Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Ain't Nobody Coming to See Mr. Biggs

Easter Sunday night we were treated to one of the best Verzuz battles to date, and I am saying that although I know that there are a few that I intentionally skipped (which many of you declared to be the best to date). But I am going to declare and decree that the showdown between the Isley Brothers and Earth, Wind, and Fire was definitely, without question, not up for discussion or debate, THEE G.O.A.T!

And I am saying that in spite of Steve Harvey doing the extra most in trying to act like this really was a reunion of his silly little High Tops from his eponymous sitcom. If someone hadn't told him to set down to let the professionals handle their business, he was this close to singing a verse of Break Me Off A Piece, because that is just how lit he was in the midst of all that collective greatness on stage.

Not that I blame him. That match up was legendary, even though both groups are down to the remaining few still living. The spirit of Maurice White and several long gone Isleys blessed us with the kind of show that we will still be talking about years from now. We will remember that it was the second Easter Sunday we spent on lockdown (well, some of us), and how we initially wondered if this really was a fair match-up or was it just our nostalgia. What I thought would be a nice diversion to help calm some of my anxieties for the big week ahead turned out to be the music event of the year. Nevermind that some of us needed to be on our computers early Monday morning for work. Or that for those of us on the East Coast, that joint kept us up well past our bedtime. We're not as young as we think we are, especially if you could sing along to most of the songs.

So it pains me to offer this ginormous BUT in contradiction to my earlier declaration. That joint was fire, BUT the appearance of Mr. Biggs nearly ruined it for me. 

Yeah, I said it. Perhaps it was the reminder of what can happen if a family gathering lasts a little too long. Somebody had a little too much brown liquor, said a little too much by bringing up some ancient sore point of contention that causes cards getting thrown, insults being hurled, names getting called, and threats being made. The party then comes to an abrupt end, with one set of folks cussing and fussing on the way to their cars, while the other folks are still in the house waiting for them mofos to leave. Later  when your Mama is emptying ashtrays, and picking up cards and broken glass, she mutters that damn Mr. Biggs is why we can't have nice things.

Uncle Ron. He's the one with four ex-wives, an untold number of children, and who still drives a Cadillac. He's the one who brings the Hennessy and his own deck of cards. Attached to every song is a memory of some woman in some city, and we enjoy hearing it all, even if half of what he says is suspect. He is that dude who has genuinely lived 9 whole lives, so he has seen it all. His alter ego is Mr. Biggs, that mofo who owes your Daddy $4000 for some trouble he got into a few years ago, but your Dad won't ask for his money because Biggs has repaid him in other intangible ways. He often shows up unannounced and uninvited because of the shit he started the last time y'all all got together.

To be clear, the rest of your uncles are also colorful characters. Uncle Verdine comes with much drama and flamboyance, but will cut anybody who says something about it. Uncle Phil can't hit those high notes like he used to and he knows it, but let him clear his throat and try anyway. Uncle Ralph the righteous church deacon, is always on time and always mediating disputes. Uncle Ernie, the baby Isley, is a creative genius who will definitely shoot if someone pisses him off. Uncle Steve isn't really your uncle, but you call him that out of respect. Cousin Derrick (D-Nice) is allowed to hang with them as long as he don't try to get cute and play that hippy hop that Uncle Steve don't like. Your other cousins are there too, Kasseam (Swizz Beatz) and Timbaland, because they organized the entire event and posted it on Instagram.

There is always love for Uncle Ron. In spite of his shenanigans, he is Da Man. He didn't come to play as evidenced by that costume change that the other Uncles were not expecting. That's why Uncle Phil looked salty and was furiously texting his people, why didn't anybody tell me? I got closets full of dashikis I can still wear, dammit! Uncle Ralph was unphased, and Uncle Verdine doesn't do costume changes. Meanwhile, Uncle Ron was just grinning and thinking, y'all thought I was doing the most with that coat...

Here is my issue with Mr. Biggs--he is Stripe, the Gremlin that unleashed havoc on the world because somebody fed him after midnight. Mr. Biggs was the creation of one Robert Kelly, the creepy disgraced cousin that we cannot re-invite to the family functions because he ain't right. Mr. Biggs is abusive, controlling, and a misogynist (go on back an revisit those old videos). He is a pimp, and in 2021, nothing is sadder than a mean, delusional dirty old man.

This isn't about respectability, but it is about respect for women as people and not accessories or possessions. The women who were cooing over Uncle Ron's 79 year old ass and fantasizing about him crooning those classic Isley Brother love songs directly to them. The women who would have brought him a plate, refreshed his drinks without being asked, and who would have made sure he got home safely. The women that take care of his business, his children, and grandchildren. The women, like Mama, who clean up after his shit. Those women do not deserve that Mr. Biggs machismo. Those women would not be caught creeping like those young girls he had no business messing with anyway. And those young girls kept stepping out because Mr. Biggs was an old fool too full of himself to make better choices.

So as iconic as Mr. Biggs thought he was, that isn't how Ronald Isley deserves to be remembered. As Uncle Verdine said, a true match-up of back and forth battling could take up to ten hours, given that there are 110+ years of combined material between them. The Isleys are bona fide music icons, so this notion that R. Kelly reintroduced them to a new generation of fans is over-stated. I would argue that the Isley collaboration worked more to Kelly's benefit. Our Boomer parents raised us on the Quiet Storm and Saturday morning oldies, where the Isleys remain in steady rotation. And then we turned around and heavily sampled their music in 90s era hip hop, which our younger Millennial cousins heard on a regular basis. So when Uncle Ron said that he was singing baby-making music, he was...but them babies is grown with grandkids now. 

And there shall be no sleeping on the Elements, who pretty much created their own musical lane that is beyond what anybody else can ever attain. Their music transcends category. They branched out and did all kinds of different things over the years, but they were always grounded (Earth), spiritual (Wind), and passionate (Fire). We all have some great moment of joy connected to an EWF song. As Uncle Steve reminded us, every HBCU band has In the Stone in their repertoire. Three dudes carry on the legacy of the musical genius that was Maurice White, whom they respect so much that unlike other groups that replace the members that die or quit, they are content to perform as backup in his memory. That is a different kind of devotion right there.

