Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tim Duncan and Bill Russell

My sentiments exactly. I am love overdue for a Tim Duncan post. Expect one soon.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Katerina Graham

Interesting article on the burgeoning artist in this week's issue of Clutch.

Now go eat pizza and be merry.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

For the Twitter heads

I do have a Twitter account. But I update sparingly and when I do sign-in, a ridiculously-stupid-inordinate-insufferable amount of people are giving stories of their life through 20 words or less sentences. This would be comical, but my mind can't get past the fact that my child will grow up in a world where face-to-face interactions come secondary to cyberworld (and text messages, which I am massively guilty of...that's for another discussion). A superbly written piece in Clutch Magazine by Ganeka Gray underscores this point.

Enough to make 10 body organs cringe.

Monday, March 23, 2009

New fodder on deck

Clutch is weekly for the third straight week. Below is my latest offering:

Rebecca Walker: A Family Affair.

Read it. Laugh at it. Cry over it. Whatever. Anything short of printing it out and using it as toilet paper, I'm all for it. But before you indulge, I must share a few thoughts on the limits of profiles.

I have done a number of profiles on actors, billionaires, athletes, writers and what have you, and it is a task that comes wrought with my sharp edges, if you will. People in high places want their positions simonized, because the run at the top is, well, ephemeral at best. So every so often, a few of the profiled have a problem with something that I wrote. That's cool. And then a few readers take umbrage with the points raised in my pieces. OK. Comes with the territory. But I never ever, ever, ever, EVER assume that the profiles I write even covers a considerable fraction of the essence of the person being crystallized.

The best information about people come not from the person, but the people around the person. That's why I think purely psychological profiles are limited, and should be taken for what it's worth: a snapshot of a person in their ideal environment. When I interview people, 9.6 times out of 10, it is where they want to interviewed and when they are expecting the questions. They give the answers they want, and many times it's a rote recitation of something they told twenty other media outlets. I know this and it is important that others know I know this, so there is no perception of deception.

In an utopian existence, I would talk to 30 people in the subjects' life and write massive tomes masquerading as New Yorker pieces and receive all kind of kudos from the subjects in the articles (that's who I write for anyway). I'll have my day with that, but for now, my singular person, career and psychological profiles of notable contributors to society will have to do.

Having said that, my profiles do hold some semblance of relevance. It is a thread in a cloth that adds to the shirt; it could be the most prominent feature on the shirt or it could be meaningless. That's totally up to the reader. To put it in sports terms, think of them as moments in a football game, the first four drives of a half or a six minute segment in the third quarter. Those moments are important, may even determine the outcome of the game. But they aren't the whole game, nor are they always indicative of a permanent state.

Also, in almost all of my profiles, I tie in some sociological issue with it. In my column on Terri Vaughn, I discussed the television industry and African Americans. In my Saul Williams piece (though a Q&A), I discussed the artists behind the artists, and how we all have those who spur us that intentionally or unintentionally eludes the spotlight. Tanedra Howard, I talked about realizing a dream come true. I like to think that those ideals and motifs render my work stark against the backdrop of homogenization and whitewashing.

To me, that's what it's about: how does this person's plight or flight reflect the malaise or fluorescence of society at large? That's the only way to effectively judge my work when it comes to the world of personal profiles, because I presume to hold no other ambitions.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Crucible of AI

The phenomenon that has been known as the Answer since 1996 has slowed to halt, between the proverbial rock and a hard place. He came into the League as a six-foot wonder, a kid out of Georgetown with a penchant for street life, or at least the look of it. He wowed, physically befuddling arguably the greatest defender of his era and many others en route to a 23.5 ppg average and 7.5 apg average in his inaugural year. In fact, let's pause to commemorate said befuddlement:

Such moves acquired the eyes and hearts of basketball aficionados and pundits everywhere. Some would call the concentration of style over substance poisonous, others call it art. A few called it both. But Iverson is in the NBA. Style over substance is limited. He was one of a kind, but he was "common" at the same time in his ability to allow the defense to ignore the other four players on the floor. His early Philly teams were filled with fellow lottery picks (Jerry Stackhouse, Tim Thomas, Derrick Coleman, Larry Hughes), but were still unsuccessful.

His best season was 2000-2001, where he won the NBA MVP and led his talent-deprived team to the NBA Finals (while putting a scratch on LA's three-fo-fo-fo hopes.) In retrospect, it seems that that was the pinnacle of his career. His fifth year in the NBA and he had already reach his zenith. Doesn't seem right. In the ensuing years, his career has been a blur of highlight sublimity, awe-inspiring toughness and interminable postseason failures. When he was traded to Denver to be united with 'Melo, many wondered what that would produce. They did go to the playoffs for the two seasons AI was in the Rocky Mountains, but nobody was surprised when it ended in an early dismissal.

