Posts Tagged ‘Entertainment’

15 Reasons To Be Down With HRC

July 26, 2016

There will never be a flawless politician. Politicians gonna politic, pander and polarize. It’s what they do. I’m not here to tell you how to vote, so save that for another comment thread. Disclosure: I am a Democrat, but I have supported independent candidates before. I even voted for Sanders in the NY primary. I understand the sting of having your candidate lose. But I also understand what’s at stake as we stare directly at the *very* real prospect of a Trump presidency.

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So I am laying out my 15 point case for the Democratic nominee. Yes. Benghazi. I know. All the Clinton policies that were enacted while she was FLOTUS, that she couldn’t vote on–but watched happen at close range. I know. The emails. Careless and horribly managed. I know that too. The Iraq War vote. I knowwww. But remember: 9/11 happened in *her* state, and Bush-Cheney snow-jobbed damn near errybody in its aftermath. People with sense acknowledge this now. And she paid for it dearly when she lost the nomination to then Sen. Obama in 2008. Not excusing any of it. Just letting you know I know before all the “but, what about this-” “and what about that?” starts.

I posted this on journalist Bene’ Viera’s Facebook page when she called for comments on who her friends are voting for and why. It inspired me to make it a blog post, so I can stop repeating myself, and so those who find it useful can share it.

Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC) is

1. Smarter

2. Better educated than her opponent

3. Highly and uniquely experienced as a former Secy. of State, US Senator, and FLOTUS

4. Endorsed by President Obama (and Bernie Sanders)

5. Hailed by GOP leaders with sense–meaning non partisan goals have a shot at not being obstructed

6. She is pro reproductive choice/rights

7. Values inclusion

8. No KKK surrogates (Google Trump’s)

9. Values DIPLOMACY (Trump cannot even spell the word, much less enact it)

10. Has the respect of world leaders

11. The independent candidates in this cycle have NO shot at being nominated or winning against Trump (I’ve voted independent before, so no, it’s not about that)

12. She will likely nominate an even handed SCOTUS replacement for Scalia’s seat

13. She understands the power of the non-white electorate, and engages with them. Trump does neither.

14. Her cabinet will most likely be the most gender balanced one in US History

15. She understands how government works, from the lessons learned on Obamacare and NAFTA–and can use this learning in the role of POTUS.

And as far as bullying goes with respect to voting from your friends and family, it’s nothing compared to the sustained, unrelenting institutional bullying of a womanizing, unscrupulous neo-fascist running the free world as he bleeds the economy and adds back the trillion Obama erased with interest…to line his own pockets.

The Combover is the closest thing to Sarah Palin we’ve seen since…Sarah Palin. And even *she* was a governor. Meanwhile, Trump hasn’t so much as held a City Council seat. But his peen, and the perception of him having money (because we are still waiting to see his tax returns) are the reasons he hasn’t been laughed off the dais. Let that marinate.

Thembisa S. Mshaka is an International Relations major turned entertainment industry veteran. An award-winning creative writer/producer and festival selected filmmaker, she is the author on the definitive business title for and about women in entertainment, Put Your Dreams First, Handle Your [entertainment] Business.

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12 Years A Slave: True American Horror Story (Spoiler Alert)

November 7, 2013

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My blogs about films usually come long after release because I like to talk about what happens in movies—and I want to give readers ample time to see the film before I go in. So if you have yet to see this film, bookmark this post until you see it. Because everyone should see it. I fully understand excusing oneself from this film if you are African American. Why pay to watch a piece of your people’s genocide unfold? My answer is easy: if our ancestors could live it, you can spend two hours watching it. In fact, it’s the least you can do—in addition to the added benefit of supporting two Black men in roles rarely offered for tentpole historical Hollywood biopics: director Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley (respectively shown below).

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I cannot recall a major studio film since the new millennium that outlines in sharp, granular detail the casual, yet unrelenting brutality of American slavery. Shout out to Haile Gerima’s independent classic, Sankofa (1993). In 12 Years A Slave, it is almost as if the physical and psychological violence dance a twisted tango, denying you the opportunity to look away. Civility and cruelty are in lock-step from start to finish. Adepero Oduye’s character Eliza watches her children torn away from her in a well-appointed auction house. She is then sold and transported to the plantation where she will serve the same mistress who offers her a chance to clean up and rest herself, after which she quips, “your children will soon be forgotten.” Eliza’s incessant tears and deep depression say otherwise. Her inconsolate heartbreak and human expression of trauma are rewarded with her being sold off the plantation. She’s too much of a wet blanket for the mistress, so she’s gotta go.

