RIP Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

We lost a phenomenal woman today.

Like many young black girls, the first time I was exposed to Maya Angelou was through her autobiography, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings which was required high school reading. Hearing the stories of my dad’s upbringing in the south, and the annual road trips there to visit my own relatives, I could relate somewhat to the story of a young black girl born in St. Louis who grew up in rural Arkansas by her grandmother during the years of brutal segregation. Who later grew up to become a dancer, an actress, director, activist and most notably a writer.

I imagine much of Maya Angelou’s poetry and writings served like a soundtrack to the lives of many african americans. While browsing YouTube, I came across this video that I haven’t seen in many years. The movie adaptation of “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” It’s dated, given it was shot in the late 1970s, but has a cast of well known black actors/actresses of the time.

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Dark Girls Documentary: Review

Several months ago I blogged about the upcoming documentary Dark Girls that was on tour screening at various locations around the country. Last week they held a screening at the Apollo theater in Harlem which I had a chance to see.

Sidebar: It’s been a while since I’d been inside of the Apollo and knowing it’s an old theater, I forgot how tight the seats are. Anyone who is tall or plus size would be well advised to sit in an aisle seat if you attend any events there.

Like many darker skinned women, I can recount instances where I experienced bias and feelings of not measuring up to what was considered the standard in mainstream society; that of the coveted light skinned, long hair, neither of which describes me. I don’t recall my earliest memory of bias, but I think what is most poignant in this movie is showing how early in life those messages are imprinted in a child’s psyche. Whether it comes from family, friends, media.

The documentary was a mix of interviews of scholars, ordinary folks, and featured actress Viola Davis, who recently starred in the movie The Help. Each gave an account on how their experiences of prejudice affected their self-esteem. Also shown was that well known scene of the young black girl interviewed by a child psychologist who when asked who is the prettiest when shown pictures of children with varying skin tones, points to the white child. Then when asked which child is the ugliest, points to the darkest skinned child. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, I shake my head.

If you’re well versed on the issue of colorism within the black community, the information provided will be nothing new, but it was still entertaining and the major point of the film is that regardless of how many years have passed and how much progress the community has made, this issue of skin color preference still persists. There were funny moments as well as some that caused tears to be shed. Whatever your experiences may be as a darker skinned person in the US, there was something for everyone to relate to.

Afterwards was a brief question & answer session with the directors, Bill Duke, and D. Channsin Berry. Most of the audience response was positive with folks recounting their own experiences with skin color bias. However, there was one woman who for reasons unclear, seemed to be preoccupied with wanting to know why the directors chose to make a film about dark skinned girls first as opposed to light skinned women. Then became miffed when audience members expressed displeasure. The directors finally responded a film about light skinned women was already in the works, followed by a film about men.

The only drawback was that tickets were expensive. But the screening also served as a fundraiser to help with promotion & distribution. Some of the subject matter will be a little hard for young children to understand, but teenage girls would do well to see the film. Do try and check it out if it comes to your city.

Dark Girls Website

Pariah: movie review

After hearing some great views of this independent black film, I had a chance to check it out at the cinema at Lincoln Center while on vacation from work. (BTW, must try their parmesan truffle popcorn, it’s to die for!!!!!)

Without spoiling the plot, Pariah (directed by Dee Rees & executive produced by Spike Lee) is a coming of age story about Alike, (pronouncec Ah-lee-kay), a young African-American lesbian from Fort Greene, Brooklyn struggling to embrace her identity and coming out to her family. Lots of themes are explored in this film including her complex relationship with her traditional, homophobic mother and her police officer father who seems to be in denial of his daughter’s sexuality. Complicating things further are her openly gay best friend, Laura who is eager to find Alike her first sexual partner and a bi-curious girl with whom Alike has a budding romance.

Regardless of sexual orientation, anyone can identify with the struggles of adolescence and establishing your own identity. The film is often compared to Precious which though cover vastly different subjects, also deals with that coming of age identity crisis as well.

The film also notably features Kim Wayans, sister of Director Keenan Ivory Wayans & comedian/actor Damon Wayans. If the only thing you remember of her is her comedic performances from In Living Color, you’ll be quite surprised at her dramatic performance as Alike’s mother.

