Monthly Archives: April 2012

Quick thought

It seems like the fastest way to get ahead and get noticed in journalism is to somehow create a huge public spectacle of yourself, whether intentionally by deliberately ratting out the company you work for, or unintentionally by making a press release about the new job you haven’t started yet, getting fired and gaining sympathy from hungry job recruiters. Strange, because it seems like merit and subtlety had always been the name of the game…

Now that you’ve seen Scandal, please save your rants about race

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OK, so we all watched “Scandal” tonight, right? ABC has promoted this nonstop in the last few weeks — endless commercials and paid Twitter ads abound.

I watched because I’m a fan of Kerry Washington. I loved her in “Ray.” But the elephant in the room is the blind support us black TV watchers have to show to shows with black lead characters. Lately there’s been a backlash against this — not everybody watches Tyler Perry’s sitcoms and we’ve given critical reviews of BET’s attempts at bringing back black sitcoms. Still, this was a pop culture moment: Black woman leading a hourlong series on one of the major networks.

I wasn’t so much the black viewer supporting a black show, per se. I was curious about how a series scripted by a black woman (Shonda Rhimes) starring a black woman would fare when the topic itself isn’t rooted in black culture. Unlike, say, “Soul Food” the series or “City of Angels,” there wasn’t an all-black cast and the issues aren’t necessarily reflective of black America.

That all said, I can see where the complaints are going to start rolling in. I can hear it now — “she’s not black enough.” “Where are the other black characters?” “Why does she have to be involved with [white character who I won't name to avoid spoilers]?” (I actually thought the relationship between those two reminded me of John and Mamie on “The Young and the Restless” in the early ’90s. #thingsonlyAaronwouldknow)

On the other side of the coin will be those die-hard, support-everything black TV viewers will be on guard for any sort of criticism lobbied at the show. “Why can’t you support a positive black show?” “Why do you have to hate?” “Why can’t we have good things without someone ruining it?” Nowadays, you can’t criticize anything black without being called a hater, and that’s sad because people with valid opinions will be stifled because they want to keep up appearances.

I do have some criticisms after one episode. Actingwise, Kerry was on her A-game; the other actors weren’t. That’ll sink the ship immediately if that isn’t fixed. I see some MAJOR character flaws in Kerry’s character that will eventually become annoying, kind of how Meredith Grey on Rhimes’ “Grey’s Anatomy” gets really annoying. The blueprint is there, and yes I will throw shade at it when I see it. That said, I won’t be criticizing her because she’s a black woman. I’ll be criticizing her because she’s a fictional character who just happens to be black.

But this is what we face as characters who happen to be black lead television shows: The arguments that will crop up that are directly related to race. Just for once, I’d like to leave race out of the discussion. Is that possible? We’ll see.

Mary J, please have a seat

During April Fool’s weekend, of all weekends, Burger King launched a new ad campaign that quickly drew fire because in one of the ads, Mary J. Blige sings about chicken. Singing all extra about a tasty tortilla, and throwing up six fingers for three cheeses. BK has had singers poking fun at their images before (I’m thinking Darius Rucker’s ad a few years ago), but with this ad, you really can’t tell if MJB is in on the joke or not.

Never mind that BK committed two advertising cardinal sins: Urban music used to market chicken products, and white people dancing off-beat to it. It’s very possible that BK was, in a sick, twisted way, making fun of “urban” ads we’ve been bombarded with for years. But considering the rush to bring down the commercial from YouTube and other sites (and blaming it on copyright issues even though one would assume BK would have had to seek copyright permissions before even filming the ad), maybe not so.

On The Detroit News’ Poptropolis blog, Adam Graham says it might be a good thing because people are talking about MJB again after her last album pretty much flopped. While I like Adam’s work, I have to respectfully disagree.

