All The Rage

Like almost every African American in my social network timeline, I went to see “The Best Man Holiday” on its opening weekend.

While my reaction wasn’t as effusive as my peers, I did enjoyed it for what it was: an entertaining film that brought back the days when movies that featured a predominantly black cast didn’t play up to any stereotypes. The days when movies like “Boomerang”, “Love Jones”, “Soul Food”, “Brown Sugar”, “Love & Basketball” and the first “Best Man” gave us a view of educated professionals, creative people following their passions, and families that were achieving middle and upper middle class success.

That was an era when great and sometimes compelling storytelling and positive and realistic imagery — ushered in by “The Cosby Show” — promoted the renaissance of black entertainment… a time when neo-soul music was coming up, hip hop was socially conscious and infusing jazz in their sound, and both were being incorporated into legendary soundtracks.

For whatever reason, it appeared this era was too brief for that genre. The films that brought career success to Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Sanaa Lathan, and Morris Chestnut –to name a few — faded into obscurity, and made way for a new brand of movies that often went straight to video or played for a certain type of audience who were content with watered down characters who were more caricatures than three dimensional.

Today, nearly fifteen years later, what should be a simple celebration of an entertaining movie and a revival of that craft, has now escalated into heated debates and unnecessary comparisons.

From a poorly worded USA Today article — where the author was dumfounded by the film’s ability to nearly keep pace with “Thor” despite being in a thousand fewer theaters and called it “race themed” — to a cavalcade of online militants who’ve grown tired of the crop of “slave genre” movies, Malcom D. Lee’s movie found itself with the unwanted and unwarranted baggage of other people’s expectations.

Although the film’s second half took an emotional turn, the overall romantic comedy was suddenly pitted against a juggernaut of a comic franchise that is Marvel (one that, it should be noted, had two black lead actors in the cast), and unfairly dubbed the antidote to more somber flicks such as “Fruitvale Station”, “The Butler”, and “12 Years a Slave”. Message boards still reeling from “Django Unchained” urged people to support the movie for reasons beyond its feel-good nature. Deep sighs of relief from people suffering “Tyler Perry backlash” could be heard across the nation. The shade being thrown was enough to blind you from the beautiful and seemingly ageless cast that just set out to make a warmhearted Christmas-themed sequel with friendship, love and forgiveness at its core.

I suppose these days, when movie-going has become a fairly expensive pastime, one tends to be a bit more selective and discerning when it comes to how and what your hard earned money is spent on. And when the caliber of entertainment being ladled down your throat on a regular basis comprises mostly of train-wreck reality programs where positive messages are severely lacking, then it’s no wonder when smartly written shows like “Scandal”, and anything where the lead characters are prominent African Americans in non-submissive roles conjure up the kind of emotion mostly felt on graduation day.

But the rage is just overwhelming. My fear is that our propensity to get fired up about everything is just going to end up burning bridges of opportunity time and again.

Granted, the onslaught of material tackling the disturbing subjects of slavery and racial discrimination appear excessive when you’ve been inundated by it in the past couple of years. It would also seem that the timing couldn’t be more unfortunate, as ignorant actions and statements appears to be on the rise. But where “Django” was a cartoonish revenge fantasy (much like “Inglorious Basterds”, which ironically didn’t fire up as much outrage in the Jewish community), this year’s crop of stories were either based on factual events and people, or derived from a true story. It’s an interesting commentary, given that decades ago Alex Haley was once heralded for sharing the story of his ancestors in his epic novel, which became the historic TV movie, “Roots”.

One would think at a time when Henry Louis Gates Jr. and his team of historians launched the spectacular documentary series “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” on PBS, the time would be ripe for embracing and appreciating true stories that shine light and perspective on the hardships and triumphs faced by black people in general, and open up dialogue in communities starving for respect and recognition while struggling with identity and self-esteem in a continually shifting social and economic climate.

Which is probably why “TBMH” was such a breath of fresh air. Like its predecessors, it allowed the audience to view a world where the black people had success in their careers and relationships (or saw any challenges with them neatly resolved by the time the credits rolled), and were treated equally — and even adoringly in one case — by the white cast members.

Most importantly, race never had a starring role in this movie… Love did.

Perhaps the painful reminders of a flawed and tragic history and reality is still too much of a jagged pill to swallow, and we prefer our entertainment more diluted and, yes, a bit melodramatic as a means of escape.

It is, after all, entertainment. Maybe we do need to see a crying (and shirtless!) Morris Chestnut, a snarky Terrence Howard, and a New Edition tribute to make it all better… at least for two solid hours.

Given the sheer joy it’s brought millions of people thus far… I’m gonna go with a resounding “Yes.”