Then he was traded to the Pistons, and the results have been disastrous. Detroit decided to start A.I. and bring Richard Hamilton off the bench, and the results were abysmal, culminating in an eight-game losing streak. A.I. goes out, Hamilton comes back in and the Pistons win two on the road against the Celtics and Magic. Now everybody knows what should have been obvious in the first place. This doesn't preclude a partial account of his stature and dexterity; in fact, it spurs it.

He is a prisoner of his adroit zig-zags and grit. Those who criticize his self-centered game, the ball-controlling, the idle teammates standing around watching him do his thing fail to put together the fact that it is because of those hardwood peccadilloes that he is the individual marvel that he is. Fearless. Undaunted. Competitor. His minuses are his strengths run amok; the essence of diminishing marginal utility. The Pistons' two impressive road wins against the Magic and Celtics without Iverson in the lineup makes that ever clear. Placing him at point guard won't work for the same reasons that forcing an artist into dentistry won't work.

A man must know his role. As Tony Kornheiser said, he is a player that needs four lesser players around him. Sounds kinda shallow, huh? A man needing inferior talent around him to augment his own worth? This makes it much easier to bash him as a person, because as they say, the way one is on the basketball court is an extension of their personality.

But to embrace that mindset is to miss the bigger point and the enigma that is AI. He is illusion incarnate, the anti-efficiency while at the same time being a force that is inexplicable by the laws of orthodox thought. A HOF talent that doesn't lend himself to slowing down for the sake of an easier "shot" for himself or others, because he knows only one way: Go Hard. These past 13 years showed that he is the Exception, not the Answer. Historians will misconstrue his place in history because they will see his numbers, his body shape and his (formerly) trademark cornrows and say "he squeezed everything he could out of that frame," and they will be right. Partially. Because the truth is this: only a kamikaze Allen Iverson (flaws and all) could have survived the rigors of the NBA this long. Curb his game just a smidgen and you're left with a street-baller who may have succumbed to the perils of the urban jungle. Playing his way was his adjustment to nature; dealing with the cards he was dealt, if you will. Call him stubborn, but don't called him selfish, there's a subtle difference. It's who he is: why in the world would you forsake something that saved your life?

A captive of his own talents, yet freed from his own limitations.

So what does this mean to 2009 Detroit? You have an opportunity to do something special to salvage this season. Bring his butt off the bench.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Discriminatory Souls

And here we thought racism was the primary channel of discrimination. Nah man. Thieves are the most biased individuals. Who would have known that thieves could be so choosy in Boston, where a whooping 14% of the robberies involved the Sidekick?

Boston police reported more than 300 stolen Sidekicks in 2008, accounting for 14 percent of all robberies in the city. New York City saw a 59 percent surge in subway robberies in December compared with the previous year, driven largely by thieves targeting high-end cell phones, especially the Sidekick.

And Adrian Portlock, whose company tracks stolen cell phones, ranks the phone among the most-taken worldwide, even though the Sidekick's primary market is the United States, where it is available for $100 after a rebate.

Thieves have long targeted trendy items, from Air Jordans and Starter jackets to iPods and GPS units. But the Sidekick is not ubiquitous — it has never cracked the list of the five top-selling cell phones since the consumer research firm NPD Group began the ranking in 2005. Instead, thieves target Sidekicks because of their urban hipness quotient, and because they're easy to resell.

So the psychology of the klepto is to target the most profitable items and abscond with it, while eschewing all items that are mundane and fruitless? A Blackberry Bold 9000 is a magnet for sticky fingers but an LG Envy will leave potential purloiners recoiling in horror. If that's the case, then this explains the simple yet complex motives for the "get-em boys" of the world. Why the necessary explanation? Because by understanding the predator's habits and tendencies, the prey is left more insulated from the dystopian reality of having your sh-- took. If profitability is the number one motivator for a group a thieves, then common sense dictates that the more austere one appears, the better off they are in the attention department. But what about the indiscriminate masterminds, the souls who just jack just to jack (unintentional alliteration)? They're scant.

This debunks the widely held notion that people are mere pawns in the vagaries of kleptomania, unable to deter an inexorable force known as the Get-Em Boys. I drive a Escort. I don't ever, EVER, have to worry about anybody scoping the ride. But I have cousins who were jacked multiple times and...let's just say that they drove the antithesis of the Escort. It's no surprise when its 1992 and you have to fear for your life if you have on a Starter's jacket, or in 2009 and a Sidekick is the crave. But it seems to be a surprise when the prevalent problem of banditry has such a simple solution.

