Friday, June 1, 2012

My Top 10 Favorite (Independent) Films

I just realized that I haven't written a blog post in a long time!  This is what graduate school and a full-time job does to you:  distances you from society.  Its so great to be writing again!

Its taken me a long time to curate this list.  As my readership is extremely important to me, I wanted to ensure that this list contain films that are important to our culture and the independent film industry.  As I am a strong supporter of the independent artist and their "hustle," its not out of the ordinary that my favorite films happen to be those that first appeared in art houses.  Yes, I really enjoyed the recently released The Avengers, this summer's was directed by Joss Whedon at least ;)

1.  Secretary, dir. Steven Shainberg, 2002, United States

What don't I like about this movie?!  Amazing performances.  Steaming, hot love story.  AND S&M!!!!  Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader's performances are amazing!  But, the most important reason why I love this movie is because, unlike the traditional romance film, neither person of the couple changes for the other.  Instead, these characters found someone who compliments their "styles." 

2.  Pulp Fiction, dir. Quentin Tarentino, 1994, United States

I was 21 years old, a recent college graduate, when I first saw this movie.  And guess what?  One of my now favorite films, I absolutely HATED at the time when I first viewed it.  Why?  Maybe because I fell asleep at the very beginning of it and then woke up during the scene where Mrs. Mia Wallace (played by Uma Thurman) receives an adrenaline shot to the heart following a mistaken cocaine overdose.  It took an ex-lover (one who shall remain nameless because we no longer speak to each other) years later to ignite my passion for both this movie and almost all of Quentin Tarantino's films.  I now own almost all of his movies. 

3.  Malcolm X, dir. Spike Lee, 1992, United States

I've been professing this on my self-designated soap box since I first watched this film:  Denzel Washington deserved the Academy Award for this role rather than for Training Day!  To play such a complex, historical figure over a span of a lifetime (well, almost a lifetime) is a huge task to accomplish.  I first saw this film during an all-school field trip to the movie theatre.  I'm from Detroit and was fortunate to grow up in a positive Afrocentric school system, one that taught us about the contributions of African-Americans to American culture and history from kindergarten to high school (it was through my elementary school where I first watched the mini-series Roots).  My favorite part in this film is when Malcolm X visits Mecca.  The voiceover of the letter home to his family and then watching him pray still gives me chills!  This is a film that I can watch over and over again, for I gain a different perspective on both Malcolm X's life and also Spike Lee's filmmaking techniques. The other thing that I admire about this film is the hustle that Lee had to undertake in order to finish this film.

4.  Vicky Cristina Barcelona, dir. Woody Allen, 2008, United States

Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz = too much sexiness in one film!  Unlike the other films on this list, I can't remember when I first saw this film.  However, I can tell you how many times I've watched it since buying it on DVD recently!  If I were to ever curate a film festival of movies about Americans Abroad, this would be the film to open the festival!  There's so much to love in this film, including Penelope Cruz's Academy Award-winning performance and the cinematography!  The vast portraits of Spain's landscape are so beautiful (I think that it helps to have the Spanish cinematographer, Javier Aguirresarobe, work on this film).  And Penelope Cruz looks stunning throughout the entire movie, including during her numerous fits of rage.  This is the film that percolated my interested in Woody Allen.

5.  Biutiful, dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2008-2009, Spain

This is one of the many films that I've seen at Amherst Cinema, and one of the films on this list where I couldn't stop crying (I advise to never see a film that's a tear-jerker in the trailer by yourself).  Another film starring Javier Bardem, Biutiful is a story about a terminally-ill father who tries to correct all of his wrongs while he's still alive.  Bardem was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in this film, becoming the first performance that's entirely performed in Spanish to earn this nomination.  The cinematography and the dialogue are amazing in this film.  I highly recommend renting this movie.  Just make sure to have plenty of tissues handy.

6.  Departures, dir. Yōjirō Takita, 2008, Japan

Another film that I saw at Amherst Cinema, I've only seen this film once but remember it vividly.  Its another film that you need a couple of boxes of tissues prepared prior to viewing.  Though I don't want to spoil the plot, I wanted to give a little bit of insight into what its about.  The protagonist, a professional cellist, lost his job with the country's symphony orchestra.  Recently married and with a baby on the way, he needed to find a source of income.  Responding to a newspaper ad, he interviews and scores a job with a departures agency.  Thinking that it was a travel agency, it takes him some time to get adjusted to this line of work.  This agency specializes in preparing the deceased for burial.  Unlike its American counterpart, this Japanese film captures grief in a way that western movies probably could never accomplish due to how our society deals with emotion.  Be prepared to cry throughout 3/4s of the movie.

7.  Little Miss Sunshine, dir. Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, 2006, United States

I hope that everyone has seen this film by now!  It plays regularly on basic cable and is available on Netflix.  What isn't to like about this film?!  I would talk more about the plot but I would be giving the entire movie away.  I recommend watching this movie prior to any others on this list!