 

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All A Twitter…

In what is probably one of the more ridiculous admissions made in this lifetime, I must fully acknowledge that I have a bizarre love/hate relationship with Twitter.

Sometimes just using the word makes me feel like just I substituted a dirty word in the presence of children.

“That girl can be such a twitter!”

“He’s a son of a twitter.”

“That gymnast just cracked their twitter on the balance beam. Ouch!”

But I digress.

My initial reaction to the invention of this game-changing app was blatant disregard. The purist in me thought it was a further nail in the coffin of human interaction, which would enable my already half-hearted desire to be in a room with people on a regular basis. Then it morphed into semi-hatred when it became clear that in order to satisfy the 140-character limit, you end up decimating the English language with barely translatable text. (Sometimes I think my brother learned his entire vocabulary through this method.) Prior to people realizing they could simply send multiple messages to convey a thought, ppl tlkd lk no1 wnt 2 skool.

Once it became clear that it wasn’t going away, and had, in fact, grown in popularity as even politicians began using it, my intrigue set in. As staunchly against abbreviated thoughts as I’d been, there was no denying that the influence of Twitter was evident. Hell, Corey Booker’s entire political career might exist because of it. For celebrities and other influencers, the number of followers they had were equated to human currency.

So I created an account… and quickly got bored with it. I was more interested in the real-time news and confirming rumored deaths and other gossip than anything. The idea of sharing random thoughts to the “Twitterverse” disturbed me… although one of my girlfriends in D.C. and I made a regular habit of doing award show commentaries on it as if we were the two old puppets on “The Muppet Show”.

Twitter was our heckling paradise.

While some would say it’s the same as writing a Facebook status, or possibly even blogging, one can at least control the level of exposure and/or response to some extent via those platforms. Whereas on the flip side, I inexplicably found myself being “followed” by people with porn star names, and getting spam messages about checking out sites that probably lead to viruses.

Then one day it became clear to me why this newfangled social media thingy was so damn popular…

While flipping through the timeline, I saw a “tweet” from Vanity Fair in which they quoted the rapper Chamillionaire. Instantly, my thought was two things: the first was that their account was being tasked by someone likely born in the ’90’s, and the second was how awesome it was that a magazine typically associated with covering socialites and the scandalous misdeeds of the rich and famous from the “old-money” set was mentioning a man made famous by a song called “Ridin’ Dirty”.

In fact, it struck me so oddly fantastic that I wrote a tweet about it, in which I said “Whenever I wonder why I’m on Twitter, I see something random like @VanityFair quoting @Chamillionaire.” And promptly signed off.

Hours later, while checking my email, there was a message telling me Chamillionaire re-tweeted my message. Apparently, he was just as amused as I was.

It was then that I realized that as much of a bitchfest as Twitter can be, the draw is that the “Average Joe” has an opportunity to be acknowledged by people they normally only see in the media. Very often, you’ll see re-tweets from celebrities where the initial sender literally begs for one. They also have the perfect platform to publicly stalk, scold, and shame people with minimal risk of an arrest or being slapped with a restraining order.

Even after getting a direct message from a rap artist asking about an artwork I posted a photo of, ribbing an actor friend — who I’d later date — about an ill-fated picture, and exchanging occasionally humorous dialogue with notable personalities, my feelings about Twitter were still teetering on ambivalent.

Until this morning… when I got an email informing me that Amel Larrieux was now following me. A significant upgrade from wannabe porn stars. It’s one thing for them to respond to you, it’s another thing for them to follow you.

I nearly twittered my pants.

Suddenly, the pressure to write better abbreviated thoughts become tenfold when you learn an artist of her caliber might be reading them.

And just when I thought I had reached my crazy zenith for the week, a photo taken by a well-known entertainment reporter I used to work with popped up on Instagram (another stalker hotbed). It was of Grace Jones re-tweeting him, with the caption: “This. Just. Happened. I Die.” (I fear should Liza Minelli or Dolly Parton ever do the same, he really will die from the excitement.)

Validation ensued.

At first, I contemplated ending this post with a pledge to tweet responsibly and encourage you all to do the same. But who are we kidding? Some of the best and/or most memorable stuff are the off-the-cuff epic meltdowns of legend, i.e. Weiner, Bynes, Baldwin, Cyrus, and the queen of ’em all… Rihanna (as hot as that girl may be, she is a whole bag of crazy — and we love her for it).

Instead, my PSA for the day is more in the lines of don’t drink and tweet, mind your grammar, and resist the urge to post “selfies” of any nature.

It’s all fun and games til something goes viral…

So follow me @lrbnyc and let’s see how much fun — or trouble — we can get into…

The Year of Living

It’s November…

It’s that time of the year when you realize it’s coming to an end soon.

