Black History Fact: Hattie McDaniel

Time for another Black History Fact! Step into this!

mcdaniel

Hattie McDaniel (June 10, 1895 – October 26, 1952) was an American actress. She is best known for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1939) for which she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, making her the first African American to win an Academy Award.

In addition to acting in many films, McDaniel was a professional singer-songwriter, comedian, stage actress, radio performer, and television star; she was the first black woman to sing on the radio in the U.S. During her career, McDaniel appeared in over 300 films, although she received screen credits for only 80 or so.

McDaniel has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood: one at 6933 Hollywood Boulevard for her contributions to radio and one at 1719 Vine Street for acting in motion pictures. In 1975, she was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame and in 2006 became the first black Oscar winner honored with a US postage stamp.


 

My personal favorite Hattie line was when she was accused of furthering stereotypes to which she responded:

“I’d rather make $700 an hour playing a maid than $7 actually being one!”

yas

 

Quickie Post: Your Black History Fact & My February Jam

Let’s start this off with your Black History Fact of the Day!

gibson

Althea Gibson was an American tennis player and professional golfer, and the first black athlete to cross the color line of international tennis. In 1956, she became the first person of color to win a Grand Slam title (the French Open). The following year she won both Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals (precursor of the U.S. Open), then won both again in 1958, and was voted Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in both years. She won 11 Grand Slam tournaments, including six doubles titles, and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.

Come on Althea!

okuuuur


 

So if you think back to the first episode of Empire.  We opened with this song.

I’ve been listening it non-stop ever since.  I love her voice, I love the harmonies.  SO GOOD.

 

Black History Facts Plus Random Thoughts

Hey y’all! It’s been a minute, now I’m back with the jumpoff.

I saw this on our dear friend Brash’s Facebook and thought it would be important to keep up with the important Black History facts she’s sharing here on the blog.

Feb. 2nd – Meet Alexander Miles. He is credited with an important evolutionary upgrade to the elevator. You know how the doors close automatically so you can ignore that coworker you don’t like or avoid the serial killer who’s after you? And also how you don’t have to close them when you get off the elevator? Thank Mr. Miles. He also improved the closing of the elevator shaft when the elevator isn’t on a floor.

Alexander-Miles

 


 

Now some cobbled together thoughts…

Empire is still the greatest.  I’m going to get up some more detailed thoughts this week.  (Finally!)

RuPaul’s Drag Race is FINALLY back!!! Best believe I’ll be here recapping it with you all.

The Super Bowl was a good game.  Missy Elliott is the queen of everything. Let’s enjoy a retrospective of some of her greatest hits.

I listened to Work It so so so so many times.  One of the greatest songs of the early 2000’s.  The amount of practice to get the backwards lyrics is why I didn’t do well in Pre-Calculus.

One Minute Man with Trina PLUS The Get Ur Freak On Remix with Nelly Furtado has me about to flip a table.

dutty

 

Stone. Cold.  Classic.  If you don’t know this song by heart, rectify this immediately.  This is music video history.

 

That’s all for now.

Black People Are Magic

Hey y’all!

Last night, I went out to Cascade Skating Rink (you saw it in ATL, if you didn’t know it as a cultural landmark) to celebrate a great friend’s birthday.

Something about being in the skating rink watching people just show off how fly they are, hang with their friends, laugh and dance with their partners filled my heart with pride. The varying styles for voluminous Afros to wet and wavy weaves. The Brooks Brothers brothers to the Adidas track suits. There was this expansive representation of Blackness all on the floor skating to Barry White or Migos or Junior M.A.F.I.A. or Frankie Beverly. It was breathtaking.

One of the greatest things about aging has been my increased appreciation of Blackness in every aspect. My family, as wonderful as they are, has always played by the rules of respectability which guided a lot of my younger thoughts. I was prone to making grand statements about how this or that would set back the race. But as I’ve matured, I learned to see the uniqueness of my people and to treasure who we are and who I am.

Things like skating rinks and barber shops were cultural and social centers in the days of segregation. The distinct taste of the food we make and the techniques we use are products of perseverance and poverty. The way we dress, the way we move, and the way we express ourselves delights me. It’s distinctive.

That’s what makes our culture so appealing. We thrive in adversity. We celebrate when there is little reason to do so. We live our lives with a freedom that should be celebrated, not stifled.

In this time where we have to take to the streets just to ask for basic human rights and justice, I’m going to continue to champion Blackness in all of its forms. They may not all apply to me but I refuse to cherry pick which aspects I deem “acceptable” for people and a system that doesn’t give a fuck about us.

Quickie Post: Saaphyri vs. H-Town

So this was on my mind this morning:

Saaphyri is amazing. My personal favorite part of this is when Saaphyri yells “GET OFF OF ME!”  while clinging to H-Town’s hair.

beylaugh

Also: You better quit interruptin’ my prayers before God directs me to whoop your ass.