8.  Election, dir. Alexander Payne, 1999, United States

I remember when I first heard about and saw this movie.  The VHS (yes, this was WAY back in the day) was on sale for $5 at the local brick and mortar video rental place in the neighborhood where I grew up.  I bought it in 2000 and I still own it!  Well, my parents have it, along with many of the films I collected while I was living at "home."  This film, a satire about a high schooler running for student body president, introduced me to Reese Witherspoon (who I loved in Legally Blonde...yes, I'll admit to not only seeing this film multiple times but also to really liking it).  Election offers a unique critique of suburbia, politics, and teenage culture.

9.  Brown Sugar, dir. Rick Famuyiwa, 2002, United States

The soundtrack!  The soundtrack! The soundtrack!  Its SO GOOD!  I was recently introduced to this film by one of my closest friends.  The soundtrack (yes, its that good) brought back some fond memories.  From Jill Scott to Erykah Badu to Mos Def to the Roots, this film's soundtrack reminded me how amazing the music of the late 1990s to early 2000s was to both me and African-American culture.  This is one of a long list of films where the gorgeous and multi-talented Sanaa Lathan plays the protagonist and romantic interest.  Get ready...there's a steamy love scene in this one!  This is a film that can be watched with friends and with significant others!

10.  Eve's Bayou, dir. Kasi Lemmons, 1997, United States

This is the only film on the list that I was introduced to via a class.  It was the Spring of 2009 when I took a graduate-level film class, Black Female Image in Cinema...a class that changed my entire career trajectory.  In this class, we talked about films made by black women and also films made featuring black female characters.  Of course, filmmaker Kasi Lemmons (Eve's Bayou is her directorial debut) had to be on the syllabus.  This film is so important that it made it onto Time Magazine's list of The 25 Most Important Films on RaceFrom its opening voiceover, its easy to note the importance of this film and its impact on our culture.

Being the cultural critic that I am, I want to note that there are not too many women on this list.  Unfortunately, there are not too many women film directors out there.  Better yet, there are not too many female theatre directors, female playwrights, female film, television, and theatre producers out there.  There are too few women at the head of the creative process.  As a female writer and arts administrator, I think that its beyond time for us to assume positions at the head of the table, both in commercial and independent art-making circles.  Kathryn Bigelow, director of the film The Hurt Locker (2008), became the first woman to receive an Academy Award for Best Director.  This was in 2009!  Though I haven't seen this film yet, I've definitely added it to the list of films to watch because it is important to support those who are breaking barriers, quite like the films on this list. I also want to add to this list the new television series Scandal, created by Shonda Rhimes and starring Kerry Washington.  When was the last time a television series featured an African-American woman in a lead role?  Nuff said.  I haven't seen Scandal yet, but trust that over the next couple of months that I'll get caught up on the series.

Over the summer, I will be working on a post containing a list of female artmakers who we need to support.  Be on the lookout for it!

There's also many independent films that did not make this list.  It is simply because I haven't seen a lot of other important films of the industry yet (i.e., Do the Right Thing, a film that I'll be watching in a couple of days).  I hope that as I add to my own personal DVD collection that this list will only expand.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

PARIAH: Every Teen's Story

Adepero Oduye  as Alike in "Pariah" (2011)
I am so excited that I can finally say that I've seen the critically-acclaimed film Pariah!  It's been playing at Pleasant Street Theater in Northampton, MA for the past week and a half and has been playing in selected theaters nationwide since December of 2011.  Thanks to Out for Reel LGBT Film Series and Amherst Cinema/Pleasant Street Theater for bringing this important film to our area.

I advise that everyone, teenagers, parents, teachers, mentors, siblings, anyone who has been a teenager (practically everyone) to see this film.  Coined as a coming of age story about a black queer teenager, I am confident that everyone will connect to this film.  The protagonist, Alike (Adepero Oduye), begins to navigate cultural politics associated with her sexual identity and negotiates the stakes of important relationships, including those with her parents (played by Kim Wayans and Charles Parnell), her best friend, Laura (Pernell Walker), and her poetry.  Just like everyone young and old, she's trying to find out where she fits in the world:  the reality of humanity.

By the way, I want to congratulate Kim Wayans (of "In Living Color" and comedic notoriety) for a successful job as a dramatic actress!  She was amazing in this film and I look forward to seeing her in other dramatic roles in the near future.

Instead of me writing extensively on this film, I'd rather encourage all readers to go and see it soon.  For those in Western Massachusetts, it is scheduled to continue playing until sometime this weekend.  Please visit Amherst Cinema/Pleasant Street Theater's website for information on show times and ticket prices.  I've included the trailer below.  Please encourage others to see it.  Better yet, arrange to see it with friends.  And, after watching the film, please go out afterwards to discuss the film.  I'll bet that you all will relate to many of the issues raised in Pariah.

