Friday, September 19, 2008

Issue # 114

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OH THE DRAMA...In an unprecedented move, Oprah has announced that GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin is not invited on the "Oprah Winfrey Show"--at least not until after the election. It seems the Florida Federation of Republican Women is quite upset about this booking decision and have called for a boycott and issued a statement that said in part: "Women in Florida helped build Oprah into the icon she is today...We find it to be an abuse of her power-gained on the backs of our patronage of her advertising empire-to use her program to so blatantly support Obama in the face of this historic moment. So, we are tuning out and canceling our subscriptions to O Magazine and encourage other women to do the same." We'd like to know, is this the opportunity for dialogue regarding personalities who wield unusual sway and public pull via a media outlet to consider personal choices affecting their business?

MOVE OVER KING TUT...Could Will Smith be stepping up to yet another blockbuster? One complete with an African theme? Word has just leaked that Smith has signed on to star in the The Last Pharaoh. He'll play the role of Taharqa, a Nubian Egyptian Pharaoh who battled the Assyrians during his 26-year-reign. Written by Randall Wallace (Braveheart, The Man in the Iron Mask, and Pearl Harbor), Smith's production company Overbrook Entertainment will produce the Columbia Pictures project. It will be curious to see if Smith can turn this Nubian legend into a box office hero.

ALI COMEBACK... Smith's former "Fresh Prince" co-star Tatyana Ali is making moves of her own. Ali is launching a TV comeback--well, sort of. With the death of multicultural prime time TV shows, Ali is hitting the Web. She is co-executive producing a Web-based show called "Buppies." Described as a cross between a "Sex and The City" and "Entourage," judging from the trailer Ali must have employed a few soap opera writers. In the mix: jealousy, cat fights, hot fashion, brothers on the downlow, affairs. In other words: High drama. Created by indie writer/director Julian Breece, the series is set in L.A. and Malibu. Obviously the Web has fast become the place to launch new projects in hopes of getting network attention. Considering the power and reach of the Internet, if promoted properly, Ali could have a success on her hands.

WELCOMING SUNDANCE...It's spreading worldwide. The Sundance Institute, that is. The organization recently launched a program in East Africa, Sundance spokesperson Kris Parker tells us. "It is an exciting program, but still being shaped," says Parker. The aim of the program will be to assist East African filmmakers in not only creating their projects, but also helping them have a global reach. We'll keep you up to date on the developing program.

NEWS STRAIGHT, NO SPIN...If you're tired of biased news reporting and just want the facts, there's a new website application that claims it can snoop out the "spin." Launched on Sept. 8th, a beta version of SpinSpotter (accessible only through the Firefox browser) spots certain potential indicators of bias in news articles/websites. The application's algorithms work off six key tenets of spin and bias derived from both the guidelines of the Society of Professional Journalists' Code Of Ethics and input from an advisory board composed of journalists. In an age where news pundits are more common than true journalists, it becomes hard to separate opinion for fact and if SpinSpitter actually works, then maybe the reader read a factual story and form their own opinions.

BRINGING HOME THE BACON...Forbes recently compiled the Top 5 Earning Women in Prime Time TV, and Tyra Banks led the pack, pulling in $23 million last year. The dinero came from the two shows she hosts and produces: "The Tyra Banks Show" and "America's Next Top Model," along with a mega deal with Warner Bros, which will involve the 34-year-old ex-model launching "Stylista," yet another reality show. This one is centered around a fashion magazine. Then there's the straight-to-DVD series Banks is developing based on Clique, a popular series of best-selling books for teenagers. What surprised us however was that Eva Longoria came in fourth place. While the "Desperate Housewives" star doesn't take home a mega check like Banks and she hasn't going super branding, the Latina actress still pulled in a whopping $9 million last year, from a combination of the show and her endorsement deals with L'Oreal shampoo and Bebe Sport's athletic wear. Imagine what she might earn given a great global branding strategy that truly utilizes her diversity.
VIRTUAL VANITY PROJECT...Facebook has turned to screenwriter/producer Aaron "West Wing" Sorkin to write an untitled film project about the founders of the popular social networking site that Scott Rudin (No Country For Old Men, The Queen) will produce for Columbia Pictures. While this has no urban angle, other than the millions of people of color who use Facebook, we had to question the unusual project. A film about Facebook--Could a flick about BlackPlanet be far behind?

NUMBERS DON'T ADD UP ...No surprise here. Nielsen reports Blacks will again be largest ethnic segment of all TV households for 2008-2009. The number of African-American TV homes increased 300,000 to 13,950,000 in one year, an increase of 2.2%, or nearly twice the national growth rate. The number of Hispanic TV homes is estimated to increase 4.3% from 12,140,000 in 2008 to 12,660,000 in 2009. With all this viewing, Blacks should be getting their money's worth--more content geared toward them, increased opportunities in front of and behind the TV set. But if no one complains, it will be more of the same staid, generic TV shows.

