The Help – Reads and Reels!

The Help – Reads and Reels!

I’m so excited! One of our Reads is finally hitting the big screen. This one was near and dear to me when the book came out because it’s set in my hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. On Tuesday, Reads and Reels is checking out the screening. Afterward, we’re headed to Vinings Inn to partake in yummy southern fare and discuss the movie.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett is set during the Civil Rights era and is narrated by three characters: two maids and a young white woman home fresh from college looking for a serious writing gig who ends up helping maids across Jackson tell their stories.

If you haven’t read the book, you should. It is a very enjoyable (and easy) read. The characters are very relatable–I guarantee your brain will be able to easily develop pictures and profiles of these characters–you may even be able to insert someone you already know into these roles. From the awkward and somewhat naive Skeeter to the uber bitchy and manipulative Hilly to the wise and nurturing Aibileen to the  sassy yet secretly fragile Minny. And I can’t forget the “new money” loud but sweet Celia. Stockett did a great job developing these characters and weaving stories to really draw readers into the lives of these characters.

Of course, because I’m me and I get so caught up in books, the couple of issues I had with the book nagged at me the whole time I was reading. These issues are:

  1. The only dialect the white characters had was “co-cola”. The black characters slurred/combined words the way many southerners do, so I felt that the dialogue of the white characters should have as well if Kathryn Stockett was going for the southern charm (big difference bw dialect and bad grammar and no matter who you are, rich, poor, educated, or not, if you live in MS esp back then, southern dialect prevailed so use it for everyone or not at all, IMO).
  2. The mothers of the characters were WAY TOO OLD. People weren’t having kids at 30 or 40 back then, seen in that the characters were super early 20s and starting families; but their moms were super old, decrepit, and on their death beds. I never grasped how this was possible!
  3. The story about Constantine, Skeeter’s childhood maid, at the end (no spoilers here) was just not compelling to me, especially after hearing so many stories of racial consequences as I grew up and still. I had been waiting the whole book for a major *pa-yow* and got *ting*.
  4. There were certain details that didn’t quite hit the mark historically-speaking. I tried to ignore it since it’s clear in most of the book that the author still doesn’t quite get the plight of blacks in the south at the time, but my radical side nodded when I read a few of the entries in this blog.

***EDIT (insert): I found this forum on Amazon, and it’s a reeeeeally interesting conversation about the issues that some readers have had with the book. Check it out as I am. 🙂 Esp if you liked the book but just didn’t feel warm and fuzzy when done with it***

So as I anticipate the book come to life, I’m hoping that the movie captures the complexity of Minny–she’s deliciously spunky but still delicate. I also hope that the movie shows a couple of the back stories of characters that weren’t major in the book, like the woman who stole the costume jewelry from that winch Hilly (you know a book has well-developed characters when you really feel true negativity toward a character!) to help pay for her twin boys to stay at Tougaloo (HOLLA!) and ended up catching holy hell because of it.

Can you tell that I am soooooooooo excited to see the movie? After spending time casting actresses with my fellow readers, I’m looking forward to seeing the official cast and the movie interpretation. What about you?

What did you think of the book? What are you expecting of the movie?

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The Colored Museum

The Colored Museum

A group of us went to the True Colors production The Colored Museum.

First, it was great to see the new Porter Sanford III Performing Arts Center. Great venue!!

The play was very interesting–after an introduction that consisted of a flight attendant giving us directions about flying on the Celebrity Slave Ship, which was partly funny and partly informative, each scene was an “exhibit” in the museum. The flight attendant, very eager for us to assimilate to the times we were traveling to, asked us to repeat after her: “I don’t hear any drums, and I will not rebel.”

That was funny in itself because I’ve had conversations with friends about how drums and music have always been so integral to the African American culture. I think unbeknownst to many, rhythm has been a means of communication beyond the obvious–our souls are tied to certain sounds and we react to them subconsciously. So as an aside, I definitely agree with those who say we have to be uber cognizant and picky about what we’re listening to.

