BeyonJay: Black Love On Top

August 30, 2011

BET Awards '06: Partners At Every Stage

This post is really a quick congratulations to King B and Young Hov on expecting their first child. I tend not to swerve into gossip blog lanes but I couldn’t help notice how fast the attention came away from Kim Humphries’ recent wedding! When it comes to big news, the biggest entertainer since the incomparable Michael Jackson (yeah, I said it long before her husband did-click here) runs the celebrity media world!

With one embrace of her bump in her gorgeous red gown on their black carpet, Beyoncé turned the VMAs into the BeyMAs.

Who Run The World? This mother to B!

She capped off the night with a sweet, sexy rendition of “Love On Top” in custom D&G maternity trousers. When the last note rang, she dropped the mic, popped open her tuxedo jacket, and rubbed her belly, smiling from ear to ear. In a cynical, star-obsessed world depressed by the global economy, it’s great to see what comes across (to me anyway) as authentic wedded bliss and maternal joy, without the hazy glare of a reality show’s filter. It’s also wonderful to have a model of a woman who excelled in her career, married, and got pregnant (please stop saying “knocked up”–that’s for jumpoffs and accidents) in that order.

Black Love On Top

In the wings, Jay-Z was an exuberant proud papa watching his wife and unborn child, clearly over the moon. He’s ready to be a present, powerful father, ready to break the cycle of fatherlessness he experienced and Decoded for us in his memoir. May all his fans who stay in that deadbeat baby daddy loop be freed by his example and step their game up. May all the good dads out there be encouraged, knowing that a new member is joining their ranks to shine a light on the good they do that goes largely unnoticed simply because they aren’t famous.

Cheers to the parents-to-Bey! Here’s to a happy, healthy baby–and Black Love on top!

Farewell, Mr. Ashford: Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing

August 25, 2011

Nickolas ‘Nick’ Ashford


Anger bubbled inside me upon learning that one of the world’s seminal soul and pop music voices was silenced by throat cancer at the age of 70 on August 22, 2011. Nickolas ‘Nick’ Ashford truly wrote the words that made the whole world fall in love. And I was literally pissed off that the same disease who claimed the earthly life of my mother had taken also taken his.

And then, I had to take a moment and rethink my reaction. Nick Ashford spent his life providing everyone within the reach of his pen, the sound of his voice–with an experience of deep, complete, soul-stirring love. Whether it was love identified with Marvin & Tami’s “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing”, the power of love recognized on Diana’s “The Boss”, love for the human race extended with “Reach Out And Touch”, or unshakeable love affirmed with “Solid”, the smash hit he and his lovely wife Valerie Simpson performed, Nick Ashford let us know that love was possible, attainable, and ultimately, all that really mattered. And he didn’t just write these songs. He truly seemed to feel like there was no mountain high enough to keep him from Valerie, who wrote, sang, grooved, and stood by his side for 38 years of marriage. He lived those lyrics, and the life they shared seemed to fill his heart. “Whatever it is/love’ll fix it/Found a cure.”

Solid As A Rock

So what business did I have allowing anger to cloud my memory of this music legend?

As a songwriter, he and Ms. Simpson were totally unselfish. They were hitmakers (see: “I’m Every Woman” by Chaka Khan) and starmakers, catapulting Ross to solo mega-success with multiple hits, something that eludes many an artist breaking away from a popular group. Nick and Valerie knew this all too well. So much so, they created their own incubator for artist development and live performance called The Sugar Bar. Veterans and emerging artists shared a stage that may have been tiny, but was deep, wide, rich with the history and sweat of those who graced it. Free of ego and full of good judgment–the kind that empowers artists as they hone their craft.

In a tweet exchange between myself and singer-songwriter-producer Sandra St. Victor, I learned just how much Ashford’s humility touched her:

“@putyrdreams1st I did their radio show back in the day. Val played piano, Nick sang BG while I sang “Misty Blue.” Talk about an honor. WoW.”

So I took my thoughts to the many times I’d seen Mr. Ashford striding down the streets of New York City. Sometimes he’d smile wide, other times exude cool confidence. Always regal and feline in his movement, like a lion, complete with jet black mane and black leather pants, some manner of sheer or billowy shirt, and accessories befitting the rock star showman he was. Never flanked by handlers, fabricating a scene or inconvenienced by those who would greet him with admiration or gratitude. Nick Ashford was a star, not a celebrity. His glow came from within, not from external adulation. As a writer and lover of words, I’m just glad I got to shake the hand that gave us five decades of beautiful music, love in sonic form.

