Friday, June 22, 2007

73: Kasi Lemmons

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Summer may be officially here as of this week, but we've always served up sizzling info no matter what the season. See what we mean, read on...Issue # 73.

HOUSE ON FIRE...Call us flabbergasted. But the numbers don't lie. Despite all the negative reviews--not only from critics but also from would-be bastions of Black American authorities--according to just-released Nielsen ratings "House of Payne" again delivered the top spot for TBS in Black households. The network took both first and second place for favorite cable shows in Black households with back-to-back airings of "HOP," which drew 1.7 million and 1.3 million Black homes when the episodes aired. But there was a drop; when the show debuted a week earlier, it had an audience of more than 2.6 million black households.

All this amidst show creator Tyler Perry defending his show via an open letter earlier this week in EUR. In the Electronic Urban Report he wrote: "...One person asked why does the mama have to be a 'FAT BLACK WOMAN' and said that I am perpetuating stereotypes by putting these overweight people on the show, as if there are no fat black women in America that are mothers. My mother and aunts are fat black women. And that upsets me to think that people, especially Black people, would say that I'm doing a disservice to America by putting them on T.V. Skinny does not make you beautiful....I won't apologize for putting these people in this show. I don't ever remember hearing any of this about ROSANNE."

Our normal comment on this to Perry would be that when "Roseanne" was one, there were a variety of other types of white female characters on the air--even within the show. But could it just be that offense must be in the eye of the beholder, after all. And it seems in this case, the "eyes" have it. Or is it that the average Joe (and Jane) is just so brainwashed that they don't even understand what they're viewing anymore?

YOU VOTE...The gods have spoken. Film critics, historians and experts have once again voted (for the second time in a decade) Orson Welles' Citizen Kane at the greatest American film in a poll conducted by the American Film Institute. The results were revealed in CBS's "100 Years, 100 Movies, 10th Anniversary Edition." This time The Godfather moved up a notch to second place, followed by Casablanca, which dropped one slot. D.W. Griffith's 1915 film Birth of a Nation, now widely viewed as racist, dropped off the list entirely. Unfortunately, only ONE Black film (by and/or featuring African Americans) made the cut--Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing (#96). So we took a quick poll of our A-List contributors and here are our top ten picks (not in any particular order): Killer of Sheep, Eve's Bayou, Daughters of The Dust, Shaft, Malcolm X, New Jack City, Black Orpheus, Raisin In The Sun, Boyz N The Hood, Brother From Another Planet.

Now you tell us: What Black film would you select for the greatest of all time? Send in your vote at

BILL COLLECTA...In the mood for some good Sci-Fi? Well, we just heard that Forest Whitaker is teaming up with Jude law in the futuristic adventure thriller Repossession Mambo for Universal Pictures. Miguel Sapochnik makes his feature directorial debut; Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner wrote the screenplay. The film centers on a repo man made of artificial organs who, after receiving a heart transplant, finds it hard to make payments and then must go on the lam from his ex-partner. Let's hope this is better than Battlefield Earth. In any case, Whitaker seems to be making good use of his Oscar chops; he's doing back to back films. He also star in the crime drama Night Watch.

WORK IT, GIRL...Remember when we told you about RuPaul's re-entry into the film world with his own Starrbooty ( and the controversy a short version of it caused on YouTube ( Well, as usual in America, controversy adds steam! The folks over at tell us to be on the look out for the film at various Pride film festivals, including ones in L.A., San Fran, and Philly. You know we'll be bringing you a review soon. Stay tuned.

HERE'S A CLUE...Love "Miss Marple"? Or secretly watch reruns of "Murder She Wrote"? Well, here comes the noir version of the female TV detective. Word is singer/sometime-actress Jill Scott will star in a new a TV series centered around The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels by Alexander McCall Smith, which in the UK have been called the Miss Marple of Botswana. Anthony Minghella will direct. Weinstein Co. is backing the venture. At press time, a spokesperson from the Weinstein company was not available for comment.
LET'S MAKE A DEAL...Here's another we told you so for The A-List! We warned you Radio One would be having a massive sell off-- Well, over the last few weeks they have selling radio stations all the while making what seem to be great deals. In fact, the media company just announced the sale of KTTB-FM in Minneapolis, MN for $28 million to Northern Lights Broadcasting, LLC. The transaction is expected to close during the second half of 2007. According to Radio One, this sale and the other recent deals will "help us re-align our strategic priorities, maximize returns and allocate capital in the most efficient manner." Rumor has it the company is looking to up the ante in the new media arena.