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Lupita Nyong’o’s character Patsy goes to great lengths to be clean despite a life where she is defiled regularly by her master, who, in a fetishist distortion of affection, defends his property’s ability to pick 500 pounds of cotton each day to his wife. His wife hates Patsy. Patsy is such an economic asset, her value as chattel eclipses the power the mistress relishes as the woman of the plantation. The mistress hates Patsy so much, she even denies her soap. After picking 500 pounds of cotton each day in blistering heat. After being raped while being asphyxiated, and being smacked awake during the assault. After all of this, all Patsy wants (aside from freedom from slavery via her own death) is to bathe and be clean.

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For this, the master tears open her back with his whip—but only after ordering Platt (nee’ Solomon) to whip her for him. “I’d rather it be you, Platt” Patsy calls through tears. Now faced with punishing his only ally or facing punishment for not complying, Platt whips her as meekly as he can; the hateful mistress catches on to his strategy and goads the master to end Platt’s “pantomime”. Then, the master takes back his whip and steps in. Bloody mist flies from Patsy’s body with each lash, which go on and on and on. In this scene, all at once, we are made to bear witness to the intersections of race, gender and class dynamics that still echo in modern American society:

The (Black) woman works harder than men and is somehow not only undeserving of basic dignity, but deserving of the cruelest shaming and/or punishment imaginable (today, this goes for all American women)

The Black man is made to sacrifice protecting the Black woman for his own preservation

The white woman castrates the Black man and the white man with impunity and colludes in the destruction of another woman who is poses no direct threat to her

The white man’s conscience is overruled by his ego and insecurity, and people are made to suffer for it

The other occupants of the plantation witness this and the messages of manufactured white superiority and black inferiority are branded into their collective consciousness

And this is just what I was able to pick up on as I watched, and afterward as I processed what I had just seen after the film ended. Understand that this is all from ONE scene.

 

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And know that EVERY scene (save the shots of nature that serve as vitally necessary palate cleansers and spaces for the audience to exhale) is loaded in searing, aching, enraging, surreal fashion.  Slaves are awakened from precious, uncomfortable sleep after toiling just to dance for their master. Platt is literally strung up for hours for speaking up for himself; for defending himself against an overseer after doing as he was instructed. He tiptoes in mud and feces to keep his airway clear until the man who has the right to actually hang and kill him comes to cut him down. (Even the overseer’s whiteness isn’t enough to interfere with the master’s profits—that’s above his pay grade). As Platt’s life hangs in the balance, no one comes to help him for fear of reprisal. Enslaved children play and laundry as laundry is also hung. Right as I wonder if anyone will so much as offer Platt a drink of water, a slave woman rushes in to do just that, quickly enough for the audience to be the only people who see her humane transgression take place. Just another day in Hell on Earth.

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In the span of this film’s running time, you see its protagonist, Solomon Northup—played with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s potent mix of raw emotion and undeniable craft—lose his wife and children, his home, his name, the shirt his wife gave him (beaten off him to bloodied shreds), his integrity, as he weaves a tapestry of lies at knifepoint to survive, his creative spirit as a musician, and nearly his faith in God and his very sanity.

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It is based on a true story. Very little is embellished from Northup’s own telling in his book of the same name. It is real beyond what the imagination can even conceive. How does a people collectively manage to not go crazy—or postal—during a lifetime of untenable situations? And how do their grandchildren’s children go on to achieve and thrive? This is the capacity, the triumph of the human spirit.

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12 Years A Slave is a masterpiece. It is shot as if each frame were its own canvas; McQueen holds on moments of depravity and epiphany so that we do right along with his characters. The editing is generous; even as timelines are usurped, the storyline remains unbroken. The writing is rich, but it also taut: with life or death hanging on each exchange of dialogue. The acting disappears; you become part of this film—and that is to the credit of stunning work by Ejiofor, Nyong’o, Oduye, Fassbender, Benedict, Woodard and Pitt. It is unflinching in its telling of one man’s harrowing story. It is America’s true horror story, one we all keep being made to live in some way or another, because we as a nation have yet to discuss, complete, redress, or heal its universe of injustices in any meaningful way. Until that happens, there is no getting over the socioeconomic ripple effects or the psychic undertow of slavery or institutional racism. No getting over. No overcoming. For Black people or white people. White people are also damaged in the transaction that lasted 400 years, bolstering corporations and setting the stage for genocide, xenophobia and mayhem that echo clear up to today’s headlines about changing the name of the capitol’s football franchise or granting children of undocumented residents full citizenship and access to the American Dream, or seeking justice for the shooting of an unarmed Black teenager by a man who identifies as white despite his mixed heritage and has no authority to patrol his neighborhood with a firearm. Utter American insanity. The only way through is to look it in the face, honor its victims, hold its perpetrators to account, and give its descendants permission to atone and move forward. 12 Years A Slave is a powerful, solid step on a shaky path.

