Saturday, March 26, 2016



Hooray, spring has finally arrived!

Yesterday evening I visited the New-York Historical Society on Central Park West one hour before closing. It was "Pay-What-You-Wish" Friday. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and I plan to come back. I especially liked the "Silicon City" exhibit.

Friday, March 25, 2016



Spike Lee's Malcolm X Biopic

For more than a year, Spike Lee's $35 million, three-hour epic movie on Malcolm X has spawned one controversy after another.

At the heart of the turmoil are three issues that trouble many in the African-American community, including black cultural nationalists and intellectuals who worry about the commercialization of Malcolm's name and likeness; Lee's film style, which some are afraid will "trash" the slain leader, and Lee's personal vision of what Malcolm stood for.

Since Malcolm X's assassination in February 1965, he has grown into a larger-than-life figure within the African-American community. Thus, many blacks already uneasy about Hollywood's history of stereotyping blacks and Lee's reputation for creating what one critic described as "cardboard Negroes" have rushed to the barricades to protect the image of one of the most revered heroes in black America.

Hollywood recognized the commercial potential of the Malcolm X story long before Spike Lee came on the scene. It was in 1967 when producer Marvin Worth bought the screen rights to The Autobiography of Malcolm X (co-written with Alex Haley, who later wrote Roots).

Worth, now Lee's co-producer on the film, commissioned James (The Fire Next Time) Baldwin to write the script, which was eventually published as One Day When I Was Lost, a complex retelling of the autobiography, using voice overs while shifting back and forth in time.

Other writers who labored on the project without success over the next two decades include Arnold Perl, who completed the Baldwin script, and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights David Mamet and Charles Fuller. (Lee rewrote the Baldwin-Perl script.)

Norman Jewison, who was to direct the Fuller script, backed out in 1990 because he said, Malcolm--whose personality consisted of many layers and whose outlook on the world changed several times--was "an enigma" to him. Jewison knew Lee wanted to direct the picture and encouraged him to do so.

Although few, if  any black activists would disagree with Jewison's belief that the film needed to be made, there was uncertainty about Lee being the perfect candidate to depict Malcolm Little's transformation from a small-time hoodlum to Malcolm X, the charismatic leader of the black masses.

In an open letter to Spike Lee, a group of  activists calling themselves the United Front to Preserve the Legacy of Malcolm X and the Cultural Revolution expressed their "distress about how he planned to capture Malcolm on film." Using his previous films as the basis for their concern, writer-professor Amiri Baraka and his cohorts fear that Malcolm X would be a "caricature of black people's lives."

While one critic sees Lee's work as a mixture of realism and cartoon, with breaks in the action for a dance, a comedy scene, or an on-camera rant by one of the characters, Lee views his work as a way to develop a new use of cinema.

"I always felt it was a waste of time doin' the same [expletive] again and again." He wants his detractors to keep in mind that Malcolm X is "not a PBS documentary. This is a Hollywood movie. It's educational--and it's entertainment at the same time."

When Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones during the black arts movement in the 1960s) called Malcolm X "Mr. Lee's exploitation film," without having seen the finished product, other black writers and activists saw his attitude as a fit of jealousy. Baraka is "no longer getting the kind of attention he used to get," says Village Voice writer Greg Tate, and "he can't stand it. He seems to hate any young person who is successful."

Noted writer Ishmael Reed also sides with Lee's determination to tell Malcolm's story his way: "If Baraka doesn't like Spike's films, he should make his own."

Another of the activists' concerns is the commercialization of Malcolm. All across America, young and old alike are sporting Malcolm X baseball caps, T-shirts, and jackets.

Writer Yusef Salaam, a Harlem activist, sees the Malcolm X merchandise as an attempt by Lee and others "to cosmetize Malcolm's image and revolutionary example," thereby making him more acceptable to the black middle class and white America.

Thulani Davis, who wrote the libretto for X, an opera based on Malcolm's life, sees it as an "inevitable" phenomenon. "If you have an impact on the culture, you're going to be processed and marketed."

For Davis, the main consideration is that a black artist has control of the film. That goal was uppermost in Lee's mind when he became interested in bringing Malcolm to the big screen.In 1987, he wrote in his journal: "It would be a monster [big success] if Denzel Washington and I could have control over the project."

Although Lee does not want to shoulder all of the blame for the proliferation of Malcolm wear and other items (he was the first to wear the X cap), he does see the trend as "the first step" toward re-educating black youth.

At a time when many young blacks equate getting good grades and speaking standard English as "acting white," the film, explains Lee will show Malcolm "striving to better himself, to educate himself, to talk correctly, to stop swearing, and to stop other people from swearing."

Lee says his film shows "the total evolution of what made [Malcolm];we see the three or four different people he was along the way. People tend to have one view of Malcolm," referring to Malcolm's eye-for-an-eye, hate-whitey stance just before he journeyed to Mecca, the spirtitual center of Islam in Saudi Arabia, after which he embraced the idea of international brotherhood and racial harmony.

"But he had many different voices over his life; he turned completely around several times in his life,"Lee says . The film, which Lee calls "an act of love" from a longtime admirer, lets the audience decide which of the Malcolms they side with.

Denzel Washington, who portrays Malcolm and was picked for the role when Norman Jewison signed on as director, echoes Lee: "Some who knew Malcolm want to put him on a pedestal. We want kids to see how Malcolm was able to turn his life around, to see that Malcolm's solutions changed as he changed."

Lee says that the film and the Malcolm X legacy are "more than about wearing a hat" with an X on it, it is about addressing all of the problems that "have taken over the people--AIDS, crack, cigarettes, alcohol."

If Spike Lee is truly one of the most influential people in show business (he is on Entertainment Weekly's Power 101 list this year), perhaps Malcolm X will guide us toward becoming a kinder, gentler, more tolerant, and just society a lot sooner.

This article was originally written for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and was published in November 1992.

Monday, March 21, 2016

New Yorker Front Cover Celebrates Black Achievement

One of the most beautiful and frameworthy magazine covers I've ever seen was the one for the February 22, 2016 issue of The New Yorker by African-American artist Kadir Nelson. It is titled "Schomburg Center, Harlem, New York" and was obviously published in commemoration of Black History Month.

The illustration is a collage consisting of images of such black icons as James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Malcolm X, and Duke Ellington (sitting at a white piano). In the lower right hand corner are the ivy-covered building that formerly housed the Schomburg Center and the library's newest building that faces Lenox Avenue and abuts the old location.

I can't think of a better tribute to Black History Month and the role Harlem has played ( and continues to play) in the cultural life of America and the world.

A heartfelt thanks to The New Yorker  for publishing and Kadir Nelson for creating such an awesome and memorable cover.

Saturday, March 19, 2016



Keep watching for new content on this blog. There will be interviews, reviews, and essays posted over the next few months.

Monday, March 14, 2016



If Donald Trump makes it to the White House next year, within a year or two, Congress would move to impeach him for doing something unconstitutional.

Friday, March 11, 2016



There is a remake of  the 1977 Roots miniseries scheduled for cable TV in May of this year.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Harlem Church's Foreclosure Auction Postponed

The sign outside Harlem's homophobic ATLAH Church had this gloating message: "WE KICKED THE SODOMITES ASS ONCE AGAIN YES WE HAVE NO FORECLOSURE WE HAVE NO FORECLOSURE TODAY."

A judge postponed the February 24 foreclosure auction until April 21, according to the Gay City News. So the church is not out of the woods yet.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016