Thursday, February 04, 2016

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AFRICAN HISTORY MONTH



(Repost of an article I wrote for Vue Weekly in 2008)
It’s African History Month again, and across the city and across the continent, folk are gearing up for education and celebration. But not everyone is celebrating. Some folks are fighting over the name. Others are saying the month shouldn’t even exist.

“All other peoples take up the other eleven months well,” says Winston Hawthorne, an engineer and community activist with the National Black Coalition of Canada, a major force behind the Month in E-Town. “We just need a little space for ourselves so we have time to talk with ourselves, see ourselves and do for ourselves. We’re behind in self-representation.”

Reminds me of Berke Breathed’s popular Bloom County comic strip, years ago, when one lad asked the sole Black character, Oliver Wendell Jones, why Ebony magazine should exist. If Ebony is okay, shouldn’t Ivory be all right? What Breathed and his boy didn’t get is that all the other mags on the stand are already ivory, by default. Nothing wrong with that, of course--a majority White population should be reflected culturally in its own media. But representation—and who’s doing the representing—are issues of justice in societies rife with racial discrimination from employment to housing to medicine.

African History Month, called also African Heritage Month and Black History Month, began in the 1926 US with the efforts of Carter G. Woodson (The Miseducation of the Negro) who established Negro History Week. Originally an American-only observance, the concept spread across North America. And according to Hawthorne, it hasn’t been easy. “It’s reaching the consciousness of people more than it has in the past,” he says. “But the progress has been slow. We hope to have seen more collaboration and activism for the entire year coming out of it. Several years ago the only organisation would have been [NBCC]. Now there are several, and individuals.”

This year in Edmonton, highlights of AHM include two art exhibitions, the Afro-Quiz (a Jeopardy-like contest for children and youth on global African cultures, history, science and more), a fashion showcase, a tribute to Marvin Gaye, Taste of Africa and the Caribbean, two film festivals, banquets, awards, and a Jubilee gospel concert featuring multiple Grammy-winner Yolanda Adams.

An ongoing controversy exists among people of African descent that finds few parallels among other peoples. Whereas East Asians rarely call themselves “yellow” and people from Europe tend to cite their individual national heritage (Irish, Italian, Polish) rather than the self-description “White,” many New World Africans continue to reject the term “African” in favour of the word “Black.”

Hawthorne, whose Jamaican roots wind their way through England, employs both terms, and routinely wears beautiful shirts from West Africa as visible embrace of the Motherland. He laments the rejection of Africa he’s witnessed among New Worlders. “The Caribbean [African], much like the North American African, does not know the ground he stands on,” he says, “because his education comes from the mainstream. Along with that education comes the perception of Africa that is still negative. Among a lot of Black people, we want to be seen as a winner, and the winner appears to be someone else, sadly. Which is why we need African History Month.”

Hawthorne underplays the “anti-winner” story of Africa that is the rule in the “his-tory” of the West. From movies to schoolbooks, from newspapers to documentaries, “Africa” used to mean grass skirts, “ooga-booga,” and cannibals. Now the stereotypes are more likely now those of endless wars, bloated bellies, misogyny, and filth. No less than French Neanderthal-in-Chief Nicolas Sarkozy declared that Africans have no history while--wait for it--he was at the University of Dakar in Senegal addressing Senegalese. Yet just across the border in Mali was fabled Timbuktu. A name known in North American as an almost Dr. Seussian non-sense term, the real Timbuktu was an ancient university city, home to thousands of manuscripts which even now are being translated for their treatises on medicine, astronomy, mathematics, literature, history, and more.

Sarkozy was close to Nigeria, home to the Yoruba religion, a wellspring of divine inspiration which birthed the New World religions of Voudou (Haiti), CandomblĂ© (Brazil), Santeria (Cuba) and more, with somewhere around 50 million adherents worldwide (far more than Judaism, the Baha’i faith and Mormonism combined). And what about the Horn? Ethiopia with its castles and rock-hewn churches; Sudan with its hundreds of pyramids and a written text only recently decoded; and Egypt itself, child of Sudan and, according to Cheikh Anta Diop (The African Origin of Civilisation: Myth or Reality?), Martin Bernal (Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilisation) and Richard Poe (Black Spark, White Fire: Did African Explorers Civilise Ancient Europe?), a robustly African population and civilisation whose arts and sciences were the foundation for the Greek “miracle.” Writing itself may have begun among those ancient Africans.