For me, it’s the time my month-long introspection leading up to my birthday begins.

In all seriousness, 2013 has been fucking awesome.  

No. I didn’t strike it rich. Nah, I’m still simply infamous within my own circle of friends, former cohorts and occasional acquaintances.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way… although I wouldn’t take issue with having more money.

What made this year so amazing is that it was, in essence, “the year of living”. Not exactly dangerously (although I did almost jump out of a plane yesterday — had those pesky clouds not spoiled it), but truly living and fully appreciating my life and taking big chances.

This year, I rang in the new year at the Barclays Center watching Coldplay and Jay Z sing “Auld Lang Syne” as confetti rained on my head. I resigned from a job considered great for social-climbing, but draining for my soul (and immunity system). Braving bitter cold, I joined the throngs who stood outside the Capital to watch the presidential inauguration in Washington D.C. Found a job at a company that feeds my creative passion; where my colleagues treat me with the utmost respect, shower me with praise and encouragement, and give me things like insurance, vacation days and “summer Fridays” — the first time I’ve ever had that in my entire work life.

This was just the first three months…

The following months would see me spending quality time with incredible people taking in great art, music, sporting events, movies and important teaching moments where rage and emotion ran deep. The spring and summer months saw me boarding planes to Miami, Savannah, Panama and Toronto (a few times).

Truth be told, that was fucking exhausting. Fun. Exhilarating even… but exhausting.

This year I learned to let go of things and people who weren’t healthy for me. It wasn’t as deliberate as it was natural. At some point, you realize whose around for the party, and who’s with you when there’s no music (or other methods of escape) playing the role of artificial bond. And you just let things be.

This is the year of self restoration, where my body and soul discovered the joys and benefits of yoga, meditation, and Buddhism. Nothing brings me back to a place of calm and resolve like a good “Om” and chanting “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo”. I’ve found it lifts my inhibitions the way alcohol or weed would, except I don’t get a headache, nausea or slight remorse afterwards.

This year has been unprecedented when it comes to physical activity that doesn’t involve sex (well, exclusively anyway). Aside from yoga, I’ve also completed my first 5K race, my first Breast Cancer walk in years, and my first indoor rock climbing experience. Also, a special shout-out to aerial silk class, for simultaneously making me look and feel like a graceful acrobat and temporarily cutting off the circulation in my hands and feet. Pink makes that shit look so easy — and she sings while she does it! I’m pretty sure her stage name also stands for the color of her fingers and toes as she belts out those songs.

Speaking of sex, I gladly took a break from it until I committed to dating someone who connected with me beyond physical chemistry. As I’ve come to value the role communication and friendship plays in building a worthwhile relationship, I’ve been fortunate to have experienced the pleasure of being intimate with someone who makes me laugh, makes me think, and recognizes and encourages me to value all that I have to offer. In turn, I’ve found how quickly and easily things flow when you mutually have that kind of connection as opposed to forcing one based on a desire to not be alone.

The best part of this year by far has been my father. Two years ago, there would have been expletives in correlation with that word. Today, my father provides me with some of the happiest moments in the simplest form. When he answers the phone “Hey baby!” after hearing my voice. When he continuously hugs and kisses me during my visits. When he lets me cut his ridiculously long fingernails. When he remembers a detail without me having to repeat it about six times in one conversation (a rarity). When I hear he doesn’t need as much insulin because his sugar levels are good. When I hear he’s recognized an old classmate before they got a chance to approach him at a 50-plus year reunion. When I hear he’s gone outside for a walk. And finally, when he looks me in the eye after widening his own after a long pause, and randomly reveals that while I didn’t grow up in the way he had hoped, he was proud of the way I had, and of the woman I’d become as a result.

Nothing could really top that…

While the remaining two months of this epic year have plenty of opportunities for equally memorable moments, the past ten have been nothing short of a sensational dream. Of course, there have been bumps along the way, but that’s made it all the more perfectly balanced.

It takes a year like this to restore your faith in the beauty of life when just a few years ago you momentarily considered ending it.

When I think of the lovely beaches and people of Panama… The majesty of the Falls and the lush vineyards of Niagara Lake a drive away from the clean and beautiful city of Toronto… Being so close to Chris Martin you could literally touch him as he and the band head back to the stage during an encore… Cheering, booing and crying with a million strangers on a chilly D.C. morning… Crossing a finish line as a crowd cheers you on… And even getting close enough to jumping out the plane… How could I not value every minute and every breath of air spent this year having these experiences, and not look forward to more to come?

The last year that had this kind of impact on me was 1996. That was the year I made my first trip to London, Paris and Versailles, experienced the Olympics firsthand while working in the Olympic Village during the Atlanta games, and had an internship with a magazine that ended up putting me in two of the editorial stories and spent my days playing dress up in sample closets, taking Polaroids of ugly prom dresses and making showroom appointments for a beloved market editor who now goes by the name of Rachel Zoe.

