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A ‘Confirmation’ that subtlety can make for good TV

30 Apr

I just watched HBO’s Confirmation, which told the story, but mostly the back story, of Clarence Thomas’ appointment and ultimate confirmation as an associate justice to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991. Unlike my reaction to FX’s  The People v. O.J. Simpson, which I found much too painful to endure, I found Confirmation oddly  validating and inspiring, even as it steered clear of taking a hard side. Some reviews have described it as boring, particularly compared with the 10-hour O.J. miniseries. (I’ve only watched one episode.) But I had lived through the salacious version of the confirmation story  –  the real-time television saga of 1991.  I was glad that in the age when reality TV pervades every aspect of our lives, including presidential politics,  a historical drama could be produced without hysteria in every scene. I was happy to see Kerry Washington, whom I’ve loved since I first saw her in Save the Last Dance, show her understated emotional range as Anita Hill, and Wendell Pierce’s controlled and searing portrayal of Thomas under siege. Jeffrey Wright as Charles Ogletree was an added treat.

Back in 1991, I wrote a few columns about the Thomas, Hill and the confirmation process.  Here’s one that imagines a big screen portrayal of the hearings, with a bit of commentary on Hollywood.

Copyright: The Boston Globe, October 1991.

Copyright: The Boston Globe, October 1991.

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When Doves Cry

30 Apr

Minutes after the news broke that Prince Rogers Nelson had died, my phone started blowing up. “Prince!” one friend simply wrote. “How are you? I’m so sorry,” wrote another. “Purple Rain. Midnight Show Opening Day! A Good Memory,” wrote another old friend.
I was both comforted, moved and amused by the texts, emails, Facebook posts and phone calls from people who have known me from different stages of my life over several decades. I did love Prince’s musicianship, his artistry, his energy, his sexiness, his introverted nature, his insistence on being himself. I dug out an article published about me in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1986 when I visited my hometown. Over the years, I’d been a bit embarrassed  about my response to the question about my favorite movie. After all, I remember hating Purple Rain the first time I saw it, with its misogyny and horrible acting. But I loved the music and went back to see it several  times, so it was an honest answer.  And in honor of his Purple Majesty, I embrace it.

Copyright: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 9, 1986

Copyright: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Feb. 16, 1986

 

The (private) life of Riley

4 Jun

 

I confess. I am under the spell of Riley, Warrior Princess.

I wait with bated breath for the next time I can get to see her don an invisibility cloak, disappear under a press conference table, then reappear, headband gone, ready for her next conquest.

I, like the rest of the world, watch as she melts the hearts of the most jaded sports reporters who abandon their worries about looming deadlines and just let this pint-sized super hero take them away.

I swoon as I watch her father, Steph Curry, multitask, deftly responding to questions about offensive and defensive strategy on the basketball court, while putting on his daughter’s bracelet and keeping an eye out to make sure she doesn’t run away with the mic or bonk her head.

When the Warrior Princess disappears behind the dark curtain, we escape too, from extrajudicial police killings; from Boko Haram and ISIS; from the widening wealth gap and the evaporation of affordable housing; from super storms and drought. For just a few minutes, we too can be two again.

But that’s just the problem. We, the public, with our cell phones and Twitter accounts and Instagram postings, too often act like toddlers ourselves. We – often led or followed by the mainstream media – have an insatiable hunger for proximity to fame. But then we get bored, forget about boundaries, insist that our hunger be sated, without regard for the toll our constant demands have on those whose lives we covet.

So we wait, until we can snap photos of the Warrior Princess turning into a teenager, rolling her eyes at her dad’s bad jokes or wearing her skirt shorter than we deem appropriate. Soon someone is training a long lens on Riley’s first kiss. We are speculating about what is in that red cup or whether that’s a cigarette in her hand or something else.

And when Steph and her mom, Ayesha, invoke her right to privacy we, like toddlers, pretend not to hear, toss our once favorite toy aside or worse, we bite, or stomp away in a fit of pique and insist that her parents are not playing fair.

I am dazzled by Riley, Warrior Princess, and the image of a free, black girl full of joy and self-confidence. I am inspired by the image of the healthy African American family, a tender, humble superstar athlete, husband and dad. But I think it’s time to let Riley go back to being what she is, a little girl.

Managing the public spotlight is a lot like parenting: You have to set clear boundaries from the get-go, or risk losing your moral authority for a long time to come.

Working out

22 Feb

My mother and father walked everywhere; neither one of them drove a car. My family has its share of dancers, actors and athletes whose bodies are the tools of their trades. Yet on the downside, that same family has been ravaged by the devastating consequences of hypertension and heart disease. At the risk of sounding morbid, we’re all going to die of something. But too many of my relatives’ lives were cut short too early by strokes and heart attacks. So I am literally running with the clock. As I say in this video, I think I’ve found what works for me.