THREESOME FOR FOX...There's a sequel in store for Vivica A. Fox, but she's not just starring in this one. According to the Hollywood Reporter, she will also produce Three Can Play That Game, a sequel to her 2001 comedy Two Can Play That Game (which cost $6 million and took in $22.2 million at the box office). But here's the catch; you won't see this follow-up flick in theatres. Sony Pictures will release the feature as a straight-to-DVD title, though they haven't entirely ruled out a theatrical release as well. When Sony makes up it's mind, we'll let you know.

DVD ALERT...Speaking of DVDs. Here's one you might want to add to your collection. HBO's Life Support, starring Queen Latifah and about HIV/AIDS in the Black community, hits shelves on August 7. The DVD stars Latifah, writer/director Nelson George and cast members Gloria Rueben, Taylor Parks, Darrin Dewitt Henson, Anna Deavere Smith, Wendell Piece, Tracee Ellis Ross and Rachel Nicks. Life Support is executive produced by Jamie Foxx. Special DVD Features include audio commentary and an on-set Video Diary from writer/director George, an interview with Latifah, deleted footage, and an interview with Andrea Williams, the film's real-life inspiration. At press time, an exec from HBO Home Entertainment had not replied to our requests for comments.

SIRIUS SAGA CONTINUES...We're sure you read our riveting Open Letter to Sirius last week ( Well, here's an update on the XM-Sirius merger. The 150,000-member strong Second District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church has just added its support for the merger. “While African American music and culture have moved more into the mainstream in the last decade, our community still remains neglected by major media companies,” said the Right Reverend Adam J. Richardson, Jr., Bishop of the Second District of the AME Church in a press release. “Both XM Radio and Sirius have shown a true interest in providing a wealth of options to a large and diverse audience of Americans.” When it comes to getting a response from the involved parties to The A-List letter, we're still waiting for a callback. We still say, Black presence remains, for the most part, missing in talk radio on satellite networks. And how come when it comes to controversy, from Fox and the debates to other things, the African American market is always up for grabs with rumored monetary gratitude of thanks from supporters in the blink of an eye?

ENCORE PERFORMANCE...Some things never die. More than 10 years after its launch, arts-themed network Ovation TV has just returned to the ariwaves. It debuted--again--earlier this week revamped and ready to fill a void in arts coverage. Since A&E and Bravo has turned to reality TV for ratings, the brand new Ovation just might have a shot. And it is boasting that it's now the only network devoted to the arts and arts-related programming. Initially launched in 1996, it faded to black 2006 when it was traded between investor groups. Ovation is now owned by a team headed up by CEO Charles Segars and chairman Ken Solomon (also chairman/CEO of the Tennis Channel); they acquired the network from a group led by JPMorgan Chase. Among the new innovations: A multiplatform initiative that includes a tuned-up Web site and video-on-demand (VOD) offerings also is in the works; and Ovation has also launched on satellite via a deal with DirecTV giving a reach of about 15 million customers. So far we aren't seem much diversity in coverage, but we'll be on the lookout as they further develop their lineup.

SONG AND DANCE MAN...Call him Mr. TV--or a man with a great agent. Wayne Brady has a habit of reappearing on the tube. Now Fox has hired the "Whose Line Is It Anyway" star to host its new karaoke-themed game show "Don't Forget the Lyrics!," which will debut July 11. Up for grabs for contestant, $1 million for "singers" who can completely finish ten songs. With the revamped version of "Name that Tune" also on the boards, and of course, the return of "American Idol" as well as a string of copycat shows, music seems to rule the fall season. Let's hope a few of them can carry a tune--and that Brady will bring show us a bit more flava a la his hilarious appearance on "The Dave Chappelle Show" where he played a gun-toting, gangbanging, hustling Brady.

