Monday, October 31, 2011

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Holiday-Themed Sequel Features “Pot”-pourri of Stoner Hijinks

As with Cheech and Chong’s string of classic stoner comedies of a generation ago, it looks like longevity might also be in store for relatively-nerdy Harold & Kumar’s series of similarly-themed, Marijuana misadventures. Co-stars John Cho and Kal Penn reprise their roles as the title characters here, with the movie marking the latter’s return to the big screen after signing on to serve in the Obama Administration a couple of years ago.

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, the third installment in the franchise, unfolds a half-dozen years after the conclusion of the pot-smoking pair’s previous outing, Escape from Guantanamo. At the point of departure, we learn that the pals have grown apart over the interim, ostensibly because Harold has married, settled in suburbia and taken a job on Wall Street while Kumar has continued to enjoy the life of a carefree bachelor after getting kicked out of med school for flunking a drug test.

Obviously, it is just a matter of time before the predictable plotline must find an excuse to reunite the inseparable protagonists. That moment arrives when Kumar decides to deliver a package addressed to his ex-roommate which came to their old apartment. Although the suddenly-straitlaced Harold says he’s “kinda glad all the craziness is behind me,” the banker makeover is out the window once they discover a mammoth, Bob Marley-sized joint inside the parcel.

Upon lighting it, our heroes accidentally set fire to the Christmas tree which, and so they subsequently embark on a desperate quest to replace it before Harold’s wife (Paula Garces) and his in-laws return from Church. This proves easier said than done, given that it’s late on Christmas Eve.

What ensues is your garden-variety ganja flick, except one featuring a distinctly Yuletide spin. Better brace yourself for a Christmas wreath festooned with cannabis instead of holly leaves, for plays on words about “Winter Wonder Weed” and “Hannukah Hash,” and to have big clouds of smoke blown in your face in 3D.

While the uninitiated might consider the incessant association of the holiday season with substance abuse almost it blasphemous, fans of the franchise will undoubtedly get a kick out of the relentless irreverence. Along for the ride is Neil Patrick Harris again playing himself, as well as a couple of new buddies in Adrian (Amir Blumenfeld) and Todd (Thomas Lennon).

As the guys crisscross New York City in search of another 12-foot fir, they encounter everything from fellow party animals to naked nuns to Ukrainian mobsters to Santa Claus himself. A raunchy and religiously-incorrect roller coaster ride for the very-open minded, not to be mistaken for one of those traditional, sentimental Christmas yarns.

What’s in store for number four, Harold and Kumar get Uncle Sam high on the Fourth of July?

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for drug use, crude humor, pervasive profanity, graphic sexuality, frontal nudity and violence.
Running time: 90 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Remake of French Thriller Revolves around Grisly Game of Russian Roulette

Sometimes you have to wonder why they keep foisting English-language remakes of great, little-known foreign films on the unsuspecting public. While these knockoffs might make it easy for folks who hate reading subtitles, that demographic might be better off watching a dubbed version of a sleeper than a watered-down imitation lacking sophistication and charm.
Invariably, the American version pales in comparison, and alas such is again the case with 13, a crime caper loosely based on a French masterpiece of the same name. The original was a riveting, edge-of-your-seat thriller about a down-on-his-luck roofer who was forced to participate in a high-stakes game of Russian roulette in which everyone but the winner will die.
There is considerably less tension in the 2011 edition because it isn’t tautly edited and since several contestants get to survive the ordeal. The picture squanders a big-name cast featuring Mickey Rourke, Jason Statham, 50 Cent, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Michael Shannon and Ray Winstone.
At the point of departure, we learn that the protagonist, Vince (Sam Riley), is an electrician desperate to pay his ailing father’s mounting hospital bills. After impersonating his late employer, he ends up in a mansion full of mobsters, and standing in a circle of 17 guys holding pistols to each other’s heads while the sadistic gangsters place bets on who will survive each round of gun play.
Despite a big, Hollywood budget allowing for a more grisly and more graphic, high attrition-rate adventure, it all somehow still adds up to less. Rent the original.

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for graphic violence, bloody images and brief nudity
Running time: 90 Minutes
Studio: Anchor Bay Films

Friday, October 28, 2011

Top Ten DVD List for November 1st

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams

Headline: Top Ten DVD List for November 1st

The Last Mountain

Crazy, Stupid, Love

It’s a Wonderful Life [Blu-Ray with Christmas Ornament]

Cars 2


Hot Coffee

His Way: A Portrait of Hollywood Legend Jerry Weintraub

The Nutcracker: The Untold Story

The Perfect Gift

Scrooged [Blu-Ray]

Honorable Mention

Dear Santa

Victorious – Season One, Volume Two

How the States Got Their Shapes

In a Glass Cage

Go Go Crazy

Tabloid DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Recounts Bizarre Behavior of Sex-Crazed Miss Wyoming

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and apparently that even goes for a beauty queen with an I.Q. of 168. That would be Joyce McKinney who enjoyed a whirlwind romance in Salt Lake City with a guy named Kirk Anderson following her reign as Miss Wyoming in 1973.
The blubbery 300-pounder was so flattered that Joyce found him attractive that he told her “I love you!” the night they met, and then proposed to her the very next day. The trouble was that he was also a Mormon and his devout parents disapproved of the hasty liaison. Plus, he was scheduled to depart to England soon, to do the missionary work expected of all members of the Church of Latter Day Saints.
But Joyce just couldn’t get over being jilted, so she placed a classified ad for a pilot and a bodyguard for help in locating and liberating her runaway fiancé. They eventually tracked him down to a church in London where they abducted him at gunpoint, before driving him not back to the airport but rather to a cottage in Devon 250 miles away.
Joyce had her henchman tie Kirk to the bed spread-eagled, and she proceeded to rape the fat man repeatedly for the next several days. Her rationale was that sex would be the best method of deprogramming him from what she felt was a cult.
However, instead of seeing the light, the object of Joyce’s affection escaped and had her and her accomplice arrested for kidnapping and sexual assault. The sensational story served as fodder for lots of lurid newspaper headlines in Great Britain until the accused jumped bail and escaped back to the States, never to be extradited or to face justice again.
Tabloid, a bizarre bio-pic about a good girl gone bad, is the latest offering from Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris (for Fog of War). The film proves as fascinating as the rest of Morris’ intriguing body of work, given how it delicately unravels the mystery of exactly how and why Joyce planned and executed such a kinky conspiracy.
What might be most remarkable is the fact that the now wheelchair-bound mastermind cooperated with this project and remains in denial to this day, asserting, “I still don’t think I ever did anything wrong.” A thought-provoking picture raising the probing question: Can a woman rape a man, or is it merely assault with intent to please?
You be the judge.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for nudity and sexuality.
Running time: 88 Minutes
Distributor: MPI Home Video
DVD Extras: The theatrical trailer.

Crazy, Stupid, Love DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Midlife Crisis Comedy Comes to DVD

After 25 years of marriage, Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) is still as smitten with his high school sweetheart as the day they met. Consequently, he’s so stunned when Emily (Julianne Moore) suddenly announces “I want a divorce!” that he goes into shock, opens the car door, and tumbles out while it’s still moving.
Cal’s bruises heal way before his broken heart, since his wife is still enjoying a steamy affair with a colleague (Kevin Bacon). After he moves out of the house, he also finds himself alienated from his kids, Robbie (Jonah Bobo) and Molly (Joey King).
Lonely and depressed, Cal ends up frequenting a singles nightclub where he proceeds to strike out with every woman he approaches. Luckily, his futility is observed from across the crowded bar by Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling).
Out of pity, the suave ladies man takes the terminally-nerdy newcomer under his wing, and teaches him how to dress fashionably, what manly drinks to order and how to deliver a pick-up line. In due time, the makeover magically changes Cal from a wallflower into a womanizer, and perhaps foremost among his many conquests is a flattered schoolteacher (Marisa Tomei) he charms by calling her “the perfect combination of sexy and cute.”
Curiously, his transformation is completed just as confirmed bachelor Jacob finally falls in love for the first time in his life with Hannah (Emma Stone), a brainy knockout he’s prepared to build his life around. Meanwhile, Emily’s relationship with sleazy David has soured, leading her to have second thoughts about dumping Cal.
Thus, the question looming over the horizon reads, if she changes her mind about breaking up, will it already be too late to reconcile? So unfolds Crazy, Stupid, Love, a delightful and deceptively-complex, midlife crisis comedy co-directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.
The film features a colorful ensemble embroiled in a hilarious fashion in an array of ill-advised liaisons. Ryan Gosling shines in a comic outing which is a bit of a departure for the accomplished dramatic actor.
A refreshingly-tasteful, romantic romp which manages to entertain and elicit lots of laughs without relying on a vulgar brand of humor.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexuality and coarse humor.
Running time: 118 Minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Deleted scenes, UltraViolet digital copy, and a couple of featurettes: “Steve and Ryan Walk into a Bar” and “The Player Meets His Match.”

