Thursday, November 25, 2010
Whether you are enjoying a large meal with your family or your friends, or enjoying a cozy little meal by yourself...have a great holiday! Most importantly, don't be absurd! Go ahead and eat that bird! For the vegetarians out there...the holidays offer one lesson: nothing, absolutely nothing, is better than good ole dressing. Stay safe!
Thursday, November 18, 2010
But since I’ve already written about the media’s obsession with single successful black women, I have no intention of writing about it again. Right now, I need to let loose about the down low mythology that the media seems to have a real jones for at the moment.
From Oprah, to D.L. Hughley and Sherri Shepherd, everyone seems to be harping on about the specter of the disease-carrying, heartbreaker of scorned straight black women: the down low black man. The black man who is ostensibly “straight,” who dates, has sex with or is married to a woman but who also secretly has sex with men. On a class level, he’s often a successful black man, an ideal black man: great career, seemingly has his act together, seemingly responsible, etc. The DL Dude breaks the hearts of women and further breaks their bodies by infecting them with HIV, so goes the rhetoric.
There are multiple problems with this rhetoric:
1. It displays a refusal to acknowledge the existence of bisexuality as a legitimate sexual identity
2. It fallaciously assumes that all closeted black men are dating women
3. It implies that non-heterosexual men, gay or bisexual, are abnormally promiscuous
4. It implies that non-heterosexual men, gay or bisexual, are disease carriers by nature and are responsible for the HIV epidemic in black American communities
First, our country is preoccupied with dualisms and either/or ideas. A person is either gay or straight. Black or white. We constantly demonstrate our narrow-mindedness and fixation on dualisms every time we say Obama isn’t acting black enough or, as the Tea Partiers seem to think, that because he’s “black” (rather than biracial) he only cares about black people. Likewise, we constantly demonstrate our preoccupation with dualisms every time we treat bisexuality like it’s a phase, every time we make movies or TV shows (*cough* The L Word) that erase or vilify or pathologize bisexuality. Personally, I have met very few “straight” people who say they have only been attracted to the opposite sex and very few “gay” people who say they have only been attracted to the same sex. Many people just seem to be attracted to people, but only act on their attractions with certain people (be those certain people of the same sex or opposite sex or both). However, everyone is free to pick their label: straight is no less legitimate than gay. But “bisexual” is less legitimate…apparently.
Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls made that evident (*spoiler alert*) as Jo (Janet Jackson) confronts her husband, Carl (Omari Hardwick), about his sexuality. She has seen him checking out men, on the street, in theater halls, when they are out together. Jo asks him, “Are you gay?” In response, we see the pain on Carl’s face as he seems to be trying to figure out what he is. To society, he’s gay, and ergo, he’s not a man. He seems to plead with himself as he says that he’s a man and he repeats that, just before he finishes with, “a man who likes having sex with other men.” I may be an atypical theater-goer, but I genuinely felt this man’s grief as he tried to answer his wife’s question. I don’t know if I was supposed to feel that or not. Some viewers would say that I wasn’t supposed to empathize with him, that Carl was a typical unsympathetic villainous down low character. Indeed, in some ways he is unsympathetic and outright villainous, and in some ways not. The actor certainly brought a real sort of humanity to the character. But this doesn’t take away from the fact that I was disturbed by the “Are you gay” question.
Don’t get me wrong: it is a legitimate question to ask in a situation like the one between Jo and Carl. But why is “are you gay?” the first question that comes to mind when we find out a person, especially a man, is engaged in same-sex relations? Because we are programmed to believe that a man who has sex with men is a gay man, period. He couldn’t be anything else. There’s no turning back to women when a man let’s another man “bend him over,” as Jo said. Furthermore, when she received no real answer from him, why didn’t she follow up with, “Are you bisexual?” I don’t remember her asking that question (someone who’s seen the film, correct me if I missed that). The absence of this question or the mention of bisexuality effectively erases bisexuality as a legitimate identity in this scene. He is either gay or straight. And he’d better just pick one, rather than go around hurting people. That one little phrase would have added an amazing amount of depth to this scene, to her character and his character because the truth is simple: a man who has sex with men but who also dates and has sex with women might just be bisexual. In other words, he might just be attracted to men and women, perhaps to differing degrees. But the problem is that our culture doesn’t allow men (not even women, really) to express attraction to both men and women. Often time, if a woman finds out a man has been with men or is attracted to men, she doesn’t want anything to do with him as far as dating. And when men find out another man has been with men or is attracted to men, they often immediately label him as gay, whether or not the man has labeled himself that way. Indeed, many men who are attracted to both men and women, feeling pressured to choose either gay or straight, choose one so as to have some sort of identity that is at least acknowledged. I know I was probably bringing too many of my own ideas to the film, but I felt that Carl was going through this very dilemma during the film and especially during this moment.