I have to agree with Sandra when she tweeted, “This loss is simply shattering. I think Nick brought the earthquake when he touched the sky.” -Sandra St. Victor

My prayers and gratitude go to Ms. Valerie Simpson. As a wife in her 14th year, doing the work of creating a happy marriage, I can say that I looked to Ashford & Simpson with stars in my eyes before I even knew what marriage was about. Throughout the carefree 80s and me-me-me 90s, they made Black love look (and sound) fabulous. Enviable. Amazing. For this, I thank them both.

Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.

Sister Swan: Cherry Martinez

August 3, 2011

Radio host, show producer/engineer and media maven. Cherry's at the top of her game!


Cherry Martinez made an indelible first impression on me as a jock in Los Angeles in the ’90s. Her playful but assertive voice cut through the airwaves because she didn’t have an ‘L.A.’ accent. A proud representative of Honduras educated in Boston, (Emerson College degree in Communications), Cherry is much more than another voice on the air; she commands the boards as she holds down the 10pm-2am slot on New York’s Power 105.1. After reconnecting with her on Twitter a decade later, I wanted to profile this inspiring Latina Sister Swan. Having appeared on rap albums (Erick Sermon’s Insomnia) and in front of the camera as a TV host (BET Live From L.A.), she brings her flavor to every platform with her own signature style. Here’s what she’s up to and what she’s into these days as she continues to handle her entertainment business.

What are you working on right now?

Holding down my show on Power 105.1, Sexy In The City. I also just launched my new webzine,

What book(s) are you reading right now?

I am currently re-reading a great book called The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah.  Also, I picked up a great little book called Why Men Love Bitches by Sherry Argov.  This book created inspiration for my radio show.

Share something you do for work that’s harder than it looks.

I engineer my own show as well as produce it.

Describe a moment of sweet vindication.

When I first came to Power 105.1, rocking my dirty Air Force Ones, I was working the weekend shift amongst a lot of naysayers. Within a month and a half, they hired me full time.

What’s the most dangerous aspect of the waters you navigate?


Name two places you call home.

Home for me is in my son’s presence and in my man’s arms.  When there, I know I’m safe and secure.

What are your influences?

The streets, Golden crust eating a beef patty (lol), the suburbs, gazing at the sky line, life experiences are my greatest teacher.

How can people connect with you?

Twitter: @cherrymartinez



What I Learned From Gil Scott-Heron

May 29, 2011
Rest In Power, Master Teacher

Gil Scott-Heron

Artist * Poet * Activist * Musician * Author


Gil Scott-Heron was called home Friday, May 27, 2011. An iconic creative spirit who left an indelible mark on Black music and indeed the entire world, you’ll read obits about his public accomplishments and contributions. He is indeed a revolutionary. He is the Godfather of Spoken Word. But this piece is about what this amazing Master Teacher taught me during the three years I worked on his behalf.

Gil’s music used to pump at full volume in my home. My parents and he went to Lincoln University, and his albums remained in heavy rotation. To me, Gil Scott-Heron was larger than life: big smile, big beard, booming voice that could have been on the corner or at my holiday dinner table breaking down injustice with his unmistakable cadence. He spoke the truth without fear on his records. And the instrumentation was incredible: insistent, fierce, soulful. Bass lines that made neck hairs stand up. Flutes and keys that insisted you move along with them. Gil was the man who brought it to The Man. So when an internship came up at a place that represented him, I made it my mission to get the gig. Knowing who he was and what he sang at my age made me a shoo-in, especially when most teens were all about hip-hop.

I was 19 when we met. In real life, his beard and voice were as big as they seemed on his records, but he was also tall, lean, witty and charismatic. The internship was at DeLeon Artists, the booking and management agency that also represented Willie Colon, Etta James and many other luminaries of soul and jazz. Eventually, his agent (and my mentor) Bruce Solar would leave De Leon and start Absolute Artists, taking me with him to be the office  and contracts manager. Because Bruce kept Gil on the road booking him hundreds of dates across the globe, Gil went with him to Bruce’s new company. “I want to be on the road 320 days a year,” he told us. Bruce made sure of it.

Upon Gil’s death, I realize that much of what I practice and impart to others in the entertainment industry comes out of working with and on behalf of Gil:

Be concerned with honesty over popularity.

Gil Scott-Heron said what he wanted to say, 100% of the time. How you took what he had to say was on you. Now, this is risky enough in life. In art, it’s everything. His indictment of the system and observations of how they affected people on the margins made him popular. Authenticity was a hallmark of Gil’s.

Make great music and you can tour forever.

Gil went for years at a time without releasing new music, and yet he was always in demand as a performer or lecturer. Artists with a substantive point of view that they can express in their music or in a discussion will always have income.

Keep your publishing, even if it’s a portion. The checks are worth it.

Gil would have his entertainment life handled through the agency. His publishing checks came to the office. They were especially big after the first quarter of each year, because Gil’s music was a Black History Month staple (and still is). Had he surrendered all his publishing, he would not have had that supplementing his tour income.