When these Verzuz duels began last year, it was a novel concept to pit two producers or artists/groups against each other as entertainment during this never-ending pandemic lockdown. Radio deejays have been doing these virtual match-ups for years, but it was something new to have the artists themselves on hand to select the songs for battle. It was great to hear their stories and to see their interactions, which have been mutual love and respect. The backdrop of the pandemic has been a necessary, yet bittersweet reminder that we may never get to see some of these legends live in concert again. This has been an entire year of our lives and theirs, with no guarantees of what the future holds. Who would have thought that Mary Wilson of the Supremes would suddenly be gone, or that Tina Turner would feel the need to offer such an emotional farewell documentary? So while Teddy Riley was absolutely doing the most last year during his first attempt at battling Babyface, in hindsight, we now know how vital these opportunities have been for all of us.

For instance when Gladys Knight and Patti Labelle were teamed up last fall, all of our jokes about which Auntie makes the best mac and cheese or potato salad missed the point. They FED us, and then brought Dionne Warwick out with her special lemon cake that nobody can make like hers. Do you hear me--that wasn't even some exclusive awards show with tributes and highlights, just a regular Sunday dinner table full of blessings set with love...for free! Ron and Ernie Isley said we fittin to wear these new Easter suits, and no, I'm not shaving (smart move, seeing how y'all been sizing him up). Uncle Phil didn't say a word for two weeks because he was saving his voice. Uncle Verdine got his touch-up done early on Easter Saturday, got it expertly wrapped, and then spent the rest of the day deciding on the accessories to wear with his ensemble. Steve Harvey got so hungover he won't be back on the air until Wednesday...

Oh yeah, my point was to reassure Uncle Ron that we love him. Please let that Mr. Biggs nonsense go because everything else you did was already on the level of legendary. The Beatles remade your song. We remember how you had to let Michael Bolton's stringy hair ass know not to steal from them Isley Brothers. Creepy Cousin Robert is not welcome around here no more, so let him use that shtick in jail. Ain't nobody coming to see Mr. Biggs!

We're coming to see good, feed-your-soul music. We're coming to see the kind of dream show that we would gladly have paid good government stimulus money on because that was epic! It was beautiful to see the Elements sing with the Isleys as if this was one of those family reunions where both sides of the family finally came together to celebrate after so many years. The only thing that would have made that battle more perfect would have been a special appearance by a couple of Aunties, such as Deniece Williams or the remaining Emotions (just dreaming out load). Nah, I'm good with what we got, which was damn near perfect.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

The Old Town Road to Hell

Look, I am not going to take up too much of your time, but can we settle this Lil Nas X thing real quick so that I can go back to Busy Black Momming (planning the Kid's 6th Birthday Party)? Because Old Town Road is staying on the party playlist...

I saw Montero. I wrote a Facebook post about Montero which I subsequently edited to clarify that while I was definitely clutching my pearls (like any respectable Busy Black Church Lady would), I was not condemning him for making Montero. Because I got the message, especially as a life-long hat-wearing Busy Black Church Lady who grew up recognizing the hypocrisy of inconsistent and morally selective Christian doctrine. Therefore, I won't take up too much of your time by providing my laundry list of examples. And before you point out how it might be ironic that I am now in that minority of regular church-going Believers, I assure you that is because I have lived long enough to understand why the old folks admonished us to get to know Jesus for ourselves. As such, I have determined that my friend Jesus probably would not approve of Call Me By My Name, but as someone who overturned tables and cursed folks out in the Temple...He ain't casting stones.

When I watched Lil Nas X slide that fireman's/stripper pole down yonder, my eyes popped out for a moment. When the serpent licked his crotch in the Garden, my hand went over my mouth as I audibly gasped. When I read that he also released a pair of limited edition sneakers with a drop of blood in the sole, I laughed out loud because even satanic same gender loving sex sells!

Yes, it was provocative, but that was exactly the point. He posted a bunch of explanatory tweets and allegedly apologized, but then he also promised his followers a 12-pack pair of Hanes socks if his song went to number one, so who knows when he's being sincere or when he's trolling? Because let's be honest, he is popular, so he's just doing what every other marginally talented performer in the past has done, which is ride this gimmick until he can't no more.

Folks are actually out here on Blue Ivy's internet complaining about the bad example he's setting for their children. Ummm, he ain't nobody's Daddy (as far as we know). We've done this before with other artists who have made the transition from the Mickey Mouse Club to hot young thang. The easiest examples to cite are Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus, and yes, y'all lost your minds over their embrace of their sexuality too, but you got over it. When New Edition broke up and there was Bell Biv Devoe singing Do Me Baby on one side and Bobby Brown Humping Around on the other, we just kept on dancing. Brandy sang about how she Wanna Be Down and Usher released an entire album of Confessions admitting to his f*ck boi tendencies. Back in my day, Madonna burst onto the scene singing Like A Virgin and there were a lot of comparisons to Cyndi Lauper who just wanted to have fun (without specifying what fun really was in the middle of the night). Michael Jackson was hanging out at Studio 54 and singing about a groupie named Billie Jean whom he denied impregnating. Are we forgetting this?

The only difference I see is that Lil Nas X is gay, but I don't recall he was ever in the closet, so his orientation has never been a secret. It isn't like Elton John where folks had the nerve to be full blown shocked despite numerous hints and clues over the years. Lil Nas just saved you the trouble of speculation, except for the meaning of Panini, which I might be taking too literally. This is just his version of Control. A typical coming-of-age Miley astride a wrecking ball naked or Britney dancing with a snake level stunt. He's legal and twerking a CGI version of himself as the devil. Shrug.

No, it doesn't offend me that he used to perform for kids, even appearing on Sesame Street. So did Lin-Manuel Miranda before he did Hamilton (and none of these kids listen to the clean version of that soundtrack or the mix-tape). A bunch of artists have gone on Sesame Street and adapted their songs for that audience, and when they returned to their adult fan base and switched things back, y'all knew how to apply the appropriate parental filters. How is this different?

Isn't this why Tipper Gore advocated for warning labels on music before her not really ex-husband invented the internet? So that you would listen/watch before exposing your children to possibly objectionable content. If it is a hit dance song, there is probably is a clean version via Kidz Bop, Just Dance, or Radio Disney or you can just avoid it altogether. That is one of your fundamental, inalienable rights as a parent. To pre-view and decide that Katy Perry running around after Elmo in a low-cut skating outfit is too much, while Nick Jonas serenading polygon shapes seductively is perfectly fine.

You get to make those decisions. Remember how you used to watch soap operas with Grandma and she would send you to another room during a sex scene? Or when your Dad ignored the film rating because he thought that a movie with Richard Pryor and a bunch of kids would be okay? Or how you got into trouble because you called that 976 number you saw posted on a telephone pole and got an earful (and didn't know that it cost money per minute, so you got in trouble twice)? Well, you are the parent now. This is part of your job, and with all of these tools that our parents did not have access to, I am confused why y'all seem so unprepared and inept at this.

