Saturday, August 30, 2014

African Americans on Film

As a professor whose main focus of critical inquiry is African/American literature, history, and culture, some of my research is geared toward investigating and writing about black Americans were portrayed in the early days of cinema in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As more material becomes digitized, researchers and other scholars have access to a number of films to enhance their studies. Below are two early films of black people on film, shot by the Edison Manufacturing Company in the 1890s.
The first clip, titled "Dancing Darkey Boy," was shot in 1897. The epithet, "darkey," is used here as a commonplace description of blacks--it was used by whites to describe African Americans in advertising, music, literature, and in everyday life. The actual film, though, offers a strong counterpoint to the offensive word, simply by the charm and clear talent of the little boy, along with the obvious delight he elicits from the crowd as he dances.
The second film, titled "A Morning Bath," was shot in 1896, the year of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (click here), which codified "separate but equal" as the law of the land. This film was shot for comedic value (of which I find none), as the woman is being directed to smile as she pours the suds over the hapless child for the amusement of the filmmakers and their presumed audience. The Library of Congress caption has replaced some of the original language used by Edison to describe the scene. 

 Dancing Darkey Boy

Original caption from Edison films catalog: 
 "Scene is in a stable, where a crowd of horsemen, jockeys and stable hands are watching a little darkey boy dance on a table."

A Morning Bath

Original caption from Edison films catalog:  
"Mammy is washing her little pickaninny. She thrusts him, kicking and struggling, into a tub of foaming suds."


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

William Greaves, Pioneer of Modern Black Film

Bill Greaves, the great African American filmmaker, died on Monday, August 25, a the age of 87. Click below to read the New York Times obituary on Mr. Greaves's life and career.

Back in January of 2013, I wrote a blog post on a film entitled Souls of Sin, which starred Mr. Greaves. I am revising that post and placing it here.--Rebecca

I first saw the luridly-titled Souls of Sin (1949) over 20 years ago, when BET used to show low-budget "race" films made in the 1930s and '40s. I always remembered it because the storyline was unique--a writer named (Roberts), a gambler who gets involved in a heist (Dollar Bill), and a singer (Alabama, played by Bill Greaves) room together in a basement apartment as they dream of artistic success (in the case of the two artists) and making a big score (Dollar Bill). Other characters also have colorful names, such as Cool Breeze, and another (played by the film's director, Powell Lindsay) named Bad Boy George. A young woman named Etta* follows behind Bill, even though he treats her poorly and attempts to rape her (he is stopped by Roberts). I won't go into more detail--watch for yourself!

William (Bill) Greaves, who played the young singer, Alabama, went on to have an outstanding career as an Emmy-award winning producer/writer/director (AND he attended my alma mater, City College!). My own connection to Mr. Greaves is that he called me one day about 11 years ago (right after I stopped working as a sound recordist) to hire me for a project--I had to turn it down, but it was thrilling nonetheless to speak to a living legend of African American cinema--he chuckled when I told him how much I enjoyed Souls of Sin. Click on William Greaves Productions to go to to his website to learn more about his life and career. 

The film is not "well-made," meaning, the acting is quite uneven (and at times amateurish), the sets are cheap (during one of the poorly-staged fight scenes, the actors nearly fall through the flimsy walls of the set), and there are many incongruities in the story and breaks in the plot, including a stop to the action so that a character can dance in all his scenes (he also dances with the male bartender). The film also contains a number of time-worn comedic routines. One character (Cool Breeze)  exists solely as comic relief--he enters the bars scenes to shuffle speedily in and out of the men's room.

l. to r. Bill Greaves, Billie Allen, and Emory Richardson
However, I think what appealed to me about Souls of Sin was the character of Roberts, the writer. I don't know of any other race film of this era that featured blacks engaging in artistic endeavors outside of music and dance and, although Roberts is an unpublished and struggling writer, he has integrity, and his work is taken seriously, respected, and validated by his cohorts. The film also has a happy (sort-of) ending. I have pasted the link to view the film below--just click on the title--it is well worth seeing.