 

Being Mara Brock Akil

June 26, 2013
Mara talking about what it takes to be a creative warrior.

Mara talking about what it takes to be a creative warrior.

Earlier this month, I attended the New York screening of Being Mary Jane, the latest project from accomplished show creator, screenwriter and producer Mara Brock Akil. You may know her name from the credits of the shows she created: Girlfriends, now a cult classic and a history-making show that ran for 8 seasons; and The Game, another history-making series that garnered 7.7 million viewers on its premiere night when it was reborn on BET—the most viewers for a sitcom premiere in cable history. She also wrote the remake of Sparkle, where Mike Epps delivered his breakout dramatic performance, and was sadly the last film role for the late Whitney Houston.

With the woman behind the film and dramatic series.

With the woman behind the film and dramatic series.

I held on to this piece because I needed time to process everything she shared during the talkback interview she conducted with another Mara, news anchor Mara Schiavocampo. Brock Akil’s remarks were so rich and at times so raw and emotional. Totally understandable given that she has lived with the Mary Jane character since her days of executive producing Girlfriends. To finally have that vision realized and experienced by audiences is clearly moving her deeply. I also waited to pen and post because she was really adamant about leaving those in attendance with the directive to get viewers: “from a production value standpoint, this kind of creativity is expensive. If you want to see more of this [kind of work on TV], you have to show up on premiere night—and not watch on your phone later.” So mark your calendars now to VIEW LIVE—not just DVR the film when it premieres on BET on Tuesday, July 2 at 10:30pm EST, right after the return of her other series, The Game.

Yeah…let that marinate for a sec.

A Black woman show creator/writer/producer has two programs premiering back to back on July 2.

She and Shonda Rimes are the only two African American woman writer/EPs with more than one show on at a time on any network. Brock Akil credited her telecast partner and its Chairman & CEO, Debra Lee on that night. “After we got 7.7 million viewers with The Game, my phone was ringing off the hook with people asking, ‘how’d you do it?’ We did it because BET believed. It goes back to marketing dollars; after 8 years of Girlfriends and 3 years of The Game on the CW, those shows got no marketing campaigns,” she recalled. “I was offering to run off my own fliers to pass out at clubs.”

Marketing matters. And when done well, it works. BMJ goodies on display.

Marketing matters. And when done well, it works. BMJ goodies on display.

It was also at BET that she got what she calls her “dream meeting”: the meeting that she noted “all the white boys get where the executives ask you what your passion project is.”

Brock Akil took that meeting with Original Programming President Loretha Jones, and when asked, Brock Akil’s answer was Being Mary Jane. No network is perfect, but what Brock Akil revealed with this information was how important it is for networks by and about people of color to exist—and thrive. In a Hollywood where she’d had two proven sitcom hits and even sold a screenplay, it was only a network that reflected her identity and understood her vision that presented her with the opportunity routinely afforded her white male counterparts. In this meeting, there was no “Negro 101” to wade through to determine whether the concept was viable or sellable with this network. They got it. And all any creative wants is to be gotten, so the audiences they serve can be seen, heard, known in all their complexity.

Brock Akil connects with author and mental health advocate Terrie Williams at the screening.

Brock Akil connects with author and mental health advocate Terrie Williams at the screening.

“I want to say that Black women and families are HUMAN with Being Mary Jane,” Brock Akil said. “I just want someone to fight for us; to fight for Black women.” Brock Akil is fighting the good fight. With this film, she packs a mean combination. Mary Jane Paul is both hero and nemesis; at work and in love, she alternates between saving the day and getting in her own way. Mary Jane adores her family, but like all of us, can’t stand some of the choices they make or ways they behave. Dynamic roles like these rarely come to women of color, and are written by them even less often. The result is usually some fragmented hologram of a “sista” with canned, tired dialogue, or a character that we only see in one context/environment because her character is peripheral, or a completely stereotypical caricature emerges.

Thankfully, none of the aforementioned can be found in this film. Gabrielle Union is perfectly cast as the woman who has to be “on” at all times in the world, but in her private moments, nothing clicks the way she wants it to. The dialogue is strong, snarky, and decidedly grown; no over-the-top attempts at hipness here. While honest exchange and deep reflection drive this drama, it definitely has moments that are shocking and funny. Thanks to laser-like scripting and nuanced acting from Lisa Vidal, Omari Hardwick, Stephen Bishop and Robinne Lee, there are several standout scenes. Won’t spoil them here. I will say that the ending is completely unexpected and sets things up well for the 2014 premiere of its spinoff series.

