Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Part of Our World: Review of The Little Mermaid (2023)

The Kid and I (and friends) saw the live-action The Little Mermaid (TLM) remake opening weekend and I am happy to report that she loved it. I am also happy to report that I enjoyed it (not quite to the point of loving it, but I will explain that). So, ladies and gentleman, I believe we have a hit!

I was thinking that I shouldn't spoil anything with this review, but I also assumed that anyone reading this is someone who has seen the original animated movie enough times to know how it all turns out in the end. (Let's pretend that the other live action telecast exists in an alternative universe.) So, there's no real sense in offering a review without pointing out the major distinctions between the two films; therefore, I will offer a disclaimer instead. If you have not already seen the new movie, come back to this review once you have, okay? Off you go...

Now if you are still with me, then you've seen both movies, so we can talk about what we liked and what we didn't and whether any of that will matter to this new generation of little girls who might be caught singing Part of Your World into a dinglehopper. My guess is that it won't matter because kids like what they like, and what we think is irrelevant (which explains why Bubble Guppies is still on). To be honest, my daughter hasn't seen the original movie as many times as I have, and she has already declared her love for the current film, so there's that.

Prince Eric's Backstory - Definitely a twist on the original, one that makes a lot more sense once you reflect on the absurdity of an orphaned Prince Eric still being referred to as a Prince at the start of the animated movie. We know from watching the British that those titles get upgraded immediately upon the death of the reigning sovereign, so why would the sole heir to the throne of wherever be out seafaring and exploring with no one at home to watch over the affairs of state at the castle? Furthermore, where is home, a question that was never answered in the animated film.

Thus, instead of the old story line of Prince Eric as a Bruce Wayne-bored billionaire heir under the guardianship of Sir Grimsby (or Alfred the butler who is now the Prime Minister), there is a Black Queen Mother and Eric is her adopted son. Which makes this an island kingdom probably somewhere in the Caribbean, and Eric the survivor of a shipwreck who was apparently found as a baby and taken to the castle. Still raises more questions without answers, but now at least there is a living parent to fuss and urge him to get married (like they do in every other fairytale). Since I'm inferring quite a few details here, my guess is that this island kingdom is what came of all those pirates who were gallivanting around with Jack Sparrow once they finally decided to retire. Because this is Disney, they can conveniently omit any references to what was more historically accurate (so no colonialism or slave trading). Instead, everyone is happily living their best lives on one happy island.

The Daughters of Triton - They got rid of the sisters' song from the animated film, but anyone who says with a straight face that they miss it is lying to you. It was never anyone's favorite, wouldn't fit in the new narrative, and I happen to like the new explanation that the daughters represent the seven seas

Evil Auntie Ursula - This movie gave us some familial motivation for the animosity between King Triton and the Sea Witch, not that we've ever needed a backstory for most other Disney villains. I was tempted to compare this to a The Lion King/Hamlet redux, but sibling rivalry is as old as time itself. Therefore, I would be down for a prequel that looks back on how an ambitious and scheming little Sis probably got Mrs. Triton killed by a human, thus setting the stage for a classic revenge showdown.

Javier Bardem seemed like a weird choice for King Triton to me, but he was solid. As for Melissa McCarthy as Ursula--perfection (ditto for Jessica Alexander as Vanessa the voice-stealer)! But the big fight scene was so anti-climatic because it was hard to see the action (one of the drawbacks of the CGI special effects).

The Singing Crab, Stuffed Flounder, and other Scuttlebutt - The CGI did wonders in making us believe that the human characters were actually talking and singing underwater; however, the animation just made the talking animals look weird and seem out of place. Despite the voice talents of Daveed Diggs as Sebastian and Awkwafina as Scuttle (who were perfectly cast, so not up for debate), CGI talking animals only seem to work when we don't expect to see a talking animal, like in a 30-second commercial. Instead of seeming realistic, they just appeared flat or looked like props in extended interactive scenes. Thus, it made sense to nix Les Poissons, sung by the French chef in the animated film, because the CGI just would not have recreated what was so much fun about that scene from the original. Poor Flounder went from being a standout in the animation to the least vibrant fish friend in the entire ocean in this film. I'm not sure why they didn't just pull that classic Jerry tap dancing with Gene Kelly trick because that would have been more believable (that is, if you believe in talking animals).

Some folks on social media were upset that Scuttle was changed into a different species of bird (from a seagull to a Northern gannet) to allow for more underwater interaction with Ariel and the other characters. If the CGI had worked better, that change wouldn't seem that controversial, or maybe it would have made more sense 34 years ago to have chosen a different diving bird (like a pelican). Honestly, why is any of this up for discussion since birds do not talk to people!

Lin-Manuel Miranda - Look, there is no denying that you can always tell when the Kid's Tio Lin-Manuel has been involved with a Disney soundtrack. Without even looking at the song when Disney re-adapts this movie for the stage, I cannot wait to see Awkwafina and Diggs perform The Scuttlebutt live. Thumbs up! 

Because he tends to bring his people along wherever he goes, I hope Miranda puts in a good word for Christopher Jackson to portray King Triton (and maybe find some way to bring on a few other Hamilton alums. Just a thought...)

Once on This Island - I saw that play on Broadway back in 2018 (on my first and only Busy Black Momcation), and darn if I didn't immediately think while I was watching TLM that I have seen some of this before. Hmm...and honestly, it connected once I was reminded that the play was inspired by the fairytale (and is reported to receive its own film adaptation for Disney +).

You've also seen the same kind of diverse casting in other productions such as Cinderella (1997), Descendants (2015), and Z-O-M-B-I-E-S (2018) --that is, if you have a child around the same age as mine and there was a chunk of your life when all they ever wanted to watch were Disney musicals. 

What's the Matter with Kids Today? - No surprise that just like in the animated movie, Ariel gets so obsessed with the human world and Prince Eric that she disobeys her father and jeopardizes the ocean and the humans to get what she wants. And she realizes too late that her father's love for her transcends everything, even his own life. Having seen all of those themes (and critiqued them) in the original movie, all of that hits different when seated next to your own headstrong 8 year-old daughter. Y'all, my eyes got a little itchy.