*The character of Etta was played by a very young Billie Allen (click here for a brief biography), who also went on to have a successful theater career as an actress and director. I met her when I was a college sophomore, working as a production assistant on Losing Ground, an independent feature film by the late Kathleen Collins Prettyman, my mentor. This past October, I glimpsed Ms. Allen (now aged 88) in the audience at a performance of playwright Eric Lockley's Blacken the Bubble at the HSA Theater in New York.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

"The Quiet One"

The Quiet One is a classic film from 1948. It tells the story of a young black boy named Donald, who is withdrawn and friendless, but who is "rescued" by the staff at Wiltwyck School for Boys in New York. Directed by Sidney Meyers, The Quiet One was nominated for an Academy Award for its screenplay (co-written by James Agee, Helen Levitt, and Janice Loeb). The film is extremely dated, and some of the narration is absolutely cringe-worthy: "[The] ...boys are very backward in their reading" and "Children are much more ashamed of being stupid than most of us realize...." 

Nonetheless, it is noteworthy for many reasons--it is an early documentary (docudrama-style) portrait with a black male child as the central character, one who is disaffected, lonely, and alienated. The score was written by African American composer Ulysses Kay. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

James Baldwin, born August 2

Today is the birthday of James Baldwin, the great American writer, so it is time for my annual tribute.
Scroll down for more images.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Having a Blast at the Summer Concert and Car Show!

On Thursday evening, Plainfielders were treated to the first Summer Concert event in Plainwood Square Park: "THREE WOMEN & SOME JAZZ," featuring the Grammy-nominated jazz flautist Sherry Winston (for Sherry Winston's website--click here), and vocalists Pam Purvis (for Pam Purvis's website--click here) and Crystal Jones. The event was sponsored by the Plainfield Special Improvement District (SID) and organized by event planner Pat Fields.

I was able to enjoy the music (as always, Pat brings incredible artists to the summer series), to catch up with folks, and relax in the warm summer air. Emcee Robert Graham invited me to the mic to say a few words of greeting. Mayor Adrian Mapp also offered greetings to the crowd, and reminded everyone of the upcoming concerts in Cedar Brook Park--one on August 13 and the other on September 13 (details to come).  

After the fabulous concert was over, I headed to the other event--the SID-sponsored Car Show right across the street--awesomely organized by George Withers of G-WIZ Auto Entertainment (click here for the website). I was given the honor of presenting the trophies to the car show winners, among them several Plainfield car (and motorcycle) enthusiasts. My favorite cars were the BMW Isetta (click here for a description), and the Cadillac Coupe de Ville convertible. It was a wonderful evening, and we can thank Robert Graham, Dave Biagini, Pat Fields, and all the other members of the SID for their hard work in putting this first event together. The next Plainwood Square Concert is scheduled for August! See you there!

All best,



Friday, July 11, 2014

The "Plank" in Jerry Green's Eye: "If You Cannot Say Anything Positive..."


Imagine my surprise when I read the blog post written by The King of Gutter Politics, Jerry "I Run This Motherf@&ker" Green. He writes, among other things, "We need to hold our community in high regard and not lower it to gutter-style politics. [...] If you cannot say anything positive about any elected officials, such as the Mayor, Council members and myself personally, please place that negativity somewhere else, but not in Plainfield. We do not need that here."
This was a stunningly hypocritical blog post. Only 16 weeks into Mayor Adrian Mapp's term, Green sent out a mailer saying that he never wanted Mapp, that Mapp was bad for our city, etc., and urging Plainfield voters to reject me (as a supporter of the new administration's progressive economic agenda) in favor of Green's un-Democratically hand-picked candidates. He did this after 16 weeks!  Where is Jerry Green's public apology to Mapp for all the lies that he, Jerry Green, put forth on the additional campaign literature that he sent out to 1st Ward voters only? Why did Green continue his attempts to discredit the new administration throughout the campaign? Mapp wasn't even on the ballot. 

