Monday, January 19, 2009

This Day Didn't Come Easy

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a United States holiday marking the birthdate of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., observed on the third Monday of January each year, around the time of King's birthday, January 15. It is one of three United States federal holidays to commemorate an individual person.

King was the chief spokesman of the nonviolent civil rights movement, which successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law. He was assassinated in 1968.

The campaign for a federal holiday in King's honor began soon after his assassination. Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, and it was first observed in 1986.

At first, some states resisted observing the holiday as such, giving it alternative names or combining it with other holidays. It was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was founded as a holiday promoted by labor unions in contract negotiations. After King's death, United States Representative John Conyers (D-Michigan, Pictured right) introduced a bill in Congress to make King's birthday a national holiday. The bill first came to a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1979. However, it fell five votes short of the number needed for passage. Two of the main arguments mentioned by opponents were that a paid holiday for federal employees would be too expensive, and that a holiday to honor a private citizen would be contrary to longstanding tradition (King had never held public office).

Later, The King Center turned to support from the corporate community and the general public. The success of this strategy was cemented when musician Stevie Wonder released the single "Happy Birthday" to popularize the campaign in 1980 and hosted the Rally for Peace Press Conference in 1981. Six million signatures were collected for a petition to Congress to pass the law, termed by a 2006 article in The Nation as "the largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. history."

At the White House Rose Garden on November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating a federal holiday to honor King. (pictured below) It was observed for the first time on January 20, 1986.

Reluctance to observe day
Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina) led opposition to the bill and questioned whether King was important enough to receive such an honor. He also criticized King's opposition to the Vietnam War and accused him of espousing "action-oriented Marxism".

Ronald Reagan was also opposed to the holiday. He threatened to veto the King Day bill but recanted only after Congress passed it with an overwhelming veto-proof majority (338 to 90 in the House of Representatives and 78 to 22 in the Senate)

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) voted against the creation of the holiday to honor King, and later defended Arizona Republican Governor Mecham's rescinding of the state holiday in honor of King created by his Democratic predecessor. After his opposition grew increasingly untenable, McCain reversed his position, and encouraged his home state of Arizona to recognize the holiday despite opposition from then-Governor Evan Mecham.

In 1990, Arizonans were given an opportunity to vote to observe an MLK holiday. McCain successfully appealed to former President Ronald Reagan to support the holiday. Prior to that date, New Hampshire and Arizona had not observed the day. Throughout the 1990s, this was heavily criticized. After a 1990 proposition to recognize the holiday in Arizona did not pass, the National Football League boycotted hosting Super Bowl XXVII at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. The hip-hop group Public Enemy recorded a song titled "By The Time I Get To Arizona", on their 1991 album Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black, in which they describe assassinating Arizona Governor Fife Symington III for his opposition to the holiday.

On May 2, 2000, South Carolina governor Jim Hodges signed a bill to make Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday an official state holiday. South Carolina was the last state to recognize the day as a paid holiday for all state employees. Prior to this, employees could choose between celebrating Martin Luther King Day or one of three Confederate holidays.

Overall, in 2007, 33% of employers gave employees the day off, while 33% of large employers over 1,000 and 32% of smaller employers gave time off. The observance is most popular amongst nonprofit organizations and least popular among factories and manufacturers. The reasons for this have varied, ranging from the recent addition of the holiday (each year more businesses are closed than the year before, although often those that do choose to close "make it up" by no longer closing for Presidents Day) to its occurrence just two weeks after the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, when many businesses are closed for part or sometimes all of the week. Additionally, many schools and places of higher education are closed for classes; others remain open but may hold seminars or celebrations of Dr. King's message.

Alternative names
While all states now observe the holiday, some did not name the day after King.

In Utah, the holiday was known as "Human Rights Day" until the year 2000, when the Utah State Legislature voted to change the name of the holiday from Human Rights Day to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In that same year Governor Michael O. Leavitt signed the bill officially naming the holiday "Martin Luther King, Jr. Day".