Secondly, not all down low men are dating women. Some of them just remain single. There’s a thought.
Thirdly, just like Carl in the film, gay and bisexual men (via the down low mythology) are deemed abnormally promiscuous. They sex men anywhere and anytime, whenever they can get it. For instance, in the beginning we see Carl sitting in his car under a bridge, receiving oral sex from another man. We see him and some other dude checking each other out in the theater, while Carl is sitting next to his wife. We see him sneaking in late, obviously having procured some anonymous or random booty from some dude, and slipping under the covers next to his wife. The down low stereotype differs little from general stereotypes we have of gay men (think Queer as Folk and Ricky from Noah’s Arc) as being perpetually sexed by some random dude and/or constantly sexing some random dude. Clearly, as the rhetoric goes, gay men unlike straight men can’t have monogamous relationships. (I’m sure all the straight women are laughing at the irony of that one, as they tick off the number of trifling straight men they’ve encountered.) This stereotype becomes even more exaggerated when the guy is labeled as bisexual (even bisexual women have to deal with the whore stereotype), and it becomes outright vicious when the guy is labeled as a down low man.
This brings me to the fourth point: the viciousness of the down low “whore man” stereotype often receives its articulation through moralistic sermonizing about HIV and AIDS. Homophobia has become so ridiculous in black communities that we’ve decided to dupe ourselves (or let the media dupe us) into believing that the HIV/AIDs epidemic affecting us is due to the presence of down low brothers. It couldn’t possibly be due to lack of education, poverty and lack of access to good health care, and plain old poor personal choices. Nope. The down low brother is a disease, literally, according to the stereotype. Carl, of For Colored Girls, represents the stereotype of the down low man in its entirety: promiscuous, unfaithful, HIV carrier, a veritable killer of black women.
When is this madness going to stop, I ask myself? We have a real deadly epidemic on our hands, and rather than face its root causes upfront so that we can find a workable solution, we’ve (or at least the media) decided to blame it on down low black men. Yes, some black women have contracted HIV from brothers on the down low. But research (and general common sense) has time and again shown that women are contracting the disease from men who are not on the down low (or from men who at least report that they have not had relations with other men). Women are contracting the disease from straight black men. Like real straight black men. You dig? Women are contracting it from drug use and from drug users. Etc. It’s hard to believe that in such a life or death situation, as the current HIV crisis has presented us with, that we’d rather accept a lie than the truth.
I find it even more disgusting that all the people who are storming off about this film, as if it’s the worst thing ever created—marring the reputation of black men, mangling Shange’s beautiful work, and whatever other excuse people find—that few have included any discussions of this obvious problem in the film. Perry’s own mysterious sexuality makes the portrayal even more disconcerting. I hesitate to say that he seemed to be channeling some of his own anxieties and frustrations in the disclosure scene between Carl and Jo, as the camera remains close up on Carl, who looks like he’s on the verge of tears as he talks. But rather than discuss this, many of the bloggers, male and female, seem to feel more comfortable writing Perry off as a self-hating black man and/or a self-hating homo. Either way, their silence on this issue implies, on some level, that they saw no problem with this stereotypical portrayal. In other words, they seem to have a problem with Carl being gay/bisexual (“dang, the black man can’t never get a break! First, he’s a rapist and a gangbanger, now a homo?!) rather than with him being written as a disgusting stereotype of homosexuality or bisexuality: as a disease-carrying, promiscuous, heartbreaker down low black man. As I’ve written before, I love the film. I’ve hated all Tyler Perry productions before this film, but I admit that he gained some of my respect with this film. That does not prevent me from calling the film out on its problematic—perhaps plain homophobic/biphobic—portrayal of Carl’s character. Like Oprah and others, Perry played a broken record with Carl’s character. And let’s just put it this way, that record was wack from day one.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
To read more inspiring blogs, visit Dr. Terry at:
I was chatting with a young man the other day. He wanted some money and was hoping that he could get some help from the state, from his relatives and from the church. He was a perfectly able bodied young man, quite capable of earning a living in a variety of ways. But he was not a morning person, so he did not want to have to get up early. He did not care for physical labor, so he did not want a job that required sweating. He had a whole list of reasons why he did not want to work at any jobs that were currently available in the area. After listening to him awhile, I politely declined his request for assistance.
