Television

She’s Gotta Be Kidding

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Recently I was reminded of something. In this era of awareness concerning diversity, it’s been all too easy for me to believe that because the creators of certain projects are Black they would take greater care to accurately portray members of the African diaspora. Surely, after being annoyed by biased, inaccurate representation, African-American creators would strive to depict their fellow Black people as human beings with a modicum of sense. But no. It seems some are content to approach members of the diaspora with the same lack of care that the industry typically shows them. Take a look at the clip below.

That’s from an episode of Netflix’s hit series, She’s Gotta Have It. When I first saw it, I was appalled. (Full disclosure, I’m Canadian. I’m used to seeing Blackness and Canadianness misrepresented by the mainstream American media.) I wanted to know which of the SGHI writers hated Black British people so much that they would portray them like this—as having no clue about colonialism. Apparently I wasn’t the only one. Among the people who saw the above clip was John Boyega, who referred to it as “Trash”. And while I couldn’t blame him for his perspective, the other day I was intrigued when the writer of the episode in question decided to respond.

Mr. Barry Michael Cooper chose to address Boyega via an open letter. Since reading it, I haven’t taken the time to check and see if Boyega responded, but I’ve had some thoughts of my own.

First, a bit of background: In case you don’t have time to read Cooper’s letter, you should know that the scene in question was inspired by a discussion on Twitter. A few years ago, people had a lot of opinions regarding Samuel L. Jackson’s comments on the casting of Black British actors.  (This initially occurred around the time that Get Out was receiving publicity. Its star, Daniel Kaluuya, is British.) Although Jackson later clarified his remarks, I remember that initially some were alarmed. Judging from the tone of his letter, I take it that Cooper meant for his scene to be a teachable moment. However, from where I sit, he failed tremendously.

In his note to Mr. Boyega, Mr. Cooper pointed to an article by Black British actor, David Harewood. Mr. Harewood has had roles in a variety of American productions, including his current series—Supergirl.

In his Guardian essay, Harewood refers to his time playing Martin Luther King Jr in a production of The Mountaintop. His purpose was clear: To share his thoughts on why he feels British actors are qualified to play African-American characters. However, I was troubled by his rationale. In response to the idea of Black British actors not being American “brothers”, Harewood concluded his commentary by saying, “Perhaps it’s precisely because we are not real American brothers that we [B]lack British performers have the ability to unshackle ourselves from the burden of racial realities—and simply play what’s on the page, not what’s in the history books.” (Emphasis added.)

Quite frankly I found the implications of Harewood’s words troubling. Just because a Black performer is not American, that doesn’t mean that they are automatically able to divorce themselves from the impact that racism has—whether in a historical context, or referring to its presence in one’s daily life. Overall I’m still confused about why anyone would read his essay and believe that just because it was published, it deserved serious consideration as being representative of all British people of African descent.

Racism and colonialism aren’t exclusively American issues. I feel ridiculous writing that, yet it’s not a message that everyone seems to understand. On that note, let me also state that Black folks who live outside of the United States are not, somehow, too simple-minded to be aware of the impact that colonialism has had on their culture. Why someone would feel emboldened to assume so floors me. Yet that’s what I took from the above snippet from She’s Gotta Have It. All the while Nola Darling was supposedly schooling her English lover, I was looking at my computer in disgust.

Mr. Cooper’s script and subsequent letter reminded me of a familiar problem. A few years ago Justin Bieber was called out for videos which showed him using the n-word. Back then on The View, Whoopi Goldberg was willing to excuse him. I recall her reaction was discussed on one of our morning shows. Back then she expressed the belief that in Canada “nigger” doesn’t have the same meaning that it does in America. I couldn’t help but feel both stunned and disgusted. Canadians of African descent have lived in my home country for hundreds of years. Racist language isn’t anything new to us, and its hideous meaning isn’t somehow obscured by the soil that it’s spoken on.  

In his epistle, I noticed that Mr. Cooper went to great lengths to explain the inspiration behind certain elements of his show. He was careful to use the phrase “[i]t’s not something I made up,” to enforce the fact that different aspects of his work were meant to reflect material drawn from real life. Yet that does absolutely nothing to nullify the fact that the scene’s dialogue was born out of a horribly executed idea. 

Mr. Cooper seemed peeved Boyega used the word “Trash” to describe his work. Yet I think he had every right to do so. It IS trashy–and downright harmful–to use your platform to depict characters from the diaspora as uninformed ignoramuses concerning the Black experience of people in their own country. If there were a scene on a different program involving a white American man attempting to put a Black American woman in her place and “enlighten” her—after the show’s writer was inspired by an aspect of Blackness that he’d read about once in ONE biased article–heads would be rolling.

I fail to see why a Black American lecturing a Black person of British descent as depicted in SGHI should be deemed acceptable. It’s as though the show’s writers wanted to say that surely, we must remember that only Black Americans experience racism and have a correct understanding of its historical impact. So long as those in charge of the media think that way, there’s no telling what else they believe. For all we know according to them, no Black person from anywhere else on the globe has sufficient experience or knowledge—whether of themselves or their homeland—to be able to accurately comprehend how racism could possibly influence their experience in the present day.

