Feast your eyes on, and open your mind to, an authentically Black American culture that struggles to survive despite repeated black eyes from golf balls.  I’ll take a Gullah basket and some dat gumbo an red rice over dem real estate developers’ greedy goals. Fore? No, foul!

A descendant of the Gullah-Geechee people of the South Carolina Sea Islands and coastal SC and GA  — and ‘Bama Blacks and Chickasaw, and Scots-Irish and French Huguenots — je vous présente a reblog of the article “The Culture and Language of the Gullah-Geechee Blacks of South Carolina” published on the WordPress blog Anna Renee is Still Talking.

You Are Leaders!

It’s very interesting how some black folks in America are bi-lingual and don’t know it.  Many, if not most of us speak a second language that’s not classified as such, generally speaking.  For certain people, the way blacks in America speak is considered  sub-standard english, or just ignorance on display.  I wanted to find out what was being said about our black language, or dialect, or sub standard english, beyond the negative things that I know are being said.  There’s always ridicule concerning anything and everything that black people do.  So I start looking online for information about black American english, and there’s quite a bit being said.  The most interesting thing I found was information about the Gullah-Geechee people of South Carolina.

These black people who called themselves Gullah in South Carolina, and Geechee in Georgia, have lived in the low country islands of this area since the days of slavery, when they were brought…

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This morning, while watching two episodes of the early-1970s sitcom “That’s My Mama,” I began reminiscing about the crush I had on the lead star, Clifton Davis.  Davis’ only competition in my young mind was Michael Jackson, whose posters adorned every wall in my pretty-in-pink bedroom.  Once I drifted down from the cloud-nine childhood fantasy of my marriage to Davis, I decided to do a Wiki-peek at Davis’ beginnings and current goings-on.  I was familiar with his acting credentials post-“That’s My Mama.”  For example, I was a die-hard fan of “Amen” (1986-1991), the groundbreaking prime-time sitcom that parodized the (Protestant) African American church, in which Davis portrayed the charismatic, dedicated minister, the Rev. Dr. Reuben Gregory.

As the main story arc charted the Rev. Dr. Gregory’s new career as a minister, another, parallel arc charted the church deacon’s daughter’s strategy to get her man — or, to put it more aptly, her man of the cloth.  Pictured in character in the above photo are (l-r) Davis as the Philly reverend with the legendary Sherman Hemsley as Deacon Ernest Frye and Anna Maria Horsford as Thelma Gregory (née Frye).  “Amen” airs in syndication on TVOne, and as I’m in the Northeast,  I set my DVR for 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m.

While conducting my Wikipedia research, I recalled that Davis sang in different episodes of “Amen,” but I was totally surprised to discover that he wrote the song “Never Can Say Goodbye.”  The melodic, midtempo song was first recorded by The Jackson 5 and became a big pop and R&B hit for the legendary band.  Years later, disco queen No. 3, Gloria Gaynor (Donna Summer taking the top spot, followed by Sylvester), covered Davis’ song.  Of course it’s the ever-popular anthem and karaoke mainstay “I Will Survive” that placed Gaynor in the disco pantheon.

I also learned in my research that Clifton Davis had been a songwriter before becoming an actor, and that revelation got me thinking about the TVOne program “Unsung.”  I view “Unsung” fairly regularly, and I realize that the show strives for objectivity in its profiles of Black artists, so that’s fine and all.  However, I’m wondering now that the show has been airing for more than two years, why it focuses predominantly on singers, musicians and actors.

I can understand why the network would want to limit its focus to these categories of artists (for the time being), but doesn’t art also encompass dancing, painting, sculpting and photography?  In no way am I attacking TVOne — although when I visited its website, some kind of “toolkit” attempted to attack my computer … hmm — but I ‘m trying to open up dialogue about which art forms get promoted more aggressively in the Black media.

In the realm of drama, Clifton Davis is but one example of a Black artist who is unsung.  Thus, I hope that the producers of “Unsung” come across my blog — since it appears they have ignored my missives — and consider expanding the thrust of “Unsung.”

Regular readers of the Blah-Blah-Blah-Blah Blog already are aware that I love to digress, so I will do that once again.  While there’s a sprinkling of actors profiled on “Unsung,” singers and musicians are featured mostly.  If it’s true that TVOne is responding to what its viewers have requested, then in this blog I’m appealing to those viewers, too.  What am I getting at in this double appeal (i.e., to the producers and viewers of “Unsung”)?  Well, how about:  I’m sick and tired of folks, no matter what the phenotype, thinking of all Black people as musically gifted.

