In light of the recent spree of mass shootings across the country, focus is once again directed to the topic of gun control. All of this is well and good, but tends to overlook the reality that American violence is a fact of life with or without the inclusion of firearms.
As the 1990s progressed, "Byrd" Thorpe could look back on a successful career climbing the corporate ladder at IBM. Seizing the opportunities afforded by affirmative action and the gains of the Civil Rights Movement, he'd carved out a comfortable living with a decent portfolio of rental properties and a comfortable home in Baldwin Hills. Just to keep busy in the idle hours of his retirement, he snagged a sideline selling office furniture.
“Was he insane? F*** yeah that boy was crazy, and he got a lot of people hurt!”
—Afro-Puerto Rican community activist
While most of Iceberg Slim’s (aka Robert Beck) underworld sagas take place in the frigid winters of the East Coast and Midwest, he spent the last three decades of his life (and the period in which he made his mark as a writer) in the relative tranquility of Los Angeles. This idyllic change of scenery proved to be as treacherous as the mean streets of his youth, however. His publisher, Holloway House, gouged him out of his fair share of the considerable profits he earned for them in much the same way that they exploited other chroniclers of the urban experience, like Donald Goins and Joe Nazel.
Robert Beck, aka Iceberg Slim, in terms of his impact on shaping our global cultural landscape, is probably now as essential reading as William Shakespeare.
—Scottish novelist Irvine Walsh
As the not so new millennium drones onward, and this country continues to be a cauldron of intolerance, this milestone suggests that the venerated memories of the Civil Rights era are not merely dusty entries to be pondered during a history lesson. The passing of active participants of this struggle only serves to highlight the lessons that may be applied to the continued specter of intolerance.
Looking at the Riots and their impact on the community
America’s obsession with anniversaries may be likened to an addiction. During the course of this year, in particular, we have or will commemorate the recurring date of numerous notable events.
A mid-century take on cultural appropriation
Alternative publications purport to offer a fresh take on subjects covered by the mainstream media, and often tackle taboo, off-limit issues avoided by the establishment.
Muslims and law enforcement negotiate a slippery slope towards mutual understanding
The holy month of Ramadan (June 17 to July 17, 2015) is considered one of the “five pillars” of the Islamic faith. As the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, it is also the period during which the faith's central religious text, the Quran, was first revealed.
“During an 18-month period in 1971 and 1972, the FBI reported more than 2,500 bombings on American soil—nearly five a day. Yet less than 1 percent of the 1970s-era bombings led to a fatality: The single deadliest radical-underground attack of the decade killed four people.”
Jazz singer Ed Reed enjoys a thriving career as an octogenarian
One of the many memorable quotes left to us by novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald is his observation that, “There are no second acts in American lives,” which has been widely interpreted to mean that we can never recover from early failures.
Mixing musical genres is such a given in contemporary entertainment that one is tempted to believe that this is a new phenomenon. In actuality, this co-mingling of “tropes” or stylistic embellishments associated with specific musical idioms to create new and different effects, has been around since the first immigrants to the New World intentionally put together sounds to amuse themselves.
A tale of two distinct motion picture cultures
The saga of the development of American society is a study of the progression of very distinct cultures. This flies in the face of the landmark National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (better known as the Kerner Commission) of 1968, which proclaimed that the “…nation is moving toward two societies, one Black, one White—separate and unequal.”
Coveted by the high and mighty, the Medal of Honor is the symbol of America’s valiant elite
“Someone could receive the Medal of Honor because they are suicidal; or stupid; or grandiose; or lucky; or opportunistic; because they were in the wrong place at the right time; or because they were courageous.”
Black males encumbered by the weight of racial discrimination
When I glanced at this week’s F.B.I.’s “10 most wanted” list, I was mildly surprised when I saw that no one on it was Black (closer examination did reveal former Black Liberation Army member and alleged cop killer Joanne Deborah Chesimard, better known as Assata Olugbata Shakur, aunt and godmother of the iconic rapper Tupac Shakur, on the list of most wanted terrorists).
As the Millennium progresses, America may be following the rest of the world down the path to global inequality.
“The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement ... a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
Bias remains a constant factor embedded within the psyche of each and every one of us, regardless of our individual aspirations towards open- mindedness and liberal thought.
Fifteen years into a not-so-new millennium, we have come to the realization that computer “glitches” will not cripple society and electronic devices have not spelled the end of the printed page.
The collaboration between the church and theatre continues to be an intriguing and viable outlet, especially here in Los Angeles, a locale that curiously does not have a thriving stage culture, in spite of the humongous acting population drawn here by the allure of the film and television industry.
“Thank you for going on a journey with Better Brothers Los Angeles and attending our Inaugural Truth Awards Ceremony Saturday evening. Your presence fulfilled our dream of creating a space where the Black LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer) community could gather and honor its own. You are all now witnesses to that creation!!"’