I doubt my appreciation for years will lapse as drastically going forward.

I drink far too much wine now to let that happen again.

Looking forward to picking up a bottle of a 2013 vintage. Even if the wine itself is crap (seeing as there’s a crop crisis — thanks global warming), when I say “it was a good year”, it’ll be with the utmost sincerity… and maybe a bit of nostalgia.

So… what’s your year been like so far?

Lost In Translation

There’s something to be said about a “stay-cation”.

I mean, besides the obvious “I’m trying to save money.”

It’s an opportunity to discover new things in your hometown that you may not have had the time or inclination to, had you not had the luxury of unused vacation days at your disposal.

For me, it was a chance to catch up with some friends and family, get in touch with my silly side dressing up for a Halloween party, and watching people undress during a jazz/burlesque show.

But it was the final day of “stay-cay” that would bring the most discovery, and ultimately affect me more than any afro-wig sporting, or semi-nude debauchery could.

With my newly found block of time, I was able to re-awaken my dormant relationship with NY Cares and volunteer for a new program. Having already worked with children, the idea of working with women of Arab descent was a new challenge I was game for. As a volunteer, we were required to have “empowering conversations with the women in English”, which seemed more like a cake-walk upon first glance.

For the most part… it was.

As my fellow volunteers and I entered the room of women who were fresh off their English language teachings, we were initially taken aback by the large number of them that had gathered. With four of us to their twenty-plus number, it was daunting at first trying to figure out how to incorporate all the women into our conversations. One of the veterans of the program — clearly a pro — began by getting all the women to say their name and tell us where they’re from and if they had children and how many. It turned out to be a great ice breaker, as the women revealed their children’s genders and numbers, which segued into jokes about the boy/girl ratio in the room and how they perhaps chose their seats in the room based on the gender of the kids.

As class progressed, we discussed the Arab holiday that had recently passed, for which they brought in a feast of dishes to celebrate amongst each other following the class. They asked us about our religious holidays and what they mean to us, and a poignant moment occurred when the women learned that Christians attend mass on Christmas Eve. Apparently, they were stunned to find out that much the way they attend mosque prayers leading into their holidays, Americans partake in a similar ritual. One of the women, who spoke perfect English, declared “so we are all the same.”

If that had been how our session concluded, I would have been content in what could easily be called a “kumbaya” moment. But there was more time left. And eventually we had to break out into groups to have more in-depth chats.

So it was here where the real education happened.

In a room filled with women hailing from Yemen, Sudan and Sri Lanka, we were adeptly maneuvering through small talk about family, favorite foods and parks in New York when the women excitedly volunteered to read their assigned paragraphs to me and looked for guidance when they had difficulty with words. Honored by the gesture and happy to be instrumental in improving their grasp of the language, I listened and gently ushered them through their selected paragraphs — even after realizing every one of them were negative.

As I listened to stories of friendships being endangered by one’s lack of reliability and phone etiquette, of a girl who thought she told funny stories until her mother informed her she’s not always funny, and of a man who will never be fat because he’s a light eater who prefers fish sandwiches and vegetables — the part of me that wasn’t coaching them through pronunciation and complimenting them on completing their paragraphs was horrified!

The idea of being there to have “empowering” conversations with women who are being taught to speak with condescension was troubling, but the fact that most — if not all — of the women there to learn the native tongue of their new adopted home had no idea they were being taught this was even more troubling. I’d probably be standing on a soapbox if the people responsible for this were American by birth… but they’re not.

As I looked at these smiling women, who spoke with pride of their families, prodded me about my own (non)marital status, offered me food and laughed with shyness and perhaps a little spirit, it became clearer that a lot of what we perceive about each other is simply based on what we are taught or told by those we consider “experts”. It would give me the greatest pleasure if one of the women became so adept at understanding the language that she realizes and corrects the well-intended but slightly offensive “curriculum” being shared with her fellow classmates.

In spite of the lesson, it was an amazing experience to see so many women, young and old, unafraid of taking on a new challenge in their lives… lives which in their respective parts of the world could have been limited to simply being wives and mothers.

At the end of the day, I may have taught them how to pronounce a few words and phrases, but they taught me a lesson or two.

Sure, that kind of story doesn’t have the shock value of chicks with strategically placed tassels, but it’s less likely to give me panic attacks in the event I miss yoga class.

Who needs to get on a plane, when Brooklyn is just a train ride away and has just as many adventures? A metrocard can give you all the excitement of Vegas, and the international intrigue of a UN mission.

Needless to say, the Tuesday recap at the office was interesting…