They call him Flash

Three months ago, I posted a glowing tribute to a mesomorphic superstar guard from the Miami Heat. (Yes, a superstar. I don't dole that word out commonly or easily either. To wit, there are only three superstars in the league right now:


(That's it. Everybody else are stars and great players. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen...nope. They are the product of synergy. Together, they are superstars. Apart? Not so sure. Shaq, no mas. Amar'e, uh-uh. Chris Paul and Dwight Howard are on the cusp, but they are not there yet. I'm of the mind that a superstar has to lead his team to the finals at least once. What about Dirk then, you ask? My views on this have been stated before, but I'll just be curt: Puh-lease. Until Dwight does that, he's this generation's version of David Robinson.)

Saturday night was another one for the ages, as he slapped a 24-point fourth quarter (which is the second-most impressive quarter this season behind Melo's 33-point gem earlier this season.

Need I say anymore.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The N-Word Conundrum

*** The video above is satire***

One group of people can say it. That's it. Seems a bit unfair.

The relevant question about that is, does it even matter? There is much debate about whether this word is open for use among non-African American races. When it comes to this topic, there are basically three groups of people/ideals:

1) We, as humans and linguists (most times they're one in the same), give words their power. Therefore, the word itself isn't as important as the context in which the word is used. In short, it's all in the intention. Richard Pryor sought to use this word every chance he got because he felt this way. (It must also be noted that he later renounced his usage of the word after a trip to Africa. Oddly, other comedians followed suit and retarded their usage because of social irresponsibility.) Many rappers and comedians who support usage of this word typically fall in this category. This doesn't exclude the word as harmful in all cases. Just in the cases where it is meant to hurt.

2) Words are inherently powerful. Calling someone an "idiot" is unkind no matter how it is used. These type of people are the linguistic fundamentalists; context has no place among this crowd, and it is extremely important to say what exactly you mean. Some would call this crowd sensitive. This group would counter by saying that "that there are too many words in the English lexicon to not find the appropriate word to convey the exact meaning". Many elitists and wordsmiths reside in this group.

3) The N-Word is off limits to anyone other than Black folks! End of discussion.

We all know people of all three categories, but the third is by far the most popular among Black folk. Why is this? I've always been dubious that we can use it so liberally, but will be ready to throw down at anyone else for using it. This never made sense to me. Either use it and let others use it with impunity, or not use it at all.

(Of course, there is a history behind this word. Of that, I am fully aware. That's all the more reason to be dubious at our usage of it towards one another. That's like a child being called, say, a brat by his parents and aunts and grandparents. In a mean-spirited way too. All during his childhood, he's an evil brat. Brat. Brat. Brat. He gets older, becomes a teenager, and predictably comes to resent being called that four letter word. He then in turn, calls his siblings a brat. And his friends. And his cousins, with the same conviction (meanness) that his superiors used towards him. He is now grown and still routinely calls his peers "brats". But when his parents say it to him, he gets pissed and finally has the power to tell them off ("Stop calling me that!"). Yet, the next day, he's still calling people b---s. And the next time his parents say it to him, he lets them have it. Does this make sense to you? Didn't think so.)

I, personally, adhere more to the first category. To me, context is the most significant factor in determining the impact of a word or phrase. The more specific an insult is, the more harmful/powerful it is. Telling an African American person, "you are stupid and you will never amount to anything in life" is infinitely more poignant than calling that person a "nigger". Unless it's from a person who isn't Black. Then it takes on a new dimension, considering the emotional connection that the word has on the African American psyche. Coming from other races, it is a word that reinforces inferiority and prior subjugation. African Americans do not have a monopoly on racial epithets hurled at them. All races have their tales of distasteful epithets (Jews don't like being called "kikes", Polish people are not "pollacks", "Chinks" have no place in the description of Chinese people, and so on). What makes this word much more explosive, in this country anyway, is the freshness and effrontery of damaging stereotypes with regard to Black people in mass media.

Luckily for us, the above clip is strictly satire. Finding a replacement word isn't the answer. Substituting a new word for the term is akin to putting deodorant on over must. The stench is still there, underneath the Secret and Right Guard that is varnished all over it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Taraji P. Henson

Recent article on Queenie from The Curious Case in Clutch from yours truly.

But I'll put it here in case you don't feel like clicking on the link:

In the frigid elements of Toronto, Canada, around the filming of the movie Four Brothers, Taraji P. Henson and Andre 3000 were hanging out and decided to go to the movies. They were in foreign territory and directionally clueless. Andre 3000, perhaps at the height of his career at the time, decided he would be the one to gather some directions.