And do not make the excuse that things are much worse now than they were when we were kids. They aren't. We saw plenty of inappropriate, homoerotic stuff that in hindsight went way over our heads like pro-wrestling or an episode of He-Man. You are worried about near-apocalyptic imagery but never raised an eyebrow when the bad guys had their faces melted off in Raiders of the Lost Ark. At least now you have social media to warn you in advance of what you might otherwise have inadvertently seen or heard.

Please tell me you aren't more horrified by a stylized three minute music video fantasy than the actual real-life horror of watching a 9 minute video of a man being killed on camera. 

That's all I need to say. Even if I did miss the real meaning of Old Time Road, it is actually comical to me that people are this upset (because the Kidz Bop version is much worse). Your grandparents were tripping on acid when they first heard Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds or really blazed when listening to Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin (yep, that's the real title). Y'all expected Lil Nas X, the neon rhinestone S&M cowboy to be ambiguous and safe like Sam Smith. In the year 2021, what in the RuPaul's Drag Race kind of foolishness is that?

PS: Y'all know how to Google, so that's why I'm not linking to Montero.

Monday, March 15, 2021

What A Difference a Day Makes

This is an adaptation of a reflection I offered recently (February 27) on the daily prayer call that I coordinate. I am generally not in the habit of contributing my own voice to this particular endeavor because I am not very comfortable as a contemporaneous speaker. However, this past year has been one of stepping outside of my self-contained comfort zone. What I have posted here are the notes from my speaking outline, what I actually said on the call, and a little more to fill in the spaces. Because I got positive feedback, I wanted to share it for posterity.

What A Difference A Day Makes is a song by jazz/blues singer Dinah Washington, which she recorded in 1959. She also won a Grammy for the song, and it inspired this reflection as I was thinking about the events that were taking place this time a year ago.

You see, a year ago when this prayer call was still only on Mondays, it was just around this time that our service changed and we got a new call-in number. For those who had been calling into the prayer call prior to last February know that we had been dialing in to a different number, one that I had made available for use when this prayer line was established back in 2014. And that number came with a free conference call service that I had signed up for back in 2010, when I had no idea that we could do anything other than call in--no ability mute lines, or anything like that. Thus, when I learned that the number would be changing, I did not know that meant an upgrade to the service. That was functionality I would discover later.

But a year ago when our number changed, I was in Florida on Winter Break with my family. A week later, we would travel to New York City for my niece's baby shower, and while we were there, we knew about the coronavirus but had no idea how bad it could be. At the time, we were told that this virus would be contained because of a travel ban, and that any isolated cases would be minimal. Sitting at the table with my in-laws, we assumed that all would be well, even though there was already an outbreak of cases on the West Coast.

Literally, within a week, New York City went on lock-down. And then a week later, so would the DC area. The Sunday of our first week of quarantine, Rev. TB suggested that our Monday prayer call should become a daily call to last for the duration of the quarantine. And I agreed, because at the time, my beleif was that this was to be a temporary situation. Maybe for a month.

At that point, what a difference a couple of weeks had made. A month before the pandemic, my biggest worry was how the city was going to dispose of a deer that had died in my backyard. In a month, my biggest worry was whether I could protect my family from a virus that no one knew much about.

Over the course of the days that became weeks and then months, our daily prayer call continued on and it began to grow. At a certain point, it became necessary to figure out how to better manage the call or perhaps upgrade to a paid service in order gain more control of the technical aspects of the call. That was how I learned about the moderator controls, and how I came to provide an opening greeting every morning a few minutes before the start of the call. I learned that I could manage the call from my computer and how to selectively mute and un-mute callers on the line. During a re-organizing session with Rev. TB, we outlined a schedule and some new procedures, and he suggested that I could offer reflections if I felt so inclined. And I was pretty clear then that I did not feel so inclined--I was happy to remain behind the scenes on the technical side of things.

When I reflect on the words of our theme song for today, the lyrics refer to the change that can occur overnight. Based on something that is said or an action, our emotions can go from one extreme to the other. The song is about love and relationships, but in a day, we know that any and everything are bound to change.

I think specifically back to November and the roller coaster of emotions I experienced Election Week. I went from hope to despair and back to hope in a span of days. Then we went through the same process in January, from hope to horror and then back to hope. When we look back over this past year, this cycle has repeated itself multiple times.

How have you changed for the better during this pandemic? What difference have these days, weeks, and months made in your life? Do you pray more? How are you engaged in fellowship with others? Have you found new and innovative ways to express your creativity? How have you improved? What do you need to change moving forward?

In response to those questions, I thought I would offer an example from my own life. Having the courage to offer a reflection on this prayer call has been a major change. As I mentioned, Rev. TB suggested that I should feel free to offer an occasional reflection, and as Mother P is my witness, I said no thank you. And for months, I was content to stay in my lane, which was behind the scenes. But God tends to have other ideas about what we are capable of, so one day last summer at the last minute, Rev. TB couldn't make the call and I thought it was too late to ask Mother P to prepare a reflection for the next morning. So, I found my voice. I recall how it all unfolded because it was a mixture of confidence (how hard can this be) and terror (who do I think I am). I sat outside in my backyard with my notes and spoke about the seeds that I had planted in containers. A few weeks later, I gave another reflection for Rev. TB's birthday. And here I am today, under similar circumstances--stepping out of my comfort zone, finding my voice.

During this pandemic, are there friends or family that you haven't spoken to in years? Have you thought about them, have you reached out? Have you been willing to forgive some ancient wrong or sought forgiveness for some hurt you may have caused someone else?

Through this pandemic God has been telling us that we have time. We have learned that we have lots of time, but also not nearly enough. We have time to repair old relationships. We have time to learn new skills. We have time for prayer and worship. We have time to grow in grace. But we were not given this time to squander or waste.

What a difference a day makes.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Shot Heard 'Round the World

On the Sunday morning before the great Harry and Meghan interview, one of my Facebook friends posted that if one is going to take aim at the Crown, they better not miss. On the morning after, my response was:

Once again proving that America was right to disentangle itself from that Empire of inbreds and soggy tea bags.

As every Black man on social media shook his head and reminded us that we (Black women) should have known better than to have thought that the British Royals had evolved, I just want to remind them that we have also been telling everybody to listen to Black women, because as confirmed by Prince Harry, it saved his life.