Thanks to Dee Rees, director and writer of Pariah, for bringing us such an amazing story, one that I hope will begin necessary conversations on how to ensure that today's young people become the best citizens they can be, living their best lives.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Noon in America

Last night, I finally got a chance to watch Woody Allen's latest film Midnight in Paris (2011).  A story I can relate to, the film situates around a screenwriter, Gil (played by Owen Wilson) who, while in Paris, discovers the flaws in his relationship with his fiancee (played by Rachel McAdams) yet becomes comfortable in his newest endeavor as a novelist.  At the stroke of midnight among several nights, the protagonist is taken back to the 1920s, mingling with expats such as Getrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway, writers who discover a little bit of themselves away from their home country of the United States.  Though sleeping through the first 20 minutes, I found myself enthralled in this story as it sounds a lot like my own (well, minus the "fiance/e" part).  I'm at this crossroads with my writing, attempting to find paying gigs and trying to make writing the main source of my income.  I just need the courage to just go out there and do it, but would appreciate some writers that I admire to lead me along the way.

One thing I kept thinking about while watching this movie is what it would look like if it were me in the central role.  Yes, I know its egotistical, but who hasn't want to star in a movie about themselves?!  My movie would take me back to the 1920s, except, it would look quite different.  It would still take place in Paris but some other faces from that era would have monumental roles in this film. It would also have a foot in America, specifically in Harlem, New York. Josephine Baker, who has a non-speaking role in Midnight in Paris, would be my tour guide, showing me around the city and introducing me to other important people of the Harlem Renaissance.  I would have tea on a terrace with James Baldwin, swap stories of recent travels abroad with Zora Neale Hurston, and explore Europe via rail with Richard Wright.  Langston Hughes and I would have a close relationship as he would become my next door neighbor.  I would occasionally visit Romare Bearden's studio, getting a first glance as his latest work.  I would be embraced in a world where my blackness and my artistry is well-defined and appreciated, though different than the norm.

I hope to one day experience what Gil had in Paris.  I wouldn't need a romance for I would be fulfilled through my work.  I just want the chance to be all of "me" rather than be pieces of me only sometimes.

"Jeunesse" by Palmer Hayden (date unknown)
***BTW, I'm happy to mention that two of the shorts mentioned in my blog post won Academy Awards in their respective categories!  The Shore won for Best Live Action Short and The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore for Best Animated Short.  Congratulations to this year's winners!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Call to Action, Part One: Support Independent Filmmaking!

This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending screenings of the Oscar-nominated Live Action and Animated Shorts at Amherst Cinema.  A HUGE independent film fanatic, I love going to art houses to view the latest trends in independent art making.

Here's trailers for my favorite shorts from the 2012 Oscar nominees' list:
1.  Pentecost (Live Action), Peter McDonald, dir., Ireland

2.  The Shore (Live Action), Terry George, dir., Northern Ireland (many of you may recognize the lead actor, Ciaran Hinds from the HBO series Rome).

3.  Time Freak (Live Action), Andrew Bowler, dir., USA (this one was my absolute favorite)

4.  The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (Animated), William Joyce & Brandon Oldenburg, directors, USA (this is the entire film.  I loved this one, and actually cried at the end)

Unlike most movie-going experiences, I was (gladly) forced to stick around to watch the credits following every film, as each short was showed in succession of one another.  Reading the credits brought me so much joy and intrigue.  I was able to appreciate the "hustle" that it takes to create films with little to no budget.  I also realized the differences between art-making in the US and other countries.  In Canada and countries in the UK, independent films receive government subsidies towards completing the project.  In the United States...well, I hope that we are all aware of the state of funding "anything" here.  Its next to impossible to receive funding for organizational survival, let alone creating something that challenges artistic integrity.

For those who are interested in supporting the livelihood of your fellow neighbors (artists who need to put food on their table and pay their utilities), I suggest you check out your local art house.  To find your local art house, visit Independent Lens' website (Independent Lens is a series that regularly airs on PBS.

The Independent Spirit Awards is coming up.  If you're interested in finding out more on independent filmmaking, please check it out.  The awards show is airing on IFC on Saturday, February 25.  This awards ceremony is uncensored, so I'm betting that all viewers will have a great time watching it!  This year's festivities will be hosted by Seth Rogan.  To find out if IFC is provided by your cable or satellite provider, please visit their respective websites.  I have DirecTV and am proud to say that I get BOTH IFC and The Sundance Channel.  Both channels show independently produced films and television series.

In a couple of days, I'll be posting my list of favorite independent films.  You'll probably be surprised as to which films make the list, as many of them do not come across as independently-produced projects.  Also, I'll be posting information on the current state of arts funding in the United States and the importance of celebrating non-commercial art-making at some point this week as well.