LET'S GET BUSY...He's back..well temporarily. Arsenio Hall will host TV One's "THE BLACKLIST: 100 GREATEST POWER MOVES," a five-hour special chronicling cultural movements and personal achievement that have "advanced" the Black race on Nov. 13. Produced for TV One by Dark Matter Entertainment. With executive producers Jason Bolling and P.J. McSwain, "The Blacklist" will --as the promo info says--"encompass Power Moves from a wide cultural and historic perspective, from unwavering civil rights leaders to Nobel Prize-winning literary giants to independent-thinking film directors to a pop star who 'Beat It.'" Sounds like a worthy project, but we'd still like to see Hall back on late night where the time slot is void of any color.

QUICK TAKES...F. Gary Gray is attached to direct an adaptation of the Oni Press graphic novel Julius, a contemporary urban crime adaptation of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar"...IFC Films has acquired North American rights to the John Leguizamo-starring drama Where God Left His Shoes. Salvatore Stabile's film revolves around an ex-boxer (Leguizamo) and his wife (Leonor Varela) who are forced to move their family to a homeless shelter.

DO YOU REMEMBER?...Hey Hip Hop Headz? Remember the World Class Wreckin' Crew ("Turn Off The Lights," "Cabbage Patch" and "Dr. Dre to Surgery") out of the West Coast? Well, one of the founders Lonzo Williams, long recognized as the Godfather of West Coast Rap, is now unveiling his storehouse of flyers, photos, and original VHS footage in the Dub-Kris Media DVD release, Once Upon A Time In Compton. Chocked full of historical anecdotes, unforgettable vintage footage and throwback rap classics the DVD is also Lonzo's autobiographical account of himself as a determined young man overcoming the odds to succeed in the music business jungle. Who would have thought that we reached the point where there would actually be "vintage" hip hop footage?
NEW JACK MOVES...Move over Wesley Snipes. Lil Wayne has partnered with Streets Talk DVD to release a limited edition documentary entitled The Nino Brown Story. It's actually about Weezy's tumultuous professional and personal life on the road. But the title comes into play from Wayne's constant lyric references to the 1991 cult classic film New Jack City, The Nino Brown Story includes cameos by Kanye West, Jay-Z, Juelz Santana, Jae Millz, Freekey Zekey and Baby. New Jack City screenwriter Barry Michael Cooper says he's honored he inspired Wayne. "I always felt the film New Jack City would make an impact, because of the timing--during the Reagan/Crack era--and how it the movie addressed an epidemic that was beginning to unravel the country. Lil a child, witnessed crack's destruction first hand, so I am sure in some way this movie has a lot of meaning for him. He comes out of the Crack Generation, and he speaks to those kids who understand his new rap makes the timing of The Nino Brown Story a really great marketing move. Ironically, I am just putting the finishing touches on my novella The Diary Of Nino Brown: The Untold Story Of A Street Legend. And,I heard Warner Bros is trying to make a straight-to-DVD sequel. Well, if they were smart, they may want to holla at Lil Wayne. Because right now, he's Bob Marley of the Crack Generation."

Ruff Ryders Records which came to prominence in 1988 and whose roster included Eve, The Lox, DMX and Drag-On, has appointed Tariq Alexander as President of Ruff Ryder Film Division. Alexander, who is also the CEO of TSW Film Production, will help expand the Ruff Ryders brand into the film and TV industry by developing projects that depict real-life urban experiences. Alexander, a former actor and model, created "The System Within" (TSW) a production entity and entertainment community, that produces films and reality shows featuring top entertainers.


The Internet Movie Database, a subsidiary of, has just begun showing more than 6,000 feature films and television shows on its site for free. Col Needham, founder and managing director of, said in a statement, "We're excited to offer our users a simple online experience to watch full-length movies and TV episodes for free. Our goal is to show our users every movie and TV show on the Internet for free on"

Pop Critic and Journalist Elvis Mitchell Takes on the African American Experience

For journalist Elvis Mitchell, telling great stories is more than a passion, it's his way of life. He has spent years as one of America's premier film critics at leading newspapers like the Fort Worth Telegram and the Detroit Free Press, before landing in the top seat as the chief film critic for the New York Times.

Mitchell has now expanded his creative pursuits into other forms of media that includes radio, where he's the host of the KCRW's pop culture and film interview program "The Treatment," and television where "Elvis Mitchell: Under the Influence" airs on Turner Classic Movies. His latest project, "The Black List," made with director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders features such luminaries as Richard Parsons, Colin Powell, Toni Morrison and even former Guns and Roses front man Slash, discussing race and culture. The A-List .com recently met up with Mitchell to discuss his projects.