There’s a line spoken by a white character, an executive sports agent, in “The Game,” which is a well-acted dramedy series (returning on January 11, 2011, and airing on BET) that takes a satirical look at the relationships between Black footballers and their agents, and at the romantic relationships of all involved.  I can’t recall the exact quote, but the character is replying to an underling (also white) who compliments Tasha Mack’s (Wendy Raquel Robinson’s) vocal talent.

In the episode, Tasha mistakenly thinks that fellow agent Rick Fox (who from 2008-09 portrayed a fictional version of himself on “The Game”) sabotaged her career, and so she tells him off in song.   Her boss joins her in singing Rihanna’s “Take a Bow,” mocking her and Rick’s situation, until she leaves in disgust.  When the underling comments on Tasha’s great singing voice, his boss shrugs it off by saying something akin to, “They [emphasis mine] all do.”

My detractors will say, “Oh, Chantale, you’re just being too sensitive,” or, “Chantale, Chantale, stop playing ‘the race card.'”  To them I say, “Hey, I’m just keepin’ it real.”  You see, at different times in my life I’ve been asked some of the most annoying questions, or have heard annoying comments, related to music by white people such as:  “You mean you never sang gospel in church?” and “How come you don’t play piano?”  These questions and remarks rank right up there, or I should say smell rank down there, with such asinine questions and remarks as:  “What was it like to grow up in the ghetto?” and, my favorite from 1996, spoken by my white manager:  “Your hair looks too fancy for the office.  You should get your hair braided, to look more corporate.”   That last comment was made by one of the white-feminist bullies to whom I referred in my Paris memoir on this blog, titled, “To Be Black, American, Female and Alone:  A Brief Paris Memoir.”

My point about “Unsung,” though, should be clear.  That is:  Black people are just as well-rounded within the arts as without.  As “Unsung” prefers to focus on Black artists, it would be wonderful and groundbreaking to view profiles of Black people whose art forms have been underreported if not unrecognized.  Here’s a sampling of unsung Black artists by category:  photography (e.g., Rashid Johnson, Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, Deborah Willis and Linda Day Clark), choreography (e.g., Judith Jamison and Bebe Miller), paintings (e.g., William T. Williams, Sam Gilliam, Mickalene Thomas, Louis Delsarte and Kehinde Wiley), sculptures (e.g., Allison Saar and Willie Cole), poems (e.g., Nikki Giovanni, Imamu Amiri Baraka, Rita Dove, James A. Emanuel, Lucille Clifton, Lady Lee Andrews, Quincy Troupe), novels (e.g., ZZ Packer and Tayari Jones), graphic novels (e.g., Lance Tooks), collage art (e.g., Kara Walker), and multimedia (e.g., Betye Saar, Lezley Saar, Faith Ringgold, David Hammons, and Adrian Piper).  Yet all of the above-named artists of color, covering a wide age range, are very much alive as of this writing.  When I was a journalist, I had the pleasure of interviewing and witnessing the art of some of the aforementioned individuals, and I only wish that they could be lifted from the shadows before it’s too late.

As with many forms of change, baby steps are needed.  For now, it’s worth repeating that TVOne’s “Unsung” does a fine job of profiling Black singers and musicians.   Songwriters do get tossed in the mix as commenters on the subject of the profile rather than any of them ever being the subject.  I’m not referring to songwriters who also are performers, such as Angela Winbush and Teena Marie.

I was happy to see Winbush featured, but surprised to find that Lady Tee is unsung!  And in no way is “Lady Tee” Black, just as Dusty Springfield wasn’t, yet she had a soulful voice.  (What, is Joss Stone destined for “Unsung” 20 years from now?)  True, back in the day everybody on the block and beyond wanted to think that Teena Marie was Black, but I did and still do give her props for giving shout-outs to Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni (“just to name a few”) on the smash “Square Biz.”

Another Black songwriter who is unsung is Leon Ware.  The Europeans love him and know who he is.  We here in the United States should, too.  Well, many of us over the age of 40 and Black or Latino or Black and Latino probably know who Leon Ware is.  I mean, the man penned “I Want You,” recorded by Marvin Gaye and later by Fourplay featuring El DeBarge and Patti LaBelle.  Yeah, that’s all, right?  C’mon, people.  Ware also shared songwriting credit with “T-Boy” Ross on “I Wanna Be Where You Are,” which was written for tween-aged Michael Jackson.  Jackson made it a hit, and the song later was covered by Marvin Gaye, Jose Feliciano and many others.  Gen Xers who know Ware’s name probably associate him with the song he wrote for Maxwell:  the groovilicious “Sumthin’ Sumthin’.”