We live in a world in which everyone wants all the benefits of a free modern prosperous society, but no one wants the responsibilities that go with it. Each spouse wants a happy marriage, but the both expect the other spouse to do most of the work. Parents want good kids, but expect the teacher at school to produce them. Everyone wants to have lots of money in their pocket, but they do not want to have to work too many hours to produce it. People want to have health care, but they do not want to pay for it. We have become a society that expects a lot but lacks the desire to put forth the effort to make those benefits happen.
This same sense of entitlement spills over into the church. People want a church that will meet all their needs, but they expect someone else to teach the Sunday School classes, watch the nursery, print the bulletin, clean the bathrooms, preach the sermons, give the money, lead the music, prepare the refreshments and lead all the weekday programs. But that is simply an unrealistic expectation. There is no such thing as benefits without responsibility.
As a society, we need to rediscover the value of working hard to achieve our goals. We need to stop expecting someone else to do all the hard work while we reap the rewards. This is not a new concept. The Apostle Paul talked about this in 2 Thessalonians 2:10, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” and in Galatians 6:5, “for each one should carry his own load.” It may be an age old concept, but a new generation needs to learn it or our society may endure much longer.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
The subject of absent fathers is not new and unfortunately, a common occurrence than it should be, but, what is not quite as talked about, but just as significant (and disturbing) is PATERNITY FRAUD.
Even if you have never heard of paternity fraud, the name says it all - one parent falsely accusing another of paternity.
In an effort to enlighten others on the subject of paternity fraud, Author Pat Tucker has released her long-awaited novel, "Daddy By Default" which explores the destruction a case of paternity fraud causes in the life of an innocent man and his wife, a 'working-the-system' mom, and blameless child.
Unsuspecting men may discover the hard way that missing a deadline can be costly in more ways than one. Author Pat Tucker has created a tale about Paternity Fraud and why every man needs to know his state’s laws regarding the topic. Daddy by Default is about a defiant man who is stuck paying child support even after DNA determines he’s not the child’s biological father. Not possible you say? DNA has freed men from death row, led to the release of innocent men from prisons; quite surely it can be used to free a man from the financial obligations of a child he did not father correct? The answer to that question relies heavily on which state said father resides.
JuneBug Talk: First of all, for those who haven't read your book, what is Daddy by Default about?
Pat Tucker: Daddy by Default is heart-wrenching story about a married couple whose relationship is shaken to its core by a false arrest. Parker and Roxanne Redman have been trying to start a family for years, following another miscarriage; Parker is arrested for delinquent child support. Only he hasn’t fathered any children. The story tackles the often emotional and tumultuous drama involved with family law cases.
The story also highlights the importance of knowing the Paternity laws in one’s state, as they vary state to state. Currently there are 21 states in which DNA testing will not relieve a man of child support payments even if he’s not the father of the child in question. In those states and others, missing a deadline could leave a man financially responsible for a child until the child is 18.
JuneBug Talk: Why should we go out and get a copy?
Pat Tucker: This story is a glimpse of reality for so many men in the world today. Everyone who loves a man knows a man, or cares about a man needs to read Parker’s story because it can happen to anyone.
JuneBug Talk: Who do you think would enjoy the book the most and why?
Pat Tucker: Daddy by Default is steeped full of dramatic events, vivid scenes, and witty dialogue. This novel will appeal to avid readers and those searching for an authentic story of unrelenting determination and triumph.
JuneBug Talk: What inspired you to write Daddy by Default?
Pat Tucker: As in most of the stories I pen, real life news stories inspired me to write this story. As a Journalist, I often come across stories that I find unbelievable and they stay with me. The plot for Daddy by Default was one such story. Once I began to research real life cases involving the growing problem of Paternity Fraud, I felt this was an issue that deserved more attention.
June Bug Talk: What do you think our legal system (i.e. child support system) could do better to resolve the problem of paternity fraud?
Pat Tucker: The legal system needs to catch up with the advances in technology. Let's face it, 20 or even 10 years ago, we didn't anticipate DNA would be used in the ways it has today... lawmakers should try to keep up with technology and allow cases that challenge outdated laws to stand as a model for change.
June Bug Talk: Culturally or socially, rather than legally, what do you think we could do to deter women from committing or seeking to commit paternity fraud?
