Post updated February 1, 2019
Black History Month is a wonderful time in February (though it shouldn’t be the only time) for people to increase their knowledge and awareness of the significant and ongoing contributions African-Americans have made to American society and its culture.
Unfortunately, celebration of the month has become stuck in the mud topic-wise for quite some time. The same historical facts and biographies are trotted out time and again ad nauseam. Martin Luther King. Civil Rights Movement. Malcolm X. The Civil War. Thurgood Marshall. School Desegregation. Frederick Douglas. The Voting Rights Act. Rosa Parks. Slavery. I Have A Dream.
As a result and not surprisingly, important African-American figures, historical events, work and legislation that have had an impact on Black Americans and the United States have become muted or an afterthought.
Of course there will always be those, young or old, who learn something new during the month which will resonate with them. However, there are others who find Black History Month (BHM) no longer interesting because for them it has turned into a form of ’28 Days of Trivia’ instead of it being a deeper dive into the ‘Black History’ knowledge pool.
For those individuals who need a history recharge or just want to learn something new, YETBW is here for you. Below is a list of articles, audio/interviews, books, documentaries and movies that is off-the-Black-History-Month-beaten-path. Learn and enjoy – not just during the month of February.
AUDIO, VIDEO AND MULTIMEDIA
WWII Black Soldiers In Europe. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum interviewed several U.S. black servicemen who served throughout Europe during World War II. The soldiers discuss their experiences dealing with racism from American white soldiers and those soldiers who served under Nazi Germany. As historian Stephen Ambrose has said “[Black] soldiers were fighting the world’s worst racist, Adolph Hitler, in the world’s most segregated army…[t]he irony did not go unnoticed.” Besides instances of racial conflict, you also hear about the soldiers’ combat experience, serving under General Patton, the impact of seeing German labor and concentration camps and even the mundane such as trying to line up a date. More than half a million Black Americans served overseas in various parts of Europe but their stories aren’t mentioned as much as they should be in WWII lore. Hearing these oral histories is more than worthwhile and keeps their history alive.
‘I’ve Been To the Mountaintop.’ Yes, it’s a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. but it’s one that is shamefully overlooked. He made this speech on April 3, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee in support of striking sanitation workers. It was also on the night before he was assassinated. It is such a personal and powerful speech; more like a sermon. It’s not uplifting and hopeful like his most famous speech ‘I Have A Dream’ which he gave in 1963. By 1968 he was on a different path and you can hear it in the words and tone of this speech. He is contemplative and tired; not sure how long he has to keep fighting, but he hasn’t laid down his gloves. The words in the last part of the speech are eery in hindsight, yet joyful given the fact that he was speaking on the eve of his death. When he loudly proclaims “I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!” it will make your hair stand on end.
Voices From the Days of Slavery. During Black History Month you hear about the topic of slavery, but you don’t hear much from or about the people who actually lived it. The Library of Congress’ ‘Voices From the Days of Slavery has “almost seven hours of recorded interviews [that] took place between 1932 and 1975 in nine Southern states. Twenty-three interviewees, born between 1823 and the early 1860s, discuss how they felt about slavery, slaveholders, coercion of slaves, their families, and freedom.” Unfortunately, the quality isn’t top-notch, but it’s still worth a listen. Not everyday you get a chance to listen to people who lived through one of the harshest and inglorious periods of American history.
BOOKS AND ARTICLES
Bloods: Black Veterans of Vietnam War: An Oral History. Unfortunately, the history of Black Veterans is woefully minimal and marginalized, as if they weren’t part of America’s military or war efforts. The twenty veterans in this book (from private first class to colonels, poor to middle-class, all parts of the U.S.) tell their stories of what is was like fighting in Vietnam and the impact it has had on them. You also hear about how they dealt with being a Black American in the U.S. military while living in a country that was going through major racial and cultural upheaval. You can feel their pride, pain, confusion, cynicism and disillusionment concerning the war and themselves. Their stories and experiences are sad, dark, humorous, violent, insightful, and poignant. Terry did an amazing job of putting these stories together without getting in the way of the storytellers. This book is a classic and will stick with you long after you’ve finished it.
Dignity in Death for Black Families at a Brooklyn Funeral Home. This article encompasses so much, so well. Readers will learn about the important role black funeral homes have played in the Black Community through the eyes and work of the two women who manage the Lawrence H. Woodward Funeral Home in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Vicki Thompson-Simmons and her sister, Lynda Thompson-Lindsay understand the seriousness of their work, its legacy and the emotions that come with it while doing their best to honor the dead and their loved ones. It is a wonderful, informative and heartfelt piece. Simply put, it is more than just about the management of a black funeral home.
The Bluest Eye. Morrison has written other well-known books, but this Nobel Prize-winning title shows her at her writing best. It’s the story about an 11-year-old African-American girl named Pecola, growing up in 1940s Ohio who feels inferior because of her skin and eye color. She’s constantly being told she’s ‘ugly’ so she keeps wishing she had blue eyes so that she would be deemed worthy. Controversy has followed this book since its 1970 publication because it deals with racism, pedophilia and rape, all experienced by the main character. The story isn’t just about Pecola, but also her parents – their marital fights, their frustrations living in a mostly white community; her dad’s volatility, her mom working as a servant to a white family. Sometimes the various stories are told matter-of-factly, in a childish tone or in a harsh, painful or surreal manner. Morrison deals with the uncomfortable issues surrounding black vs. white beauty and the bitter reality of Black Americans in early/mid-twentieth century America. It’s a complex book that can be a challenge to read, but it’s worth the effort.
And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: An Autobiography. Ralph Abernathy played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement in that he worked closely with Dr. King and was viewed as his successor after King’s death. Yet Abernathy, like many others involved with Dr. King saw their involvement in the Movement overlooked and sometimes forgotten. When this autobiography was originally published in 1989 many African-Americans, Black leaders and other activists were apoplectic about Abernathy airing Dr. King’s ‘dirty laundry’ (i.e., he regularly cheated on his wife, used expletives, wasn’t always a nice person, FBI was spying on him) instead of simply writing about King’s humanity and his tireless civil rights work. Many thought Abernathy had an ax to grind; that he was finally showing his jealousy about King and bitterness over his limited post-Movement success. Maybe some or all of the accusations are true, but this book is still a must-read in that you get an insider view, warts and all, about the people within King’s circle, the actions and decision-making process of other well-known black leaders, the roles played by politicians, governmental actions and the struggles and triumphs of the Movement. As a result of this book future publications on King and the Civil Rights Movement stepped back from the deification of both by providing more insight than reflexive accolades, which is a good thing.
Kindred is the kind of book that will resonate with you long after you’ve read it. Imagine being a black woman in 1976, living in California and about to celebrate your 26th birthday with your new husband when suddenly you’re away pulled away through time and end-up on a pre-Civil War southern plantation where slavery is alive and well? Though time travel is somewhat of a stereotypical science-fiction trope, Butler uses it as a tool, not as a story gimmick. As Dana tries to survive in the slave era you learn about what it meant to be a slave: the fear, the beatings, the rapes, the humiliations – of being seen and treated as being not human. Butler makes you feel everything that Dana is thinking as she tries to deal with the impact of moving between time-periods at a moment’s notice – wondering how long she will be there upon each ‘visit’ and if/when she will ever return home. Octavia E. Butler has written other books and has been called the ‘grand dame of science fiction,’ but the quiet intensity of Kindred is her crowning achievement and should be on everyone’s ‘must read’ list.
‘The Case for Reparations‘ by The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates is a ten-part, heartbreaking magnum opus of an essay about why African-Americans should receive reparations from the United States. Coates argument is not based on slavery (which he doesn’t discuss as much given the article’s title) nor on how much money is ‘owed’ to Black Americans (which isn’t mentioned) but the long, cumulative effect of discrimination on generations of African-Americans. The article makes it case by interweaving the generational story of African-Americans and the obstacles they’ve faced (white supremacy, inequality, governmental discrimination) by way of Clyde Ross, a sharecropper’s son who escaped the Jim Crow South who ended up in Chicago fighting for black homeowners. Coates 15,000 word piece is dense in that you might find yourself having to revisit it after the first read, because there is so much interesting information, history and emotion in the piece. Whether you’re an opponent or proponent of reparations this article will give you a better and more complete understanding of the reparations argument.
DOCUMENTARIES, MOVIES, SHOWS AND PROGRAMS
Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin. The title of this documentary sadly sums up Bayard Rustin‘s life as a key member of the Civil Rights Movement. Besides being the chief organizer of the March on Washington and a major influence on CORE and SNCC activists he was also a leader in other movements such as socialism, non-violence and gay rights. It was that latter stance and the fact that he was gay that has kept Rustin out of most history books. Brother Outsider rectifies that mistake by giving viewers the opportunity to learn about a major civil rights player who was marginalized by most of the black civil rights community though they were more than willing to make use of his knowledge and planning skills. In 2013 President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The White House Press Release regarding Rustin’s award said he was “an unyielding activist for civil rights, dignity, and equality for all. An advisor to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he promoted nonviolent resistance, participated in one of the first Freedom Rides, organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and fought tirelessly for marginalized communities at home and abroad. As an openly gay African American, Mr. Rustin stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.” Rustin should be more than just a historical footnote in the fight for civil rights and social justice.
