Cotton from Mary Frances

Cotton from Mary Frances (Photo credit: Midpath)

Talk about irony.  First Blacks — well, We was coloreds back then — were forced to pick the cotton.  Now We can’t even take photos of the cotton.  WTF? you ask. Yeah, well, it’s a cryin’ shame.  Seems actor couple Cherie Johnson and Dennis White stopped their car on a South Carolina road, en route to a respite in Myrtle Beach, to snap pix of cotton in a vast field of the white fluffy stuff.  Next up pulled a sheriff, who grilled them in the hot Southern sun about drugs that were not in their possession, rifled through belongings in their car, handcuffed them, accused Ms. Johnson of petty larceny (a charge later dropped) and then issued a citation for “Other.”  Again, you ask:  WTF?

Soft in the head, sure.   The South Carolina Sheriffs Department also has got to be out of its cotton-pickin’ mind.   (The film Deliverance comes to mind; just substitute a car for a canoe — and a camera for a bow and arrow.)  We’ve heard of the vehicular version of racial profiling:  DWB (“Driving While Black,” for those readers who aren’t Black, or have never been a passenger in a car driven by a Black person).  Now the media has introduced to the massas, I mean, masses, the botanic version of racial profiling:  PCWB (“Picking Cotton While Black”).

Scratching my head, which is as soft as cotton.  So let me get this straight as hair smeared with Dark & Lovely lye:  It was cool for coloreds to stoop to pick the cotton as slaves — when we did it for free — and, later, as tenant farmers, but now we can’t take photos of it?  The absurdity of those facts and the ugliness of the physical violation and psychological torture of actors Cherie Johnson and Dennis White are causing my fingertips to bleed like those of my Black forefathers and Black foremothers who toiled in those cotton fields and were considered chattel — possessions no more important than farm animals — in the agro-rich South.

But what to do?  Boycott the ubiquitous natural fiber the very enunciation of which triggers downy comforts?  I’m not exactly ready to toss out my Q-tips and T-shirts, my billowy sheets and snuggly fleece.  While I wouldn’t mind opting for nylon undies over cotton ones, I can think of a few products for which there currently are no substitutes.  Let’s face it:  It’s hard to avoid such a versatile material from the plant world.

As for photographing plants by the side of the road — yes, we Americans of all colors have the right to seize the moment and the day!  I say:  Shoot the cotton like a paparazzo!  Shut off the A/C on the approach to whatever-the-fuck road We meander onto in some small town way below the Mason-Dixon Line.  Whip out that zoom lens to capture that priceless image of cotton.  Cotton that pricked the sides of African slaves running on blistered soles on the way to freedom. Cotton running free.  Cotton, cotton everywhere.

Hell, white landowners and their henchmen used to whip Us if We refused to pick the cotton.  When We complied and picked the cotton, We got flogged anyway.  You know, to hell with boycotting cotton.  Out, out with all my belts and riding crops.  Regarding the latter:  Yeah,  like I’ll ever ride a real horse after the first time, when my steed peed for an eternity and then decided to speed through the friggin’ forest.  And they called it a “company outing” intended for “team building.” A lot of hooey.  Hell, it was nearly company-sanctioned murder.  When my incontinent Mister Ed realized his buddies a mile ahead, he made up for lost time. He must’ve mistaken the Poconos for Sleepy Hollow and me for the Headless Horseman because he was giddying up and I was screaming like a whore in a horror flick.  No, in case you’re wondering, I didn’t know that yelling my head off would spook the horse.  Some bonding experience.  My co-workers were guffawing, their laughter bordering on bawling and echoing through the woods.  Of course, they too had signed away their lives with nervous smiles before donning those brain buckets.

Hmmm … Methinks I’ll boycott dude ranches but only after anything I associate with riding crops, including:  S&M clubs; Spanx in any color; DVDs of Indiana Jones, Batman Returns and Catwoman; and any Madonna videos made prior to 2000.

 

 

©2013 Chantale Rêve

All Rights Reserved

Using a cotton picker machine

Using a cotton picker machine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Never mind the strange names — “Chardonnay,” “Malik ‘El DeBarge’ Wright,” “Tee-Tee.”  BET’s The Game, now in Season 6, is a gamble worth taking.

