Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown"

I am so very late to this because I've been working a lot, much like Princess Tiana.

I went in to see Disney's Frog Princess movie with great anticipation. A new Disney movie, the first one featuring an African-American princess--how could I not be excited?

So when I found lots of things I was not crazy about, it was not because I went in focused on being critical.

First of all, the songs were so-so. I've walked out of most Disney fairy tale films singing a song, but this movie had no memorable songs. As someone who can hear a song once and pick up most of it, I was disappointed that none of the songs in this movie stuck with me.

And I couldn't help but notice Disney decided to get "real" with this movie. With the exception of Cinderella, I don't know that I've seen a Disney movie princess who had to work so hard.

The Disney-fication of early 20th century New Orleans was good for the kids, I guess, but it didn't work for me. Tiana's mother is a seamstress for a wealthy white family and though you see the disparity between the employer's mansion and Tiana's humble home, little is said about it how things got to be that way.

Tiana is a "playmate" to her mother's employer's daughter and due to Tiana's good nature and Disney's decision to grant the spoiled heiress a heart of gold, their relationship is less complicated than such dealings might have been in real life.

And when Tiana's entrepreneurial efforts are thwarted, she is told that it is because of her "background," although again, it is Disney so no one delves into what her background is. I'm looking at it critically, but I guess this is progress for Disney. After all their first attempt to include African-inspired themes in a major cartoon only involved animals. The Lion King was an amazing movie, yet it allowed them to play it safe, in some ways. Plus, the princess in this movie spend a lot of her time as a frog.

But back to what I alluded to at the beginning: Tiana works hard for the money. So hard for it honey. She is not a lady-in-waiting hoping to be rescued. And although her prince is less than industrious at the beginning, he proves himself to be supportive and willing to help her with her dreams of running her own business.

I know this is modern life, but for me that was no fairy tale. Black women in America work hard and have done so ever since we arrived. Tiana works and works to save up only to see her dreams derailed because of her "background." And then her future prince is a spoiled rich boy who just wants to have a good time. Yeah, he redeems himself, but how many times have we seen that story--hardworking woman (of any color) hooks up with a guy who wants her to 'lighten up' while he continues to lay around?

Some people have applauded the movie because Tiana is so very enterprising and I get it. She is a great modern role model for young girls. Yet, being who I am at this particular juncture of history, I keep wondering why a sista can't get carried off to a castle where she will presumably be waited on hand and foot?

Monday, January 25, 2010

It's the Beatbox!

I interviewed progressive hip hop artists Christylez Bacon, who has been nominated for a Grammy, for my blog. Mr. Bacon beatboxes and also plays the guitar and spoons. He is very talented and also hilarious, but I didn't quite get all of that into the post and wrote it in a rather straightforward way. His Grammy nomination is for his collaboration on a children's album, while the music he does on his own is more grown-up.

He asked me what I'd done for MLK Weekend and I said I was mostly sick, but I did manage to get to the "Let Freedom Ring" MLK Celebration featuring India.Arie at the Kennedy Center. First he suggested that I go to Soul Vegetarian and get some drink with lemon, ginger and echinacea and then he asked if India Arie had a woman from Ivory Coast with her. Apparently, he had recently run into them and pronounced India Arie to be very cool.

DC native Christylez Bacon Nominated for a Grammy

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Good things come to those who wait
I've waited in more than a few lines to get free admittance to movies and shows, but yesterday's line-waiting was certainly more than worth it, since-

The President and First Lady Attended the Kennedy Center's "Let Freedom Ring" MLK Day Celebration, which featured India Arie.

Monday, January 18, 2010

How a Discussion about the "Death at a Funeral" remake reminded me that we still have a ways to go...

Today is Martin Luther King Day and you don't need me to tell you that to echo King's final speech--we have not quite reached the mountaintop yet. Still, I will tell you about an interesting Facebook convo I had about the uselessness of the Chris Rock-produced remake of the British movie "Death at a Funeral." (Previews for the original and the remake are below.)

When someone complained that this was unnecessary and "why can't black people see the original movie?"

(Now, I, a black person who lives in America, did see the British film and I really didn't find it all that funny, so I doubt I'd see the remake.)

In addition to mentioning that, I also pointed out--
1) all of the actors playing major roles in the movie are not black (in fact, one--Peter Dinklage--plays the same exact role in the new version that he played in the original
2) the remake is for American audiences, not just for the black people who live in America.

The response was that if they wanted to appeal to America in general, why not have a mixed cast?

It is the same old story-in order to appear non-threatening and not turn off certain audiences, we need to be inclusive. At the same time, no one thinks to include us. I don't even remember one token person of color being in the original film, but I had no complaints. Yet, if someone of color wants to produce a film and give roles to more than a few people of color, they run the risk of alienating folks who are only used to seeing themselves dominate.

Death at a Funeral 2007

Death at a Funeral 2010

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"It's not what they call you; it's what you answer to..."

So while everyone is talking about former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich's comments about being "blacker than Obama," and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's assertion about Obama's skin color and amazing ability to not always talk in the Negro dialect (I think liniguists call this code switching), I was less concerned about their definitions of what it means to be Black and more concerned about a class of students who told me that "getting over" was what Black people do.

Working at fast food restaurants and skimming profits. Switching the tags in the store on clothes so they could get DKNY and Calvin Klein at the prices they wanted. Only one student spoke up to say that she pays the correct price for whatever she gets because she had the experience of nearly being fired/jailed after working in a store and having her manager steal money when she was responsible for counting profits.

Of course politicians should be censured for their foolish remarks, but in the end what really matters is how we define ourselves.