Anywho, my favorite “exhibits” were one that I called the War of the Wigs, where two wigs, one a proper long and straight and one a spunky afro. At the beginning of the exhibit, the woman who owned the wigs wasn’t aware of their conversation about her and her need to drop her zero boyfriend. They talked about how she switched her hair depending on what he was interested in or where they were going. Then, the wigs began to argue about which one of them she should wear to the break-up lunch. That’s when it got super hilarious. They eventually made their ability to speak and observe her life known, and of course she was floored. It’s amazing how our hair is so tied to our emotions and thoughts and even interests.

The other exhibit that had me completely rolling on the floor was the Tyler Perry-like episode, where everything was way overdramatized. The usual suspects were there–the mama sitting on the couch, her overly angry 30 year old son who can’t get ahead in life no matter how hard he tries, the wife who is miserable and has a dream of more but is stuck, and the sibling who has traveled the world and has a different outlook. These times 10. Eventually, “the man” shot the angry black man, and the cast began to sing him back to life. The lyrics went a little something like this:

If only he had been born into a black musical… no one ever dies in an all black musical…

Another one I enjoyed was of a man who was trying to throw away his blackness. He threw away his albums, including some Stevie Wonder!!, certain clothes, etc. Then “the kid,” presumably his childhood spirit, fought with him over it. After a long, funny battle, he ended up throwing “the kid” away too. It really made me wonder what some will do to “fit in” into mainstream majority–and if doing all that actually works. If they ever feel like they “arrived”–and if they do on the surface, what they feel when they go to bed at night.

There were also a couple of exhibits that I didn’t quite understand… Maybe they were too deep for me? One was of a soldier who died (I think) at battle and realized that no matter what, the soldiers who would make it back home would never find happiness. So he proceeded to kill them all.  Yeah… I dunno, folks. Shrug.

The other one I really didn’t get was about a little girl who gave birth to a bunch of eggs. I thought I got it–she was a poor black girl whose mother never told her anything positive about herself, and she ended up getting pregnant by a delivery boy or something. Well, I thought I got it until her mom locked her in a room for several days and she laid an egg. After that, shrug.

Overall, though, The Colored Museum made me think. About all the different “stereotypes” and truths of the African American culture, and how many things seem opposite but all apply. And even how some things that seem positive can really be negative, and the other way around. The play runs through Sunday. You should totally get tickets and check it out. Then log back on and tell me what you thought (and explain what I didn’t get). Enjoy the weekend!

Reads and Reels: Feast of All Saints, Part I

Reads and Reels: Feast of All Saints, Part I

This weekend, I had a lovely spring-reminiscent time with my mom.  We ate dinner with my cousins, went to the Battle of the Bands, went to Sunday brunch at Pecan (who wouldn’t take my groupon without it being printed), went to the Georgia Aquarium, and spent more time with my cousin Kesha, who grilled for us.  While eating last night, we talked about our family and some of the little hush hush things about which our family never talks.  One of those issues is color.  Because of my family’s lineage (maybe one day I will expound), there exist(ed?) some superstitions and prejudices about darker hued skin and resulted in differences in how kids and grandkids were treated.

It’s always been fascinating to me.  Maybe because I am brown.  Just a pretty, smack dab in the middle, smooth, lovely brown. I’m not light. I’m not dark. I’m brown. A shade my ma said was “light enough” to escape the punishment issued to those who were “too dark.” Even when I was a kid, I wondered what I would have looked like if I had come to the world looking like any of my cousins (on my mom’s and dad’s sides–on my mom’s side, I’m one of the darkest).  We pretty much are the three shades of the Kenya dolls back in the day.  Light, medium, and dark, lol.  I can remember walking into the kitchen hearing my parents arguing about who had the most color in their history–bragging on how dark my granddaddy was or how dark my ma’s granddaddy.  Kinda weird since outside our home, I would hear other groups of blacks vying for who had the least color.  I never really understood the psychology of color.

This may be one reason that New Orleans has always been one of my favorite, mostinteresting places.  I remember the first time I read Anne Rice’s Feast of All Saints, really imagining this world of quadroons and people basing status on how far removed they were from slavery or how “whitened” they had gotten their blood. So I was very very happy to see how engaged the Atlanta group was while watching Part 1 of the DVD based on the book.  Our conversation was very lively.