It appears I didn’t get the memo that several characters are Black history: “Derwin ‘Ding Dong’ Davis” (played with Emmy-worthy virtuosity by Pooch Hall [pictured above]) and “Dr. Melanie Barnett-Davis” (played by Tia Mowry-Hardrict, unevenly at first — when she was still “Med School” — and then, too late in the game, with conviction).  Now I’m banking on the following actors to score touchdowns of a simulated-carnal nature:

  • vivacious series lead, Wendy Raquel Robinson, who steals the screen as manager “Tasha Mack” (single parent of Malik, who’s portrayed to mama’s-boy extremes by Hosea Chanchez);
  • new series regular Jay Ellis (ain’t nothin’ regular ’bout the brotha, lookin’ like a buffed-up, taller Larenz Tate) in the role of “Bryce ‘The Blueprint’ Westbrook” — “Derwin”‘s replacement as pro wide receiver for the San Diego Sabers football team;
  • gentle giant Rockmond Dunbar, portraying “Pookie,” former gangsta and Tasha Mack’s current love interest (after blasting her from their past — repeatedly — last season like a real hitman should); and
  • recurring guest star Rick Fox.

I hope the married creative duo of director Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil — creator of The Game — don’t disappoint this time. I’ll miss “Derwin”‘s Ding Dong — I mean, his teammates teasing him with that nickname — but I’ll welcome rejuvenated passion from the loins — er, lines of Wendy and Rick. Hopefully their characters will be scorching the sheets with grown ‘n sexy passion. I’ll take any excuse for Tuesday-night aromatherapy to handle the heat. Talk about potent chemistry. Not that Wendy/”Tasha” and Rockmond/”Pookie” don’t possess it. After all, Rockmond’s got that gleaming dome that would make any woman want to sing Mr. Clean, Mr. Clean at the moment of climax.

And if Rick manages to outfox “Pookie,” and the latter gets written off the show, there’s always the porn route. Imagine the pussibilities: I Cream for Genie, Jackin’ the Beanstalk, Nights of Cabeza (in the Foreign Tongues category), Cocktale, and the one to rise above contenders for AVN Awards: The Sure-Shaft Redemption.

[Note to the real RICK … FOX (with your fiiiiine self): Avoid “Single Ladies” — your eroticism would be wasted. While LisaRaye was hot on that show, your chemistry with her fell flatter than a reverse boob job.]

Elsewhere on The Game … Newcomer Lauren London (as “Kiera Whitaker”), though a comely addition to the show, has got to bring it dramatically. Lips and hips aren’t enough — unless you’re Chaka Khan, but Lauren doesn’t yet have acting-wise what Chaka’s still got in lungpower. Is L.L. capable of delivering divaliciousness to the addiction that is The Game?

Although she already spouts more lines than tour de force Brandy Norwood (what’s up with that?!), L.L. could never embody “Chardonnay.” Head swiveling like a charmed cobra and Ferragamo shoes on her pedicured feet, Brandy as “Chardonnay” is the most effervescent player on The Game — after “TASHA” … “MACK.” No newcomer to TV series (“Moesha” was a sista, a one-name wonder that slapped down “Sister Sister” like a clap of thunder), the beauteous Brandy keeps it (and the show) real portraying “Chardonnay” as a hollaback girl gone glam.

Brandy sparkles in her limited role as sassy bartender married to cocky ex-jock “Jason Pitts.” Special guest star Coby Bell, as footballer-turned-sports-analyst “Jason,” sure is dreamy, strutting across the small screen like a big, stiff tawny dick. I wish that Coby’s “Jason” were a main character, rather than a “special guest star,” because, with Wendy Raquel Robinson’s “Tasha,” he anchors The Game in the satirical realm of dramedy. His sports broadcast often is hysterical, mostly because Coby is great at deadpanning. It’s good to see that he’s (“Jason” is) excellent at another kind of balling, a form of “exercise” (and for some, exorcism) — judging by the “pushups” he was doing on/in his beloved “Char” in Season 6’s opener.

Viewing tonight’s season kick-off, “The Blueprint I, The Blueprint II,” I was transfixed over the artsy freeze frames juxtaposed with Ciara‘s wayward catwalk, which would make a cop toss a Breathalyzer past any checkpoint. I’m a straight woman, but her gams had me leaning sideways like a bowling pin in a weak spare, though with the shocked expression of the broad aboard the doomed ship in the Brooklyn Navy Yard of Hitch’s Saboteur. Director Akil’s flashy aesthetic also was memorable as employed in last year’s well-cast but poorly re-envisioned remake of Sparkle.

That it took more than a decade to make after Aaliyah’s death does not instantly induct the updated Sparkle into the Black Cinema Hall of Fame. That our beloved Whitney Houston — whose music and acting career probably would’ve been resurrected after its release — never got to attend its premiere in her earthly form is what makes Sparkle 2012 matter. I may have purchased my ticket, but I didn’t buy the nonsense of three somewhat privileged, definitely sheltered, middle-class young Black women who really needed after-hours sleazy gigs to make money to get out of the … oh yeah, missing was the inner city and tenement home life — and the somewhat absent mother because she was a maid by day — of the iconic original film.