Eyes On the Prize. This multi-episode documentary, originally aired on PBS in 1987 is considered the seminal documentary on the Civil Rights Movement in America. It’s not exactly off-the-beaten-path as it pertains to this article. However, as time has passed, it has become somewhat overlooked because it wasn’t available for years (1993-2006) due to copyright issues. Eyes On the Prize, as described by PBS, tells the story of The Movement [t]hrough contemporary interviews and historical footage [as] the series covers all of the major events of the civil rights movement from 1954-1985. Series topics range from the Montgomery bus boycott in 1954 to the Voting Rights Act in 1965; from community power in schools to ‘Black Power’ in the streets; from early acts of individual courage through to the flowering of a mass movement and its eventual split into factions.” Words do not do this series justice in regards to how pivotal, informative and heart-breaking this series is in describing and showing how Black Americans (and their allies) fought for their personhood and legal rights to be treated fairly and equally in a nation that was resistant to recognizing their humanity. Note: All 14 episodes are available here via YouTube. Watch them while you can before they’re taken down.
Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. Johnson didn’t act the way black people were supposed to act in the early part of the twentieth century. He didn’t know his ‘place’ and he eventually paid the price for it. But at one point in time Johnson was the most fierce and dominant boxer that America had ever seen. He was the first African-American heavyweight champion who annihilated black and white opponents, the latter of which caused major debates amongst whites regarding black superiority and led to race riots. Add to that his unrepentant flashing of his success and riches while cutting a sexual and marital swath through a string of white women, Johnson was too much for many whites and blacks to handle. This documentary (based on the same-titled book by Geoffrey C. Ward) really digs into Johnson’s personal and professional history via archival film, photographs and interview with boxing experts. You don’t have to be a boxing fan to appreciate this film. Note: I also recommend ‘The Great White Hope‘ (1970) starring James Earl Jones as Jack Jefferson (obviously based on Johnson). Jones is fierce as Jefferson and doesn’t pull any punches (pun intended) in showing us Johnson’s anger, brutishness, hurts of what it was like to be a feared and successful black man and athlete in early 20th Century America. You can watch it here on YouTube.
The Boondocks ‘Return of the King’ When ‘Boondocks,’ an animated show on the Cartoon Network, first broadcast ‘Return of the King’ the outrage came high and fast (though it did end-up winning the prestigious Peabody Award for ‘Best Storytelling‘). Mainly because Aaron McGruder, the show’s creator and writer had Dr. King dropping the n-word several times while raging against ‘shiftless Negroes.’ But the brouhaha obscured what the episode was really about – the reimagining of history. What if Dr. King wasn’t assassinated in 1968? What if he had just been shot; remained in a coma for 32 years and woke-up in 2000 America? The episode shows an aged King trying to adjust to the new media and culture that is just too loud and fast for him. Huey Freeman, Boondock’s 10-year old, socially-conscious main character sees King’s return as an opportunity for African-Americans to start a new revolution, but King and Huey soon realize that they have their work cut out for them. The episode is full of cynicism, along with anger, disgust and sadness, yet still hopeful. It is an enlightening, ballsy and fierce take on a historical icon and U.S. and African-American culture.
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Pittman is not an actual person nor was she based on a historical figure. She is the 110-year old black woman and protagonist in Ernest J. Gaines 1971 novel which was the basis for the same-titled movie. This 1974 television movie (made before the miniseries ‘Roots’) was ground-breaking in that it showed many facets of the African-American experience that was rarely seen in movies or on television, such as slavery, plantation life, lynchings and poverty. The viewer sees and hears about Pittman’s life as a slave girl during the Civil War era and up to and beyond the Civil Rights Movement. We also see America grappling with its racial, cultural and military wars amongst its black and white citizens. It’s all done through the eyes and narration of an elderly woman who lets us know that she has seen, battled and lived a lot over her many decades. Cicely Tyson as Jane Pittman is simply fantastic in the film. She brings Pittman to life, so it’s understandable that people over the years have taken the movie and book title seriously and thought Pittman was a real person. The movie isn’t an official autobiography, but it is a biography of America’s history that is definitely worth seeing. Note: The movie can be viewed in its entirety online here via YouTube.
Cooley High. Teen movies have been around for decades, but most film buffs say the genre really started with American Graffiti (1973). Since then Hollywood has been producing teen movies like they’re going out of style. Unfortunately movies about black teens are still MIA, which is what makes ‘Cooley High’ (1975) still so special forty years later. Plainly, it is just a movie about black high school students in Chicago during the 1960s or as its screenwriter Eric Monte described it “a movie without a plot.” It may not have a storyline but a lot happens in the film such as dating woes, failing grades, carjacking, drugs and the joys of cutting class along with a killer Motown soundtrack. The teens in the film were the usual suspects: jocks, jokesters, nerds, pretty girls and bullies but instead of it taking place in white suburbia the setting was south side Chicago in the rough Cabrini-Green public housing projects. It’s considered a black cinema classic, but it also ranks up there as one of the best high school movies.
A Soldier’s Story. This 1984 movie is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning, Off-Broadway play, a tone and feel which shows up in the film on occasion. There a lot of soon-to-be-well-known actors (Howard Rollins, Jr., Denzel Washington, Robert Townsend, David Alan Grier) along with seasoned broadway veterans (Adolph Caesar, Art Evans, Scott Paulin). However, its the work of Rollins, Washington and Caesar (nominated for Best Supporting Oscar for his role) that creates the foundation for the film. The plot centers around a black officer (Rollins) who is sent to Louisiana to investigate the murder of a black sergeant who was killed during the end of World War II. The film chronicles the racism and Jim Crow South that the black military men have to deal with on and off the army base, but also the intra-racism that they have amongst themselves based on speech, education, class and geography. A provocative film set inside a whodunnit scenario with a strong cast.
Do you have any off-the-beaten-path suggestions (books, movies, programs, etc.) regarding Black History and/or African-American culture that are interesting, informative or note-worthy? If so, feel free to leave them in the comment section.
It pains me to write this letter to you. We’ve had a wonderful time together, but it’s time for some honesty.
I’ve been struggling. Struggling to find a reason to watch Jessica Jones – yet another show based on a comic book character. I guess I shouldn’t have to find a reason, especially since shows with female leads, comic books or otherwise you normally treat like kryptonite. I know that as a comic book fan you’ve expected me to watch your comic book shows and movies – to critique, discuss and support them, even if they’re a bloated piece of crap like Avengers: Age Of Ultron. You’ve told me ad nauseam that Jessica Jones is a fantastic show, but something has been holding me back from watching it. I couldn’t figure out why until it suddenly dawned on me.
To paraphrase Samuel Jackson from his stellar work in Snakes On a Plane – “I’ve had it with these motherfucking comic book shows and movies on my motherfucking screens!”
My apologies for the expletives. I know that you prefer everything to be PG13 between us, especially in the movie theaters.
I’ve told you about my comics malaise and yet your response is always “I don’t understand! I thought all you comic book fans, nerds, geeks or whatever you call yourselves would be happy with all of the comic book stuff we’ve made!”
Well, I was at first. I still remember my preteen comic book years and your awkward forays (1978-1980) into our world with Superman, Heavy Metal and Flash Gordon. But you got better! Those halcyon days of the first Batman, Blade, Spider-man, and The Crow movies still make me smile. You made me so happy and thrilled to be a comic book fan. You were still hit and miss with most of your endeavors then, but I truly appreciated the effort.
Then came the Batman reboot, which was spectacular and I don’t even like Batman. I was so proud of you. I saw that you had finally find your path and knew that more good things were going to come. But I should have known that it wasn’t meant to be once you released the first Avengers movie. Once that movie made billions of dollars all you saw were dollar signs. You forgot about me.
You no longer cared about our love – our love for comic books. Hell, I’m starting to wonder if you ever read any of them. Maybe that explains why you thought cutting Cyclops and Storm‘s leadership balls off in the X-men movies was a good idea though it’s contrary to the their actual comic book storylines. Why do I still bother explaining these things to you?! You’ve never really listened to me. Maybe you just pretended to like me to get me to tell all my comic book friends about your shows and movies; to help you save money on marketing and promotions. I was so gullible then.
Instead of trying to do different types of films and shows you became obsessed with only making comic book-themed productions.