We spent a good bit of time talking about the purpose and benefits of marriage. One reason, which really made me go hmmm melikey, was that marriage is an institution that assists us in moving forward and building our culture.  We talked about how marriage is used strategically, but the real question is what is the strategy?  Where are we headed? One thing I said was that if everyone did what they were put here to do, collectively we would all prosper at a faster pace than each of us individually–thus, our goal should be to marry someone that helps us in our purpose, that supports and uplifts us, that complements us.  Some people are all about marrying for love–well I would say that’s all good and fine, but it’s not.  Why? Because we may not have any control over our emotions per se, but we totally can control who we spend substantial time and energy with/on. In the movie, the strategy was a combination of their perspective of bettering their lives by “marrying” into money and into lighter skinned children who would be able to keep the cycle going. What’s your strategy?

In that same discussion, we talked at length about whether or not we have to “play by the rules” in society. Well whose rules are they?  My personal opinion is that we need to know the rules–not necessarily play by them unless that’s just what you choose to do.  If you know them, though, you can use them and play around them.

Another thing we ended up discussing (because we live in Atlanta and that’s what we discuss) was how as we get older, our pool of romantic possibilities gets smaller and smaller, not only because we’re second and third rounders (more on that in a minute), but also because our circles just overlap and overlap until the point where it’s rare that you meet someone completely new.  The answer? Some say we should start going to the gym or somewhere completely new. We’ll see.

So I’m a “second-rounder” (well, I guess I should hope that I am??).  One of our group members says that the first round of marriages occurred around 25. The second round will occur around 30; the third round, 35; and so on. And some of those first-rounders have come back around to be second-rounders because of divorces (you know, because some of those first-rounders were in starter marriages).  This was an interesting concept (and hilarious since one friend said she’s a sixth-rounder even though she’s my age).  I guess it applies to motherhood as well since a large crop of folks had babies last year, evidently drinking the same water.

Something else we discussed was how important knowing our history is.  In the movie, the main character Marcelle finds out that the Haitian Revolution wasn’t just some great, fun story to hear about–it actually directly affected his life.  He starts to make really crazy decisions because he finds out that he never knew that he didn’t know important parts of his history.  He doesn’t know who to trust–he doesn’t know what is really important–he really doesn’t even know what to do with his life.  Be who his mom and aunts want him to be? Or follow his passions?  That applies to our lives as well. We have to know where we came from, understand where certain gifts come from and how they can be used, and take advantage.  We may not have the generational monetary wealth and connections that some are born with, but we are born with certain generational gifts and lessons that we only have to seek out.

There was plenty more discussed (including how the issues in the movie have contributed to the modern-day “independent black woman”and we touched on classism a little bit–I’m sure it’ll come up more next time), and they enjoyed the movie so much that we’re moving the discussion of Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America by Eugene Robinson to March (you have more time to get it and read!) so that we can watch Part II of Feast of All Saints in February (Sunday, 2/27 at 4).  Join us! The movie is full of twists and turns! 🙂

My Time in New Orleans

My Time in New Orleans

Where were you when Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc over the gulf coast communities and when the levees broke? I was in Atlanta, worried sick about my friends and their families and about the city I have had a sincere love for since I was a little kid—New Orleans. I remember not being able to get in touch with anyone for weeks because the network was down. And I remember feeling like there was nothing I could do. I did clothing drives for my friends, but it never seemed to be enough.

Well, five years have passed since that disaster that hit so very close to home and affected so many people that I personally know. And still, the city has not recovered. There are still empty but overgrown lots, houses that are abandoned, people that can’t return yet. There’s still so much to do, and this past weekend, I helped do it.

I led a group of 15 volunteers—3 traveling from here in Atlanta, 2 from Jackson, MS (plus a hubby–shout out to Trey), 1 from Vicksburg, MS, 8 from in and around Hattiesburg, MS, and 1 from Chicago, IL. We worked with Hands on New Orleans in two areas of town. And boy, were those two volunteer projects different.

On Saturday, we went to Harvey, Louisiana, which is on the West Bank of New Orleans. The project was with the Latino Farmers Cooperative of Louisiana to move their Esperanza Neighborhood Farm. Not just develop one—move it. From one parcel of land to another.  I walked into a land dispute that I had no knowledge of until we showed up to work. The organization had received an acre of land from a board member, but they didn’t go through the official channels of learning where the property lines were. Turns out they spent months creating a garden on someone else’s land—someone who didn’t want them there. So much in fact that the owner of the land showed up with police to make sure we were moving the garden, and not tending to it.