Q'S NEW GIG...Guess you can teach an old dog new trick--no offense. We hear Quincy Jones has just announced a joint venture with the Robert Thorne Co. to launch a lifestyle brand and digital media platform based on his six-decade career. The newly formed Quincy Jones Enterprises will also develop an array of merchandise--from professional and consumer audio to fashion apparel to men's health and grooming products, home furnishings and music education books. Whew. What else? Well, Q wants, according to reports, to also create new film and TV projects and has hired The Firm to help him. What interest us most is the new media initiative, which will begin with the launch of this fall. The site will offer access to Quincy's Vault, featuring unreleased outtakes of Jones' work with artists from Frank Sinatra to Michael Jackson; behind-the scenes photos of Jones at work; and the "Quincy's Academy" of music education and social networking. We're hoping it's not a seemingly vanity project like Qwest, long on staff, short on sales. But we'll hold our tongue until we see more. Wouldn't it be nice if these power lions started backing others (and not just themselves).

HER HONOR...Sometimes you have to take time to applaud good work. The A-List wants to say congrats to actress Jurnee Smollett (Eve's Bayou, "Cosby"). She will receive a Women At Risk's Angel Tribute Award during the 9th Annual Women At Risk Gospel Brunch Fundraiser next week. She'll be honored for her HIV/AIDS and community work. She's also on the Board of Directors of Artists for a New South Africa, a group dedicated to dealing with HIV/AIDS in Africa. Kudos.

DANCECARD FULL...Their cup runneth over at TV One. Their July lineup was too long to list here, but we thought we'd tell you about a few of the highlights: An all-new documentary special entitled “Backstage on the Blackstage” that goes inside the world of urban theater will debut; the network landed an executive interview with Barack Obama in which TV One commentator Roland Martin sits down with the presidential hopeful; an all-new musical special with multi-platinum R&B performer Keith Sweat entitled “The Sweat Hotel” taped in front of live sold-out audiences in Atlanta and Dallas; and an all-new episode of its original interview series “TV One on One,” featuring an interview with Don Cheadle. While the other networks ease up during the summer months, TV One is turning up the pressure. Let's see what they have in store for August.


OLD SCHOOL SESSION...Screenwriter/director Barry Michael Cooper (New Jack City, Above The Rim) emailed The A-List to tell us he's taking it back, way back with his latest project. Seems BMC has just completed a short film on the Hip-Hop legend Chief Rocker Busy Bee Starski. And he wanted to tell The A-List readers first. Here's a glimpse of Chief Rocker Busy Bee:The Architect MC Vol.1: According to BMC, the Chief Rocker has been busy--he's touring with KRS-1 and is on the cover of the 2nd volume of filmmaker/director Charley Ahern's (Wild Style) coffeetable Hip-Hop book Yes Yes Y'all coming out June 22. Rumor also has it, says BMC, that Mos Def is interested in playing the Chief Rocker in a Andre Harrell-produced film based on the old school atist's life. "I wanted to do a short on Busy Bee, because he is walking history: a griot and a channel to the origins of true Hip Hop," says Cooper. "It is going to be a series of short films, that will give insight into his brilliant and colorful mind, and he just has a really compelling story. To listen to him talk, you see a 30-year span of a cultural phenomenon. Busy Bee is the umbilical cord to Lil' Wayne."

A NEW KNIGHT?...Having recently been kicked out of his foreclosed house, it seems like former rap mogul Suge Knight is turning to reality TV for redemption and a paycheck. In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Knight says he's shopping a reality show that will follow his new life. No details on what exactly the show will entail or if there are any takers; but whoever it is they may want to take out a little extra insurance for the production crew.

IN DEMAND...DJ Vlad tells The A-List they are beefing up content on his two-year-old, Hip-Hop interview show, "DJ Vlad Presents," which airs on H2O Channel (formerly Def on Demand). "We're getting bigger artists on the show--Keisha Cole, Young Jeezy, Young Joc," says DJ Vlad. "And viewership has gone through the roof. We're up to 4 million viewers a month." A pretty impressive feat, considering the void of promotion DoD shows seem to get.