Again, Jerry Green's hypocrisy is on full display in his blog post--written by the man who, in his filthy campaign literature, always lies about progressive Democrats who have the temerity to want to run for local office--instead, he handpicks candidates, disenfranchising the duly-elected Democratic City Committee members. He has LIED about me on numerous occasions: he said that I "doctored a video" (click to see what I supposedly doctored), and he attempted to link me (a progressive Democrat) to the "Tea Party," even getting his buddy Sen. Leader Steve Sweeney to sign on to these lies (which has made Sweeney look quite foolish). Green then sent out a silly "cease and desist" letter to block my posting of his foul-mouthed tirade in an attempt to intimidate me, along with a sworn affidavit from the person he got into the exchange with. This particular lie by Jerry Green has been fully exposed by the unedited video. As if that wasn't enough, Green also challenged my patriotism (much like the former mayor), which fell flat as well. Plainfield voters know full well that, next spring, Jerry Green will be back to his old, foul, negative tricks--don't be fooled by this disingenuous appeal. 

Where is Jerry Green's public apology to the residents of Plainfield for his continued negativity?

Plainfielders already saw Jerry "I ain't got all night" Green disrespect them at the Liberty Village community meeting where he rudely addressed city staff and the crowd, and where he said he was "head of Housing" and would be able to talk to HUD about the soon-to-expire PILOT--it was another embarrassing and laughable performance. Is he going to suggest that that video (where he was also caught on tape) was "doctored" as well? I wrote about the aftermath of that meeting in the church--where Green approached me and some Liberty Village residents (among whom were some of my constituents), and started yelling at me in front of them--they could not believe that he was their state representative.
Green with his handpicked choice, Taylor at Liberty Village debacle

Jerry Green, who has dragged my name through the proverbial mud for years--and especially this year--with his lies, is now chastising local bloggers for writing about our city and commenting?  How absurd! What Jerry Green needs to do is step down from public life--he is a statewide embarrassment. I have written before of his desperate and ultimately pathetic attempts intimidate me. He doesn't control me. He doesn't control my job, and the majority of voters who came out in the last election voted me back into office--even though I was in a very weak ballot position in Column E, versus Green's handpicked candidate, who had the strength of Cory Booker and Bonnie Watson Coleman at the top of the ticket in Column A. Voters were able to see through Jerry's lies and vote for Booker, Watson Coleman, and me. This fall, as the Democratic standard-bearer for the 2nd & 3rd Ward At-large seat in Plainfield, I will be on the ballot with Booker and Watson Coleman. 

I will also remind you all as well of something I wrote in May: 

"When I was canvassing in this neighborhood earlier in the week, some of the residents showed me a photocopied flier of the attack Jerry Green made on Mayor Mapp--they were disgusted by Green's "hypocrisy" and "two-facedness"--their words. They had voted for Mapp in overwhelming numbers--he received over 70% of the vote. In contrast, Jerry Green received LESS THAN 30% of the vote in the [entire] 22nd Legislative District!  To have Jerry Green, who only received 30% of the vote, attack a new mayor who had been in office for only 16 weeks, was deeply offensive to these neighbors. They were also angry about the notorious "push poll" that many of them had responded to. Once again, the response to the question about the greatest problem facing Plainfield was: "Jerry Green!" 

I have written about the lies and attempts at intimidation of Jerry Green in the past--below are just a few links of what folks need to keep in mind about the real Jerry Green as we move toward Primary 2015--when both his Union County Democratic Chairmanship and his Assembly seat will be up for grabs again.

The Embarrassing Spectacle of Jerry Green

Boss Jerry Green and Boss Steve Sweeney

Cease and Desist...From Telling the Truth?

Jerry Green and His Fake Poll

The Plainfield Obstructionists and Their Sham Resolution

The Shameful Sham of the Plainfield NAACP and Jerry the Destroyer

Community Meetings and Further Notes on the "Resuscitation"

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Homophobia: The Weapon of Religious (and other) Hypocrites

I am the OPENLY gay councilor in Plainfield. Homophobic, hateful remarks are unChristian, and reflect religious hypocrisy, hatefulness, and insecurity. Homophobia is more often than not also accompanied by other forms of loathsome prejudice (such as dislike of people whose ethnicity is different, including that of those from the Caribbean and Latin America). Christ surely does not smile on despicable and hypocritical fakery of the type that I am speaking. The sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, church congregants, and others who overhear homophobic commentary by the frauds and hypocrites will be calling it out right to their faces. Just you wait and see. 

Brothers and sisters/
Being yourself is easy/
When God’s got your back.