“We will need African History Month so long as we fail to get over the legacy of history, until the Black peoples are standing on equal footing,” says Hawthorne. “It’s mainly up to us. We will need one until we’ve achieved equality.”

Monday, February 01, 2016

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GIL SCOTT HERON, “THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED” POET ON THE WOMEN WHO MADE HIM, THE DUTY OF ARTISTS, AND THE TRUTH ABOUT GANGSTA RAP (MF GALAXY 063)


ART AND EDUCATION VS. THE US PRISON-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX, POPULAR SELECTIVE MEMORY ABOUT MALCOLM X, HIS FINAL BOOK, AND HOW CORPORATE MEDIA DISTORTS ENTERTAINERS AND CRUSADERS

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“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is perhaps the best-known line of poetry of any post-war American poet. Gil Scott-Heron’s accomplishments and views allow for many labels, none of which encompass the man: jazz musician, singer-songwriter, poet, novelist, and historian. Born in 1949, Scott-Heron released more than twenty albums, two novels (the first published when he was 19), and the 2012 memoir The Last Holiday about Stevie Wonder’s campaign to enshrine Martin Luther King’s birthday as a US national holiday.) His work is political, personal, and always richly poetical.

In July, 1999, Wayne Malcolm of CJSW Community Radio Calgary and I met with Gil Scott-Heron at the Calgary Folk Festival. He discussed:

  • The importance of his mother and his grandmother in his early life
  • How he got pigeonholed as a political artist despite the broad range of his art and life
  • The significance and illusions of gangster rap
  • Art and education vs. the US prison-industrial complex
  • Scott Heron’s thoughts on popular selective memory about Malcolm X
  • His first novel, written when Scott-Heron when he was only 19, and the subject of his final novel
  • How his lyrics address manhood and his own personal experience of being a husband and a father
  • His collaboration with Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest, and
  • How corporate media distort our perceptions of famous entertainers or famous crusaders


He began by talking about his famous father who was known as the Black Arrow—and no, he wasn’t a superhero.

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Monday, January 25, 2016

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WENDELL PIERCE ON HOLLYWOOD’S RACISM, AFRICAN SELF-DETERMINATION IN THE FILM BUSINESS, AND WHY HE NEARLY QUIT THE WIRE (MF GALAXY 062)

THE CRAFTS OF SCREEN VS. STAGE ACTING, THE RESPONSIBILITY OF AFRICAN CELEBRITIES IN THE US, WHY ANTWONE FISHER FAILED AT THE BOX OFFICE, AND WHY HE SAYS ISHMAEL REED IS RIGHT ABOUT THE WIRE

Best known as Detective Bunk Moreland on HBO’s The Wire, stage and screen actor Wendell Pierce has appeared in over 30 films and more than 50 television shows. He’s also an outspoken commentator on racism in US life, politics, and entertainment, and a social and economic justice activist for the people of his home town, New Orleans. He was also a top fundraiser for Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign.

Way back in 2008, Wendell Pierce came to Edmonton to shoot “Something with Bite,” the werewolf episode of the horror anthology Fear Itself produced by Lion’s Gate, written by Max Landis, who later wrote Chronicle, and directed by Ernest Dickerson, best known for Juice and Never Die Alone.

Pierce and I had a wide-ranging discussion in which he discussed:

* How he deals with disappointment about his acting performance
* The craft difference between acting for the screen and acting for the stage
* What the “domino effect” is in acting and how to use it
* Representation of Africans in US entertainment, in 2008 comments that are completely relevant to the 2015 US Academy Award nominations
* His commitment to working on films by independent African artists
* The responsibility of African celebrities in the US
* Why the superb film Antwone Fisher failed at the box office
* His opinion of the brilliant writer Ishmael Reed, who is one of the most outspoken critics of The Wire, and why he frequently considered quitting the series, and
* His analysis of the so-called War on Drugs, privatisation of education, and the US Prison-Industrial Complex

I recorded today’s never-before-aired interview with Pierce on April 30, 2008. We sat in the lobby of the downtown Sutton Place Hotel while he waited for his ride to take him to set. I began by asking him about his approach to the craft of acting.