Wherever I turn there you are, constantly smothering me with your obsession. The Walking Dead. Daredevil. The Flash. Gotham. Arrow. Black Panther. Aquaman. Batman v. Superman. Justice League. Agents of Shield. The Preacher. Ant-Man. Agent Carter. Into the Badlands. Superman. Three Fantastic Four Movies. Three Thor Movies. Five Spider-man Movies. Five X-men Movies. Two Wolverine Movies. Three Captain America Movies. Three Avengers Movies. Eight Batman Movies. I can’t even name them all anymore. Can you?
It’s like you want to turn our lives into a live action Marvel Comics and DC Comics universe. Just because I cosplay doesn’t mean that I’m not a real person!
Sometimes I just want to see a good show or movie that’s not based on a comic book. Why do you think I went behind your back and renewed my Netflix subscription and accidentally joined Amazon Prime? These are the only places where I can find solace from your comic book mania.
You keep telling me that I’ll get over my unhappiness by all the money you’ve made. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve enjoyed your financial success, especially all the comic book-themed clothing I’ve been able to buy, though I’m still not sure about that X-Men Storm dress.
Though you have tried to hide it, it’s apparent that your feelings for me are now mostly box office-related. I’ve seen you looking at those new and clueless comic book movie attendees, making me feel like a starter wife you’re about to kick to the curb.
I just need some non-comic book time away from you. But I’m sure we’ll see each other again…probably once ‘Captain America: Civil War‘ hits the big screen. God help me.
A Comic Book Fan
Does iTunes truly reflect what we listen to on a regular basis? I decided to find out if that was truly the case.
I have had an iTunes account for several years. I almost exclusively use it to upload, purchase and play songs randomly. I don’t bother with much else regarding iTunes, which maybe it would be disappointed to hear (but I doubt it).
I am not much for playlists, since my patience level for such endeavors are minimal at best. As a result I have barely paid any attention to any iTunes self-created lists such as its Genius Playlist, Recently Played or its tracking of my ‘Top 25 Most Played’ based on my iTunes Library.
I finally decided to check my ‘most played’ list to see what songs iTunes data had determined to be my Top 25 versus what I thought would be on the list.
I was very surprised to see that a bunch of my popular artists were MIA from the list. Sade. Blind Willie Johnson. Depeche Mode. Maverick Sabre. Sam Cooke. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ Movie Soundtrack (don’t ask). Nneka. Tori Amos. Journey. Florence & the Machine. Marc Cohn. Note: I do listen to some of these artists outside iTunes through other apps such as YouTube, Pandora, Soundcloud and Spotify.
Even more surprising was that there are songs on the list that I had no idea that I listened to that much. Also, there were a few that I’m sure made the ‘most played’ cut simply because I just didn’t skip over it after hearing a song I had previously selected. All that being said, most of the songs on the list are ones that I do enjoy listening to regularly; some a tad incessantly.
Below are my top 25 ‘most played’ songs (ranked #25 to #1) along with commentary, links to artist profiles and songs for your listening pleasure.
FYI: I did my best to find videos that were free of advertisements. Initially I had planned to use music sharing app such as Soundcloud or Spotify or WordPress’ audio files set-up. Unfortunately, Soundcloud and Spotify didn’t have most of my songs in their respective catalogs (no surprise there) and WordPress’ system didn’t mesh with my desired visual aesthetics for this blog post.
Time to start the countdown or as Referee Judge Mills Lane from ‘Celebrity Death Match’ would say “Let’s get it on!”
25. ‘Hiroshima’ (2002) – Bryan Ferry
I am a big, big Bryan Ferry fan. I would have been absolutely shocked if one of his songs hadn’t made this list. This is easily my favorite song from his album ‘Frantic.’ I listen to a lot of Ferry’s solo music and a good portion of his work with his former group, Roxy Music. But this song is the one I play the most. It is spacey, oddly robotic, yet soaring at times. It doesn’t get its due from Ferry fans.
24. ‘Darshan’ (2001) – B21
Not surprised this song made it on this list. I first heard it while watching the movie ‘Bend It Like Beckham.’ It’s one of two songs that I really like from a solid movie soundtrack. Its exuberance will get your hips moving, even if you don’t know the Punjabi lyrics. It makes me smile, especially when I’m dragging my feet. The day when I will be able to sing the lyrics to this song successfully will be a good one.
23. ‘Murder’ (1997) – Alana Davis
I didn’t think that I listened to this song this much. Davis is most known for her song ‘32 Flavors‘ but to me she is much more than that. The lyrics and vibe (fingers snapping, simple guitar strumming) to this song are strong; soaked in feelings of dread and paranoia. It makes for a heady mix. Too bad she was a bit before her time musically. Davis probably would’ve made a bigger music mark in our current digital music age.
22. ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ (1995) – Radiohead
I like this group, but I wouldn’t have guessed that one of their songs would have made this list. Then again I do sing to this song whenever I hear it because of the poignant and quietly raging lyrics. I especially like when lead singer Thom Yorke’ voice starts to rise, then falls as he sings “But I can’t help the feeling. I could blow through the ceiling. If I just turn and run.” It is a great song from a solid sophomore album.
21. ‘Ruiner (Live, 2009)’ – Nine Inch Nails
‘Ruiner’ is a recent download/addition to my iTunes account, a song that I have played almost obsessively. So its addition to this list is a given. This is a live 2009 version that I recently discovered via YouTube, which has now become my preferred version of this song. Hell, it’s almost coming close to being my favorite NIN song, but I still enjoy ‘March of the Pigs‘ a bit more. Whenever I hear this version of ‘Ruiner’ my head and body rocks out hard while I sing the lyrics along with NIN founder/lead singer Trent Reznor.
20. ‘Rain On Me’ (2003) – Ashanti
I haven’t listened to this song in a while, so seeing it on the list was unexpected. I had assumed that ‘Only You‘ would have made the list, since I do prefer it over ‘Rain.’ Nevertheless, I can’t complain about this song making the cut since it is a good one. Plus you can’t go wrong with sampling The Look of Love‘ by Issac Hayes. Ashanti doesn’t have a strong voice, but she puts it to good use on this track.
19. ‘How Much I Feel’ (1978) – Ambrosia
There is no doubt that I play this song way too much, which iTunes has confirmed. Unfortunately, 1970s soft rock gets a bad rap, which has caused many to overlook some of the great songs that came out of the era and genre. This song has it all, harmonizing vocals, heartfelt emotion and lyrics that tell a love story starting from the middle to the end. I love the part when David Pack sings, practically laments “Then you both realize. Just how foolish you’ve been. And you try to make amends. But you’re better off as friends.” That is some serious songwriting.
18. ‘Rolling In the Deep’ (2011) – Adele
I thought this song would be in a higher slot since I ran it into the ground and then some. I had to deselect it from my iTunes Library so that I wouldn’t end up causing the song to wear out its welcome. Adele has had other hits, but this is still my favorite. I just love the 1960s vibe to it and the toughness of her vocals. She sounds like a woman, not a girlish pop star or some manufactured boy band singing and prancing obliviously about like show horses. Adele is simply fierce.
17. ‘Inner Smile’ (2000) – Texas
Definitely a ‘go-to’ song for me whenever I need a mood pick-me-up. It’s also another song from the ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ movie soundtrack. It’s simply infectious and should have been a big hit in the United States. Guess an English band named ‘Texas’ that sings pop/R&B was probably a hard sale in the States. That’s too bad because it’s a damn good song that you can sing and dance to and will make you feel better afterwards.
16. ‘Fallen’ (2003) – Mya
Not sure how this song made the list. I’m not saying that I don’t like it, but I don’t like it this much. I’m positive that this song’s addition to the list is pure happenstance in that it’s just been played randomly by iTunes. Nevertheless, it’s a nice song that has an atmospheric vibe to it, which sadly, isn’t a style you hear much of in the R&B/HipHop music world. Mya can sing, but really hasn’t been provided enough songs to show off her vocal pipes.
15. ‘Safe From Harm’ (1991) – Massive Attack
Another recent iTunes addition so I’ve had it in heavy rotation, therefore its mention on this list is pro forma. ‘Safe from Harm’ is a moody, sexy song – a Massive Attack specialty. This song is in a tie with ‘Joy Luck Club‘ as one of my top songs by them. I’ve had it on replay for quite some time. Shara Nelson’s vocals are strong and sexy and Robert Del Naja’s rap is crisp and hypnotic, both a perfect match to the music.
14. ‘Love Rears Up Its Ugly Head’ (1990) – Living Colour
I honestly can’t recall the last time I’ve listened to this song, yet it’s somehow in my top 25. This act was way before it’s time. Hell, they’re probably still before their time. People just couldn’t get their heads around a Black music group that played a mix of alternative rock, heavy metal and hip-hop. ‘Cult of Personality’ is still their biggest hit, but I don’t think it represents them well as this song does. When Corey Glover, the lead singer, starts wailing “Oh no, no, no, no. Not that again…” along with the loud and striking guitar work – you will recognize this group’s awesomeness.