Perhaps this is the most valuable aspect of the remake for me because it breaks the trance of getting so caught up in the nostalgia without paying closer attention to the story. That animated movie is TLM of my youth, released when I was teenager just a few months before I left the nest for college. This film will be TLM for my daughter and the children of her generation. Thus, to all of the parents and purists who claim to have so many precious memories of the original movie, snap out of it! If you're more upset by what changed than taking note of the real message in this story, then you missed the point. Our kids are going to grow up, they are going to have to make their own choices, and while we might not like those choices, we have to let them be free. And that sentiment is true whether uttered by an animated Jamaican nanny crab, or the CGI version.

A Star is Born - Halle Bailey is phenomenal! I really don't need to say much more about her performance because that is all that needs to be said. Baby girl is a STAR! I caught that sweet symbolic nod from Jodi Benson in the marketplace scene (which has happened in several other films where the originator passes the torch to a younger actress), so there you have it. I refuse to respond to any haters, so anybody who gets on Blue Ivy's internet to suggest otherwise is truly a poor unfortunate soul.

The other star of this film, hands down, is John Hauer-King as Prince Eric. Y'all, we need to admit that Disney has been churning out the same bland guy as the love interests for their heroines, so it is about damn time we got the real deal! The original Prince Eric was meh (his dog Max was more interesting), the Beast was more compelling before he became human again, and Prince Naveen was more charismatic as a frog. Bad boys Aladdin and Flynn Rider were fun, but the other stories that were centered around male leads (such as Tarzan and Hercules) were not as good as the Princess stories which is why the marketing and branding campaigns were built around the ladies. This Eric holds his own, sings his song, and doesn't fade into scenery. And the chemistry between Hauer-King and Bailey is fire!

The Magic Kingdom vs. The Real World - As I stated at the outset, I really enjoyed this film. I can't say that I loved it, not because it fell short of any expectations I had; however, as I alluded to a few paragraphs up, this story hits a lot differently at my age now. This adaptation remained pretty faithful to the animated movie, and depending on one's perspective, that wasn't necessarily an all-good or all-bad thing. Sixteen year old me (same age as Ariel in the film) probably thought it was pretty badass to be so impulsive and determined to make such a sacrifice for love...Busy Black middle-aged Mama me would have needed to weigh her options. 

Which weren't presented to us in the Disney adaptation because they ditched so much of the source material. Ariel was the youngest of six girls (seven in the Disney version), so surely more than one of her sisters must have felt a similar longing to explore the human realm. According to the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, mermaids were granted that privilege once a year upon reaching the age of fifteen, but we don't get any indication if that tradition still was followed or if there was a reason why Ariel was explicitly forbidden to even discuss it with her father. Once you've committed to making a 2-hour live action movie from an 83-minute animated film, I'd say that you had more than enough time to offer a better justification for Triton's refusal to even discuss his daughter's curiosity. 

And that was something else that concerned me now as a parent looking back--King Triton's refusal or inability to communicate with Ariel about her feelings. It wasn't just her father, because NO ONE in her family took the time to talk to this girl or paid much attention to her until she had no voice. Imagine having older sisters and not being able to confide in any of them. Her mother was dead, her father couldn't relate, we didn't meet any other merlfriends, so her companions and confidants were animals: the meddling Nanny crab, a pet fish, and a clueless bird. The only adult who responded to what Ariel wanted was her predacious Aunt Ursula.

That definitely triggered some adolescent memories of feeling unseen and unheard until I made some regrettable mistakes. And I could not help but to think that as we are caught up in this crazy culture war wherein the Governor of Florida has characterized the Walt Disney Company as an enemy of decency that sexualizes children, some of y'all aren't going to wake up until it is too late to save your children (or this country). So caught up in pronouns, rainbows, who uses which bathrooms in public spaces, Second Amendment rights, and the politics of diverse casting...

To See or Not to Sea? - (Yep, I love language puns), but in case I haven't made myself clear, YES! 

Go see it, dress up like mermaids, buy more dolls, sign your babies up for swimming lessons, re-watch the original, go spend a fortune at Disneyworld (or Disneyland if you are boycotting Florida), and if you have a kid older than 12 make sure they see Splash (1984) so that they know that there are alternative happy endings for humans and merpeople. For good measure, also be sure to put the original short story on the summer reading list. Take them to the library to learn more about mermaids from other cultures, such as the water spirit Mami Wata and the legend of Thessaloniki so that they can offer a response to any foolishness that mermaids only come from one mythological source. It was kind of cheeky to have this trailer for Ruby Gillman: Teenage Kraken (June 2023) air during the previews to TLM, so once again, Dreamworks is trolling Disney like they did with Shrek (and I'm here for it, so take your kids to see that one too). Most importantly, make time to talk to and listen to your budding pre-teens or teenage children, because before you know it, one day you won't be able to nail their fins down--you'll have to let go.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Shades of Purple

Come gather 'round children, because your Busy Black Mother wants to tell you all a story about a book and ALL of the trouble it has caused ever since it was published back when she was in elementary school in the early 80s. It has been quite a while since she "read" it (almost 40 years), but from what she can recall, it tells a rather polarizing story about a woman who survives abuse. In fact, there are several women in the story who survive various forms of abuse. This book won several prestigious awards for its author, became a critically acclaimed cult classic film, and was adapted as a Broadway musical for the stage that will be re-released in a new film adaptation later this year.

The Color Purple ("TCP") is a story that deeply offends certain groups of people. Having been around all of these years to witness its various iterations and adaptations, I can speak both directly and indirectly to aspects of the controversy. The book has been banned for its sexual explicitness which some find to be too mature for impressionable readers. The book and film have been criticized for depicting negative images of men as abusive. The book, film, and play provide cultural references and timeless quotes, much like The Godfather, that are appropriate to offer in almost any situation. Your perspective in favor or in opposition to the story depends on how you self-identify: (1) as a Florida Mom who dislikes Oprah Winfrey's poetry; (2) some sanctimonious woman named Karen who only heard about the sex scenes in the book; (3) somebody's Black Grandfather or elder Uncle who saw the movie once in the 1980s; (4) some young man who may have seen the movie a couple of times on BET, but his impressions have been shaped by what his Grandfather or Uncle said about it at the barbershop; or (5) a Black woman.

