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John H

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Everything posted by John H

  1. The Help has enjoyed a three week run as the most popular movie in the country. After avoiding it I finally went to see it. It's what I called a "liberal conscience film" in my recent book Faces in the Mirror: Oscar Micheaux and Spike Lee. These films, The Defiant Ones, In the Heat of the Night, Odds Against Tomorrow, Edge of the City, and a dozen like them were popular in the 1950's and 60's. The Help is a well-meaning throw-back in that respect. As in the typical liberal conscience film, the main struggle occurs in the heart/soul/mind of the white protagonist as she tries to overcome racism, resist the blandishments of white skin priveledge, and realize the better angels of her nature. The black characters, maids, are presented as nobel, long-suffering types, abused by their crude, callous, viscious, ignorant ladies-tea club-type employers. Whites in the audience probably identify with the white protagonist who becomes the instrument through which the black maids finally offer resistance. My problem with The Help, and I suspect that of many blacks, is that we know that in real life the black maids, janitors, garbage men, seamstresses, teachers, and every other category one can think of, were the instruments of their own liberation. They took the lead, against fearful odds, and did not wait for a white savior to come to their rescue.
  2. Obama Derangement Syndrome---ODS—is a new category of mental illness recently added to the DSM, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the mental health profession's official catalogue. It is a disease afflicting conservative Republicans primarily. The symptoms of ODS are (1) an absolute conviction that anything said by Barack Obama-- “there are 24 hours in a day”, “the earth is round”, “water is wet”-- must be opposed and damned as the utterances of ‘the most radical president in American history’, (2) the condemnation of Obama for not buying into demonstrably absurdist ways of dealing with problems, such as—not taxing the rich makes everyone else prosperous, and (3) a strange combination of loss of short term memory---no recall, for example, of spending the country into debt during the Bush years--- along with distorted long-term memory---the claim, for example, that Washington, Jefferson and other slave-holding Founding fathers fought tirelessly to end slavery. There is no known cure for ODS, although one is being worked on. It’s called voting, and it is intended to keep ODS sufferers far away from any political office that might give them the power to shape the country in the image of their fantasies
  3. The third party candidate would not be elected and you would probably tip the election to the republican candidate---thereby opening up the gates of hell. Think 2000 and Ralph Nader's candidacy which helped tip the contest to Bush---I've seen that movie before---We've taken that ride before---let's not do it again. JH
  4. I worked like a dog for him. I was standing on the mall inauguration day along with tens of thousands of others, thrilled at the prospect of the dawn of a new age. It was not simply that he was the first black man with a serious chance of being elected president. I would have been the first one in line to vote against a Clarence Thomas or a Michael Steele. He spoke in the language of a progressive who would fight to make the United States a fairer place—who would fight for universal health care, for public works programs that would put people back to work fixing road and bridges, for laws that would make it easier for workers to form unions and fight for their own rights, for a tax system in which the rich paid their share, for rules that would end the kind of Wall Street recklessness that nearly brought the world’s economy crashing down. Sadly, although there have been some significant accomplishments, little that is fundamental has changed—the rich are richer, the poor and middle class are more desperate, corporate power is greater than ever, and money rules congress while a few progressive voices struggle to be heard over the Tea Party, right-wing din. And as eloquent as his words were in 2008 he has somehow, inexplicably, allowed the most reactionary elements on the other side to set the terms of debate, to frame the language within which the pundits and the public talk about the nation’s ills and possible remedies. Yet we must support him and fight as fiercely in 2012 as we did in 2008. If you think it is bad now, the republican governors elected last year have given us a preview of what it would be like if the republicans controlled all three branches of government. The unthinkable would become common place. Here is a short list. 1. In the name of decreasing the federal budget deficit social security, Medicare, Pell grants and other programs that benefit the middle class and working people would be decimated while tax cuts for the wealthy would be made permanent. 2. The one or two Supreme Court openings that will occur in the next few years would go to conservatives who would join Scalia, et. al. in making it harder to fight employment discrimination, easier for corporations to buy elections, harder curb abuses in the criminal justice system, harder for people injured by defective products to seek redress. 