That whole situation was a mess.  Both sides were wacko.  She was wacko because she felt like the owner owed her something.  No ma’am.  Her organization should have done their due diligence to ensure they understood where the property was.  So she kept calling this man a bad person because he didn’t want to lease her the land for the three months it would take to reap the harvest.  It’s his land so he has a right to say no.  But going by her behavior and attitude when the owner pulled up (she was even rude to the police who weren’t at all mean when they pulled up), it’s clear that she was not pleasant ever in the situation.  So much for the attracting bees with honey because I’m sure when he (a black man) first pulled up to ask what they were doing, a group of white and Latino people working on his land, they probably acted like he was the one who is crazy.  He ordered them to move the garden asap. Now he’s crazy too, though.  First of all, she did him a favor really because the land was very much not taken care of before they made their mistake, so he really won out on that end of the spectrum.  However, he ordered her to move the land, but was threatening to charge her with trespass that morning (not us, her, lol–we 15 were not going to jail over voluntarism.  No. indeed.).  Well, sir, she can’t move the dang garden by osmosis.  We had to be on the property to uproot it all.  Once we, the sane and calm and unbiased black people, explained that to him and the police, though, he exhaled, still a little tightly wound, but just said it needed to be gone by the next day.

So my group of 15 had the task of moving a sign that had been cemented in the ground, uprooting a fence, clearing the land on the property that actually was for them (and by clearing I mean moving loads and loads of vines and trash), preparing it for soil, digging up and moving the soil from the original garden, and finally, moving and replanting the crops. It was very hard work, let me tell you, and the project leader was more like an overseer or slave master than a volunteer coordinator. She was barking orders at us and showed little to no appreciation even though we did in 5 hours what took weeks.  I think I knew it was a wrap when she asked us to relieve the Dillard students who had only been there for an hour compared to our four, and wanted us to stop planting to start back digging.  Oh, and did I mention she had stopped working because some students from Princeton had come to interview her for a study they’re doing about farming and community gardens.  Did I mention that the owner of the land of the first garden is attempting to sell it to a mechanic shop (we found that out from a neighbor)?  So… if that happens, surely the garden will not survive behind that. We left feeling borderline defeated and wondering if we had wasted a day.

The bright side of things is that the whole group felt some kinda way after leaving so we decided to unwind at a nearby daiquiri shop, where we played some New Orleans classics (so classic that the owner of the shop turned the music up louder and customers were coming in bobbing their heads–woot woot for the DJ (me)) for a friend who had never been to New Orleans, had Jello shots, played pool, and of course, drank daiquiris.  The girls left there and went to a nail salon.  We keep it pretty, yanno.  We have no idea what the guys were up to.  Later, we went to the Quarter, ate heartily, then looked at all the Halloween costumes on Bourbon St.  It was a great night.

Sunday was a totally different experience, however. We went to the Lower 9th Ward, which is one of the most affected parts of the city because it’s near the levees. When we arrived at the Lower 9th Ward Village (which I plan to feature this Friday), we were all wary, ready to leave the project, straight throw the deuces, as soon as we were done with our assignment. Turns out we stayed 2 hours longer than the project was supposed to be. The morning started with an inspirational introduction from the Village CEO Mac McClendon, who started the community center to help his neighborhood after losing all his material things, including a house he had spent months renovating with his own hands. He explained to us what he went through during the storm and its aftermath, looking for his family, dealing with the smell of death when he returned, finding out that silence is a deafening sound. He said that hearing a car was a treat because there were literally no sounds—no birds chirping, no dogs barking, no crickets chirping, nothing. Out of hopelessness, he found his purpose in life and now, he’s running this center, still rebuilding his own life, but giving to his neighbors. Because there’s a law saying that if the grass is over 18 inches, a lot can be seized, we spent our morning cutting grass and weeds. Although the project wasn’t as “glamorous” as creating a garden, we felt like we had become a part of this community. After we were done, we spent two hours talking to Mr. McClendon about his life and experiences, with his younger brother who is the Program Director at the center, and with a couple of elderly residents who just wanted to pick our brains and get us thinking. We didn’t want to go, but we had to so that we could get home.  Here’s a link to a clip of the convo we had with Mr. McClendon.