Now, this won't be a finger wagging versus pearl clutching piece, because all of that was done in the moment. What Harry and Meghan did was remarkable, not for what they said, but that they actually said what they said. It was astonishing that they were willing to take aim at the Establishment, considering that it has likely led to permanent exile. And they seem fine with that, which is exactly the same energy we got from Princess Diana years ago when she gave her tell-all eff you interview that similarly revealed the dingy lace doilies under the Windsor tea sets. 

I won't re-state too much of what has already been said because the so-called Royal watchers and gossip columnists who make their living as the 'anonymous palace sources confirm' on any given topic have already done that. Some of them even started in on Meghan and Harry days before the Oprah delivered the goods. And even though we knew that the royal media reaction from the usual suspects was going to be anti-Meghan, who knew it would be so personal Piers Morgan and Megyn Santa-is-white-and-Jesus-too Kelly

There were bombs bursting in air aplenty, but there was also a lot that was unsaid. I want to know why Harry felt it was no big deal to drop that bomb about his Dad not taking his calls, but shut down and refused to discuss his brother. I want to know why Kate Middleton made Meghan cry the week of her wedding over flower girl dresses. I want to know how many pieces of silver the Thomas Markle branch of the family tree was paid to feed these destructive narratives to the British tabloid press about our American Duchess. I want to know which bitch in the House of Windsor had the audacity to question how the world was going to respond to my ginger brown nephew and forthcoming niece. 

(Yeah, Harry has now officially been adopted by the Diaspora, so Auntie YaYa is ready to throw hands.)

I know that we aren't British subjects and that most of you woke folks don't care. And that's your preference, even though y'all care a whole lot about Beyonce and her overpriced Ivy Park underwear. You can judge me or judge yo mamma.

Let's start with the Windsor family drama of son versus father (future King) versus brother (future future King). Prince Harry, who has known all of his life that he would never ascend to the throne, assumed it was his job was to make the others look good for their future roles. So he and his bride got to work, attending fancy dress parties and watching the soldiers march back and forth. Then the Queen sent them abroad to Australia, where even the kangaroos and the dingoes were charmed by them, so methinks somebody got all jeally. Suddenly Meghan is a baby-bump rubbing bitch who is draining the world of its water to supply her avocado toast cravings. And poor Katie M's feelings were hurt over some flower girl dresses worn at a wedding that wasn't hers to micromanage. Someone had herself a little Bridezilla moment...how dare she?

Mind you, none of those little darlings came from the bride's family. Not her little cousin Imani or her nephew Freddie because they couldn't make the multiple trips overseas for the fittings. In fact, the only member of Meg's family to attend the wedding was her Mama because her Daddy acted up and got himself disinvited. Imagine how that conversation went down, so yeah, Katie, I'm the bride. Because if my Aunt Ruthie was here...oh yeah, that's right, I can't even invite my own family to my own damn wedding. She and the rest of my Cali folks have to wake up at 3am to watch it on TV. Woosah!

And as Meg stormed off to dry her face, a confused Katie M wonders aloud: whatever was that about and what is a woosah? I think she insulted me. Who does she think she is? I am the future future Queen!

We know the deal. Make a white woman cry and everybody has a handkerchief.

Sometime during that transition between trimesters when all hell breaks loose because of hormones, and Meg is trapped in the house with nowhere to go because they have her car keys, her driver's license, her credit cards, and her passport, she questions her existence. She looks in the mirror and sees that belly, the changes in her appearance, and endures all of the various ailments that accompany pregnancy in the midst of strangers. Then she looks at the news and sees the unflattering pictures and divisive headlines, and she wonders how did I get here. So she senses that she's on the edge and asks for help, but some bitter lemon with too many hairpins in her chignon reminds her for the umpteenth time that you, actress Meghan Markle, are lucky to even be here. A million girls would kill to live in this palace. And after hearing that sentiment spat at her for the umpteenth time, Meghan snaps at a member of the household staff for not doing something the way she had asked for it to be done, always nicely, but persistently for months.

The rattled staff member huddles with the others after hours to gossip about the Duchess and her moodiness of late. They joke that she's eating a lot more ice cream and how she looks heavier than Katie M did when she was at the same point in her previous pregnancies. That's the Black half of her asserting itself, it's in the genes. And they all snicker, but in that space after the laughter stops, someone asks does that mean the baby will have big lips or a broad nose? Unbeknownst to the gathering, Harry has come home and overhears part of the conversation. Three staffers are dismissed.

Later at some informal event attended by the future King and the future future King and other assorted royals, Harry mentions that he let some of the household staff go for making insensitive remarks about Meghan and the baby. An awkward silence follows, broken by the query that later becomes his great awakening...well, have you thought about what the baby will look like, how dark will it be? Harry's eyes narrow, and he abruptly but politely excuses himself to go home. 

Meghan is sitting in the dark in their bedroom, alone and crying. One of the Markles is on television again. Earlier in the day, Mrs. Bitter Lemon Curd let it slip that their child probably won't get an official title, because what is the precedent for such a thing? And once again, Harry hears another dehumanizing reference to his unborn child. When Meg tells him that three staffers quit and Mrs. Lemon Curd suggested that it was starting to reflect poorly that she couldn't get along with the household staff, Harry reassures her that he will handle it (hence another reassignment the next morning). In the middle of the night as he tosses over the references made to his unborn child as an 'it' and 'such a thing', he finds his wife sobbing in the bathroom. And in the jumbled way that the pregnant mind expresses itself, she asks, am I that terrible for wanting this task done as I had asked for it to be done so many times? Was it a breach of protocol to make such a fuss? Do you see how they talk about you in the press? Maybe you would be better off without me. 

And two days later, after the picture of Meg in the blue sequinned dress is published, he informs her of his plans for their escape.

After thinking through what it must have been like for them in that fishbowl, I am amazed that they lasted as long as they did. The most common refrain I've read: she should have known what she was getting herself into. As if. Among those who are reading this and are/were married, did you know? Did you walk down that aisle into the happily ever after you dreamed it would be, or did you wake up to bills, kids, in-laws, illnesses, and other assorted drama? What should she have known--that after the grand spectacle of a wedding and the eyes of the world upon them, the press would decide that they could sell more papers by pitting her against her sister-in-law? The sainted Katie M, who already had the advantage of having been William's college sweetheart and mother of the future future future King? Meghan just wanted to enjoy her fairy tale and Harry thought he knew his family.

