TOP 5 DESERT ISLAND Directors! Part 1 of 3 Under Construction

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

This is an idea that the filmspotting podcast covered in their latest episode, and while they had intriguing choices it spurred me to a slightly different list and slightly different choices.

If you can only, for whatever reason, have the films of five directors to watch, on a desert island, for an uncertain amount of time, or for all time… what five directors do you choose? Fritz Lang? F.W. Murnau? Louis Feuillade? Alfred Hitchcock? David Lean? Orson Welles? Ousmane Sembene? Mary Harron?

They list very interesting choices, not as good as the names I list above (I’m joking), many of which I myself am a cheerleader for (Kurosawa, Howard Hawks), but it occurred to me that diversity, particularly when it came to Hollywood films, was a rare exception rather than a rule. And that concerned me because, if I am trapped on a deserted island with the filmography of only 5 directors, that I wanted the filmography of at least a couple of those directors to represent the ethnic width and breadth of the human condition. The beauty of a range of colors and women and cultures.

I being someone who even today gets bored with the lack of diversity of films, the idea of being stuck with films not representative of the larger world, and the rich tapestry of people in it, gave me pause. For all our berating of terms like political correctness (which when really defined is respect, so when people rail against political correctness what they are really arguing against is giving people respect) we have become a more intolerant and stratified society. And part of that I think has to do with our mass media. Our obsession with vilifying the other.

The (seemingly increasing) lack of diversity in recent films and television, being I think a dangerous sign of a tail wagging the dog society. Of a vocal minority calling for a return to ‘the good old days’ which, when finally viewed, never really were that good.

Hollywood has from its inception been a propaganda machine, where a few people’s fiction altered often negatively many people’s facts. And before discussing Desert Island directors, another discussion has to be had first… about the values of film. Not the value of film, but the values portrayed or reiterated or held dear, in perhaps too many films. We have to talk about exclusion and stereotyping in films beginnings, and in film’s present.

While willing to give a slight pass to pre-1960 films given their historic placement, I have less interest or sympathy for segregated and nearly Apartheid rich, post-1960 into 21st century, Hollywood films. Or worse the 21st century version of Step and Fetchit, black actors used to deliver White Messages. Be it MONSTERS BALL or TRAINING DAY it’s the eye-bulging, debasing, cartoonish extremes, that Black actors are saddled to wear, that hearkens to what is worst in cinema.

If the choice is between only debased caricatures… of people of color, ala Frank Darabont or David Ayer or practically no characters of color ala Woody Allen, I’ll take the latter evil. But ideally the filmmakers I want to support and revisit, are those who can represent characters of color with the same broad diversity we grant to the human race, the Michael Manns, the Carl Franklins, the Tony Scotts, the Gordon Parks.

This idea of us as hero and villain, Sexual and chaste, brilliant and imbecilic, honorable and flawed, important and funny, savior and victim. In the 21st century that diversity of roles is generally relegated to White actors. In the 21st century the number of Hollywood movies that portray characters of color with any of those positive aspects listed… are few and far between.

Even supposed mass market films like XMEN FIRST CLASS and SIN CITY reek of this ingrained stereotyping and caricature as truth, when it comes to the non-pale characters. And I could deal if this mentality and programming and white wish fulfillment was the occasional film, however in the last two decades it has become practically every film and tv show. The White hero has a woman of color pining for him, his backup girl typically. And the male actor of color, seldom a protagonist, and even less seldom does he get the girl, he is now relegated to comedy relief or side-kick; Rochester for the 21st century. Far have we drifted from the sexually virile Black stars of the 70s.

This creates a cinema of exclusion and to some extent, social engineering. Our facts are shaped by our fictions, arguably more than anything else, and a cinema of marginalization, legitimization and feminism of the male of color, bodes not well.

We are not DW Griffith we are not Cecil B. DeMills making entertainment for a virulently segregated, Jim Crow America. We have made some progress since then, and for filmmakers not to acknowledge that progress or that shifting audience, is to take a stance against that progress, and against that diverse viewing base.

We are not in the early days of the 20th century, we are in the early days of the 21st and while it is a filmmakers choice whether to be exclusionary or boring or homogeneous to a fault, you do so at the risk of failing to become a better filmmaker. You do so at the risk of making scared, redundant, and repetitive early 20th century films, here in the 21st century.

Well I’ve gone on about the pitfalls of cinema, here 15 years into the 21st century, now let’s discuss the strengths of film. The people I think are portraying an America and a world far more intune to the one I walk through, where heroes can be both Black and White.

In the Hollywood system the names are few, but welcome, and waiting… waiting for viewers, reviewers, actors, writer, producers, studios, and directors to recognize there is an inequity, a growing one, at the heart of our fictions, that much be addressed to make our cinema and ourselves… better.

