I got something that’ll
Sho nuff set your stuff on fire
After enduring two straight years of #OscarSoWhite, there is a good chance that the infamous hashtag will get at least a year rest with the success of Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation at Sundance. Parker began writing the screenplay in 2009 and during this process, we learn from The Hollywood Reporter that he was told all the reasons a movie about Nat Turner would not work:
Movies with black leads don’t play internationally; a period film with big fight scenes would be too expensive; it was too violent; it wouldn’t work without a big box-office star leading it; Turner was too controversial — after all, he was responsible for the deaths of dozens of well-off white landowners.
Yet in 2013, after finishing Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Beyond the Lights, he told his agents that he would not act again until he could play American revolutionary Nat Turner. He invested $100,000 of his own money to begin the production process. He was then able to find investors such as retired NBA player Michael Finley and Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs.
There has been a great deal of recent talk about diversity initiatives in Hollywood, but from a blog post by Alex Ben Block, we learn from Ron Hasson, President of the Beverly Hills-Hollywood branch of the NAACP that diversity efforts have actually regressed at many studios and networks:
Often when you talk to diversity people in companies their roles have lessened. It may be very well companies no longer feel they have to pay as much attention as they did in the 1990s.
The way we think we can move forward and help is to recommend diversity training for executives. We feel it’s important they understand the business necessity for diversity.
If the networks will not meet, or do not show they are serious about addressing diversity, Hasson said the NAACP and others will once again seek Congressional hearings to focus on the issue.
While it is very important that we make Hollywood executives aware about the issues of diversity, Nate Parker’s persistence and determination shows us that it may be even more important to have faith in the power of our own stories:
Narrative imagining–story–is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, and of explaining. It is a literary capacity indispensable to human cognition generally.
The Literary Mind
By Mark Turner
The stories that we see in films and on television shape our lives. An article in The Guardian tells us:
The Big Bang Theory, a California-based comedy that follows two young physicists, is being credited with consolidating the growing appetite among teenagers for the once unfashionable subject of physics.
Academy Award winner Geena Davis has appeared in several roles that became cultural landmarks, including portraying the first female President of the United States in ABC’s Commander in Chief. She is the founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which engages film and television creators to dramatically increase the percentages of female characters—and reduce gender stereotyping—in media made for children.
At the Makers Conference, Davis discussed the lack of parity in media and its effect on young girls. “The more hours of TV a girl watches, the fewer options she thinks she has in life.”
She asked the MAKERS Conference, “What if unconscious gender bias is a much deeper problem than we’ve ever imagined?” and showed the challenges women face in media. The ratios of male to female characters has been exactly the same since 1946. In movies, of the characters holding jobs, 81% are male.
In 2015, Straight Outta Compton became the highest grossing music biopic of all-time and all-time highest domestic grossing film from an African-American director. Another testament to the power of our own stories.
The first draft of the screenplay of Straight Outta Compton was brought to the attention of its first producer Bill Staraus at Sundance in 2004. He was told that others had tried to make an N. W. A. film but no one had luck getting the rights from Easy E’s widow. Subsequently, this film took even longer to come to fruition than Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation.
Straight Outta Compton received nominations from the Producers Guild, Screen Actors Guild, and Writers Guild — plus a best-of-the-year citation from the American Film Institute. Yet only the two white screenwriters, Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff, received Oscar nominations.
Addressing this controversy, Ice Cube might have said it the best:
You can’t boycott something that you never went to anyway…. It’s nothing really to put that much energy like that. We don’t do movies for the industry. We do movies for the fans, for the people…. It’s crying about not having enough icing on your cake.
The power of hip hip is the power of being able to tell our own stories and a number of artists were able translate that power into wealth. Consider the $3 billion sale of Beats By Dr. Dre to Apple.
We also have the examples of Diddy and Jay Z, who along with Dr. Dre were included in Forbes Hip Hop’s Wealthiest Artists.
I understood the power of being able to tell our own stories and over ten years ago, before Facebook, I had the idea of developing a social media platform that integrated music and broadcast television. This idea led to the development of a television show called Live From VA that interviewed such guests as: Academy Award winner Mo’Nique, Russell Simmons & Rev Run, Kanye West, Pharell Willams & Chad Hugo (the Neptunes), and Katt Williams.
One of the frequent guests of Live From VA [LFV] was Kanye West. LFV first interviewed Kanye at a Norfolk hotel here he was performing. We didn’t stay for the performance but the venue capacity was less than 200. The next LFV interview was in Hampton where he perform at the Mercury Entertainment Center, a venue with a much bigger capacity but the crowd was no larger than 300 people.
The next interview was at his sold out performance at the Norva. After the Norva, Kanye West performed at the Hampton Coliseum opening for Usher.
The power of being able to tell our own stories effectively involves empathy. As Joe Bunting suggest: “In fact, you could even argue that empathy is synonymous with story. Don’t believe me? Plug the word story for empathy into this list of definitions for empathy that I found on Wikipedia:”
[Empathy] is what happens to us when we leave our own bodies…and find ourselves either momentarily or for a longer period of time in the mind of the other. We observe reality through her eyes, feel her emotions, share in her pain. –Khen Lampert
Empathy is about spontaneously and naturally tuning into the other person’s thoughts and feelings, whatever these might be […]There are two major elements to empathy. The first is the cognitive component: Understanding the others feelings and the ability to take their perspective […] the second element to empathy is the affective component. This is an observer’s appropriate emotional response to another person’s emotional state. –Simon Baron-Cohen
[Empathy is] the capacity to (a) be affected by and share the emotional state of another, (b) assess the reasons for the other’s state, and (c) identify with the other, adopting his or her perspective. –Frans de Waal
Empathy is the experience of foreign consciousness in general. –Edith Stein
I spent over four years homeless mostly in New Rochelle, NY and discovered the power of empathy to fuel innovation and creativity:
I believe that empathy – the imaginative act of stepping into another person’s shoes and viewing the world from their perspective – is a radical tool for social change and should be a guiding light for the art of living. Over the past decade, I have become convinced that it has the power not only to transform individual lives, but to help tackle some of the great problems of our age, from wealth inequality to violent conflicts and climate change.It is important to understand what empathy is and is not. If you see a homeless person living under a bridge you may feel sorry for him and give him some money as you pass by. That is pity or sympathy, not empathy. If, on the other hand, you make an effort to look at the world through his eyes, to consider what life is really like for him, and perhaps have a conversation that transforms him from a faceless stranger into a unique individual, then you are empathising. ~ Roman Krznaric
The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’
~ Matthew 22:39
In January 2009, my mother, Lezlie Linder, was diagnosis with lung cancer. On his bookshelf, he had a copy of Ralph Moss’s The Cancer Industry which argues that chemotherapy and radiation are largely ineffective and so toxic people often die from their treatment rather than their disease. She really wasn’t interested.
In May 2009, in order to help encourage my mother to eat healthier, I attended a screening of the documentary Fresh which included a reception that featured Joel Salatin and Will Allen. Living in Williamsburg, Virginia, I was motivated to host a screening and panel at the local library.
Understanding the power of story and empathy has lead to developing events such as a forum on urban agriculture featuring Karen Washington.