I get calls from journalists about how people are finally accepting black films. Before last year, it was the year [in 2002] with Halle Berry, Denzel [Washington], and Sidney Poitier. It’s a 10-year cycle. So I don’t start doing backflips when it happens.”

You can’t go to awards like the Oscars or the Grammys for validation. The validation is if your work still stands 25 years later.’”

Absolutely motherfuckin’ right, Spike.

It’s possible Selma marches to a Best Picture victory even with DuVernay denied a shot at Best Director and David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr. passed over as Best Actor, but it’s obvious the fix is in. How can a movie be nominated and win as Best Picture of the Year but the director, screenwriter and none of the actors aren’t? Does that mean the movie was great but everybody who made it sucked?

I have nothing against Boyhood,  The Imitation Game, Birdman or any of the other nominees for the Picture of the Year, but I don’t have anything for them.  Every movie is not for everyone and this movie  tells a story about people who look like me and not the Academy membership.    DuVernay probably pissed off some movers and shakers in Tinseltown when she dismissed  the film’s critics who griped she didn’t give President Lyndon Johnson enough credit by clarifying,  “I wasn’t interested in making a white-savior movie.”

“Oh yeah?  Then we’re not interested in giving you an Oscar, so there!”

King deserves his praise.  A lot of folks believe Selma does too, but the voters of the Academy doesn’t have anything for them either.

A man who knows something about getting spiked.

“Get On Up” is Super Bad. That’s Not A Compliment.

Papa don’t take no mess and Papa shouldn’t watch this mess. either.

Here’s a fun fact: James Brown was known as Soul Brother #1 and he never had a Number One pop hit.

Brown put 99 songs on the chart over a 30 year career which puts him on the Top 10 of the most successful pop artists.  The closest the undisputed Hardest Working Man in Show Biz  got to the top spot was  “I Got You (I Feel Good)” at #3 and “Living In America” which got it to #4 with 21 years passing between the two hits.

This is not something you are going to learn in the new James Brown biopic, Get On Up?  This  simplistic, spineless biopic runs a Hoover over any dirt in Brown’s life with only the briefest glances at his dark corners. When the producers fired Spike Lee off the project and replaced him with Tate The Help Taylor it was natural to expect the rough edges of Brown would be filed down,  but who knew they would suck the soul right out of The Godfather of Soul?

The wife and I had a free pass to see Get On Up. The price was right, but the movie is all wrong. It stole 2 hours and 18 minutes I will never get back.

There is a difference between a film that rolls back the carpet and shows all the dirt its subject did in their lives and one which blows sloppy, slobbering kisses. This is the latter and Brown’s bad habits of overindulgence in drugs and drink, spousal abuse, womanizing, and bizarre behavior is briefly referring to and then cuts away to another musical number.

Don’t worry. THIS James Brown never shows up in the whitewashed “Get On Up.”

The sheer energy of the classic James Brown music almost saves this sanitized Hollywood hackery and there’s a lot of music here (though the absence of “The Payback” is one of many glaring omissions). Chadwick Boseman‘s version of Soul Brother#1 is energetic. He learned a lot of Brown’s moves, but as far as capturing his character, Eddie Murphy did it about as well on Saturday Night Live decades ago. Boseman tries hard and some approving critics rave he gives an Oscar-caliber performance.   It’s okay, but only if you didn’t grown up with  Brown the way I did.

When the music stops so does the movie dead in its track with Taylor spasmodically jerking the viewer through time and place with the attention span of a housefly. At one point I leaned forward in my seat with my chin in my hand in wonder of Taylor’s muddled, cluttered direction.

Get On Up never gets on the good foot.  Mostly it just kind of lays there and rolls over. How the hell do you take James Brown and make him so damn BORING? It’s not a certainty Lee would have made a better movie but he wouldn’t have made a duller one.

What motivated Brown to write an anthem of Black pride and power like “Say It Loud I’m Black and I’m Proud? Why did he sing that same song at Richard Nixon’s inaugural ball in 1968 and endorse him in 1972? You’ll never know from the script by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth which reduces the singer’s political activism to mostly a footnote. The same guy who counted Al Sharpton as a buddy also voted as a conservative Republican. Nobody will buy a ticket expecting details on this apparent contradiction, but it’s a tantalizing and largely facet of Brown’s character. Taylor and the Butterworths don’t even find it worth a mention.

