issue #8: Oscar Goes Hip Hop?
OVERSEEN & OVERHEARD
ORAL BENEFITS...The Vagina Monologues is set to hit the stage in Atlanta in support of the V-Day Worldwide Campaign Benefit Performance March 9-10 at the Woodruff Arts Center benefiting The Princess Project (Miss/Ms. Black Georgia USA) and the Center to End Adolescent Sexual Exploitation. This particular production stars Tangi Miller (Madea’s Family Reunion and former "Felicity" TV star) and Marshawn Evans, fired from "The Apprentice 4," who hopes to make the cut here with her acting abilities. V-Day activities address violence against girls and women worldwide. For more information, call 404-508-4612.
SHOCK TACTICS...Damon Wayans reps admit he has been involved in a current 14-month-old battle to trademark the term "Nigga" for use in a clothing line and retail store. Seems Wayans wants to put the word on tops, bottoms, and general merchandise as well as use the trademark term in movies, TV and the Internet. The Trademark Office isn't having it however--his request was last rejected in December based on a law that prohibits marks that are "immoral or scandalous." Wayans fights on, however. Maybe in this case, the "n" word is "NO."
FISH OUT OF WATER?....Insiders are buzzing about the fact that Ving Rhames has just signed on to the new CW series "Aquaman" (yep, like the classic comic). Rhames will play a lighthouse keeper and mentor to the superhero. Actually, we'd like to see Rhames as a superhero. Maybe a TV version of the short-lived classic comic The Black Panther from the '60s wouldn't be a bad idea.
DASH DISCONNECT...Just went you suspect it couldn't get any more ghetto than giving your realty show winner a leased--not purchased car--as a prize, there's a new level. News comes from our friends at EUR (www.eurweb.com) who report that recently after Damon Dash, Jr. had his cell phone taken away from him by, we guess bully boys at a prestigious Manhattan school, Damon went into shake down mode. Daddy Dash and “a couple of large friends” went near the school's Central Park West address and next thing you know, Dash has the phone back under supposedly questionable methods. Lips seem to be sealed tighter on this than the Busta Rhymes video shooting incident. Our question: What kind of phone was it--diamond encrusted?
COMING TO AMERICA...The buzz for Kenyan rap documentary film Hip Hop Colony (www.hiphopcolony.com) has been so loud it made it to our shores. In fact, it screened last week at the Pan African Film festival, and we heard filmmaker Michael Wanguhu and Russell Kenya are now fielding a bevy of offers. We'll keep you posted if they sign on the dotted line.
TREAT FOR A-LIST READERS...The 9th Annual Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival & Lecture Series will take place March 10-12, at the Brooklyn campus of LIU's Kumble Theater (see The A-List #4). Opening gala will feature performances and an excerpt reading from writer/producer Kristy Andersen’s new documentary, Black South: The Life Journey of Zora Neale Hurston. WBLS Radio host Ann Tripp will be Mistress of Ceremonies. Reel Sisters is offering loyal A-List readers a limited-time discount of $10 off the $50 gala ticket price. Offer good through March 6. Call 718-488-1052/718-865-2982 or buy at box office. Refer to Code: reelsisters17. For film schedule, link to www.reelsisters.org.
OSCAR PREDICTIONS EXCLUSIVE....Syndicated lifestyle columnist and African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) President Gil Robertson shares the AAFCA's Oscar picks. Best Picture: Crash; Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote; Best Actress: Resse Witherspoon, Walk The Line; Supporting Actor: George Clooney, Syriana; Supporting Actress: Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener. We'll see how right he is on Monday. Place your bets now.
CONDIE, THE CONQUEROR...Condoleezza Rice has taken her exercise routine to the airwaves--DC's WRC-TV to be exact. Yes, you read right folks. Seems the Secretary of State wanted to flex some muscle at home so that she can balance all that international flexin' she does.
GENDER IDENTIFICATION...Hot off the heels of number one opening numbers for Madea’s Family Reunion, Hollywood Golden-Boy-of-the-moment Tyler Perry is already set to begin filming his next film sans Madea as he's packed away that Madea dress and is allowing Tracee Ellis Ross be the female lead in Daddy’s Little Girl, set for release in January 2007.