Jazmine Brooks, on her way to Maine

6 Jul

My niece, Jazmine Brooks, is a naturally gifted dancer who has been working hard at her craft since she was a young girl. No surprise there. Jazmine’s mother, M’Balia, and grandmother, Malaya, my sister, are fierce dancers as well. Now a senior in college, Jazmine has been invited to the Bates Dance Festival, an international gathering of dancers, choreographers, educators and students.

You can watch Jazmine’s audition video above and find out more information about how you can help her with her trip to Maine by visiting her posting on INDIEGOGO.

Marian Anderson’s Easter Sunday triumph

10 Apr

Reposting this in honor of the 75th anniversary of Marian Anderson’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial. It’s hard to believe that I wrote that Boston Globe editorial 25 years ago.

Regular readers of this blog know that the legacy of singer Marian Anderson looms large in my consciousness. My mother held her up as a hero. My sister was named for her. My father, a contemporary, was apparently smitten with her.

One of the first assignments as an editorial writer for the Boston Globe was to write a piece in honor of the 50th anniversary of Anderson’s  concert on the Lincoln Memorial, Easter Sunday 1939.

In that first Globe editorial, published on April 9, 1989, I wrote:

“Fifty years ago today, Marian Anderson stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before 75,000 awed spectators and offered up her brilliant operatic contralto.
The concert was a triumph in an era of legal and customary segregation. Anderson, by then an accomplished performer in the US, Europe and South America, had hoped to perform at Washington’s Constitution Hall. The Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let her perform there because she was black. Amid protests from musicians and public figures, Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the DAR, and with her help, the show went on at the Lincoln Memorial.
Since then, Anderson has been a symbol of pride and achievement. Introducing her at the Lincoln Memorial that Easter Sunday in 1939, Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes said: “Genius knows no color line. She has endowed Marian Anderson with such a voice as lifts any individual above his fellows as a matter of exulted pride to any race.”

Unbeknownst to me then, my father had written about that concert in 1939:

“‘Whereas only about four thousand persons usually listen to her concert, seventy-five thousand persons in a visible audience and millions in an invisible audience heard Marian Anderson sing her program of triumph on Easter Sunday afternoon in the Lincoln Memorial Park within striking distance of the Capitol’s dome.
Miss Anderson’s unusually large audience was swept to her on the wings of bigotry and racial intolerance. Since a couple of nations in Europe seem to vie with each other in acts of racial persecution, it seems to be Uncle Sam’s serious ambition today to be on the right side of the pale – a sort of see-how-good-I-am attitude.
America’s escutcheon is well blotched with racial intolerance, discrimination and persecution. Up to now it’s the Negro who is borne the brunt, if not all, of this form of treatment. Lynching, ruthless lynchings, the Scottsboro Boys are inerasable marks. Scoldings, however, from within and jeers without are gradually bringing about actual efforts to earn herself a cleaner slate.
The old Devils of the American Revolution ran true to the Old America and cried ‘color’ to Miss Anderson.  . . .  But seeking no ally with Nazism and Fascism, official America loaned Miss Anderson the Lincoln Memorial Park and facilities for a worldwide audience. “

Coincidentally, Anderson died on April 8, 1993, almost exactly 54 years to the day after her triumphant concert. In another Globe editorial, I wrote that to my mother Anderson “represented a triumph over segregation and a counterweight to Aunt Jemima images.”

“As a youngster, Anderson was denied admission to a Philadelphia music school because she was black. She was given the keys to Atlantic City, but was not allowed to stay in a hotel there. When she sang in segregated concert halls, she demanded that seats be allotted to black ticket buyers in every section of the auditorium. . . Anderson often referred to herself with modest detachment. But for several generations of black women in America such modesty is unnecessary. Marian Anderson’s name and her memory are synonymous with the magnificence of  her voice.”

Happy Easter!

A call to serve

20 Jan

MLK-serveAt two local services to mark the birthday of Martin Luther King yesterday the speakers focused less on the man himself and more on the power of individuals to force change.  At Stanford’s Memorial Church, Rev. John Harrison reminded those of us who live in comfort to “see” those who are not so fortunate.

LaDoris Cordell,  MC at the Palo Alto community celebration in the afternoon, reminded the audience about the four young freshmen at North Carolina A&T who asked themselves  in 1959 “At what point does a moral man act against injustice?” and shortly thereafter, began challenging the Jim Crow policy at the local Woolworth lunch counter.

In his keynote during that same program, Clayborne Carson, founding director of the Martin Luther King Research and Education Institute at Stanford and the nation’s preeminent King scholar, talked about how in 1963 it was high school students revived a flagging campaign in Birmingham, Ala. He credited those teenagers for the success of that campaign, which was a turning point for the Civil Rights Movement and for King’s rise to prominence.

It would have been hard to imagine in 1963 that there would be a national holiday in honor of King or that the White House, occupied by its first black president, would employ something called the Internet to encourage citizens to honor King by doing good works.

But here we are in 2014 acknowledging our progress, but not for too long. There is still so much yet to be done.

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