If you live in Western Massachusetts, specifically near Amherst or Northampton, I highly recommend you see one of the screenings this week of either the Live Action, Animated, or Documentary Shorts before the Academy Awards airing Sunday, February 25 at 5:30 p.m. PST/8:30 p.m. EST on ABC. I think that we'll all pay attention to the brief, ackwardly set-aside moments when the winners of these categories are giving their speeches, as I believe they deserve more time than they are granted for they are truly the best "hustlers" out there.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tradition Magician

This was the HARDEST blog post to write.  Originally, I started writing this about a month ago.  I'm glad that I waited to finish it as so much has happened in my personal life and within the discourse surrounding the matter.  I'm really happy that I waited.  This time gave me a better opportunity to thoroughly thing about this post and I hope that all readers will gain something from it.  

I'd like to dedicate this blog post to my mom, someone whose taught me how to appreciate the strength of my beauty and my being.

Its serendipitous that I write about love this Valentine's Day...well, Valentine's Day and a half, as I post this on the day after the fact.  With love all around me, friends getting married and proposals flowing aplenty, I had (and still continue to have) a lot to think about this Valentine's Day.  I've never been one to celebrate it nor crave my significant other indulge me with or shower me with capitalistic inspired trinkets.  But this year, Valentine's Day chose to celebrate me.

As I attempted to avoid the Hallmark-induced holiday yesterday, I was bombarded with chocolates.  "Chocolates to the left of em.  Chocolates to the right of em.  Eat.  Digest.  And Eat Some More" was my motto.  I was offered free chocolate at the coffee stand I frequent at work, at my office, in a couple of meetings, and in class last night.  Thank goodness it was all dark chocolate, keeping those healthy flavoroids coming!  I tend to speak things into existence.  I was so sure about wanting to "not" celebrate Valentine's Day.  Instead, it stalked me all day.

Rewind to a month ago from yesterday.  I served as the coordinator and bride's attendant for two dear friends' wedding.  As we're becoming even "closer" friends, it was an honor to serve in this capacity.  I enjoyed the day, including participating in all of the rituals and traditions that accompany the occasion.  I was fortunate enough, despite my hesitations and protests against partaking in said ritual, to catch the bouquet (with how perfect a "catch" it was, I think it was planned as many of the friends in attendance at this occasion are ready to see me-and a few other single women-hitched already).  Catching the bouquet means that I'll be the next bride.  As there are no candidates for "spouse" at the moment, I beg to differ in this sentiment.  However, its forced me to conduct inventory on my dating situation, or lack thereof, and why getting married is important to me.

I'm not your "stereotypical" girl.  Before I launch into this part of the discussion, I must add that I take offense to societal-assigned gender roles and how they've dictated human behavior and interaction.  It has and continues to subject women, in "hetero" relationships (man/woman), to assume much of the burden of the relationship while the man can just "be."  (More on this later...)  I didn't collect bridal magazines as a teenager.  I don't have a picture book with clippings of photos, piecing together my "dream dress."  I don't have a storyboard or dream board of my fantasy day or my fantasy mate.  I haven't officially chosen members of the wedding party, a site for the ceremony (though I have some ideas and the desire of getting married in my hometown), the design of my engagement ring, or even the type of cake I would want.  I have, however, made the executive decision that I want to get married and that I want to marry a man with specific qualifications.  The qualifications are easy to fulfill, as I look for someone who can love me as much as I love him, except me for my faults (as I would equally of him), strong family values, dreams that he's pursuing, and a heart full of love who believes in good "samaritanism" and being good to thy neighbor.  I have been told that my standards are quite high but that's another story.

I'm (cough, cough) years old and have only came close to getting married once.  I'm not sure how much that one counts given that the engagement had its special reasons for coming to an abrupt ending only five months in.  My ex-fiance and I still remain good friends.  I've only had a handful of boyfriends, none that I would consider marriage material.  No offense, ex-boyfriends of mine.  Trust me, I'm a lot to handle.  Do you really want a Type A, workaholic, OCD control freak as a wife?!  BTW, I enjoy that I possess these qualities.  It means that I can live many different lives in a short period of time.

The discourse for "forever single educated (black) women" expands daily.  Just within the week, articles on the negative implications of being a black woman to the difficulties of marrying when educated and career-driven to the realities of finding love while educated continue to flood my e-mail's inbox.  I even have comedians (Steve Harvey) and lawyers turned actors (Hill Harper) "instructing" me on how changing "my" behavior and my "list(s)" will "bring" me my mate Notice how I didn't insert "ideal".  Steve Harvey, in particular, wants black women to settle.  And, also notice how I didn't mention any of his books.  I'm not turning into his free publicist.  You can "google" on these men to find their "trash talk."