Those filmmakers are (among others):

The late great Gordon Parks
The late great Tony Scott
The very much with us and Great Michael Mann
The very much with us and Great and underutilized Carl Franklin
Sergio Leonne
Ossie Davis

Very, very different directors, but what they were all able to do, sometimes for a single movie, sometimes for multiple movies, is something so rarely done in Hollywood today that it’s like there is an unofficial Hayes code prohibiting it…

…prohibiting having a movie with a character of color or Black character as both heroic protagonist and a male with a functioning libido, who doesn’t have to die or be sacrificed for the majority. :)

Outside of the great explosion of films in the 70s extending a bit into the 80s, and the subsequent eradication of locally controlled/independent theaters, The Heroic, virile Black hero has become a scare commodity on Theatrical screens.

Which is why when it gets done well… these days, such as in Peter Berg’s poorly named and badly marketed HANCOCK… the film becomes a wild success. Because there is a large population starved for empowering images of themselves. 2013 with its BUTLER and FRUITYVALE STATION and 12 YEARS A SLAVE, showcases Hollywood’s debasement attitude when it comes to theatrical releases. “Multiple characters of color? You better be a comedy, or telling us about getting your ass whupped.” :) .

Hence 2013s abundance of films of victimization, while they should be valid stories that have their place, if you counter them with just as many films of triumph, or winning, or adventure, or thrilling action and heroism. However the Heroic Tale is a rare one, and that is the failing of the system we have to change. Without the heroic myth to contrast it, tales of victimization are just an assault, a tool, a club… to beat a population into shape.

— to be continued —

The NY COMICCON 2007 Coverage Pt. 1: The Black (you talking about shaft? Hush your mouth!) Panel

I had a great time at the NY comiccon. I thought with the exception of the rat like maze, laughingly referred to as a line, that it was a well conducted event.

Being my first con, I was definitely a little overwhelmed. The sales floor really was too much for me. Navigating it on Saturday (and I tried), was a herculean task, and I couldn’t find anything.

So I mossied (I couldn’t find it in the dictionary, but you know mosying , that thing cowboys do when they can’t find a horse. It’s kinda like walking :) ) my way down to the panels.

The panels I had researched and knew what I wanted to hit. With one exception I hit pretty much every panel I was interested in, and on Sunday got to touch base with creators and personalities I’m a fan of.

Here’s a pic from the great Marvel Bullpen panel. Lot’s of fun, packed house. Sorry for the blurry pic, but I think you can pretty easily make it out. From left to right it’s Stan (The Man) Lee, Jolting Joe Sinnot, and Gracious Gene Colan!.

Stan was a riot! Panel also included Ralph Macchio and a lady they only referred to as Flo. Fun panel, full of reminisces of Marvel’s glory days. My 2nd favorite panel!

But in this installment wanted to talk about the panel that surprisingly was my favorite of the con. Michael Davis’ The Black Panel NYC.

Now, now… don’t give me that look, it was actually really good. :).

The unfortunate truth is you can’t say Black in this country without some idiot saying, “why it gotta be a Black thing” and the answer is always the same. For the same reason there is an Asian thing, or a Jewish thing, or an Italian thing, and let’s be honest America is a defacto white thing.

And for the absence of a strong sense of identity amidst that defacto standard, prisons are filled, and drugs go into veins. So it is very, very important to have a china town, or a little Italy, to have a language, and a country, and a history, and a culture, and idioms to call your own.

And a lot of that infrastructure is in need of building.

Not just for the good of the minority mind you, but for the good of the majority. It benefits the majority, for the pieces that make up the whole, to be able to bring their own identity, and strength to the table.

So trust me, a Black Panel, A China Town, a Little Italy…. these are good things.

Now quick thoughts on the panel:

Above is a nifty pic of the panel. From left to right you have:
Denys Cowan (You can just make out the tip of his hat, and his shoulder, but have a better pic below), Chuck Creekmur, Cheryl Lynn, Prodigal Sunn, Michael Davis, Reginald Hudlin, and Mark and Mike Davis of Blokhedz. I’ll get into who everyone is, and what they work on)

“I would love to work with (Christopher) Priest. Along with Denys (Cowan) he’s one of the creators I’ve reached out to.”
…Reginald Hudlin, Writer, Filmaker, Comics Pro, President of BET, and Renaissance Man, an excerpt from the absolutely was not to be missed Black Panel that took place at this years NY Comiccon. A panel decisively and brilliantly moderated by Michael Davis.

Because many times even when the panel is great, the questions are idiotic and insipid. As in the Stephen King panel, “well I haven’t read the book Mr. King, but a friend of mine told me….”

So it was great to not see that happen, and that Michael Davis steered the panel with a deft and strong hand. The panel was great, the questions were great, the vibe was stunning. You had a great Asian-Latin-Black lovefest and mutual admiration society going on, which is great and fitting, because Black really does encompass all those people, the mass media’s attempt to fractionalize that truth, aside.

Above is a pic of Prodical Sun, Michael Davis, Reginald Hudlin.

