Category Archives: Troy’s Rants

Spike’s New Film is Bad, Kickstarter Funding is Worse’s movie critic, Kam Williams, is my friend.  He is one of the most easy going guys I know.  He has reviewed thousands of films over the course of his career, and has been writing for for over a decade.  His film reviews are rarely harshly critical. Indeed, he usually finds something good to say about most films, and is more than fair when critiquing Black independent films.

However, Kam’s review of Spike Lee’s latest film, Da Blood of Jesus, was the most scathing review that I can recall him ever writing.  The review was so unfavorable, were it not for my years of experience with Kam, I may not have published it.

…a boring vampire adventure that’s severely lacking in terms of tension, thrills, premise, storyline, special f/x, plausibility, production value, editing and character development… 

What makes this film’s effort doubly disappointing is that nearly $1.5 million dollars was raised, via Kickstarter, to fund this film.   When I originally learned about Spike using Kickstarter, to fund the production of this film, I did not like the idea. Someone with Spike’s resources shouldn’t use Kickstarter; his campaign would draw attention and potential funding away from smaller indie filmmakers, who could benefit more from the crowdfunding platform, without the competition from a wealthy celebrity.

Kickstarter, who made a lot of money from Spike’s massive campaign, explained how Spike’s campaign actually helps other filmmakers, “Spike Lee brought three decades of fans to Kickstarter when he launched his project.”  Kickstarter implied, but was careful not to state, that Spike’s backers would also back other filmmakers.  Kickstarter has all the data, to tell what actually happened.  They could very easily run a report to tell us how many people, that were new Kickstarter, whose first contribution was to Spike’s movie project, and who subsequently went on to contribute to small indie film project.  I suspect these figures were not reported as it would not support the narrative Kickstarter has created.

kickstarterBut is the real kicker; if this film makes any money, all the profits goes directly to Spike.  If the film loses money, which this one very likely will, all of the risk goes to the contributors.  Meanwhile, Kickstarter receives 5%, off the top, no matter what happens!

The entire risk reward model has been turned completely on its head.

I appreciate there are people who are completely satisfied contributing $5,000 to this project, in return for a signed poster.  But they deserved more—at the very least a decent movie.  The best hustle in the world is the one in which the mark is completely unaware they have been scammed.

The web’s most successful websites, rather than liberating the masses, is really just making it easier for the rich to get richer.  The real trick, however, is that this is happening right before our eyes, and many of us of think we are benefiting from the situation.


Only 54 Black Owned Bookstores Remain in America

This is a follow up to an article, “Death of the Black Owned, Independent, Bookstore,” which was originally published here on March 25, 2012.   The article highlighted the fact the we had lost 66% of our Black owned bookstores, in the United States, over the previous decade. That was and remains an astonishing statistic.

Two years later almost half of the stores still open in 2012 have closed.  You read that correctly, ALMOST HALF!  At the end of this article I’ve included a list of all the Black owned stores that remain open.  Here is a list of the stores that we have lost since 2002.

Harlem, NY's Hue-man Bookstore closed July 2012

Harlem, NY’s Hue-man Bookstore closed July 2012

Our bookstores have closed for every reason under the sun.  Many were started by people with a passion for literature but weak business skills and other have fallen prey to escalating rents and a dismal economy.

Perhaps a more pernicious reason, contributing to the closure of bookstores, is simply less demand for the product.   There is mounting evidence that we, all Americans, are simply reading less.

The National Endowment for the Arts issued a report in 2004, Reading at Risk,
in which they warned us that, “…literary reading in America is not only declining among all groups, but the rate of decline has accelerated, especially among the young.”

It is not just bookstores that are suffering.  Websites that focus on Black books are suffering.  Attendance at book fairs, conferences and festivals are down as well. Some events have even been cancelled due to low registration.

Eso Eon Books

Eso Won Books has been serving the Los Angeles community for almost 25 years.

While literary reading is declining in America, our own platforms are doing very little to indicate that books or the stories and information they contain are worthy of attention, or are important.  Coverage of Black books in magazines and newspaper—even those intended for Black readers is miniscule and critical book reviews are virtually nonexistent.

Now books are clearly not the only way to relate stories or transfer information, but nothing available now, or on the horizon, appears capable of replacing what was lost.

The following is a complete list of the remaining Black owned independent bookstores in the United States.  Please visit our book section for more information about these bookstores and many others that serve communities of color.

If you believe in the importance of bookstores, which are dedicated to books by or about people of African descent, go out of your way to support one of the stores below.

Do we want to see an America where the ONLY place Black books can be purchased is from Amazon?  Do we really want Amazon to have that responsibility—all by themselves?