To add insult to injury, dating sites like eharmony regularly sends me articles on topics ranging from "why you're still single" to "the top 7 reasons why no one is dating you right now."  I registered for eharmony a couple of years ago during a free weekend but decided not to continue using their services after I found out how much it was to subscribe to their site (its member-based and you can only communicate with others on the site after you've paid a huge lump sum of money, something my pockets can't afford at the moment).  Though I was able to discontinue my "membership," I was still receiving the e-newsletter, which was filled with self-esteem killing articles on how "not" to be the you "you" are right now.  They make it extremely difficult to unsubscribe from their e-newsletter.  After getting their e-newsletter for three years, years after canceling my subscription to the site-based services, I figured out (through tons of FBI-type research) how to cancel the subscription to the e-newsletter.  Similar to an abusive relationship, eharmony only told me how bad of a person I was because I didn't partake into their ordeal.  Taking on advise used on my most recent relationship, as prescribed by sex and relationship columnist Dan Savage, I "DTMFA'ed!"

Though I'm not going to share the specific advise from these men and websites, I'm going to "generalize" (yes, I'm stepping into dangerous territory here...hell, these men did in their books, so can I) and share what these men and others in my life have said pertaining to me and marriage (prepare yourself as this list is going to be long and possibly overwhelming):

  • I'm too smart (I have a bachelor's degree from a top-notched public Ivy League state university and am now working towards my doctorate degree)
  • I'm too driven career-wise.  I don't seek to be the "dominate" one of the relationship or the household.  I want to be able to live a comfortable life and for most of my life, I've been living it alone.  A girl's got to support herself.
  • I'm too tall (come on now, this one is ridiculous)
  • I'm overweight (in most Eastern countries and places in Europe, my full-figure equals wealth, hell, women of the 1960s were considered beautiful but by today's standards are considered "fat."  Society, please stop spazzing, acting all ADD and bipolar and make up your mind on what's in and what's out)*
  • My standards are too high (to not want a man who acts like a child and can't even provide for himself and someone who wants a "second" mother is setting my standards too high?!  Remember what I said earlier)
  • Black women are ugly and unattractive (I'm going to save what I have to say for another blogpost as what I have to say can be published throughout a series of encyclopedias)
  • I don't follow the "dating rules."  Whenever the 1,001 commandments on dating come out on a chiseled slate of stone, then I'll divulge into whatever this bullshit means.
  • Wait, am I forgetting any?!  As I've been told a lot about myself that makes me "undesirable," I tend to forget some of these things.

*There are some dating sites geared towards hooking up "chubby chasers" with BBWs but I find them to be very fetishizing and demeaning to all parties involved.  Please check out the TLC series Big Sexy and it will fill you in on this counterculture phenomenon.  

On top of all of this, I've been battling with my hair since I was a child.  No, better yet, since the last time I resisted my natural style and started relaxing my hair again.  The year:  2004.  The event:  a job at a conservative yet highly regarded arts organization.  The matter:  a light-skinned supervisor who thought that my hair looked a "mess" natural.  There's all kinds of complexion politics up in this!  I was one of the only light-to-middle "skinned" women that work at this place.  Almost all of the darker-skinned women wore their hair in natural hairstyles, including locks, twists, and afros.  But for some reason, I had to straighten my hair in order to look more professional.  Up until that point, I was rocking God's given curls.  I did the "big chop" for the first time in 2001 after finishing undergrad and thought I'd never look back.  I loved my hair.  It grew back fairly quickly.  Try in a year and a half.  Despite that happy, almost orgasmic-like three years together, I fell victim to someone else's venom.  My hair hasn't grown since then.  Well, maybe a couple of centimeters....centimeters does no girl any good (I had to throw some humor in here).

Well readers, I've scheduled myself another lunch date with the "big chop."  Its going down on Friday (well, coming off).  I'm going back to wearing my hair natural.  Cutting off all contact with the socially-deemed regime of the bimonthly dose of the "creamy crack".  I miss my hair being natural.  It did something to my self-esteem.  Not only was it easier to style, the curls framed my gorgeous face perfectly!  Going back to this style brings on fond memories of our years together.  I look forward to making love to my coif once more.  I promise you that I will share this experience with all of my readers.  I was very apprehensive about this endeavor.

It took a lot for me to accept this choice.  I was very apprehensive about cutting hair because of what it could do to my dating life.  Wait, dating life.  I have one?!  Did I lose it in the park?  Is it in a foster home or at the kennel?  Or did the garbage person pick it up accidentally?  Nope.  Dating sans exist in the land beyond B.F.E. (where I currently "habitat").  I get this sense that men don't like short hair on women, for it could emasculate them.  I cried a little.  I laughed a little.  I even talked to other friends about it.  What sealed the deal for me and comforted me about my choice:  talking to my mom about it on the phone today. My mom, who means more than the world to me (I'm so happy to be so close to both of my parents, who are both still in my hometown), says that she remembers me when I had my hair that short and how pretty it made my face look and how happy I was when I had my hair natural.  I said to her that my natural is reminiscent of her hair during the revolutionary 70s.  My dad met, fell in love with, and married my mom in the 1970s with her afro and all.  He even had one at the time.  My parents are about to celebrate their 36th wedding anniversary.  If my mom's afro stood for love, revolution and Black pride, then let me be just like my mom for I am and want to be all of those things.