PUSH IT...With pioneer female rapper Pepa having made the reality show rounds with a few seasons of "The Surreal Life" we were wondering just when she'd get a show of her own. Well she has. Sort of. She will team up with her old partner, Salt, for another reality sahow, aptly entitled "The Salt 'N' Pepa Show" on VH1 in 2008, as many outlets reported this week. And heads butt as the group tries to reunite--afterall Salt is now born-again, and Pepa it seems still enjoys a good party.


According to Apple Inc., iPhone will be able to play YouTube videos when it ships next week in the United States. Some 10,000 YouTube videos will be available for the iPhone's launch; the remainder of YouTube's videos will be available by fall. This marks the second partnership for Apple and YouTube, as Apple also announced that Apple TV video-streaming set-top box is able to play YouTube videos.

In anticipation of National HIV Testing Day on June 27th, the Screen Actors Guild, the Black AIDS Institute, Artists for a New South Africa (ANSA), Palms Residential Care Facility and the Beverly Hills/Hollywood branch of the NAACP will host an HIV screening event and press conference at the national SAG headquarters featuring Black celebrities being tested for HIV in front of the cameras. Those who plan to attend and publicly take an HIV test at the press conference include: Jimmy Jean-Louis (“Heroes”), Regina King, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Hill Harper, Hosea Chanchez (“The Game”) , Henry Simmons , and Tatyana Ali. Author/journalist (and A-List correspondant) Gil Robertson will sign copies of his book Not in My Family: AIDS in the African-American Community.

The Black AIDS Mobilization is committed to ending the AIDS epidemic in Black America by 2012 by: cutting HIV rates in Black America by 50%; increasing the number of Black Americans who know their HIV status by 50%; increasing the number of Black Americans in appropriate early care/treatment by 50% ; and reducing HIV/AIDS stigma In Black America by 50%. Black Americans are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. Of the 1.3 million Americans living with HIV/AIDS, nearly 50% of them are Black. Black Americans represent more than 54% of the new HIV/AIDS cases in the United States. AIDS is the leading cause of death for African American women aged 24-34. A study by the CDC showed that 46% of Black gay men in America may already be HIV positive. Twenty-five percent of HIV positive people in the U.S. do not know they are infected.


ONE-ON-TWO: Kasi Lemmons And Don Cheadle Talk to The A-List

It's been a long time--in Hollywood terms--since Kasi Lemmons had a film in the theatres. Though she's done Dr. Hugo (1998) and The Caveman's Valentine (2001), the critically acclaimed Eve's Bayou was released in 1997. So when The A-List got word Lemmons--and the star of her new film, Don Cheadle--were going to be in New York City at the Regency Hotel to discuss the new film, Talk To Me, which hits July 13, we wanted to be there.

The film tells the story of Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene Jr., a radio deejay, television personality, and activist who was a vital force for two decades in the black community of Washington, D.C. Talk to Me’s story is by Michael Genet, with the screenplay by Michael Genet and Rick Famuyiwa. A Focus Features and Sidney Kimmel Entertainment presentation of a Mark Gordon Company/Pelagius Films production, Talk to Me is executive-produced by William Horberg, J. Miles Dale, Joey Rappa, Bruce Toll, and Cheadle.

Lemmons and Cheadle answer The A-List's questions.

The A-List: How would you describe your character?
Don Cheadle: I think he embodied the kind of spirit that you'd find refreshing today if people just spoke their mind, whether you agree with them or now. I think people often walk around smile in your face and you really don't know what's happening, especially in my town (L.A.). People don't say "no" to you; they just don't call you back. It's stuff like that. So I think "Petey" Green and characters like him, Miles Davis and other characters like him, just let you know straight off the bat, so you don't have to wonder where you stand. And that's refreshing.

AL: Why do you think "Petey" Green made him so out spoken?
DC: Because he came up rough and he came up through prison. He spent a lot of time in jail and the way he got through it a lot was with his mouth. He talked himself into and out of problems but that was his gift, he had a gift of gab.