 

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Above:  Veteran actress Mary Alice, who portrayed the mother in the original Sparkle (1976) as well as memorable recurring TV characters on “Sanford and Son” and “Good Times” (pictured here in 1993 at the 45th Emmy Awards’ Governor’s Ball) definitely is unsung!  Here on the Blah-Blah-Blah-Blah Blog, I have noticed searches for “Mary Alice” by readers who are curious as to what happened to this fine actress.  Why haven’t any roles been created for her and other Black actresses of her generation (including Lynn Hamilton – see her in the photo below) to claim?

Photo Source: en.wikipedia.org

Above:  Veteran actress Lynn Hamilton, who portrayed “Donna,” the fiancée of entrepreneurial junkman Fred G. Sanford (Redd Foxx) in the landmark 1970s sitcom “Sanford and Son,” was phenomenal in John Cassavetes‘ Beat Generation film Shadows, but she’s still unsung!

Photo Source: imdb.com

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While one might not expect a Black painter or sculptor to be featured on “Unsung” anytime soon, could we at least have a few more actors?  I’ve mentioned Clifton Davis (again, an actor who was a songwriter first), and here are other unsung actors:  Mary Alice, Carl Lumbly, Novella Nelson, C.C. H. Pounder, Ernie Hudson, John Amos, Sherman Hemsley, Marla Gibbs, Vondie Curtis-Hall, S. Epatha Merkerson, Richard T. Jones, Lonette McKee, Philip Michael Thomas, Forest Whitaker, Tyra Ferrell, Blair Underwood, Regina Taylor, Viola Davis, Michael Beach, Dennis Haysbert, Reginald VelJohnson,  Andre Braugher, Clark Johnson, Mekhi Pfifer, Jesse L.Martin, Giancarlo Esposito, Jeffrey D. Sams, Wendell Pierce, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Audra McDonald, Mykelti Williamson, LaTanya Richardson (who many folks still refer to as Samuel Jackson’s wife, and while that’s honorable, she should be respected as an actor in her own right).

That’s by no means an exhausted list of underrated Black actors, but  the laundry must get done today.  Then again, all the washing machines probably are stuffed with lazy tenants’ clothes, anyway, so I’ll state further that I cry out for the cardiac paddles when I see a photo of an unsung Black actor in the “In Memoriam” portion of the Academy Awards broadcast.  I had one of those shocking moments when I spotted Alaina Reed-Hall’s photo flash by on screen.  The first time I saw Reed-Hall was on “Sesame Street,” and I find it disturbing and sad that both she and Matt Robinson — who created the “Roosevelt Franklin” Muppet  (the Muppet banished from “Sesame Street”) — were unsung.

It’s hard to believe two other unsung actors are deceased:  from “All in the Family” and its spin-off, “The Jeffersons”:  Isabel Sanford (the ORIGINAL “Weezy”) and Michael Evans (who co-created “Good Times” with Eric Monte).  Sanford passed in 2004;  Evans, in December 2006.  Sanford was the first Black actress to win an Emmy for Lead Actress (1981).  Sherman Hemsley, actor of the stage (“But Never Jam Today” and “The Lottery” with Vinnette Carroll’s Urban Arts Company; and “Purlie,” which was his Broadway debut) and screen (“All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons” and “Amen”), died in 2012.

 

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You know, too bad TVOne didn’t think of expanding the focus of “Unsung” by the start of 2010.  Already we’ve lost a major yet unsung actor, Vonetta McGee, in July.  (My condolescences go out belatedly to McGee’s husband, actor Carl Lumbly.)

Beautiful, elegant and eloquent, Vonetta McGee is immortal for her roles in Clinton Eastwood’s The Eiger Sanction (1975), which also starred Eastwood, and the Blaxploitation-era horror flick Blacula (which scared the bejesus out of me at the time because I was a kid).  However, how many of us recall her role in Charles Burnett’s To Sleep with Anger (1990), which starred Danny Glover?

The photo below shows Vonetta McGee paired with Max Julien in Gordon Parks Jr.’s classic western, Thomasine & Bushrod (1974).  I remember that film better than I do Bonnie & Clyde. I suppose the reason for that is:  As a young child, I was proud that the lead actors resembled folks in my family rather than the folks fleeing my suburban neighborhood.

 

 

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REST IN PEACE, VONETTA MCGEE (pictured above with her co-star in Thomasine & Bushrod, Max Julien, star of the seminal Blaxploitation film, The Mack)

Max Julien

 

“2 Talented 2 B 4gotten”  Copyright © 2010 Chantale Reve  All Rights Reserved

Article was first published on the Blah-Blah-Blah-Blah Blog on December 4, 2010.