In Virginia, it was known as Lee-Jackson-King Day. The incongruous nature of the holiday, which simultaneously celebrated the lives of Confederate Army generals and a civil rights icon, did not escape the notice of Virginia lawmakers. In 2000, a Martin Luther King Day was established in Virginia.

In Arizona and New Hampshire, Martin Luther King Day is known as "Martin Luther King, Jr. Civil Rights Day".

Information from Wikipedia,_Jr._Day

To end, a look back

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mo' Money, Still Fourth

Martin Luther King Jr. Day isn't until tomorrow, but already Exhibitor Relations says this weekend (Friday, January 16 to Sunday, January 18) is Hollywood's biggest-grossing MLK weekend ever, and one of its top 10 highest grossing weekends of all time.

Those were the findings from a monster weekend at the box office that was led, surprisingly, by Kevin James' Paul Blart: Mall Cop, (poster pictured right) a $26 million, mustache-sporting goof that grossed a serious $33.8 million Friday-Sunday, per studio estimates compiled today by Exhibitor Relations.

Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino ($22.2 million), last weekend's No. 1 film, slipped to second, but stayed strong. Notorious ($21.5 million), the Sean Combs-produced biopic about his friend, the slain rap star, debuted in fourth, but made more money per theater than any film reporting grosses.

Notorious earned its multimillions the hard way, debuting on 1,500 fewer screens than Paul Blart, and nearly 900 fewer than My Bloody Valentine.
Here's a recap of the top-grossing weekend films based on estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:

1. Paul Blart: Mall Cop, $33.8 million
2. Gran Torino, $22.2 million
3. My Bloody Valentine 3-D, $21.9 million
4. Notorious, $21.5 million
5. Hotel for Dogs, $17.7 million
6. Bride Wars, $11.8 million
7. The Unborn, $9.8 million
8. Defiance, $9.2 million
9. Marley & Me, $6.3 million
10. Slumdog Millionaire, $5.9 million

(Written by Joal Ryan-E! Online, edited by Cool Black)

Cool Black's Mad Commentary: Screens, screens, and did I say screens is the key to box office success boys and girls. It's simple math, the more screens you are playing, the more money you will make. A "mainstream" movie like Paul Blart: Mall Cop will always debut on more screens than a movie like Notorious especially where one is a "family friendly" rated PG comedy and the other is a R rated "hip hop" film.

Since Notorious "made more money per theater than any film" perhaps you can consider this film a box office success, but I was hoping it would be #1. I guess to quote Biggie, "it was all a dream".

You can read my review of the film Notorious here and read more about the film here

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hollywood's Leading Man

From Sammy Davis Jr. to Dave Chappelle’s Black Bush, how pop culture tested the waters for a black president.
By Teresa Wiltz

Published on The Root (

Back, back, way back in the day, Hollywood was ahead of the curve, plugging its candidate for the first black president. From Sammy Davis Jr. to Chappelle’s Black Bush, how pop culture tested the waters for a black man running the nation.

“Am I gonna be a great man, Mammy?”
“You sho’ is, youse gwine be president.
The book says anybody here can be president.”
"Ain’t that somethin’!”
—Sammy Davis Jr. and Ethel Waters in Rufus Jones for President

Before anybody had even heard of Barack Obama, before anyone had even considered his presidency a possibility, it was out there, this notion of a brother as commander in chief. Decades before Dennis Haysbert tried to avert bioterrorist threats on 24. Eons before Morgan Freeman comforted a terrified nation about that massive meteor hurtling toward Earth in Deep Impact. Back, back, way back in the day, Hollywood was ahead of the curve, plugging its candidate for the first black president

Sammy Davis Jr. Specifically, a 7-year-old Sammy Davis Jr. tap dancing, clutching a chicken wing and singing “(I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead) You Rascal You,” as part of his acceptance speech in Rufus Jones For President.