Addiction is evil.

I admired Gil to no end as an artist, and never imagined I would meet him, much less have the distinct honor of working with him. I also never imagined I’d see him consumed by the haze he used as a forcefield around him, as armor against all he knew but could not control. I don’t know how he died, but I do know that between working so much and abusing his body, he looked more like 82 than 62. I can only imagine the pain it caused those close to him. Bruce and I were always waiting for the worst news. Ironically, it never came; he lived longer than even Gil said he would. Gil used to tell Bruce and I that if he made it to 50 he’d kill himself; he’d say it with complete seriousness as he chuckled. When he didn’t, we were surprised and relieved because Gil usually meant what he said. Substance abuse is a hard demon to confront, much less vanquish. So many greats are gone from losing that battle. I submit that Gil would have been with us longer had he not engaged that war. It reminds me that compassion for those we love is paramount, especially when we don’t love what they’re doing to themselves.

Thank you, Gil, for all you gave us–and all you taught me. You will forever be loved, in all your complexity.

May the peace he sang and worked for be his at last.

Sister Swan: Erica Hubbard, Actor and Mentor

March 31, 2011

Hubbard: Making moves on and off screen.

You may have gotten to know Erica’s work from teen dance flick Save The Last Dance, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, or the ABC Family hit Lincoln Heights, where she stars as Cassie Sutton. Ms. Hubbard transitioned seamlessly from drama to comedy on Let’s Stay Together, the first original scripted sitcom undertaken by BET. Her character Kita may be sexy, single and a tad bit country, but don’t sleep on the actor in the role. She’s globetrotting and giving back with her own non-profit which supports urban youth with scholarships—with zero interest in taking degrading gigs. I’m always happy to find a successful woman who shares my ‘No Kneepads’ mantra. Re-introducing…Ms. Erica Hubbard.

Let’s Stay Together is a hit! How has your career been affected since its premiere?

I am so happy and humbled to work with BET on Let’s Stay Together because it is one of the very few projects on air that has a positive message about love and sticking together in a relationship.  Since the launch of Let’s Stay Together and portraying Kita Whitmore, I have had influx of viewers contact me via Facebook and Twitter saying how much they like the premise of the show.  Also, I have been contacted by producers and directors who want me to take a look at their projects from being on both TV Shows: Let’s Stay Together as well as Lincoln Heights.

What book(s) are you reading right now?

Currently, I am reading the book Super Rich: A Guide To Having It All by Russell Simmons.

Share something you do for work that’s harder than it looks.

Gaining and losing weight for different roles I portray.  Cassie Sutton on Lincoln Heights body frame is totally different from Kita Whitmore on Let’s Stay Together. Most of my characters I portray have a different cadence, body movements and personality.

Describe a moment of sweet vindication.

I went in for this one casting director who booked me on a TV show as a vixen, but wouldn’t see me as a homeless teen because she believed I couldn’t play to totally opposite characters.  To make a long story short, her assistant gave me a chance and brought me in. The producers and director loved my delivery. I ended up getting the job.  I was so glad to prove to the casting director that you can never underestimate the talent of someone who believes in their worth!

What’s the most dangerous aspect of these industry waters you navigate?

Not compromising myself in playing a role I know that is morally indecent.  Some viewers watching our work are impressionable, and sometimes I have to pass on a big budget project or turn down an opportunity working with an A-list star if the role is degrading.

Name two places you call home.

The two places I call home is the City of Chicago and Church!

Who are your influences?

My major influences are a lot of philanthropists who care about the community! I am the Executive Director of my non-profit- The Erica Hubbard Foundation. I truly believe that it is vital to give back to your community.  The people who I look up to care tremendously about social justice, health issues, and human equality.  If I were to provide you with a list my influences would include but would not be limited to people like Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Theresa.

We all need creative stimulation to be successful. What is your favorite creative outlet or inspiration, what I call “creative food”?

I think it is vital to be creatively stimulated in order to be successful. Whether you paint, write poetry, act, sing, dance, or play an instrument, it’s important to have a positive creative outlet. Personally, my favorite creative outlet is to perform in a stage play. Recently, I was nominated for a NAACP Theater Award for the theater project called “What Would Jesus Do.”  It was so rewarding and also fulfilling to express myself in front of a live audience!

What is your guilty pleasure?

My guilty pleasure is traveling around the world.  Recently, I visited the Island of Moorea in Tahiti Island. I love to experience and witness how different cultures live and operate daily in their societies. Traveling the world most definitely broadens your horizons on so many levels.

What projects do you have lined up for the future?

I am reading some feature film projects now that I am considering.  Also, I have my own production company and we are reviewing material to produce. In the meantime, I am enjoying portraying Kita on Let’s Stay Together, and working with The Erica Hubbard Foundation.