Let's quickly dispatch with the first two categories because they are in fact, the same person. It doesn't really matter what her real name is if she hasn't read the book but still insists on having it banned. I doubt that she's even taken the time to skim an online summary, because if she had, she would have a better response to its sexual content other than to clutch her pearls. But then again, this same woman raises objections to most books that contain sexual references because she only had sex to procreate. Now that she has her 2.5 children, she can channel that energy into other hobbies such as riding her Peloton, micro-managing, and filing complaints against her neighbors with the home-owners association for petty infractions. 

The targeted audience for this piece is the latter three categories of Black people. I am making an assumption that members of other communities aren't having these kinds of deep philosophical discussions about TCP, but if I'm wrong, feel free to associate with the group that makes the most sense. For example, if you happen to be a woman named Karen who read the book, likes/loves the movie and/or the play, then you are welcome to sit with like-minded Black women. Ditto if you are a Black man who knows that half of what you grew up hearing in the barbershop is unlotioned foolishness, while the other half is just something that some dude heard and repeated because it made him sound smart. 

If you are still unsure, no worries because the goal here is enlightenment. However, if you already know which side you are on and it isn't with the Black women...

The Color Purple is a book about Black women written by a well-known Black woman writer named Alice Walker. The original movie is about Black women. The Broadway musical is about Black women. And I suspect that the new movie will also be about Black women. In none of these versions and iterations is The Color Purple about abusive Black men. Read that again because I said what I said: there are abusive Black men in TCP, but this story ain't about them!

TCP is a story about a Black woman in rural 1930s Georgia who is a victim of horrifying sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. In fact, several of the women in the story are victims of abuse. For Celie, the main character, this abuse begins when she is a teenager and continues until she finds the courage to leave her abuser, many years later. The same is true for other women in the story. Therefore, I must emphasize that TCP is a story about how a group of Black women survive, overcome, and ultimately heal from the abuse that has been inflicted on them.

Let's back up some 40 years to when the book was published. As I stated above, I was in elementary school and I don't remember much about the accolades in real time, but I do recall that it won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and presumably that is why it was made into a movie. A few years later when I was in middle school, we heard that there were some steamy sex scenes contained therein, so like all curious pubescent teenagers, we needed to know. My Mom happened to be reading the book, so while I had access to it, I could not borrow it from her to read with my friends on our Metro summer commute.  Thus, someone else's older sibling must have borrowed for us, and for about a week, we "read" the book to find these scandalous sex scenes. 

Alas, the Karens were partially right in arguing that this content was too mature for young impressionable minds because most of us had no idea of what was going on. The most scandalous passages I remember reading contained nudity while bathing, self-discovery with a hand-held mirror, and two women sharing a kiss. None of the other themes made much of an impression because we were mostly scanning the book, not really reading it. I definitely did not get a full grasp of the lesbian relationship. The conclusion we all reached was that we would have to wait and see the movie to get a better understanding.

Fast forward to the release of the movie in 1985 which I did not get to see in the theater because it was rated R and I was twelve. It must have been years later before it came on television (and my family didn't have cable when I was growing up), so I was probably in high school when I finally saw it for the first time. And I had forgotten all about the alleged scandalous sex scenes (which were omitted, so there's that). 

Other specifics are also long-forgotten, but I do remember that my parents had opposing opinions about the movie. And it wasn't just a disagreement between them, because there was once a heated discussion about this film at a family gathering (no worries, no brown liquor was wasted), where sides were taken. My Dad, my Uncles, and some older male cousins expressed their opinion that the film was terrible; whereas, my Mom, my Aunts, and my older cousin who was in college were adamant that the menfolks were wrong. For my part, I did not express an opinion at that time because I was still in that gray area where kids were not allowed to participate grown folks' conversations. But I could listen. 

And I could reflect on what I heard. My Mom bought a copy of the movie on VHS so I could watch it as much as I wanted to decide for myself. Eventually, the movie became a Sunday afternoon staple on BET, but we'll revisit that a little later.

Instead, let's skip ahead to when I was at Spelman in the early 90s. As most of you know, I was an English major so my undergraduate degree was essentially a concentration in Black women's literature. The literary and artistic era of that time overlapped with a lot of great work written by Black women that received both critical and mainstream recognition. Most notably, Toni Morrison received the Nobel Prize in Literature, while other authors such as Walker, Gloria Naylor, Terry McMillan, and Spelman alumna Tina McElroy Ansa were on best-seller lists and having their books made into movies. With our charismatic Sister President and the fact that Spelman was a magnet for practically every prominent Black woman at the time, it meant that on any given day, I could see some brilliant Black writer whose work I just read walking around on campus. This iconic picture captures the vibe that permeated the air at that time.

Not pictured here was the ever-inspiring and brilliant Dr. Gloria Wade-Gayles, who was our resident Alice Walker scholar. She taught a mini-course on Walker that I had to sit in on once (don't remember why), where the students discussed her work and advocacy. It was a fascinating conversation that touched on a variety of topics, including Walker's reasons for leaving Spelman, her discovery of Zora Neale Hurston's grave, as well as the controversy that had accompanied TCP movie. Ironically, it was the first time that I witnessed a group of Black women offer criticism of TCP!

But don't get it twisted, these women were adamant that the shortcomings of the film were due to choices made by the filmmaker, the producers, and the actors, not the story as it was written. Certain characters were too cartoonish and some crucial elements of the book that were left out created unexplained gaps in the narrative. But at no point did any of these women argue that the male characters deserved to be judged with empathy, because at its heart, TCP was a story about the women.

The point of taking you on this side trip down memory lane was to set up what you must have assumed was the inevitable penultimate conflict that broke out in class between a group of my outspoken Spelman Sisters and some opinionated Morehouse Brothers. And you are half right, as there were several arguments that took place in Dr. Gayles' Images of Women in the Media class, except the argument I am recounting here was about another movie in another class.

