Casting Black Brits for African American movie roles: Does Samuel L Jackson have a point? I think he does.

So Samuel L. Jackson is not happy about black Brits being cast for African American roles in American movies. He was interviewed on a radio show a few days ago and his comments about giving the role to a Black Briton playing Martin Luther King in the film Selma, he said: I tend to wonder what that movie would have been with an American brother who really feels that.

I think he was a bit provocative, making surreptitious remarks about how ‘interracial dating’ had been happening in the UK for ‘hundreds of years’ which I believe is another way of saying — the Black British community have sold out by marrying out! I could be wrong, but putting that aside, does he have a point? I believe he does. I know I shouldn’t agree with him as I am a Black Brit and would feel pleased that my own brothers and sisters are out there, making it in La La Land. We know Hollywood has a lot more to offer than perhaps what you’d find in the UK film industry, hence the reason why Black Brits are in Hollywood but we should use the opportunity to address the industry’s failure in creating parts or roles for Black actors.

But I also understand there are lots of African American actors who are finding it difficult to get a break. When this story was released, in the comments section of an article I was reading, a poster said they felt they believed the reason for hiring Black Brits was more than capability and experience, it was about the fascination some viewers had for the delivery of the English language and how it assuaged those who want to see something of themselves, even if it’s delivered from someone of a different colour or race. But is this a good reason to be hiring from abroad?

I’ve experienced something similar to this but it wasn’t acting, it was TV presenting.

The year was 1995 and my family had emigrated the previous year to live in Jo’burg, South Africa. We just had our first Christmas and I had just given birth to a baby girl. One day I was shopping at our local mall and I was with my six year old son who annoyingly was running up and down the aisles looking for sweets to put into the shopping basket. I called out to him, telling him to stop when suddenly, a man stood in front of me. He was slightly bald and had a round chubby face which was edged with a thick beard.

‘That’s a London accent…’ he said with an English accent and an impish smile. I stepped back and glared. ‘Are you from London?’ he continued.

‘Yes! I am.’ I confirmed. I was about to walk around him when he began to tell me that he was a TV director, currently working on a popular show on a TV station. He went straight to the point and asked if I’d done any TV work. I said no, wondering where all this was going. He quickly introduced himself as James and told me briefly, about the programme.

‘Have you seen it?’ he asked. No I said, I hadn’t. He continued telling me that he liked my diction and that I had a good accent and if I would consider presenting this show as for months they have been looking for new and suitable presenter.

Are you for real, are you joking? I wondered, considering I had not said much. He seemed to know what I was thinking as he removed a piece of paper from his pocket, apologising at the same time for not having a business card and wrote down his number. He said I should call him soon, then left. I stood in the middle of the shopping area, staring at the paper in my hand with people walking pass on either side of me. My son had managed to put all the sweets he wanted into the shopping basket. I went to the supermarket to buy some food items then went home.

I asked my domestic lady, Queen, if she had heard of this show and she shook her head. I waited patiently for my husband to come home and when he did, he said I should go for it, call the number and say that I’m interested. Internet had just come out, and we were waiting for our modem to be installed and although we had a telephone, we did not have any directories so I could not locate the studio.

The following day I called the number. James told me to write down the address and we agreed to meet in two days’ time as he wanted to discuss the programme plus introduce me to his crew.

The TV station was located in a quiet suburb and not difficult to find. James met me in the lobby area and took me to a room where I met his crew — the camera man, producer, assistant, researcher. We sat in a semi-circle and discussed over tea and coffee. They explained to me about the programme, its format, the episodes and locations. When the meeting had finished and I agreed to host this programme despite the fact I had not done anything like this and I was intrigued by the fact they had faith in me. They seemed impressed with my speaking voice and strangely made me feel as though I was some sort of phenomenon, as though they didn’t think it possible to speak the Queens English — that is, if you were black. But hey! I wasn’t complaining. After all, I was going to be on television!