Kam's Kapsules: For movies opening November 4, 2011

Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening November 4, 2011


Tower Heist (PG-13 for profanity and sexuality) Revenge comedy about a group of swindled investors who enlist the assistance of a trash-talking, petty thief (Eddie Murphy) to burglarize the condo of the Wall Street titan (Alan Alda) behind a billion-dollar Ponzi scheme which left them penniless. Ensemble includes Ben Stiller, Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck, Gabourey Siddibe, Tea Leoni, Judd Hirsch and Michael Pena.

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (R for drug use, crude humor, pervasive profanity, graphic sexuality, frontal nudity and violence) Third installment of the stoner franchise finds the nerdy protagonists (Kal Penn and John Cho) approaching 30 yet still up to a “pot”-pourri of holiday season, marijuana hijinks. With Neil Patrick Harris, Danny Trejo, Thomas Lennon, David Krumholtz and Eddie Kaye Thomas.


Charlotte Rampling: The Look (Unrated) Reverential biopic explores the on and off-screen personas of the legendary actress via snippets of film footage as well as revealing conversations with her friends and colleagues like Peter Lindbergh, Paul Auster and Juergen Teller. (In French and English with subtitles)

Dragonslayer (Unrated) Slice-of-life documentary about Josh “Screech” Sandoval, a local, skateboarding legend in suburban Fullerton, California.

Five Star Day (Unrated) Constellation drama about a horoscope skeptic (Cam Gigandet) who decides to test his theory that astrology is nonsense by tracking down three people (Brooklyn Sudano, Jena Malone and Max Hartman) born at the same, time and place as himself in order to show how different their lives and fates are.

In the Family (Unrated) Courtroom drama, set in a tiny town in Tennessee, about a gay man (Patrick Wang) who loses custody of his precocious, 6 year-old son (Sebastian Banes) to the sister (Kelly McAndrew) of his recently-deceased life mate (Trevor St. John) in the wake of a tragic car accident.

Killing Bono (R for nudity, sexuality, drug use and pervasive profanity) Bittersweet biopic, based on aspiring rock star Neil McCormick’s (Ben Barnes) memoir of the same name recounting his futile, decade-long attempt to match the phenomenal success of his talented, high school classmate, Bono (Martin McCann), met with the group U2. With Robert Sheehan, Krysten Ritter and the late Pete Postlethwaite.

The Other F Word (Unrated) Mid-life crisis documentary chronicling Pennywise front man Jim Lindberg’s capitulation to the role of father after 20 years on the road as a rebellious, punk rocker. Featuring appearances by Flea, Tony Hawk and Tony Adolescent.

Pianomania (Unrated) Musical documentary about piano tuner Stefan Knupfer’s relentless quest for perfect pitch on behalf of classical music icons like Lang Lang in concert halls all over the world. (In German and English with subtitles)

The Son of No One (R for violence, pervasive profanity and disturbing sexual content) Skeltons-in-the-closet thriller about a NYC cop (Channing Tatum) forced to face a long-buried secret about a couple of unsolved murders after being assigned to work in the neighborhood where he grew up. Cast includes Al Pacino, Ray Liotta, Juliette Binoche, Tracy Morgan and Katie Holmes.

Stuck between Stations (Unrated) Romance drama about the serendipitous reunion of an Afghan War veteran (Sam Rosen) and the former classmate (Zoe Lister Jones) he had a crush on when they were teenagers a decade earlier. With Josh Hartnett, Michael Imperioli and Christiana Clark.

Young Goethe in Love (Unrated) Historical drama revisiting Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s (Alexander Fehling) early years when as a law student and aspiring poet he landed in a love triangle with a fetching ingénue (Miriam Stein) and a well-heeled competitor (Moritz Bleibtreu) for her affections. With Volker Bruch, Henry Hubchen and Burghart Klauszner. (In German with subtitles)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ashamed to Die (BOOK REVIEW)

Ashamed to Die:
Silence, Denial, and the AIDS Epidemic in the South
by Andrew J. Skerritt
Lawrence Hill Books
Hardcover, $24.95
320 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-56976-814-3

Book Review by Kam Williams

“HIV/AIDS remains a significant public health and social justice crisis in the United States, and the South in particular is heavily burdened… Poverty, poor education, and limited community resources conspire against people who live in the rural South…
Even as America has dispatched billions to fight this disease overseas, our small rural communities remain vulnerable to the sinister threat of HIV/AIDS. The enemy isn’t just the physical illness. It’s ignorance; it’s the guilt and shame-inducing silence that kills our young…
HIV/AIDS is more than a disease—it is a symptom of the larger problems of social inequalities and racial/ethnic health disparities… It’s time to end the silence and to provoke an eruption of empathy, compassion and community action to alter the sad trajectory of AIDS in our small towns.”
 Excerpted from Chapter One (page 11)

When the AIDS epidemic exploded about 30 years ago, it initially ravaged the gay community. But the number of homosexuals infected dropped dramatically due to a combination of safe sex education and medical breakthroughs.
Simultaneously, however, the AIDS rate among blacks has continued to skyrocket to the point where two-thirds of the new female cases in the country are African-American, meaning a sister is 15 times as likely to become HIV+ as a white woman. And these statistics are even worse in the South where eight of the states with the highest infection rates are located.
But Andrew Skerritt didn’t need help from the CDC to appreciate the toll the plague is taking on black folks in the region. For the London-born, professor of journalism at Florida A&M University could observe how such factors as denial, shame, racism and poverty had collaborated to prevent AIDS patients from receiving proper treatment.
In Ashamed to Die, he chronicles that societal failing as witnessed in the Clover, South Carolina, a typical tiny town where talk about AIDS is considered taboo. Consequently, many of the infected remain in denial and undiagnosed, especially since, “the health department couldn’t force a person to be tested even if a contact gave them names of people exposed tom AIDS.”
Nonetheless, symptoms of the lethal illness eventually do appear, as the body becomes susceptible to a variety of opportunistic infections. Sadly, the author found that “Caring for people with AIDS is the kind of thankless work few are willing or even equipped to do.”
And in the case of Dr. Robert Ball, he ended up broke and “a pariah in his own community,” when he was abandoned by his regular patients because he allowed those with AIDS to share the same waiting room and office. And not only did the 42 year-old physician eventually lose his practice, but his wife and his home, too.
Still, his plight pales in comparison to that of those dealing with the debilitating ailment on a day-to-day basis. “Those dying of AIDS long for comfort, someone to hold their hands,” since “no one wants to die alone,” Skerritt concludes.
Apparently, no one wants to die forgotten either. For, in fascinating fashion, he proceeds to put a face on the disease by devoting individual chapters to the life stories of several ill-fated patients and devoted caretakers.
A sobering manifesto practically begging African-Americans to acknowledge the omnipresence of an escalating plague decimating the community.