Having just watched and written about Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, the Windsors have proven to be the real life Drayton family. They were welcoming of Meghan in the beginning, because what other choice did they have? Who was going to tell Harry otherwise as we were all taken in by the whirlwind of excitement (I certainly was). And even when there were less careful and thoughtless faux pas, like when that cousin showed up for brunch wearing that tacky Blackamoor brooch, we turned the other cheek and assumed she was an outlier. But no, that's still Meghan who is the raisin in their milk. 

Turns out, there is a precedent for granting official titles to divorcees who marry into the Queen's extended family. Meghan married into the immediate family in the direct line of succession but is not a princess for whatever archaic reason, and we're supposed to believe that the Queen doesn't have the authority to waive protocol. Regardless of their personal affection for each other, in my mind Meghan was right to feel some kind of way about being expected to work on the level of a senior royal without any of the perks (other than a closet full of designer clothes).

So let's go through the checklist of disappointments and microaggressions: the Firm's golden padlock on their gilded cage; unfair comparisons to Katie M in the press; untrustworthy and disloyal household staff; the betrayals and bullshit from her own father; and the wounded ego of some dude who bought her drinks five years ago.

If your reaction to all of that is to shrug and dismiss her as some spoiled rich chick with royal problems, Auntie's got something to say about that as well. We care about all kinds of business that isn't ours, but when it comes to a Black woman in distress, suddenly the world is all cried out. All of this emotional bandwidth for the Queen and Katie M--also two rich chicks with royal problems, but hint that the difference in responses might have something to do with race, then we're being unfair. Y'all get madder at the implication than the facts. We are talking about a family that symbolizes a global colonial empire. She's not the only commoner in the ranks, nor is she the first American. But...

I won't say it, but ask why everyone is so polarized. Ask why her choices become full-blown scandals that would otherwise be written off if she were someone else. Even her jewelry is controversial despite the fact that half the Crown jewels were mined from former colonies of the Empire in Africa and Asia. Shall we talk about where they get their tea and sugar too? But go on and tell us how Markle is just a pampered princess; nevermind that y'all still wouldn't have any more sympathy for a poor Black woman. You would berate her for her bad choices. You would tell a middle class Black woman who spoke up about her mental health issues during her pregnancy to go home, light a candle, and meditate--and then possibly watch her die in childbirth. You complain about the tax dollars being wasted on public housing, Head Start, and food stamps for people who work for minimum wages. But corporate welfare and propping up an archaic monarchy aren't proof of any kind of implicit bias.

Your lack of empathy for Black women, regardless of class isn't a revelation to us. But Harry's love is. 

And the shot heard 'round the world is that Diana's baby boy is a better man and a real Prince, with or without the formal titles. I read Her Majesty's statement. Protect your Crown madam, while your grandson protects his wife and children. And don't trouble yourself to investigate who said what, because the allegations alone are an indictment of the institution, rather than individual actors. That you would make this statement now, but said nothing until now is the point.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Coming Back to America

So where do I start: I've watched Coming 2 America and just in time for Women's History Month, I get to review an Eddie Murphy movie for its inadvertent attempt at a...feminist message??? 

Yes, that's what I wrote, and in my intentional attempt not to spoil it anymore than Black Twitter already has, there were a lot of takeaways from this film, beginning with the realization that a lot has changed in 30+ years. And a good deal of that is reflected in this sequel, the result of which is not necessarily the movie we thought it might be, but then again what should we have expected thirty years later? We should have learned our lesson after what happened with The Best Man Holiday. However, Black actors need the work, and that pile of dirty laundry won't sort, wash, or fold itself. This will definitely get you through two loads.

I haven't had a chance to read all of the ancillary articles that have been written about who didn't return to Zamunda and why, but I have my list of folks whom I felt should have at least been offered a cameo. Let's start with Lisa's sister Patrice, played by Allison Dean in the original movie. Somehow, I feel as if a very humorous side story could have been built around her presence, at the very least, she should have been running the Queens location of McDowell's. And what about the landlord, portrayed by Frankie Faison? Because if y'all went and scraped the barrel to find the rapping twins from the nightclub and somehow justified keeping the barber shop quartet alive all of these years...

Yeah, there were a lot of random cameos. And I will just leave it at that.

This entire effort was random. Because the plot is thin and clearly influenced by The Lion King. And Princess and the Frog. With nods to Black Panther, Cinderella (with Brandy), Star Wars, and The Princess Diaries. So I will just come out and say that this was a Disney movie with curse words, or one of those awkward SNL skits that lasts way too long so by the time the joke lands, you're just watching to see if it is funny.

So let me get to the women's empowerment message, which is an acknowledgement that Eddie Murphy has really grown up (somewhat though, because he still loves fart jokes.) The gratuitous sexism from the original film is toned down, somewhat. Although the plot centers on the discovery of a male heir to the throne of Zamunda, it never makes sense that he would or could ascend to the throne over his native-born sisters. Consistent from the original is the notion that women can think and choose for themselves; and if you missed that message, watch the movie again. The most poignant moment in this film comes when the late Queen Aoleon (the great Madge Sinclair) is recalled as the most sensible member of the Joffer royal family. Her voice of reason is certainly missed, but as this is a classic Disney film set up, her spirit hovers over the choices that are made, and we get another fairy tale ending. 

That Coming 2 America is so self-aware as to mock itself is genius, clearly a nod to Shrek, which was the series of unabashed anti-Disney animated films Murphy starred in during the early 2000s. That was very effective as a comedic device, as was the importation of several of the most memorable jokes and gags from the original. However, part of the overall joke from our first visit to Zamunda was the fact that almost no one had heard of it (which worked in a pre-Google world). But now that we have been there and to Wakanda, I think we need to devise better ways of showcasing Africa other than these highly stylized, fictional MET Gala utopias. And in my opinion, someone should have reconsidered making light of geo-political atrocities (warlords and kidnappings) because Boko Haram isn't funny. 

The Hub says I am just hyper-sensitive because most viewers are unaware of global affairs. I haven't thoroughly checked woke Black Twitter, but if he is right, then that's one of several metajokes that might catch on after the second or third viewing. There are others, including the perpetual Trading Places references, the product placement spoofs, and the fact that Murphy's evolution is due to his becoming a proud #GirlDad. Yet, despite giving the women more substance this time around, this is still Eddie Murphy at his Murphyest, just older and wiser.

So the moral of this story is not to wait 30 years to revisit happily ever after and expect things to be as funny as they were the first time. It will be an entirely new story, and while it will try to be as funny as possible, it has to stand on its own. And if you missed that message the first time, then watch it again. I'm sure you have more laundry.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Another HBCU #JustGive Message

It's been a minute...