 

Let’s Talk: Empire

“Why you marry that white girl?”

                 “We met in school.  She’s brilliant!”

 “All pretty white girls are brilliant.  Even when they ain’t.”

 You all should know me well enough to know that I don’t typically watch shows with plot that requires weekly viewing.  That said, the previews for the show intrigued me and I tuned in to see how I’d like it.

Short Version

Bitch, this was so fucking good! I’m watching it until it goes off the air.

Premise

Take it away, Fox Website!

From Academy Award nominee Lee Daniels (“Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “Precious”) and Emmy Award winner Danny Strong (“Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “Game Change”), comes EMPIRE, a sexy and powerful new drama about the head of a music empire whose three sons and ex-wife all battle for his throne.

Long Version

Before we get into the specifics of the show and why it is so effective, let’s talk about framing.

The show works so well because it is so Black.  It is a Black primetime soap opera.  It takes tropes from 70’s Blaxploitation, the rise of 90’s hip hop culture, and the current climate in Black pop culture.  It combines two generations’ “20-Year Nostalgia Cycle” and makes pitch perfect style and setting choices to portray Black culture intersecting in 2015.

It’s not “African-American”.  It’s not “nu Black.” This isn’t a show for Shea Butter Twitter.

Part of the success of the direction is because of director Lee Daniels.  Having a Black gay man who lived through these specific cultural movements creates a lens that places the show squarely in my frame of reference.  The use of one of my all-time favorite YouTube hoodrat classics:

A tacky, sexual song set to a feel-good instrumental?  That’s 2000s (R. Kelly’s Happy People) and 70’s disco cheese right there.  The whole show is full of these blink or you’ll miss it “mash-up” style and cultural references that effectively create the atmosphere.  Having Timbaland do the score for this show is another fantastic choice and an example of how the atmosphere is set.  His music has always been the sound of the today and of the future.  We’ve also built such a relationship with him as a producer that his sound is distinctly 90’s and distinctly today. (Oh hai 20 year Nostalgia cycle!)

The other important aspect of this show is never to forget that it is a soap opera.  Empire has a tawdry feel because it is a soap opera.  The slimy characters and telegraphing of character motivation is essential in this type of show.  Soaps are never about pushing boundaries.  These shows aim to make the audience feel smarter than the producers and then flip or surpass their expectations with drama and plot twists.  It’s key that you as an audience build expectations with a show like this prior to the actual payoff with plot.

Here’s an example: You know Luscious and Jamal (the gay son) don’t get along.  You didn’t realize he was going to throw him a trash can for putting on his mom’s fire red pumps.

Need another? Cookie repeatedly stands up for Jamal for being the only son to visit her in prison.  She becomes his manager and we see several scenes of her being accepting of his sexuality but whenever he’s not around, she uses derogatory language.

Now I could go on and on with all the plot twists the show set up in the Pilot, but that’s not my job.  Take notes, ho!

Casting & Characters

The casting here works brilliantly.  There’s some weak spots in the acting (hey Migos son!) But each cast member has the look and feel of a trope from the nostalgic or current eras being referenced.  Luscious & Cookie’s names are nothing if not pure 70’s experimentation. This was the era where Blacks were able to achieve some manner of success and grew up influenced by the Black Power moment.  Their sons Andre, Jamal, and Hakeem are totally prototypical 90’s Black names. You went to school with guys with those names.

Let’s go a step further.  Terrence Howard is one of the grossest people on the planet in real life and in his movies. Let’s let Patti LaHelle describe it.

Casting him as a greedy, money-hungry slimeball is the exactly what should be happening.  Howard’s history of (alleged) domestic violence works into the framework of the show. He’s almost always wearing silk pajamas (shades of Hugh Hefner) and candy is available in every room (shades of addiction).  The processed hair is such an inspired choice that I could write a whole post on it.  But since this is already long enough, it’s a sign of the respectability politics at play which was encouraged Blacks (like New Money Luscious) to conform to White beauty standards as they worked to climb the corporate ladder (especially in the 70s when wearing a process was akin to being an Uncle Tom).

Taraji, oh Taraji.  Cookie is a role that only she could work.  One of the saddest aspects of Hollywood is the series of bland, lowly roles for Black actresses.  Taraji has an incredible ability to play intelligent women in hard circumstances. She also has an edge, formed by her self-described life in a lower-middle class neighborhood and Historically Black College Education (NC A&T, Howard).  Her roles have capitalized on this upbringing (a touch of hood) in a stereotypical way that may have limited her from greater exposure to mainstream White audiences.  This role takes that stereotype, but ups the ante with better material and a more polished script.  Cookie is always dressed in animal print, gawdy but self-aware.  She’s not a character to take things lying down.  All honors must go to Taraji because she can act her ass off and she does it here.  She’s easily the most exciting part of the show.