Well, it was 1933. But still, with that 21-minute musical short, Hollywood set a tone for a radical notion.

There are those who say that Hollywood prepared Americans for electing a black president, that seeing black presidents—not to mention The Cosby Show —on screen over the decades somehow readied the American psyche for last November’s Great Leap of Faith.

Right before the election, Dennis Haysbert declared, “If anything, my portrayal of David Palmer, I think, may have helped open the eyes of the American people. And I mean the American people from across the board—from the poorest to the richest, every color and creed, every religious base—to prove the possibility there could be an African-American president, a female president, any type of president that puts the people first."

24 creator Robert Cochran said: “It’s the job of artists and storytellers to anticipate the future and either spot trends or spot things that ought to be happening. It’s not surprising that these things happen in fiction before they do in real life.”

Hmmm. Clearly pop culture has a powerful hold on the national imagination. Just think of all the 8-year-old girls who bop around suburban McMansions, doing the Beyoncé booty shake. Or the 12-year-olds who watch Hancock over and over again, wishing that they could be Will Smith.
But if anything, before Haysbert’s David Palmer, Hollywood did more to reinforce the absurdity of a black president than the intriguing possibility.

In portrayals like Sammy Davis Jr.’s, the concept was portrayed as so far-fetched, so outrageous, that it could only be treated as the object of crude, slapstick humor. In later years, it was approached with freakish sci-fi implausibility, usually set up by a disaster scenario like that which confronted Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact or Tiny Lister in The Fifth Element.
When faced with the prospect of a black person running things, Hollywood suits, it seemed, literally didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

Still, it was a trope that popped up repeatedly in pop culture, from Dizzy Gillespie’s whimsical 1963 faux campaign (“Vote Dizzy! Vote Dizzy!”) to James Earl Jones in The Man in 1972, to Rudy Ray Moore’s raunchy Dolemite 4 President comedy album in the same year. And let’s not forget about that other Clinton—George, of Parliament Funkadelic fame—demanding that we “Paint the White House Black” in ’93.

Whether the device was comic, tragic or ironic, the juxtaposition of the ultimate seat of power against the relative powerlessness of the black man spoke volumes about how Americans viewed racial stratification and the possibility for change. (And forget about a black woman; only Rosalind Cash came anywhere close, playing the first black vice president in the 1982 satire, Wrong Is Right.)

In the wake of the civil rights movement, pop culture exploded with images of black potency, particularly black male potency. There was Richard Roundtree in Shaft and Ron O’Neal in Superfly and Jim Kelly karate-chopping it up in Enter The Dragon.

Then there was The Man, with James Earl Jones serving up the ultimate symbol of black masculinity, a Blaxploitation-era president. But even in The Man, the African-American protagonist couldn’t catch a break. “The First Black President of the United States,” read the posters plugging the movie. “First They Swore Him In. Then They Swore to Get Him.”
And then there was the dashiki-clad first lady, giving him drama, accusing him of being an Uncle Tom and demanding, “How the hell do you get out of the first family, anyway?”
“You just pick an exit, and walk,” Jones told her, and so she did.

It’s hard to find any traces of The Man these days, beyond a two-minute clip on YouTube . But the film, based on a novel by Irving Wallace and adapted for the screen by Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame, did set a precedent in the black president canon: James’ president was a stoic, heroic figure who is in power thanks to a catastrophic occurrence. In The Man, the president and the speaker of the House are killed in a freak accident; the vice president is too sick to fill in.

It was a long way from the bug-eyed antics of Rufus Jones, where the all-black Senate was told to check their knives at the door. But it was far from a testament to American possibility.

