Tag Archives: African-American

Elvis Movie Review

There are only a handful of artists who are known by a singular name. Their image and influence have permeated the culture in a way that everyone knows who they are and what they represent. Elvis Presley is one of these artists.

The new biopic, Elvis, hit theaters last week. Directed by Baz Luhrmann, the film stars newcomer Austin Butler as the title character and Tom Hanks as his manager with sometimes questionable intentions, Colonel Tom Parker. The narrative follows both of them from the early days of Presley’s career until his death in 1977 at the age of 42. The Colonel tells the story, casting himself as the manager who saw the potential of an unknown artist. As Elvis becomes a megastar, he faces criticism for his supposedly “wild race music” and its effect on the nation’s young people.

As the years pass and he becomes a has-been, Presley, and the Colonel pivot. After a very successful television special, he becomes a Las Vegas regular. But while his client is on stage, the Colonel is enriching himself. When everything comes to a head, Elvis has to choose between staying with his manager or trying to go his own way.

Though Butler does not look exactly like the King, he completely inhabits the man and the legend. Playing him from his teenage years until his early 40s, Butler is enigmatic and completely convinces the audience that he is Presley. Hanks, as usual, is up to the task. His character is a man who sees an opportunity and takes it, even if means crossing some boundaries.

What made the movie work for me was the man behind the icon. Presley was a devoted son to his parents, Gladys and Vernon (Helen Thomson and Richard Roxburgh). He was also madly in love with his wife Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge) and a devoted father to their daughter. He respected the black artists whose music he “borrowed” (depending on your perspective) from. What Luhrmann does brilliantly as a filmmaker is to point out that while African-American musicians of the era were largely ignored outside of their community, Presley made a fortune singing the same songs.

My only complaint is that the middle of the narrative could have been trimmed down a bit. Other than that, the film is incredibly good and definitely worth the price of a movie ticket.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Elvis is presently in theaters.

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Filed under History, Movie Review, Movies, Music, Television

Flashback Friday: The Blind Side (2009)

Education, as we all know, unlocks the key to our future. When we don’t have access to that education, that lack of access has the possibility of lifelong consequences.

The 2009 film, The Blind Side, is based on the true story of former NFL player Michael Oher. The narrative comes from the book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, by Michael Lewis. In his teenage years, Oher (Quinton Aaron) was a young man who had almost nothing. Coming from a large African-American family that was dealing with poverty, homelessness, and addiction. Taken in by Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) and her family, he is being given the opportunity that many of his peers will never receive.

When he shows a spark of interest and the ability to play football, this opens the door to a life path that he never expected.

Without knowing anything about the real people behind the story, it is a tale of seeing potential in a young person who does not believe that they have any. Bullock won an Oscar for the role and deserved it. Her role is that of a mama bear who loves and protects her young ones with a ferocity that never wavers.

There are two perspectives on the movie. The first is that it is at heart, a white savior narrative. From a certain point of view, it is extremely problematic. The other is that it humanizes the white evangelical Christian Republicans. These days, it’s easy to demonize this crowd. This story shows that they are just like the rest of us, even when we disagree on a litany of topics.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Filed under Books, Flashback Friday, Movie Review, Movies, Politics

The Shooting in Buffalo is a Shit Storm of Everything That is Wrong With This Country

Saturday morning started as out as a normal day. For the residents of Buffalo in upstate NY, it became a day marked by grief and horror. A gunman walked into a grocery store and started shooting. By the time he was apprehended, ten people were dead, and three were injured.

The accused (whose name will not be mentioned on this blog) is an eighteen-year-old Caucasian boy. According to the police, his intention was to murder as many African-Americans as he could. Only two of the victims were not POC. Upon further digging, law enforcement officials discovered a manifesto in which he also believed the antisemitic bullshit.

To make matter worse, he had previous mental health issues and was able to evade the laws that prevented him from legally buying a firearm. If that was not enough, he lived streamed the massacre. As much as I appreciate the upsides of social media, the companies that run these platforms have some serious work and soul searching to do.

Everything that is wrong with this country is represented by the event on Saturday and the person accused of perpetrating it. There are many who would have no restrictions at all when it comes to firearms, but they will do everything in their power to control a woman’s/pregnant person’s body and their right to choose if/when they become a parent. They also turn a blind eye to the hate coming out of the right-wing press and the politicians who prefer power over respecting democracy, political norms, and the rule of law.