BET JAZZ PLAYS NEW TUNE
In keeping with BET's overall goal of offing more original programming, the company announced earlier this week the rebranding of its BET Jazz network. Viewers will have more musical rhythms and long-form entertainment programming starting March 1. And with a new DirecTV Inc. distribution deal, the network will soon reach more than 20 million homes. Regarding long-form entertainment programming, BET J will launch a “Black Filmmaker’s Showcase” twice weekly in primetime. The series will spotlight short projects from up-and-coming filmmakers. The new programing will be added to the current mix of jazz-music videos, concert and artist-profiles. Lastly, the network aims to create a tent-pole event similar to the already established BET Awards in order to further build the BET J brand.
RADIO ONE DOWN 50%
Earlier this week, Radio One Inc. released information that its fourth-quarter profit fell nearly 50 percent. The company said it was due to a national slowdown in the radio industry and increased competition from satellite radio, Internet music services and MP3 players. To counteract this, according to chief executive Alfred C. Liggins III in the company's quarterly conference call, Radio One is diversifying--investing in cable television, film and Internet businesses targeting the African American audiences served by his radio stations. In the fourth quarter, the company earned $9.5 million (10 cents a share), down from $18.6 million (18 cents before preferred dividends, 13 cents after) a year earlier.FEATURE
OSCAR GOES HIP HOP?
African-American actors and Oscar were never very good friends. Many thought a bonding had occurred in 2002--when Denzel Washington landed the best actor Oscar for Training Day, Halle Berry won best actress for Monster's Ball and legend Sidney Poitier was given an honorary statue. To top this off, Whoopi Goldberg hosted. Then there was Jamie Foxx's win last year for Ray, Morgan Freeman's Oscar for supporting actor for Million Dollar Baby and Chris Rock at the host helm, which many considered another step in the right direction. So now, is this year's Terence Howard nomination for Hustle & Flow a turning point for hip hop cinema? How about the fact that the Motion Picture Academy is allowing its first rap performance during a nationally televised Oscars. "It's Hard Out There for a Pimp," a nominee for best original song, will be done by Three 6 Mafia and Taraji P. Henson, who performed the song in Hustle & Flow. Has hip hop been finally invited into the Academy? Well, the welcome mat hasn't been laid out just yet.
Still, it is a baby step. So why the lack of enthusiasm for '06, at least compared to the Jamie Foxx Ray hype, about on Howard's nomination? After all, Howard is a candidate for the statue in an unlikely Oscar-winning role, that of a pimp wanting to make it big as a rapper in Hustle & Flow. Some complain, however, that it is yet another attempt to glorify the thug life, thus reflecting poorly on black folk. "Some say the Oscar was tainted when they gave it to Denzel Washington for Training Day. That [the Academy] gave it to him because he played a bad guy," says Dr. Todd Boyd, whom CNN refers to as "the hip hop professor." Boyd, a professor at USC School of Cinema-Television, penned the acclaimed Young Black Rich and Famous:The Rise of the NBA, The Hip Hop Invasion and the Transformation of American Culture. "But [black] people have to remember, this isn't the NAACP Image Awards. The Oscar is based on a specific performance."
In spite of the seemingly lack of excitement from the community of Howard's "thug" role nod, more importantly is the nomination a sign that Hollywood's finally ready to recognize the hip hop genre film? To an extent, says Boyd. "Take a look at Hustle & Flow, Terence Howard is basically playing the same role that Charlize Theron played in Monster. He's someone on the outside of society trying to find his own version of the American Dream. And that's why I think people, and those in Hollywood, were able to relate to it. It is actually a very conventional story," explains Boyd. Obviously, hip hop inspired stories can be just as compelling to those outside the culture. However, conversely to the character in Monster, Howard's character shows how the marginalized can so beautifully achieve even from the sidelines and inspire, much like that of the actual hip hop culture in today's society. Creating and establishing in and on their own terms.