Quite literally while I was thinking of some of the points I wanted to make in writing this piece on the new TCP, it was reported that rock icon Tina Turner had died. As the tributes to her (one forthcoming from me as well) poured in, one of the themes that kept getting repeated was how she was a survivor and feminist icon. And because those descriptions tend to trigger the denizens from Hotepistan armed with their pockets full of misogynoir pebbles, I knew it wouldn't take long before they would start throwing.

For it was during that same era when the Tina Turner biopic What's Love Got To Do With It (1993) was released, the summer before my return to Spelman for my senior year. During discussion in a class, some dude mentioned his frustration with the "constant" portrayals of Black men as abusive and made reference to TCP as part of what he saw as a "disturbing trend" in that direction. Record scratch...some sister stood up and asked incredulously (I'm embellishing): Brother, how do two movies released in a span of eight years point to a disturbing trend??? Are you serious? He countered that it wasn't just these two movies, but several works written by and about Black women that depicted Black men as evil, and then he offered this most incendiary shot across the bow: And half the women on this campus cheer that mess on because y'all hate Black men!

Now let me tell you, I don't know what happened to that dude, whether he made it back over to Morehouse with a full head of hair, or if he ever came back to class. Our inter-campus gender wars had been ongoing for years, so this wasn't anything that hadn't been heard or said before. Although I am pretty sure that this wasn't in Dr. Gayles' class, enough of us had been admonished by her in other courses to Claim Our Space, so the brother had no chance. He got ALL the smoke, with that original sister leading the charge. Since I cannot offer a play-by-play, I can tell you that the grand point that the sisters made that the brother ignored was this: These👏 Movies👏 Ain't👏 About👏 You👏 Boo👏

Like seriously, who goes to see a movie about Tina Turner's life with the expectation that Ike Turner ought to be depicted as a sympathetic yet misunderstood genius with no impulse control? Who reads a book written about an abused Black woman and expects that the story would urge readers to feel sorry for her abuser? Huh? In the canon of movies and books that had been written and championed by Black men, had there even been a fully-formed Black female character, someone who wasn't a two-dimensional cardboard cut-out simply placed in a scene to improve the optics? (Yep, here's looking at you Brother Spike.)

Furthermore, if Black women are telling stories about being abused, why is all this ire being aimed at the women for speaking up? Dead women can't speak for themselves, so the stories of survivors are what get told. Instead of being upset about the depictions of their abusers, perhaps get mad that there were/are men who subject women to that kind of treatment! We get it, not all men (just like not all white people, not all women named Karen, not all Christians, not all of any group, etc.), so if the accusation or depiction isn't reflective of who YOU are, then there is no need to be triggered or take it personally.

Literally, this is the same argument we've been having since before Al Gore invented the internet. Whether it takes place in analog or in these digital tweets, some of y'all refuse to accept that not all stories are going to tell your preferred narrative. Sometimes there are villains even among the disenfranchised, so your frustration that Mister and every other man in TCP were practically unredeemable isn't some statement against all Black men. Because this is Celie's story of surviving the abuse SHE endured, from her perspective, NO, there wasn't a single redeemable man who intervened to defend her, to rescue her, to protect her, or to avenge her.

And that ain't only true in fictional rural 1930s Georgia...

Some of y'all never have anything positive to say about Black women. Now that we are having these arguments in digital spaces, I don't need to rely on my memory--I can pull up CVS length receipts as proof. For example, I need only mention one of the following names: Kamala Harris, Ketanji Brown Jackson, Meghan Markle, Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Stacey Abrams, Serena Williams, and I bet $100 that some ashy dude has been all over Blue Ivy's internet talking trash. Tina Turner hasn't been dead for more than 72 hours and some of y'all couldn't wait to blast her over having had a white husband. Not all Black men, but some of you hate any and every Black woman that you can't control. And just like some white people and some women named Karen and some Christians, if you can't control a Black woman, you will say and do whatever it takes to shape how others perceive her.

Ironically, that point is exactly what you missed if all you ever saw in TCP was red whenever Mister, Harpo, Old Mister, Shug's Daddy the Preacher, or Celie's stepfather were on screen. As long as Mister controlled everything in Celie's life, she only saw herself as he treated her. Harpo tried to beat his wife into submission. Old Mister didn't chastise his son for mistreating his wife. Shug's Daddy was more concerned about his reputation. And Celie's stepfather was a child-raping monster. You should be mad and ashamed at them and whenever men like them escape accountability.

Finally, back to BET and the fact that most of us have seen this movie more than enough times to appreciate and acknowledge its cultural relevance. It had been a staple of BET Sunday afternoon programming (until Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins replaced it). In fact, TCP has to be in the Top Five of the most quoted/memed Black movies of all time. I know this is a generalization but is there a Black person alive (older than 16) who doesn't recognize the context of Sophia or Shug Avery declaring "I'se married, I'se married now!"; or someone being pulled aside and asked, "Harpo, who dis?"; or this stern reply in a perfect Miss Millie intonation, "I don't know him"? You mean to tell me that you grew up on this movie, can quote lines from this movie, but still missed the point?

On this land??? (And if you caught that reference, then I KNOW your Grandmothers and Aunties would be ashamed if you are choosing the wrong side of this debate.) 

Now, if you read this far, there's not much more that I have to say...except (begrudgingly) you can dislike TCP for any number of reasons including, but not limited to its depiction of Black men. It is a good film, not perfect. Some of the critiques that have been offered are valid, particularly that director Steven Spielberg made certain creative choices that are problematic. And if you have paid any attention to Alice Walker over the years, she has become, shall we say Jim Brown-complicated--simultaneously wonderful for her past accomplishments and hideous the more we learn about her life and beliefs. I find her antisemitism and transphobia to be especially troubling. (Perhaps I could be accused of similarly attempting to bury the lede on Walker, but trust, I have and will revisit that can of worms another time.) As for the adaptation of the stage play for the silver screen, I must reserve judgment since I haven't seen the play (my parents did see it, and I am happy to report that it didn't provoke the same polarizing reaction). But still, just give it a chance as you should any other film. 