Monday, October 24, 2011


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Intriguing Whodunit Suggests Shakespeare Was a Fraud

Who really wrote the works of William Shakespeare? That nagging question has remained the subject of speculation among academics for centuries, with authorship of his poems and plays being alternately attributed to dozens of others, most notably, Christopher Marlowe, William Stanley, Sir Francis Bacon and Edward de Vere, aka the 17th Earl of Oxford.
The primary reason the Bard of Avon has been shown such disrespect is because of his humble roots and the absence of evidence that he had much of a formal education. Consequently, his detractors argue that only another nobleman would have been capable of writing about royalty in such sophisticated fashion.
Anonymous revives the controversial notion that the Earl of Oxford served as Shakespeare’s ghostwriter, in spite of a plethora a problems with that generally-rejected theory, starting with the fact that when the Earl died in 1604, ten of the Bard’s plays were yet to be published. Nonetheless, provided you are willing to ignore an abundance of such historical inaccuracies, the picture proves to be a delightful whodunit.
The film is a bit of a departure for Roland Emmerich, whose name one ordinarily associates with bombastic summer blockbusters like Independence Day and Godzilla. Here, however, the German director tones down his act considerably in service of a multi-layered mystery given more to subtlety and insinuation than to special effects and pyrotechnics.
Narrated by Sir Derek Jacobi, the Anonymous opens and closes on Broadway in present-day New York City. Otherwise, the plot revolves around the unlikely financial arrangement secretly struck between rebellious, aristocrat de Vere (Rhys Ifans) and alcoholic commoner Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) at a time when the former was a prolific, closet playwright while the latter was a struggling actor.
Thus, de Vere’s need for a surreptitious means of staging his incendiary, anti-establishment productions conveniently dovetails with the Bard’s desire for fame and fortune. But because Shakespeare is close to illiterate, the ruse is hard to hide from most of his contemporaries in the theater world.
Meanwhile, de Vere himself has a host of his own issues to deal with, starting with his not only being the illegitimate offspring of Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave) but possibly having a fathered a child with his mom. Throw in a jealous wife (Antje Thiele) and an ambitious father-in-law (David Thewlis) with designs on the throne, and you’ve got all the fixins for a convoluted, costume drama, dare I say it, of Shakespearean proportions.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence and sexuality.
Running time: 130 minutes
Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Troy Johnson: The “” Interview

Headline: Assessing the State of the Black Press

Troy Johnson is the President of, LLC, whose main property is the website, for which Troy is the founder and webmaster. (The African American Literature Book Club) was officially launched in March of 1998 and has grown to become the largest and most frequently visited site dedicated to books and film by or about people of African Descent.
In 1984 Troy earned a degree in Electrical Engineering from Syracuse University and spent the next seven years working for defense contractor like United Technologies in Florida and General Electric in Pennsylvania. During this period, he earned a master degree in engineering, while working full time.
In 1991, Troy went back to school on a full scholarship from The Consortium, and received an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business. And over the next 16 years he was employed in financial services and consulting by such Wall Street firms as Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
However, it was during his tenure on Wall Street that Troy discovered and began to pursue his passion for sharing the full breadth of black culture through the words and stories contained in books. As a regular contributor to AALBC, I’ve not only been lucky enough to work with him for years, but have also enjoyed just hanging out with him as well.
Married for over 21 years with two daughters currently in college, Troy divides his time between East Harlem, where he was raised, and Tampa, Florida. Here, he talks about both the challenges and rewards of running

Kam Williams: Hi Troy, thanks for the interview.
Troy Johnson: No problem, Kam, it is my pleasure to have this opportunity. Thank you.

KW: What interested you in starting
TJ: During the mid to late Nineties, I had a sideline business building websites for other businesses. I wanted to learn more about using websites to generate sales and earn money, so that I could better advise my clients. I actually offered to help someone else rebuild their book business’ website, for free, as a part of that effort. Amazingly, they declined the offer. So instead, I decided to create I immediately discovered I would prefer building a website for myself, rather than for others, and I focused solely on That was back in 1997.

KW: How long had the website been in existence before you decided to quit your job on Wall Street to work on the site full-time?
TJ: I had been running for about 11 years before I left Wall Street. That was three years ago.

KW: Do you see the recent closing of Borders Bookstores as a sign of the demise of brick-and-mortar operations and hard copy books? How does this development affect your business?
TJ: Those changes are really reflective of more profound and fundamental shifts that are greatly impacting the entire book industry. But I don’t think the closing of Borders or the rise of eBooks is sign that the days of brick-and-mortar stores, and physical books, are numbered. This may sound counter-intuitive, but the closing of Borders actually hurts my business, in much the same way that the closing of independent black bookstores did. Sure, on a superficial level, one can say there are less competitors in the marketplace and that will drive more people online to learn about new books and that that helps sites like However, on a deeper level, Borders was actually a big seller of black books. They helped generate excitement and sales for our books across the nation. The better-run stores established relationships with the community and local businesses. They purchased advertising in our publications. This benefits the entire industry, publishers, authors, readers and even other booksellers. When these groups thrive, so does

KW: How else has the business changed over the years?
TJ: Kam, keeping a viable business, in an environment where major technological changes are a constant, is my single biggest challenge. I’ve been active on the World Wide Web since it because available to the general public in the early Nineties. It really is remarkable how much and how quickly things have changed since then. When I first started, one had to code an entire page in HTML by hand. Everything was very labor intensive. If I wanted to create a page with a photo on it, I had to take a photo with my camera, take the film to a business that developed and printed photographs, wait a few days and hope that the photo came out OK. Then, I would need to scan the image, usually at work, because scanners were expensive, open up the photo in an image editing program, save the image in a compressed format so that it would not take too long to download over a 1200-baud modem, and FTP it to my web server. Finally I would create an HTML document and write a line of code that would position the photo on a webpage. Do you see where I’m going?

KW: Yeah, it was much less user-friendly back then.
TJ: All of this for one image on a single page. Imagine the difficulty in creating an entire website! I learned to build websites by looking at the underlying code of a page, copying it, and modifying it to suit my needs. Today, given how complex websites are, it is really not possible to learn how to build websites this way anymore. When I first started building web pages, most people did not have a PC at home, and almost no one had internet access. Today most homes have PC’s, a smart phone or a cable box with internet access. A grade-school kid can create a terrific looking website with 100 photos in a fraction of the time, with virtually no technical skill. Despite websites being infinitely easier to create, the challenge of launching a viable web-based business is even more difficult than ever before

KW: How are African-American-oriented websites faring nowadays?
TJ: Kam, it is a challenging time for the vast majority of our websites. I think we should make a distinction between different types of African-American-oriented websites. First, there are the large corporate entities like AOL’s Huffington Post/Black Voices whose primary mandate is to maximize shareholder’s wealth. Then there are the mostly independent entities who also have a profit motive, but are driven by a more conscious mission. Sites like, The Network Journal, Black Star News and the other entities who regularly publish your content are part of this mix. As a result of these two different goals, the content produced by the large corporate entities focuses more on scandal, celebrity, and superficial pop-culture. That content is more popular and easier to produce and is therefore more profitable. The content produced by sites like is less sensational which makes keeping the associated sites profitable much more challenging. In fact, even Google favors the larger entities, making things even more difficult.

KW: Can you elaborate more about Google’s impact?
TJ: How much time do you have? Seriously, I could write a very long book about this topic. Consider this: for most sites, the largest source of new traffic comes in through people who discover the site through search engines. The lion’s share of this traffic comes from Google. As a result, Google is effectively a gatekeeper who controls access to your website through their ranking of your website in their search results.
Over the past year, I observed Google start to do some really strange things with their search results that have not only adversely impacted my website’s traffic, but the very nature of the web itself. Google search results skew to very large corporate websites that are publishing less valuable, usually more scandalous content. This was not always the case with Google. At least the search engine Bing doesn’t do this currently. Here are two examples: if you were to do a search for Terry McMillan on Google, you will find in the top five search results a site containing two sentences talking about Terry accusing Will and Jada Smith of pimping their kids, and another site discussing the details of Terry’s divorce. My site, which has published original book reviews, a video of Terry reading from a then-unpublished manuscript, a list of all of her published novels and more, only appears on the second page. I talk about her being a New York Times bestselling-author, not what she tweeted about the Smiths’ kids months ago. Which content do you think should rank higher?

KW: Your content of substance, obviously.
TJ: Here is the second example: I recently paid a writer for an article which I published on Sometime later, the same article was published on the Huffington Post. The next day when I ran a Google search for that specific article, not only was the Huffington Post returned ahead of, but so were many other sites I call “autoblogs,” including a porn site. Yes, you heard me right, a pornography site that posted a very short excerpt of the original article and ended-up ranked ahead of the original publication. All of these “autoblog” sites are created automatically on the fly and contribute nothing new. Their only apparent purpose is to serve advertising, mostly Google ads. For now, is in the mix, but Google can literarily throw a switch tomorrow and can be, effectively, erased from the internet. Other black book sites have fared much worse. In fact we have fewer independent book sites focused on black authors than we did five years ago. And the ones that remain are even more difficult to find.

KW: What can people do to support sites like
TJ: People simply need to visit the website, tell their friends about it, use social media to share the articles, reviews, and author profiles. Folks can participate on our discussion boards, instead of having a conversation on Facebook. As an aside, we should be using Facebook to send people to our sites. I also encourage people to send us feedback, to suggest books for review, and authors to cover. I know I sound like I’m beating up on the Huff Post, but many writers contribute to that site for free. I suggest those writers consider contributing to independent sites like once in awhile. It really is in everyone’s best interest for independent voices to survive. We are not going to survive, over the long term, without the support of the people we try to serve.