Ultimately Mr. Cooper’s letter seemed to me to be an overwrought attempt to excuse an incredibly insulting narrative. Deliberately portraying Black people who aren’t American as gravely out of touch isn’t endearing or uplifting. It’s degrading, it’s insulting, and it’s a habit that needs to end.

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Television

FOX’s Kobiyashi

This morning I noticed something.

Here’s FOX’s 2016-2017 schedule.

Sleepy Hollow isn’t returning until the middle of the season. (From what I can remember, that’s when…? January?)

Although upset over Abbie’s elimination, I’ve been thinking. Last night, I came up with what I think is an appropriate analogy.

In my opinion, this season’s finale was Sleepy Hollow ’s Kobiyashi Maru.

For those of you who don’t know Star Trek, give me a minute. In the Star Trek universe, the Kobiyashi Maru is a test that Outer-Space Explorer School Startfleet Cadets have to take in their journey to graduate from Space Explorer Camp the Academy.

I’ve read a definition that says the Kobiyashi Maru exists to test a cadet’s character.

However, I’m not referring to it that way.

I’m speaking of something every Trekkie knows:

The Kobiyashi is a no-win scenario.

Now then. Get your head out of Star Trek and step into Sleepy Hollow.

I wish everyone involved good luck, and there’s a side of me that has faith in the show’s original team. But they need to know that my wishes are conditional: I do not see Sleepy Hollow succeeding without Abbie.

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Fans’ and critics’ reactions have made things crystal clear. Talking about this elsewhere, I once said, “They can’t make things any worse.” That wasn’t a complaint, but a statement of fact.

In my most positive moments, something inside keeps saying,”They can’t make Sleepy Hollow without Abbie, and they won’t.” But I don’t hold the keys to this show’s destiny.

Ultimately,  I’m convinced that the only way for Sleepy Hollow to improve is through a complete change of course. Season 4’s scheduled appearance gives them time to make corrections.

I’m going to watch and see how things unfold.

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Television

Imagining Underground – What’s next?

For those who missed that last scene:

Yesterday I saw a prompt to discuss what people think will happen on season 2 of Underground. My mind went in several different directions…

Rosalee will be working as Harriet Tubman’s apprentice (for lack of a better word). I’m glad to know that Harriet is a character in a television series. There’s so much about her to celebrate and even more that the audience will learn from Misha and Joe’s decision to bring her to life. I look forward to seeing her relationship with Rosalee unfold.

Noah won’t stay in jail for long. I can’t wait for him to escape. As I drafted this post, I wondered if Noah, John, and Elizabeth would continue to work together. Specifically, in what capacity? Would Noah be employed in a free area as both a blacksmith and Railroad liaison? Would he have to pretend to be the Hawkes’ slave?

I’m concerned about James’ fate alone with Ms Suzanna. Will we see anything of the Macon plantation on Season 2, or will our focus be elsewhere…? And if we still see their plantation, will Bill still be around? (A bottle to the neck couldn’t stop him.) Who knows?

Ernestine. I can’t help but fear for her safety. She’s a compelling character. By the time season 2 premieres, Stine will probably have been sold to a new owner. There’s no telling who she’ll end up with. She could be facing a situation similar to the one she encountered on the Macon plantation, or things could be even worse.

I predict that August will change his mind about his profession, but I don’t know if we will see that take place in S2. I’m glad that Ben is alive, and I hope he and Jay are still around to question Mr. Pullman’s lifestyle.

What will life be like now for Boo? Will she still be living with the Hawkes’ family, or somewhere else? Meanwhile, I predict Elizabeth and John’s “station” will be fully up and running as a regular stop on the Underground Railroad. I want to see the stress they experience as they live double lives.

Hell, I want to see that for all of the characters. Underground invigorates me, like an action-packed spy thriller.

Also…

I’m glad Cato‘s alive! Watching him in Undergound‘s first episode, I never thought I’d say that, but here we are. He has a trunk full of money, so I imagine he might try to buy his freedom, or simply make a way for himself among free Black people. (The nerd in me wants to research what would have been possible.) Meanwhile, I assume Cato thinks the worst of Noah for leaving him to face that Patty Cannon Gang alone. When they cross paths he just might have vengeance on his mind.

Speaking of Patty Cannon, will she be Season 2’s new villain…?

How about you? What do you think will happen on next season of WGN’s best series?

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Television

Watch It!: Underground

Since childhood, I’ve been curious about my heritage. I’m first-generation Caribbean-Canadian. I didn’t pay much attention to this fact until I was older. However, there was one thing that I understood above anything else: I wasn’t only Canadian, but North American.

A part of me has always been fascinated by the history of Black people in the United States. My country has its own tumultuous legacy involving race relations. However the fact remains that when America screams, we hear the echo. I was born merely a decade after some of the Civil Rights era’s most turbulent years. My hometown is predominantly white. I’m no stranger to racism, and I’ve always wondered about its continental beginnings.