For more information on Erica’s non-profit, visit The finale of Let’s Stay Together premieres Tuesday, April 5th on BET. Check local listings for airtimes.

For Nate Dogg: Hip-Hop’s Captain Hook

March 17, 2011

T-pain, Akon, Ja, Fif, Drake. All inspired by this man.


Nathaniel “Nate Dogg” Hale


On March 15, 2011 Nathaniel D. Hale, professionally known as Nate Dogg, transitioned from a world upon which he left an indelible mark.

Before Ja Rule, before 50 Cent, and long before T-Pain, Akon, or Drake were dabbling in the hook game, there was Tha Homie Nate, co-founding member of 213.

The East Coast and Midwest probably know his crossover hits best: obviously the monster smash “Regulate” performed with Warren G, huge songs from Snoop Dogg’s debut Doggystyle like “It Ain’t No Fun” and classic album cuts like “Lil Ghetto Boy” from The Chronic that Nate Dogg blessed. In 2001, Whitney Houston brought his banger with Tha Eastsidaz into the national consciousness on the BET Awards by singing, “you betta Lay Low” to her detractors from the podium.

Nate made magic for them all...

We on the West heard much more of his repertoire on a daily basis throughout the mid ‘90s. We rode hard to tracks like “It’s All About U” from 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me, “Bitch Please” from Snoop Dogg with Xzibit, and “Big Pimpin’”, his outing with Tha Dogg Pound from the Above The Rim Soundtrack (that predated the song of shared title by Jay-Z) and of course—“The Next Episode” from Dr. Dre’s Chronic 2001.

Never one to discriminate based on region, the songs Nate did with emcees from the East and the South are also memorable: “Oh No” with Most Def and Pharoahe Monch; “Running Your Mouth”, the cut he did with Biggie, Fab and Busta Rhymes on B.I.G’s posthumous Greatest Hits CD; “Have A Party” with Mobb Deep, “Time’s Up” with Jadakiss, “Area Codes” with Ludacris, and his two most radio friendly collaborations of them all, I Can’t Deny It with Fabolous and “21 Questions” with 50 Cent.

Unifier of the Hip-Hop Sound

That’s part of what made Nate so great; his versatility; his velvety, confident delivery on the mic; his ability to shape hip-hop’s sound and in so doing, remove boundaries. The result is a catalog so diverse within the genre, it will take quite some time for any other vocalist to eclipse it. Nate Dogg is truly an architect of contemporary hip-hop. He elevated the collaboration, and was nominated for four Grammy® Awards over the course of his career.

For some perspective, when gangsta rap ramped up and started receiving more than the “shock value” airplay given to N.W.A., Domino was Nate’s only contemporary on the West Coast, singing hooks as he half-rapped. When Death Row kicked down a new door in gangsta rap, Nate went into warp speed with a barrage of hits, leaving Domino and his gold-selling “Geto Jam” at the starting line. Nate never tried to rap, but he didn’t need to. Nate Dogg kicked game everlasting through his vocals, often anchoring the young, hurried voices of the emcees with measured grown-man sensibility. He made the most misogynist, testosterone-laden, and most triflin’ ‘hood phrases sound like quiet storm dedications, only you almost snapped your neck nodding to them. Nate Dogg was a master of melody, Suge’s heavy-hitter of hooks. And with Jewell and Danny Boy rounding out Suge’s vocal arsenal, Death Row became the arbiter of what Snoop Dogg would later call R&G, Rhythm & Gangsta.

Nate Dogg was so prolific, he had G-Funk Classics Vol 1 & 2, a two-disc compilation come out before his own solo debut dropped. While not well received upon its release, Music & Me (2001) had a jam I kept on repeat as its opening song called “I Got Love” for that melody and those horns beneath Nate’s signature vocal styling. And he had love, from every corner of the hip-hop map, boasting Snoop, Fabo, Pharoahe, Lil’ Mo, Xzibit, and JD on the project. He had certainly given more than his share as a bonafide hitmaker for other artists, to the tune of over 100 million albums sold with him featured.

I got to meet him over the phone on a Tech.nitions DJ conference call—he and I were the featured guests that week. I gave him his props and called him Captain Hook; he laughed long and strong at that moniker. Me personally, I would have loved to have gotten “One More Day” to thank and acknowledge Nate for crafting a significant part of my life’s hip-hop soundtrack. This post will have to suffice.

Rest in Power, Nate Dogg.

Commentary: Why billboard is an Ad FAIL

February 24, 2011

An offensive, incendiary ad went up in Manhattan this week targeting the wombs of Black women. I was not alone in my anger at the ad; media personality and recording artist Free shared my upset. She invited me to provide some analysis on the ad to take the discussion on twitter beyond the emotional reactions the ad sparked. Below is what she posted at I’d love to get your thoughts here as well.