Toward the end of the Q&A, Mara went beyond being personable and got intimate. I was intrigued by her answers for how she manages to having a husband, family, and birthing her creative babies. Many of my readers know that in my book I asserted that work-life balance is a myth—long before women were being asked to lean in or lean out. What we need to strive for is work-life function, so we can be fully present in all of life’s moments, without being guilt-riddled or distracted from the business at hand; without compromising on self-care. Brock Akil affirmed my assertion during her talkback session with some incredible comments. She dropped a few jaws with these gems:

Speaking about her husband, Being Mary Jane director Salim Akil:

“I am very fortunate that I get to do what I love with whom I love. It’s also how we manage to see each other (laughs).”

“I have a lot of sex. Because sometimes, you think you need a massage, when really, all you needed was some…you know.”

“Black women need and deserve to be cherished; that is the role of a man.”

On drawing the line for family time:

“On the weekends, I am a mother.”

Hold it–before you go side-eyeing about how she’s only there for her kids two days a week: I take this to mean that she is a mother all the time, but that her work cannot intrude on that role during weekends. Mara Brock Akil is not ‘bout that Always At Work life. She actually does take time off from work each week. She relayed an anecdote about concerning a neighbor as she had a prolonged business conversation from her cell in her driveway, because she literally didn’t want to bring it to the threshold of her home. These boundaries matter, and if you want to be married to something other than a career, or want to raise a human being, the boundaries must be set, even if they change as you grow.

Gabrielle is gorgeous, as usual. Watch it on premiere night...for Mara!

Gabrielle is gorgeous, as usual. Watch it on premiere night…for Mara!

Here’s the takeaway: on BET next Tuesday, July 2nd at 10:30 EST, you have the opportunity to be highly entertained while you make a dream come alive for brilliant, fabulous and hardworking woman. Her dream is actually to create for a vision of Black women who are more fully realized onscreen, without making one Black woman the model for all of us. By taking that opportunity, you make that dream real in a world that has us all pegged. While it may not be a dream you share, this is absolutely a dream worth putting first.

Your feedback is welcome in the comments below or on Twitter directly to me here. Are you a fan of Mara? Are you excited about Being Mary Jane? Talk to me.

Follow Mara Brock Akil here.

The Divorce Counselor Is A Pan African Film Fest World Premiere

February 7, 2013

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I am humbled and extremely excited to announce the world premiere of my first film to receive festival love: The Divorce Counselor! I want to acknowledge my gifted co-writer Tmor of Comic Diversity, my amazing co-producer Jamaal C. Lewis, my crew, and the incredibly talented cast, without whom the film could not have happened. If you are in Los Angeles for the Grammys, my first screening is the night before so do consider joining me! 

From my e-blast:

Thembisa Mshaka can now add filmmaker to her impressive entertainment resume: her short film “The Divorce Counselor”, which she wrote, produced and directed will world premiere Saturday, February 9 at 10:05pm and Thursday, February 14 at 1:25pm as part of the 21st Annual Pan African Film Festival at Rave Cinemas Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza 15 in Los Angeles.

 
About the film: Mr. & Mrs. Jones are at odds and near the end of their marriage. Or so they think. With wit and heart, The Divorce Counselor examines the power of friendships and importance of therapy. 
 
This film is first in the block of selections–and only 10 minutes long, so BE EARLY–the film will not be viewable online until it premieres exclusively on Freesworld.com April 13, 2013.
 
Tickets may be purchased in advance and at the box office for SHORTS SERIES 3, the block of shorts in which The Divorce Counselor is featured. There will be a talkback featuring Thembisa after the screenings.
 
Link to the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRuBOAl57bk
 
For tickets: Click the date of your choice and select Shorts Series 3 at http://www.RaveCinemas.com.
 
For more on the film like the Facebook page: http://www.Facebook.com/TheDivorceCounselor

Top 5 Reasons To Pay To See Think Like A Man (No Spoiler)

April 17, 2012

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I attended the New York premiere of Think Like A Man (Screen Gems) earlier this month. I’ve been processing the film on many levels: as a woman in a committed relationship (I just celebrated 15 years of marriage to this comedian named Tmor on April 13); as a filmmaker and creative producer of color (yes–the ‘of color’ part matters), and as a consumer who loves a great moviegoing experience.

I’m not one to rave about films; I have my jaded insider moments just like most entertainment industry insiders. Because I know what’s possible from a creative standpoint, my expectations are high–and because I know the limitations Hollywood places on creativity, those expectations are rarely met, let alone exceeded. I’m usually left wanting more in terms of cast, script, story, or all of the above. But as a smart, sexy comedy, Think Like A Man garners a rave from me.