Back in the early ’70s, Hollis, Queens, the NYC suburb immortalized in Run-DMC’s “fried chicken and collard greens” line (but for this writer, legendary for the prominent White Castle on Hollis Boulevard), for all its middle-class folks, was grittier than the suburb in which the sisters in Sparkle 2012 reside. I recall that a bike ride home from that Hollis W.C. was like a death trap; my mother and I worried more about getting a flat tire and walking the rest of the way than getting sideswiped by a Pontiac. Back then there was no drive-thru at that White Castle, but drive-bys weren’t unheard of. So next to Hollis, Sister and Her Sisters were living in luxury.

While I’m bitchin’, also missin’ was a soundtrack as emotive and essentially Black and transcendent as Aretha Franklin’s collaborative magic with Curtis Mayfield, who was the maestro of the soundtrack (an urban heaven and hell conveyed through music). Every track on Aretha’s album (I loved her turban) was a gem — from “Jump,” with her trumpet-like gospel shouts, to “Hooked on Your Love,” with muted horns evoking Bacharach on the beach and the Queen of Soul’s sensual vocals bumpin’ with the bass under the boardwalk. Any references to junkies, smack and getting smacked around were lost on my tween self. But I donned my mother’s long satin gloves before the needle skidded to “Hooked on Your Love” and, swaying in front of the hallway mirror, struck a seductive pose each time Aretha and the backup ladies paused between “What can I do” and “with this feeling?”

No need to travel back to 1976, though. I’ll take En Vogue’s 1992 version of “Something He Can Feel” (the stunning video homage, too) over the macarena-like mechanics led by the anorexic-looking (in 2012’s Sparkle) Carmen Ejogo. Carmen’s lackluster performance and skeletal appearance didn’t live up to the exoticism that her name seemed to promise. She just made me run two flights down to the concession stand to buy another hotdog. I was glad to show my financial support for a Black-made and -cast film, but, daaaamn, those franks are expensive! I may not be able to sing worth a coughdrop, but I have no trouble giving him something he can feel. If only I could stop singing that old Ballpark franks jingle as I write this sentence. OK, I’m kidding. I’m really asking, “Where’s the beef?”

My beef, my disappointment, with Sparkle 2012 was precisely the reason that I didn’t publish a critique of it back in mid-August, when I had plunked down the twelve dollars to see it (twenty more for the hotdogs and beverages). I didn’t want to discourage people who perused my blog, and my faithful readers — people of all persuasions — from checking out and financially supporting the film. Heck, it took more than a decade for the movie to get made. However, nearly eight months later, it’s safe to say that Carmen Ejogo was better portraying Sarah “Sally” Hemings, mistress to Thomas Jefferson. What I didn’t hear during that TV miniseries but did notice in Sparkle 2012 was Carmen’s British accent. I could cite a long list of Black American actresses and singers who would’ve been appropos for the role. You know, it’s like the casting of Gwyneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors, Emma, etc. — friends kept swearing to me that she was English. Not even the more inclusive “British”; they had placed her birthplace firmly in England. Well, you know what they say about us Americans and geography. Meanwhile, I was countering my friends’ comments with, “She’s not just sliding through time portals; she’s slipping in and out of her fake British accents.” [An aside: I admire most Brits’ American accents — no matter which regional dialect — in film, though not as much as their natural accents. A few of my favorite British actors disguised as Americans in many films and TV programs: Idris Elba, Linus Roache, Kate Winslet and Rachel Weitz. But I would never accept anything but a ruggedly charming Scottish accent from still-sexy Sean “retired ‘007’” Connery!]

What was the casting head of Sparkle 2012 thinking? I challenge anyone reading this piece and shaking a finger at me right now to check out Lonette McKee‘s bold curves in the 1976 original. Sure, Irene Cara and Dwan Smith were pretty — as are Jordin Sparks in the title role and Tika Sumpter as “Deloris” (Tika’s gorgeous, resembling a Julia Barbie doll in the flesh, life right down [or up] to the Twist ‘N Turn legs circa 1967). Lonette was stunning, though. And nooooo, not because she was “light, bright and damn near white,” as that sickening phrase of colorists goes. Rather, Lonette had star written all over her face, body and attitude.

Meanwhile, back in the 21st century …

Please, somebody write a kick-ass script for Tika Sumpter! Maybe if Tika had been cast as lead singer of the girl group, I would’ve found the Sparkle re-don’t more tolerable. (Almost nodding off in slow parts, I kept telling myself: Stay awake for Whitney. Stay awake for Whitney. I would’ve tried There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. But that may have proven too tempting, despite Payless penny loafers for ruby slippers.)