3. Legislation aimed at making it relaxing the already lax rules on corporations fouling the air we breathe and the water we drink would become law as would legislation curbing regulations aimed at preventing Wall Street speculators from again enriching themselves while bringing the economy to the edge of ruin. 4. Rights long taken for granted might again become matters of debate. When was the last time one heard a member of the Senate question the constitutionality of the 1964 Civil Rights Act with its prohibition on discrimination in public accommodation such as hotels and restaurants, and its prohibition on employment discrimination on racial or gender grounds. A republican senate majority would make Kentucky senator Rand Paul, a candidate for a committee chairmanship. The right-wing social agenda is as devastating as its economic agenda. By any conceivable measure the middle class, the poor, African-Americans, Hispanics, gays, abortion rights advocates, environmentalists, trade unionists, civil libertarians, and most other Americans would be better off in an Obama administration after 2012 than in any republican administration. Our task and charge is to show as much passion, be as well organized, and press as hard for progressive positions as the other side presses their retrogressive, destructive agenda. Ironically, most polls show the majority of Americans to be more progressive on the issues than their elected representatives. Our task is to press lame, vacillating, mealy-mouthed democrats, including Obama to do the right thing. Sure I’m disappointed with Obama---but I will be pounding the pavements again in 2012, and I hope you will too. http://www.facesinthemirror.com
  5. @jrhow2/twitterThe republican attack on public sector union workers is also an attack on blacks. Black public sector union members are a key part of the black middle class. They are the teachers, the hospital workers, the garbage collectors, the social workers, the janitors, the secretaries. At a time when the economic ladder has been pulled out from under so many, we all have a stake in fighting for those still able to support the businesses, churches, and other institutions that sustain the life and vitality of black communities. I marched in my first picket line 50 years ago. None of can say we are too old, too tired, or too well-off to do what we have to do to keep generations of progress from being swept away.
  6. We have to select candidates from the choices WE ACTUALLY HAVE. The choice in 2008 was Obama-Biden or McCain-Palin. Is anyone prepared to say honestly say they would be okay with a Sarah Palin being a heart beat away from the presidency? John Howard http://www.facesinthemirror.com
  7. I recently did some work on my family tree, tracing the Howard line on my father's side back to my great grandmother, Pinneta, born a slave in Tarboro County, North Carolina in 1854. In the course of doing this I came to know who my forebears were and to understand the times in which they lived. This on-going quest to uncover the family past has deepened my knowledge of black history and given me a more sophisticated understaning of the complex era in which we live.If anyone is thinking of exploring their family tree I would be happy to give them some pointers.
  8. The acting in Micheaux's silent films is comparable to the acting in Hollywood silent films of the period. Compare BODY AND SOUL to any Hollywood silent film released at that time. The acting in his sound films is inferior to that in major Hollywood studios of the time altough not that differnt than what you would find in Hollwyood poverty row studios (PRC, Monogram,etc) b-movie sound films.
  9. Clarence Thomas believes we should follow the Constitution as originally written. The Constitution as originally written contained three clasues protecting slavery. Under that Constitution Clarence could have been sold along with the farm animals and the furnitutre. Is Clarence a genius, or what? John Howard
  10. March 25th will be the 60th anniversary of the death of Oscar Micheaux, the first major African-American film-maker. Within Our Gates and Body and Soul (with Paul Robeson) are his best films, in my opinion. Try to see them if you have not already done so, or if you have---see tham again. My recent book FACES IN THE MIRROR: OSCAR MICHEAUX AND SPIKE LEE compares our two greatest directors. John Howard My link
  11. Ntozake Shange’s choreo/play FOR COLORED GIRLS, on which the film is based, views the world from the perspective of a group of black women. If Perry had changed that in bringing the play to the screen he would truly have done damage to a great work. Of course, the film presents the world from the perspective of those women. What else would one have expected Perry to do? The major female characters (with a couple of exceptions) are those that were in the choreo/play, the dialogue they speak at critical moments in their sagas is taken from the choreo/play, many of the crises that are fleshed out in the film were alluded to by the women in the oochoreo/play. The film is an adaptation of the stage work rather than a literal rendering of it, as is any film based on a play. JohnH