And now on MF Galaxy, my conversation with Wendell Pierce.


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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

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REGINALD HUDLIN ON BLACK PANTHER, LUKE CAGE, MOTION COMICS, AND FILMMAKING (MF GALAXY 061)

http://tinyurl.com/hffpmsr

Reginald Hudlin is one of the most successful creators of film and television of the last twenty-five years. He leapt to prominence by writing and directing 1990’s House Party, an intelligent and hilarious film about African American teenage life, following that with, among other films, Boomerang, widely regarded as Eddy Murphy’s finest performance, and the acerbic satire The Great Whyte Hype.

In television, Hudlin created Cosmic Slop, and wrote for and produced Bebe’s Kids, one of the few animated series ever to focus on African characters in the US. He also helped launch Everybody Hates Chris, The Boondocks, and The Bernie Mac Show. He’s directed for many series, including The Office and Modern Family.

During three years as President of Entertainment for the American network Black Entertainment Television or BET, Hudlin, according to his website, “created 17 of the top 20 rated shows in the history of the network including the award-winning KEYSHIA COLE: THE WAY IT IS; AMERICAN GANGSTER; and SUNDAY BEST.”

The recipient of awards and widespread critical acclaim, Hudlin also co-authored the satirical and highly lauded graphic novel Birth of a Nation about East St. Louis seceding from the United States.

It’s Hudlin’s love of and work in comics that are the focus of this episode of MF GALAXY. Hudlin reputedly owns more than 50,000 comics, and while he was heading entertainment for all of BET, Hudlin somehow managed to write Black Panther for Marvel Comics.

Black Panther is the story of T’Challa, the king of the fictional African nation Wakanda, a country that throughout history was never conquered and achieved an unparalleled height of technology. Shockingly enough, Black Panther was created back in the early 1960s not by Richard Wright, George Schuyler, Charles Saunders or Octavia Butler, but by two of the giants of modern superhero comics, the Jewish-American creative geniuses Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, ironically just a few years before the birth of the Black Panther Party.

Under Hudlin’s creative control, Black Panther continued to combine martial arts, spy thrills, science fiction and mysticism, but more than ever a critique of American politics, an Africentric perspective, and a magnificent re-imagining of some of Marvel’s few African characters such as Luke Cage and Brother Voodoo.

Reginald Hudlin spoke with me by telephone from his home in Los Angeles on December 30, 2010. We discussed:

Why comic characters such as Blade could sustain three movies and hundreds of millions of box office dollars, but never be successful as comic books

Which has created better African characters: Hollywood, or American comic books?

The pioneering breakthrough of Milestone Comics and its dramatic conclusion

Hudlin’s approach to creating the Black Panther animated series and to rebooting Black Panther as a comic book

What the Black Panther has in common with George W. Bush

The danger of writing comics about comics, and

Hudlin’s reaction to attacks from rabid comic fans accusing him of racism for his work on Black Panther.

This episode’s conversation is from the archives of the Grand Lodge of Imhotep. Reginald Hudlin spoke with me by telephone from his home in Los Angeles on December 30, 2010. Along the way, Hudlin uses the acronym “IP,” meaning “intellectual property,” such as characters, settings, and stories. At one point in our conversation, I misidentified the Juggernaut as the Rhino, but Hudlin didn’t call me out.

We began by talking about the Black Panther. 


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The following material is exclusive to the patrons-only extended edition of MF GALAXY. You’ll hear Reginald Hudlin discuss:


  • Why some fans attacked him for marrying Black Panther to the X-Men character Storm
  • Audience and studio reactions against the sexualisation of African male characters
  • Why Hudlin downplayed his signature humour for his run on Black Panther
  • Hudlin’s re-imagining of Brother Voodoo and Luke Cage, and the relationship between Cage and Black Panther
  • Hudlin’s favourite African comics and animation creators such as Kyle Baker, Christopher Priest, Denys Cowan, and his comments on the late, great writer Dwayne McDuffie, recorded just 44 days before his death
  • The bigoted backlash against the Muslim Batman in the Batman Incorporated world, and the casting of Idris Elba in the movie Thor
  • Hudlin’s own resilience in the face of attacks from former friends and colleagues, including following his very public split with Boondocks animated series co-creator Aaron McGruder who attacked him again and again
  • Hudlin’s philosophy for success