You might ask, how am I going to morph into this "tradition magician."  I can answer that question with this:  I believe that gifts in abundance exist for me, including one of a lifelong spouse (I'm open to love in all shapes and forms....go MARRIAGE EQUALITY) whose dreams will mesh with mine, whose love of life will strengthen beyond belief through our love for one another together; a book deal; an OBIE Award (off-Broadway, look out); launching my consultancy on socially-conscious arts management and doing a tour across the country sharing my work; traveling the world, celebrating the great diversity the world offers us; the college teaching job that will give me a chance to continue freelancing as a playwright, poet, and journalist, and that 10th floor loft in a major city, living within walking distance of a great neighborhood grocery store and a park to bring the children to.  Not to pat myself on the back, but who wouldn't want to share life with someone like this?!  Okay, maybe I'm being a lil' self-indulgent.  But, whose going love you if you don't love yourself?!  I'm going to reverse all stereotypes and live life the way I should live it and not by the way others dictate it for me for I'm going to live beyond the odds.  I'm going to be a proud, Black,beautiful, full-figured, sexy ass, HAUTE ass, smart as hell fashionista/naturalista arts mogul who will build a happy, fulfilling life with another human being.  It may not be my soulmate but its going to be one hell of a lucky person (and I will be too for my future spouse, wherever they are, happen to be awesome).

So, to answer Lionel Bart's* question, I know where it is.  It awaits me for when I obtain it, there's no looking back.

*Lionel Bart wrote the music and script for the musical Oliver!, which is an adaptation of the Charles Dickens' story.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How "Golden" is the "globe"?

As a child (and still to this day), I was a huge fan of the television series The Golden Girls.  For me, and probably many others, it was the first time I heard candid conversations about life after 50 on TV.  The sex.  The men.  The food.  The cheesecake.  The "fashion."  But more importantly, the friends in tow.  This show offered something different. It didn't delve into the typical, familiar yet depressing stories about the "elderly" that flickered frequently on the boob tube.  It wasn't about a widow wasting away in a nursing home nor of an aging couple who couldn't enjoy life anymore due to their descending capabilities.  It was about dating, socializing with friends, enjoying retirement or even still relishing in the joys of the daily grind of the workplace.  Things that we all should look forward to as we get sweeter with age. It taught me the importance and the autonomy in creating a new identity for oneself beyond the image attached to career and family.  The Golden Girls was about assuming ownership of one's happiness.

The Golden Girls paved the way for shows like Sex and the City and Mad Men, preparing audiences to watch scenarios similar to those that (we hope) would happen in real life:  a clear-cut divorce from the make-believe, false worlds of its predecessors.  For a sitcom set in Florida (the land of talking mice, argumentative ducks, princess mermaids, servant rodents, scantly-clad, over-tanned women, retirees who split their time between the north and the south, the super religious, and the ultra-conservative), I thought it was funny yet revolutionary.
The series really shaped what my view of "golden" was and should continue to be.  There was a time when titles meant a lot to me.  "Golden" broke ground.  "Golden" took risks.  "Golden" was inviting.  "Golden" was sexy.  "Golden" was haute.  Though young, I took some valuable cultural cues from The Golden Girls.  Some more obvious than others (I was a little Black girl living in the middle of a changing, midwestern urban metropolis; I could relate somewhat, being very outspoken for my age).  The Golden Girls taught me to live life with gusto and pizzazz no matter the age or the circumstance.

Let's fast forward to 19 years later.  The day is Sunday, January 15, 2012.  The time:  mid-to-late evening.  The convening: television sets and internet browsers (possibly) all around the world.  The event:  the 69th Annual Golden Globes (yes, the number is ironic).  I watched it this year as I always do, dreaming of one day donning a custom, couture gown designed specifically for me, the award-nominated screenwriter attending the ceremony for the first time...when I dream, I dream big!  I took note of the fashion, the nominees, the presenters, and the commentators.  Like anything spotted in the media, the attire of the evening quickly became iconic within popular culture.  I couldn't watch basic cable stations like E! or Style or even CNN without any mention of the gowns the women were wearing.  In all honesty, though just only my personal opinion, I think this year's fashion SUCKED!  It sucked hard!  Yes, my use of words and tone may have lost my blog all credibility.  I hope that you continue to hear me out, for I have an important point to make towards the end.

I'm no Joan or Melissa Rivers, but I must offer my commentary on this year's Golden Globe fashion.

Overall concern:  who styled the women at this year's ceremony?  Bed Bath and Beyond? The Christmas Tree Store? Forever 21? There was SO MUCH glitter, green, misused animal print gowns that resembled vintage shower curtains, and flammable material that would make the fire marshall question the hauteness (hotness) in the room.  The fashion that impressed me the most was that worn by the writers and producers of the shows and films that won for their respective categories.  I'm guessing that since their daily wardrobe consists of jeans, the t-shirt worn the night before, and the randomly mismatched shoes that are closest to the front door.  I was not only unamused by this year's chosen, professionally styled attire, I was offended!