Sparkle 2012’s filmmakers took the original movie’s casting of a light-complexioned and biracial woman literally. What, figuring that such a move would be more bankable than switching it up for a change? Their choice promotes and perpetuates colorism. I noticed they didn’t leave the death-by-smack subplot in the story, yet they made the dark-complexioned sister (“Deloris,” IMO the prettiest of the siblings) the rebel. Ironically, Tika turned it out on The Game (Season 5) portraying … a substance-abuser. And she was priceless as “Jenna Rice.” Perhaps Tika, in the role of “Jenna,” never had a chance to win an NAACP Image Award for her unforgettable bump ‘n grind with and subsequent dumping by her “babe,” fellow alcoholic “Malik,” in Season 5’s closer, but her fallen supermodel was a long-legged study of pathos and empathy. “Jenna” was a prima donna who had robbed herself of her diamond tiara and never found the balance to keep it atop her pretty little head. I can’t prove whether the following was deliberate, but “Jenna”‘s wobbly gait near the end of Season 5: Episode 22 was the antithesis of Ciara’s killer strut through the corridors of the hotel in Season 6: Episode 1.

One more note about the lackluster Sparkle remake …

The filmmakers had the gall to kill off Mike Epps‘ serio-comic character. Really? Never mind that I can’t recall the showman’s name or that I found his Sambo behavior ill-placed (It bothers me that the 2012 film Sparkle appears to take place during the late ’60s, yet despite the emergence of the Black Power movement as symbolized by “Deloris”‘ Afro, Epps’ comedian emcee seems to be stuck in the Chitlin Circuit’s earlier era.) My point: these days, although we have progressed from murdering the Black character early on in a horror flick, we nevertheless depict people getting chainsawed and incinerated on screen. Yet we can’t display the consequences of intravenous drug use. Honestly?

Any non-genius could’ve imagined retaining the domestic-abuse and drug-abuse arc and updating “Sister”‘s demise by incorporating the devastating physical, emotional and psychological effects of AIDS. Back in ’76, AIDS wasn’t known or, if so, hadn’t yet been reported. Now the disease is still a pandemic — no matter how seldom the major news media mention that. And, yes, for those of you who haven’t yet viewed the original Sparkle on TVOne or on DVD, McKee’s “Sister” actually dies, and her gradual demise and her funeral feel realistic. On film nowadays, we show to exploitative effect the guns and gore, but a syringe and hyperdermic needle … naaahhh.

But back to The Game

I wish the writers of The Game would stop playing us and allow Brandy to saaaang. But, please keep on giving us those smoking lovemaking scenes between her “Chardonnay” and Coby’s “Jason.” And don’t even think about writing off the latter because, Mr. and Mrs. Akil, you will lose most of your viewership. You’re already taking a chance dropping your 18-34 demographic by cutting loose Pooch and Melanie. That would’ve been like writing off (releasing from the contract of) “Joan” and “Maya” (Tracee Ellis Ross and Golden Brooks) from your long-running sitcom “Girlfriends.” Damn, y’all, I know The Game‘s a spin-off of “Girlfriends,” but would you consider a reunion episode of “Girlfriends”? If you do, no awkward replacements, such as Goapele for Tracee or Meagan Good for Golden!

Lastly, Ciara (not only her legs) was phenomenal in tonight’s episode, but filmmaker John Singleton (playing a fictional version of himself) looked haggard spouting idiotic lines opposite L.L.’s “Kiera.”

© 2013 Chantale Rêve
All Rights Reserved


ASPiRE, the TV network that media mogul Magic Johnson launched last year in June has proved that positive, family-friendly programming aimed at Black Baby Boomers makes good sense (the preceding alliteration unintentional) — and beaucoup cents.

Major gripe, though, and one not aimed at ASPiRE: When will it take major advertisers to realize that Black people, in relation to their percentage of the U.S. population, represent a disproportionate sector of consumers? Hmmm, how is it that a trash-trendy show like “The Client List” (the novelty wore off mid-first-season) can attract classy ads, but an entire network (i.e., ASPiRE) has nary a major burger chain ad? Hell, I can balance the nirvana from viewing brothas and sistas in a surrealistic film with jazz-scat hunger pangs over Dollar Menu food porn!

It makes my mind wanna rap out my anga, ‘specially when my gut goes gangsta:

Cain’t a thicksta like yours truly getta Whoppa?

Gimme a straw and one-a-nem outlawed large sodas.

Since nobody’s gonna putta ring on it,

I’d might as well poppa onion ring wit it. Sheeeyiiit

ASPiRE hits the right (on!) buttons with a mélange of retro, groundbreaking programs including “Julia,” “The Flip Wilson Show” and “I Spy”; riveting documentaries; thought-provoking Black indie filmmaking that brings festival flava into viewers’ homes Monday nights via “ABFF Independent,” hosted by the brilliant actor Omari Hardwick (pictured above — excuse me for waxing poetic, but this foinnne Savannah native’s surname, HARD-wick, makes a sturdy brown chick wanna burn de candles at both ends); and refreshing morality plays. Tonight I enjoyed “From This Day Forward,” starring Leon (Mmmm) and Essence Atkins, and was stunned that no one broke into song.