PS: Don't hate on Colman Domingo for being too believable as Mister if you haven't seen him in Zola (2021) (which I did and umm, yeah #IJS as a society, we need to be far more outraged by the way women are subjected to various kinds of abuse and exploitation)...

Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Proud Family

This was one of several unfinished works-in-progress that I had in my drafts for over a year. Who knew that the pendulum of tolerance would swing so violently in that time? --ADH

A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece that expressed my frustrations with the commercial embrace of PRIDE Month, specifically the blatant rainbow labels on everything and the hideous offerings of rainbow-adorned clothing being sold at major retailers. I haven't changed my tune, in case you were wondering (because so far, things are not much better this year). But I want to be clear that my issue was not with the celebration of PRIDE, so if you were hoping that I would be firing up a tiki torch to set bonfires with the polo shirt and khaki pants brigade, you should stop reading now.

Last year I came to the conclusion that the corporate chase of the rainbow did indeed lead to a pot of gold. And I realized this after the Hub, the Kid, and I attended our very first Pride Parade. Last June marked the in-person return of the Capital Pride Parade from its COVID hiatus, and so when I tell you that there were terrible rainbow tutus and sequined Mork from Ork suspenders in abundance, I am not exaggerating. I was almost embarrassed that I wasn't wearing something equally tacky. Almost...

I intended to share these two stories to re-emphasize the point that declaring a commitment to being an ally of the LGBTQIA+ community must mean more than wearing the right tee or tutu to your local Gay Pride parade. To think that I was so proud of myself for not getting taken in by the commercialism, only to realize that what I assumed was the fickle and faddish support of PRIDE could have broader consequences. Who would have thought that in 2023 folks would be boycotting companies like Starbucks over their support of the LGBTQIA community? Some of those people have been losing their minds over rainbows on children's clothes (so guess what I just bought for my family from Target this past weekend...)

Story #1 - Eating Out

Yes, I need you to read into that title. Our trio traveled to NYC for the Memorial Day holiday weekend, planned weeks in advance by the Hub who had arranged accommodations at an Air BnB in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. In case you don't already know this about me, I have terrible packing anxiety, the kind that has only worsened with age despite years of experience, but glory be, on this Saturday, we managed to leave the house and arrive in NYC while it was still light outside! We found street parking, found our lodging, and the Hub picked out a local restaurant where we could catch dinner at a reasonable hour. BUT...

Yeah, it was all too good to be true. I will save the Air BnB fiasco for another time (quick synopsis addressed here) and skip ahead to where all of the signs clearly indicated that our good fortune in stress-free travel had been too good to be true. We headed out on foot to the pre-selected restaurant, but in the wrong direction, and after walking several blocks the Hub decided to hail a Lyft. By this time, the sun had begun to set, so by the time we were deposited on the corner in front of a restaurant right before 9pm, we assumed it was the place we had been trying to find. It was open air and not busy, so the hostess told us to choose a table, and we headed to a spot up against a wall. Instantly, I spotted some "colorful" artwork and then did a quick scan of the entire wall and took note that there was a theme. For once, the Hub also noticed, so we quickly re-seated ourselves at a table in the middle of the room.

Once we were settled, he handed the Kid his phone to keep her distracted while we discussed our options. At this point, I had completed a full survey of the restaurant decor and determined that it was not, shall we say, kid-friendly. The other patrons included a couple on a date, a few folks at the bar, and a table full of folks who were doing the typical Saturday night pre-game gathering of friends (something that us old-marrieds-with-child tend to forget happens in real life). Should we stay since it was already late and the Kid probably hadn't seen anything too risqué (yet)? What would be the likelihood that we could leave and grab a table at another restaurant as quickly? If we did leave, what would be our rationale? Are we those over-zealous parents who think children ought to be shielded from everything or are we these wannabe hip urban adventurers with a Kid in Montessori? How bad could it get, I wondered...

No need to drag this out for the sake of suspense because all went well. Although neither the menu nor the decor were TGIFridays family-friendly, the chef sent us out a plate of fries and that made the Kid happy. Our food and drinks were great, the server was cool and patient, and I found a way to avoid having to explain why there was a picture of two naked women kissing when I took her to the bathroom. We left and discovered that the restaurant where we had intended to go was around the corner next door, but it was crowded and loud, so I have nothing bad to report about our experience at Maite

Story #2 - When In Rome

In fact, our positive dining experience at Maite is what convinced me that we ought to affirmatively go to the DC Pride festivities two weeks later. If we are in fact these wannabe hip urban adventurers I believed us to be, then why not attend the parade? Again, what is the worst that would happen during the day?

As it turns out, nothing. We got a late start, so I assumed we had missed everything, but we went anyway and got there in time to see plenty of floats, bands, and corporate product placement. It was packed with people, all excited to finally be free from social distancing. Although we were still cautiously masked, the gentleman I was standing with just chatted me up about everything from what we missed to the church he attended as if COVID nor my mask were concerns. He was more intrigued by what had compelled us to bring our then 7-year old to the parade, so I shared my thoughts on aspiring to be a wannabe hip urban adventurer with a Kid in Montessori. In other words, when in Rome...

But more importantly, I explained that I have to set an example of tolerance and acceptance for my daughter in a world that is very different than the one in which I was raised. She has already come into contact with children whose gender identification is fluid; in fact, before the summer ended, she had befriended a trans child and seemed nonchalant that their identity might be polarizing to adults. I'm pretty sure that unlike most urban adventurers, the fact that we haven't encountered that many families with same gender-loving parents is an anomaly. So if anything, attending the Pride Parade should feel as normal as going to a National's baseball game, complaining about the tourists during Cherry Blossom season, or making a special effort to drive by the White House Christmas tree. We live here and should take full advantage of all the special events and perks that come with living in the Nation's Capital. 

Just Say Gay

And if that had included Drag Queen Storytime when the Kid and I were regulars on the library story hour circuit, we would have been there! If her enthusiastic love for RuPaul's Drag Race is any indication, I would have had to move heaven and earth for her not to miss a moment. Her current obsession with the show was an unexpected fluke--one Friday night she came downstairs while I was flipping channels and the next thing I knew she had memorized the contestants' names and had designated her favorite queen. Kids like what they like, something the Hub and I have learned in spite of our efforts to steer her tastes away from shows like Bubble Guppies and generic recycled anime. That doesn't mean we can't influence what she watches; instead, it means we allow her to discover what she likes as long as it isn't harmful.

