Culture. Is. Power.
COLOREDS ON TV!
Seeing black people on Masterpiece Theatre makes me think of the olden days of television when Black folks would call friends and family to let them know “coloreds on TV.” Tonight, Masterpiece Theatre debuts an adaptation of Andrea Levy’s novel Small Island on PBS (first premiered on BBC in 2009). It’s the story of Hortense, a young Jamaican woman [the daughter of an unmarried, country girl and a high level Jamaican official] placed in the home of her father’s cousins where she has a roof over her head, but tepid relations with her relatives who expect her to work for her keep. Hortense has great dreams to be a teacher in England, a place she’s never seen. Many men from Jamaica have already gone overseas to fight World War II; some return. It is after the war that Hortense sets on the path of her dreams. And we can all guess what happens when one has grand dreams of a place of which you’ve only heard the hype.
I bought Levy’s book and am crashing to read a chunk of it before the premiere tonight. It’s well written and is a winner of the Whitbread award for Book of the Year. Like books, Masterpiece Theatre serves as pure escapism for me especially with their presentations of works by Jane Austen and other British authors. I also believe the mini-series is the best format for adapting works of literature for television or film. But now we have Levy, born of Jamaican parents and a British citizen, stepping up to the plate where “Upstairs Downstairs” reigned.
Small Island will address race (black) and class. Class is often the foundation for conflict in British drama. However, if one looked into the source of income for Jane Eyre‘s Mr. Rochester (British Jamaica), or Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice, race would join hands with class, making their leading men more ominous than their first or even second impressions. Though for P&P it is really Mr. Bingley’s fortunes that are in question as they were “acquired by trade.” England ended the slave trade in 1807, around the time of Pride and Prejudice, but slavery had not ended in the British colonies. The other word that must enter into this drama is “colonialism.”
Masterpiece Theatre has come a long way in the last 15 years. One of their best mini-series set in modern times was Traffik the basis for the watered down American version. While in the process of writing his pilot for “Kingpin,” I recommended “Traffik,” the original version, to David Mills. There was no need to see the American version I said, though Dave did like and was inspired by the cinematography.
Maybe there is no escape but into the arms of a good story where perhaps one can find a little salvation.
In American drama, class is something you overcome with hard work and persistence. You don’t fight to overturn it, remove it, or redefine it. But the “bootstrap” mentality is more mental than it is reality. Okay, Phil Graham me on that one. Scientists have proven that it is humanly impossible to pull oneself up by your bootstraps. Apparently as you pull them up, the gravitational force on the body pulls you down. Everyone needs a little help I suppose.
E.J. Dionne has basically pegged this “Tea Party” as “same monkey, different outfit.” The demographic from the New York Times/CBS poll repeated ad nauseam by the press describes the majority of those who identify themselves as a member of the “party” as affluent, educated, working white boomer males.
This resembles the demographic of the groom and groomsmen at the church altar with Elaine in “The Graduate” before Ben broke up the wedding and the two hopped on the Santa Barbara local to where-eversville. Let’s remember, not everyone was into love, peace, liberation, and recreational mind alteration in the 60s. There were those who believed in plastic and matching bar and bar stools. They were Right Wing Republicans then; they’re Right Wing Republicans now and their world has changed even though they haven’t.
But for some reason the mainstream press, in its never-ending-quest for controversy and drama have shined a spot light on the Tea Party to “figure them out,” flesh out the story; something they rarely if ever do with immigration, poverty, LGBT activists, or any of the many for the attention paid to the few. Yet, 18% does exceed what Malcolm Gladwell coined as a “tipping point.”
Here’s a conspiracy theory. How do I know that the majority demographic isn’t made up of Wall Street bankers and their interests fronting as a “grassroots” movement?
SPEAKING OF WALL STREET BANKERS
The President of the United States has a special assignment for you. More transparency. Close the loopholes. More accountability and responsibility. Corporations want to be treated like individuals? Here are your boostraps. Let’s hope it’s not just political theater. I owed taxes this year and I pay them throughout the year. The Tea Partiers who enjoy their social security and medicare should thank ME!
Heads of state and their spouses are often not the people to consult for travel tips. Itineraries are meticulously crafted, and even entire environments are altered to give the right impression. I enjoy travel, but I usually (and maybe due to my own financial limitations) experience place on the same terms as a working resident would. I eat where the locals eat. I use public transportation and not tourist buses or motorcades. I may have business or some project on my plate, but my schedule is moderately fluid to leave myself open for those a-ha moments. I’ve even bused my own dishes. There’s a certain freedom in being nobody on a budget.