KW: What do you think is in the future?
TJ: Of course, If I knew that I’d be a rich man. I fear the trends I see online are escalating offline as well. There are fewer independent, bookstores, magazines, newspapers and radio stations. Journalism is dying, sources for critical book and film reviews of black work are drying up, author advances are shrinking and writers are finding it more difficult to make a living. Content generation across all platforms are coalescing into the hands a few very large multinational corporations that don’t have our interests in mind. At best, the content they spew does not truly represent what we, as black people, feel, care, or think about. At worse, it is destroying us by perpetuating negative stereotypes and images for the sake of making money.

KW: Is it already too late in your estimation, or can something still be done?
TJ: Fortunately, we can absolutely do something about this – we must continuously support independent entities as best we can. With the continued support of my community, there is no reason an should not thrive. Ideally, the Google search result should be an unimportant detail. Indeed, maybe we should create our own Google.

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
TJ: Yes, but I won’t pose it in this interview. [LOL]

KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
TJ: Yes, but being afraid and overcoming those fears is what makes life exciting.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
TJ: Yes.

KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
TJ: All the time. My wife and I were sharing a glass of wine. Out of nowhere she says, “I really do love you.” Touched, I replied, “Is that you or the wine talking?” She looked at me and said, “That’s me talking, baby… to the wine.” That is an old joke I told this past weekend and is always good for a laugh.

KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
TJ: I like to play poker.

KW: Now, you get to answer your own question, the bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
TJ: The last one I read was “The Only One” by Cynique. It is currently being published in a serialized format through a website called “A Chapter a Month.” I plan to publish this novel as a book next year.

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What are you listening to on your iPod?
TJ: A buddy turned me on to an album by the Buena Vista Social Club.

A cut called “Chan Chan” is so enchanting. I also tune into “breath of life” at every Monday for a lesson in music.

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
TJ: I’m a half-way decent cook. I like my buffalo wings. They always taste good, and are easy to prepare.

KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?
TJ: I love visiting new places. I’ve been to every state in the Union and to a bunch of foreign countries. I would even leave the planet if I could.

KW: Dante Lee, author of "Black Business Secrets, asks: What was the best business decision you ever made, and what was the worst?
TJ: Well certainly starting would rank up there as one of the best. As far the worst… you don’t have enough time.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
TJ: A work in progress.

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
TJ: Omnipotence.

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
TJ: My mother bringing my younger sister home from the hospital, a couple of months before my 3rd birthday.

KW: The Melissa Harris-Perry question How did your first big heartbreak impact who you are as a person?
TJ: It forces me to try to be more empathetic to the feelings of others. My biggest life regrets have to do with others I may have hurt.

KW: The Judyth Piazza questions: How do you define success? And, what key quality do you believe all successful people share?
TJ: Striving for freedom is success. I believe all successful people know what they love to do and are actually doing it or working toward it.

KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
TJ: Don’t. Everyone needs to find their own path to happiness and success, because they will all be different. Again, determining what motivates you and makes you happy is the key to that.

KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
TJ: As a gentleman who tried to make a positive impact on family, friends and anyone he may have touched.

KW: Thanks again for the time, Troy, and best of luck with the website.
TJ: Thanks Kam, It has been a pleasure to work with you over the years as you have been an integral part of that success.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My Reincarnation (TIBETAN)

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Father-Son Biopic Follows Sojourn of Exiled Tibetan Monk

When the Chinese occupied Tibet in 1959, Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche had the sense to get out of the country while the going was good. The exiled monk moved to Italy where he married a local gal and had a couple of kids, including a son, Yeshi, who was recognized from birth as the reincarnation of a renowned Buddhist master.
And while Rinpoche was building a formidable following as a spiritual leader in the West, he simultaneously tried to groom the boy to follow in his footsteps. However, Yeshi saw himself more as a modern Italian than a traditional Tibetan, Thus, during the kid’s formative years, he felt little connection to either the faraway homeland he’d never known or to the late guru whose spirit had supposedly taken over his body.
That didn’t stop Rinpoche from pressuring Yeshi to embrace his destiny and thereby keep the family legacy alive. The often animated give-and-take between the two is the primary focus of My Reincarnation, a riveting biopic directed by Jennifer Fox. The award-winning filmmaker has a penchant for addressing her subject-matter in unusual depth, as was the case with her previous offering, Flying, an autobiographical documentary six hours in length.
What makes this picture fascinating is the fact that she shot it over the course of 20 years, which enables the audience to witness a tremendous degree of personal development on the part of the protagonists, especially Yeshi who goes from being a rebellious teen to an aspiring musician/photographer to a settled, suburban family man in front of our very eyes. Watching that evolution, who would ever guess that he might eventually come around to giving his dad’s desire serious consideration?
An intriguing, “Marjoe”-esque adventure, if you remember that Oscar-winning expose’ revolving around a penitent, Pentecostal child preacher who eventually ‘fessed up about being a charlatan. This variation on the theme is designed to generate similar debate about Eastern philosophy, by highlighting how a corporate position at IBM might have belatedly led a reluctant, designated-demigod down a path of enlightenment lined by throngs of gullible devotees-in-waiting.

Excellent (4 stars)
In English, Italian, Tibetan and Spanish with subtitles.
Running time: 82 minutes
Distributor: Long Shot Factory

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Top Ten DVD List for October 25th

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams

Headline: Top Ten DVD List for October 25th

Jurassic Park – Ultimate Trilogy

Baseball’s Greatest Games – Collector’s Edition

America: The Story of Us - Collector's Edition

Barney Miller – The Complete Series

Captain America: The First Avenger on DVD

The People vs. George Lucas

Smiley’s People

Bad Teacher

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Joseph Campbell – Mythos III

Honorable Mention

Winnie the Pooh

John Le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Uncle Bob

Monte Carlo

The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes – Volume Three

The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes – Volume Four

A Little Help


Thundercats – Season 1, Book One

Father of Invention

Captain America: The First Avenger DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Latest Marvel Comics Adaptation Due on DVD

This superhero adventure continues the recent trend in comic book screen adaptations in which the protagonist comes to play a critical role in the outcome of a significant historical event. Here, we have Marvel’s Captain America (Chris Evans) called upon to save the day during World War II when a cosmic cube called the Tesseract, said to be a source of limitless power, falls into the hands of Hitler henchman Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving).
That nefarious Nazi also happens to have been left horribly-disfigured but with superhuman strength as a result of testing a top secret serum designed to create a master race of super soldiers on behalf of the Fuhrer. However, Schmidt goes rogue after gaining possession of the Tesseract, morphing into an even eviler alter ego, the Red Skull.
The monomaniacal madman proceeds to hatch a diabolical plan for world domination with the help of a horde of renegade German soldiers armed with futuristic death ray guns. We know they have shifted their allegiance from Adolf to the Red Skull because they now chant “Hail Hydra!” instead of “Heil Hitler!”
Meanwhile, clear across the Atlantic Ocean, we find frail Steve Rogers (also Chris Evans), a proverbial 98-pound weakling, desperate to enlist in the military despite suffering from asthma and a host of other assorted ailments. When he’s rejected at a New York City recruitment center for the umpteenth time, the frustrated patriot’s self-pity party is overheard by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a Nazi defector who had created the concoction that had mutated Schmidt.
Now putting his talents to work for the forces of good, Dr. Erskine offers Steve a chance to train in the Strategic Scientific Reserve, an experimental outfit being run by hard-boiled Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and a two-fisted British Officer Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). Of course, the kid jumps at the opportunity to become the first to test the new and improved super soldier solution.
The injection transforms Steve into quite a physical specimen with a physique more muscular than his best friend, Sergeant Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). This development isn’t lost on pretty Peggy who can barely keep her hands off his rock-hard abs.
More importantly, Steve dons a form-fitting red, white and blue costume and an impenetrable shield made of vibranium, the rarest metal on Earth. And accompanied by a crack team of commandos comprised of his pal Bucky, plus Dum Dum Dugan (Neal McDonough), Gabe Jones (Derek Luke), Jacques Dernier (Bruno Ricci), Jim Morita (Kenneth Choi) and James Montgomery Falsworth (J.J. Field), he sets out on a search and destroy mission in quest of the Red Skull and his minions.
Directed by Joe Johnston (Jumanji), Captain America proves to be a riveting roller coaster ride from beginning to end, basically because it relies on a winning recipe featuring all the fixins needed to hold your undivided attention, from a compelling plot which ratchets up the tension all the way to the final showdown, to eye-popping action and special effects, to a sweet romance between likable leads exhibiting screen chemistry, to lots of unexpected moments of levity (with much of the hilarious comic relief arriving courtesy of Tommy Lee Jones). Just don’t forget to watch the closing credits for a sneak peek at the sequel, The Avengers, set to be released in the spring.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence.
Running time: 123 minutes
Distributor: Paramount Home Entertainment
2-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Blu-ray, DVD and digital copies of the film, feature film with commentary by the director, the cinematographer and editor, deleted scenes, trailers, 7 featurettes, and “Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer.”