Hold your hands in the air
And wave ‘em like you just don’t care
If I’ve got your vote for president
Let me hear you say ‘Oh Yeah’
--Chris Rock as Mays Gilliam in Head of State

White Hollywood executives were not the only ones who had a hard time taking a black president seriously. Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, everyone, it seemed, wanted to be president for a day. Everyone, that is, who made a living touring the chitlin’ circuits at a time when the comedy album ruled. You had Blowfly , whose solution to the conflict in the Middle East was “more orgies.” And there was Rudy Ray Moore as Dolemite, elucidating his platform: Legalize prostitution, legalize marijuana, legalize stealing and any other "MF…ing thing you want to do.”
“It was just a way to wring some extra laughs out of the same old street humor,” said TV writer David Mills, who blogged about old school black comics on his blog, Undercover Black Man . “The humor isn’t otherwise sophisticated or rich with political insight or social comment.”

With Head of State (2003), Chris Rock played with the fish-out-of-water theme, with his black president, an alderman/community organizer who finds himself thrust into the race almost by accident, chosen to run against a war hero after a feminist woman candidate decides that she’d rather run in four years when she has a better chance. Sound familiar? “When you look back at it, the similarities of the [Obama] campaign, it’s striking,” says Ali LeRoi, who co-wrote Head of State with Rock. (Rock also directed.) “At the time, we didn’t think it was going to happen any time soon. That in five years—five years!—a black guy not only would be running, but would win.”

Other comics, like Eddie Murphy in 1983 , used the assassination theme as a running gag, tapping into the black fear that a black president wouldn’t last past the first day, sure to be felled by some neo-Nazi zealot: Jesse Jackson, he quipped, wasn’t just running for president, he was running to keep in shape—the better to dodge those bullets.

Dave Chappelle picked up on the meme in his stand-up routines, cracking, “I’d be the first black president… I don’t think anyone will hurt me… Because my vice president will be Mexican. For a little insurance.”But at least one black comic used the black president shtick to make a political point. In ’77, Richard Pryor played with the concept on his short-lived skit series, The Richard Pryor Show .

He’s the first black president, at a press conference, somberly answering the reporter’s questions in political speak: “The neutron bomb is a whole-cost weapon. It’s not within the cellular realm of reality. It’s a neo-pacificist weapon.”

But once the black reporters start asking questions, the rage beneath the sober façade starts to peep through, and the president’s agenda becomes evident. Huey Newton will run the FBI, he declares: “He knows the ins and outs of [it].” When a white reporter says something provocative about his mama, well, let’s just say that even the first black president has his limits.
Stinging satire, of course, is uncomfortable—even when (especially when) it’s of the Pryor variety, or that of Chappelle’s Black Bush.

The noble, unthreatening calm of David Palmer, was, perhaps more palatable for the American public—and a better primer for the real thing. As Cochran, the creator, tells it, in creating the character of President David Palmer, he wasn’t conscious of aiming for anything loftier than telling a good story. Colin Powell had been talking about running for president, Cochran says, so the notion was floating around. But, he says, “we weren’t trying to make any particular social statement. It worked in terms of the tension, it worked in terms of getting a great actor, and it was a little different from what you normally see.”

Palmer’s assassination in season five was a way to explore racial tensions on a subliminal level, according to Cochran. Casting Palmer’s brother, played by D.B. Woodside, as the next black president was meant to tap into a Kennedyesque vibe, with Woodside taking on the role of a black Bobby Kennedy, carrying on the legacy of his slain brother, and facing an assassination attempt of his own. (He got to live, though.)But even with two black presidents on 24, their power was diminished. Ultimately, it always took white Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) to save the day.

So now that we have a black president, how will we react to media portrayals? Will there be pressure among writers and producers to create black leaders who feel real and black-led administrations that feel plausible? Will we, as viewers, be able to enjoy over-the-top portrayals of black presidents, such as Terry Crews’ wig-wearing wrestler in Idiocracy , as merely fun entertainment, devoid of racial and social commentary?