13. ‘I Can’t Tell You Why’ (1994) – Brownstone
Another ‘high song rank’ surprise. Then again I do have a weakness for good cover versions (the 1979 original was written and sung by The Eagles) such as this one. What makes ‘I Can’t Tell You Why’ a stand-out is that Brownstone makes this song their own. If it wasn’t for the lyrics you would think it’s an original. There are various versions of this song, but this one (official video version – not on the album) is the best. I love when contralto Nichole Gilbert starts semi-scatting the lyrics then repeats in a deeper voice the line ‘Why don’t you please tell me why’ near the end. It’s too bad the original line-up of this R&B group (from their debut album ‘From the Bottom Up‘) didn’t remain intact. Brownstone would’ve put a lot of female group acts to shame. They were full-throttled, talented women (not sex kittens or wannabe adults) who could sing their asses off.
12. ‘Remedy’ (1992) – The Black Crowes
Was a tad surprised that this song by the Crowes made the list. I thought that ‘Sometimes Salvation‘ would have made the cut instead. However, after ‘Salvation’ this is one of my top songs by them. ‘Remedy’ is a bluesy, rock song that is stripped down to its basics: strong lead vocals, slinky backing vocals joined by a tough guitar sound. This song is from their should-be-considered-a-classic album ‘The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion‘ one of the rare albums I can listen to in its entirety.
11. ‘The Main Thing’ (1982) – Roxy Music
I absolutely knew Roxy Music would be on this list! ‘The Main Thing’ is from their ‘Avalon’ album. The album title/song was a big hit, but I gravitated more towards the quiet, brooding, techno sound of ‘The Main Thing.’ The song is short on actual lyrics but long on creating a sound that is eery, like a drug-induced Gregorian chant. People either get Roxy Music or they don’t. If you’re a member of the former you are lucky indeed.
10. ‘Gold Dust Woman’ (1977) – Fleetwood Mac
Of course this song made this list. If I had to pick a song that sums up what I love about Fleetwood Mac it would be this one. Stevie Nick’s scratchy and evocative singing. Lyndsey Buckingham’s crazy guitar work and backing vocals. Mick Fleetwood’s pounding drum work. John McVee’s deep bass strumming and Christie McVee’s harmonizing adding depth to Nick’s vocals. It all comes together on a distinctive song that keeps ramping up until the band just leaves it all in the dust (pun intended).
9. ‘Life’s What You Make It’ (1985) – Talk Talk
I simply like the lyrics and the piercing, soaring guitar work on this song. Therefore I listen to it a lot, hence its placement on this list. The lyrics aren’t that complex, “Baby, life’s what you make it. Celebrate it. Anticipate it. Yesterday’s faded. Nothing can change it. Life’s what you make it” nor lengthy. Yet, the way Mark Davis Hollis sings the words somehow adds more significance to them. Makes you pause and think after the song is over.
8. ‘Homesick’ (2009) – Ryan Kickland
This song is stark and beautiful and will stick around with you long after you’ve heard it. I was watching an episode of ‘Justified’ a few years ago when I first heard this quiet, twangy, fantastic song. I love Kickland’s haunting vocals and the simple, yet sad sound of the guitar. This is a woefully overlooked song that deserves a long moment in the sun.
I’m not a Minaj fan since she raps with too much manufactured braggadocio and not enough heat. Yet, I must really like this Minaj song since it made the Top 10. The best parts of ‘Moment’ is when she’s not rapping because then she is letting you know what she’s feeling. Hell, Drake out-raps her on her own song. Nevertheless it’s a jam that I like listening to, especially when I’m driving in my car with the windows down.
6. ‘Out of My Head’ (2013) – John Newman
I have become a John Newman fan over the past eighteen months. I would’ve been shocked if one of his songs hadn’t made this list. Though I did think that his acoustic/live version of ‘Not Giving In‘ would’ve beat out this song, but apparently I was wrong. Newman has a distinctive singing style which inexplicably have caused some people to assume that he’s a black guy. The ethnicity assumptions are a result of Newman’s music style, which is heavily-influenced by old school R&B. This song has a semi-epic orchestral feel to it that goes well with his mournful vocals. Love the song’s chorus: “To shut out feeling lonely; I get out of my head. Lost everything around me. Not dealing with it well. To shut out feeling lonely; I get out of my head. Why would you want to love somebody when love hurts in the end?” Hope he sticks around for a bit.
5. ‘Hide and Go Seek’ (1967) – Bunker Hill
Hill’s song gets me nodding my head every single time, which is why I listen to it almost daily. I just love the exuberance of the song, Hill’s energy and the back-and-forth response he has with the back-up singers. The lyrics are basic and goofy such as “Went down the road. The road was muddy. I stubbed my toe. My toe was hurting. Who all hid (yeah). If you ain’t hid. You better holler Billy goat (baaaa).” I’m forever thankful to the movie ‘Hairspray’ (1988 original directed by John Waters, not the 2007 remake/musical version) for helping me discover this freakin’ wonderful song.
4. ‘Love Me Again’ (2013) – John Newman
I have played this song so much that eventually my preteen son knew most of the words and came to like it. Therefore I had no doubt that it would be on this list. It was the first song I ever heard by him and turned me into a Newman acolyte. It starts out strong with the words “Know I’ve done wrong, left your heart torn. Is that what devils do? Took you so long, where only fools gone. I shook the angel in you!” and just keeps getting better. The Motown vibe and his throwback, yet original vocals makes for a very good song that you will have on repeat.
3. ‘I Know There’s Something Going On’ (1982) – Frida
I was really shocked to see this song on the list – let alone ranked this high – though I did play the hell out of it for a while. This was Frida’s (Anni-Frid Lyngstad), formerly of ABBA, big solo hit. I have always loved the vocals and drums (courtesy of Phil Collins from Genesis) on this song. This song popped into my head out of nowhere a year ago, so I downloaded it. It definitely has a 1980s song vibe, but don’t let that deter you. When Frida sings the words “I know there’s something going on” and you hear the drums banging along with her, you will think ‘This is a cool song.’
2. ‘Dying For Your Love’ (2011) – Frank Ocean
I thought that this song would have topped this list because I have yet to get enough of it. I have played this song so many times back-to-back; just leaving the repeat button on to make it easier for me to listen to it almost continually. It has a gorgeous, dreamlike sound aided by Ocean’s soporific vocals. The song’s hooks are so personal: “On the same side of the battle. I’m on the front line of disaster now. All make sense, I’ve put it together. Guess what we have doesn’t matter. You have me dying. Every night, just because. You have me fighting. Every night, to prove my love. Cause we never get enough of fighting. In the club, I’m dying for your love. I don’t know what you want. You got me fighting. Every night, to prove my love.” This is his best song though he has other strong, potent and more well-known contenders.
1. ‘Earned It’ (2015) – The Weeknd
My number one Most Played Song’ according to iTunes! As much as I like this song the fact that it’s my ‘most played’ has me flummoxed. I haven’t listened to it regularly in months. I can only deduce that its placement on this list is because of its heavy play rotation; some of it purposely, most of it by random. This song is from the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey’ which I haven’t seen nor do I own the soundtrack. The first time I heard this song was on Pandora and the rest is history. I like the overlapping orchestral instruments, the soft and emotional vocals with a mild techno/auto-tune sound. Not sure if this song has long enough music legs in that I won’t eventually discontinue listening to it. But for now iTunes has spoken about its musical hierarchy and tenacity.
So – that’s my list. What’s on your iTunes ‘Top 25 Most Played’ list?
RELATED YETBW POSTS:
As an African-American woman and television viewer for over thirty years there haven’t been many opportunities to see positive, let alone well-rounded portrayals of Black women on network and/or cable television. As I got older when I would see a black female character on a television show I would keep my fingers crossed and hope that she wasn’t poor, pregnant, ignorant, stoic or in an abusive relationship. Most of the times my wishes went unanswered, but that was just the way it was in Hollywood and for American television.
However, the past ten years has been sort of a watershed moment for black actresses and television in that more black women haven been on television in leading or prominent roles including Nicole Beharie (Sleepy Hollow), Uzo Aduba, (Orange Is the New Black), Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead), Angela Bassett (American Horror Story), Gabrielle Union (Being Mary Jane), Chandra Wilson (Grey’s Anatomy), Raven-Symone (That’s So Raven), Jada Pinkett Smith (Hawthorne) and Regina King (Southland). No one has had a bigger role though than Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in Scandal. Combine that with scripted or reality shows that have a significant or mostly black female cast such as Girlfriends, Soul Food, Real Housewives of Atlanta, Love and Hip Hop – black women are more visible than ever on our televisions and computer screens, but also in our movie theaters.
Yet, even with the variety of black female roles on television Hollywood still traffics in obvious stereotypes of black women when writing black characters.
Below are some those stereotypes and imagery that still rear their ugly head in portrayals of black women on the small screen – no matter our evolving educational, cultural and economic impact on American society:
1. They are noticeably loud. Everything they say is said in such a booming and emphatic manner in comparison to others around them. Are they suffering from a debilitating auditory condition? Is their loudness due to a fact they don’t care that their voice is dominating the conversation and causing heavy wincing? The American Medical Association has yet to commence research regarding this ‘Hollywood’ medical condition though the problem still exists.