I participated in about five episodes until it was time for my family to leave. My husband was offered a job in another country and the decision to move was sudden and we argued about it, as obviously I wanted to stay! But he was worried about the increasing crime; a week earlier, he had been mugged and earlier still, Queen had caught someone lurking in the garden during the night, so he was concerned. Of course, the intruder in the garden got to me so I eventually agreed that we should leave.

I found presenting nerve racking as well as interesting. It enabled me to see more of Johannesburg and to engage with all sorts of people. There wasn’t an auto-cue to follow, just a speech prepared for me which I had to rehearse; I practiced pronouncing African names of areas and asked Queen to help me with pronunciation. The response from viewers were positive, to the point that producers/directors from other programmes and advertisements approached me. I realised it was possible for me do voice-over work, something I would have not considered if I’d still been in the UK. Around about this time my mother joined us from London to see her new grandchild. She was amazed as well as proud that her daughter’s presence and voice on this TV show could be heard across the land. She would be on the phone to my father daily just going on about her granddaughter and her daughter.

Some months later after we had emigrated, my husband had to return to Joburg to attend a conference. He told me whilst being there, there was a demonstration by Black South Africans, as a programme on the same TV station had hired a black presenter from the UK. She was well-spoken and experienced but the local people wanted her removed. Their argument was that white South Africans should make do with black talent and not hand the jobs to black foreigners just because they ‘speak better’.

At the time, when I heard this I thought it was unfair and felt bad for the presenter, as she was promptly taken off air. But when I returned to Jo’burg some years later, there were a number of South African born black presenters on a variety of TV stations. They were good; they were able to switch with ease from English to the indigenous languages; their English was accented but it made sense that they should speak and sound like the environment there were in. It does not make sense to speak in a voice that is too dissimilar to the majority of the population. If they want presenters to be more polished, then education and training should be provided. The viewers or audience should be made to accommodate and accept.

I could understand why James did what he did and why he wanted me. Hiring me was his way of holding on to his ‘standards’ as explained previously but at the same time when attending the station’s board meetings, he had to meet the criteria of having ‘black’ people on his programme to justify it be shown on TV.

The Black Brits that S L Jackson refers to are good actors, and were ‘good’ well before they began doing American movies. This should not be dismissed and we should be confident and proud that if they are called to play a part, we know they will do it justice. However, home grown talent should likewise be exploited and never overlooked. African Americans have truly had it tough and it would be crazy if they are not considered because directors prefer an actor purely because they are from abroad and speak a certain way.

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Is Humour a one-sided affair: The Paris bombing.

As stated in other blogs I was born in London of West Indian parentage.  I now live in Nigeria and have done so for a number of years.  When I lived in London, amongst friends and family members, I would make jokes and people would laugh.  This did not make me a stand-up comedian but I knew I had a quick wit, a sense of humour and a sense of timing, and was able to make a joke out of a situation. I guess as a result of living in the UK and being exposed to the humour that I saw daily on TV, especially the ‘put down’ variety, was something I had gotten used to and therefore did not question.  I felt it was normal to use this same kind of humour when making jokes. But when I got to Nigeria I realised my humour was not seen as funny. My ‘jokes’ were considered acidic and unkind. I eventually got the message when I was at a function; getting carried away telling one anecdote after the other, when the couple at my table got up and sat elsewhere. On another occasion, someone who was a friend actually stopped talking to me because she couldn’t stand my ‘jokes’.  I was surprised.je suis

I had to take two steps back and realise that ‘humour’ can be a one sided affair.  After all, how can a joke be funny and inclusive if people did not get it?  And really, I should know better, that is, not getting the joke or more to the point, when a joke is mocking me.  If I dig into my past and relive some of those toe-cringing experiences, it would be similar to going to a theatre house, where I am the only black person seated amongst a white audience, and on walks the comedian say, Jim Davidson or Bernard Manning, where a large chunk of their material is making jokes about black people etc. I laugh, but with some element of shame at the fact that I am the butt of their jokes! The rest of the audience is satisfied that I ‘see’ the joke but when everything comes to an end and I’m left with my thoughts; I feel humiliated, demeaned, disarmed and powerless followed by the emotion of anger. I’m not, as I said, a comedian nor satirist; I don’t have key contacts or belong to any institutions that can support or protect me. Of course, I can take refuge with family and friends, who gives me the needed support but at the end of the day, they are just as disarmed and powerless as I am.