I don’t know what it is going to take to shake us out of this dream world that we live in. I fear that when we do, it will be too late.

May the memories of those killed on Saturday be a blessing. Z”L.

P.S. There were five mass shootings across the country this past weekend. How many people are going to die before we do something about this once and for all?

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Filed under Feminism, Mental Health, National News, Podcast, Politics, WNYC

Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality Book Review

No social movement that aims to create a better world is without its internal struggle. While the men are at the forefront, it is often the women who do the work. But few are given the spotlight and the respect they deserve.

The late Constance Baker Motley was one of these women. Her story is told in the new biography Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality. Written by Tomiko Brown-Nagin, it was published in January. Born to immigrants from the Caribbean in 1921, she came of age in an era in which both her gender and her skin color created barriers. Instead of just submitting to these barriers, she broke them. After graduating from law school, she was the only female on staff working for the legal team of the NAACP under the leadership of the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Balancing work, marriage, and motherhood, Baker Motley smashed both Jim Crow to bits and created a large crack in the glass ceiling. Her career contained a lot of the firsts: the first African-American woman who was a state Senator in NY and the federal judiciary, and the first woman elected as Manhattan Borough President.

As a product of the American education system, I am utterly dismayed that she is not a household name. She was not just a groundbreaker, but a rule breaker. These days, it is perfectly normal for a woman to have the figurative balls of her job, her marriage, and her children in the air at the same time. But not back then. In fighting for the rights of both women and Black Americans, she paved the way for equality that has become the norm and unfortunately, still has to be fought for.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality is available wherever books are sold.

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Sisters in Arms: A Novel of the Daring Black Women Who Served During World War II Book Review

During war, the one upshot (if there ever was one) is that with the men on the battlefield, women take on roles that otherwise would be denied to them.

Sisters in Arms: A Novel of the Daring Black Women Who Served During World War II, by Kaia Alderson, was published last year. As World War II rages on, the powers that be in the American military have opened the door for women to serve. Known as the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), these soldiers may not have been on the front lines, but their contributions cannot be ignored.

In the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, two young women have joined up. Grace Steele and Eliza Jones may come from the same part of the city, but that is the only thing they initially have in common. Grace is a musical prodigy whose career has been sidelined by a family tragedy. Eliza, who works for her father’s newspaper, wants to be a respected reporter. Instead, she is sidelined to beats that are “appropriate” for a female.

They are not only the first women to officially join the army, they are also among the first African-American women to sign up. After basic training, Grace and Eliza form and lead the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. On top of doing their jobs, they also have to deal with prejudice that comes with their gender and skin color.

When they are finally sent to Europe, Grace, Eliza, and the rest of their battalion are thrilled to finally be able to serve their nation, regardless of the danger.

I loved this book. I came into the book knowing that there were women in the military during the war. But my knowledge did not extend beyond that basic fact. After I finished it, I felt a sense of pride. We all know the promises that the country makes and the half-truths that are the day-to-day reality. But when we open the door to change, the ripples can be nothing short of world-changing.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Sisters in Arms: A Novel of the Daring Black Women Who Served During World War II is available wherever books are sold.

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Two Giant Steps Forward and One Step Back: Ketanji Brown Jackson and the Ten Year Anniversary of the Homicide of Trayvon Martin

One of the most potent and universal quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. is as follows:

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Last Saturday, February 26th, was the ten-year anniversary of the murder of Trayvon Martin. Had his killer (who shall not be named on the blog) not decided to take the law into his own hands, young Mr. Martin would be 27. He might have graduated from high school and college, started a successful career, and perhaps said “I do” by now. But he will forever remain 17, a promising life full of possibilities that we can speak of in a hypothetical manner.

Though we cannot bring Travyon back to life or undo the acquittal of the man who was responsible for his killing, we can see look to our present and see where progress has been made. The men responsible for the executions of both George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery were found guilty of their respective crimes.

During the 2022 Presidential election, President Biden promised to nominate an African-American woman to the Supreme Court. On February 25th, he kept his promise. After Justice Stephen Breyer announced his upcoming retirement, Ketanji Brown Jackson was introduced to the country as his replacement.

This is one GIANT step forward. As both a woman and a person of color, Brown Jackson, represents the true nature and the potential of this nation. With March being Women’s History Month and this coming Tuesday being International Women’s Day, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our wins and identify where there is more work to be done.