When this movie isn’t being sloppy it is simply superficial. Brown’s music made him an icon. Get On Up makes him nothing but a jukebox.

We’re long past the point where we should be falling to our knees like Brown singing “Please, Please, Please” in slobbering gratitude whenever White Hollywood deems to tell a Black icon’s story. Not every film with Black people at the center of the film has to be exclusively produced, directed, written, scored or filmed by Black filmmakers, but it would be nice if more of them were.

For every Malcolm X or Raging Bull that works, there are dozens of other bio pics that fail dismally and for me, nobody else, Get On Up is a missed opportunity and a boring failure.

Tricky Dick meets The Godfather. Just not in this movie.

It’s Lupita’s World (Now Can She Make It In It?)

Lupita Nyong’o has a little naked gold man to carry around after winning Best Supporting Actress for her amazing performance as the long-suffering Patsey in 12 Years A Slave.  The reason I ended my decade-long moratorium of watching The Academy Awards was my rooting interest in 12 Years and my hope Lupita would walk away with yet another acting award.

The same weekend of the Oscars, Nyong’o show up in the week’s Number One movie, Non-Stop, the new Liam Neeson film, a role that requires no heavy lifting and only a few lines as Nyong’o plays a stewardess in a generic nothing part.

ABC News dubbed the Mexican-born Kenyan “Hollywood’s New ‘IT’ Girl” comparing her favorably to Jennifer Lawrence, Sandra Bullock, Hillary Swank and Julia Roberts.   That’s heavy company for Nyong’o to run with after just two films.

The expectation would be after racking up a series of accolades and awards, Nyong’o would have her pick of future films roles, yet she has no upcoming projects on her IMDB page.  Maybe she is taking her time before choosing what she does next.  The fear is she’s the latest Black actress to win Best Supporting Actress only to find Hollywood doesn’t know what to do with them as Jennifer Hudson, Octavia Spencer and Mo’nique have previously learned.

Nyong’o has the looks and the talent to have a long and successful career, but will she be given roles that offer her opportunities to build on 12 Years A Slave or will she end up in Zoe Saldana territory as the Black girlfriend of the starring White actor?  Ending up as ethnic eye-candy would be a terrible waste of Nyong’o’s potential.

While Nyong’o’s career in front of the camera remains a work-in-progress, she has quickly become a much-admired role model for overcoming her own doubts and embracing her beauty as a dark-skinned African woman.  At the 7th annual Black Women in Hollywood luncheon, Nyong’o spoke from the heart.

Lupita Nyong'o

Lupita Nyong’o (Photo credit: gdcgraphics)

I want to take this opportunity to talk about beauty. Black beauty. Dark beauty. I received a letter from a girl and I’d like to share just a small part of it with you: “Dear Lupita,” it reads, “I think you’re really lucky to be this Black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.”

My heart bled a little when I read those words. I could never have guessed that my first job out of school would be so powerful in and of itself and that it would propel me to be such an image of hope in the same way that the women of The Color Purple were to me.

I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin, I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself until I was in front of a mirror because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I had been the day before. I tried to negotiate with God: I told him I would stop stealing sugar cubes at night if he gave me what I wanted; I would listen to my mother’s every word and never lose my school sweater again if he just made me a little lighter. But I guess God was unimpressed with my bargaining chips because He never listened.

And when I was a teenager my self-hate grew worse, as you can imagine happens with adolescence. My mother reminded me often that she thought that I was beautiful but that was no consolation: She’s my mother, of course she’s supposed to think I am beautiful. And then Alek Wek came on the international scene. A celebrated model, she was dark as night, she was on all of the runways and in every magazine and everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even Oprah called her beautiful and that made it a fact. I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me as beautiful. My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden, Oprah was telling me it wasn’t. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy. But a flower couldn’t help but bloom inside of me. When I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny. Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far away gatekeepers of beauty, but around me the preference for light skin prevailed. To the beholders that I thought mattered, I was still unbeautiful. And my mother again would say to me, “You can’t eat beauty. It doesn’t feed you.” And these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be.

And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul. It is what got Patsey in so much trouble with her master, but it is also what has kept her story alive to this day. We remember the beauty of her spirit even after the beauty of her body has faded away.