To make it worse, when I complain to my white friends, they fob me off as suffering from the classic case of ‘chip on my shoulder’ syndrome.  So therein my resentment remains firm, simmering and waiting until a time comes when I can express myself. I understand that the role of humour is to let off steam, release tension.  Laughing at something that deep down is found to be threatening, humour can be the antidote that removes the sting out the bite. For those who find the whole business about immigrants/immigration threatening, humour perhaps, can give them some space between what they feel and the reality of the situation.

What happened in Paris is absolutely tragic. I feel for the journalists who were killed in the bombing and my sympathies goes out to their loved ones.  My understanding is that the magazine where the journalists worked – Charlie Hebdo – was satirical in its content and was well renowned throughout the country.  But I wonder if they went too far, in putting out their brand of humour?  Yes, freedom of speech is at the heart of democracy, but upon seeing a few of the cartoons I can understand why Muslims would be offended. However, I’m relieved that they found it abhorrent that extreme violence was used as a way of ‘correcting’ the problem. They realise, as we all realise, that no amount of provocation can ever warrant or justify violence.

I implore France to do what is right and not allow the histrionics of the Far Right to dictate the fate of the country and not see what has happened as a ‘clash of civilizations’. The New Year has just begun, but it is clear we are living in dangerous times, (as I write this, a bomb exploded killing a number of people in Baga, North East of Nigeria) we should all court tolerance and strive towards unity, if we hope to make it!

Nadine Gordimer: A Great Writer!

Nadine Gordimer: A Great Writer!

Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer

Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer

I just learnt that Nadine Gordimer passed away yesterday. I admired her writing. Her book My Son’s Story was my introduction to South African literature. I was of the opinion that white writers could not write about black people and their experiences. But Gordimer proved me wrong. Whenever I read her novels, I’m not only overwhelmed by the accuracy in the depiction of her characters, but the truth as she sees it, no matter how cold it is! For those who supported Apartheid, her books could not have made comfortable reading. But I am happy for her presence and her immense contribution towards ending the struggle and that her soul should rest among all those other great souls who have recently passed.

In 2007 I wrote a review of Gordimer’s biography titled No Cold Kitchen. I know the author (Robert Suresh Roberts) received a lot of criticism as people were offended by it. But I do not believe that it was bad; I thought it fair and that it rightly praised Gordimer for her contribution to the removal of Apartheid in South Africa.

https://plaintain1.wordpress.com/2007/05/20/comment-on-nadine-gordimers-biography-no-cold-kitchen/

 

Hi 2014!
Hi 2014!

Well, in the next 5 hours it will be finally over. I cannot believe how this year has travelled so quickly. I’ve not done all that I wanted but as my teachers used to say, I could have done better. There have been key moments as I’m reminded by my diary and journal – being more and more spiritually connected; reading books by Debbie Ford, Dr. Eben Alexander, Jerry and Esther Hicks (Ask and it is Given) have had a profound effect me that I know there is no turning back. There is seems to be an urgency to write more, especially about how I feel and what I want.

Resolutions I’ve not always stuck to but –

  • I look forward to reading a lot more spiritual books
  • to learn about Physics;
  • to most definitely lose weight;
  • determined to make progress with my family, with friends, with everything!

And that all in all, that the New Year will simply be great. Likewise to every one of you out there, I wish you a peaceful, prosperous New Year!

Take care!

The Great Mandela is now at peace

Mr Mandela, sadly, you have now left us. I want to thank you for all you have done for your people; for avoiding a civil war and allowing peace to reign. But I also know that if it were not for you, I would not have been allowed, as a black woman, to emigrate to South Africa in 1994. I had the pleasure of living in your beautiful country for two years, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

You will be missed and you will never be forgotten. Go and enjoy your well deserved rest and may the Almighty Father bless your wonderful soul.