If visiting and supporting a Black owned bookstore is physically impractical here are a list of websites you can support, including this one,

La Unique African American Books & Cultural Center, Camden, NJ Opened in 1992

La Unique African American Books & Cultural Ctr, Camden, NJ – Opened in 1992

The Last Black Owned Bookstores Open in the U.S.

Pyramid Art Books & Custom Framing – Little Rock, AR
That Bookstore In Blytheville – Blytheville, AR

Smiley’s Bookstore – Carson, CA
Zahra’s Books and Things – Inglewood, CA
Shades of Afrika Bookstore – Long Beach, CA
Eso Won Bookstore – Los Angeles, CA
Marcus Books – Oakland, CA
Underground Books – Sacramento, CA
Marcus Books – San Francisco, CA (read what happened)

DC Bookdiva’s Mobile Bookstore – Washington, DC
Sankofa Video and Bookstore – Washington, DC
The Children Of The Sun – Washington, DC

MeJah Books & Crafts, Tri-State Mall – Claymont, DE

Pyramid Books – Boynton Beach, FL
Dare Books – Longwood, FL

Medu Bookstore, Greenbriar Mall – Atlanta, GA
The Shrine of the Black Madonna – Atlanta, GA
Euphoria Books and Wellness House, Columbus, GA
NuBian Books – Morrow, GA

Lushena Bookstore – Bensenville, IL
Books Ink – Chicago, IL
Da Book Joint – Chicago, IL
Frontline Bookstore – Chicago, IL
The Underground Bookstore – Chicago, IL
Black Expression Book Source – Evergreen Park, IL
Azizi Books – Matteson, IL  (read what happened)

Afri-Ware Inc. – Maywood, IL

The Wild Fig Books – Lexington, KY

Community Book Center – New Orleans, LA

Frugal Bookstore – Roxbury, MA
Olive Tree Books-n-Voices – Springfield, MA

Everyone’s Place – Baltimore, MD
Cartel Cafe & Books Store – Oxon Hill, MD

Black Star Community Book Store –  Detroit, MI
Shrine of the Black Madonna, Book Store and Cultural Center – Detroit, MI
Source Booksellers – Detroit, MI
Off the Beaten Path Books & Cafe – Farmington, MI
Nandi’s Knowledge Cafe – Highland Park, MI
The Truth Bookstore – Southfield, MI
Hood Book Headquarters – Warren, MI
Black Stone Bookstore & Cultural Center – Ypsilanti, MI

Progressive Emporium & Education Center – St. Louis, MO

Aframerican Book Store – Omaha, NE

La Unique African American Books & Cultural Center, Camden, NJ
African American Book Store – Hackensack, NJ
Source of Knowledge – Newark, NJ

Zawadi Books – Buffalo, NY
Becoming Gods Answer Bookstore – New York, NY
Sister’s Uptown Bookstore – New York, NY
Mood Makers Books & Art Gallery Village Gate Square – Rochester, NY
Official Connection Bookstore – Brooklyn NY

A Cultural Exchange – Cleveland, OH
Black Art Plus – Columbus, OH
Ujamaa Book Store – Columbus, OH

Black and Nobel – Philadelphia, PA
Color Book Gallery – Philadelphia, PA
Hakim’s Bookstore and Gift Shop – Philadelphia, PA (The Nation’s Oldest bookstore)
Horizon Books Inc. – Philadelphia, PA
Prosperity Bookstore Inc – Philadelphia, PA

The Booksmith – Seneca, SC
The Malcolm X Center for Self-Determination – Greenville, SC

Alkebu-Lan Images Bookstore & Gift Shop – Nashville, TN

The Pan-African Connection Bookstore – Dallas, TX
The Dock Bookshop – Fort Worth, TX
African Imports Houston – Houston, TX

Positive Vibes – Virginia Beach, VA
House of Consciousness – Norfolk, VA

The Reader’s Choice – Milwaukee, WI

Hakim’s Bookstore - Currently in jeopardy of closing (photo circa 1970s by Yvonne Blake)
Hakim’s Bookstore – Currently in jeopardy of closing (photo circa 1970s by Yvonne Blake)

As of October 9, 2015 the number of stores listed above is 63.  I have added or removed stores from this list since the article was originally published.

Please keep in mind that maintaining this list is resource intensive and is done on a volunteer basis.  Check our bookstore database for additional information about each store.  If you find any inaccurate or missing information here please email me  Also check out our new bookstore map introduced in August of 2014.

3 Must Read Books for Social Media Advocates, Addicts & Sharecroppers

3 Must Read Books for Social Media Advocates, Addicts & Sharecoppers

These are three books I recommend we should all read.  The strength of the Internet and promise it held to empower individuals has been hobbled considerably.  In fact, I’d argue that rather than holding promise as a tool of empowerment, the Internet is causing us harm.  Corporate entities have co-oped the Internet turning it into a tool, to monitor our activities and manipulate our behavior, to better sell us things.