And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. There is no shade to that beauty.

Nyongo's Facebook page featured this pic the morning after the Oscars.

Nyongo’s Facebook page featured this pic the morning after the Oscars.

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Can Viola Davis Get A Little Help?

Attractive, intelligent, talented and looking for a part worthy of her.

Viola Davis, you is kind, you is smart, you is important, and by the grace of God you will be in better movies than The Help.

I’m sure it stings a bit losing the Best Actress award, but if you had to lose to someone, there’s no shame in coming in behind Meryl Streep.   I am just as happy that Octavia Spencer won an Academy Award for a performance in a movie that I will never watch as I was for Monique winning an Academy Award for a performance in a movie that I will never watch.

Once upon a time, Halle Berry was supposedly looking at playing Elaine Brown, the Black Panther who wrote “A Taste of Power.”  Anyone wanna guess why that flick never got green lit and Halle is doing crap going straight to DVD now?

I want to see Black women being able to play leaders of entire countries like Streep instead of their hired help.  Why settle for sistas always having to play subservient roles like this?  You think Denzil or Samuel L. would play a sassy butler in 2012?

I’ve been asked, “How can you criticize a book you didn’t read and a movie you didn’t watch?”  The answer, is I can’t, but then I’m not criticizing the work, I’m criticizing the part Davis and Spencer played.  Not the performance.  The role itself.

What I know about ‘The Help’ is there is a Black woman who says Kathryn Stockett stole her life’s story and made a gazillion bucks from it.  What I know about ‘The Help’ is not all books and not all movies are made for all people.   I’m not picketing any bookstores selling the book or theaters showing the movie.  By all means, enjoy them both.

However, I don’t see any reason to say I  have to support an artist when they are engaged in a project I’m not interested in.  I remember when Halle won for  her Oscar for Monster’s Ball and even Angela Basset, dogged her out for that role.  Maybe that’s someone’s favorite flick, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who really likes Monster’s Ball.   Haven’t Black folks reached the stage where we don’t have to shrug our shoulders and accept whatever old, White and male Hollywood serves up as their preferred version of entertainment.?   What’s wrong with demanding and expecting movies that makes us feel good about images depicted on-screen?

I would love to see Viola Davis in a contemporary adult love story with her paired with someone like Idris Elba,  There is a market for films pitched to Black audiences.   Tyler Perry has proven that to be true.  Those kind of films don’t get produced by Hollywood.  But Black women as maids or morbidly obese illiterates brutalized by their psychotic mammas?  Comin’ right up!

No win, but no wig either for Viola at the Oscars.

You get what you’re willing to put up with.  I’m looking for some portrayals of Black women and men that don’t revolve around telling little White girls how kind, smart and important they are.  Sue me for my unreasonably high standards.

Hattie McDaniel won a Best Supporting Actress award for playing a maid in 1939.  73 years later and I’m supposed to pump my fist for another sister playing a domestic?.    I get it that Black women have played servants, maids, domestics and all that good stuff.   They  have those roles down pat.  Can’t we move on to playing something else yet?  If  Sisters in Outer Space are too far-fetched, how about at least a doctor or lawyer?  Can an executive in Hollywood concede that’s not too wild an idea?

I don’t write scripts, but I do know there are stories to tell and movies to be made about Fannie Lou Hamer and Coretta Scott King and Kathleen Cleaver and Angela Davis and Shirley Chisholm and other sistas who ain’t wiping no little White kid’s snotty nose.

There are a plethora of stories to be told about Black women leading countries, freeing slaves, fighting for their civil rights and just to be accepted as women. I’m 56 years old now and I’m getting pretty damn tired waiting around for a decent movie about Black women who were the backbone of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. When are those stories going to get around to being  told?

Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer need something more than the recognition of an Oscar.  They need the validation of roles that allow them to stretch and show their talents as actresses.  They deserve better and we do too.

Just how good is Davis anyway?  Until she begins to receive the opportunities and roles Meryl Streep gets to showcase her skills, we may never know.

Blade Runnings

It all began with a guy who killed vampires but wouldn't pay his taxes...