Harmful is the intolerant environment that has been created by these modern-day witch trials and scarlet lettering. One would think the cautionary tales of intolerance and repression as told by LGBTQIA Boomers and Gen Xers would have warned against this current climate. Of course it did, but those over-zealous culture warriors are relentless and shameless in their adherence to the rigid gender roles as assigned at birth. Those people don't care if queer children are more vulnerable to suicidal ideations, or if they run away from home, or if they become addicts. Those people don't have hearts or minds to which appeals for compassion can be made. Those people are why support organizations like The Trevor Project, GLAADGLSEN, and PFLAG are so necessary. In spite of their macho Alpha-male bravado, those people are threatened by the sight of men wearing dresses.

But apparently not all men in dresses, since I have yet to see the same organized fervor taken against the Catholic Church as I have seen in the past year against drag queens. Or did I miss any of the armed protests that were organized against Friday Night Bingo at St. Aloysius? Don't worry, I'm not only calling out the Church (especially since the Southern Baptists and the Mormons deserve just as much smoke, if not more), but I can tell you that more children were harmed by those clergy sexual abuse scandals than have been harmed by listening to Mistress Petty Pat read And Tango Makes Three

So let's not gloss over the fact that many of the loudest "Christians" who have been yelling crucify them at the LGBTQIA community happen to be members of fundamentalist congregations. Particularly in the case of the Southern Baptists, this entire crusade seems like a massive deflection from their denominational failure to root out and condemn the sexual violence committed within their ranks. The conflation of acceptance and tolerance as "grooming" is intentional given how many of those same people have advocated against choice in reproductive health care for women; supported book bans and efforts to promote anti-racism, diversity, and inclusion; and justified their bigotry as an expression of faith in order to self-righteously condemn everyone who disagrees with them as godless. 

As I reflect back on that night from almost a year ago, all I knew at the time was that we had chosen to stay at a restaurant other than the one where we had intended to eat. That choice was not meant to be a political statement, but it has become symbolic of the kind of allyship we want to impart to our daughter. Because no, we are not those people (nor are we all that hip or adventurous as parents); however, we are the kind of parents who hope that she respects the humanity in everyone. I proudly accept being called godless by those people because I don't worship their gods and false idols. My God doesn't restrict love to man-made traditions. My God is love, and He put the rainbow in the sky as a covenant to us of that love. 

Therefore, when I see the rainbows and the ever-expanding acronym of people who find meaning in each color, my first reaction isn't one of anger. Because how is there a hidden agenda in a tee shirt that depicts a dinosaur shooting rainbow beams from its eyes at spaceships (when neither dinosaurs nor spaceships exist)? How does a swimsuit with a tucking feature affect my child if she doesn't need to wear that? And why should I be triggered if some shy adult needs that feature so that they can feel more confident and comfortable? I am the Busy Black Woman, so trust, I don't have time to record a shaky TikTok video of myself looking and sounding deranged over the clothing selection at Target. I won't be stalking anyone in a public bathroom to demand to know whether they were born male or female. Nor would I shoot up full cans of beer that I bought because I don't like that one of their spokesmodels dresses like Holly Golightly.

And shame on Anheuser-Busch for bowing to that bigotry! To any other corporate brand that is contemplating how best to respond to this backlash, the right thing to do is stand firm. If your options include full or even a partial retreat then I guess I was right to be skeptical about all of this back in 2019. Y'all are just selling us shit covered in rainbows. 

Allyship isn't a fad nor is it a marketing strategy. PRIDE isn't supposed to conform to the politics of heteronormative respectability. And whether those people like it or not, the LGBTQIA movement won't be shamed back into the closet. Anyone who embraces repression and discrimination will find themselves on the losing side of history--maybe not in the short-term, but eventually. Because the moral arc of the rainbow is long, but it bends towards justice.


Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Fried Chicken Wednesday: The Coronation

For this installment of #RoyalNewsYouCantUse, I thought you might enjoy a recap of the Coronation of King Charles III, but with a little Busy Black Woman Fried Chicken twist. Because if you sat through it the first time and managed to stay awake...

Bland Chicken Broth

Whew Lawd, what a snooze! And to make matters worse, the British and American tabloid media keep pumping out headlines about the behind-the-scenes machinations leading up to and after the Boringest show on earth. We saw it all, and what we knew to be true some 40 years ago is absolutely still the case: King Charles III is a dud. Monarchy is a lot more interesting to see depicted in fairy tales, in costume dramas on PBS, and on Broadway. Perhaps he should have hired this guy as a warm-up act:

Jonathan Groff as King George III in Hamilton

(Then again, maybe not since he's why most Americans think all of this is silly.) 

As promised, I fully intended to watch this entire spectacle, and I really tried. My daughter woke up in the middle of the night with a cough, so she climbed into bed to share her cooties with me. And then I couldn't go back to sleep, so I began channel surfing and saw that CNN International had blocked off time to cover the Coronation as early as 1am EDT. I watched about ten minutes of commentary, and then it was a wrap--I was out like a light, even with the Kid's elbow jabbing me. When I woke up again a few hours later to the same boring commentary, I flipped over to PBS where there was less talk and more focus on the "action", which is the most ironic word to describe exactly what was not happening at that time.

Lemon Pepper Hot Wings

I must have nodded off again because I jolted awake at the blare of trumpets during the musical overture before the start of the ceremony. To keep the guests entertained prior to his arrival, the King had several pieces commissioned, which were all very elegant and regal. Of course, the stand-out was the South African soprano Pretty Yende, who made sure that she was not only heard (which was lovely), but also seen in this neon yellow dress: 

Winner-Winner Chicken Dinner

The long-awaited arrival of Prodigal Prince Harry was rather anti-climatic since without much fanfare, he walked in, shook a few hands, and made his way to his seat. It didn't matter that he wasn't seated in the front row or that his view was likely obstructed by his Aunt's hat, because of everyone assembled, he seemed to be the only happy person in the Abbey. The delight on his face in this picture is giving us several vibes: (1) Ha, it wasn't me pissing Father off this time (classic mischievous younger brother energy); (2) I think I can win the bet that I'll be back in the States in time to have that tray of Mama Dee's mac and cheese all to myself; (3) here comes my Crazy Aunt Anne, try not to laugh at that enormous goose feather on her Napoleon hat (too late); and (4) I wonder how unseemly it would look if I literally cartwheeled my way out of here right after the benediction?