Just as Lifetime doesn’t cancel out Oxygen, BET, Centric and TVOne leave breathing space for ASPiRE to thrive. Survival of the fittest and flyest!

© 2013 Chantale Rêve
All Rights Reserved



Motivational speaker Iyanla Vanzant  (pictured above) hosts a fascinating show on OWN:  “Iyanla, Fix My Life.”

Oprah‘s got one superb day of programming: “Super Soul Sunday,” for folks who can’t make it to chutch, to “Oprah’s Master Class,” for masochistic types eager to hear celebs bragging about their fame.

Iyanla, in a recent “fix-her-upper,” scrutinized how women self-sabotage after wading into the dating pool. She spun the fear of intimacy — “into me see” — and shared three words to attract and deceive, er, retain men: “Affirm, acknowledge, appreciate.” A Triple A club to join, and membership doesn’t cost a thing.

© 2013 Chantale Rêve

All Rights Reserved


 Photo Credit (above):  Asterio Tecson

The first time I heard Whitney Houston’s voice, the song playing on an FM radio station was “You Give Good Love.” The year was 1985; the season, late spring. As a young woman barely out of her teens, I found Whitney’s sweet but throaty, gospel-trained alto the perfect vehicle for depicting the awe and beauty of falling in love, and the apprehension, courage and responsibility of being in love.

My paltry paycheck couldn’t come sooner. Once back home from the record store, with the Whitney Houston album spinning loveliness from my File:Whitney Houston - Whitney Houston (album).jpgturntable, I couldn’t get over the contradiction between the jacket’s front and back covers. On the front was a close-up of a fresh-faced girl like me wearing a pastel gown like a goddess of virtue and, flipped, was a full-length image of a leggy woman in a stunning white swimsuit posing like a sensuous warrior at the ocean’s edge.

At the age I was then, Whitney’s songbird voice spirited me through my academic weekdays and crisp, green weekends. In those days of firsts — pink-frosted feathery haircuts, lipstick, kisses, miniskirts, lingerie, nightclubs, concerts, and forbidden invitations — life transformed into rainbow colors as soon as the needle dropped to the vinyl or the chunky “Play” button was pressed on the Walkman.

When the straight, popular girls (read: big-busted skanks) would snatch away the straight and bisexual normal boys, the only guy I had to hold me was a figment of my imagination. That was OK, though, because all I had to do was shut the door to the attic, snap my fingers to summon my fairy godsista, Whitney, and “dance with somebody who loves me.”

The Greatest Love of All

Image via Wikipedia

Back then, whether a record or an artist won a Grammy didn’t matter to me. As long as the music moved my bottom half — heaven forbid if the lyrics also stirred my soul, as in “Thinking About You,” Whitney’s duet with synth maestro Kashif — I found kinetic bliss a prize worth pursuing. An undergrad degree was more difficult to achieve through a combo of unpredictable death benefits, an eleventh-hour grant that covered only senior-year textbooks, and a part-time night job the commute from which courted danger in a predominantly white section of town. With A Dirty Mind and Around the World in a Day bookending my freshman and senior years, it was a miracle that any schoolwork got done. Though, it was easy to understand how I got done. Seriously, Prince (before and during The Revolution), Whitney, Michael Jackson, Angela Bofill, Madonna and Eldra DeBarge all helped me get through college studies and some heavier stuff right at home.

Thanks to the conviction with which Whitney sang “Saving All My Love for You” and, in a duet with Jermaine Jackson, “Take Good Care of My Heart,” I had intuited a clue to love’s mystery and had received fair warning of the complex emotions that unfolded in relationships which catapulted my tenderoni self into adulthood. By the time Whitney was full-bodied, her mature pipes fluttering and “shooping” through “Exhale,” so was I.

When it came to covers, Whitney reshaped a song and made it her own. Several examples of Whitneyfied remakes include “The Greatest” (originally recorded by R&B-jazz singer-musician George Benson for the 1970s movie The Greatest, starring then-heavyweight champion of the world Muhammad Ali) ; “Living for the Love of You” (The Isley Brothers); “I’m Every Woman” (Chaka Khan); “I Believe in You & Me” (from the soundtrack of The Preacher’s Wife [that film itself a reimagining of The Bishop’s Wife], and originally recorded by The Four Tops); and, as alluded to in the title of this blog post, the thematic song for the 1992 blockbuster film The Bodyguard: “I Will Always Love You” (written by and originally recorded by Dolly Parton).

Whitney Houston   -   Concert in Central Park ...