Might we perhaps see a black actor playing the lead in a complex drama like The West Wing, or a romantic comedy along An American President, where the president gets to be a fully fleshed out human, and not a cardboard icon? And isn’t it about time that we saw a portrayal of an African-American president who just happens to be a woman, too? For its season finale in December, Heroes showed a glimpse of a seemingly duplicitous president, plotting with Sen. Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar) to quarantine all those with hero powers. Right before the episode faded to black, we got a glimpse of the president’s face. A face that looked a lot like Barack Obama’s.

It’ll be interesting to see, when Heroes returns in February, how prominent a role their new black president plays in the series. Will he be as complicated and conflicted as the rest of the multiracial cast? It’s going to take a minute for pop culture to process the momentous change that November unleashed. As art influences life, so does life influence art. More than likely, TV shows will catch on quicker than the movies do. They’ve got a much shorter lead time, which enables them to respond quickly to current events. And these days, television shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Ugly Betty routinely feature multiracial casts in a way that we’ve yet to see in the movies.

One change is certain. The Can-You-Believe-A-Brother-is-in-the-White-House comedy will have to be retired because, well, the joke doesn’t work any more . (So too, will the jokes about the black president dodging bullets.) And presidential comedy may suffer for a time. Writers and viewers will likely be a little sensitive to satire about our first. But as President Obama grows into his new role, showing us that he’s a flesh-and-blood president capable of making mistakes—and not a saintly, boring icon protecting us from that dastardly meteor—we’ll relax, too. Comics will take him on, and we’ll laugh.

Teresa Wiltz is a regular contributor to The Root.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Notorious R.E.V.I.E.W.

Jamal Woolard - Christopher "Biggie" Wallace
Angela Bassett - Voletta Wallace
Derek Luke - Sean "Diddy" Combs
Anthony Mackie - Tupac Shakur
Antonique Smith - Faith Evans
Naturi Naughton - Lil' Kim
Marc John Jefferies - Cease

George Tillman, Jr. - Director
Michael Grady – Cinematographer
Reggie Rock Bythewood, Cheo Hodari Coker - Screenwriters
Wayne Barrow, Trish Hofmann, Mark Pitts, Robert Teitel,
Voletta Wallace, Dennis White
- Producers

Released: January 16, 2009 (USA)

REVIEW by Cool Black
I’m gonna say it from the start, this movie is ok. Don’t get it twisted, I didn’t hate it and it’s not a bad movie, but if you just can’t wait and expect it to be a classic bio pic, it’s not.

First time actor Jamal Woolard did a great job of bringing Biggie to the big screen. He captured all the charm and humor that we all know and heard about Biggie. The supporting characters are just that. The film spends more time with Biggie and “his women” (hip hop heads will know who they are) than with Puffy or Tupac. Don’t go expecting to see a lot about his relationship with either men.

Written by hip-hop journalist Cheo Hodari Coker (Vibe magazine) and writer/director Reggie Rock Bythewood this film definitely has it’s hip-hop facts straight. For a lot of people who were down (and by “down” I mean informed) with all the East/West drama, the film doesn’t break any new ground and doesn’t tell any new points of view. To people who didn’t know ANYTHING about Notorious B.I.G. after seeing this film you can say, “if you don’t know, now you know”.

Director George Tillman, Jr. (Soul Food) did a good job and the performance scenes look like…performances. Don’t get it twisted though, you won’t see Biggie reincarnated, but there is one performance that will get you swayin’ like Biggie.

This film is straight up hip hop and not a film to be "takin' the kids" because they like Biggie's music. It is Rated R and here's the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) language "Contains pervasive language, strong sexuality including dialogue, nudity, and for drug content." For adults like me who lived through the hip hop represented in the film, no B.I.G. thang. (You know I had to throw a pun in there), but leave your teens at home.

In the end, as the film is about Christopher "Notorious B.I.G." Wallace, the best performance came from newcomer Jamal Woolward who played him and I guess, as it should be.

You can see pictures the trailer and more in my previous blog entry Notorious


My review of the biography here