However, Boyd says he's leaning toward Brokeback Mountain taking home some of the major awards. "It's a movie whose time," he says, "was in the making." And this is how it seems to be for all "new" genres. The question is, when might that time arise for a hip hop-related film as opposed to just a character. "Hollywood will promote the films they make about hip hop, their version of hip hop, not movies that come from hip hop," says Boyd, from his USC offices. "Sure, they will take seriously the big budget Hollywood film 8 Mile, but not a true hip hop film, like Belly, for instance. Not that Belly was a great film, but it is what I consider a true hip hop film." There is a difference, says Boyd, in film that grows out of the culture, films that are hip hop, and Hollywood's version. "Movies like Boyz 'n The Hood grew out of hip hop and made it easy for those outside of hip hop to understand while resonating even more so for people inside of hip hop," he continues. "I actually consider Hustle & Flow more of a hip hop film, more organic because of the way it was made, than Get Rich Or Die Trying', which was an attempt by Hollywood to capitalize on the popularity of 50 Cent. Anyone in hip hop could have told you the film wouldn't do well--because no one in hip hop likes 50 Cent."
Occasionally, an organic film of any subject slips in. But for the moment, Hollywood is still seems more comfortable with its own take on things--especially hip hop. Boyz 'N the Hood resonated because it was more organic. The emotional tug Boyz garnered from viewers was true. Get Rich tried to replicate it but it failed, not only because the makers didn't really understand 50's place within the culture at the time but because it was manufactured emotion.
So the verdict is still out as to whether the mainstream's (and hip hop community's) acceptance of Hustle & Flow type films will lead Oscar and Hollywood down the road to recognize true hip hop genre films. "I don't think Hollywood is that sophisticated to make the distinction [between Hollywood hip hop films and true hip hop films], " resolves Boyd. "But the audience is." Maybe it will take hip hop filmmakers to further step up and create films that can not be denied. To be friends with Oscar is going to take more than a handshake.
Andre Leon Talley dashin' out of a preview of the play Grey Gardens at intermission in NYC. He didn't return.
Lisa Harris, Lela Rochon Fuqua, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Malaak Compton-Rock and Natalie Cole honoring Star Jones Reynolds at the AOL Black Voices's launch of her online "life coach" column at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills.
Hip Hop legend and TV host of "Video Music Box" and "The Bridge," Ralph McDaniels celebratin' his birthday with at a bash thrown by BIG CED, Video Music Box and The Ave. Magazine at NYC's Negril Village.
Noted journalists Lee Bailey, Amy Keith, Tanya Hart, Tosha Thomas, Wendy Wheaton, and Gil Robertson seen at an ultra private, sneak-peak preview of the highly anticipated Dreamworks film Dreamgirls in Los Angeles this week. Organized by powerhouse publicist Ava Duvernay, the event featured a lavish reception and meet n’ greet opps with Beyonce, Jamie Foxx and other cast members.
Kudos to event planner Bill Hammond for putting together the fabulous Ebony Magazine Pre-Oscar party at Jim Henson studios. Darryl Miller, John Singleton, Ruben Canon, Nina Shaw, Kyle Bowser, Samuel and Latanya Jackson, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Kenneth Crear, Delores Robinson, Cicely Tyson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and 48th Assembly frontrunner Anthony Willougby along with his utility executive wife Denita were among a long list of Hollywood A-listers seen at the celebration.
Across town Tracee Ellis Ross, Boris Kodjoe, Time Warner executives Deborah Langford and Janet Rolle, TV producer Mary Glynn and music industry vets Dwight Bibbs and Kevin Flemming celebratin' at Prime Media Black Oscar bash held at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
THE A-LIST ASKS
What book would you love see turned into a film?
"The last book I read that I thought would be a great film if adapted was Caucasia by Danzy Senna. Set in the '70s, the story weaves the coming-of-age journey of a light-skinned, bi-racial teenage girl dealing with black-power politics, a sympathetic white liberal mother on the lam, and a desperate search for cultural connection and identity through her darker-skinned sister. This isn't the typical woe-is-me tale of the confused mulatto. The lead character is pro-active and brave. I search for material that not only has the depth for serial storylines but also reflects diverse and often time under-represented voices within the African-American community."
Black Entertainment Television
Gil Robertson IV is to The A-List what hot sauce is to wings. Thanks as always, Mister!