2. They browbeat their loved-ones as a sign of affection. They will tell their husbands, siblings, sisters and friends how much they’ve screwed up their work life, relationships or financial situations in sometimes amusing but mostly painful and humiliating fashion – all because they care about them. They’ll eventually express how much they love the person, but not before making them feel really bad about themselves.
3. They are born with Southern accents no matter where they live. Whether they were born in New York, California or somewhere in-between, they will eventually sound like they were born and raised in the Deep South. Maybe it’s something they have picked up subliminally from their mythical great aunt or grandmother while hearing their mythical tales of the how glorious the mythical South was for blacks back-in-the-day as long as they worked hard and lived right.
4. They are addicted to cleaning. Nothing makes their day like having a clean home, especially a spotless kitchen since that’s where they love to spend most of their time (more on that later). Sniffing the air of a clean home and smiling happily when their family comes home and acknowledges their hard work is the highlight of their day. Because of course every black woman has had a grandmother, mom or aunt who used to clean white people’s homes for a living.
5. They are genetically pre-disposed to suffer hair loss. They appear to become follicly-challenged once they enter their early teens, hence the heavy usage of wigs, weaves, braids and extensions to supplement their thinning hair and/or to protect what little hair they have left. By the time they’ve entered their forties full-fledged wigs have become the norm for most of them.
6. They are biblical scholars. They can pull a quote from the bible as fast as Dirty Harry can draw a gun. Old Testament. New Testament. Revised Standard. King James Version. They keep one around at all times on the rare occasion that they have to reference it as a refresher or to fend off evil spirits.
7. They have unstable necks, resulting in excessive circular head movements. On occasion their heads become unusually heavy when they experience a bout of emphaticism (aka making a strong verbal point to their conversation partner). When this situation occurs their neck can no longer support the size of their head, hence the head-nod-to-headroll-in-a-counter-clockwise physiological anomaly.
8. Enjoy being sidekicks or third-wheels to white women. This is mainly due to their innate shyness that they cover-up by being extremely bossy towards their white BFFs. However in the rare instance that their white BFF decides to give them a wee bit of limelight the black woman will scurry back to the sidelines because that’s where she is obviously most comfortable.
9. They are always financially-challenged. They are constantly worrying about how to pay their bills because they never have enough money to pay their bills. It’s not because they blow money fruitlessly, but that they never seem to have enough money to do anything due to working one or more crappy jobs because they’re a single parent or have to support a sick mom, a deadbeat husband or a lazy boyfriend.
10. Love to cook jumbo-sized, down-home meals no matter the occasion or time of day. Black women are true believers of their own axiom that ‘All problems can be solved over a home-cooked meal.’ Accordingly they will break out their pots and pans for Thanksgiving-styled meals throughout the year, whether the problem is big or small, or even if a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of soup would suffice.
11. Their life goals are very exacting. It seems that their dream jobs are to own a hair salon, be a nanny to a precocious white child, a talk show host, music video vixen or to get married. Nothing else is remotely acceptable to them.
12. There is a correlation between their weight and their behavior. If they’re skinny they are mean and vain. If they’re plump they are warm and sassy. Average-sized black women seem to have low survival rates, hence they’re rarely spotted beyond their teen years.
13. They have infinite amounts of wisdom no matter the topic. Whatever the situation they will find a cliche, parable or homily for the moment in an attempt to make you feel better or to sum up the situation in case you have no clue what’s going on. Like your own personal ‘Gone With the Wind‘ Mammy.
Black women are not asking for Hollywood to portray them as flawless human beings or, as some sort of uber black female that is attractive, strong and respected. Cinematically, that has always been the demand from African-Americans and civil rights organizations because of the decades-long onslaught of negative imagery of black people, especially black men.
However, having black female characters who have ‘made it’ professionally, academically or financially but still act stereotypically ‘ghetto’ is incongruous and frankly asinine, yet it still happens (see ‘Angela’ in Why Did I Get Married movies).
Black female characters should run the gamut just like their white female counterparts. Hollywood producers should portray us as rich, poor, upper class, lower class, smart, clueless, serious, sassy, tough, scared, healthy, sick, overweight, sexy, nerdy, beautiful, ugly, friendly, deadly and any other social, emotional and economic variations. Why? Because black women are not a monolith or part of some collective Borg where we have the same thoughts, ideas or experiences. We are individuals with similarities and differences – imagine that.
Maybe one day Hollywood will put this particular conversation to rest, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Because for every Olivia Pope Tinseltown will always have black maids waiting in the wings.
As they say, the more things change the more they stay the same.
Related YETBW Blog Post: Learning About White Women From Watching Television.
For more information: The Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism describes itself as the “premiere research think tank in the world dedicated to addressing issues of inequality in entertainment.” It may be a slight exaggeration, but not by much. They do extensive research on diversity and the lack thereof in the entertainment industry. Their work is highly cited by those interested and concerned about the issue. You can read their annual reports and other research here.
Updated May 25, 2018
On the Hollywood food chain it seems that Asian actors are “lint” or maybe “less than lint” – to borrow a line from the 1998 movie Dave.
Like Asian actors, Black actors and actresses always lament, with good reason, the lack of roles that are offered to him. They complain about being pigeon-holed into the usual stereotypical roles such as street thugs, sexy divas, loudmouths, wife abusers and the religious matriarch. Sometimes they’re offered good roles because the casting people, fortunately, came down with a case of color-blindness
But compared to what is offered to Asian actors (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, etc.) Black actors have a plethora of acting roles. Asian actresses are mainly cast in subservient roles such as the quiet, dutiful wife or sexually-submissive girlfriend or prostitute. Sandra Oh’s strong and complex character “Dr. Yang” from the television series Grey’s Anatomy being one of the few exceptions to this rule.
Asian actors may, arguably, have more work opportunities than compared to their female counterparts, but the acting stereotypes are still there. Asian males are chosen to play roles that require them to be martial art experts, lords of wisdom, honor-bound samurais, extremely-strict fathers or stressed-out, academic over-achievers with nerd-like qualities. Mostly they’re cast as what I refer to as the “Five O’s”: obstinate fathers, omnipotent fighters, overly dutiful sons, obsequious man-servants or old wise men.
But for a brief moment in 1993 there was an Asian actor, Jason Scott Lee, who could have become a major star. Within a two-month period of that year he was in two films – a romantic drama as a WWII pilot the other as the iconic actor and martial arts expert Bruce Lee (no relation). The latter film did cast him as an Asian playing a famous Asian, but he was so much more than that as an actor. He should’ve been so much more.
Unfortunately, Hollywood just wasn’t ready. Hell, it still isn’t ready, though Asian actors keep trying. But sometimes I’m sure they feel like Sisyphus with that damn rock – constantly pushing at it, only for it to roll down and over them time and again.
In the Not So Distant Beginning
Most of us have seen one or more racist Asian stereotypes in movies and films during our lifetime. I can’t recall the first one that I saw, but there are some I haven’t forgotten. Mickey Rooney’s visually and stereotypically buffoonish and obviously myopic Chinese servant in Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Gedde Watanabe cringe-worthy role in Sixteen Candles as the Chinese exchange student whose English and social skills are child-like and idiotic.
Of course there was also David Carradine in the television series Kung Fu as “Kwai Chang Caine” an Amerasian shaolin monk skilled in Buddhism and martial arts spreading his mysticism throughout the American West. “Kwai” was originally written to be Chinese and was to star Bruce Lee who had cut his teeth in television as martial arts crime fighter “Kato” in the Green Hornet. Not surprisingly, Lee ended up going overseas in order to become a ‘star’ in Hollywood, albeit a posthumous one.
It has still been a very tough road for Asian actors since Bruce Lee. Over the past twenty to thirty years a select few East Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc.) actors born in or outside the U.S. have entered the entertainment mainstream via television and/or feature films with various levels of visibility and success. Actors such as Chow Yun Fat (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Jackie Chan (Rush Hour films), Jet Li (Romeo Must Die), Daniel Dae Kim (Lost, Hawaii Five-O), Russell Wong (Joy Luck Club), Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai) and John Cho (Harold & Kumar films)
However, most owe their career livelihood to the martial arts and/or action-film genre. Asian male actors who can’t, won’t or don’t do martial arts exclusively – who primarily just ‘act’ seem to be few and far in between.
Back in the late 1980s Jason Scott Lee (JSL), an American actor of Chinese-Hawaiian descent was probably aware of the Hollywood odds. He started with small roles in television series such as Matlock and Wolf. He lucked out with a few television movies and small-to-major films such as The Lookalike, Born in East L.A. and Back To The Future II.