Whitney Houston – Concert in Central Park / Good Morning America 2009 (Photo credit: asterix611)

Over the past decade, it was refreshing to find Whitney — daughter of the legendary gospel and soul singer Cissy Houston, cousin of pop icon Dionne Warwick, and goddaughter of “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin — performing more gospel songs live and with verve. She was very much alive. She looked and sounded inspired. It’s not my place to judge whether her elated or dreamy expressions were from natural highs or recreational ones, for Whitney showed the world that, despite the various drug-related controversies and media witch hunts, she was but a humble servant of her Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. It is to Him I’d like to think her soul floated for divine comfort and joy, and eternal rest.

This weekend, Black Entertainment Television (BET) re-aired “Celebration of Gospel,” from 2011, in which Whitney surprised the on-site and television audiences by stepping onstage in a pretty, gray dress to join the legendary Kim Burrell for a stirring gospel duet. The riveting encore moved emcee Steve Harvey, too. I had watched the excellent program when it was first broadcast, and its appearance on my TV set on February 12th led me to the news announcement, during commercial breaks, of the tragedy. My fairy godsista, Whitney, was gone.

I didn’t learn of the much-adored yet widely maligned pop icon’s passing until today — Sunday — because over a sixteen-hour period I had been sketching and writing the short story “Mixed Signals” for my Negrotica blog. I usually don’t believe in coincidences, but it’s an eerie one that around the time Whitney was reported to have died (according to the news I viewed on BET and CNN today, February 12th), I had incorporated the emotional relevance of her song “Run to You,” from The Bodyguard soundtrack, into the aforementioned short fiction.

Cover of "The Bodyguard (Special Edition)...

Cover of The Bodyguard (Special Edition)

Whitney’s film career was launched in 1992 with The Bodyguard, a romantic thriller that I loved then and now in spite of a plot which has more holes than a thin slice of Swiss cheese. No disrespect to her co-star, the gifted and handsome actor Kevin Costner, but the movie (co-produced by Costner) turned into a critical vehicle for Whitney Houston and revitalized her pop music image. According to Wikipedia, Lawrence Kasdan, The Bodyguard’s screenwriter and a co-producer, had pegged Steve McQueen and Diana Ross for the leading roles back in the ’70s, when he scripted the film. As a gi-normous Harrison Ford aficionada, I didn’t need Wikipedia to inform me that Kasdan wrote the screenplays for Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi.

Although Whitney’s model good looks were taken for granted in The Bodyguard, the woman was incredibly sexy and portrayed the seducer, which for me was a first for a Black actress in a major motion picture involving an interracial romance as a subplot. Were it not for Whitney’s alluring crescents for eyes, expressive lips, serpentine movements and earthy charm, there would’ve been no credible chemistry between the “Queen of the Night” and her protector, and no basis for the 360° farewell kiss at film’s end. Midfilm, though, Costner’s Frank Farmer had my cheeks burning when he taught Houston’s Rachel Marron a horizontal lesson about tinkering with a sharp sword.

Having let down his guard and agreed with (t)horny Rachel to give her an authentic dating experience, he invited her into his private world: his kind of bar, his kind of flick, his kind of fetish. One would think that the vintage Japanese film which they had viewed at the cinema in town was In the Realm of the Senses. (Surely I joust, you say? Hai, hai. Besides, Rachel’s neck scarf was worn loosely, and there was nary an egg in sight.) Experiencing Far Eastern cultural aftershocks from the samurai movie, Rachel gave herself the green light to pierce through to Frank’s sensual layer. While she certainly was no Black geisha, she approached her off-duty bodyguard’s mounted weapon with slippered poise.

Her demoted, incompetent bodyguard, Tony, had learned the hard way just how proficient Frank was with knives, but she was about to get the point of his fetish. Although she first had seduced Frank, she was now in his man-cave by his design, and he only needed to be lured to the edge of passion to take over the seduction. Executing a few, faux samurai moves, Rachel extended the sword like a temptress with penis envy. After halving her silk scarf like an illusionist’s act gone awry, he got her undivided attention. Awestruck and startled was she. Twinned with desire was he. Unheard but understood was his direction to his member to: “Chaaaaarge!”

Their suppressed, forbidden lust unsheathed, they were woman and man, no longer pop diva and bodyguard — at least not until dawn. Can any true appreciator of The Bodyguard forget how the camera slowly revealed Frank’s massive, long blade penetrating the crotch of Rachel’s dainty, lace, limp panties? Am I the only one who frankly didn’t give a damn that it was overkill when the camera next panned over to the bed, where the pair lay embracing each other in their afterglow? The bedroom was bathed in indigo blue; their faces, in blissful satisfaction (hers) and ambiguous regret (his).