This week, I donated to the University of Maryland, where I once worked, but never attended. I did so at the request of a relative and also in memory of my friend who earned her PhD there. As soon as I hit send, I came here to write through a few thoughts about that gift and my ongoing mission on HBCU alumni giving. Then I realized how long it had been since my last #HBCUJustGive soapbox speech, so here goes:

Today is a good day to give to an HBCU. I don't care which one and it doesn't matter how much. This isn't about shaming anyone who can't give that much, nor is it about making anyone feel guilty if they have never donated. But it is about appealing to you to step up on behalf of YOUR alma mater (or for the school where some person in your orbit attended, because if you know any middle-class Black people, someone most certainly attended an HBCU). And on the off chance there is no one you can think of who did, then today is a good day to support the United Negro College Fund and/or the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. This is my basic, no frills message: Every School, Every Alum, in Any Amount.

Since this a topic that I have written about ad nauseum, there really isn't much to add. Or so I thought until recently...

1. Who supports our institutions and why? This is a question that I've debated with various people on social media, and typically I come away from those exchanges wondering how any of our schools ever survived as long as they did. And then I remember--we barely survive, even with the periodic generosity of white philanthropists or the steady government-cheese support we get from our respective states. We get by, and that is applicable to all of the schools. So the first question every alum should ask is whether we are satisfied with that reality.

Consider the state-supported schools and how they fare in relation to what are regarded as the flagship institutions. As I mentioned, I gave to the University of Maryland at College Park as a favor to a relative, but perhaps I should have directed my meager coins to the Eastern Shore campus or to one of the other HBCUs in the system that historically receive less taxpayer support. Because College Park has a state-of-the-art sports arena with a Fortune 500 name attached; meanwhile, Morgan State gets support from the pay-as-you-go cell phone company...

Maybe that doesn't bother you because that cellular company is actually a subsidiary of a Fortune 500 company that has its name on two sports arenas in Texas. And that subsidiary has naming rights for the HBCU Celebration Bowl game, which is definitely a strong show of support seeing as how HBCUs never get to play in any of the other big college bowl championships. The essence of the struggle we face is that if our schools are dependent on the generosity of others, then we will get the watered down rail drinks while the alumni from the flagship schools get served from the top shelf.

You might be tempted to remind me that philanthropist Mackenzie Scott just blessed several schools with multi-million dollar donations. She and other new money corporate scions have responded to the Black Lives Matter protests with high profile gifts, for which we are eternally grateful. But so did Calvin E. Tyler and his family, but to much less publicized fanfare. Last year, one of my Morehouse brothers just dropped his own surprise blessing on his alma mater, but it didn't get the full court press that Robert F. Smith received months earlier.

Again, this isn't a complaint because we need every penny; however, those high profile gifts are as much about the donors as they are about the recipients. Mackenzie Scott didn't attend an HBCU, nor did Robert F. Smith so their generosity is regarded as selfless altrusim and their motives are never questioned. Nevermind that Scott made her money from co-founding a company that engages in unsafe labor practices or that Smith evaded paying his taxes for years. I may not know how the alumni donors who give big money to their HBCUs made their fortunes, but I do believe that their gifts are motivated by their genuine love for their institutions.

And the other thing I know is that alumni donors do a lot more for the schools in the long run. Not all of us are able to drop half a million or more on the table as a surprise gift, but we can offer internships and book scholarships and serve as mentors. A few of my friends shared some very enlightening stories about their encounters with the late Vernon Jordan, himself an HBCU alum. He made it a point to assist and connect folks, which in turn is the real testimony of his life--not that he played golf with Bill Clinton.

So it matters who gives and why. It matters that some corporations would rather run elaborate scams to demonstrate their support when they are just exploiting us for pennies on the dollar. Do the math. And then next time you're attending a game at the big sports arena with the fancy corporate amenities, remember that your school had to compete for a gift that equates to the cost of a luxury box rental. Barely a year of tuition.

2. All money isn't good money. When I think back to one of the reasons why this became an important personal crusade, it was after I learned that one school participated in the Inauguration Abomination of 2017 because they needed the funds. That some of our schools have had to resort to serious pole dancing to keep the lights on should shame all of us into doing more.

It should also shame us to be in positions of doing more for our institutions, but choosing not to. When I said something to this effect on social media in a group, that was all kinds of clapback. One person suggested that he hadn't felt a return on his investment. Another felt that her school had deficiencies during her matriculation that needed to improve before she donated. And another person told me that my arguments were akin to shaming because not everyone could afford to give. Then more than a few people mentioned their student debt as reasons why they don't give.

I confess not to have sufficiently snappy retorts to any of those excuses responses. I regard my donations to my alma mater strictly as charitable gifts, so all I ever get in return are address labels and more solicitations. My freshman year dorm still doesn't have air conditioning and apparently the food is still terrible, even with expanded options. I can't speak to anyone else's shame when one year, I received credit for having given $5...and let's not discuss my student loan indebtedness (but I have forgiven myself for assuming that I would earn enough to pay it back, so it is well with my soul). I can't tell anyone what they can afford or what they should do with their money and from the beginning my position has always been and will forever be to give what you can spare.

When I say that all money isn't good, that point is made by the way the last Regime resorted to blackmail by claiming his fervent support of HBCUs. Remember how he did more for Black people since Abraham Lincoln, by proposing increased federal funding? For what it is worth, taxpayer money is our money, so it isn't as if he opened his wallet to give us anything (and those fines he donated are a clever PR spin on the commitments he tried to skip out on via his charitable foundation). But let him tell it, we practically owe Massa T for our very freedom.

Someone recently suggested that our principled stances in rejecting or returning corporate/donor funds has been counter-productive, and maybe he is right. We can always use a lifeline of support, but there is a difference between support and control. I need only point to the controversy brewing with the University of Texas over their school song and the anonymous threats from alumni to withdraw their financial donations. Not for nothing, there is serious money at stake--the type of money that could truly be transformative at an HBCU. I'm sure it ain't nothing to sneeze at for the University of Texas either, but I have to question whether any school should be held captive by the money of racist sympathizers in the year 2021.

Because all of this caterwauling is over a song set to the tune of I've Been Working on the Railroad...

Imagine being so offended about having to consider the feelings of the Black student population, whose grandparents might have been in that first group of admitted students in 1956. This was after the state created a separate law school just to avoid integration ten years earlier (overruled by Sweatt v. Painter in 1950). And where the numbers of Black students have been technically capped since the Hopwood v. Texas ruling in 1996, thanks to a legislative compromise that guaranteed admission to the top ten percent of the state's high school graduates. The nerve of these football players to have opinions that differ from those of their benefactors. What did they go to college to do, learn?