America through the eyes of expatriates
Years from now, historians may well regard this era as a transitional period in the evolution of race relations, much like the mid-20th century. As we wind down to the end of the administration of the first non-White male president, the subject of color is as contentious and nebulous as it has ever been in the two and a half centuries of this country’s existence.
Largely overshadowed by the presence of UCLA and USC, two pre-eminent institutions of higher learning in Los Angeles County, Mount Saint Mary’s University remains a unique presence as the only independent college for women locally. With dual campuses nestled near both the city’s major universities (the Brentwood campus houses its undergraduate program), the Catholic liberal arts school has recently launched a new co-educational masters of fine arts program in creative writing at its Doheny campus near University Park USC.
Conference explores art, culture and the ‘Black esthetic’
Novelist Ishmael Reed once described his writing technique as “making something whole from scraps,” or more to the point, “the gumbo style,” meaning that his work was steeped in the European literary tradition, and also shaped by popular culture as produced by the commingling of influences in the new world.
Fifty years ago this week, a crowd filed into Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom on a Sunday afternoon. The Audubon was a multi-purpose building that hosted a variety of events, including festivals, movie screenings, and religious services. But today, however, it was being utilized for another, different type of event entirely. The crowd had gathered to attend a meeting of the newly formed Organization of African American Unity, with its keynote speaker one of the most controversial and polarizing figures in America: El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, more commonly known as Malcolm X.
First off, let me start by admitting that I’ve never seen “Ganja and Hess,” the 1973 blaxploitation landmark from which Spike Lee’s newly released “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” is derived. That said, I’ll take as gospel all the press releases asserting that this remake sticks close to the original’s script (Lee includes writer-director Bill Gunn in the credits for this latest effort).
Already underway, this year’s Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) which ends on Feb. 16, is all the more interesting in light of the barrage of criticism due to the scarcity of nominations for people of color at the Academy Awards.
“…Sterling was not only employed by the C.I.A., but he worked as an operations officer—meaning he worked clandestinely. Thus, the factual details of the case, which would otherwise be unremarkable, (redacted) potentially, compromise the C.I.A.’s operations…”
Since the early 1980s, the shopping, entertainment, and dining Mecca along Melrose Avenue has been a go-to spot for hipsters and scene makers who frequent Los Angeles’ fashionable West Side. While it strives to project a trendy persona ranging from fancy to funky, the overall economic reality of this Hollywood adjacent enclave is decidedly upscale. Recently, a new arrival in the neighborhood has offered up an intriguing option for diversity in the area. Unofficially in business for several months, the Exact Science Gallery held its formal opening Jan. 24 to coincide with the upcoming Black History Month celebration.
Legitimate Complaint or Sour Grapes? The pros and cons of Oscar omission
“The movie industry is like the Rocky Mountains, the higher you get, the whiter it gets.”
—Al Sharpton in a statement released on the afternoon after this year’s Oscar nominations.
"African Americans discover in Paris the terms by which they can define themselves. It's the freedom to work beyond the assumptions of what we can and can't do as African Americans. It's a different rhythm and pace. We can imagine ourselves in new ways in that space."
Also provide peek at works in progress
To say that narrative filmmaking dominates the local movie industry is a gross understatement. Depictions of make believe shape civilization and culture across the globe, a social manifestation that surpasses even the considerable monetary influence of the entertainment industry. Yet the medium of the documentary is well represented within the shadow of Hollywood, as manifested by the turnout for the annual holiday party for the Black Association of Documentary Filmmakers, better known as BADWest. The event was held Dec. 3 at the Writer’s Guild of America, West.
George Clinton and the road to Afrofuturism and Astro-Blackness
Not merely escapist fantasy, science fiction does in fact make positive contributions to society, albeit in an indirect way. Generations of innovators have used these yarns as sources of inspiration, and as a portal to the future.
George Clinton chronicles his musical odyssey in a printed memoir
Once upon a time, there was a barbershop in a Black enclave in the wilds of deepest, darkest New Jersey, circa the 1950s. Like similar establishments, it was a hub of the cultural and social life of the neighborhood, and dispensed chemically straightened “processed” hair, and other, more conservative styles to a clientele of picturesque characters who often earned a living skirting the propriety of the legal system.
Three Black Republicans win historic elections
The recent election results have flown in the face of conventional wisdom. After a disastrous presidential defeat in 2012, the Republican Party regrouped and gained control over the Senate while solidifying their sway over the House.
Next week marks the celebration of the Marine Corps birthday (Nov. 10) and Veteran’s Day (Nov. 13). In order to acknowledge both occasions at once, Our Weekly presents the story of a bona fide military pioneer who bridged the gap between World War II and the Cold War.
Central to any compelling story is conflict. In the case of the recently released “Kill the Messenger,” the conflict is already well known: Investigative reporter from a mid-sized daily paper in San Jose stumbles upon a report of international intrigue involving government-sponsored narcotics smuggling into inner-city America. The movie unfolds as reporter Gary Webb (played by Jeremy Renner) vacillates between devoted family man (albeit with a past history of infidelity) and dogged, hard-nosed journalist captivated by the conspiracy unraveling before him.
