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Archive for the tag “Respectability”

Red Hook Summer: On Post-Soul Culture & Spike Lee Talkin’ Smack

By Naomi Extra

(Cross-posted in Racialicious on 08.28.12 with edits from the author)

Spike Lee’s newest film, Red Hook Summer, takes place in the projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn where Flik (Jules Brown), a teenage boy from Atlanta, goes to stay with his grandfather, Bishop Enoch Rouse (Clarke Peters) for the summer. Flik is a teenage Afro-Punk type: vegan, middle-class, afro-hawk, suburban speak. In contrast, Bishop Enoch is a Bible-thumping preacher and active member of his community. Amidst heavier themes of class, politics, religion, and generational difference, a budding romance between Flik and Chazz (Toni Lysaith) is also threaded through the film.

What shocked me most while watching Red Hook Summer was its striking similarity to the films of Tyler Perry and T.D. Jakes whose work Lee has openly criticized. In fact, many reviewers have put the film right in line with Perry’s films by describing it as a church movie.  Red Hook Summer has been said to be preachy, messy in narrative structure and development, and sensationalist. All are valid critiques. They also seem ironic in light of the ongoing beef between Perry and Lee, which was ignited when Lee referred to the films of Perry and the like as “coonery and buffoonery.” And of course, the media loves this sort of melodrama.

The question is, could Red Hook Summer be Spike talking more smack, mocking the immensely popular church films of Tyler Perry and the like? I wouldn’t put it past him. When recently asked about the ongoing feud, Lee responded with a request: “No more Tyler Perry questions please” and later “peace and love, leave it at that.” With Red Hook Summer, Lee seems to have found a way to squash the beef and have the last word.

Lee takes Perry to task by following his formula of clean-cut messages of healing and redemption through religious faith. Then suddenly, about a third of the way through the film when its formulaic structure and less than stellar acting have bred boredom, Lee not only disrupts but mocks this message. When Enoch’s proverbial demons come out the closet the viewer is forced to rethink the preceding sixty or so minutes of flatness. If we think of Red Hook Summer as a parody of any one of Tyler Perry’s or T.D. Jake’s films then suddenly, the sensationalism, heavy-handed messages, simplistic character portrayals, low-budget look of the film, and mediocre acting begin to work in an interesting way.

Layered upon Lee’s satirical rendering of Perry’s filmic themes and aesthetic is a strong engagement with the post-soul aesthetic which we see throughout the body of his work. By post-soul, I mean Lee’s creation of a distinct tradition within the tradition that addresses the intersections of class, religious, and racial identification in post-Civil Rights black America. In Red Hook Summer, Lee maintains his post-soul agenda while taking a dig at some of the most popular aesthetic values of the moment. While Perry places similar concerns on the agenda, Lee’s beef seems to be with his reaching back into the shaming and muddied waters of minstrelsy, reviving the black mammy, jezebel, and preacher types in various ways.

Red Hook Summer’s insistence on the tradition and how it is used in the black community could be interpreted as direct commentary on what Lee and others have found offensive about Perry’s films. As a symbol of post-soul culture, the star of Red Hook Summer, Flik, is openly atheist and disconnected from the tradition of the black church. He sees the world not through religion but through the lens of technology, his iPad serves as his means to record and interact with his environment. Enoch, however, uses the tradition of the black church as a veil to hide behind. What Flik and Enoch do have in common is a desired sense of freedom. In order to achieve this, both characters must learn to navigate the circumstances of their past and present. By the end of the film, Lee makes it abundantly clear that for those seeking redemption, the church is not the answer.

For better or worse, both directors have managed to make a name for themselves in an industry largely invested in what sells. With so few black filmmakers out there, combined with the politics of respectability within the African American community, and a media that thrives on conflict in the black community, it’s not hard to imagine how this rivalry not only manifested but also thrived.

In the end, with Red Hook Summer, Lee achieves more than just trash talking. He leaves us with food for thought on the ways tradition and faith are employed within the African American community. The film begs the question of where black folks turn when traditional spaces for achieving personal and spiritual freedom fail or cease to exist. Writer, Gayle Jones, perhaps put the message best. In her post-soul novel, The Healing, she writes: “Some people think that freedom is to manage everybody but theyself. Learn to manage yourself. That is the key to freedom.” An excellent bit of wisdom, not only for those watching films but also those making them.