AL: Is it important to do strong characters like "Petey" Green?
DC: No, not to me. I like to do "Petey" Green, I like to do characters like Mouse (Devil in a Blue Dress) who have no social value, or the friendly robber in Ocean 13. I don't have an agenda other than wanting to do films that are interesting and fun and something I haven't done before. It's great if they can address something that speakers to something greater than the film. That's not always the case, when it does it's a nice byproduct. I don't think that's mainly the point of movies. I think the point of film is to entertain.

AL: Like "Petey," people seem to be turning to you for answers to some of the social questions of the day. How do you respond to that?
DC: Look, I'm a student of this myself; I'm not an expert of what's happening in Darfur, I'm not an expert at activism...and I don't think there is a "the answer." I do believe that from the amount of noise we've been able to make because of the fortunate positions we been able to hold, myself, George Clooney that the activism has reached the levels it might not have reached if this type of light hadn't been shone on it. In that regards, I feel blessed to have any thing to do with anything that might be a solution.

AL: Do you think that there is the potential that Darfur could become yesterday's news without a solution?
DC: Yes...I think the challenge is to get other countries involved. One of the pressing issues right now and a place where we're trying to turn up the heat is the Olympics 2008 in Beijing China. China's relationship to The Sudan is such that they purchase 67% of their oil, which is a $4-billion industry to the Sudanese people. A lot of that money is going directly to underwriting this genocide. We want to focus on China's relationship to The Sudan and find ways to bring that issue to the light and press on them to do something...We want to make them aware of this situation and that they're aware that the activist community will be pressing them so that they understand that the status quo would amount to the Olympic five rings being seen with blood dripping from them.

AL: Did you learn anything about the activist power of musicians from doing Talk To Me?
DC: It was amazing that James Brown coming out to perform could stop riots. It's a power you don't really see musicians having today, but then again that seems because that spirit has been co-opted by the mechanisms of the recording industry. The lines between making a living and being famous have become blurred. It dilutes your power potentially, because when you're everybody's everything you're nobody's anything.

The A-List: What attracted you to this project?
Kasi Lemmons: A lot of things: The colorful character, "Petey," the idea of combining comedy, drama, friendship and activism in one story.

AL: How were you able to strike the balance with all the elements the character presented?
KL: I never looked at his colorful life as being a life story, but rather I was disciplined by the drama, which I focused on between the two main characters. I looked at it structurally and how I could impose structure on it and keep the focus on the drama between these two characters and them just let the other stuff around it happen and blossom.

AL: How did you choice the film's tone, because in the hands of the wrong person the characters could come off looking buffoonish?
KL: Well, after I read the script I knew I had to direct it; otherwise someone else would do it and get it wrong. When I really starting getting into the script I started thinking, "What if I you have dramatic actors being funny and comedians being serious," and you let move very easily from comedy to tragedy.

AL: Was the casting a natural or did you have to do a little searching?
KL: Yeah, some of it was searching. Don Cheadle was a natural. Martin Sheen's character (station owner E.G. Sonderling) was one I thought a lot about. That character had to be cool and conservative at the same time but believable. Cedric The Entertainer's character (radio DJ Nighthawk) had be a person that had to be recognizable by voice alone at first, and Cedric had the voice and the everything. Vernell (Taraji P. Henson) was difficult..but Taraji came in and she was just the character Vernell, unpredictable and right at the edge. The Dewey Hughes character is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, because of fate. Chiwetel was on my short-short list for the role and when the movie originally fell apart we needed to recast the role and he and Don read and I knew it was right.

AL: How much influence did you have on the music used in the movie?
KL: It's the great thing about being the director. I remember when it occurred to me that I could choice all the songs (laughter).

AL: Did you have problems getting clearance?
KL: Yes. Very expensive and very difficult. Also when we make a decision that we wanted a song, we stuck it out until we got it.

AL: What was the toughest and what was the easiest song to get cleared?
KL: The easiest was "I'm Black and I'm Proud" by James Brown and it was the one that opened the door. Then we could say to the record companies "Hey, we've got James Brown." The hardest was "If You Want Me To Stay," because Michael Jackson owns the catalog and it was hard to track him down.

AL: As a woman of color director would you say that things have gotten easier from when you started?
KL: No. I've been kind of anonymous in Hollywood. But there are some of us out there plugging away and doing multiple features. ---dan k. williams