Here’s the ad:

No, your eyes do not deceive you.



I have been in advertising and marketing communications for over 12 years. As a writer of numerous campaigns across categories from pro-social to entertainment, I understand the impact words and images are designed to make in the form of advertising. I want to examine all that is wrong with this ad:

Copy: “The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.” The headline is designed to grab your attention. It certainly does that—but it also maligns African American expectant mothers and infers that the Black female body is toxic and to be feared, when in fact the womb is the seminal, most natural place in the world for any child of any mother. Now Black women’s wombs are more dangerous than urban streets, than corrupt police, than semi-automatic weapons, than drugs?! The headline seems to work counter to the overall message, which is that they want to prevent abortions. If that’s so, then what’s so scary about a pregnant Black woman? Ohhh, the fact that she might be in control of her own reproductive system; that she would make an informed choice of her own volition. Now I get it.

Imagery: Instead of seeing a mature pregnant woman, or even an infant, we are presented with an adorable young African-American girl who looks to be under the age of 8. What is this ad’s image saying? That the child is also dangerous as the outcome of a Black woman giving birth? That she is the owner of the dangerous womb and sexually active, (which objectifies and sexualizes her in a way that is totally inappropriate)? Or is it intended to make a woman considering terminating a pregnancy rethink it if she sees a cute little girl that her embryo could become? In my view, this cute girl is meant to make me look and say “awww, how cute!” and then read the whole ad. Any answer occurs for me as a ploy. More abuse of the black female image.

But what if this woman was raped? What if her pregnancy is the result of incest? What if the condom just broke, or she’s simply not prepared emotionally or financially to bring a child into the world? What if the embryo has genetic abnormalities the mother is not able or willing to manage? Much more goes into this decision than interest groups and politicians tend to admit or accept.

A woman’s right to choose is under a full-blown assault in America right now. From talk of overturning Roe v. Wade, to Republicans trying to redefine “rape” in legislation to the Senate voting to de-fund Planned Parenthood, the pendulum is dangerously close to swinging back to hangers in dark alleys or interstate drives in the dead of night for illegal procedures. Instead of offensive and insensitive ads for shock value, why wouldn’t share options for pregnant women that involve going full term? Present the option of surrogacy, or offering the child for adoption instead of vilifying the same womb that creates life. Or, sing the praises of abstinence or safe sex. All that is too complicated; it’s easier to slap a nasty headline on a sweet image and generate some buzz. If women of color are terminating at disproportionate rates, a closer look at all the factors that contribute to this should be examined. All women deserve to know what those factors are. gets an Ad FAIL from me for race-baiting with their advertising.

Thembisa S. Mshaka, Promax Gold and Telly award-winning advertising and media executive and author, Put Your Dreams First, Handle Your [entertainment] Business (Business Plus/GCP, 2009)

My Blog In Review for 2010: WOW! Thank YOU!

January 3, 2011

Welcome to 2011, Dreamers! I want to thank you personally for making my blog a healthy, successful adventure in thought provocation all year long. I am especially grateful because I don’t blog daily or even weekly, but when I do, you are all there to read and share which means you respect quality over quantity. Here’s how the blog did in 2010, thanks to you:

Special shouts to media superstar Angela Yee, rap icon Lil’ Kim and fine artist Kara Walker for being among the highest searching people on my blog. Another highlight was my review of Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls. Thanks for all those hits and retweets, y’all! We’re gonna do more and better for 2011!

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how my blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The average container ship can carry about 4,500 containers. This blog was viewed about 19,000 times in 2010. If each view were a shipping container, your blog would have filled about 4 fully loaded ships.

In 2010, there were 20 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 67 posts. There were 72 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 12mb. That’s about 1 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was November 9th with 603 views. The most popular post that day was For Colored Girls…Interrupted.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for angela yee, angela yee pics, thembisa mshaka, kara walker, and lil kim bathroom pics.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


For Colored Girls…Interrupted November 2010


SISTER SWANS: Angela Yee July 2009


This Book is ‘Mentorship In A Bottle’ for the Entertainment Industry February 2009


Black Oscar History: Head-to-Head Match-ups and More February 2009


Lil’ Kim: Dancing With The Scars March 2009

And MJ’s crown goes to…Beyoncé

December 16, 2010

Yeah, I said it. So much talk about who will wear the proverbial white glove now that the King of Pop has passed on. And with the release of Michael, Jackson’s first posthumous studio album this week, it really does beg the question: to whom does the torch belong?

He Is Legend

Not surprisingly, men are always mentioned: Chris Brown. Usher. Ne-Yo. It never occurred to our chauvinist entertainment world that it could even be a woman. But I am here to tell you right now: after seeing the newly released I AM: World Tour DVD/CD concert film on the big screen, his heir is actually an heiress. And her name is Beyoncé.

