Sunday, September 25, 2005

Roll Bounce

See, I'm not completely out of it. I finally published the last post because something in the mainstream media came along that made my point precisely. I just saw the movie Roll Bounce yesterday, and I was impressed. The movie is set in Chicago, and there were some interesting uses of local sites. The movie begins in a roller rink. The roller rink used as the site has been the location of a few Skate Nights by my daughter's school. Also, the outside of Navy Pier was used as the facade of the "North Side" roller rink. That the terms "South Side" and "North Side" are used regularly in the movie is also a nice Chicago touch. Bow Wow wears a Chicago T-Shirt in a number of scenes, and in one scene, I even saw an old White Sox T-Shirt on an extra. Very nice.

My favorite scene had to be a remake of the drive-by scene in Boyz N the Hood...with water balloons. Very funny, although I'm certain that the young audience in the theater with me didn't catch the reference.

Anyway, besides the Chicago-centric aspect of this movie, in his review, Roger Ebert makes my point from my previous post:

Film by film, the makers of "Roll Bounce" have been creating a new world in American movies. This is a world in which black people live in well-kept homes, have jobs, don't do drugs, don't have guns, aren't in gangs, don't call anybody "bitch" and do not use a famous 12-letter word.

It is sad that I need to write such a paragraph, but relevant: The dominant image of African-Americans in the movies is of the lawless, the violent and the drugged. This image does not represent the majority of black people, but it works as subtle propaganda in the minds of audiences of all races.

Now consider some titles. The producers of "Roll Bounce," Robert Teitel and George Tillman Jr., also made "Soul Food," "Men of Honor" (with Cuba Gooding as the first black Navy diver), "Barbershop" and its spin-offs, and "Beauty Shop." Some of the movies are better than others, but all of them have good hearts. They reflect a reality that is missing in the Friday night multiplex specials.

Thank you, Roger Ebert.

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Ebony, not Ivory

I originally started this post on 8/16/2005, and I've been adding to it over the past week.

Leonard Pitts has an interesting reflection on John Johnson's media empire. In response to the typical question from whites about why there is a magazine named Ebony:
Why is there an Ebony? The short answer is that Johnson created it, taking out a $500 loan secured by his mother's furniture to start his publishing company in 1942. Ebony came out in '45 with an initial press run of 25,000. Sixty years later, it claims monthly circulation of 1.6 million.

As I said, that's the short answer. To understand the long answer, you have to understand 1945. A black man named Jesse James Payne was lynched that year in Florida. A thousand white students walked out of schools in Gary, Ind., rather than integrate. Jackie Robinson joined a Brooklyn Dodgers farm team.

It was, in other words, just another year in that strange half-life between free and not-free where African-Americans had existed since the Civil War--a little progress, a little pain and a whole lot of invisibility. Black life, black striving and black aspiration were conspicuous by their absence from the nation's newspapers and magazines. As far as mainstream media were concerned, the only blacks who existed were "hulking negro brutes" (they were always hulking, and "Negro" was always lowercase) who were forever preying on virginal white women.

For black people, mainstream media were mind poison. Ebony--and the newsweekly Jet, which came along in '51--was an antidote. It emphasized black upward mobility and mainstream success, its stories always illustrated by carefully posed photos of Negroes Doing Well.

Not that the magazine's own success came easily. Johnson had to fight to convince skeptical advertisers that Negroes did, indeed, buy mayonnaise, Cheerios and the occasional automobile. The company likes to say that he invented the black consumer market, and that's pretty much true.

So, beyond the media empire that Johnson created, he also expanded the black consumer market and created a mindset of success amongst African-Americans. Not bad.

Now, if only he could have gotten more white people to read it.


There are few images of successful African-Americans for white people to see, and as Dr. King noted, racism affects the oppressor as much as the oppressed, albeit, in a different way. I would go so far as to conjecture that the injustices surrounding the institution of slavery reinforced and extended the latent bigotry of Europeans and Americans towards non-Europeans. My point is that the dehumanizing effects of slavery and the brutality of its enforcers greatly outmoded the initial prejudices that defined the relationships between Europeans and Africans. The brutality of the Jim Crow period in American history, and the extent to which Southerners went to protect their "way of life" (firehoses and police dogs turned on children who were marching), perfectly exhibit the extent to which many white Americans had come to see African-Americans as less than human. I've also read that lynchings were treated as community events by whites, where families often picnicked. So, while mainstream media may have been "mind poison" for African-Americans, that media affected whites just as much. Depictions of black men both reflected and reinforced the bigotry of white Americans.

In recent memory, the media have not changed too much. There have been few television shows or movies that reflect the upward mobility of African-Americans that have been "crossover" successes with white audiences. The persistent images are of the dangerous "angry black man" or the fool. Think Samuel L. Jackson and Chris Tucker. I'm also reminded of Spike Lee's Bamboozled. It is this sort of inexperience that leads a white person to tell a black person, "you're different." I've seen and heard this type of interaction a lot. How silly is it for a white person to claim to know that this one black person is "different". The first response to such a claim should be: "based on what?" The most likely scenario is that the white person is basing their opinion on their very limited outlook that has been defined by other ignorant white Americans. It's probable that dealing with media will only do so much since ignorance seems to breed more ignorance and an ingorant person is not likely to seek knowledge in any form.

Anyway, why would there need to be an Ivory magazine when there are the magazines People, Us, and even niche market magazines like Seventeen? This same argument can be made in defense of African-American history month since the majority of American history is about white people and their stories. There is a need for more emphasis on minority stories to breed better understanding of issues that remain unresolved. Poverty quickly comes to mind as an issue in need of more understanding.

By the way, I found it kind of funny that "Negroes did, indeed, buy mayonnaise" considering that the movie Undercover Brother made a running joke of the fact that African-Americans hate mayonnaise.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find your article very refreshing.It indeed reflect the historical view of society's mindset regarding the African American. I am proud as an African American Man to know that my validation is not up to another group but the very nature of my ability to stand.
Thank for your openness as a white brother to reflect in this blog.

11:29 PM  
Blogger Cyrus said...

Yeah Mike!

4:58 PM  

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Yawn, stretch, roll over

I guess I've taken what amounts to a nice European Holiday from this blog: six weeks without a post. I've done a little writing for this, but obviously nothing that made it to the blog. I have four posts that I started in August, but never got around to finishing. Hopefully, I'll get to them soon, and I have a few comments to post on the whole Katrina mess even though every possible angle is being turned over again and again. I just want to pull together some of the stream of interesting stories and opinion pieces that I've read over the past couple of weeks.

The title of this post was meant to reflect what cats and dogs do during a nap since that's essentially what I've been doing for the past several weeks. I would start a post, lose my train of thought or get busy doing something else, and then just "Save as Draft".

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Blogger Theresa said...

Yup. I've been doing the same thing. Although I was sick for about two weeks, so I was doing a lot of "Yawn, stretch, roll over" for real.

8:23 AM  
Blogger Ms.Reddlady C said...

yeap,I was do the same thing until I start working again I was just relaxing and being layed back.

3:38 PM