Throughout my life I’ve seen period dramas that portrayed slavery. Their approach differed widely—from focusing on it, to barely mentioning it. Roots was especially significant to me. When I was in high school I read Alex Haley’s book; I found the original miniseries online when I was older.

Then a few months ago, I heard about Underground.

At this point, maybe you’re asking yourself, “Does the world really need another story about slavery?”

Now, you might say,”No!” Maybe you’ve been so badly scarred by the pain of racism that you don’t need a reminder of how it all began.

Fair enough.

But if you’re curious, I encourage you to give this show a chance.

Yes, Underground is set in antebellum America. And it doesn’t shy away from depicting moments of despair and pain. But it promises to explore those moments through the lense of possibility.

The “Underground” of the series’ title is the Underground Railroad. Noah is a slave played by Aldis Hodge. He’s a strong protagonist, active and eager to change his fate for the better. Here, it’s important for me to let you know that this is an action-oriented show. (In one interview, I heard an actor refer to Underground as a “thriller”.) As the show unfolds it will trace Noah’s journey as he leads a group of his peers to freedom. Jurnee Smollett-Bell plays Rosalee, a house slave. At one point in a scene with Noah, she states that in spite of any assumed perks, she and the other house slaves are, “still slaves. [It d]on’t matter where we sleep.” The poignancy of this line impressed me. It isn’t every day that a show will comment on a tradition that’s at the heart of colourism.

Two of Underground’s characters who have a pivotal role are Tom Macon and John Hawkes. Tom is about to run a campaign to be a senator; he owns the plantation where Rosalee and her fellow slaves live. Meanwhile Tom’s brother, John Hawkes, is a lawyer and burgeoning abolitionist. I won’t spoil the story much further, but the writers have done their best to ensure that these siblings will continue to cross paths. A clash between these two men is inevitable. Although they’re related, by the episode’s end, I didn’t think either of them truly understood how different they are.

Other familiar faces in the cast include Adina Porter (True Blood), Alano Miller (Jane the Virgin), and Christopher Meloni (Law & Order: SVU). I also think it’s important to point out that the show’s production team is inclusive. John Legend is an executive producer. Misha Green and Joe Pokaski are the series’ creators.

The first episode of Underground left me feeling optimistic. The show’s premise promises that it will feature a perspective on its subject that most productions of its kind have ignored. Another plus for me is the suggestion that Underground’s characters are going to be truly dynamic—I already have hunches about who to be wary of, who I like, and who I despise. And yet…These are only hunches. One character’s scenes revealed a twist that left me disappointed—yet somehow, still curious. Is he really as awful as I think? Also, I care about Noah and his fellow slaves. It’s easy to say that a tale about a slave’s road to freedom will end predictably, but I have the feeling that there are plenty of surprises to come.

Still, the question of relevance remains. I’m more than satisfied to say that Underground passed the test. The show’s underlying themes resonate today. When Black people experience racism intimately in real life, and our news casts are filled with police brutality, one can’t help but wonder how far we’ve come. Still, the strength of this show’s characters reminded me of who we are. Not merely oppressed people, but fighters. It’s important to use art to depict people of colour as dynamic and strong. Shows such as Underground have the power to inspire us to be hopeful, and more importantly, play an active role in the unfolding of our destiny.

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Television

TGIT? #HTGAWM!!

Are you ready?

Tonight’s the night!

I’ve seen Scandal. The pilot, via iTunes, and…Snippets here and there. I know it’s good. EVERYONE knows it’s good.

But the show I’m waiting for is How to Get Away With Murder.

Viola Davis is back, looking better than ever. Not “classically beautiful” my ass!

“Be careful who you show your crazy to.”

“You call it crazy. I call it winning.”

Hells, YES!!

Seriously.

The last time I watched, I had a mini marathon. God knows, I miss staring at my TV, going

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I might even stay up* and see it live!!

*Last year I recorded most of my Murder and watched it later on in the week.

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education station, Television

Mr. D and The Day Job

The other day I had the chance to sit in on some great conversations about television.  One concept that was brought up was the magic that happens when a show “gets it”.  That’s when a program is able to connect to its audience by offering a realistic portrayal of its audience’s life.

Currently, I work in education. Apart from a few semi-steady gigs that I do not talk about I have spent the bulk of my time as a substitute teacher.  Still. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never taught a day in your life.  If you have friends who teach, surely you’ve heard stories. All sorts of crazy things can happen, both in and out of the classroom.

On that note, let me introduce you to Mr. D–a program that airs on my nation’s broadcaster, CBC Television.  Here’s a clip from last year…

My first instinct is to say that no teacher is ever that bad when they mark. And yet…I know otherwise.

I love this show! If you haven’t seen it, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Granted, there are some darker aspects of teaching.  But I’ve already seen and had a taste of Boston Public. A spoof of some of the lesser-known parts of the profession is a refreshing change.

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