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The Michelle Obama Factor: The Media, Myths, and Black Women

By Mary Annaise Heglar

(Originally Published in Clutch Magazine; posted below with edits from the author)

In the past four years, you’ve probably learned a lot about black women. We are eternally single but we refuse to marry outside of our race. We are fat and proud, but we’re also considered the least attractive. And, even though our wild curly hair is not attractive, we are still obsessed with it—and boy, do we spend a lot on it!

As a black woman, I learned a lot about myself that I didn’t know. And I didn’t know it because it wasn’t true. I did know, however, that not a single one of these publications, websites, blogs, or think tanks had been at all concerned about black women four years ago. But suddenly they were about as fascinated with us as a puppy with a slab of bacon.

What changed though? Well, the answer is simple. While we have been here for centuries, we’d never been in the White House before. And the 2008 election gave us our first black president and first lady.

Michelle Obama’s presence in the White House is very different from Barack’s. His multiracial identity, while complicated, does not involve a history of kidnapping, rape, and forced servitude. Rather, it involves consensual intermarriage. Michelle, on the other hand, is the descendant of slaves. Her family history is one that America knows all too well and wants so desperately to forget. In his famous speech on race, “A More Perfect Union,” Barack tellingly drew on Michelle’s background—not his own.

As French  writer, Bernard-Henri Lévy, said during the 2008 election, “Obama is, certainly, black. “But not black like Jesse Jackson; not black like Al Sharpton; not black like the blacks born in Alabama or in Tennessee and who, when they appear, bring out in Americans the memories of slavery, lynchings and the Ku Klux Klan — no; a black from Africa; a black descending not from a slave but from a Kenyan; a black who, consequently, has the incomparable merit of not reminding middle America of the shameful pages of its history.”

Michelle has no such merit. Yet, two generations ago, she would have been “The Help,” but now she is Jackie Kennedy. Her very being challenges every myth about black women—we are fat, ugly, angry, stupid, and (now) single. Michelle is slender, a health nut, poised, smart, and happily married.

The Washington Post was perhaps the least subtle of all the news outlets that were hot on black women’s trails. In the midst of their “Black Women in America” series, they released a statement on why they chose this topic. They mentioned Dick Cheney’s 2004 statement regarding AIDS and black women and the sheer mass of data mined from their own survey of black women. Really? Cheney’s well-echoed and anything-but-original statement didn’t spark interest until six years later? Also, their survey was conducted in 2011—when black women were already a hot media commodity.

In between those two factors, the Post stated the election of Barack Obama and the attention paid to Michelle Obama. They could have began and ended the list right there.

Michelle has undone centuries of terrible PR and outright lies. She single-handedly brought successful, well-rounded black women out of the shadows. No longer the invisible women, they now meet with the Queen of England and hula hoop on the White House lawn. She is the First Lady, the face of American womanhood to the rest of the world.

And this is different from Condoleezza Rice, who also broke glass ceilings within full view of the nation and the globe. Black people embrace Michelle, but they saw Condi as a race traitor. Further while Condi had authority, she was at least perceived to have been used as a token and a mask for the Republican Party and the Bush Administration. Michelle is the partner to the leader of the free world, much in the vein of 1990’s Hillary Clinton.

Unlike Hillary, though, Michelle’s  time in the White House has been marked by an unprecedented show of disrespect—unparalleled by any other First Lady’s tenure. A Congressman mocked her “large posterior” to a constituent and a Washington, D.C. cop has threatened to shoot her on sight. Toy makers have even made replicas of her daughters that show anything but a resemblance. And she is still haunted by the shadow of the angry black woman every time she shows a spine or an opinion. The nation’s hostility toward black women is determined to die a slow death.

Michelle is a walking contradiction. And, since they cannot look away, the media launched a full-on investigation into black women’s lives. How could it be that they’d had this demographic wrong all along? Were black women more like Michelle, or more like Tami Roman?

At the end of their probe, what did they find? Well, in January the Washington Post conceded that black women are just… complicated. All they had to do was ask us.

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