Flipping the Bird

Speaking of Crazy Aunt Anne, the Princess Royal, who in every photo I have seen of her since Queen Elizabeth died, looks like she's about to storm the Bastille:

Kate's Classic Chicken Pot Pie

Kelly Preston as Jetstream
in Sky High
I have to admit that Princess Catherine of Wales earned my sympathy because she was obviously having a terrible day, but still managed to put on a brave face. It cannot be easy to live under the constant glare of hot lights and to have your every move dissected on social media (just ask your estranged SIL). As for the state of their marriage, it has been 12 years and three children--William is lucky she agreed to wear that ridiculous superhero costume in public. 

On the FB page, I joked that she reminded me of every Black mother I've seen rushing into church after the service has started: thank God we made it, but dammit why are we always late? My guess is that she had the same kind of morning I've had whenever I discover that my daughter has been playing in my makeup (and I swear it happens every single time when I have to be somewhere). After making sure that the Heirs and other children were dressed, Kate finally had a few minutes to focus on herself. As she was rummaging through her makeup bag, she discovered that Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis had been mixing her eye shadow colors again. Everything was a mess, and when she complained to William, he just stared at her and blinked nervously. For it was then at that moment he remembered that he had forgotten to tell her that per the Queen-to-be, Kate couldn't wear her favorite tiara. 

Which not only explains why they were late, but also why everybody in her wingspan looked so tense and mortally afraid once they arrived at the Abbey. Kate must have cursed them all out, which threw everybody off their game. Poor Prince George was trying not to trip/step on Granddaddy's train. Prince William forgot the lines he had been rehearsing all of his life and had to read from the cue cards. Prince Edward, 38th in line to the throne, looking both bewildered and ecstatic to finally sit on the front row at one of these events was thinking what the bloody hell did I do to her?

And Kate, seething with the rage of a woman who found out at the very last minute that she couldn't wear the tiara she had pre-selected so she had to do something else creative with her hair, made everybody wait. She sent Charlotte into her room to find an old doily and on the car ride over to the Abbey, they went to work crafting a Mommy and Me hairpiece. Looks pretty good, if you ask me.

The Side Dishes

Now I know what I said I wouldn't say, but you have to admit that Queen Camilla was serving Lady Elaine Fairchilde (before her modern Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood makeover):

And Rose Hanbury could be a doppelganger for Lady Betty Aberlin if this were all taking place in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe:

Chicken is the Gospel Bird

With Duchess Meghan and her Mama Dee sound asleep in California, I'm guessing the need to prove just how the British royals are "very much not a racist family" was real. Therefore, the King wisely remembered that at one point in time, the sun never set on his Grandfather's imperial spice rack, so perhaps it would be a gesture of good will to sprinkle a little seasoning into the flour. Not only did he make sure to invite all of the various heads of state and assorted royalty, he also had their presence strategically photographed and announced:

Crown Prince Fumihito and Crown Princess Kiko of Japan

Ditto for the ecumenical outreach in having representatives of every faith in full regalia as a nod to the religious diversity of modern UK and throughout the Commonwealth. The King even stopped for a quick photo opp chat with a few clergy before leaving the Abbey:

Lucky also, that the current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had some free time on his calendar and hasn't gotten the sack yet:

And finally, the Ascension Gospel Choir, an offshoot of the Kingdom Choir that performed at Harry and Meghan's wedding day in 2018, made history as the first gospel group to perform at a coronation at the specific behest of His Majesty:

Rubber Chickens

There was a lot of talk about ancient rites and rituals which were allegedly modernized...but I didn't see much evidence of that. There were visible roles for women and we've already addressed the racial and religious diversity aspect. However, other than allowing the boys to wear pants instead of tights and not having an assembly full of old men wearing powdered wigs, everything else looked exactly as ostentatious and over-the-top as it must have looked since the Dark Ages.

For example, that whole bowing to the King and pledging loyalty by the Prince of Wales was definitely strange, in a King Lear kind of way. Not only that, it gave off vibes of remember Father, I'm the loyal son and it was Kate who made us late. The fact that Prince William was the only person who had to perform that ritual formally, while everyone else simply bowed or curtseyed, was even weirder.

Not sure why Katy Perry, a judge on AMERICAN Idol, kept curtseying, nor shall we discuss the overall awkwardness of this bit with the King and Lionel Richie. However, I think the fact that Brenda Richie both promotes and shades her ex-husband in her tweets is finger-licking gold!

Finally, now that the food has been eaten and the servants are clearing the dishes, there are two extra crispy nuggets left behind that sum up everything you ever wanted to know about this Coronation.  First, several of the Commonwealth nations are still intent on dumping the monarchy. They were only sticking around as a courtesy to Queen Elizabeth. Second, on Morning Joe the other day, Katty Kay, American-based correspondent for the BBC admitted that once she got back to the States, all of this coronation business looked rather silly. Because it IS!

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Too Many Open Tabs

I just counted the number of open tabs at the top of my screen. There are 46, not including the 16 other tabs that may be open in a different window. I also have at least five unfinished drafts that I am struggling through and I'm sinking into a depression that I don't seem to be able to avoid.

This isn't normally the type of piece I would want to publish from this blog. I prefer not to put energy into the universe that comes across as a plea for help, but I need to express a few things in order to break through from this cycle, hopefully to something else better. Because I am stuck...

I am over it. I am fried. I am frustrated that I don't seem to have any control over anything in my life, not even my own emotions or thoughts. I am sitting here contemplating if this is what I am supposed to be doing with my life--writing to myself since talking aloud to myself would be a sign of insanity. Is this just me jotting down my rantings and ravings for posterity?

