Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Real-Life Crimes on DVD?

The following is a letter to the editor sent to the "Voice of the People" section of the New York Daily News via e-mail on December 12, 2007. It was in response to an article about a young New York filmmaker supposedly capturing on DVD real- life crimes in progress. The letter was not published.

To the Editor: Re: filmmaker Ousala (FD) Aleem's "Criminals Gone Wild" DVD. How does this guy sleep at night knowing that he is aiding and abetting criminal behavior? No doubt "60 Minutes" or some other newsmagazine program will do a segment on him, increasing his profits and the crime rate.

Author's Note: I plan to revisit this issue at a later time.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hurricane Cruella aka Hurricane Katrina

The following is a letter-to-the-editor I sent to the "Voice of the People" section of the New York Daily News on September 12, 2005 (via e-mail). It was not published.

To the Editor:
Katrina. A beautiful and benign-sounding name for such a destructive force. A better name would have been Cruella or Pandora.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Black Middle Class of Bed-Stuy

The following is an unpublished letter I sent to Time Out New York in response to a letter that was commenting on an article that had appeared in the magazine. My letter was dated August 11, 2006.

Dear Editor:
In her letter, Jennifer Gilchrist accuses TONY of racially stereotyping the residents of Bed-Stuy [Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York] along racial lines (white wealth vs. black poverty). But Gilchrist herself is guilty of stereotyping. She writes that in "the wealthiest areas of Bed Stuy...the vast majority of residents are middle-class and upper middle-class African-Americans." First of all, being middle-class does not mean that one is wealthy. Secondly, she's on the outside looking in. How many of those "wealthy" African-Americans are struggling to maintain a middle-class life for themselves and their families? How many of them are living paycheck- to- paycheck attempting to keep up with many financial obligations (credit card debt, car payments, mortgages, school tuitions, medical expenses, etc.), while at the same time trying to save enough for a comfortable retirement? As the saying goes, looks can be deceiving.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Melvin Dixon: A Brief Elegy

The following is an excerpt (in slightly different form) from an elegy I wrote about the black gay poet and novelist Melvin Dixon (1950-1992). It was written for a forthcoming anthology called Art Mugs the Reaper, edited by Jeffrey Lilly, a San Francisco-based poet. The book celebrates the lives and work of gay artists who died of AIDS.

"I often think of Melvin Dixon when I walk down West 116th Street in Harlem, an area known as Little Dakar because of the large influx of African immigrants that reside and own shops there. Melvin had lived in France and the West African nation of Senegal, spoke fluent French, and taught at the University of Dakar. He would have enjoyed the sights and sounds of these newcomers. I can imagine him telling them, in French, about his travels to Senegal and inquiring about their lives there and in the United States. I'm certain they would have enjoyed knowing that he translated a volume of poetry by Leopold Senghor, the president of Senegal."

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Blockhouse in Central Park

Missing from New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe's discussion of the Blockhouse at the northern end of Central Park (Time Out New York, Issue 606) is the fact that it is located in a popular gay cruising area. Sexual activity went on inside the Blockhouse, also known as the Fort, before a gate with a padlock was installed a few years ago. Especially during the warm months, a visitor can see near the structure, which dates back to the War of 1812, what T.S. Eliot would have described as the "testimony of summer nights": cigarette butts, torn condom wrappers, beer cans, etc.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Film History Book Worth Checking Out

I recently finished reading Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris (Penguin Press, 2008) an Entertainment Weekly writer. I had a hard time putting the book down. It is a behind-the-scenes look at five groundbreaking motion pictures released in 1967 that were nominated for an Academy Award: The Graduate, In the Heat of the Night,Doctor Dolittle, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, and Bonnie and Clyde.The only one of the five I've never seen is Doctor Dolittle. The others I've seen on TV and/or VHS. Unfortunately, I never saw any of them when they made their theatrical premiere. (Doctor Dolittle is the only one of the five that was a box office flop.) Perhaps Symphony Space, the performance venue in New York City, will screen these films in a special series based on the book. Then I will get the opportunity to see them the way they were meant to be seen--on a wide screen with an audience. (I've seen several films that I missed the first time around like Boyz N the Hood that way at Symphony Space.)
One small complaint: On the back flap, the author bio states that Harris's husband is the playwright Tony Kushner. With so many smart men in the gay community, you would think that they could come up with a better nomenclature for such an intimate relationship. The words "husband" and "wife" have heterosexual connotations. If, as the late gay activist Harry Hay believed, gays and lesbians are different from their straight counterparts, shouldn't there be marriage rituals and affectional titles befitting that difference? Just asking. Other than that, Pictures at a Revolution is worth checking out by film buffs.
P.S. I would love to see someone do a biography of gay film historianVito Russo, whose Celluloid Closet, is another memorable and hard-to-put-downbook. This classic examines Hollywood's depiction of gays and lesbians since the beginning of the film industry. Mark Harris or William J. Mann would be the perfect ones to take on such a project. I hope one of them will consider it.

Monday, January 5, 2009

A Statue to Honor James Baldwin

There are now three statues in Harlem commemorating African-American achievers: Duke Ellington, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and, most recently, Harriet Tubman. A New York Daily News editorial (11/14/08) honoring the Tubman statue noted that she "risked her life to lead slaves to freedom, and later worked to promote women's suffrage."
There are streets in Harlem renamed for Powell, King, Douglass, and Malcolm X; luxury condos emblazoned with the names of Rosa Parks and Tubman; a city park named for Marcus Garvey; and public libraries bearing the names of Countee Cullen and the black Puerto Rican bibliophile Arthur Schomburg.
All of these individuals deserve to be so honored. But there is no statue, street, or park honoring the memory of James Baldwin, a native son of Harlem, whose eloquent novels and essays examined American race relations unequivocally.
Local politicians and community leaders should be made aware of the fact that this literary titan has been neglected and that a statue should be erected in or near 131st Street and Park Avenue, his old neighborhood.