Bad Teacher DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Cameron Diaz’s Raunchy Romantic Comedy Released on DVD

Public schoolteachers have been getting a pretty bad rap recently, between taking the brunt of the blame for both the declining graduation rates and the escalating deficit of many a state’s economy. Promising to tarnish the noble profession’s reputation even further is this lowbrow comedy revolving around a shameless gold digger too obsessed with landing a sugar daddy to worry about the welfare of her 7th grade students.
Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking alcoholic who lets her class at John Adams Middle School (JAMS) watch movies every morning so she can close her eyes while her hangover wears off. At the point of departure, we find the self-abusing schoolmarm singularly focused on her impending wedding to a filthy-rich heir (Nat Faxon) she sees only as her meal ticket to a pampered life in the lap of luxury.
After all, she’s already gotten the gullible guy to give her a Mercedes convertible as well as access to his credit card. However, he wises up and calls off the wedding when informed by his mom (Stephanie Faracy) that his conniving fiancée has maxed out his account.
Consequently, Elizabeth rather reluctantly returns to JAMS in the fall, with finding another well-heeled, prospective hubby at the top of her agenda. Sure, the affable gym teacher, Russell Gettis (Jason Segel), starts flirting with her again, but he doesn’t have nearly enough money to hold her interest.
As it turns out, there is a new substitute teacher, Scott Delacorte (Jason Timberlake), who fits the bill quite nicely. However, Elizabeth immediately encounters some stiff competition for his affection from Amy Squirrell (Lucy Punch), and soon decides that breast implants might turn the tide in her favor. And with a $5,000 bonus in store for the teacher whose class performs the best on the big standardized test at the end of the semester, Elizabeth finds herself highly motivated for the first time to help her students maximize their test scores.
So unfolds Bad Teacher, a decidedly-adult romp directed by Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard). Don’t be deceived by the movie’s premise which probably sounds a lot more like a set-up for a classic love triangle than a titillating teensploit. But be forewarned, this Cameron Diaz vehicle seizes on any excuse to serve up crude fare whether by having the heroine engage in relentlessly-vulgar repartee or merely prance around suggestively scantily clad.
Provided you’re in the mood for such salacious fare, Bad Teacher does deliver the requisite number of raunchy rib ticklers to be worth the investment for those in the testosterone-driven demographic.

Very Good (3 stars)
Unrated with nudity, profanity, sexuality and drug use.
Running time: 92 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Unrated edition DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, theatrical version of the film, unrated version of the film with extra raunchy footage not seen in theaters, outtakes, and “Way Behind the Scenes with Jason and Justin” and “Raising More Than Funds” featurettes.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Winnie the Pooh DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Pooh and Pals’ Adventure Arrives on DVD

Written by A.A. Milne (1882-1956) back in the 1920s, Winnie the Pooh is a beloved children’s classic which has captured the imagination of young and old alike for generations on end. Since acquiring the rights to the collection of the collection of timeless tales in the early Sixties, Walt Disney has adapted them to both the big and small screens, even extending the popular franchise in recent years by creating sequels for such peripheral characters as Tigger (2000), Piglet (2003) and Heffalump (2005).
With the latest episode, Pooh (Jim Cummings) returns to the limelight for an animated adventure ostensibly-based on three of the original, illustrated bedtime stories. The action unfolds in fabled Hundred Acre Wood, where we find him rousing from hibernation, hungry and out of honey. This state of affairs inspires the anthropomorphic bear to sing “The Tummy Song,” the first of numerous excuses the production seizes upon to launch into a bouncy show tune.
.Winnie subsequently sets out on a search for some sweet bee nectar only to encounter his friend Eeyore (Bud Luckey), a donkey who’s depressed over having somehow lost his tail. After consulting with the wise old Owl (Craig Ferguson), they convene a meeting attended by Pooh pals Tigger (also voiced by Jim Cummings), Kanga (Kristen Anderson-Lopez), Rabbit (Tom Kenny) and Roo the kangaroo (Wyatt Dean Hall) in order to announce a reward of a pot of honey for whoever comes up with the best replacement for the missing appendage.
But when neither a balloon, a cuckoo clock, an umbrella, a weather vane, an accordion, a moose head, a yo-yo nor a dartboard looks right on Eeyore’s rump, they decide to approach Christopher Robin (Jack Boulter) for help. The plot thickens when Owl misinterprets the note left on his door (“Back Soon”) to mean the boy has been kidnapped by a mysterious creature called a “Backson.”
Will the gang “rescue” Christopher Robin, secure a substitute tail for Eeyore, and fill Pooh’s belly so serenity might again abide inside this musical menagerie’s peaceable kingdom? That’s a lot of loose ends to resolve betwixt and between all the singing and dancing. But despite the picture’s scant running time of about an hour, only a fool would bet against Pooh and company.
A benign, tot-oriented fable sharing a heartwarming message about the true meaning of friendship

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated G
Running time: 63 Minutes
Distributor: Walt Disney Home Entertainment
2-Disc Combo Pack Extras: Blu-ray and DVD versions of the film, deleted scenes, “The Ballad of Nessie” and “Mini-Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: The Balloon” animated shorts, “Pin the Tail on Eeyore” game, and “Sing-Along with the Movie” and “Disney Song Selection” featurettes.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Kam's Kapsules: For movies opening October 28, 2011

Kam's Kapsules:
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams
For movies opening October 28, 2011


Anonymous (PG-13 for violence and sexuality) Costume drama, set in the Elizabethan Era, addressing the speculation that it was the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans), not the Bard of Avon (Rafe Spall), who penned the complete works of William Shakespeare. With Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson and Trystan Gravelle, and narrated by Sir Derek Jacobi. (In English, French Italian and Ancient Greek)

In Time (PG-13 for violence, sexuality, graphic profanity and partial nudity) Futuristic sci-fi thriller, set in a disturbing dystopia where the rich live forever because time is literally money, and revolving around the effort of an unfairly-accused fugitive of justice (Justin Timberlake) to clear his name while destroying the corrupt economic system with the help of a beautiful heiress (Amanda Seyfried). With Olivia Wilde, Matt Bomer and Aaron Perilo.

Puss in Boots (PG for action and mild rude humor) Animated, 3-D spinoff of Shrek finds the dashing, furry feline (Antonio Banderas) teaming with Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) and a street-savvy alley cat (Salma Hayek) for a swashbuckling adventure in search of the legendary Goose that lays golden eggs. Narrated by Walt Dohrn, with a voice cast including Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris as Jack and Jill.

The Rum Diary (R for profanity, sexuality and brief drug use) Johnny Depp stars in this adaptation of the Hunter S. Thompson novel of the same name, set in the Fifties, about a journalist, tired of the New York City rat race, who takes a position at a newspaper in Puerto Rico where he becomes obsessed with the fiancée (Amber Heard) of a shady real estate developer (Aaron Eckart). Cast includes Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi and Michael Rispoli. (In English and Spanish with subtitles)


13 (R for graphic violence, bloody images and brief nudity) English language remake of the grisly French thriller about a naïve young man (Sam Riley) who unwittingly assumes another person’s identity only to end up in a high-stakes game of Russian Roulette of 13 players in which mobsters bet on the outcome of each fatal round. With Mickey Rourke, Jason Statham, 50 Cent, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Michael Shannon and Ray Winstone.

All’s Faire in Love (PG-13 for sexuality) Ensemble comedy about the competition between two renaissance fairs to be the foremost, medieval-themed gathering. Cast includes Christina Ricci, Cedric the Entertainer and Ann-Margret.

And They’re Off… (PG-13 for crude humor and sexual references) Horseracing comedy about a down-and-out thoroughbred trainer (Sean Astin) whose only hope of returning to the winner’s circle rests with hiring his equally-desperate ex-girlfriend (Cheri Oteri) as a jockey. With Martin Mull, Mark Moses and Kevin Nealon.