These books delve into how corporations are exerting increasing levels of control and how this impact us.  Lanier’s, Who Owns the Future, discusses how corporation with the largest servers exert monopolistic ownership over the web making it difficult for individuals to profit from their labor.  Turkel’s book, Alone Together, discusses how our constant connectivity through social media leads to a new form of social isolation.  Finally, Pariser’s, in his book The Filer Bubble explains why, despite super powerful search technology, we are actually accessing less information.

We have all seen the effects; as we observe a couple, dining out, fully engrossed in their smart phones rather than each other; maybe it is the feeling we have that there are no new perspectives online; or the frustration we experience having our email, browsing habits and social contacts scrutinized so that we can be more effectively bombarded with advertising.

The emergence of social media, the launch of Amazon, Google, even Wikipedia, promised to eliminate barriers to entry and empower individuals with greater connectivity, reach, lower prices and fast access to information.  Instead we now have oligarchies abusing their power in pursuit of more and more money.

These three authors address these issues, and more, with far more clarity and completeness than I can:

the-filter-bubble-150The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think by Eli Pariser

Penguin Books (Paperback: 304 pages April 24, 2012)

In December 2009, Google began customizing its search results for all users, and we entered a new era of personalization. With little notice or fanfare, our online experience is changing, as the websites we visit are increasingly tailoring themselves to us. In this engaging and visionary book, board president Eli Pariser lays bare the personalization that is already taking place on every major website, from Facebook to AOL to ABC News. As Pariser reveals, this new trend is nothing short of an invisible revolution in how we consume information, one that will shape how we learn, what we know, and even how our democracy works.

The race to collect as much personal data about us as possible, and to tailor our online experience accordingly, is now the defining battle for today’s internet giants like Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft. Behind the scenes, a burgeoning industry of data companies is tracking our personal information to sell to advertisers, from our political leanings to the hiking boots we just browsed on Zappos.

As a result, we will increasingly each live in our own, unique information universe—what Pariser calls “the filter bubble.” We will receive mainly news that is pleasant, familiar and confirms our beliefs—and since these filters are invisible, we won’t know what is being hidden from us. Our past interests will determine what we are exposed to in the future, leaving less room for the unexpected encounters that spark creativity, innovation and the democratic exchange of ideas.

Drawing on interviews with both cyber-skeptics and cyber-optimists, from the co-founder of OK Cupid, an algorithmically-driven dating website, to one of the chief visionaries of U.S. information warfare, The Filter Bubble  tells the story of how the Internet, a medium built around the open flow of ideas, is closing in on itself under the pressure of commerce and “monetization.” It peeks behind the curtain at the server farms, algorithms, and geeky entrepreneurs that have given us this new reality, and investigates the consequences of corporate power in the digital age.  Join our online conversation about this book


alone-together-150Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle

Basic Books (Paperback: 384 pages, October 2, 2012)

In Alone Together, Turkele argues that we are at a point of decision and opportunity. Technology now invites us to lose ourselves in always-in mobile connections and even in relationships with inanimate creatures that offer to “stand in” for the real. In the face of all this, technology offers us the occasion to reconsider our human values, and reaffirm what they are.

Technology has become the architect of our intimacies. Online, we fall prey to the illusion of companionship, gathering thousands of Twitter and Facebook friends and confusing tweets and wall posts with authentic communication. But, as MIT technology and society specialist Sherry Turkle argues, this relentless connection leads to a new solitude. As technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down. Alone Together is the result of Turkle’s nearly fifteen-year exploration of our lives on the digital terrain. Based on hundreds of interviews, it describes new unsettling relationships between friends, lovers, parents, and children, and new instabilities in how we understand privacy and community, intimacy, and solitude.  Join our online conversation about this subject.


who-owns-the-future-150Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier
Simon & Schuster; (Paperback: 448 pages, March 4, 2014)

Jaron Lanier is the father of virtual reality and one of the world’s most brilliant thinkers. Who Owns the Future? is his visionary reckoning with the most urgent economic and social trend of our age: the poisonous concentration of money and power in our digital networks.

Lanier has predicted how technology will transform our humanity for decades, and his insight has never been more urgently needed. He shows how Siren Servers, which exploit big data and the free sharing of information, led our economy into recession, imperiled personal privacy, and hollowed out the middle class. The networks that define our world—including social media, financial institutions, and intelligence agencies—now threaten to destroy it.

But there is an alternative. In this provocative, poetic, and deeply humane book, Lanier charts a path toward a brighter future: an information economy that rewards ordinary people for what they do and share on the web.  Read our review of the hardcover version of this book.


These are just a few of the books I feel are important.  I’m sure there are many others.  Please share any you think are important in the comments section below or, if you are highly motivated, participate on one of the conversations linked above.

Troy Johnson

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