  12. By now the crowd of people slamming Tyler Perry’s movies and television programs as minstrel shows could fill a large theater. One critic of his film version of FOR COLORED GIRLS called him ‘the king of coonery’. These people are, of course, wrong. Historically, minstrel shows flourished from the mid 19th century through the early 20th century. They were, for the most part, the products of white showmen using white performers in black face and were directed, overwhelmingly, at white audiences. Their function was to justify cradle to grave segregation, sanctified in law and enforced by violence, by presenting blacks as shiftless dimwits and vulgar brutes, properly kept on society’s margins because they were incapable of meeting the simplest demands of responsible citizenship. Similarly, Stepin Fetchit, Willie Best, and Mantan Moreland’s simple-minded, lazy‘coons’ of Hollywood films of the 1930's and 40's were directed primarily at white audiences. Perry’s audience is black. His performers are black, and he is black. Given his core audience of working class, church going blacks, his shows, obviously, do not serve as a cover or justification for segregation, nor are people paying good money to see themselves mocked. No one, black or white, has to like Perry, but enough already! He’s not putting on minstrel shows. As is indicated in my recent book FACES IN THE MIRROR: OSCAR MICHEAUX AND SPIKE LEE, there were black minstrels like Williams and Walker, who performed in black face. But they played before white audiences, thereby tragically compromising with and reinforcing the racism that denied them and other black performers the opportunity to show who they really were. By contrast, some of Perry’s films have provided a number of black artists (Kimberly Elise, Kerry Washington, Loretta Devine) with the opportunity to display the full range of their talents. Perry is not beyond criticism, but the criticism ought to bear some relation to reality. Whatever his faults he is not a modern minstrel show impresario. JohnH
  13. Chrishayden: You ask:"How can you separate out mysogyny against black women from mysogyny against women?" It's easy. By any measure, by any yard stick, by any metric one cares to apply, black women have been and still are dealt with much more harshly, with more contempt and disdain in this society than white women. If anyone has evidence to the contrary I would like them to present it. But in any event, my initial comments were about criticims of FOR COLORED GIRLS for presenting negative images of black males, and I would reinterate my initial observation: Any film telling stories of relationships from the standpoint of women is going to present many of the men in those relationships in critical terms. The thing for men to do is not get uptight about it, but ask if there is anything they can learn about how things look from the standpoint of the women. JohnH
  14. “Character assassination on a massive scale”, “sick cartoons”, those are some of the terms used by blog critics to describe Tyler Perry’s portrayal black men in FOR COLORED GIRLS. The same kinds of comments were made when the orginal opened on the stage years ago. My advice as a black man to other black men is, “lighten up”. The FOR COLORED GIRLS stories are about relationships and are told from the perspective of women. Any set of stories about relationships told from the perspective of women, whether they be Hispanic women, oriental women, Jewish women, or whatever, are going to present men in a problematic light. It’s inherent in the endeavor. The thing to do is not get up-tight about it. A better approach is to try to distill out the core of truth that may be present in one or another of the FOR COLORED GIRL stories in an effort to better understand the relationship one is in. -----As I discuss in my recent book FACES IN THE MIRROR: OSCAR MICHEAUX AND SPIKE LEE, it is understandable that black men are sensitive about how they are portrayed on the screen given they have often been mocked and demeaned (think Stepin Fetchit, Willie Best, and Mantan Moreland.) But a FOR COLORED GIRLS is really about conversations couples might begin if it makes sense in terms of where they are in their relationship. And of they are at a place both are happy with then it's just another movie they discuss over a pizza after the show. Johnh
  15. Troy: Would I be correct in saying that your major point is that Tyler Perry's popularity reflects a decline in literacy and cultural sophistication in American society as a whole, white and black, in recent years? If so, I would agree that there has been slippage. When I began teaching at the college level many years ago most students had at least some awareness of the major American writers (Hemingway, Faulkner, Richard Wright, later, John Updike and Toni Morrison). Now fewer and fewer do. As a consequence of teaching film courses I'm aware that the wit and sophistication found in many older films is harder to find in many contemporary films, but I am also aware of how the creativity of a film maker can evolve over time. The Oscar Micheaux who made BODY AND SOUL was a much better film maker than the Oscar Micheaux who made THE HOMESTEADER. Bringing a choreo/poem stage-work like FOR COLORED GIRLS was extremely difficult to do well. Perry has not done it perfectly, but what he did put on the screen reflected seriousness and an understanding of Shange's masterpiece. He has grown as a film maker and, hopefully, will continue to grow. Johnh