The Double (PG-13 for profanity, disturbing images, violence and intense action sequences) Espionage thriller about an ex-CIA Agent (Richard Gere) who comes out of retirement to assist an FBI Agent (Topher Grace) to solve the murder of a U.S. Senator (Edward Austin Kelley) by a notorious Russian assassin presumed to be dead. With Martin Sheen Odette Yustman and Stephen Moyer.

God’s Land (Unrated) Apocalyptic drama about the members of a religious cult who follow a messianic minister (Jackson Ning) from Taiwan to Garland, Texas to await the end of the world because the name of the town sounds like “God’s land.” With Jodi Lin, Shing Ka and Matthew Chiu.

Janie Jones (Unrated) Baby-daddy drama about a 13 year-old girl (Abigail Breslin) abandoned by her drug-addicted mother (Elisabeth Shue) who tracks down the fading rock star father (Alessandro Nivola) she’s never known to inform him that she’s the product of a liaison between him and a groupie. Support cast features Peter Stormare, Frances Fisher and Brittany Snow.

Like Crazy (PG-13 for sexuality and brief profanity) Long-distance romance drama about a British, exchange student (Felicity Jones) who is prevented by immigration authorities from reentering the U.S. and from rejoining her college boyfriend (Anton Yelchin) in California after overstaying her visa. With Jennifer Lawrence, Charlie Bewley and Alex Kingston.

My Reincarnation (Unrated) Epic biopic, shot over 20 years by award-winning, documentary filmmaker Jennifer Fox (Flying), about the reluctance of the half-Italian son of an exiled Tibetan monk to follow in his father’s footsteps despite being dubbed the reincarnation of a renowned Buddhist master.

Oka! (Unrated) Call me Bwana biopic recounting the story of real-life Tarzan, Louis Sarno (Kris Marshall), an American ethnomusicologist who married a pygmy and lived in the Congo with her diminutive people for over a quarter century. With Will Yun Lee, Peter Riegert and Haviland Morris. (In English and French with subtitles)

Sidewalls (Unrated) Never the twain drama, set in Buenos Aires, about two next-door neighbors (Javier Drolas and Pilar Lopez de Ayala) who never meet despite the fact that their paths constantly cross in the hustle and bustle of their busy lives. (In Spanish with subtitles)

Silver Bullets (Unrated) Joe Swanberg wrote, directed and co-stars in this Mumblecore adventure about the complications which ensue after an aspiring, young actress (Amy Seimetz) is cast as a last-minute replacement for the leading lady (Kate Lyn Shell) in a sexually-explicit film production. With Larry Fessenden, Ti West and Sean Price Williams.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Is Marriage for White People? (BOOK REVIEW)

Is Marriage for White People?
How the African-American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone
by Ralph Richard Banks, Esq.
Hardcover, $25.95
302 pages
ISBN: 978-0-525-95201-5

Book Review by Kam Williams

“Over the past half-century, African-Americans have become the most unmarried people in our nation. By far. We are the least likely to marry and the most likely to divorce; we maintain fewer committed and enduring relationships than any other group. Not since slavery have black men and women been as un-partnered as we are now…
Why? Black women of all socioeconomic classes remain single in part because the ranks of black men have been decimated by incarceration, educational failure, and economic disadvantage… Yet despite the shortage of black male peers, black women do not marry men of other races.
Black women marry across class lines, but not race lines. They marry down but not out. Thus, they lead the most racially-segregated intimate lives of any Americans.”

-Excerpted from the Introduction (pgs. 2-3)

This book has the sort of eye-catching title which suggests that the content might be superficial. But no, the author, a professor of law at Stanford University, launched a serious investigation here into the question of whether African-Americans are the marrying kind anymore.
Professor Ralph Richard Banks was ostensibly inspired by the troubling statistics indicating that ”Jumping the Broom” has become less and less popular not only among ghetto-dwelling blacks but also among the middle and upper-classes. So, he decided to examine the issue of the breakdown of the African-American family in depth by conducting research, by amassing a combination of anecdotal and scientific evidence.
The upshot of that effort is “Is Marriage for White People?” a controversial opus which offers a surprising solution to the burgeoning problem. Believe it or not, the groundbreaking book makes the case for sisters getting out of their comfort zone and entering more romantic relationships with Caucasians, Asians and Latinos.
Banks’ basic thesis is that because black females are generally better-educated and make more money than brothers, it’s silly for them to restrict themselves to a dating pool of just black men. Besides, he says black males tend to take them for granted, and to think nothing of sleeping with more than one woman at once.
Paradoxically, the author ultimately arrives at the counter-intuitive conclusion that “For black women, interracial marriage doesn’t abandon race, it serves the race,” because “If more black women married non-black men, more black men and women might marry each other.” That humdinger of a plan might very well be the answer, but it sure sounds to me a lot like traveling East in order to go West.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Melissa Harris-Perry: The “Sister Citizen” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: Sister Melissa

Born in Seattle, Washington on October 2, 1973, but raised in Charlottesville and Chester, Virginia, Melissa V. Harris-Perry is a professor of political science at Tulane University where she is the founding director of the project on gender, race, and politics in the South. Her previous book, Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought, won the 2005 W. E. B. Du Bois Book Award from the National Conference of Black Political Scientists and the 2005 Best Book Award from the Race and Ethnic Politics Section of the American Political Science Association.
Besides being a columnist for The Nation Magazine, Dr. Harris-Perry frequently appears as a guest or fill-in host on MSNBC on The Thomas Roberts Show, Up with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show and The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell. She is also a regular commentator for many print and radio sources both around the U.S. and abroad.
Melissa lives in New Orleans with her husband, James Perry, and her daughter, Parker. Here, she reflects on her life and career and on American culture and politics while discussing her new book, Sister Citizen.

Kam Williams: Hi Melissa, thanks for the interview.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Absolutely, Kam! How are you?

KW: I’m fine. You know, I was walking across Princeton’s campus at dusk one evening this past spring, and just by coincidence I came upon you speaking at an outdoor event. Had I known at the time that you were leaving for Tulane, I’d have stuck around to meet you.
MHP: That probably was for “Take Back the Night.”

KW: I have a slew of questions from readers, so let me jump right into them. Jerry Doran says: You’re the prettiest and smartest political pundit on television today. He would like to know if there’s any way he and his wife could take you to dinner in Stony Brook out on Long Island.
MHP: [Laughs] Sorry, Jerry, but it’d be pretty hard for me to make it out there.

KW: Jerry would also like to know when you’re going to get your own prime time TV show.
MHP: At the moment, there definitely aren’t any plans for a prime-time show. I really love sitting in for both Rachel [Maddow] and for Lawrence [O’Donnell], and I will do that again to support their having a little time off during holidays and over the summer. But my experience guest-hosting meant going in around noon and not leaving until about 10 PM. That’s quite time-consuming, especially since my whole life takes place between noon and 10.

KW: San Francisco attorney Randy Knox, says he’s friends with your sister Elizabeth.
MHP: She’s the best! I’m the youngest of five, and Beth’s the sister closest to me in age. She’s the one I grew up in the house with, and therefore shared all the sibling rivalry and sisterly joys with. She has two gorgeous children and has lived in the Bay Area since she went to law school.

KW: Randy, who moved to San Francisco from New Orleans, would like to know how you like The Big Easy, and if you’ve ever been to a place called The Bunch Club.
MHP: I’ve never been to The Bunch Club. Not yet. I absolutely adore New Orleans. I’d been living here a few months out of every year since Hurricane Katrina. Being here full-time now is just a real pleasure. I love it!

KW: Does your husband have any plans to run for mayor or any other political office again?
MHP: Not at the moment. There is a race or two that he’s considering, but he hasn’t decided yet.

KW: What interested you in writing Sister Citizen?
MHP: I had started the project before Hurricane Katrina, but the real turning point for me was the race and gender politics that emerged on the national stage after the levee failure. That was, for me, a consolidating moment in my attempt to understand the experience of contemporary black women trying to be American citizens.

KW: What message do you hope readers will take away from the book?
MHP: I suspect different audiences will take away different things from the book. For instance, my editor at Yale University Press, who is a white male, felt that he’d been introduced to some black women’s literature he’d never read and to some stereotypes and ideas that he’d previously never engaged with. By contrast, some black women I’ve talked to about the book weren’t surprised by what they read. They found that it resonated with their experiences and perhaps contributed to their vocabulary and gave them some new ways of thinking about the political meaning of those experiences.