As any alum of an HBCU can attest, our opinions only count until the check clears. But perhaps my point is being made through the inadvertent acknowledgment that we can't give on that level. Our schools are not held hostage by outdated perspectives of how things were better back in the day, and they only need to tolerate alumni input a few times a year. That attitude isn't ideal either, but if it were up to our seasoned alumni, curfews would still be a thing.

3. Just give. I recognize the many blessings that Spelman receives, and I realize that money could just have easily gone to save the whales or to plant a garden somewhere in honor of someone's cat.  I'm not here to challenge donor intentions or their legacies. I also don't want my school to become a laundromat, washing donor sins away. But since I have no influence on those outside of our community, then I focus my energy on encouraging those who share some aspects of a common experience to support our alma mater for future generations. 

Give because you had a great time in college. Give because you met your best friend(s) there and y'all are still tight after all of these years. Give because that is where you met your significant other and you hope that is where your babies and grandbabies will continue the legacy. Give because of that professor who introduced you to some great work that changed your life. Give because you want to honor the memory of a beloved fellow alum, sorority sister, or fraternity brother. Give because you like seeing your name listed in the annual report.

Give because your freshman year dorm still doesn't have air conditioning and the cafeteria food still sucks. Give because that same person in financial aid who lost your check is still there, working in the same musty office and still losing checks. Give so that the issues you had with your school won't be issues that persist for future students. Give because that student loan debt is owed to the government or to Sallie Mae or to Navient, not your institution. Give because your school is not a business, it is a charity, and your degree is not a piece of paper, it is evidence of the education you received.

Give to ease your guilty conscience whenever you read one of my long-winded tirades about alumni giving. Give because if you can spend a grand for Homecoming/Reunion weekend, an extra $20 won't break your bank. Give because that $20 that probably won't break your bank might help a current student with her account balance. Give because you want to bless the current students, not because you need someone to control.

Just give.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

Every time I sit down and watch Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), I intend to write about it, so the other night for the umpteenth time, it aired on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). It was in honor of Sidney Poitier's 94th birthday (Feb 20), which gives me the perfect excuse to write about him as well. Because we're going to celebrate and honor every great pioneering Black actor/entertainer in some way.

I attempted to write up a quick birthday tribute for the Facebook page, but I got distracted by the opening sequence of the film and then literally, I sat mesmerized for the next hour. My laptop was open, but all I had managed to write was one paragraph in which I had mentioned a few of Poitier's great film roles--A Raisin in the Sun (1961), Lilies of the Field (1963), and Uptown Saturday Night (1974), and to prove that even great men make big mistakes, Stir Crazy (1980). I had also planned to mention the references made to him in other works, namely two plays The Celored Museum (1986) and Six Degrees of Separation (1990), but once I got to a certain point in the film and realized that I had been sitting there for more than an hour without posting anything, I hastily concluded. Then in the most inexplicable turn of events, I fell asleep and missed the pivotal last half hour!

No worries, though, since I have seen this film enough times to appreciate the ending. However, this time it seemed more important that I saw it from its very beginning, which typically I have not.

In the morning, I woke up to whatever nonsense was airing on TCM and I made a mental note to complain that they need to air more Black films during Black History Month. (I know that some of y'all assume that we're covered by the Black-themed movie channels on Showtime and Starz and the weekend movie blocks on BET, TV One, and Bounce, but none of those networks air the classic Black films I'm referring to.) Perhaps my complaint should be the broader complaint that these films rarely air at all, not just in February. Because as much as I love The Color Purple...

Thus, I feel an urgency to ensure that future generations get to see these films before they fade into complete obscurity, such that only insomniacs, history professors, and film students get to see them. For example, I think of this every time TCM airs Imitation of Life (1959) because I have never seen the 1934 original and often wonder if the reason for a remake was some "problematic premise" or racially insensitive depiction (wink, wink). But I can't determine that if it rarely airs...so this becomes the circular argument about the value of these old films weighed against the racism of the system in which they were created. 

Because as overrated as I think Gone With the Wind is, and as settled as I think the matter of Song of the South ever getting released from the Disney vault is, I have to admit that there is merit to the argument that the work of these Black actors deserves to be seen. However, before I fall down that rabbit hole, let me climb back out to focus on Poitier and why his career supports this notion of reconciling with the past.

In the pre-film introduction to GWCTD on TCM, over the years different hosts have emphasized differing reasons why this film is a masterpiece. Some cite the emotional performance of Katherine Hepburn with her beloved Spencer Tracy in what was to be his final on-screen role. Some cite the obvious--a whirlwind interracial romance that challenges the progressive sensibilities of these coastal elites in the waning years of the Civil Rights Movement. When the commentary is about Poitier, this film is cited as one of his most iconic roles, although I don't believe that his performance is what elevates this film to the level of masterpiece. I think what is always unsaid or under-developed in the analysis is the theme of youthful optimism at a pivotal moment in time. Somehow, a 50+ year old film that is clearly a product of its time, still articulates the contradictions of principles vs. real life. In essence, that tension is why this movie is timeless, and that is what makes it a masterpiece.

Mind you, (and yes, it must be said) that Bernie Mack film Guess Who? (2005) should never, ever be called a remake. Sure, it revisits the subject matter in a humorous attempt to reverse the roles for modern times, but it isn't nearly as funny a topic as they thought it would be. Furthermore, it should forever be known as the film that proved Ashton Kutcher isn't all that talented. But I digress...

As always, Sidney Poitier's performance is mesmerizing. I cannot put into words why, even in a film where I have questioned whether he was miscast (IMHO too old to be falling for some starry eyed spoiled ingenue), there he is. For the life of me, I don't see what he sees in this girl. That is not a swipe at Katherine Houghton, but it is one of the major dilemmas--off all the women he could have met, what is it about this one that renders the great Sidney Poitier, so off-kilter? I know, as Dr. John Prentice he's a world-renowned expert in tropical medicine, but also a widower who has immersed himself in work to blunt the pain of his personal tragedies. And Houghton is Joana Drayton, the care-free doe-eyed daughter of San Francisco liberal elites. She's on holiday; he's in Hawaii to give a lecture, then he's off to Geneva to do more important work with the World Health Organization in Africa. So how does this match made in paradise happen so recklessly? 