 

                                                 

 

 

2016 Update:  The unauthorized-biopic mentioned in my May 14, 2014, post — a snippet of which appears below — has been shelved as of 2015, according to various published reports. Members of Nina Simone’s family have authorized an more-accurate biopic (release date: TBA).

This will be a brief post, but not as short as a Tweet. Perhaps fewer than two thousand words. After all, I go off on tangents and on people — well, those who deserve it.  It’s just that I’ve got a gripe, not a grape, to peel.  I’ve got no issue with the non-traditional casting of Zoe Saldana  (Center StageAvatar, Guess Who? Colombiana, Constellation — well, two out of five ain’t bad … and guess which two?)  in the starring role in Rosemary’s Baby, but I’m horrified that she would have the audacity to transform into Nina Simone when so many Black actresses and singers could use the work and work their talents — from Viola Davis, Lorraine Toussaint and Tichina Arnold to India-Arie, Angie Stone and Jennifer Hudson.  Not even Pixar’s special effects combined with the legerdemain of David Blaine and David Copperfield combined could create the illusion that Zoe Saldana is trying to sell.

I didn’t have an issue with Saldana portraying the freaked-out, incubus-ravaged wife, Rosemary, in the recent, second TV remake of Roman Polanski’s 1967 cult classic because I needed guaranteed comedic relief.  One doesn’t need to be an NYU Film School student and trust fund baby to know that Mia Farrow’s authentically terrified reactions to pure evil in the role of a fashion-forward human host of Satan’s baby were outmatched only by her iconic pixie hairstyle — a Vidal Sassoon masterpiece — and her screams and the surreal scenes are cemented in many of our minds.

Saldana’s performance in the NBC-TV horror melodrama was so tepid that I was more interested in the Paris backdrop than her character’s malevolent “evening sickness.”  In Part 2 of the TV remake, Rosemary’s novelist-husband (never mind holding a candle to John Cassavetes’ Guy; Patrick J. Adams couldn’t even light the match) shares with her that he doesn’t understand why she has morning sickness at night, and Rosemary replies with a smile: “Well, it’s morning in Los Angeles.”  Ha-ha-snoooozzzzze.  Too bad the blurry special effects couldn’t save “Rosemary’s Baby”; in fact, they and not Saldana were the most annoying aspect of viewing the drama.

Some film classics simply don’t need to be remade.  Then again, with all the horror flicks that get redone into redon’ts, perhaps there’s a subconscious message in that, which is:  As we continue to rape planet Earth, we try to analyze the horrors within us.  Within Man.  Well, the plot of Casablanca involved the atrocities of war, especially the terrorism and brutality of Nazism, but I don’t see the TV arm of Hollywood forcing that film to undergo a facelift, n’est-ce pas?

Speaking of facelifts …

Earlier tonight, as I bumbled about the Internet instead of slipping beneath the covers, I stumbled into a photo of Zoe Saldana in blackface for her portrayal of the legendary Nina Simone.  Keep in mind that I had just suffered through Part 2 of the aforementioned TV remake of “Rosemary’s Baby” starring Saldana. The Nina Simone biopic is allegedly a personal project of hers. For that, the actress need not our applause, for many folks, not only in the United States, but also in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia, still dig the “High Priestess of Jazz” — as the classically trained pianist affectionately was called because of her elegance onstage and her command of her audience. That idolizing the icon which her native country rejected qualifies Saldana to portray THE Nina Simone? Really?

While an actor doesn’t need to resemble the subject of a biopic, and while he or she can lip sync to lyrics (think of the sheer magic, the spine-tingling soul-channeling, that we’ve witnessed from The Buddy Holly Story, Sweet Dreams and The Josephine Baker Story to Selena, Ray and Cadillac Records), it does help a great deal when the filmmaker and his or her team go to lengths to select an actor who comes close to resembling the biopic’s subject.

As soon as I learned of the Nina Simone biopic, I got a case of “evening sickness,” and not from memories of Saldana’s “Rosemary” devouring raw meat. Here’s my beef:  Casting Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone is the result of some kind of cognitive disorder that’s on the rampage again in Hollywood.  What if, instead of casting Jessica Lange as the late great Patsy Cline, Hollywood had decided to select Jennifer Holiday or oSheryl Lee Ralph?  We all would’ve let out an Ed Norton (not the current actor but the fictional Brooklyn character):  Whaaa-aaa-aaa-aaah!  The only pause I take with Zoe Saldana wearing a ton more makeup on her face than Natalie Wood lugged around in West Side Story or than Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra is this:  The immensely talented Viola Davis, whose beauty is highly underrated, would’ve been right on — as in, with an Angela Davis fist!  Viola Davis immediately came to this writer’s mind and especially because she’s got that roll to her female baritone.  Whether she can or can’t sing a lick (can Zoe sound like Nina?) doesn’t matter; lip synching in biopics is the norm.  And Davis wouldn’t need more than a dab of blush and a stroke of ‘stick.  Heck, anybody can don a turban, but that won’t make her the late great Nina Simone. Neither will pouting when one’s naturally superthick lips put the sensual sugah in some blues.