Of course, not everyone welcomed her with open arms. Her legal abilities and history were questioned by some Republicans (no surprise there). The obvious inquiry is if Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh had to face the same criticism. Probably not. My hope and prayer is that not only will she sit on the highest court of the land, but also that she will help to create the America that we know is possible.

May the memory of Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, etc, be a blessing and a reminder of how far we need to go.

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Best New TV Shows of 2021

*I apologize for the delay in posting. I should have written this before New Year’s Eve.

  1. Loki: Tom Hiddleston shines once more as Loki, the complicated immortal who has become much more than the standard antagonist. Forced into new circumstances, he goes on a journey that forever changes him.
  2. The Wonder Years: This reboot of the beloved 1980’s/1990’s series is just as poignant as its predecessor. The choice of making the main character and his family African-American only adds to its relevancy.
  3. Law & Order: Organized Crime: This spinoff of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit starring Chris Meloni as returning Detective Elliot Stabler is a thrilling and spine tingling hour of television.
  4. Ordinary Joe: This new NBC series is the story of one man and three distinct life paths before him. Told concurrently and using different colors for each decision, is is a reminder of how one choice can affect the rest of our lives.
  5. Impeachment: American Crime Story: The latest chapter of this long running F/X series focuses on the affair between Monica Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein) and former President Clinton (Clive Owen) and the impeachment trial that followed. Instead of focusing on Clinton, the story is about the women who were directly affected by his less than honorable actions.
  6. WandaVision: This first foray by the MCU via DisneyPlus is everything it promised to be. Wanda Maxmioff and Vision (Elisabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany) are living in family sitcom wedded bliss. But it not what it seems to be. With a star making turn by Kathryn Hahn as Agatha Harkness, this series is a must see.
  7. All Creatures Great and Small: Ths unexpectedly Masterpeice/PBS series is adorable and charming. A rookie vetenarian starts his career in rural Yorkshire in the 1930’s and grows in unexpected ways. The new season starts tonight at 9PM ET/ 8PM CT.
  8. Atlantic Crossing: This second Masterpeice/PBS series tells the story of the friendship/supposed affair between Franklin Delanor Roosevelt and Crown Princess Martha of Sweden during World War II. Forgotten for nearly a century, this tale of one woman’s drive to save her nation is truly worth watching.
  9. The Book of Boba Fett: This latest entry into the Star Wars universe from DisneyPlus just premiered on December 29th. Though only two episodes have been released, it is already asking questions that are begging for answers.
  10. Behind Her Eyes: Based on the book by Sarah Pinborough, this six part Netflix series about a married man’s affair with his secretary has a delicious ending that is jaw dropping and completely out of left field. Few endings have wowed me as this did.
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Filed under Books, DisneyPlus, Feminism, FX, History, Netflix, Star Wars, Television, TV Review

Passing Movie Review

When one is part of a minority group, there are two obvious choices. The first one is to be who you are, regardless of what is being said about you. The second is to pretend to be someone else and fit in, otherwise known as passing.

Passing is the title of the new Netflix film. Based on a book written by Nella Larsen, it is set in New York City in the 1920s. Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga) were friends in high school. Both are biracial and have not seen each other for many years. Irene has embraced her identity as a woman of color while Clare is passing as Caucasian. Upon meeting Clare’s very white and very prejudiced husband John (Alexander Skarsgard), Irene is both curious and disgusted by her old pal’s life preference. For her part, Clare is drawn into Irene’s circle of mostly African-American friends (including Irene’s husband, Brian, played by Andre Holland). Unlike Clare, they have openly and proudly embraced their identities. She is forced to grapple with the self-applied mask of passing she has put on.

Written and directed by Rebecca Hall (who has been speaking to the press about her own biracial identity), this is a powerhouse of a film. Though both the book and the movie tell the story of two women who are both partially of African-American descent, I felt like understood them. I’ve often spoken on this blog about my own Jewish faith and identity. I could, if I wanted to, pass as someone of another faith or no faith at all. I’ve been asked quite a few times if I am of Irish ancestry due to my red hair.

At the end of the day, it is this decision we make that defines our lives. Do we not give a fuck and just be ourselves or do we submerge who we are to be accepted by others? It is a question that each of us must ask ourselves, knowing the outcome has to potential to have life-altering consequences.

Do I recommend it? absolutely.

Passing is available for streaming on Netflix.

P.S. I would not be surprised if Passing did well come award season.

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