This film appealed to all three moviegoing sides of me. This surprised me to a degree because before I knew who was involved behind the scenes, I associated this film primarily with comedian and radio host Steve Harvey, since the film is based upon his book Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man. And since I didn’t read the book (see note above about being married already), don’t listen to his radio show (I commute by subway to my playlists; it’s not personal) and haven’t watched anything with him in it since Kings of Comedy, I was ready to wait and see what my non-industry family members thought before I laid money down for the film.

Then, and here comes the disclosure–I found out that James Lopez, a brilliant marketer and longtime friend from my music business days, was a senior production executive on the project. And how’s this for a small world, HY[e]B connection: the very first record he promoted to me was “If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night)” by MeShell Ndegeocello, who, years later, agreed to appear in my book. Of course I had to support James, who kept it real whether he had hits or misses on the roster. As time went on, he had more hits than misses as a marketing VP over at Atlantic Records, where he took T.I. from King of the South to King of the Rap World–no easy task with the star in and out of custody through much of his career. But this is my reason, not one of my Top 5 reasons for you. Here they are:

1. You will love this movie whether you love or hate Steve Harvey. 

I didn’t need to read the book to understand or enjoy this film. Writers Keith Merryman and David A. Newman do an incredible job of crafting completely fictional characters based on advice from the non-fiction book’s pages.

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Bonus: if you’re not big on Steve, he appears once to set up how Gabrielle Union’s character learns of the book, and a couple times via confessional afterward–and then he’s gone. One character is even a Steve Harvey hater, so the elephant in the room is identified for those of you who may feel the same.

2. This is not a chick flick!

As a self-defined type A womanist, I don’t get into romantic comedies where the woman’s whole life is wrapped up in finding, keeping, or stressing over some douchebag who doesn’t know she exists, or some guy who’s already taken. Worse still are the chick flicks where said woman will do anything to quell her desperation, including cash in her self-esteem, kick family and friends to the curb, and of course–get sleazy or naked for no (or any) reason. None of the aforementioned insulting, corny circumstances are present in this film.

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The women of Think Like A Man have intelligent conversations with other women, respect themselves and their families, and remain clothed without losing their sex appeal, all while remaining attractive to their love interests and getting intimate on their own terms (gasp!).

3. The movie is not just funny, it’s actually fun to watch.

Kevin Hart may be the comedic genius who injects hilarity throughout, but the film is funny in general, even when Hart is off screen. There are plenty of one-liners, stingers, and zingers to go around, not to mention the scenes involving a basketball, a bathroom stall, and a folding chair.

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The funny isn’t dependent upon pratfalls, either. There is great, nuanced humor when these characters open up to one another, confront each other with the cold hard truth, or don’t get their way. Bonus: Comedienne on the rise and my Bay Area homegirl Luenell (Bruno) makes a cameo.

4. Finally: a cast that reflects the reality of America!

This film has a predominantly Black cast, but so? And? It’s 2012. Get over it. These characters are every adult in the pursuit of a relationship that works. There are white people in this film, but they are not tokens. Think Like A Man does not practice the tokenism with which so many Hollywood movies patronize their audiences.

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In the crew of guys, there are not one but two members of the Dominant Group. Neither of them try to be Black, be ‘street’, or be ‘down’. Both of them are comfortable in their own skin, and can dish it out as well as they can take it from the rest of the guys.

This cast is pure eye candy for men and women. This is no rom-com with some dumpy funny dude or nondescript whining girl carrying the film. These people are gorgeous, sexy, charming, burning-up-the-screen hot. Romany Malco is shirtless for an extended period, thank you very much. Michael Ealy is well…Michael Ealy, all foine everything.

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Meagan Good gives good shape in every scene. Regina Hall is radiant, albeit reserved as the single mom dating Terrence J’s “Mama’s boy” character. Taraji is stunning as the uptight media exec, and screen time from Kelly Rowland, Lala Anthony and Morris Chestnut only add to the fly factor.

Furthermore, there is an interracial relationship, well played by Union and Ferrara. Yes, these happen in America. And they are not always with burning crosses or police tape in the background. See: (biracial) President Barack Obama. No one cracks a joke or bats an eye at this. It is accepted, and neither character has their identity questioned or compromised because of who they love–so we can just follow their story line instead of having to unpack baggage that really deserves its own film. Awesome. Bonus: people of color are not sprinkled throughout this film as window dressing, service professionals, or quirky and exotic extras. They are multi-dimensional and front and center.