According to Internet Movie Database, JSL had acting gigs in only nine television and movies between 1987 and 1993, with 1993 being his breakout year. However, things were about to change, at least they should have changed, according to every happy-ever-after story in Hollywood.
A Double Film Slam Dunk
In April 1993 a small film called Map of the Human Heart was released which was followed in May by Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Both films happened to star JSL in lead roles.
Map of the Human Heart was a romantic drama that takes place in the 1930s in which JSL played Avik, a Canadian Innuit who joins the Royal Canadian Air Force as a bomber pilot. The film revolves around his childhood then adult love for a French-Indian girl played by Anne Parillaud and the impact of his WWII actions – especially the firebombing of Dresden, Germany – had on his emotional well-being after the war. In the film you get to see JSL in various stages of his life, as a cocky pilot, man in love, shell-shocked war veteran and a despondent alcoholic. One of the stand-out scenes in the film is of Jason Scott Lee and Parillaud naked, making love on top of a barrage balloon. Seeing an Asian male actor in such an obviously romantic film scene is a rare occurrence.
Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert said that JSL ” brings a joy and freshness to the early scenes, and makes a good contrast to the older Avik, who has lost his way.” Ebert concluded that ‘Map of the Human Heart’ was “one of the year’s (1993) best films” and gave it four stars. The film only made little over $2 million, but it was critically-acclaimed and JSL received excellent reviews.
A month later JSL was on the screen again in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. The film was based on the book Bruce Lee: The Man I Only Knew by his widow, Linda Lee Caldwell. The semi-biographical film chronicled Bruce Lee’s childhood and young adult years in Hong Kong (though he was born in the U.S.); his move to San Francisco, going to college, meeting his wife and having a family, creating the martial art Jeet Kuen Do and his television and film work up until his death after filming Enter the Dragon, a marital arts classic. Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story had an epic Hollywood biographical tone that played a bit loose with the facts (i.e. he hurt his back lifting weights, not in a battle defending his martial arts creation). However, it also delved into the racial hardships Lee faced as an Asian-American trying to become an American success story.
JSL struck the right tone for the movie which showed his physical prowess (he learned martial arts for the film), comedic timing, dramatic skills all while handling a love story. The film did well, pulling in $35 million at the box-office – a much better haul than Map of the Human Heart.
Roger Ebert said JSL was a “gifted young actor” who like Bruce Lee “use film to give them power over time and space.” Desson Howe of the Washington Post said it’s “[JSL’s] acting that makes “Dragon” so watchable – that “[w]ith a personality like firecrackers, he charms and crackles his way through this movie.”
One can’t help but think that parts of Jason Scott Lee’s portrayal of Bruce Lee in Dragon reflected his own experiences dealing with racism. Yes, the movie wasn’t completely accurate in its telling of Lee’s story, but JSL made you believe you were watching Bruce Lee. Jason Scott Lee is powerful and electric in the scene (video below) in which, as Bruce Lee, he rages against Hollywood’s racist treatment of him and Asian actors. You can’t help but wonder if some of JSL’s experience with Hollywood helped him bring such anger, passion and hurt to the climatic scene.
Pete Rainer of the Los Angeles Times summed up what most movie critics and film goers thought of JSL at that time”:
“What’s exciting about “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” is that, in Jason Scott Lee, the movie has created a new star out of an old star. The film is a tribute to Bruce Lee but it’s also a tribute to the transforming powers of performance. Lee does justice to Bruce Lee while, at the same time, creating a character out of his own fierce resources. He is, quite literally, smashing.”
After I saw both of these films I kept my eye on Jason Scott Lee, hoping against hope that he would blow-up, big-time on the silver screen. I remembered how Daniel Day-Lewis in 1985-1986 had an actor’s year similar to JSL. Daniel Day-Lewis played played a working-class, gay man in an interracial relationship in My Beautiful Laundrette and then followed that up with a role as a proper upper -class gentleman in Room With A View. Hollywood definitely took notice of Day-Lewis’ diverse acting skills. Maybe the same could happen to Jason Scott Lee.
In reality, I knew it wasn’t going to happen. Jason Scott Lee probably knew it too.
Sound and Fury – Then Nothing
After the banner year of 1993 things were pretty quiet work-wise for Jason Scott Lee. Between 1994 and 2013 he was cast in approximately 25 roles, mostly small parts in television shows (The Hunger, Hawaii Five-0), voice-over work (Lilo & Stitich), low budget-films (Tale of the Mummy) and straight-to-video films (Timecop:The Berlin Decision).
He had some screen time in four big-budget films during this period; two of which he was the lead actor – 1994’s Rapa Nui and The Jungle Book. He played an Eastern Island warrior finding love amidst a civil war and a jungle boy raised by wolves, respectively. Not much of a casting stretch for Hollywood. As for the cinematic quality of these films – the less said about them the better.
After Rapa Nui and Jungle Book he didn’t work for three years. Whether this was on purpose or not, it’s hard to determine. Maybe Jason Scott Lee had simply had enough. In between his sporadic television and film work JSL kept busy with local Hawaiian theater, personal documentaries and working on his martial arts skills
Unfortunately what happened to Jason Scott Lee happens to a lot of actors, Asians and non-Asians, so it’s nothing new. But it’s still a shame nonetheless, given his talent.
In December 2010 Jason Scott Lee was interviewed by Guy Aoki, writer for Rafu Shimpo, a Los Angeles Japanese News Daily. Aoki asked JSL if he had been too “selective” in the mid-1990s about the type of roles he wanted. JSL said:
“Back in the ’90s, my effort was to do films with meaningful content, which I believe is still the goal of many artists in Hollywood. For an Asian American actor, it’s that much more difficult. I had a tough time back then accepting the redundant action hero opportunities that were placed before me. It now makes me realize that ‘Dragon’ was somewhat before its time, and trying to find a challenge that would capitalize on that performance was completely non-existent. I’m hoping to find positive challenges in the current situation of movie making.”
I have watched Map of the Human Heart and Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story several times over the years. I still shake my head at Hollywood’s missed opportunity. It almost makes you want to keep your fingers crossed for every ‘person of color’ actor and actress trying to make it in Hollywood because the opportunities are few and the chances for success are even fewer.
Most don’t make it or if they do, they end up catching fire quickly or only for a moment. But then the embers don’t last and the smoke eventually goes away. Just ask Jason Scott Lee.
Notes: 1) You can watch Map of the Human Heart in its entirety here and Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story here. 2) In this 2016 CGTN America video, Jason Scott Lee talks about whitewashing (casting of white actors in Asian roles) in Hollywood. 3) See articles/links below to learn more about racial stereotypes, whitewashing and ethnic assumptions in Hollywood casting (and beyond).
Actors of Color on Racial Stereotypes (Film Courage) – A seven-part video series in which you hear from Black, Latinx, Asian, and Native American men and women discussing their journey, frustrations, surprises and heartaches as they navigate being an actor/actress of color in Hollywood whose default casting is always white.
Black Actors Are Too Often Overlooked. It’s Even Worse for Other Ethnic Minorities (The Guardian) – A British/Asian perspective on the difficulties actors of color in England have in getting work, especially since, according to research by the British Film Institute “[60%] of British films made in the past 10 years [2005-2015] featured no named characters portrayed by black actors. Just 13% starred a black actor in a leading role.”
11 Stereotypes Black Actors Must Play Laid Out in One Scathing Takedown (IndieWire) – “Mamoudou N’Diaye has no need to make an audition reel; the actor has perfected every role he will ever need to play in Hollywood. In a hilarious and scathing parody for Mic, N’Diaye runs through the offensive and reductive stereotypes that too often pigeonhole black talent.”
For Older Actors of Color, The Movement for A More Diverse Hollywood Has Come Too Late (Washington Post) – Jenifer Lewis (Black-ish) discusses being an older actress of color in the era of Hollywood’s trumpeted march towards diversification. The noteworthy comment in the article is when Lewis is asked if actresses like herself “feel reflected” in such diversity efforts. She said “not particularly” because nonwhite actresses of her generation have “no real voice.”
Forget Playing Terrorist No. 3. Middle Eastern Actors Seek Roles Beyond Hollywood Stereotypes (Los Angeles Times) – “Actors, especially those from Africa and Arab states, often contend with Western screenwriters and studios that have reduced a complex world to cursory and at times racist story lines that seldom differentiate between a Shiite or a Sunni Muslim, much less between a Pakistani or a Kuwaiti.”
From Breakfast At Tiffany’s to Hellboy: The Ongoing Problem of Hollywood ‘Whitewashing‘ (Independent) – “Whitewashing is not new. It was a common practice in classical Hollywood, where some of its most egregious examples include John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror and Mickey Rooney as Mr Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Audiences know instinctively that whitewashing is bad – hence the criticisms of other whitewashing films and the resulting hashtag #StarringJohnCho that went viral in spring 2016. As a cultural practice, having white people play, replace and stereotype characters of colour obscures and erases their history, agency and power.”