However, I’m just indie-dreaming.  We all know that Hollywood will always be Follywood, focusing on bankable stars who underneath the Sub-Saharan Matte #5 have conventionally beautiful looks.  Hollywood didn’t have a problem with Saldana’s mocha version of “Rosemary” getting her swirl on and, later, having the devil’s spawn in Paris, but it thinks nothing of triple-dipping her and her wispy body in darker chocolate to make Nina Simone’s Africanness palatable to non-Black people and to the Black people who self-hate their thickness in lips and hips.

Too many of us — and, here, I’m referring to people across ethnic and cultural lines — can understand Viola Davis portraying a maid in The Help, and some secretly were titillated by her mamminess in that film adaptation. Others, including Oprah Winfrey, rationalized the roles of the film’s two principal (and principled) maids in a psychological act of defiance as if only descendants of the recent African Diaspora (say, the past four-hundred-plus years) counted housekeepers among their ancestors. So while I’m thrilled that younger generations are intrigued by Nina Simone’s music and her life, we won’t get to watch and listen to Viola Davis blowing our minds in the biographical role.  Heck, when actress Julie Delpy, as the bourgeoise Céline opposite Ethan Hawke’s Jesse, lip synched through a Nina Simone jazz standard in Before Sunset — the second installment of Richard Linklater’s trilogy — honey, let me tell you that I didn’t see a spot of shoe polish on her face and hands!  No, chillens, this sho ain’t a new life or a new world, so Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone sho don’t feeeeeeel gooooooooooooooood!!!”

 

 

“Zoe Saldana in ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ Remake AND As Nina Simone? What the Devil Is Going On???”  © 2014 Chantale Reve All Rights Reserved


Well, it’s about damn time that Kasi Lemmons, veteran actress and the director of such idiosyncratic films as Eve’s Bayou, The Caveman’s ValentineTalk to Me and, most recently, Black Nativity — inspired by poet Langston Hughes’ 1961 play — is awarded for her exemplary filmmaking.  Lemmons will be among the illustrious women honored at the 2014 Athena Film Festival Awards, scheduled to take place at Barnard College, New York, February 6-9, 2014.

Other distinguished honorees will include:  Sherry Lansing, former chairwoman and chief executive officer of Paramount Pictures, and former president of 20th Century Fox, who is set to receive the Laura Ziskin Lifetime Achievement Award; Callie Khouri, Oscar-winning screenwriter of Thelma & Louise and creator of the TV series “Nashville”; and Keri Putnam, executive director of the Sundance Institute.

My first cinematic memory of Lemmons is her small role in Robert Bierman’s 1989 existential black comedy, Vampire’s Kiss, now a cult classic.  In Vampire’s Kiss, Lemmons portrayed Jackie, the jerked-around boho girlfriend of paranoid yuppie lit agent Peter Loew.  She was quite credible as she hysterically fended off a vampire bat that had intruded on their intense sex play in Peter’s Manhattan flat, and she gained my sympathy pouting every time her batty beau stood her up to take another bite from Jennifer Beals’ predatory vampire, Rachel (even though Rachel was only the product of the protagonist’s hallucination).

According to the “Thompson on Hollywood” blog on Indiewire.com, early-bird passes for the fourth annual Athena Film Festival are available on-line, but individual ticket sales will begin next month.  And attention, all you screenwriters out there:  Indiewire.com also reported that there’s a newly created Athena List calling for three to five “completed screenplays with strong leading female characterd that have yet to be made into films.”  The current list will be announced at the upcoming Athena Film Festival, but you should try out for future Athena Lists.

For more information about the 2014 Athena Film Festival Awards and/or the Athena List, please check out http://athenafilmfestival.com.

And to Kasi Lemmons:  Congrats on your forthcoming award!!!

© 2013 Chantale Rêve

All Rights Reserved

Top Photo:  Director-actress Kasi Lemmons and (partially cropped out at left) her director-actor husband, Vondie Curtis-Hall — what a stellar couple!

Photo Source:  Indiewire.com