Can’t he make friends with who he likes: Denzel Washington and white actors in Hollywood.

When I lived in South Africa, I used to own a boutique selling African outfits. I was not around when Denzel Washington and his wife visited the shop but the following day my staff told me that he was exceptionally nice and gracious and took an interest in what the shop had to offer. Please don’t think that I’m his newly appointed publicist but I do feel he has rights: the right to be who he is and the right to live his life how he wants, without being answerable to anyone. I’m referring to the article that was written in the British Guardian, sometime in January, this year. The article was an interview with Washington about his movie, Flight.

The article, written by Xan Brooks, did not just go on about the finer qualities of Denzel or how spectacular an actor he is but talked about how he did not have actor friends, in particular, white actor friends. It was also revealed how he was a committed Christian and devoted family man. Since the article was written, there has been a flurry of responses from various online sites, such as YahooMovies and the Perez Hilton site; emphasis being on Washington’s supposed reluctance to ‘mix’. As one can imagine, his comments has caused an uproar in Hollywood. According to YahooMovies, when the interview was taking place, Washington’s publicist sat in on the interview and said Washington did add about his ‘friendship with various white stars’. But Mr. Brooks’s clarified in another article that there was no publicist who sat in on the interview and how he stood by his article. Mr. Brooks’s also uploaded an audio recording of the interview, just to prove that Washington was not provoked and neither were words put in his mouth.

What I found annoying is that as Mr. Brooks chose to include Washington’s comments in the article, why did he not bother to find out if Washington held a similar policy towards black actors? Also, Brooks could have inquired if, perhaps, in the early days of Washington’s acting career when he was looking for jobs in Hollywood, was it hard for him as an African-American to find work? Were the directors, producers, casting agents, fellow white actors giving him a hard time? Or Brooks could have asked how relevant is Christianity to his life ie, if being a committed Christian has enabled him to work in Hollywood but still remain dutifully married and keep his integrity intact? Mr. Brooks could have developed this article but he chose not to, leading me to think that he was up to mischief. I wonder if he had interviewed say, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino or Warren Beatty, whether he would have asked if they had any black actor/non-actor friends.

I don’t know Mr. Washington but reading about him over the years in not just The Guardian but other quality newspapers, he comes across as no-nonsense, committed to his family and Christianity and chooses to hang out with friends from his past. Because of the nature of being in show business, he’s probably selective about whom he chooses to be friends with, whether they are white, black, Latino etc. He describes himself as a working actor as opposed to being a celebrity and I really don’t see anything wrong with that. But judging from all the furore, it proves that still, if you are black and have two Oscars under your belt plus a ton load of money, you may not be able to make as many choices as you would like.

Malcolm Wicks – MP Croydon North West (Croydon North)

Browsing through today’s British Observer I read that Malcolm Wicks, the MP for Croydon has sadly passed away. He died of cancer on 20th September.

There was a time I used to live in Croydon and had a problem with the headmistress of a school in the area.  My son who attended the school was wrongly accused of stealing and the head was not particularly helpful or supportive. After ringing social services, legal people etc I eventually contacted Mr. Wicks.  When I wrote the letter to Mr. Wicks, the cynical part of me was feeling it was a waste of time. Would he actually respond? About three days later I received a phone call from his secretary inviting me to meet with Mr. Wicks.  I was surprised.  I went to his office and what immediately came to mind when I met him was his genuine caring attitude. He listened to what I had to say and then apologized for what had happened and said he would write a letter to the education department to follow-up my complaint. I was really surprised.  Was this an actual MP? He completely went against the grain of what one would expect of an MP! A week following that meeting I received a letter from the educational department who said that after investigating the matter it was found that my son was wrongfully accused and apologized for the error. I wrote to Mr. Wicks thanking him for his time and effort and how we all appreciated what he had done.

My time with Mr. Wicks was short but from what I saw, he was sincere, compassionate and considerate, and he will not be forgotten.  My condolences go out to his family.