KW: Judyth Piazza asks: What was the most important lesson you learned from this project?
MHP: I learned two lessons: one from the research, one from the writing. From the research, this idea that you just have to be strong if you’re a black woman. And in the process of writing, I learned that you can’t write a book in the margins of your life. I’d forgotten how much uninterrupted time it takes to write chapters, and how you have to push everything else aside and really focus.

KW: Lee Bailey asks: Do you enjoy being a guest news anchor for Rachel Maddow, and do you plan to pursue anchoring your own show?
MHP: Sitting in for Rachel and Lawrence is beyond fun. It is one of the most exciting and challenging things I’ve done in a very long time. Part of what I love about it is that the host has already assembled a fantastic staff for me, developed credibility and built an audience. So, I just have to walk in, bring my ideas and work my butt off for a few days. It’s really the best of both worlds. As far as anchoring my own show, I won’t say I wouldn’t do it, but I can’t imagine how that would affect my ability to parent my child.

KW: Lee also asks: Why the negative response to The Help?
MHP: Oh, Gosh! I could spend all day answering this one. The intensity of my negative response was in part related to having just published Sister Citizen. So, I had been thinking a lot about the stereotypes and the images of black women. Both the book and the film are, for me, terribly problematic, because they’re very, very dishonest, romanticized versions of one of the most important aspects of African-American women’s working lives, namely, being domestic servants. For most of American history since slavery, that’s the type of work that we’ve done. My grandmother was a domestic worker. The Help claimed to be told from the perspective of the African-American maids, but it isn’t. I could go on in considerable depth about it, but let me address the two most dishonest aspects. The first is the fact that although the author tried to illustrate the tension between white women and their maids, she ignores the black women’s relationships with two other very important groups in the household: the white men and the white children. She refuses to imagine that they could have felt anything other than pure love, attachment, affection and fidelity towards the kids they were hired to care for. It is such a bizarre, romantic notion that they didn’t have mixed feelings about spending so much time caring for children of privilege while their own offspring went neglected because they were in these white households. Clearly, the book was written from the perspective of a person who had been raised by one of these loving black maids and who therefore couldn’t imagine anything but affection on the part of the caretaker. The second dishonest aspect of the book was how it ignored the violence by white men against blacks. One scene in the movie that just made me want to rip my hair out was when, in response to the Medgar Evers assassination, all the maids finally decide to talk to Miss Skeeter. That is made up! That is not what happened! The truth is that when Medgar Evers was murdered, the black maids of Jackson, Mississippi organized themselves and went out into the streets en masse, thereby not only putting their jobs in jeopardy but risking violent reprisals on the part of the police and the white community. The Help ignores that brave, real-life effort in favor of a fantasy suggesting that what they needed was to share their stories with a white woman in secret. A careful author would’ve done her research and then incorporated what actually transpired, because accounts about these maids’ bravery are readily available. The danger that I fear now is that The Help will become the historical record because of its popularity, and that people who see the movie will come to believe that that’s really what happened.

KW: Yeah, like how the misleading images in Gone with the Wind came to replace the truth about The South during slavery.
MHP: Exactly! That’s precisely what happened with both Gone with the Wind and The Birth of a Nation. Popular films are so powerful and compelling that it’s often easier to accept their versions of history than the much more complicated true stories. That’s why the most distressing aspect for me about The Help has been the number of African-American women I’ve encountered who didn’t know how dishonest the story was. I just don’t want us, in our own politics, to fall into the trap of reproducing it.

KW: Do you then have a problem with Viola Davis for agreeing to play the lead character?
MHP: I have no criticism of Viola Davis, just as I have none of Hattie McDaniel’s performance in Gone with the Wind. In fact, I find them both to have done exceptional work with the roles that they were given. Honestly, I understand that, as Hollywood actresses, they need to work. I also appreciate how Viola had tamped down her character to speak in a much more recognizable, black Southern woman’s voice than the caricature which Kathryn Stockett presented in the book. So, I’m not criticizing Viola Davis, but rather I’m disappointed that this is the version of black womanhood that American audiences are so jazzed-up and excited to consume. There’s nothing like a redemptive mammy. [Sarcastically]

KW: Lisa Loving asks: Did you get any backlash over your live tweeting about The Help?
MHP: Oh, yeah! But I need to point out that I wasn’t just losing my mind, but that I had been assigned by my job to tweet live in the theater. That was one of those rare occasions where my snarky, more animated side came out. And I’ve learned over time that that is always the self that gets the most criticism.

KW: Leah Fletcher would like to know whether you see a link between the state of contemporary black men and Jim Crow segregation.
MHP: Yes, for both black men and black women. We are barely removed from Jim Crow. My father attended segregated public schools, and he’s not an old man. Slavery is becoming more distant, but Jim Crow is not. There are so many effects, but I’d say that the single most important residual impact of Jim Crow is the continuing reality of residential segregation in most American cities and towns. And that impacts everything from educational and employment opportunities to real estate values to access to transportation to the quality of one’s environment. Housing affects everything, and we continue to live in very, very segregated communities.

KW: Teresa Emerson asks: When did we black women get so far off the mark with our public image? With all we've accomplished, why is self-esteem still such a problem in our communities?
MHP: In 1619 [when the first slaves were brought to America]. There has never been a moment when African-American women were fundamentally celebrated as model citizens. Even at this point in history when we have a black First Lady, we see the power of these negative stereotypes about black women in that the dishonest mythology continues to thrive.

KW: Teresa also asks: Do you feel the pervasiveness of mainstream media, movies, TV reality shows, etcetera have tainted this generation's view of black woman/black man relationships? How do we effectively change that when bombarded with such crazy images?
MHP: That’s a really tough question. I stayed away from domestic, personal relationships in the book. I decided to focus on the public and the political, and to leave that ground to psychologists and sociologists.

KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles asks: How might female gender stereotyping in other ethnic groups also become a ‘convenient’ way for patriarchies to treat women as objects rather than subjects?
MHP: The only thing in The Help that irritated and offended me more than how it portrayed black women was how white women were portrayed. Look, I grew up in, went to school in, and now live in the American South, and southern white women are interesting, complex and quirky, even the ones with racial anxieties. Stereotypes work to help divide women from recognizing their common interests. Think of how hard it would be to create a gender-based movement across racial lines as long as one group believes that it has to be strong while seeing the other group as passive and weak. We could also go into the stereotypes of the saucy, mercurial Latina and the docile, easily-dominated Asian woman.

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier says: There are people who want to identify themselves as biracial because they feel that they have to acknowledge both cultural identities. What made you decide to identify yourself as black?
MHP: This is the weirdest question that I am consistently asked. When I grew up in Virginia in the Seventies, there was no such thing as biracial. I understand that in 2011 you can opt to self-identify as biracial, although others might still identify you differently. Having a white parent undoubtedly makes for a different childhood experience than having two black parents. However, I think the idea that you’re somehow rejecting whiteness if you don’t identify yourself as biracial is odd because everybody engages in whiteness. If you live in America, you’re doing whiteness all the time, even if you have no white people in your family. So, I don’t know what people mean when they ask me whether I’m embracing my whiteness. Whiteness is ubiquitous. That being said, I believe that in 21st Century America it’s perfectly legitimate for children with a black parent and a white parent to identify themselves as biracial, if that’s their preference.

KW: I recently reviewed a very thought-provoking documentary called Biracial, Not Black, Damn It! in which they interviewed dozens of mixed people who don’t want to be seen as just black.
MHP: All I have to say is: Good luck with that in America! [LOL]

KW: I remember thinking it was odd when I was in college, when this brother tried to befriend me by saying, “We mullatoes have to stick together.” I told him we could be friends, but both my parents were black and I grew up in a black community, so I didn’t have any identity crisis.
MHP: I never had one either, not at 7, 17, 27 or now.

KW: Patricia also says: We all know about the famous test done my Dr. Kenneth Clark in 1954 for the Brown vs. Board of Education case. In 2006, the filmmaker Kiri Davis recreated the doll study and documented it in a film entitled A Girl Like Me. Despite the many changes in some parts of society, Davis got the same results as Dr. Clark did a half-century earlier. Recently, I heard about a five-year old African girl who put her black doll in the garbage. What do you think needs to be done to put an end to the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes which continue to affect black females?
MHP: I’m raising an African-American child who has both black and white dolls. Something I was struck by was how she’s renamed two of them Malia and Sasha when Barack Obama became President. As a parent, I have an appreciation that there are counteracting, positive images for this generation of little girls growing up with Malia and Sasha in the White House as the First Daughters.