She Is: Heir to the Throne

Think about it: at the tender age of 29, she’s already logged 15 years in the game: eight with Destiny’s Child, who eclipsed The Supremes and TLC as the top-selling female group of all time, seven as a tireless solo artist with three studio albums, a live album from England’s Wembley Arena, and a bonus Spanish album of B’day. She’s the only African American female to have won Pop Songwriter of the Year Award from ASCAP (2001). She’s decorated with 16 Grammy(r) Awards, winning 13 as a solo artist, including 2 as a producer. In 2010, amid all the Lady Gaga/Taylor Swift hype, she broke the record for most Grammy(r) wins by a female artist in one year (six).

Each tour has topped the previous one in delivering on expectations. And with each project, Bey pushes herself to do more, go further, reach higher–just as Michael did, at times amid tidal waves of doubt, hate, and overexposure (both engineered and unwanted).

Also very much like Michael, Beyoncé is serious about controlling the direction of her sound and her career. She’s made herself bankable as an actor in Dreamgirls, Obsessed and Cadillac Records. Which brings Ms. Knowles to the tour so massive in scale, so broad in scope, so utterly global (108 shows on 6 continents), it became a feature length documentary film out now on DVD. But for this project, Beyoncé took on the roles of director, editor and producer. Just like Michael did for his “Thriller” video, using some of his own funds and sitting side by side with director John Landis to execute his groundbreaking vision.

Doing what had never been done: a long form filmed music video

I know, you’re giving all that director-editor-producer stuff the side-eye. (Funny how that’s never questioned with male stars). Beyoncé really did put in the time (9 months of post-production) to earn those credits. She did a masterful job of taking multiple shows and compiling them into one cinematic concert experience. The movie audience was cheering as if they were standing front row center. In between, we see the superstar traveling, eating junk food, shopping, and confessing on a variety of subjects, including Mr. Carter.

Jay-Z makes it into the film in ways I didn't expect...

I had to know why she divulged so much about the strain her tour put on her marriage, when she’s been so mum about it for so long. So I asked about that and some other things. Here’s what she had to say:

On the stress of the editing process:

“I definitely some days, had to say ‘listen, we have to go work on a different song and come back to this one.’ There were [also] things that didn’t work and things I didn’t want to try because I was too afraid to show my vulnerability–but that worked very well. I ended up having to think about it hard and having to say, “let go, let go, its time.”

On the motivation behind directing and getting personal:

“As long as I could have control and know its coming from the right place– and as long as its natural. Trying to figure out how we were going to tell the story and keep the integrity of the show but also figure out how to keep these great private moments and intertwine them, that’s what was difficult, and that’s really when the directing started.  It was in the edit.”

Bitten by the off-stage bug:

“I definitely enjoyed the process of directing, editing, and producing. And I honestly believe that no one could have done this DVD the way it is but me. Because I would have never exposed myself the way I felt comfortable doing because I knew that I could control it. It’s given me confidence to do other things that are behind the curtain and I enjoy it. It’s a lot more work than I thought, but I learned so much. My whole team learned, so the next time it won’t be as difficult. And knowing that when I decide I don’t want to sing or perform anymore, I’m developing a skill that I could [use for] other artists…that’s exciting for me.” 

On Michael Jackson:

I have a moment in my show where I dedicate “Halo” to Michael Jackson. It’s interesting because every show I’ve done has had a Michael Jackson tribute, since Destiny’s Child…My last tour, I sang one of my favorite Michael Jackson songs from Off The Wall. This is something that I’ve always done because I literally am who I am as far a performer, even just my life–knowing what I wanted to be, knowing what I wanted to do at a young age was because of Michael Jackson.”

Well, Bey is very humble for an icon who has officially arrived. She would never make the leap that I am making in this piece, but after seeing this film, it’s clear that she is the one entertainer who embodies the total package to which all serious artists aspire because of Michael. Her vocals are pristine in performance, even as she performs intense choreography in heels. Her impact on the fans, who numbered 60,000 in Sao Paulo alone is undeniable–so much so that the audience is a secondary character in the film. She’s got women in full hijab singing the lyrics to “Irreplaceable” one moment, and grown men crying openly for her in the next. She’s as serious about the business of stardom as was her predecessor.

The similarity is striking.

Sorry guys. If you want the crown left behind by The King of Pop, you’ll have to try your hand at taking it away from Beyoncé.

For Colored Girls…Interrupted

November 8, 2010

Like many Black women of my and the generation before mine, Ntozake Shange’s classic work For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the RainbowIs Enuf changed my life as a young girl. I was captivated by the book and wowed by the stage adaptation of the choreopoem. I had never heard poetry performed that way on stage before. Seeing girls and ladies who looked and sounded like the ones in my family, and indeed, like me, complete with wrapped heads and flowing skirts rocked my world.