Hollywood Movies Still Stereotype LGBT Characters, Depict ‘Gay Panic Scenes’ (The Wrap) – Article discusses how lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender characters are mostly missing-in-action in films, and when they do appear it’s for laughs or fear of gay people or being viewed as being gay. “Leaving LGBT people out of the picture — or including them only as a punchline — keeps old prejudices alive and creates an unsafe environment, not only here in America, but around the world,” said GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis in an introduction to the annual Studio Responsibility Index.”
Negative Racial Stereotypes and Their Effect on Attitudes Toward African-Americans (Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia) – Concise and digestible research paper that “[identifies] seven historical racial stereotypes of African-Americans and demonstrate that many of these distorted images still exist in society today. Additionally, strategies for intervention and the implications of this exploration into racial stereotypes will be presented.”
‘We’re the geeks, the prostitutes’: Asian American Actors on Hollywood’s Barriers (The Guardian) – “While much of the recent debate around Asian representation in Hollywood has centered on whitewashing – when white actors are cast to tell Asian stories – working actors said a lack of opportunity was only one part of the problem. Asian American actors said they rarely, if ever, got auditions for leading roles, and when they did get parts, they were frequently secondary to the plot or portrayed offensive tropes.”
Why I Won’t Wear War Paint and Feathers In A Movie Again (Time) – Actor Brian Young (Navajo) discusses his experience in Hollywood and the industry’s racist history when portraying Native Americans.
Yellowface is a bad look, Hollywood (Vox) – The video provides a nice overview of Hollywood’s history of casting whites as Asians in its movies. As the video states “Scarlett Johansson’s casting in ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is just one of the latest examples of a white actor playing an Asian character, a practice that goes back to the earliest days of Hollywood. These casting decisions have made Asians invisible at best and, at worst, the butt of a cruel joke.”
Janice Dickinson (Photos – Fame Flynet via Huffington Post, July 11, 2012)
Huffington Post saw fit today to publish photos of Janice Dickinson (age 57, self-proclaimed first supermodel and former judge on ‘America’s Next Top Model’) on the beach and hitting the surf in a bikini. Huffington knew that the photos were going to be an online hit in the readers’ comments section, which they most definitely were. As to be expected, most of the 1,000+ comments weren’t very nice. Yet, I have to say she asked for it.
Dickinson is just another example of the phenomenon of older, skinny, well-off (mostly white) women not dressing their age – a phenomenon that just will not go away. I have walked behind these supposedly nubile-looking women, but when they turn around and you see their face you do a double-take and not in a good way.
For these women, being skinny denotes youthfulness therefore they think they can wear whatever their heart desires. If Janice Dickinson was wearing a nice, one-piece we would be saying “Wow, she looks really good!” But that’s not what many of us are thinking. She thought that since she could fit into the bikini therefore she could/should wear it. A swimsuit mistake many women (and men) have made. Unfortunately, her swimsuit choice makes her look old, saggy and desperate for attention. I highly doubt these were the adjectives she was shooting for when she decided to put on the bikini. We all want to fight Father Time – some by any means necessary. Yet there is something to be said about aging gracefully. Maybe one day Janice will learn that lesson.
‘What if I was an alien about to visit the planet Earth what would I think about American white women based on watching network and cable television?’
This thought popped into my head when I saw another HBO advertisement pumping its latest show about women, the aptly named “Girls.” Whenever I turn on the television all I see are old and new shows about women, specifically white women. They are everywhere!
Over the decades the National Organization for Women and other pro-women organizations of similar ilk have been patting themselves on the back about the influx of female-dominated shows. Of course these same organizations overlook if not outright ignore the fact that most of these shows are created and/or produced by men AND that women of color are practically non-existent on television, but never mind that!
Oh, back to the alien and white women. Ahem, close your eyes and imagine a male alien (if they exist) attempting to prepare for his arrival on earth. He wants to learn about Americans, specifically American white women in order to find a potential mate. As part of his preparation he watched hundreds upon hundreds of hours of network and cable television shows over the decades (along with a bunch of movies and commercials for good measure) to learn about this species.
If I was that alien I would come to the following conclusions about American white women:
1. They are whiny and neurotic. The topics in which they whine and obsess about are endless, whether it’s their weight, when they will get married, their job, their husband, their family, their clothes, their breast size, their child’s education, the size of their house or whatever else that always seem to bother them. They will find things to complain about. They are never happy.
2. They need to be protected all the time. It’s because they can’t seem to fend for themselves. It’s usually their parents or their boyfriend or their husband or their grandparents coming to their financial, emotional or physical rescue. It doesn’t matter how old they are, their level of physical fitness/strength, emotional fortitude, financial independence or intellectual capacity – white women will always need help.
3. They all secretly want to be blondes. The hair commercials are dominated by blondes. Even when they have blondes, brunettes and redheads in the ads the blonde chick is always front and center. They will destroy their hair over and over again, stripping it of its natural color to become a blonde babe. Even if for some unknown reason they chose not to become a blonde they will still act like the stereotypical blonde airhead. Blondes may be stupid, but they’re sexy and all men seem to want them so white women want to be that woman.
4. They are pretend feminists. White women like to tell people that they are strong and independent and don’t need a man. They go mountain-climbing, kick ass as tough-talking attorneys in the courtrooms, become magazine editors, run bakeries and head-up Fortune 500 companies while listening to girl-power music. But they will chuck it all in a microsecond because their true goal in life is to get married and be a stay-at-home mom in suburbia baking gingerbread cookies while making sure their home is 99.9% germ-free.
5. They are super bitches until age 30. This phase usually kicks in during their high school years and continues through college. Once they graduate the bitchiness is turned down quite a bit as they try to navigate the job market because they’re not queen shit anymore. Once they turn 30 the bitchiness turns into paranoia about their looks, their ovaries reduced life span and everything else until they finally die. Note: The exception to this rule is if a white woman is in a high-level executive position then the bitchiness continues until they turn 40 then paranoia combined with desperation kicks in exponentially.
6. One BFF is never enough. They don’t know how to have one ‘best friend forever.’ White women have to have a group of best friends at all times so that they can hang out, cry and bitch to each other and share their shallow or deepest, darkest secrets while hunting for men in packs like wolves.
7. Sex must be kept on the downlow. They love to have sex (good or bad) and talk about it endlessly. But when it comes down to marriage they dole out the sex so as not to give the man the impression that they may be a slut because if they enjoy sex then they must be a slut. But in order to get a man interested in them they have to be sexual sluts. An infinite conundrum that has caused white women much internal grief.
8. They can afford expensive apartments/homes with low-paying jobs.Their jobs are mostly administrative in nature yet the size and design of their habitat looks as if its owned by a corporate executive. How they are able to manage this is a feat that must be acknowledged but never questioned.
9. Will always find a way to ruin a relationship. They simply talk and think too much about the relationship to their mate while the relationship is in progress. Once they get dumped they have emotional breakdowns and get plastic surgery to improve their self-worth all the while wondering why their latest soul mate has kicked them to the curb.
10. They’re great moms and always worry about their kids. White women as moms are innately the best moms in the universe because they know everything, just ask them. Simultaneously they’re always on red alert for diseases, drug use or stupidity that may impact their child’s development or social standing in parent circles.
11. Would rather be dead than fat. They are all skinny and in great shape. This is mainly because they are constantly dieting and/or complaining about their weight. They also complain about how hungry they are because they’re constantly dieting and/or complaining about their weight. Being overweight or fat is worse than being homeless, having a fatal disease or a nuclear holocaust that would annihilate the human race.
12. They are homicidal lunatics. This behavior especially comes into play when they are dumped by their boyfriend or husband for another woman, usually a more nubile, sexually adventurous woman. They are then consumed by rage and revenge. They’re not able to move on with their lives until their rival has entered the hereafter via a bullet, knife in the back, car accident or a “fall” down several flights of stairs.
Eventually the alien turns off his television set and leans back in his chair. His brain is totally fried from trying to absorb so much information. He wonders if he has learned too little or too much about these strange beings. Not surprisingly, the alien decides to visit another planet to get his groove on, thinking “American white women are just too fuckin’ unstable!”
Related YETBW Blog Post: Stereotypes and Learning About Black Women From Watching Television
This is a different type of blog than I normally post. It started as a result of a Twitter conversation I had with a follower who mentioned that he needed to add some hard rock to his playlist. I thought about just tweeting him a few suggested songs, but it turned into this blog. I hope this helps him out and maybe a few others . . .
I grew up listening to whatever my mom was listening to on the radio or playing on the record player. Aretha Franklin. Frank Sinatra. Earth, Wind & Fire. Boston. Bing Crosby. B.B. King. Mamas and the Papas. Al Green. Joe Cocker. Mahalia Jackson. Doobie Brothers. I learned from my mom that if you like a song that’s all that matters. As a result, I do not allow genres to dictate what I listen to whether it’s hard rock, rap, punk, country, alternative, electronic dance, bhangra, salsa, trance, blues, gospel, bolero, jazz, pop classical or world.