5. The Shot Callers behind the scenes: Packer, Story, and Culpepper

Think Like A Man has a two strong, sensitive (cinematically speaking) African American creatives running the show in producer Will Packer (Takers, Obsessed, Stomp The YardThis Christmas) and director Tim Story (Fantastic Four, Hurricane Season, Barbershop). Packer and Story don’t play Black women out with this film; they also don’t let Black men off the hook. Their crew delivers top-notch production value with great shots, great light (a VERY BIG deal for people of color on screen), hair, makeup and wardrobe, well placed music, and seamless production design. In Screen Gems president Clint Culpepper, the film has a studio head who gets it–and gets out of the way, trusting–and knowing based upon their track records and choices that Packer, Story, (and the aforementioned Lopez) will do their thing. The beneficiaries are the actors and the audience. You can tell the cast felt at ease and free to just perform; the chemistry between couples is undeniable. And even the premiere audience of insiders, celebrities, and their plus-ones let loose in the theater.

So fellas: you are not surrendering your Man Card by seeing this film. And ladies, you are not owning the rom-com stereotypes that have plagued you in the past by seeing this film. Do not pass go, and do not buy bootleg. During the weekend of April 20, pay to see Think Like A Man, so more films that reflect honest portrayals of relationships will get made and win at the box office.

10 Things To Know About Sylvia Robinson

September 29, 2011

Sylvia's baby hair was legendary...among other things.

Sylvia Vanderpool Robinson

1936-2011

Sylvia Robinson, born Sylvia Vanderpool in 1936, made her transition today at the age of 75. If anyone in hip-hop served as the embodiment of Handle Your [entertainment] Business, it was Sylvia Robinson, who was as asssertive as she was attractive. The singer-songwriter turned publisher and producer is right up there with Cindy Campbell as a foremother of hip-hop. Cindy had the idea for the jam that her brother DJ Kool Herc threw at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, sparking a culture. But it was Sylvia Robinson who came to prominence as a bona fide rap mogul at that time, turning rap music into a commercial enterprise, sparking an industry.

In her honor, here are 10 Things To Know about a visionary beacon of inspiration for women entrepreneurs everywhere, the multi-talented, multi-platinum boss lady—Sylvia Robinson. If you enjoy or make a living from hip-hop, time to pay her the proper respect. She made hip-hop history and brought it the masses on scale that was previously thought impossible. Hers is a powerful legacy, full of lessons from the victories and failures that mark all true business leaders.

May she rest in peace, and may her family members soon find comfort during this difficult time.

My first 45. The baby blue label? Unmistakeable.

  1. She founded the seminal hip-hop label Sugar Hill Records in 1979 with husband Joe Robinson and Morris Levy. It was actually her second label venture, the first being All Platinum Records, an R&B imprint. Sugar Hill’s roster was home to Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Spoonie Gee, Treacherous Three, Funky Four Plus One, Sequence (featuring Angie Stone), and…
  2. The Sugar Hill Gang. The group is credited with releasing the first commercial rap smash hit, called “Rapper’s Delight”. Some 14 minutes long with no repeated hook, this song was a watershed moment for hip-hop.
  3. “Rapper’s Delight” used “Good Times” by Chic as its music bed, creating instant familiarity for the song and a perfect delivery system for rhyming over a beat. For better or worse, Sylvia was a pioneer of sampling and all its uncharted legal territory (just ask Nile Rodgers, composer and leader of Chic).
  4. Sylvia Robinson was the woman producer behind two of the genre’s seminal records: “Rapper’s Delight” and “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five. She also produced “Love on a Two Way Street” by The Moments (1970).
  5. Before Sylvia Robinson became one of rap’s first moguls, she was one half of the R&B duo Mickey and Sylvia, whose Top 20 hit “Love Is Strange” pushed over a million copies—in 1957.
  6. Sylvia also enjoyed success as a solo artist with her racy opus “Pillow Talk” (1973), certainly a precursor to songs like “Love To Love You Baby” by Donna Summer and “Love Hangover” by Diana Ross. That heavy breathing and moaning to music? Sylvia started it.
  7. Sylvia’s songs have also been sampled by some unlikely artists: Kate Bush used the drums from “Pillow Talk” on “Running Up That Hill” (1985) as did Fleetwood Mac for “Big Love” (1987).
  8. Sylvia’s voice has been sampled too. Moby sampled her vocals on “Sunday (The Day Before My Birthday)” and master beatmaker J Dilla chose to sample her from “Sweet Stuff” for his song “Crushin’”.
  9. Sylvia understood that publishing was where the big, long dollars were in the music business. A shrewd businesswoman whose practices were not always equitable, she earned a reputation for underpaying and micromanaging that, according to Dan Charnas, author of The Big Payback, had “Grandmaster Flash split from the rest of his crew over creative differences and lack of payment.”
  10. 10.  We have Sylvia to thank for discovering multiplatinum crossover rap icons Naughty By Nature. They made a lackluster debut on her Bon Ami label in 1987 as The New Style before moving over to Tommy Boy Records and changing their name.