The difference between those two projects illustrates the true meaning of community building—we volunteer, but why? To do good, yes, but more importantly, to build and restore communities. When I go back to New Orleans again to work, I’ll definitely be going back to see what my new friends at the Lower 9th Ward Village need. I won’t give up on helping other parts of the city, but I definitely want to dedicate at least part of my time to the ongoing efforts in the Lower 9th Ward.  I hope that next time you will come with us. 🙂  Here are links to the pictures.  Oh the memories.

Ranada’s Reads and Reels FB Photo Album

J Photo Group’s Flickr Album

Feature Friday: Twist

Feature Friday: Twist

As Drake says, “Better late than never.”  So here’s my review of Twist at the Alliance Theatre since I’m New Orleans-bound in just a couple of hours.

 

Overall, the musical was worth seeing.  This “twist” on the story of Oliver Twist was full of great music and great storylines. A result of an interracial couple in New Orleans in the early 1900s that experiences the wrath of a mob, Twist is born in the orphanage that his mother drags herself to while dying after watching her fiance carried off.  Twist is ridiculed for being a “half-breed” by the other orphans as is sold to a funeral parlor director.  During his short stint with the funeral home, Twist learns that he has a great dancing talent and shows out during a second line before running away and joining a gang of lost boys who are selling libations during Prohibition for a guy who turns out to be the dance partner of Twist’s deceased father.  This guy also just happens to be booed up with the girl who delivered Twist and got a locket from his mother before she died, which the girl still had after all those years.

The story becomes twisted when the gang leader, who also owns a cafe in the Quarter, is approached by Twist’s uncle, who happened to be a member of the mob who killed Twist’s parents.  The uncle learns that as long as he has no proof that the baby of his sister is dead, he can’t get her part of their inheritance.  So he tries to buy Twist from the gang leader, who at first, despite his girlfriend’s pleas, heavily considers the agreement.  Thank goodness for the family attorney, who just so happened to love the work of Twist’s father and who has an affinity for protecting youth, who steps in and gives Twist a safe and happy home through all of this drama.

The two main issues that came up in the musical included of course, the lack of belonging for interracial people on either side of the spectrum and the need for adult influence and love in the lives of children.  Now, I had a slight problem with the interracial aspect of things.  In New Orleans as well as in other parts of the world, interracial people were seen as a notch up from black.  So although they were not accepted by white people, they were not necessarily “rejected” by blacks–many times, they chose not to be grouped in, instead going by names like quadroon and octoroon.  Interracial people in these days of New Orleans, many times had a choice between living among blacks or living in this created world of their own, where the women became concubines of Frenchmen who traveled back and forth between lands.  So it kinda disturbed me that in the musical, blacks and whites were banding together (getting along although they killed Twist’s parents for banding together) to ostracize Twist.  It was just a really weird dynamic.  For instance, in the orphanage scene, the black and white kids were in cahoots to make Twist’s life a living hell.  Now, this may have been a little more believable if  the white kids were sitting at a table of their own and the black kids at the other, and neither would give Twist a seat.  But for them all to be seeming to be loving each other across racial lines but hating Twist?  No sense.

Most importantly, though, the production did a good job of illustrating that children will accept love anywhere they can get it.  Even if it’s not under great circumstances.  It made me really consider what I think about whites adopting black children vs. blacks adopting them.  I mean, in the grand scheme of things, there are so many children out there that need love that I don’t really think about what race the adopting parents are–I just want them to be good parents who really just want to love kids.  Yes, there’s the issue of ensuring culture in a child, but I’d rather a child be placed with awesome white parents than sucky black parents (as would have been the case in the production–a single well-off white attorney who loves children and can actually tell Twist about his father’s legacy versus a black couple that is shacking up and sending kids out in the streets everyday to sell illegal liquor).  But the world isn’t so black and white.  There usually aren’t situations where a kid has a choice between the exact same family besides one being black and one being white.  So, I just say, those of you out there who really have the resources and the time and the love to adopt a child, go for it.  You won’t hear anything from me, regardless of your race or the child’s race.

Again, overall, the play was enjoyable.  Check out the Alliance Theatre to see what they have this season.  Reads and Reels will be seeing Nacirema Society mid-November, and I can’t wait!