View the trailer here…

A week at Martha’s Vineyard

Can’t believe it’s been over a month since my last post. Between vacation, hurricane Irene and just living life, it’s been a busy time.

First, my mom and I just got back from a vacation to Martha’s Vineyard a few weeks ago.  One of the reasons we went is because we missed the stop on a previous cruise a few years ago due to rough seas. Another was to attend the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival that happened to fall on the week of my mom’s birthday. I thought it’d be nice to take a vacation & see some independent black films at the same time. I’ve heard of Martha’s Vineyard many times, but I didn’t know much about it except for it being a place where wealthy black families owned homes & vacationed, a haven for the Kennedy clan and an obligatory vacation spot for every US president.

We stayed in a town called Oak Bluffs at the north end of Martha’s Vineyard. This town is the center of activity on the island, featuring restaurants, shopping, movie theaters, a carousel, bike trails, fishing, sailing, and beaches. It’s also known for these cute “gingerbread houses” a neighborhood of cottages that were built by members of the methodist church in the 1800s. Each having their own name like “shrimp house”, “The cat’s meow”, “the purple lady” etc.

gingerbread cottage

one of my favorites, named "the purple lady"

Oak Bluffs is also known as the town where most of the african american families lived on the Vineyard. There’s been an black presence on the island for generations. Some arriving as slaves, others as free blacks. Over time affluent black families purchased land & homes on the island. Except for famous african americans, mostly writers & politicans who lived or visited here in the past (i.e. the Obamas) or have vacation homes on the island, the african american presence is not well publicized.

While shopping we ran into a gallery that exhibited artwork and these beautiful quilts for sale by artist Faith Ringgold, whom the owner told me was scheduled to make an appearance. They would look great in my apt, but with prices starting at $2500.00 it’s way out of my budget. The last 2 are my favorites, they remind me of my childhood.

Some of y’all might remember that movie The Inkwell from the ’90s directed by Matty Rich about a couple of affluent black families on Martha’s Vineyard. (whatever happened to Matty Rich by the way?) While shopping at C’est La Vie, a black owned shop on Circuit ave that sells african diaspora products & clothing, notably “Inkwell” t-shirts, I asked the owner about the Inkwell beach, which was prominently featured in Matty Rich’s film. He showed me it’s location which happened to be only a block from the inn where we were staying. I then asked how it got its name and he said that back in the day, (I’m assuming during the Jim Crow era) it was thought by whites that when African Americans stepped into the water at the beach, it would turn black, into “ink”. Hence, they had their own beach, via segregation to an extent I’m assuming.

Inkwell Beach at Oak Bluffs

The beach is formally known nowadays as Oak Bluffs Town Beach. And it’s also pretty integrated though you still see lots of African Americans sunbathing there. I had to step my foot in the water just to test that “theory” and as I expected, the “ink” remained invisible.

dipping my feet into "The Inkwell"

Though we were based in Oak Bluffs, we did make daytrips into Edgartown, where the atmosphere is a lot more formal and upscale. The homes there more uniform in style and color, mainly white or gray, compared to Oak Bluffs, where each house was artistically unique & reflected the owners style & personality. Also Vineyard Haven, where the African American Film Festival was based, reminded me of a fishing village. Not as lively as Oak Bluffs, but not as stuffy as Edgartown either. It’s also the major entry port for folks coming onto the island via ferry. It also notable that with the exception of Stop & Shop which there are only 2 on the island, Martha’s Vineyard has no chain stores or restaurants. That sucks for the folks who love McDonalds  & the like, but the mainland is a short plane flight or ferry ride away if you just have to have that Big Mac.

The Vineyard is a great getaway spot, especially in the summer. I understand why people come here every summer or buy vacation homes or live here year round. The next time I come, I’ll probably rent an apt or a room with a kitchen to save money, as eating out nightly gets kinda expensive, and Martha’s Vineyard isn’t exactly a cheap destination. The best part of coming is the flight, only 30 minutes from LaGuardia airport.

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