Super heroes don’t exist in the real world, but Hollywood sure believes in them.   At this year’s Comic-Con the buzz wasn’t about comic books as much as it was comic book movies.   There was much raving and drooling by fanboys over the upcoming Green Lantern, Thor and Captain America films in 2011 and Marvel’s biggest gamble yet, the super-hero mash-up of The Avengers with Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man , Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury joining Chris Evans’ Captain America and Chris Hentridge’s Thor with Jeremy Renner, fresh off an Academy Award nomination playing Hawkeye and Mark Ruffalo replacing Edward Norton as the  Hulk.

With The Dark Knight grossing a billion dollars and the two Iron Man movies pulling in nearly $700 million, comic books heroes are no longer simply a part of a studio’s summer hopes for success, they ARE the biggest part of a studio’s strategy.    Where once dressing up in spandex and being suspended from wires held little appeal to serious actors, many of them are now looking for those parts.

Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson, two of the greatest actors of their generation,  happily accepted big paydays to slap on wigs and makeup to play respectively Superman’s father, Jor-El and the Batman’s worst enemy, the Joker.    At the time they were being called “sell-outs” for working in such an unworthy genre as comic book movies.   Today Brando and Nicholson look smart.  There may be a small degree of embarrassment into squeezing into a silly costume or playing a comic book character,  but top directors (Christopher Nolan, Bryan Singer, Sam Raimi) and talent (Sir Anthony Hopkins, Christian Bale, Angelina Jolie, Robert Downey Jr., Nicolas Cage,  Don Cheadle, Kevin Spacey, Gwenyth Paltrow, Samuel L. Jackson,  Morgan Freeman,  Jeff Bridges and Gary Oldman) are  among those lining up to cash in on an easy role in big summer movies.

Comic book movies have become cash cows for movies studios and even when they stink (Daredevil, Catwoman, Spider-Man 3,  Jonah Hex) Hollywood keeps cranking them out and making witless sequels.   The  Fantastic Four, Daredevil and the last Spider-Man flick  all made money and in the case of Spider-Man 3, even a muddled and overstuffed entry in the series grossed well over $300 million.  These properties are much too valuable to be abandoned so studios replace the director and casts, overhaul the stories and relaunch them  for another bite of the apple.

There’s one glaring omission here and that’s you don’t even mention the success of Wesley Snipes as Blade, the vampire hunter.   This almost forgotten movie may be most responsible for revitalizing the superhero movie after Joel Schumacher and George Clooney killed it off with the wretched train wreck  that was Batman and Robin.

Made for a relatively cheap $45 million, Blade grossed $70 million domestically and $131 million worldwide and spawned two sequels (one very good and one very bad) and a lousy TV series.

But Blade as it’s Wikipedia entry shows had a greater impact than just its minor success:

“Blade was one of the first successful comic book based films to be released after the disastrous performance of Batman & Robin. Its success convinced Marvel to develop the X-Men film series as well as the Spider-Man film series.”

It's a lot easier killing vampires than fighting the IRS.

It’s not an overstatement to suggest had Blade died an ignoble death at the box office, the super-hero franchise might have remained  dormant.   Marvel saw how an obscure supporting character from their Tomb of Dracula comic could be reimagined for the sliver screen.  Blade as played by Snipes was faithful to his comic book roots to an extent, but abandoned them completely in other ways.

No matter. Between Snipes’ martial arts ass-kicking of vampire butt and an underrated direction by Stephen Norrington, Blade was  a very cool interpretation and gave Snipes his biggest success as an actor.    Too bad it didn’t carry over to his good sense because his IRS problems are sending him away for three years.

Though Snipes is a jail-bird now due to his problems paying his taxes, it’s not too far off-base to suggest it was Blade that has made all these following super hero flicks possible.  Unfortunately, with Snipes locked up for three years,  barring recasting another actor in the role, Blade may not be returning soon to the multiplexes on his mission to kill “suckheads” wherever he finds them.

Too bad,  because I’d really like to turn Blade loose on those wimpy Twilight vampires.   Now those are some suckheads that really could use a social call from the Day Walker.     Blade is underrated and overlooked for its importance in the dominance of comic-book movies at the box office, but there’s no denying its impact upon it.

Barring an early release, next year while audiences settle in their seats to watch Green Lantern and Thor doing their thing, Snipes will be cooling his heels in a federal prison fondly recalling his time as a vampire killing hero.   He should take some small comfort in knowing the success of Blade helped make everything that has followed possible.