For me, Frank’s perilous sword maneuver — his chivalric touché to Rachel’s initiation of foreplay — in The Bodyguard was the sexiest Kevin Costner scene since his smooches north and south on Sean Young’s statuesque bod — he in uniform, she in lingerie — across a limo’s wide backseat in the Cold War-era suspense film No Way Out (1987), based on Kenneth Fearing’s novel The Big Clock. While the film’s eponymously titled, synth-drenched balladic duet led off by Paul Anka saturated the night, Costner’s naval commander and Young’s two-timing mistress frolicked and panted away behind the involuntarily shut slide, leaving the disappointed chauffeur (Bill) to circle DC’s illuminated monuments. And, no, Costner’s Tom Farrell didn’t leave his hat on.

File:TheBodyguardSoundtrack.jpg

Not since The WIZ, Saturday Night Fever and Purple Rain had I played an original soundtrack (OST) back to back over an entire year! I adored then, as I do now, every track that Whitney laid down on The Bodyguard OST. Also highly listenable are the cuts not performed by her, such as “It’s Gonna Be a Lovely Day” — Clivilles-Cole’s sensually aerobic rendition of Bill Withers’ 1977 hit song “Lovely Day” — which remind us of their contributions to the film’s atmospherics. That is, they musically aid director Mick Jackson in dramatizing the enviable (to some) lush life juxtaposed with a paranoid sensibility that can accompany the perils of celebrity. To date, The Bodyguard remains the highest-selling OST on Earth.

Not one film that Whitney’s talent, name and fame carried — not a one — tanked. I’ve exhausted my praise for The Bodyguard. Now please allow me to take you back down memory lane, for this now-ascended star who in mortal life easily flashed her megawatt smile also had entertained us with her commendable work in The Preacher’s Wife (with Denzel Washington), Cinderella (with singer-actress Brandy in the title role) and Waiting to Exhale (with a tremendous ensemble cast that included Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine and the late Gregory Hines).

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[I’m infamous for my asides, so here we go:

Aside #1: Thank you to director and Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker for bringing us the gem Waiting to Exhale in 1995. We need, no, crave, many more films that represent the multifaceted Black Experience. We are human, too, and so non-Blacks (now’s not the time to pelt me with the anthropological “Lucy” theory) will perceive and appreciate the universality in our stories just as we do in theirs. If we can guffaw through The Help — a film I refuse to sit uncomfortably through when an über-rich person such as Oprah Winfrey keeps touting it — then non-Blacks and Blacks can view a film about, say, a happily married, working-class Black couple trying to deal with their twentysomething son’s PTSD after he has survived his “tour” in Afghanistan but no one wants to hire him.

Here, I’m making my plea to: Spike Lee, Kasi Lemmons, Forest Whitaker, Sanaa Hamri, Tyler Perry, Carl Franklin, Marlies Carruth, F. Gary Gray, Darnell Martin, Antoine Fuqua, Neema Barnette, Denzel Washington, Julie Dash, Clark Johnson, Cheryl Dunye, Lee Daniels, Angela Robinson, John Singleton, Coquie Hughes, Sheila Norman, Martin Lawrence, Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Hughes Brothers, Ayoka Chenzira, Bishop T.D. Jakes, and the rest of you responsible Black American, Caribbean and other African-descended filmmakers. Please lift your cameras and, for the auteurs among you, your pens now like never before!

Aside #2: I’m still wishin’ and hopin’ and prayin’ that somebody will make a major motion picture about the life of Tammi Terrell — and I’m for real. I’m continuing my campaign launched with my November 2010 post on this Blah-Blah-Blah-Blah Blog, in which I stated that actress Taraji P. Henson would be magnificent cast as Tammi. If those with the capital to fund just about every damned thing else could get in touch with author Vickie Wright and her co-author on the Tammi Terrell bio, Ludie Montgomery, who is Tammi’s sister, then these wonderful ladies will be able to bring their film project to fruition. I plan to be on line on opening night.

Aside #3: Now, what’s being plated in heaps among the annual sampling of films (and TV shows) containing predominantly Black casts? Junk food. We desire soul food! Tyler Perry shouldn’t take all of the heat. He’s a self-made millionaire in an industry that would never do what he does: employ many long-seen-and-heard-from Black actors. And they’re major talents. But I take issue with the excessive histrionics and slapstick that often distract from the serious matters which Perry had the insight and courage to explore. Don’t get me wrong; Madea is fucking hilarious! However, when we already are presented with such a gigantic woman — Perry in drag as a caricature of a composite of grannies and great-aunties some of us know or knew all too well — do we really need the actors in supporting roles going over the top like Madea’s prosthetic tatas? Or should I say, taDAHS!