And I want to get further off topic here, Mr. Davis took flak from someone regarding using the term Black for his panel. Isn’t that amazing? You can have a Jewish Anti-Defamation League, or an Asian that, or a Korean this, or an Italian that, but noooooo… you can’t have a Black so and so.

But Luckily he told the guy go jump in the lake. Because honestly I frigging despise the term African American.

“OHHHHH!!” And the crowd gasps!

“No he didn’t just say that!”

“That Negro has lost his mind!”

Well actually I did say it, and I have as firm a grasp on my sanity as I ever had, which of course isn’t saying much.

But for you in the cheap seats, let me say it again so you catch every word: I frigging despise the term, African American.

Why?

Because it’s a very marginalizing, mass media term; that doesn’t encompass the rich vein of people and culture that word is tacked over, but segments them based on national/geo-political boundaries.

An idiotic way to define a people, painting them with a nationalistic brand or brush. And an inaccurate way.

60% (a low #) of what we consider Latin nations, Brazil/Cuba/Venezuela are heavily of African ancestry. So as a person whose blood line runs from Senegal to the islands to the Americas… Black works really well for me, hey I’ll even answer to Pan-African, Nubian, on an especially jovial day perhaps even colored(smile when you say that boy!) but you can take your African American and choke on it.

Because AA is a marginalizing divisive term taken out of the context it was first used in.


“Man that Negro is crazy!” “Pan-African please. :)

So getting back on topic, the fact that it was called the Black Panel, worked for me. And I think it worked for the people who were there.

Because unlike my tirades :) it was all about the creative process, and new projects, new visions, upcoming work, and generally just moving forward.

With Animation projects, comic projects, book projects, publishing ventures it was a really informative panel, bursting with networking goodness.

I should have recorded the panel, and hope someone did, because it was that good.

Here’s a better pic showing Denys Cowan and Chuck Creekmur.

Panelists were:

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Denys Cowan-Writer, Artist, Martial Artist. Very long, very brilliant comic career. Highlights for me being his work on the Question, Black Panther, Batman Blind Justice and his Milestone work, such as Hardware. Now VP of BETs new Animation Studio.

I’ve been a loud detractor of BET, since their sale to Viacom, my issue being how you can honestly call it Black Entertainment when it’s owned by a white company, you may be able to call it blackface, or propagation and fulfillment of black stereotypes but not necessarily Black entertainment.

But with names like Hudlin and Cowan at the helm I’m inclined to actually give the channel another look, and hope it becomes more than a station that panders to stereotypes.

Though I would love to see these men working on their own company rather than a subset of a larger company. Because end of the day as Michael Jackson, and Magic Johnson, and Prince have found working their projects under Sony, end of the day you are generating income for interests outside your community, making Sony’s name at the expense of your own, and end of the day when you stop generating income you will be discarded. As will your work.

That’s always the fear when talented creators of color invest their time, in properties they do not own. But again with Hudlin and Cowan in the game I’m inclined to be positive.

Check out Newsarama’s interview with him here:

http://www.newsarama.com/general/Cowan/DenysInt.html

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Chuck “Jigsaw” Creekmur- President of WWW.ALLHIPHOP.COM. I admit to being out of the hiphop loop, but the site looks like a fun, easily navigated, and thankfully Flash free site. I’d love to see him partner with creators such as Aaron Mcgruder and Keith Knight, to bring their respective funny endearing, and satire filled cartoons, BOONDOCKS and THE K CHRONICLES, to a hiphop audience.

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Ms. Cheryl Lynn- Unfortunately the only beautiful panelist (no offense guys) was not captured in any closeups. I consider myself pretty schooled on Comic/Cartoon history, but I was mistaken. As Ms. Lynn eloquently informed the audience about a wonderful female cartoonist who worked in the golden age of the medium, of whom I was totally ignorant… Jackie Ormes. She has a great site, and I urge you to do what I did, go to her site and get informed. And also it’s a great resource for cartoonists of color to join, or for finding great cartoonists to work with. http://theormessociety.com/.

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Prodigal Sunn of Wu Tang Clan- Wu Tang Clan is among the most effective musicians to use the comic medium as an expression and extension of the story their music told. And Prodigal with a solo CD about to launch, television work, animation, and film projects on the burner remains one of the busiest and most steadfast supporters of the medium of comics.

I’d love to see Prodigal’s website become Flash Free. ;) [Black people, can't we stop using Flash. :)]

But seriously, what I would like to see is Prodigal’s Wu Tang Clan comics syndicated/reprinted on ALL HIPHOP. Also what would be great is if ALL HIPHOP offered a store where you could purchase the books, of WU TANG CLAN, BOONDOCKS, K-CHRONICLES direct from their site. A win-win situation for everyone.

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Okay all the time I have for this installment. Next installment we’ll cover the last 4 members of NY Comiccon’s THE BLACK PANEL! ([ feel like that should be in big lights, and the name echoing :)]

All in all a fun, fun panel.

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