Since relocating to DC from NYC (after the Washington Post closed their offices), fashion and culture journalist Robin Givhan has been assigned to first lady Michelle Obama’s press pool. She’s covering her 40 hour visit to Mexico.
Obama has embarked on an international agenda that views the world — and its significant problems — through the eyes of children. Before arriving in Mexico City, she made a five-hour stopover in Haiti — something she has wanted to do since January.
“The minute the disaster struck, you’re thinking, ‘I need to go down there,’ ” she said during an interview with reporters. “Then you think, ‘I’m the first lady. I’ll just shut the whole country down.’
This trip, three months in the making, allowed her to survey the earthquake damage, thank aid workers for their dedication to the country’s rebuilding and draw attention to Haiti’s continuing need for help. And Obama, once again, struck her familiar refrain: What about the children?
The details of the more unofficial trip to Haiti appear to follow the official itinerary.
Covering the first lady may seem like a fun job, but writing about it in the context of the first lady’s agenda and itinerary seems to take all the fun out of traveling with Michelle. Can she just sit in a coffee shop and people watch for 2 hours? What/who catches her eye? Any time to go to the markets? At the end of the day, do her feet hurt? What about Michelle?
The point of a first lady’s solo flight abroad is symbolism. She’s the human and kinder face of diplomacy. No real power to make decisions, but definitely power to influence or better yet inspire humanitarian action.
The May issue of Conde Nast’s Traveler magazine has the cover story, “Mrs. Obama’s Washington.” I suppose the point of this feature is what makes this first lady’s Washington different from other first ladies’. Certainly we won’t see her in the throngs of t-shirt, short, and sneaker attired tourists on the Mall. But we see signs of life in Michelle Obama’s Washington, even a little bit of DC.
Since the Obamas took up residence, the White House has been a consistent destination for school field trips for DC public and charter school students. The Obamas, themselves have been to Ward 8 (that’s South East for those who aren’t familiar): to visit the Frederick Douglass house; and most recently to attend Easter service at Allen AME Church. One thing people won’t read about Ward 8 is that it has some of the cleanest air maybe in the entire city. You get that at the Frederick Douglass House and from the hill top of the Anacostia Community Museum.
Barack and I come from a community-organizing background,” Mrs. Obama told us during a recent visit. “The notion has always been that you have to commit to the community you’re in, wherever that is. You really have to connect. So it was important for me to do that here, given the fact that in many cities there is a disconnect between the central part of the city and the neighborhoods that surround it.
The Obamas have eaten the local food where working folks eat. Michelle has shopped in a local market to push her healthy eating agenda (that market also sold very good cookies – I had two). And, many have read that the Obamas attend parent/teacher meetings and school activities for their children. Sources tell me, their daughters enjoy the company of friends at school just as other kids would, but everyone’s sworn to secrecy on the details.
In DC, we tend to do minimal primping when the first family comes to the neighborhood, except in extreme circumstances. I’ll never forget how a room in my high school was totally transformed when the President came to visit. Security is the main priority.
But even Mrs. Obama’s Washington is carefully orchestrated to compliment her and her family’s own personal characteristics and values. More symobolism? Yes. The test will be if the Obamas will return to DC after the White House years. Will they be just another politician or administration official blaming Washington for the misery in their lives having never touched or encountered the real city.
If there is any personal travel goal for an Obama on the road it may be to find a special place to be nobody.
CAN, DO, TEACH, READ
The Big Read cranks up in DC this week. Under the chairmanship of Dana Gioia, the National Endowment for the Arts decided to launch an initiative to support local efforts to present community reads and address what they sited as a declining readership among American adults. D.C.’s been hosting Big Read events since 2007. I’ve been part of that launch and this year’s Big Read events presented by the Humanities Council of Washington, DC. DC is reading A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines for the 2010 Big Read DC.
The way I see the Big Read the local goal is to uncover and gather in DC stories inspired by a Big Read book.
This evening at 6:30 PM the focus is TEACHERS and their true-life stories at Barnes & Noble Booksellers (555 12th Street, NW). The event is titled “Why I Do What I Do.” There always has to be a reason for the season. The storytellers are real teachers and educators: Delores Bushong, resource teacher for gifted students at Wakefield HS (Arlington, VA); Rita Daniels, executive director of Literacy Volunteers and Advocates; and Frazier O’Leary
a star English teacher and baseball coach at Cardozo High School (Washington, DC). DC’s public high schools are reading A Lesson Before Dying thanks to another generous grant from Reading Is Fundamental.