The Golden Globe Awards sets the tone for the Academy Awards, which traditionally happens in February.    Award-winning shows and films are watched, shared, and adored, leading to the shaping of popular culture. Celebrities and their work have more influence over our lives then we want to realize (think back to  "The Rachel" haircut from the Friends' era).  I'm so happy that this year's awards show wasn't coveted by numerous remakes or adaptations like in past years.  That is a sign that artists are "creating" again!

While I hope to see many of this year's Golden Globe nominees up for Oscars, I hope not to see a repeat of the fashion.  Unsure about the Golden Globe awards' "attire," many of the gowns from the Oscars are recreated, turning the four to five figure gowns into affordable replicas for commoners' consumption.  I've heard that many of these gowns become available as soon as the next day.  Though some of the gowns would look beautiful on many shapes and skin tones, others would look downright embarrassing on all but its originator. I don't know about you, but I don't think that everyone would look good in Bjork's swan dress from the 73rd Academy Awards. If this isn't a body slam on culture, I don't know what is.

To complicate matters, I am a bonafide film fanatic who lives in the middle of "nowhere"!  My "nowhere" is the current holder of the title #1 College Town in America:  Amherst, Massachusetts.  I may have to watch my back when I leave the house tomorrow, but I have to call this place out.  How can we be the #1 College Town in America when our culture sucks?!  Yes, I just lost credibility again....  Many of the nominated films from this year's Golden Globes hasn't made it to our region (as of the awards show).  I had to engage in daunting conversations with friends over Facebook, asking what would seem like stupid questions to those who live in large cities or other college towns (try "true" college towns like Ann Arbor, Chapel Hill, Madison, and Berkeley that are filled with educated people, diverse communities, family-owned restaurants, a plethora of entertainment options, and a nightlife catered towards its inhabitants all within walking distance or a short drive from doorway to the business district), people who have seen these movies multiple times over.  I posted on Facebook something to the effect of "what in the hell is the film The Artist?"  Sample responses include:  how have you not heard of this movie?  its been playing in my town for three weeks.  I take on the task of "googling"frantically, making sure that I didn't miss out on the important opening weekend, gesturing me to open wide and insert my size 13 deep down my throat.  Instead, the search returned "coming soon," implying that the film not only hasn't reached this "cultural mecca of higher learning," there was no telling when the film would reach my local art house.  I have the pleasure of announcing that Amherst Cinema has recently posted on their website, post Golden Globe awards that The Artist will open at their theatre on Friday, January 20...I may not be able to go this weekend, but damn sure will make an effort to go soon.

***I do understand that politics behind film distribution and licensing have a lot to do with the release of films to play in local theatres.  Also, I understand the power behind a dollar and the voice of supportive consumers.  For those who live in or near Amherst Cinema, I encourage you to either become a member or to attend film screenings on their opening weekends.  It would assist in changing the dynamic of distribution here in particular area.  As both a fan of independent films and Amherst Cinema/Pleasant Street Theatres, I will not only continue to support this nonprofit organization, I will find ways to increase my support this year, hopefully having a way to contribute in more ways than just by buying tickets and purchasing a ton of concessions (BTW, their popcorn is AWESOME).

I'm excited to get a chance to see The Decendants, The Artist, Iron Lady, The Help (damn, all of the films feel like they need to "belong" this season...look at how many use the word "the" in the title!), Mildred Pierce, and Downton Abbey!  As many of these projects are groundbreaking, I hope that many more people will get a chance to experience and support these films and television shows. I would delve into the conversation about the lack of racial equity among the nominees this year, but if you follow pop culture and mainstream media, we're either invisible or have claimed cultural capital on jobs in the service industry.  When the film Pariah reaches us here in Western Massachusetts, expect that 1) I'm going to recruit the masses to see it with me on opening night and 2) that I will see it more than once.  This conversation is getting really old.  I can't wait for the year where we see racial equality spread throughout all of the films and television series nominated for awards of their given seasons.  I hope to see that during my lifetime but with how the political and financial landscape looks at the moment, Black women will remain maids and Black men will remain criminals on the silver screen, only receiving backhanded recognition when we continue to fall back only several decades to the era when we could only play those one-dimensional, demeaning roles.  Media doesn't truthfully reflect the world as we live in it so its important that we don't allow media to define our culture.

Think back to awards seasons' past.  Do box office numbers ever match the list of award nominees (Transformers' movies aside)?  This shows that titles/awards garnered only mean so much to the consumer.  We will watch what we want to watch.  We will do whatever we want to do.  Considering all of this, why are awards even important?