KW: Finally, Patricia says: You started the research for your book circa ten years ago. What was the turning point which made you decide that you had to write about the very important subject regarding the image of Black women?
MHP: As I mentioned before, it was what unfolded after Hurricane Katrina.

KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: To what do you attribute some black women's denial of their hair, with weaves, extensions, relaxers and wigs? Is there any remedy for this denial?
MHP: That’s rough! I don’t know if it’s a denial of our hair. I wear twists that are extensions. I’m doing that because I’m growing out my natural hair, and I can’t really do that on TV without some sort of intervention. I’ve worn a perm during much of my adulthood. Look, I simply do not judge African-American women’s grooming choices. I don’t think that a white woman is in denial when she dyes her hair blonde. And I actually think we are the most varied in terms of the choices we make about our hair. Some of it may be political or psychological, but an awful lot of it is just aesthetic, how we like to view ourselves when we look in the mirror.

KW: Irene continues: As a black woman I have seen white women look at black women in blonde wigs and other white woman wanna be styles and smile. Do you think black women rejecting their hair and other aspects of blackness affects the power dynamic between white women and black women? Does this affect the power dynamic between white men and black women, between black women and black men, and ultimately of black women with themselves?
MHP: I can understand how someone might read wearing a blonde wig as a desire to be white, but I suspect that the same shaming smirk can happen if you wear a big afro or any number of other hairstyles. I find that non-black women will engage me in conversation about my hair, if I wear it in anything but the most nondescript perm. From childhood forward, our hair is one of the most critical, defining aspects of our embodied selves as black women: how we get it done… how we have to focus on it… the questions we have to answer about it... and so forth. In the book, I talk about how this desire for whiteness can impact us psychologically. So, I don’t want in any way to suggest that that sort of shaming, a desire for whiteness and white beauty doesn’t exist. But I do think that we have to be careful not to assume that getting a perm or wearing a blonde wig is a desire for whiteness. It may or may not be. Listen, I live in a poor black neighborhood where women wear blue hair, green hair, and all kinds of stuff. So, I simply see it as a different set of choices.

KW: Rudy Lewis says: Melissa, you are spot on when it comes to white feminism. But your responses to Cornel West's attacks on U.S. economic policies with respect to the poor and the middle classes and your support of the Libyan War make me uncomfortable. Have these views been placed in concrete?
MHP: I am a supporter of much of the Arab Spring, as a matter of indigenous self-determination. So, I see the United States’ role in Libya as an appropriately restrained one in providing some international support for the work of those trying to bring democratic change against a regime that has undoubtedly been dictatorial, particularly in the past twenty years. I know some people side with Cornel West and disagree with my support of the Obama Administration, but I think that’s part of the robust conversation of Democratic politics.

KW: Yale grad Tommy Russell asks: Do you think President Obama is doing enough for African-American communities throughout the U.S., or have major issues like wars, the oil spill, and The Great Recession been too much for one administration during one term? What more do you think he could be doing right now?
MHP: I think the most critical needs of the African-American communities aren’t being addressed primarily because of decisions being made by Republican Congressional leaders. The efforts to kill the President’s healthcare, jobs and stimulus packages have all been at the behest of the Republican leadership.

KW: Film director Kevin Williams says: Some polls indicate that President Obama's support is waning in the African-American community given the state of the economy and black unemployment rate. Do you foresee the Republican Party increasing its efforts to get the black vote in 2012, and making any inroads in that regard?
MHP: No, the Republicans don’t need black folks to vote Republican, they just need them to not vote.

KW: Kevin also would like to know why you left Princeton to teach at Tulane, which is where he got his Masters in 1993.
MHP: The number one reason was because I married a New Orleanian. Secondly, Tulane offered me a promotion to full professor as well as an opportunity to run my own program.

KW: H. Lewis Smith had this reaction to your article entitled Black Liberals, Double Standard: Your point-of-view is reflective of many blacks who are aware of the racism, but are blind to black people's complicity in it all. The white man does not see us as his equal...period, and never will. Fine, I say. You don't have to like me...just respect me. And therein lies the problem, the lack of respect. Until we as a race can show we have what it takes to respect one another, none is ever going to be given to us as a group. Your thoughts?
MHP: I would agree that liking is secondary to fairness and equality, but recognition is tied to resource distribution. So, it actually does matter what people think about you.

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
MHP: No, I think I already reveal way too much.

KW: Then do you have a good, probing question I could ask other celebrities?
MHP: How about: How did your first big heartbreak impact who you are as a person?

KW: Thanks, that’ll be my Melissa Harris-Perry question. Now, the Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
MHP: All the time.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
MHP: Yes.

KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
MHP: [Giggles] This morning with my husband.

KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
MHP: Reality-TV.

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
MHP: I’m reading three: A surprisingly good first novel called Girls in White Dresses.

With my daughter, I just read a Marvin Redpost book called Why Are You Picking on Me?

And Dorothy Roberts’ new book, Fatal Invention.

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last music you listened to?
MHP: [Chuckles] That’s part of the good laugh that I had with my husband this morning. I was playing Eric B. and Rakim really loud as I pulled into our driveway.

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
MHP: Macaroni and cheese.

KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?
MHP: International travel.

KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
MHP: I have no idea. Sorry.

KW: Dante Lee, author of "Black Business Secrets, asks: “What was the best business decision you ever made, and what was the worst?"
MHP: I’m horrible with money. I make bad business decisions every hour of the day. My best professional decision was taking my first job at the University of Chicago.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
MHP: I just had a birthday, so I’d say I see my age.

KW: Happy birthday! If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
MHP: I would want to know that my daughter is going to enjoy a long, happy and healthy life.

KW: The Pastor Alex Kendrick question: When do you feel the most content?
MHP: Sunday mornings before church, when I’m home with my husband and daughter, and we’re kind of doing our Sunday morning routine.

KW: The Toure question: Who is the person who led you to become the person you are today?
MHP: Undoubtedly, the biggest influence on my life is my mom, followed pretty closely by my dad.

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
MHP: Riding around the neighborhood in a plastic molded seat on the back of my mom’s bike at about the age of 2.

KW: The Judyth Piazza questions: How do you define success? And, what key quality do you believe all successful people share?
MHP: For me, success is when I’m making a contribution and fully engaging all of my talents. In terms of the key quality, it’s being willing to continue to believe in yourself even when other people don’t, and being able to fail and to come back.

KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
MHP: Woo! Drink lots of water, and nap. I’ve made some really big messes along the way, whether on the academic side or on the media side. It hasn’t been a straight path. But a lot of those mess-ups have led to opportunities, so I guess I’d say be fearless, and keep bottled water with you, so you don’t dehydrate.

KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
MHP: Fondly, by my family.

KW: Thanks again for the time, Melissa, and best of luck with the book, MSNBC and teaching at Tulane this year.
MHP: Thanks so much Kam. It’s been fun!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Mighty Macs

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Coach Inspires Team to Overachieve in Touching Tale of Female Empowerment

When Cathy Rush (Carla Gugino) was hired to coach basketball at Immaculata College in the early Seventies, athletics were a low priority at the all-female, Catholic institution. It didn’t even have a functional gym, so the team had to host its home games at a nearby high school.
Initially, the new coach didn’t get any sympathy from the administration about the inconvenience, since the college had serious financial problems. Furthermore, the Mother Superior (Ellen Burstyn) considered sports primary function as a means of suppressing the girls’ raging hormones.
But Rush was never discouraged by the lack of support or by the disadvantage of having a student body of fewer than 500 from which to pick players. So, joined on the bench by dedicated assistant, Sister Sunday (Marley Shelton), she proceeded to forge a competitive squad, placing an emphasis on teamwork and fundamentals. And by the end of the 1972 season, tiny Immaculata had blossomed into a respected powerhouse in contention for the national title.
That unlikely assault on the championship is the subject of The Mighty Macs, an overcoming-the-odds sports flick reminiscent of such basketball classics as Hoosiers, Glory Road and Coach Carter. This similarly-themed adventure chronicles the miracle season of a motley crew of underdogs inspired to overachieve with the help of a devoted, no-nonsense coach.
What makes this hoops saga unique is the fact that its hero is a female at a pivotal moment in the emergence of women’s intercollegiate athletics. The pioneering Cathy Rush was rightfully recognized for her critical contributions in this regard in 2008, the year she was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
A touching, tale of female empowerment serving as a worthwhile reminder that girls weren’t always encouraged to play sports.

Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 98 Minutes
Studio: Quaker Media