Door prizes, give aways and cookies. It’s free. Big Read DC activities will happen during the months of April and May. Visit www.wdchumanities.org/bigread2010. The 2010 Big Read DC is presented by the Humanities Council of Washington, DC, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and the DC Public Library.
If you’re a DC area teacher, tutor, or educator who assigned A Lesson Before Dying to your class for the Big Read DC, the Humanities Council would like to know about your experience teaching the book. Fill out this survey and share your story.
Filmfest DC also kicks off this week. The opening night event is tomorrow with a screening of “Hipsters,” a film by Valerie Tordorovsky. I guess it’s “Beehive” with a Communist swing. The price for opening night is $40 and includes a reception at Mazza Gallery near Chevy Chase. Will there be cake? This is FilmfestDC’s 25th year.
My involvement is with a new series “Justice Matters.” These films are being presented to highlight how the medium addresses and can influence change around social justice issues. Two of the films on my plate are “Soundtrack for a Revolution” and “Sun Behind the Clouds.” You can meet the filmmakers Dan Sturman, Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam at a free Filmmakers Breakfast Salon (breakfast is on your own) Saturday, April 24 at 9:30 AM at Busboys and Poets (5th & K Streets, NW). RSVP filmfestdc2010[at]gmail[dot]com.
“Soundtrack for a Revolution,” a film by Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman, tells the story of the civil rights movement in the U.S. through the “movement music” protesters, picketers, and other activists sang during marches, inside jail cells, and at organizing meetings. The music is performed by a new generation of professional musicians including John Legend, Joss Stone, Mary Mary, The Roots, as well as veterans like Richie Havens, and the 5 Blind Boys of Alabama. Archival footage and interviews with key activists like Andrew Young and John Lewis are part of the mix. The film will be shown on Friday, April 23 at the Regal Theater on 7th Street (Verizon Center downtown). See more in this clip.
“The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom,” a film by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, gives both background and updated information on Tibet’s quest for independence from China. In this documentary Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama is caught in the middle of a struggle between a super power who wants to exert its full control over the Tibet province, and a Tibetan movement for independence. Though the Dalai Lama’s “middle way” or compromise with China doesn’t seem to appeal to either side, the reality is time is running out for one generation. A new generation’s desire to take another path to freedom is coming of age. The film will be shown Saturday, April 24 at 7 PM at the Regal Theater. See more in this clip.
FINAL FAREWELL TO UNDERCOVER BLACK MAN
Monday I attended the funeral for David Mills, aka on this blog as Undercover Black Man. The service was held at the University of Maryland Chapel in College Park. Mills’ nephew Clifton Porter II has posted a eulogy on the UBM blog “blowing UBM’s cover.” Porter also delivered the eulogy at the funeral ending with the P-Funk pledge and perhaps epitaph: “…to funk, the whole funk, and nothing but the funk.” Mills was the author of an oral history of George Clinton and P-Funk.
David Simon, co-creator of the new HBO series “Treme” (with Eric Overmeyer) praised his friend’s work and gestures when a line or scene struck home (the downpunch that went no where), Mills’ ability to jump into the eye of the storm without fear of reprimand, and love of writing and story. Simon met David Mills while they were students at the University of Maryland working on the campus newspaper. I asked David Simon about the tribute to Mills at the “Treme” premiere party in New Orleans last Saturday. [Note: as of yesterday, “Treme” has been renewed for a second season by HBO.] Simon said there was a traditional New Orleans second line, a funk band, and they planted an oak tree in David Mills’ memory. I’ll visit that oak tree when I go to New Orleans to pick up where I left off with the “Church Lady Cake Diaries.”
After the funeral I crept back onto UBM’s blog to read about his life in New Orleans. It’s been a struggle to read the blog as it was an on-going chat with David that is now finished…maybe. The family has decided to keep it on-line. I believe it will inevitably become a very important document and maybe even my road map when I return to New Orleans, the city apparently where David Mills was no longer undercover.
Rest in peace David. We miss you.
The women’s restroom in Lexington Market is no joke. When a lady’s got to go, she’ll let you know. Pregnant woman moves up the line. Woman crossing her legs and bouncing up and down moves up the line. I helped a lady get her nose ring back on. It was a hoop and the tiny ball cap (fortunately) outside her nostril had come undone.
It was my sister’s birthday. Why not make it memorable.
The lump crab cakes at Faidley’s were everything you can wish for.