I’m all for tribute and affection wrapped in comedic irreverence, but in the burial scene in Meet the Robinsons, did Jenifer Lewis’ strident-voiced character need to desecrate “Amazing Grace” and get shoved into the open grave? Why didn’t Perry go further and write a few broken limbs into the script? You Tyler Perry fans know that’s a rhetorical question. Perry sketched a two-dimensional cartoon character, for in the kitchen scene that follows the burial shot, Lewis emerges only with a facial bruise and a crooked wig. Rubbish.

Auteur Spike Lee justifiably was publicly critical of Perry’s representations of Black people and the ironic acceptance by Blacks. But the responsibility of making quality films cannot rest solely on Spike’s shoulders — by the way, I’d say that if he stood over six feet tall. Spike isn’t flawless, of course. He seemed preachy in parts of his 1990s films, such as the scene in Jungle Fever in which Wesley Snipes’ adulterous protagonist steps out of character to give a PSA-worthy speech about unwed teenage mothers. Yes, Spike misstepped there by not ministering to unwed teenage fathers.

However, Spike doesn’t rely on slapstick and on Black characters acting like white actors in blackface in a minstrel show. That’s Perry’s forté. I only hope that I don’t waste $12 ($20 with popcorn and a beverage) walking out of Perry’s Good Deeds the way I did with For Colored Girls.

Aside #4: We are force-fed a plethora of movies from male-dominated POVs that depict Black men, women and children as “coons” — yeah, I went there. Those types of characters are nothing but 21st-century versions of actors made to ape around in flicks that European American audiences flocked to see during the half-century following the end of legal U.S. slavery.]

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Back to the subject of this blog post: the late great Whitney Houston

When Sparkle, her last film and a remake of the 1976 classic that starred singer-actress Irene Cara in the title role, is released this summer, let’s all go out and support it. Thank you, Bishop T.D. Jakes, for bringing it … and for bringing it back to life. Yes, thank you for resuscitating a film that most of the world forgot, perhaps because it’s about a Black adolescent (singer Jordin Sparks in the title role) — a middle child — who has God-given talent, a big dream, a strong church family, a supportive and adoring friend and, most importantly, a single mother who loves her so much that she fears losing her to vices and materialistic success.

In Sparkle Whitney portrays the matriarch of a family of sisters in a role originated by the graceful actress Mary Alice, who illuminated the small and big screen with an authentic, downhome kind of femininity and mature sensuality. (Mary Alice was ubiquitous in 1970s television programs, especially “Sanford and Son” opposite comedic legend Redd Foxx, and she’s long overdue an “Unsung” profile on TVOne.  Hint, hint.) Recalling Mary Alice’s poignant performances during my youth, and how she balanced poise and feistiness, I’m so happy that someone had the prescience or genius to consider Whitney Houston — a religious, doting mom to a teen-age daughter who publicly had expressed her own music industry dreams — for such a coveted role in Sparkle. Timing is everything, and Whitney is a natural for the part.

Those of you who either lined up outside the cinema house in ’76 (as I did that autumn with my mom) when the original Sparkle was released or have viewed it on cable television (thanks, TVOne) or DVD, know that all three daughters were fast-tracked into adulthood amid harsh urban realities. You also may recall that the eldest sibling, “Sister” (pronounced Sistuh), played to the hilt by Lonette McKee, lost her battle to drug addiction — heroin, the drug plied by her pusher-lover, Satin. It’s inspired casting when one considers Whitney’s courage to make a comeback after struggling with a failed marriage — one in which substance abuse and love were intertwined (if not symbiotic), by the pop icon’s own admission.

In the film’s original version, set vaguely in the late 1950s to early 1960s, the midtempo song “Hooked on Your Love” seduced the moviegoer with its muted horns and stripper beat while the gowned-down girl group (McKee’s, Cara’s and Dwan Smith’s characters, in proper birth order) sashayed what their momma gave them to the delight of single and attached men seated at tables in the nightclub. It would be a travesty if in the rebirthed Sparkle movie, “Hooked on Your Love” (sung on the soundtrack album by Aretha Franklin; in the film, by McKee on lead vocals) were omitted instead of re-envisioned.

This time, the whole world will take notice of the film, not only for the dramatic performances and the great soundtrack, but also for its lifesaving messages about loving and believing in oneself and about the significance of supporting and standing up for family and friends when one gets a divine call. Yes, the entire world will pay attention to Sparkle this time around because Whitney Houston no longer is.

Cissy Houston, thank you for trusting the world with your beloved “Nippy.” Many out there did your baby wrong, but they’re greatly outnumbered by us — the longtime fans that discovered who Whitney was through the music which also helped us discover ourselves, who encountered an angel on earth and whose love for her will live on like her amazing legacy.

Just Whitney

Image via Wikipedia

 In Memory of Our Recently Departed Sista-Girl,
Whitney Houston: 1963-2012

© 2012 Chantale Rêve

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