Explain your motivations for creating this show?
I'm a film critic, but first and foremost I'm a black audience member, and wanted "The Black List" to be the kind of thing I'd never seen before. I knew what I had seen in documentaries, and often documentaries on African Americans perpetuate the victim mentality, or suggest that black people can't get through the day without a social welfare infrastructure. I felt this film should be an answer to many of those archetypes, starting with the title, which is a way of reclaiming the negative, as much of African American culture has been. It's an unsentimental look at the pleasure African Americans take in their success, and telling their own stories about achieving their goals.

How did you go about the selection process for the subjects involved in the project?
Part of that process involved us trying to get the most eloquent and provocative people, in an attempt to break away from the kinds of expectations people might have about such a film. That's most specifically reflected in the choice of the opening subject -- he was chosen as a shot across the bow, and a way of making clear this was not the usual look at black people that viewers have been conditioned to watch. Given that the guiding philosophy behind the project was to offer a perspective on the African American experience in the 21st century, we tried to touch on as many disciplines and points of view as possible.

What statement do you seek to make by assembling such an interesting mix of personalities?
I always thought of the film in this way; if you walked into a party and saw all of the subjects, what do they have in common? They're African Americans -- to have that kind of diversity strike the viewers squarely between the eyes, and for them to note the things that the subjects have in common and the things that make each of them differ.

After your interviews for The Black List did you discover a core value or belief system that the subjects had in common?
They were all indomitable to me, and sometimes that fire was spoken as clearly as Susan Rice's saying that when she got mad she just worked harder and better. Or, on the other side politically, Colin Powell taking affirmative action dismissals in stride and saying that things had been imbalanced towards whites for years, and still working hard. An Olympian amount of discipline, and self-confidence in what they had to offer, as well as a sense of themselves in terms of the history of their fields of endeavor and what they had to contribute. Despite their talents, none took the effort needed to succeed lightly. And they all have healthy sense of humor about themselves, too.

What do you want audiences to get from this project?
I'd like to see "The Black List" function as a catalyst for further conversation, so that people understand that we ignore race as an issue at our peril. Bill T. Jones talks about fatigue over black rage, and I think there's been a similar kind of exhaustion over the fact that race is still a dividing line. Maybe the film will encourage healthy conversation about this topic, rather than wishing it away. Tell us about your other upcoming projects. With any luck, one of those upcoming projects will be continuing with The Black List and ensuring that it gets seen by as many kids in schools around the country as we can manage. The educational aspect of the project is something that has been a goal of the Freemind Ventures guys -- Mike Sloane, Scott Richman, Chris Mckee, Payne Brown -- from the outset. --Gil Robertson IV

As Spike Lee readies for the release of his latest film, The Miracle at St. Anna, famed screenwriter/producer Barry Michael Cooper refelcts on Lee and the histroical times that inspire him.
WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE, Part 1: Spike Lee's Sonogram Of An American Stillbirth
by Barry Michael Cooper

Both Truman Capote and Saint Teresa of Avila made copious notes on the tearful taxes that come with the cosmic payoff of answered prayers. I don't know if the Rt. Rev. James Dobson and his Pharisees-On-The-Family minion Stuart Shepard are aware of the havoc they might have caused by asking their flock to pray for rain in order to sabotage a certain political convention.

Their prayers were answered. Only thing, that "Abundant rain, torrential rain, urban and small stream flood advisory rain" in Shepard's venomous supplication during his "Spotlight" broadcast, pounded the Gulf Coast instead. Not Denver. The powerful eyewall of rain and wind that fell in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Plaquemines Parish, also set its sights on St. Paul, Minnesota, resulting in Hurricane Gustav's collateral disruption of the Republican National Convention's opening ceremonies.

Thus far, Gustav has not been as destructive as his older sister Katrina, but the damage has been done, literally and figuratively. Many who were scheduled to speak at the Xcel Energy Center--including President Bush and Vice President Cheney --have decided to focus on the relief efforts in the hurricane's aftermath. Quoting a story reported in the Sunday New York Times by Patrick Healy and Adam Nagourney:"With the storm expected to hit the Gulf Coast on Monday, Mr. McCain and his team spoke by phone on Sunday morning and, one participant said, quickly decided that there was no choice but to cancel much of the first day of the convention. McCain advisers said the programming for the rest of the four-day convention would be determined on a day-to-day basis, and many questions remained open, such as whether Mr. McCain, of Arizona, and his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, would appear here to accept their party’s nominations, or would appear by video from the Gulf Coast."Wow. Memo to Dobson and Shepard:Wrong prayer. Wrong day. Right (wing) convention....TO READ MORE, CLICK HERE
(Also check out Cooper's interview with Lee in the September 2008 issue of Interview Magazine)

Mariah Carey, Oprah, Angela Bassett, Vanessa Williams all wearin' handbags designed by Siedah Garrett (, who in her other life is a Grammy Award winning songwriter/musician.