Almighty Debt

Almighty Debt

So last week, Reads and Reels along with TEO hosted an advance screening of CNN’s Black in America: Almighty Debt, which is airing in full tomorrow night. The event was well-attended, and people definitely had lots to say about the segment.  Here are some highlights.

  • Many people in the group, while they appreciated the topics touched on in Almighty Debt, felt that there should have been an added focus on those who have triumphed over debt.  They expressed that instead of showing all our problems, showing people who have overcome debt issues would have provided some hope to the watchers.  Some people thought the segment was realistic, and some thought it didn’t represent enough of the black diaspora.
  • In the piece, Pastor Soaries said that debt is a bigger problem than racism.  Some agreed, but others did not.  One attendee said that this debt problem is a byproduct of racism, and that there are still systems that encourage a disproportionate affect on our community in comparison to others.  She even made reference to a quote from the first Black in America: “When America has a cold, Black America has the flu.”  In essence, financial issues affect us greater–as Julianne Malveaux said during her interview, many of us are middle class by income, not by wealth.  So when stuff happens, we don’t have as much cushion, and we’re more easily knocked out of middle class.  It’s troubling that the wealth gap between whites and blacks is $75,000.
  • One point that was made over and over again in the segment as well as in our discussion is that we get emotionally attached to our stuff.  Due to a long history of not having much, it was said that we spend a lot of our money trying to catch up and show that we’re worthy of having stuff — stuff, as in houses, cars, clothes, designer purses, etc., that we can’t or won’t let go of when times get tough.  I shared with the group that in 2007, black buying power was $845 billion and was expected to top $1.1 trillion by 2012.  What are we doing with this money?  Why aren’t we leveraging it? Why are we buying tons of stuff instead of investing in our communities, in black businesses, in our education systems, in programs that will help us?
  • One very important topic of this new segment of Black in America is the church’s role.  Should the church be focused on salvation–getting people to heaven–or should it also be teaching and advocating for our communities–helping people on earth?  (Y’all know I think it should be doing both.)  The church, which used to be the single most important institution in our communities, should be investing in building up our communities.  I am in support of those churches, including the one in the documentary, who have community foundations that buy property and help people find jobs and teach financial literacy and help people get out of debt and hold entrepreneurship workshops and the like.  We need to think beyond our individual selves and get back to thinking long-term for our community.  We know what many of our problems are–so let’s get to fixing them.

There was so much more that was said, and there is so much to be said–and to be done.  Overall, I think the screening, and I’m sure the complete show tomorrow, fulfilled an imperative purpose: to get us talking about what we need to do become better financially.  It’s a personal and community problem–we each have a responsibility to get our own lives in order and make better decisions; and we all need to chip in and do something to position future generations to be better stewards of money and to understand how to build wealth, not just increase income, or as one participant said: “make money while we sleep.”

One thing that I’d like to see expanded and implemented to a wider audience is our ESP Kids Club, where members of TEO along with some brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha teach middle school kids on Saturdays about financial literacy.  The program is so enriching that some parents have asked to sit in because their kids were going home sharing information that the parents didn’t know!

There’s an information gap from which our community suffers gravely.  We need to fill it in order to empower the black community economically.  We have to have the foresight to ensure that our $1.1 trillion will be spent creating products, innovating, and growing assets, not just being consumers.

Feature Friday

Feature Friday

Boy, this week has been full of ups and downs, but the ups were AWESOME!! I have *three* Features, and I haven’t yet decided if I need to just spread them out over the next three weeks or if I need to find time to spill my guts about all three today.  Either way, they’re coming.  Last night’s Black in America: Almighty Debt was a well-attended event with tons of great and thoughtful dialogue.  Wednesday night I saw Night Blooms at Horizon Theatre, and the production is a must-see.  Finally, last Saturday, a couple of friends and I participated in the Atlanta Challenge, and it was uber fun.  I also owe my thoughts on a bunch of other stuff (Twist, I Dream, Soundtrack  of a Revolution, 41st and Central–I haven’t forgotten!).  Who knew I was so busy? (Yeah, I know, I know, we all did.)

So stay tuned.  And THANKS to everyone who has been joining me in all this fun!