Read this if you haven't already.

Fast forward to the early ’90s. I am working on my first book. Writer and award-winning video director Nzingha Stewart, (pictured below) who I met through the fierce and amazing singer-songwriter Res, agreed to interview with me for it to share her insights and challenges on being a Black woman writer director who wants to bring projects to the big screen. When I learned that she had optioned and was screenwriting For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide… I was elated. She seemed a perfect fit to birth and lens the project. Having shot videos as divergent as Bilal’s “Soul Sista”, Common’s “The Light”, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Got Ya Money”, I knew she’d bring a nuanced creativity to a filmed version of this work, which, if it were going to be made at all, needed to be handled with grace and integrity. Otherwise, a lot of sisters’ feelings would be hurt.

Can't wait to see what she does next.

Fast forward again to 2009. The buzz begins about Tyler Perry producing the film. I’m skeptical, but remembering that Stewart was on board, I wasn’t mad. His name had done much for the eyeballs and awards love Precious received. And, though his films are not for me, he’s a box office ringer–and he’s African American. Sounds like a great collaboration. Nzingha’s vision with Tyler’s machine. I exhaled…until the buzz amped up and Perry was now producing, writing and directing.

Mr. Perry, you don't have to do it all anymore.

I tweeted that if Madea showed up in a monochromatic costume I was calling The Reverend Al Sharpton! Suddenly, there was no talk of Stewart being involved and it seemed like the train had left the station without her; casting was set, production was underway. My heart went out to her. It took me 7 years to birth my book; I could only imagine how long she had worked on Shange’s adaptation. Shadow and Act posted a piece about the politics of the situation looking shady…then that post was gone, replaced with an interview with Stewart who was now being credited as Executive Producer (and rightfully so) and being very delicate about how when Perry gets involved he tends to do so…fully.

While I was very unhappy about the personnel change, I was glad Stewart was getting compensated and credited for what truly is a passion project for her. I don’t get that sense from Perry; I think for him, this was an attempt to get deep and expand his base. For me, this would be the first film of his I would support at the box office. Proof already that he was expanding his reach and gaining the interest of a new pshychographic of Black woman; one who doesn’t go for gut-bucket, cross-dressing humor. Sidebar: I actually saw Why Did I Get Married on cable and really enjoyed it, so don’t mistake my citical thinking about For Colored Girls for “haterade”. I actually want this film to win for too many reasons to name.

I attended a group screening and discussion organized by Nicole Moore of and Imani Uzuri. I paid my $14.50 and thus, as a customer, am entitled to my opinion. I will also share some of the anonymous feedback that women in the discussion group had, so you can get a feel for how this film left many of its viewers. My take:

The Good

This cast is phenomenal. Even the actors you may have your issues with are on point in this film. I went to support them and my sista girl the Executive Producer, and in that sense, I was not disappointed. These women own Shange’s words and reminded me of why I loved the book so much. Even the male supporting actors are strong in the film–but we’ll get to the images they portray later.

I needed a group hug at the end too.

I was surprised to see Shange’s poems dominate the dialogue in the film. I really didn’t know what to expect as far as the script was concerned, given how ambitious an adaptation this is. I also frankly had low expectations because the writing I have experienced from Perry’s films is made for mass black consumption, often lacking dimension or room for the viewer to draw their own conclusions before the “lesson” is smacking you upside the head. There was less Perry and more Shange here, and from a writing perspective, less was more.

I did appreciate how Perry connected the characters in the setting he conceived for the story. The downside of this is that it came across as very ‘The Women of Brewster Place’ with everyone except three female characters cooped up in a five story walkup in the ‘hood, intercating primarily with Social Services (embodied by Washington), the local hospital, and NYPD (Hill Harper). Stereotypes on Parade. Which brings me to The Bad.

The Bad

As a music supervisor and former music industry executive, I was deeply dismayed by the score. Talk about a downer. The vibrancy of these women was not reflected in the music. Shange’s poems are musical in and of themselves, and deserved better accompaniment at certain points. Huge missed opportunity, especially given there is a great soundtrack for the film, and many places where music could have been playing as part of the texture of the film: hel-lo! We are Uptown, baby! Black people are big on music…even when things aren’t going well–actually, especially then!

Speaking of music, the one time we get an extended play of a song, it’s during a very awkward opera scene which is intercut with a violent scene (no spoiler), diminishing the impact of the latter in an effort to feel epic. Epic fail. Don’t go there Tyler, that’s Coppolla territory.