Pat Tucker: We can make it easier for the truth to come out, that way women won't be tempted, whether by accident or on purpose. There will always be cases where mistakes are made, but helping young women to better respect/love themselves will go a long way toward offering up more options. I know there are malicious people out there, but for the most part, I don't think anyone sets out to intentionally mislead others. (maybe that's just me being naive)
JuneBug Talk: Since many black folks grow up without their fathers, why should we be discussing paternity fraud rather than paternal abandonment? What makes this issue as pressing or more pressing than paternal abandonment at the moment?
Pat Tucker: Statistics indicate paternity fraud is on the rise... that means there are tons of men out there paying for children that aren't theirs. Let's give credit where credit is due. Are there other problems? Sure, but I don't think it's a matter of picking one over another, I think it's about raising awareness and educating our young people about the choices they make. National figures indicate the majority of men who owe money for child support are poor men, under employed men or unemployed men, but with statistics also indicating a large number of those men may not be said child's biological father it tells me we need to start at home. We need to start with moms and dads (where present) talking to our young people before careless choices are made. Let me get off my soap box, but I will say that it's up to us to turn things around in our own community and we start one child at a time.
JuneBug Talk: In writing this book, what would you like your readers to take from it?
Pat Tucker: I wanted to raise awareness about a problem I think many don't know about. When I tell people that DNA technology has freed innocent men from Death Row, but that same technology won't free men from child support payments in some states, many think it's just my crazy imagination going wild again... but the facts are there, we need to work together to raise the level of awareness and let people know that they all need to know what the paternity laws are in their respective states. That's what I hope readers will take from Daddy by Default.
JuneBug Talk: What are you working on next?
Pat Tucker: My next novel titled, Football Widows is a story about some NFL Coaches wives and their naughty behavior during the season, while their husbands are focusing on the game. In addition, I'm working on an independent film project. So soon, you’ll see me on the red carpet. And as always, I’m working on my next novel.
Monday, November 8, 2010
This is a film about the “ordinary, brown braided woman,” as recited amazingly by Gilda (Phylicia Rashad), invoking the Lady in Red (for those familiar with the book). It’s a film for and about women who don’t need any more apologies, who feel Jo (Janet Jackson) when she says, “I got sorry greetin me at my front door.” It's a film for anyone who has any interest and investment in the lives of ordinary, black women.
Tyler Perry, for the first time in his film career, has produced a work that begs the viewer to understand, relate to, and examine the lives of black women: our relationships with each other, with our mothers and sisters, with men. All of his other films purported to do this, but For Colored Girls is the first one that achieves this goal. Quite honestly the negative criticism from viewers astonishes me. And there's a LOT of it, much of which I read prior to seeing the film. After seeing the film, I can only assume that someone totally without connection to or empathy for black women could hate this film; or else someone who (perhaps understandably) simply can’t look past all of Perry’s previous debacles in order to see the gem that we have in his adaptation of Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.
First off, all of the actresses were excellent and seemed to be fully invested in bringing their characters to life. The only weak links were Kerry Washington (Kelly) and Whoopi Goldberg (Alice), although the latter had some moments that were useful in helping illuminate the idiosyncrasies of other central characters. Kerry Washington, admittedly, wasn’t featured heavily in the film. But, nonetheless, her character evoked little sympathy from me. Perhaps it stems from my general issue with Kerry Washington as an actress: she's generally just kind of whiny in most roles. Whoopi’s character seemed underdeveloped and flat, but I think maybe she did as good as she could with the character.
The standouts? Kimberly Elise (Crystal), Thandie Newton (Tangie), Loretta Devine (Juanita), Anika Noni Rose (Yasmine), and Phylicia Rashad (Gilda). Sure, I just essentially named the whole cast. Quick summary of each character, respectively: utterly heartbreaking, deliciously complicated, hilarious fool in love, unfortunately innocent, and lovingly matriarchal.
Probably largely because of the strength of these actresses, Tyler Perry’s adaptation stands on its own, so much that I did not find myself comparing the film with the stories in Shange’s book. But he definitely stayed true to some of the stories and for that I applaud the man. On the level of writing, all was well done. The back alley abortion made me pause because, with the plethora of Planned Parenthood Clinics, I found it excessively stupid for one of the characters to seek out a back alley person to perform her abortion. However, I believe we were supposed to see this character as excessively naive, for even another character called her stupid when she found out about the back alley abortion. Additionally, the pace of the film picked up drastically and almost uncomfortably right after a pivotal moment between Crystal and Beau Willie (Michael Ealy), and the monologues suddenly started to come one after another, back to back. For a moment I was uncomfortable with the sudden rush, but that moment of discomfort went as quickly as it came because the women did such amazing jobs with their monologues.