Sources:

http://www.dancharnas.com/companies/album-1/sugar-hill-records/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sylvia_Robinson

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugar_Hill_Records_(rap)

http://www.s2smagazine.com/stories/2011/09/sylvia-robinson-mother-hip-hop-dead

Why Willow Is Winning

October 20, 2010

Willow Smith has been in the game for a minute. She’s appeared in a couple films and is now taking the music world by storm.

Willow has captured the imagination of music listeners of all ages with her certified smash hit “Whip My Hair”. The video debuts this week on BET during 106 & Park.

Check it out here:

No shots Rih Rih, but a nine year-old has managed to steal your thunder without baring so much as a midriff. As tweeted by poet Bassey Ikpi (my edits on the f -bomb):

@BasseyworldLive: Somewhere Rhianna is poking the f*** out of a 9 year old size voo doo doll.

I’m not pitting these female acts against one another, that’s not my steez. Y’all know this. But I can’t help but notice that Willow’s record is getting crazy media buzz, lots of airplay, and has the Internets all aflutter, without any sexualization whatsoever, while it’s *crickets* over there for the ironically titled upcoming release for Rihanna, Loud.

Now, she’s the nine year-old daughter of Hollywood Power Couple Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith, who have both been in the business since they were teens. Of course they would make sure their baby’s clothes were on at all times.

But we can’t say that of all Hollywood parents, so we shouldn’t take it for granted. Just ask the Ramseys. Or for that matter, mad parents from the ‘hood to the trailer park who let their little girls pop their coochies at family gatherings.

Willow wins because the quality is there. The song is hot. It’s age-appropriate–and still manages to be fun for listerners her age and above. She wins because the Ray-Kay lensed video is beautifully produced with kids of all colors having a blast, acting and dancing their respective ages and showing less skin than I’ve seen in a video in quite some time. Sad that it’s so rare, it’s become refreshing. She is also advocating for full self-expression. It doesn’t mean bad behavior. It means feeling free while letting others see. And if there’s no other time in life one can do this, it’s at her age. I say “go for it”.

Willow also wins because she is surrounded by a top-knotch team of experienced professionals, both related and unreleated to her–who have her best interests at heart, and are not trying to sell her out for a quick buck or 15 minutes of their own fame, like some of these celebrity parents and managers out here. This is something I warn against in my book. Overbook, Roc Nation, and Columbia Records know what they have and I am sure will be keeping themselves (and one another) accountable for the span of her career, as all entities who hold the careers of others in their hands should.

Finally, Willow wins because she is sending multiple positive messages from an industry that spews negative ones ad nauseam.

She tells girls who look like her that their hair is perfect the way it is and to whip it. She tells everyone to rise above negativity and continue to live their lives, having fun while they’re at it. And she tells young Black Girls that they rock! Just in time for Black Girls Rock! Founder Beverly Bond’s upcoming Awards show on BET of the same name, airing November 7th at 8pm EST. It is an amazing, must-watch, must-DVR situation. And I predict that she’ll be getting the Who Got Next award very soon.

I am praying that Willow sells so many records, labels rush to snap up more wholesome young people to make music for their own demographic and the parents who raise them–especially young artists of color. The urban youth market exists, label guys and gals. Don’t box them into listening to music that’s too grown for them. You see how they buy gadgets and shoes, give them some good fund music to throw in the bag!

Thank you Willow, for handling your entertainment business! Continued fulfillment and success to you!

Bonus track: Fraggle Roc Nation Remix of Sesame Street’s ‘I Love My Hair’

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4AVd8El-QY]

Forgiving Chris Brown: Re-post & Update

June 29, 2010

I am on record as being one who advocated for the forgiveness of the multi-talented, multi-platinum Chris Brown as far back as February 2009, when the most media and much of the public wanted to banish and boycott him forever. His missteps with the media in the aftermath turned the fury way up, as he looked far from remorseful—especially in contrast to Rihanna’s composed, deliberate testimony on 20/20. I understand the fury; I was furious about his assault of Rihanna on Grammy Night 2009 too.

But this rigid, visceral approach to such a layered issue is neither humane nor realistic. Endless castigation does not break the cycle of relationship violence. If we want young men, especially young men of color, to stop abusing women, we must condemn the behavior, and support the full rehabilitation of the person. Ron Artest has shown us that therapy can help anyone rise to become a champion in work and in life. Chris must seek help from psychological professionals, spiritual counselors, and anger management experts. Chris is going to be atoning and reconciling for years to come. That process is well underway.