Even after my umpteenth time watching this film, I am unpersuaded that Poitier's Dr. Prentice should have been this spontaneous and idealistic. The very idea of such a methodical man falling in love at first sight seems improbable. So we must accept at the outset that it is Joanna Drayton's impulsiveness that is driving everything, and he's caught up in her whirlwind (indeed, everyone is). However, the reality is that he's smitten, but self-aware and cautious enough to give himself an out if her parents disapprove (mind you, he doesn't give his parents that same veto power), which is the central tension of the film.

There are other complexities and nuance that are noteworthy. The super retro version of the theme song, The Glory of Love. Tillie, the family maid, who is the only character in the film who is overtly hostile to Dr. Prentice and uses the n-word. The two gratuitous modern culture clash scenes with Dorothy dancing with the delivery guy and the Draytons' outing for ice cream. Hillary, the prejudiced modern art connoisseur as the foil to the open-minded traditionalist Monsignor Ryan. The very idea that an interracial marriage would be as problematic for John and Joanna in Europe as it would be in the United States (the film released just before the Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia). And the fact that this is all unfolding in the Draytons' gloriously extravagant home in San Francisco, across the bay from Oakland where the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense had been born a year earlier.

Seen with modern 21st Century eyes, this film takes on additional layers of complexity post-Obama and post-Trump. The issue of interracial marriage isn't as controversial and most people would shrug off all of the obvious misgivings about such a coupling. Instead, our worries would be for their children--what race box would they tick on their Census and college application forms? What does it mean to be biracial in 1970s San Francisco as opposed to Los Angeles or Oakland? Given their experience as a married couple, how would John and Joanna react to their children's surprise dinner guests?

Perhaps this is a good point to refer back to my issues with the Bernie Mack film, which got it wrong by suggesting that its protagonist, Percy Jones was a bigot. In the original, that isn't the implication at all as Tracy's Matt Drayton was depicted as caught off guard by the prospect of both an interracial marriage and given less than 8 hours to process the news. It was never implied that his misgivings were anything other than noble and normal, and even with my 21st Century spidey senses attuned to the various micro-aggressions that Prentice endures, I empathize with the Draytons and the Prentices. Alternatively in Guess Who, the fact that Simon's race was kept a secret for months was a bright red flag, indicative of the underlying trust and honesty issues between the couple, not of her father's presumed intolerance.

My husband and I began dating in 1996. My parents knew he was Puerto Rican before he came to dinner. Likewise, his family knew I was Black before I went to dinner. But that is another rabbit hole for another time...

Back to our leading man, Sidney Poitier. His Hollywood career was meteoric in the 60s, which is why I mentioned the two other works that reference his career. By the mid 1980s, he was legendary to white audiences for that earlier work, but as it is evident in Six Degrees, he was not on the tabloid level of A-list fame such that those who should have known better would have. The Upper East Side Kittredges (Donald Sutherland and Stockard Channing) were easily fooled into believing the Black stranger who infiltrated their lives because, and this is a truth that is revealed in the original GWCTD, white people don't really know any Black people. Not even famous ones, of whom they are aware, but don't actually know. So the Kittredges and their pretentious circle of friends have no idea that Sidney Poitier didn't have a son. Nor do they realize that of the movies that were cited, none of them were the films Poitier co-wrote or directed, which was his primary output during the 1970s and early 1980s. (Sidenote: I love this play and the movie, which I believe to be masterpieces in their own right.)

Hence, the irreverent vignette from The Colored Museum that lampoons Poitier is so marvelously ironic. I just happened to see it online within days of watching both Six Degrees and GWCTD, and talk about fortuitous! I won't spoil it (you may be able to find a quality clip on YouTube), but George C. Wolfe's satirization of Poitier is so on point because it deconstructs his most beloved incarnation: the credit-to-his-race Academy Award-winning persona that is/was the eternal underdog of the Black urban experience. Walter Lee Younger is exactly the kind of sympathetic hero whom the Kittredges and the Draytons think of when they congratulate themselves for being patrons of Black art and supporting civil rights at their exclusive cocktail parties.

Nevermind that by the mid-80s when both The Colored Museum and Six Degrees were written, Poitier had moved on to direct behind the camera, including significant contributions to the blaxploitation genre. White folks don't know much about Buck and the Preacher (1972), Let's Do It Again (1975), and though I've mentioned Stir Crazy in jest, yet...

During Black History Month, we don't see any of those movies anymore. Yeah, there are problematic aspects, but if I can sit through Gone With the Wind twice a year, then I think there is an expert out there who can address Bill Cosby the same way y'all pretend Rhett Butler didn't hit his wife Scarlett all that hard. You see where this is going? There is an entire 20+ year span of Poitier's oeuvre between Oscar night appearances that is essentially overlooked. Are y'all waiting for him to die before we acknowledge his full range?

Because returning to the movie that started this, GWCTD is great and all, but it isn't a Sidney Poitier film. It is the last Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn movie, which is how I can justify falling asleep during the last few minutes and assure you that because I have seen it previously many times, I didn't miss anything this time. Poitier has receded into the supporting cast by that point, and the floor belongs to Tracy, who grants his approval to the marriage between his daughter and the exceptional Negro whom he just met hours earlier. He gets to point out how more evolved he is as compared to his own maid and Prentice's father, the humble mail carrier (because the white racists have already been dismissed, so what right does Drayton have to be hesitant about any of this)? How could he; why would he? This is no longer his problem; they are headed abroad to Switzerland.

But enough about white liberal coastal elites who proudly voted for Obama twice...

My final plea is to the program directors at the various networks and cable movie channels--PLEASE don't rely solely on TCM to air classic Black films once a year in February. Yes, they must do better, but how about instead of nonstop Tyler Perry shows/movies and Martin reruns, y'all look into the vast catalog of creative output that was released in the 70s and 80s (and possibly even back to the 40s)? Let's start with the body of great work (i.e. The Colored Museum) that used to air on PBS. And y'all can pay me to frame this content, and I assure you, I won't leave any sacred cows unslaughtered. Don't modern audiences deserve to know as much about Madame Zenobia and Geechie Dan, as well as they know about Nino Brown and Cardi B?

There is no question or debate about Poitier's greatness. What he did in the 60s was to win over white audiences so that he had the freedom to develop as an actor/director in the 70s and 80s. The fact that white folks don't recall his work during that era is irrelevant--we know that he paved the way for Spike Lee, Denzel Washington, and Tyler Perry, among others. Before we start debating who gets to come to the cookout, let's revisit who has already come to dinner, what they brought to the table, and how to reconcile their impact on the current state of affairs in Hollywood.