The adaptation stands on its own also because Perry did a good job of adding some characters, significantly altering some, and creating nuances that separate the film from the original text. There’s the down low brother that one of the characters has to deal with, plus the cop played by Hill Harper. In addition, Gilda, a character I don't remember from the book, definitely adds a certain amount of cohesion that is necessary to hold the story together in film format. As far as nuances, I was struck by the subtle change in Yasmine's clothing style after she has her traumatic experience. After all his previous heavy-handed, overwrought films, I thought Perry would never grasp the importance of subtlety and nuance. Color me surprised.
While some male commentators have criticized the film, calling it black male-bashing because of its harsh portrayals of the male characters (indeed, during the staging of the play in the 70s, many male members of the audience walked out on several occasions), I think that any black man who sees this play and feels that Perry has personally affronted his black manhood needs to take a step back and realize that the film, like the book, is not about black manhood. Stop centering black masculinity in the discussion of a film that is primarily fixated on black women.
It's about black womanhood, which albeit necessarily invokes a discussion of black manhood. But, first and foremost, a black man misses the message(s) of the film if, during the entire film, he is focused on the men rather than the women. The monologue by the Lady in Orange, recited by Loretta Devine, encapsulates the central message of this film and of the book: we, black women, in our culture are perceived by others (and by ourselves often) as not entitled to sorrow, to emotional vulnerability, to weakness even. We are supposed to be strong and take all the shit handed to us, without complaint, without anger. Because, as my grandmother once said, there's no place for a weak, sad black woman in this world. Well, this film is about confronting and reversing that belief, in the minds of others and, most importantly, in the minds of black women. This film is not about pitying black women (as some commentators have alleged, associating its portrayals with Precious, etc.). It's about showing that black women can feel genuine sorrow and grief and pain and anger, and that that doesn't have to make us pathetic or angry bitches or whiny women looking for pity. It just makes us human.
Secondly, such male commentators fail to take into account the depth of the portrayal of the male characters in this film. Only one man, the rapist, struck me as irredeemably evil in this film. All the other males were clearly individuals with deep-seated issues that the film tried to highlight subtly. For instance, during the table scene between Crystal and Beau Willie, I think we are supposed to understand that Crystal feels sorry for him, that on some level we should feel sorry for him; this does not change the fact that we are supposed to want her to leave him because we know that he is poison to her and her family. People are complicated. In the world we live in, people who hurt us and do evil things often have complicated reasons for doing them, whether we know those reasons or not. While it’s important to safeguard ourselves from such people and take steps to empty our lives of such harmful people, in doing so we should always remember that such people are still human beings (even if such people seem to have forgotten their own humanity or the humanity of others). I think we are supposed to experience the same feeling during the last conversation between Jo and her husband, while not letting that sympathy excuse his behavior.
Needless to say, Jo and especially Crystal are also held accountable for the destruction that they allow these men to bring to their lives. Perry makes sure to reiterate the importance of all parties taking responsibility for the damage done.
So, I don’t think this film bashes black men. As a matter of fact, as I read some of this criticism of Perry's film, I was reminded of the type of one-sided, defensive criticism that The Color Purple (book and film) received from male commentators back in the 80s. According to my aunt, many black male commentators also talked crap about Waiting to Exhale back in the day, and that movie in no way bashed black men; there were numerous positive black male characters in that film. As such, I say these commentators need to cut out the petulant whining just because there's a Oscar buzzing film that centers black women.
For all the other commentators (everyone other than the black male commentators) who delivered negative criticism of the film, I don’t know what to say. Anyone who watches this film should know they are in for some gritty material. No one who knows anything about the book or who has watched the trailers should go into this film expecting a pretty story with a neat little ending. But that is what we’ve come to expect from Tyler Perry (pretty stories with neat little endings), so I understand why some critics went in with such expectations and left disappointed. But, alas, I’m proud to say that this is not just another Tyler Perry film. This is a different kind of Tyler Perry film. Yeah, there's still the Tyler Perry melodrama that can be found in all of his films. But this is one that begs its audience to think a little deeper, to be a little more patient, to listen and question. To think about the "ordinary brown braided woman," embodied by each of the characters. For once, Tyler Perry has produced a good film, a damn good one at that. And I'm pretty sure I never thought I'd use "Tyler Perry...film" and "damn good" in the same sentence.
Final sidenote: Thandie Newton was all kinds of crazy sexy in this film, and I’ve never found the woman attractive before. I’d watch it again, just for her.
For all of those who haven't seen the film, GO SEE IT! And for those who have seen the film, what are your thoughts?