Interracial marriage to movie star Inger Stevens kept secret for 10 years
He was a bonafide star of the UCLA Bruins football teams of the 1950s, and the first African American graduate of the UCLA film school. In his professional life, he worked as an actor and assistant director, and was the first Black producer of a major motion picture, but Ike Jones may be best remembered for his secret marriage to Blonde movie star Inger Stevens during the 1960s.
Diversity and innovation play key role in Blacks increasing on-screen popularity
Recent advances for artists of color have some proclaiming a new era in “Tinsel Town” while others dismiss it as a false flag for social progress.
J. California Cooper, the author and playwright whose folksy, first-person narratives depicted Black women as they struggled through a world of hostility and indifference, died on Sept. 20 in Seattle, Wash. She was 82.
Exploring the militarization of the police
“In politics, what begins in fear usually ends in folly.”
—Poet & Literary Critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Gerald Wilson, the prolific Jazz arranger, bandleader, composer, educator, and trumpeter, died at his family home in Los Angeles on Sept. 8. Perhaps the ultimate testament to his musical versatility was his ability to transition from the swing era of the 1930s to the eclectic trends of the 21st century. His passing was announced by his son, noted guitarist Anthony Wilson, who listed the cause of death as pneumonia. He was 96.
Talented misfit comes to ‘Memphis’ in search of artistic fulfillment
Memphis, Tenn. occupies a unique place in the folklore and musical legacy of America, as demonstrated by the cultural traditions of its two foremost landmarks: Beale Street and Graceland. Its pre- eminent status as an incubator for Blues, Gospel, Jazz, Rockabilly and Soul was a determining factor for independent director Tim Sutton to base his second film, the eponymously titled “Memphis,” in that fabled city.
Reel Black Men Short Film Showcase explores new directions in subject matter
A colleague recently bemoaned the fact that Black films suffer from a limited outlay of subject matter. Once you get past the repetitive yarns of “gangsta” stories and urban melodramas, the “chick flicks” and redundant romances, and so forth, there is very little to choose from.
African American law enforcement professionals converge in the midst of Midwest civil unrest
It is perhaps just one of the oxymorons of modern society that Black men, among the most marginalized within the American justice/legal system, find gainful employment within the law enforcement entity that is so often at odds with the African American presence here in the United States.
New Orleans native contributed to generations of musicians
Although he did not boast the marquee status of contemporaries such as Art Blakey and Elvin Jones, none of them eclipsed the influence of Idris Muhammad’s “bottom-up style” of drumming, and his ability to adapt across a variety of musical styles that spanned some five decades. The legendary bandleader, composer, and percussionist died July 29 at the age of 74 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The cause of death was not immediately revealed, but family members acknowledged he had previously been undergoing dialysis. He was buried immediately according to the dictates of his Islamic faith.
The aftermath of a grotesque tragedy can often give an inkling of a bigger problem
As further investigations are revealing, that very well may be the case in the Los Angeles Police Department’s Christopher Dorner affair.
Controversy and scandal marked life of talented entertainer
While he never enjoyed the accolades or chart-topping success of some of his peers, arguably none of them could match the artistic versatility of Bobby Womack. The consummate singer, songwriter, and guitarist died Friday at age 70. The cause of death was not immediately revealed.
Horace Silver, the innovative bandleader, composer and pianist who brought a grounded earthiness to the “hard bop” genre of Jazz in the 1950s, has died of natural causes at his New Rochelle, N.Y. home. He was 85.
Marks its 20th anniversary
At this point in its history, the film industry is becoming increasingly decentralized as productions move to more (economically) hospitable locales. The Los Angeles Film Festival, now in its 20th year, seeks to celebrate the charms of this, the birthplace of moving pictures. Towards this goal, they have initiated a special section within the festival to highlight 11 movies inspired by the “City of Angeles.” Under the banner L.A. Muse, this “festival within a festival” is meant to promote the idea of L.A. as a continuing source of inspiration for filmmakers on an international level, and is curated by Los Angeles Film Festival Director Stephanie Allain (now in her third year shepherding the fest), and internationally renowned critic Elvis Mitchell.
The most visible of all the candidates running for the office of Los Angeles County Sheriff is, of course, the former undersheriff, Paul K. Tanaka. A 30 plus year veteran in the law enforcement community, his steady rise within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department culminated in his appointment as undersheriff, or second-in-command, to Sheriff Lee Baca in 2011. A certified public accountant, Tanaka’s connection with Baca was so close that he reportedly did his boss’ taxes for a number of years. During his two year stint as undersheriff, Tanaka endured a barrage of controversies stemming from abuse and corruption within the county jail system, and allegations that he solicited political contributions from employees within the Sheriff’s Department in association with his position as Mayor of Gardena, a post he has held since 2005.