The oldest son (Andre) played by uber-hottie and future husband Trai Byers.  The brilliance in his casting is that he is very 90’s handsome. Think of the square-jawed handsomeness of Shemar Moore or the appealing face of Morris Chestnut.  His character’s interracial marriage gives me the disappointment in Taye Diggs’ felt after the announcement of his (alleged and denied) feelings towards Black women.  One of my absolute favorite styling choices only shows up when he’s in the board room.  Whenever the camera pans over the table, he’s always wearing an oddly colored suit in comparison to the other members.  It’s a visual cue that he’s out of place and different from the rest of the table, much like he’s an outcast in his family.

Empire-pic-Trai-Byers-as-Andre-Lyon

#heyboo

The middle son (Jamal) is played by super cute Jussie Smollet.  The beauty of his casting is that he is the cute guy that every girl liked in high school.  He wasn’t the most popular and he was a little awkward but that was enough to make him endearing and adorable. This quality only enhances his character’s homosexuality as it renders him a bit unattainable. This stereotype has been around for years, but his Usher-like vocal quality places him squarely in the 90s and early 2000s.

jussie

If you told me that Hakeem (Bryshere Gray) was a member of Rae Sremmurd, I’d believe you. The hair designs, the high-top fade, the way that they dress him in a shiny metallic.  It’s all very now.  Even his character’s music is reminiscent of the current Migos/Young Thug era of party music. The emotional abandonment from both Cookie and Luscious fuel his partying and alcohol as an escape.  His closeness with Jamal is almost a dependency but you can tell that he knows that Jamal is more talented.  I think the dueling projects between the two could provide a great grounding for the more melodramatic qualities of the show.

The supporting cast is too vast for detailed description but I’m sure that as we are introduced to each one and start to learn their motivations, the show will only get more interesting.

Criticism

Alright, let’s do this. I’ve issued nearly universal praise for the show so far. But I do want to temper that this praise is due to the framing of this show as a soap opera.  We want it to tell compelling stories with campy drama, extreme emotion, and a suspension of disbelief.  This is not the real world and it allows for a looser narrative structure and a chance to attack the words and emotions with gusto.  In my opinion, the same can be said for Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, and shows of this ilk.  There may be elements of reality borrowed to legitimize the story, but this is a work of fiction with fictional characters.

I state this because while most of the acting is good, there’s little nuance in the performances. Think about Olivia’s patented lip quiver.  It only works in that context because reactions on Scandal are typically full-scale to make it must-see television.

Actually, last night I discussed the show with Sass who brought up a really good point about the characters being mostly flimsy stereotypes.

“The smart son marries a white girl, Cookie is an aggressive black woman, Luscious was a drug dealer turned rapper.  I haven’t seen a break from the stereotypical black character.”

Because of my love for this episode, I wanted to disagree and even mentioned my thesis that the characters needed to be broad in a soapy manner.  But I could not argue against her because I agreed with that point. These aren’t new characters.  Nothing is breaking new ground at all.  Even 50 Cent’s messy ass had a point about some of the similarities to his show, Power.

I also absolutely HATE that the show is on at the same time as Black-ish. I am so pleased that there are least 4 shows currently on television with Black women in central roles, but to place the two shows with mostly Black casts in the same timeslot?  That’s bullshit.

With that said, I definitely anticipate some people writing essays about how shows like this are bad for Black people. “Setting the race back” is always a concern for the Don Lemons of the world.  I’d argue that the not-so-pleasant portrayal of African-Americans can be beneficial so long as there are positive and neutral examples in the media as well.

As a fan of the Golden & Silver age of Hollywood, I’ve seen many Sidney Poitier movies.  He along with other Black actors and actresses like Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte worked to only take roles that portrayed Blacks in a positive light.  This was incredibly admirable but it made the roles less interesting, in my opinion.  Poitier plays the same faultless man in so many movies.  This was done to show that the White characters hated him solely because of his race and not his actions.  This was necessary.  This was important.  But I’d argue that none of his roles are as memorable as Dandridge tarting it up a bit for the role in Carmen Jones.  Carmen is not a likeable character and yet she is more interesting than even Mr. Tibbs (who is my preferred way to view Poitier).

Taking this viewpoint, while I wish there were more varied and substantial roles for African Americans, I can’t deny that the show is so well-cast and uses a mythology that allows it’s soapy/fantasy nature to shine.  I also appreciate that very few characters are meant to be likeable or sweet. The only character being portrayed in a fully positive way currently is Jamal and with the way the plot has been set up, I don’t see that lasting (Secretly, the saintly treatment of the homosexual character is another trope of which I’m not fond. Shades of Kurt from Glee.)  These may be caricatures, but they are human.  No one is an angel but each character has real motivations and the show took the time to examine their reasoning briefly in the first episode.

Overall, I’m going to keep watching.  The season preview packed so many guest stars that I screamed at the television.  I can’t promise any full recaps but I will probably be tweeting about the show.  Let me know your thoughts and comments below.  However, remember to “Take that bass out of your voice when you talk to me!”