I have been told my music tastes are all over the place. It has been described as eclectic to wacky to nonsensical. What can I say? I like what I like. I have never been afraid to admit to what I listen to though people have made assumptions in regards to my tastes based on my looks. She’s Black therefore she only listens to R&B, rap and hip hop. Yes, I do like rap, hip hop and R&B, but I can swing between a variety of music genres without batting an eye. I have gotten strange looks from people when I’m driving around in my car, windows down, listening to Sade then Tim McGraw followed by Nine Inch Nails.
One of my favorite types of music is rock/hard rock/alternative rock. I get pumped whenever I hear my ‘inner white boy’ playlist (as I jokingly call it) on my iPhone. I enjoy blasting it in on my headphones. I love hearing the vocalists yell or growl out the lyrics when they’re pissed off. When listening to the great to sometimes uneven guitar solos I wonder what the guitarists were thinking while they were recording their part. I bang my fingers to drum solos constantly wishing I could learn and play the drums like Taylor Hawkins does on the Foo Fighter’s ‘Everlong.’
I know that there are other black chicks or black guys like me whose music tastes are outside the box, but you don’t hear much about us. It’s acceptable and very cool for whites to listen to R&B, rap and hip-hop. Yet it is still viewed as odd for blacks NOT to only listen to R&B, rap, and hip-hop. If we do listen to it then we’re ‘weird’ or worst somehow ‘not Black’ – comments like these make me grind my teeth and start grumbling. Just because most white guys supposedly only listen to hard/alternative rock or metal doesn’t mean that non-Whites shouldn’t or haven’t given the genre a shot. A lot of good music gets overlooked because people stick to what they think or what others think they should be listening to instead of being open to all types of music.
Below is a list of some of my favorite ‘inner white boy’ songs to help anyone who wants to do some stretching beyond their usual music genres and tastes.
Note: I normally provide simple audio links for music listeners, but decided to go with official videos or live versions of the songs if available, just so that you can see these bands and artists in action.
So plug in your earbuds and take a listen, you’ll be glad that you did.
Updated October 5, 2016
Alice In Chains – ‘Rooster’
Alien Ant Farm – ‘Smooth Criminal’
All American Rejects – ‘Gives You Hell’
Arcade Fire – ‘We Exist’
Black Crowes – ‘Remedy’
Bon Jovi – ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’
The Clash – ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’
Creed – ‘Higher’
The Cult – ‘Love Removal Machine’
Def Leppard – ‘Photograph’
Fall Out Boy – ‘Dance, Dance’
Foo Fighters – ‘Everlong’
Green Day – ‘Holiday’
Jane’s Addiction – ‘Stop’
Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘Hey Joe’
Journey – ‘Any Way You Want It’
Judas Priest – ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’
Living Colour – ‘Love Rears Up Its Ugly Head’
Ministry – ‘N.W.O.’
N.E.R.D. – ‘Sooner or Later’
Nada Surf – ‘Popular’
Nickleback – ‘How You Remind Me’
Nine Inch Nails – ‘Ruiner (Live)’
Pete Townshend – ‘Rough Boys’
The Pretenders – ‘Tattooed Love Boys’
Prodigy – ‘Smack My Bitch Up’
Rachid Taha – ‘Barra Barra’
Radiohead – ‘Fake Plastic Trees’
Rolling Stones – ‘Gimme Shelter’
Smashing Pumpkins – ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’
Soundgarden – ‘4th of July’
Staind – ‘Outside’
I have been watching CNN’s ‘In the Arena‘ the past few weeks just to take a look at Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. I didn’t watch the show in its previous incarnation ‘Parker & Spitzer‘ which never made much sense to me. CNN hired Spitzer because of his take-no-prisoners attitude then showed its fear (aka potential loss of advertiser dollars and the female audience) by adding Washington Post Columnist Kathleen Parker to soften him up. Watching those two banter was like witnessing one of those horrible, awkwardly scripted conversations you normally see while watching the Academy Awards. ‘Parker & Spitzer’ was a painful, eye scrape-inducing endeavor, therefore I chose not to watch it. Thank goodness CNN saw the error in its logic and shuttled Parker off into ‘media-fail’ outer space. I felt a tad sorry for her, but that’s life in the big city, especially when you’re dealing with the Spitzer.
My reasons for not watching ‘Parker & Spitzer’ were definitely different than most people. Potential viewers boycotted the show because they thought Spitzer was/is an immoral, adulterous asshole. Spitzer has never claimed not to be any of these things. Yes, he enjoyed kicking ass and taking names on behalf of the state of New York as Attorney General then Governor. Yes, he cheated on his wife with a prostitute. Yes, he showed an amazing lack of judgment which led to him resigning his governorship. Yes, he is like a heat-seeking missile when it comes to the limelight. But these are traits and actions he has never tried to hide post-being-caught-with-his-pants-down. He obviously believes that he still has much to contribute to the political and legal conversation, that his career and life are not over because of his transgressions, which is why I watch his show. He’s an asshole, but he’s smart, savvy and a fighter.
He deserves kudos for not laying down or walking away with his dick between his legs. Most people would never have been able to recover from such a public humiliation and supposed career downfall. Yet he found his way back, career-wise. And somehow him and his wife have made amends, so to speak, with each other and moved on. If his wife can do this, then who are we, the general public, to condemn him to pushing boulders uphill like Sisyphus or living in perpetual shame like his philanderer-in-arms, Former 2004 Democratic Vice-Presidential Candidate John Edwards. Spitzer does not act like someone who has been permanently shamed and that is why some people just can’t stand him.
I am not justifying the fact he cheated on his wife nor the fact that he put the state of New York in a politically and financially-precarious position. However, he does not need the public’s forgiveness for his actions. He knows he’s an asshole. He knows that we know he’s an asshole. He seems to be okay with that, though he probably doesn’t give a shit what we think about him, which is as it should be.
Update: On July 6, 2011 CNN canceled Spiter’s talk show ‘In the Arena.’ In 2012 Spitzer became a host of his own show ‘Viewpoint with Elitot Spitzer’ on Current TV which was cancelled that same year. On July 8, 2013 Spitzer announced that he was a candidate to be New York City’s next ‘City Comptroller. He ended up losing the Democratic primary in September 2013 to Scott Stringer (Manhattan Borough President) who eventually was elected Comptroller. On January 13, 2014 Eliot Spitzer and Silda Wall filed divorced papers. The divorce was finalized in April 2014 with Ms. Wall receiving a $7.5 million divorce settlement. In February 2016 a woman accused Spitzer of assault, an allegation which he denied. The woman, Svetlana Travis, later stated that she fabricated the accusation. The New York Police Department’s (NYPD) investigation is ongoing.
Justin Bieber, Peter Wentz, Zac Efron and Christian Siriano – Emo victims
I hate Justin Bieber’s hair. I really don’t know who he is – I think he’s a singer, but I don’t care. I see his hair and any miniscule of interest I might have had in finding out more about him has left the building. He may be very talented, but I just can’t get past his hair. Matter of fact, I can’t stand this hairstyle on any boy or man. It’s not flattering, especially if you don’t have the face for it – not that anyone really has the face for it. The first time that I noticed this horrific hairstyle was on manchild Zac Effron and Peter Wentz, the bass player from Fall Out Boy. Of course Wentz compounded the ugliness of his hair disaster by wearing tons of black eyeliner so much that even a raccoon would question it.
You don’t know what an ’emo’ hairstyle looks like? You probably didn’t know what it was called but you damn well have seen these hair follicle disasters in your local area. You have probably thought that the person wearing this hairstyle was having a bad hairday or they were suffering from hat head for keeping their hat on for too long. Well now you know, unfortunately, that this hairstyle was done on purpose.
I hate how the hair is plastered to a guy’s head like he’s wearing a bad wig. I hate how that it is so long in the front that the offender is constantly brushing it to the side so that he can see. I hate how some wearers look like they haven’t washed their hair in days because they have so much gel plastered on it to hold the style. I hate how some guys wear the style blow-dried to perfection that they look like they’re wearing a bowl on their head. I hate how the style makes guys with weak chins look elfin-like. I hate how the style makes guys with block jaws look like a man servant in a bad medieval film. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it.
I had hoped that once Wentz and Efron saw the error of their ways and got rid of their emo styles that their acolytes would follow, but this did not happen. Justin Bieber happened and the style saw new life.
I’m not saying that I’m against boys or men wearing hairstyles that cover some of their face – see actor Corbin Bleu, NBA player Dirk Nowitski or model Gabriel Aubry. I’m just saying that it shouldn’t be the very first, second and third thing that you notice about a person because their hairstyle is so visually overwhelming. It’s the only thing you will notice and remember about them, which is a bad thing if/when they decide to rid themselves of their unfortunate hairstyle.
Men can do a lot with their hair which is a wonderful thing. Why pick the worse style possible when there are so many more pleasing options?