The scope of the enviornment was very narrow. Low income living is the norm in this film. Their emotional struggles aren’t enough apparently, they have to be hoarding (in the case of Whoopi’s character), scheming for money (see breakout star Tessa Thompson’s character), or scraping out of pocket to give back to the community (Loretta Divine’s character). We don’t even see anyone in the building eating a proper meal. Only the characters with means come to the block; the tenants are never seen off of it (except for Kimberly Elise’s character, who has to leave since she works for Janet Jackson’s character in the City–and Thandie Newton’s bartending character). Perhaps this was purposeful, but the Colored Girls I grew up on were not limited by their location; their sense of freedom was evident. These women felt trapped and downtrodden.

The Ugly

Women’s bodies are under assault in this film–and not just by some of the characters Shange created, but by Tyler Perry himself. Sexual freedom is tied to whoring out of being molested; losing one’s virginity is a near death sentence; reproductive choice is thrown back to pre Roe v. Wade in its portrayal, with abortion  unequivocally struck down as a sin; HIV becomes the payback for one character being a cold, callous, untrusting boss and wife. A down-low brother violates one Colored Girl (not in the original book or play). A rapist violates another; a serial abondoner yet another. The one woman in a healthy marriage destroys her chances of childbearing with an untreated STD (not in the book or play).

Thandie as Tangie: Washing away her sins?

The message Tyler hands Black women is that sex is bad, dirty, dangerous, deadly, and forced upon you–and you are pretty much powerless to stop or change it. This is not how Shange portrays women’s sexuality. A proundly disastrous example of what happens when the director’s point of view about women’s sexual experiences and power taints the adaptation.

Spirituality and non-traditional faiths take a hit in the film as well. Goldberg’s character is a religious zealot in white whose own demons show up in her relationship with her daughters, which are fractured and devoid of communication without arguments or fights (so much for piety and peace).

I Put A Spell On You

Her version of prayer drives a wedge between her and her daughter instead of bringing them together. Is this a comment on religions or belief systems that differ from the Black church? Sure made the Yoruba look unattractive.

For Colored Girls leaves out the core transformative element of the book and play, where these women are confronted with horrific circumstances, and yet they find God in themselves and love her fiercely as one poem asserts. They rise above and learn the greatness and beauty of who they are in the process. In Tyler’s version, they commiserate and hug, almost reluctantly, laying on hands, yes–but metaphorically throwing them up in despair at the same time. If there is any victory for these women, it’s swallowed up by the tribulation, leaving a real sense that Black women are defined by pathology and not their responses to it. It’s like we spent two hours spiraling in multiple forms of emotional hell only to find out that resignation had won. These colored girls’ growth was brutally interrupted. This better not mean Perry has a sequel in mind.

I must add here that this film has heavy adult and sexual themes and should not be seen by tween girls or boys and younger until you see it first. I felt bad for the moms who took their girls like ours did to the play. NOT THE SAME THING AT ALL. Screen this movie first. Parents got blindsided by trauma after trauma and I’m sure had a lot of unanticipated explaining to do afterward.

Alright. Now for some of the reactions from the room in the lively and thoughtful discussion I attended afterward. We were asked to go around the room an introduce ourselves, adding a word to describe how we felt after seeing the film. Some included: exhausted, reflective, angry, robbed, violated, not surprised, surprised, drained, cheated, still processing.

There was great issue taken with a progressive black feminst work being adapted by what one person called “a right wing conservative Bible thumper”, and that knowing this, the outcome of the film makes sense.

It was felt that the film, while flawed, would bring a new generation to Shange’s work and audiences to the play, which has been in the works for a return to Broadway since 2007, so in that sense, people appreciated that the film got made. One younger woman said that seeing these women go through these things will help other women make their own choices.

One woman loved seeing such great Black woman actors perform Shange’s work. That was breathtaking without a doubt. Another woman remarked that there was far too much trembling from the cast, as if they were barely holding it together or awaiting another tragedy, even in benign conversation.

A couple mothers of young Black sons were dismayed by the rehashing of ‘brothas as dogs’ in the film. To be fair, many of these characters are in Shange’s book, but there was a missed opportunity to give them more dimension or elicit some compassion for their plight, especially in the case of the war veteran suffering from depressive illness that drives him to do the unthinkable. Another noted that the one redeeming Black male character, played by Hill Harper, is also a representative of law enforcement, which gave them conflicting feelings, given the presence of police terror in our communities.

I am hoping that my contribution to the box office that placed Tyler at #3 this weekend will enable more serious black subject matter by other filmmakers, producers and screenwriters of color to get greenlit. Here’s to Nzingha Stewart getting to see her vision through from start to finish the next go ’round. She and Gabrielle Union are producing partners and have an adaptaion of The Vow in the works, so make sure you support that! You can learn more about Stewart in her very telling interview with me from Put Your Dreams First here.

Have you seen the film? What did you think? Did you see the play or read the book before or after? If not, do you plan to read it? Post your comments here and let’s talk this thing out!