So, what does this all mean?  I am posing a challenge against the power of titles.  What do they mean?  Do titles privilege one sentiment over another?  In the case of the Golden Globes and the #1 College Town in America, titles can be misleading, and really unnecessary.

We're all guilty of following some trend.  Hell, I've been caught at the grocery store, parading around in broad daylight wearing leggings with a waist-length t-shirt like it was appropriate beyond my apartment (who started this "trend" anyway?!).  Titles are given for a reason.  In the case of Amherst being the #1 College Town or mainstream media serving as cultural dictator and "ambassador" of American culture, only a handful of people (or even just one person...please investigate the "Amherst as the nation's #1 College Town story a little bit further than this blog).

"Golden" to me stands the test of time.  "Golden" is my trendsetter.  "Golden," to me, has value that spans over multiple generations.  The Golden Girls did that for me.  Maybe I set my expectations too high.  Maybe I expect leadership from an authority figure held at high regard.  Titles do that to people.  We assume that people or things with titles are important and have influence.  In the case of the awards season and my current place of residence, they can only do so much to live up to the titles bestowed upon them by others.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Importance of Our Voices

It's ironic that my first official blog post goes up on the day that many other internet sites are on strike. I think that it is important that my first blog post be one that is pertinent to the work that I do and the work of many of my cyber colleagues.

Today, many websites (sites such as Wikipedia, Google, and other search engines) are dark. They have chosen to go dark in protest of bills recently introduced to Congress. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), in the House of Representatives, and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), in the U.S. Senate, are bills that could censor the internet. Legislators who presented the bills say that their purposes are to control foreign sites posting content that would infringe on copyright. If passed, they will force constant monitoring of links and other materials posted to websites, possibly shutting down these sites.

The types of websites that could be affected are those such as this blog, many of the search engines we use daily, and any of the social networking sites. If this law goes into effect, you will have difficulty accessing your favorite sites (i.e., this blog, Google, YouTube, Facebook, any means of sharing information). Only speaking for myself, I post links to articles and other content on my Facebook page and Twitter feed to inform others of what's going on in society, for example sharing a news story that only a handful of people would have heard of. Think of me as a kind of pied piper. An educated, informed citizen is dangerous to large corporations. These large businesses, such as record labels and film distribution companies, are the entities that would benefit from this legislative initiative. Don't these businesses already make enough money?!

You may say that with me being an artist that I would want to support both bills. For many artists like myself, we exercise self-distribution. If these bills were enacted, we wouldn't be able to distribute our art (think back to when Prince self-distributed his music). Self-distribution is how many playwrights, novelists, poets, and songwriters get their start. These bills could prevent artists like me from reaching the masses, including a possible agent, killing these important career goals.

Exercising my role as the "pied piper," I would like for all of my readers to please visit these links TODAY (as the strike ends at midnight tonight) to learn more about these bills.

End Piracy, Not Liberty, a site supported by Google (this site also contains a petition that you can sign; I encourage all readers to sign the petition)

Colorlines' What is SOPA?

Wikipedia's explanation of SOPA and PIPA

Once these links are removed, I'll be sure to post other information on SOPA/PIPA to my blog.

Please share these links on your respective blogs, Facebook walls, Twitter feeds, Tumblr accounts, etc, any way to share the information with a number of people.

If you have the time, please contact your representatives and say that you would like the elected officials representing you and your neighbors to vote against this bill. To find out how to contact your U.S. Senator or U.S. Representative, please click here.

As with net neutrality, it will be the power of the people to stop this legislation from passing.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Welcome to CoCo's Culture Corner!

Dear Readers:

For many years, probably since my emergence into the world, I've been very vocal about the world at large. However, my perspective has only been shared within reach of those around me: the few, the brave, the already enlightened friends and family who are closest to me. I have an opinion on everything. From fashion to food to film, I ignite intriguing conversation but only a handful of people get to experience it. Hence the purpose of this blog.

I decided to name this blog "CoCo's Culture Corner" to give me a spot to voice opinions and share information on a range of topics. I will talk about fun stuff and topics that others attempt to avoid. I will share knowledge on my favorite things and even include tidbits on things I detests. All in all, I hope to remind the masses that "culture" is many things. Its more than highbrow art. Its beyond the tabloids. It surpasses dinner dialogue shared among friends.

I'm in this world for a reason. Though young, I'm blessed to have had the varied opportunities thus far throughout my journey on this earth. So, I thought to share that insight with others. While I'm not a politician looking to influence people nor a teacher, I hope that this blog will offer various ways of looking at society as a whole. I hope to make you laugh. I hope to make you cry. But most importantly, I hope to make you think.

On that note, I'd like to leave everyone with the sentiment of one of my favorite songs. Sometimes, it does only just takes one person. Why not it start with me :)

***Warning on the link: grab tons of tissues and be prepared for tears. Its a heartfelt moment from one of my favorite television shows, "The Muppet Show."