  16. Interesting question. I would say this: Micheaux's film makiing career went through several phases. Two of his first three films, WITHIN OUR GATES (1919) and SYMBOL OF THE UNCONSQUERED (1920)were daring, striking and original. BODY AND SOUL (1925) is as fine a silent film as one will find anywhere. But mamy of his films, particularly during the 1930's, did have formulaic plots and emblematic characters: for esample, THE GIRL FROM CHICAGO (1932),TEMPTATION (1936) , UNDERWORLD (1937). I do not say this in condemnation of him. He survived under brutally difficult circumstances longer than any other 'race film' maker. He worked in a rigidly segregated American in which Hollywood would not have hired him for any behind the camera job, except pushing a broom. That said, there are some significant simalarities between Micheaux and Tyler Perry. Micheaux was, in effect, his own studio. He wrote, directed, and distributed his his own films over much of his career. During the 1920's he was hailed in the black community as 'the great and only.' Perry, working in a very different America, has also become, in effect, his own studio. Interestingly, he has gained a degree of economic autonomy than Spike Lee ever had insofar as he is not dependent on Hollywood financing for his films. What he lacks, thus far, is Lee's artistic vision or the creative insight that Micheaux brought to the first three films named above. But, FOR COLORED GIRLS indicates that he might be on his way there. Johnh
  17. -----Pity poor Tyler Perry! -----I know he’s fabulously rich–but pity him anyway—he get’s no respect -----The language used to attack his film version of FOR COLORED GIRLS is harsh: “Utter failure...”, “suffocating melodrama...”, “...calamitous...”, “...train wreck of a movie...” are a few of the milder comments. His adaptation of the Ntozake Shange play is deemed to have “...wrung the beauty and truth out of the original in almost every possible way...”, and he is accused of indulging “...his worst instincts for melodrama...”. In addition, he is alleged to be “tone deaf...” to the “passion and courage...” of the original work. (Actually two critics accuse him of being tone deaf.). -----But there is a peculiar condescension in some of the criticism from black critics, reflective perhaps of class differences. One critic wondered why Perry had gained popularity in the black community, speculating that “Maybe it’s easy for whole church buses to go see a Perry flick after Sunday service.” But suggests, the critic continued, that “...we don’t have the sense of a billy goat when it comes to choosing meaningful entertainment.” Another critic observed that “working class and or church-going Black folks...” were drawn to Perry’s “simplistic” plays to fill a void in their lives. -----The roots of this condescension are implicit in one critics identification of the audience for Shange’s play in contrast, by implication, to the audience for Perry’s work, “Ask any black female, especially the artsy/moody/self aware type about For Colored Girls and she will respond with a wistful look and fond memories.” -----It’s the ‘artsy/moody/self aware’ part that hints at a view of the prols as a wee bit crude and lacking in sensitivity. -----In a radio interview in connection with my recently published book FACES IN THE MIRROR: OSCAR MICHEAUX AND SPIKE LEE I was asked about Tyler Perry and my response was this: If his core church-going, working class black audience loves him, who am I to knock their choice or offer excuses for why they make that choice. In any event I liked Why Did I Get Married, Too and loved the For Colored Girls movie. Johnh
  18. The publishing world has undergone a revloution in the last 10 years. My book FACES IN THE MIRROR: OSCAR MICHEAUX AND SPIKE LEE was recently published by Fireside. Eleven years ago a book I wrote on the Supreme Court and civil rights was published. In the decade between the publication of the two books, marketing underwent a sea change, mostly due to the internet. I want to pass on a few tips to current authors and receive a few tips. (1) Get a Facebook website for your book. This can cost you or your publisher some money but a professional-looking site can be gotten at a reasonable cost. A site will allow you to post regularly about your book and (hopefully) develop a fan base. It aalso allows you to keep viewers abreast of your book reading/signing events and can boost turnout. (2) Find and join relevant Yahoo, Facebook and Google groups. My book deals with African-American film. There are dozens of such groups on the net, allowing me to post to a combined membership in the thousands. (3) Through sites like Reader's Circle identify book clubs, bookstores, and other venues that might be interested in having you a do a book reading/signing can be identifies and contacted. These are somethings that immediately come to mind. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts and suggestions. In addition to replying here access my Facebook site at Faces In The Mirror. Thanks. John Howard
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