(By the way, I hate this new feature where the computer tries to anticipate what I am intending to say. I find this very fucking annoying <---it didn't guess that I was about to curse. For the record, I do not appreciate artificial intelligence trying to make my life seem easy when I really just want to think and brood for myself.)

For the past couple of weeks I have seriously thought to discontinue writing this blog. I have hit a wall, I don't think I'm saying anything new or interesting, and I barely get any readers anyway. I could try to take a break, but then what would I do? I don't have anything else going on in my life that doesn't involve taking care of someone or feeling as if I have to be in Olivia Pope survival mode ready to handle stuff. I am tired. 

And I know I am contradicting myself, but I feel useless.

The last time I felt this way, I sat down and wrote myself out of the funk. Today I am unsure if that will do the trick. Tomorrow, who knows? Several years ago, I did stop writing for about 18 months or so, and I can tell you that I didn't feel any better about the state of things during that hiatus. But I don't know what else I can do, except maybe get away to someplace where all I need to do is think and write and read and sleep and drink. I just need to be.

I don't want anyone to reach out to me to offer encouraging platitudes, as if that would actually happen. I know it won't because it never has, even when it is obvious to everyone how miserable I am. Because that is the catch--no one notices, and even if they did, no one ever knows what to say to me. Either I'm really adept at putting on a happy face for the world, or I'm an expert at being ignored. Besides, these posters are annoying AF. 

My life is a mess. That is not something I say just to have something to say, because literally I had to step over several piles of things to get to this little space where my computer and chair are in my cramped little office where I can't see the floor. I bought some cards for Teacher Appreciation Week that I cannot find, and I have a bunch of Mother's Day cards that I need to write and mail. At the same time, I am sitting here feeling a bit resentful that I make all of this effort and feel that none of it is appreciated. Who cares if I don't send Mother's Day cards with handwritten notes in them this year? I'm guessing no one.

While I'm navel gazing and stewing in my own pot, I got to thinking about the writers' strike in Hollywood and how I totally understand and can relate to sense that no one appreciates creativity anymore. People just assume that if they type in a bunch of concepts into a computer program, it will spit out a sequence of interchangeable scenarios that will eliminate the need for writers.  Who needs a room full of people with mortgages and kids to feed when you just need one person to keep the paper from jamming in the printer. Isn't that essentially the Tyler Perry model of "content creation"? He's a damn billionaire who could be employing these talented moonlighting Door Dashers and Lyft drivers. I don't know how much he pays the actors (and we know he doesn't invest much in production), but if that is the future of scripted television and movies...

I keep telling myself that money isn't everything. I look at the pictures from the MET Gala and of course I would love to attend those kinds of functions, but then I think about all of the people who services I would need to employ to help me look like that. And then I remember that not only do I not have a job, I'm not anybody important, so it wouldn't even merit an invitation or I would be shunned like this cockroach. Perhaps the People's Ball for the bridge and tunnel crowd is more my speed (not really, but maybe I will make that happen someday.)

A few months ago, someone posted about hosting a reading for their book and how no one came. That is exactly how I feel right now. I worry myself into a tizzy over sentences and punctuation and word choice, but when all is written and edited and I finally hit the "confirm" button to publish, I get these simultaneous feelings of relief and anxiety. Because then I have to figure out how to promote it, and after I agonize over that for a few minutes, then I get wound up in a knot with worry that I should have done this or that or rephrased...

(Yes, I go through this every single time.) So why bother? Because I have at least 9 faithful readers, and none of them is related to me, so no one feels guilted into reading what I've written because I might withhold sex or not speak to them. And honest to God, I am not complaining because it could be worse. Imagine if a certain person did feel obligated to read my blog the way they seem to feel compelled to faithfully listen to their baseball or foodie podcasts...

So now you know why I rarely want people to know that this neurotic side of me exists. Yet, I think it makes me seem more human in case there was some cause for doubt. I often entertain the thought of myself as an abject failure, and then I consider the alternative. I don't have as clear an image in my head of what that might entail, but I'm guessing that in the Alphaverse, that Ayanna doesn't wear yoga pants every day. Yep, I've seen Everything Everywhere All At Once quite a few times since it swept the Oscars; ironically, not entirely all the way through in one sitting.

If I'm not screaming into the void, then I'm just another bewildered housewife living her worst life somewhere in the multiverse. That is actually a comforting thought--it feels good to imagine that somewhere out there, a version of me is the Ayanna I am looking for.

See, sometimes it does work to just write it all out. 

That doesn't mean that I won't entertain any more thoughts of self-doubt. I am a good writer, but I'm no Lin-Manuel Miranda (remember him), finding award-winning inspiration in the life of a forgotten Founding Father. I find my inspiration by scrolling social media and watching cable news. I write about experiences from my own life and my interactions engaging with others. I fancy myself as an undiscovered pop culture critic/political pundit, more accessible and unfiltered. I unapologetically stand up for women, Black women in particular, and despite what some unwoke provocateur might claim, my feminism isn't some issue I adopted in order to exclude the awkward people from the sorority. I am a Believer who sees Jesus in the cracks and crevices. I love this country, but I will do my part to push it to become what it claims to be, and I refuse to accept anything less. 

If you are still reading, that is who the Busy Black Woman is. Nope, not a long-winded wannabe porn model--a writer. When I began this journey, my life was in a much different place. I thought I had a solid plan and attainable dreams, but then the ground under my feet shifted. At times it feels like the earth never stops moving long enough for me to find my footing. But I keep writing.

So while I am discouraged right now, I won't give in to despair. I will close some of these tabs and will finish and publish those pieces. I will send those Mother's Day cards and I may clear a path of floor in my office. I might listen to a few songs from the Hamilton soundtrack. While I hope this strike doesn't last long, I hope the writers hold the line because talented people deserve to earn a decent living in their chosen profession (and that concept should apply universally). If it works for me to cross a few items off my to-do list, so be it, or I might just settle for leaving this house to sit in my car by the water somewhere for a change of scenery. Either way, I will write about it and let you know.