People are talking about MJB for all the wrong reasons, and this ad is just the latest in a series of career missteps. When Mary bombs, she bombs huge. Her image has always been that of a serious, soul singer who’s been more about the music than the product. But it’s been hard for Mary to maintain that image.

Who could forget that horrendous VIBE cover from a few years ago? Or her claiming to have been accepted to Howard University even though she only holds a GED? Or that epic, epic, damn-you-autocorrect fail of the decade when she demanded that no one “understand estimate my intelligents“? Her Twitter breakdown after losing out on an Oscar nomination?

To be fair, some of those were beyond her control. The things within her control after a 20-year career are inexcusable. Since “The Breakthrough,” it seems MJB has been working too hard to hold onto her crown that no one, not even Keyshia Cole, could snatch. From lending her voice to damn near everyone’s remix or hook (Robin Thicke’s “Magic,” Ne-Yo’s “Do You,” T.I.’s “Remember Me,” Musiq’s overly generic “IfULeave,” and so on) to dropping album after album of radio filler, it seems like the MJB who effortlessly gave us classics of the ’90s has devolved into merely staying relevant. The My Life II, the prologue, the Intermission, the Haiku, whatever she called it album title was the last straw for me.

And to be honest, Mary and national advertising don’t really mesh well, anyway. I couldn’t stand her Chevrolet ads around the time of “The Breakthrough” album — particularly the one where she’s driving a Tahoe with all of her former incarnations of herself. Remember that one? What does the journey between “What’s the 411?” and “The Breakthrough” have to do with a Tahoe?

No one can take MJB’s place, but it seems like she’s inadvertently losing her grip. Maybe after 20 years in the game, this is her “awkward phase” that Janet and other long-standing divas have gone through. That means MJB is around the corner from a proper comeback. Until that time, however, please have a seat.

Where are the middle-class black folks in the movies?

So, I’m doing laundry and in between loads (thank goodness I’m no longer a slave to quarters…), I’m watching TV. DISH Network didn’t let me know I apparently had a free preview of HBO, Cinemax and Starz, so I flip over to see what they’ve got on. I turn on “Jumping the Broom,” the black wedding movie that made a splash last year in the theaters and essentially greenlighted the Akil production team to go forward with the Detroit-filmed remake of “Sparkle,” Whitney Houston’s last film.

I’d seen the last half of “Jumping the Broom” when Paula Patton and Laz Alonso actually, well, jumped the broom, so I caught the first half and went on washing clothes. The movie itself was fine, but I just have issues with yet another black film with a clash of rich black folks and poor black folks.

Almost every Tyler Perry film ever made has this theme (and pretty much all of them period show black families on the upper tiers of the wealth ladder), and we’d also seen extreme displays of wealth in “This Christmas” and “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins,” the latter of which heavily touched on the rich vs. poor theme. And we’ll never get enough of poor or disenfranchised blacks on screen; the last two black Oscar winners won for their roles “Precious” and “The Help.”

I’m fortunate enough to come of age in the 1990s/2000s when we had black people of all classes on screen. We lived in the hood (Boyz N the Hood, Menace II Society, Set it Off), raised families in nice neighborhoods (Love and Basketball, Soul Food), could be wealthy or well-respected (Eve’s Bayou, How Stella Got Her Groove Back) or young and upwardly mobile (The Best Man, Brown Sugar), and everything in between. So what happened to that?

I’m having trouble looking for the people that look like me on screen — and no, I don’t necessarily need another romantic comedy (I’m looking at you, Think Like a Man). Like, where are the people who go to regular jobs every day? Not cleaning toilets or dictating orders to a secretary — but the people in between? Where are the people who drive four-door sedans that are a few payments away from being paid off, the people who live in three-bedroom colonials, the people who drink rum and cokes instead of cosmos and mimosas (or can’t afford to indulge at all), the people whose parents went to college without the weight of the world on their shoulders because their grandparents had adequately worked for that right?

Is there room in Hollywood for simple, everyday black people anymore?

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