The part we as consumers, fans, and members of the media can support him with is the revitalization of his career. Chris Brown is a gifted young performer who deserves to make a living at what he is passionate about. BET provided Chris Brown with the opportunity of a lifetime on the 2010 BET Awards: to pay homage to his mentor Michael Jackson with a powerful medley of the King of Pop’s hit songs and signature dance routines. True to form, the media looked for the worst from a heartfelt and otherwise technically flawless performance–until the part where Chris broke down emotionally in an effort to sing “Man In The Mirror”. His sincerity was questioned. His tears, snot and hoarse voice were called ‘staged’. Just another signal that the path of least resistance, further vilification of the young Black male, was being tread yet again. A brother can’t even emote!

But the audience on their feet at the Shrine and millions on couches across America knew that what he was feeling was very real: the overwhelm of Michael passing and finally being able to commemorate his idol’s life; the passage of the hardest of his own 21 years; the energy of the room singing when he could not, crying with him, releasing with him. This is what it means to be human. This collective catharsis was an important step in the healing process for everyone who empathizes with Chris and wishes him well. It’s exactly why that moment was the one everyone was talking about the morning after and well into this week.

The crime will not be forgotten, but the man needs to be forgiven.

We say we want him to take a look at himself and make a change; change is hard. Let him do it.

I’ve re-posted my essence.com commentary for reference. I look forward to your comments.

As posted by essence.com July 24, 2009

Thembisa S. Mshaka

This past February, Chris Brown shocked the world. In the wee morning hours of the Grammy Awards, he brutally assaulted his then-girlfriend Rihanna. On June 22, 2009, Chris Brown pled guilty. The judge handed him his sentence, convicting Brown of felony assault, mandating him to keep his distance from Rihanna (50 yards for five years), and to serve 5 years of probation including 180 days of community labor. Brown was also ordered to enroll in a domestic violence counseling program. Brown’s face registered remorse and relief that day in court; looked like it dawned on him how close he came to prison time. But was he truly sorry?

It was hard to tell. Brown’s camp released a tepid statement: “Words cannot begin to express how sorry and saddened I am over what transpired. I am seeking the counseling of my pastor, my mother and other loved ones and I am committed, with God’s help, to emerging a better person.” Meanwhile photos of the 19-year-old partying hard in Miami contrasted those of a sorrowful Rihanna in the days that followed. His silence was as palpable as his absence from television and radio. Suddenly the freckle-faced crooner resurfaced and sent a video message to the world while bowling with rapper Bow Wow on May 26: “I’m not a monster… I got a new album droppin’.” Five months after his love quarrel-gone-awry, Brown released another video apologizing: “I take great pride in me being able to exercise self-control and what I did was inexcusable.”

Was his gesture too little too late? Not only for his victim, Rihanna, but for his fans and critics? I conducted an informal poll on Facebook and Twitter. While the media was castigating him, I blogged back in February (click hyperlinked Feruary 2009 above) that the public was too quick to dismiss him and predict his career’s end. That compassionate condemnation was in order, not excommunication.

Perhaps the apology is a hard pill to swallow because Brown seemed so cavalier after the debacle. Judging by the many responses I received, I gleaned that his silence, while understandable at the advice of counsel, allowed the negative perception of this young man to fester into the selling of T-shirts emblazoned with his image and a striking slash through his face and dubbing his namesake a slang term synonymous with a “beat down” as in “Don’t get Chris Brown-ed.”

The Twitterverse had much to say about Brown’s remorse. “Why not release the video the day after the verdict?” asked one Tweeter. Another said Brown’s apology would have been deemed more sincere and set a strong example to his young fans about facing consequences if he’d done so immediately after the final verdict. Some believe his public remorse opens the door for fans to begin liking him again with one female tweeter professing: “Chris Brown, I love you more than ever.” But it was a male respondent who expressed the optimism that forgiveness should render: “He’s young enough to change.”

Sure, the execution could have been tighter, but I challenge anyone to recall an apology that felt smooth as silk following an egregious action. Taking a slice of humble pie and expressing remorse is usually awkward and delayed, requiring time. Reconciliation takes patience and work and Brown has taken his first step. Some might argue that Brown’s timing is off, but I believe an apology has no expiration date. Brown deserves forgiveness. What if Chris Brown was your son, nephew or brother? Assuming a zero-tolerance policy on abuse is fine, but judging someone unfairly and withholding support can interfere or jeopardize the healing process and ultimately redemption. We can stand against violence by looking its perpetrators in the eye and demand that they be and do better, but remember, it’s never too late to choose forgiveness over judgment.

Thembisa S. Mshaka is a 17-year entertainment industry veteran and author of the mentorship and career guide, Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business

THEMBISA TAKES “PUT YOUR DREAMS FIRST” MESSAGES OF MENTORSHIP AND CAREER SUCCESS TO THE UK AND #140CONF LONDON

November 12, 2009

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