“Excuse me young sir, do you know how to get to the movies from here?” he asked natives, totally thrown off by his politeness and subtle comportment. Having received the directions he needed, he set off with Henson, long before anybody knew who he was. That, and other similar moments with the Class of 3000 creator, stuck with her like Velcro.

“He is the master of that act,” said Henson. “And he was totally cool with that. He just knows how to slip in and out the room… undetected.”

Henson, 38, is referring to the excess attention that will surely fly her way in 2009. If you talk to her now, she doesn’t really believe it. She doesn’t expect extra attention to change anything for her and her son. This is quite surprising for a woman who just finished filming a movie with Brad Pitt, but maybe that memo just hasn’t sunk in yet.

“I’ll probably start noticing it after that [The Curious Case of Benjamin Button] and the movie with Morris Chestnut [Not Easily Broken], said Henson. “People keep telling me to ‘get ready, get ready’ but I’m like, ‘what’s happening?’”

One could make the case that Henson has successfully streamlined her lifestyle with her career. And this is how she likes it. Never one to shy away from stating her goals, she intends on being ready for the eyes and cameras that will inundate her life.

“I’ve always said that my goal is to be an A-list actress,” she said. “So I have to adjust accordingly. Act as if it is mine.”

An actor’s success – and pay scale – is premised on the believability of their performance. Better yet, it is based on how well they “disappear into their role.” On the silver screen, this is paramount. But in life? Well, let’s just say it’s usually no fun to relegate yourself – or be relegated – to the background.

But don’t tell Ms. Henson that. After being around the consummate model for modesty in ‘Dre 3000, she would just rather let her talent do the talking for her. Besides, after just finishing a movie with Brad Pitt, she has seen up close the apex of how delirious celebrity can be.

“I love walking around unnoticed. I’ve seen the frenzy surrounding Brad Pitt and I don’t want that,” Henson said. “I just want to walk into a room and disappear.”

Shooting like a Comet
She has been a face known around the African-American audience for a while, starting with her performance as the emphatic, feisty and love-strong girlfriend Yvette in John Singleton’s Baby Boy. Followed by stints on television in The Division and All of Us, she garnered a role in the film Hair Show.

Then she kicked it into extra gear. Take away meaty roles in Hustle and Flow and her starring bit in the Oscar-award winning Best Song It’s Hard Out Here A Pimp, Four Brothers, Smokin’ Aces, Talk to Me, A Family That Preys and Boston Legal and Henson lives a relatively normal life. If she was a nameless actress to the mainstream audience before Christmas, that changed with the release of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a film that is nominated for five Golden Globes. Henson received two Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations for her role as well.

For cherry toppings, her name is also being thrown around in the Oscar conversations.

“It was an incredible experience,” Henson exclaimed. “Brad and Cate are two of the hottest actors on the planet. I was definitely nervous coming into filming, but you know what? So was Brad. He told me so and that what is amazing about him because to him, it’s about the craft not about the BS. When you are in a room with people like that, how can it not be incredible?”

Written by Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, Ali, and The Good Shepherd) and directed by David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club and Panic Room), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a story about love, death and reminiscence. Henson plays Queenie, the mother of the eponymous Pitt character, Benjamin, who starts off mature in age but grows physically younger and stronger as the picture progresses.

“This movie puts life and death in perspective,” Queenie said. “Love is unconditional and this movie is a story in coping. My character was surrounded by death and she just deals with it. But she sees a chance in it to give life.”

This role touched especially close to Henson’s heart, for her father passed away before she went into production for this film. She was by his side constantly, even during his last breath. It was her father who made her embrace acting and take on Hollywood. It was her father who shook her out of her fear of rejection to pursue drama. It was her father who she thought about during the creation of this film.

“Do I still cry about it?” she asks rhetorically. “Not really anymore, but he is still greatly missed. I mean, this is my father. That’s a hole that will always be there. So for me this movie was definitely cathartic. His death is something that I will never fully get over.”

Amidst The ConstellationsHenson has two movies coming on the horizon. Hurricane Season, a film also featuring Forest Whitaker and Isaiah Washington, is a true-to-life story about a Louisiana high school basketball coach who leads his team to the championships in the aftermath of Katrina (2009 release date not determined yet).

On January 9, however, Henson is set to star in another oeuvre, Not Easily Broken, a T.D. Jakes novel-turned-movie starring Morris Chestnut. This film is about the trials and tribulations about marriage and making it work. The creation of this movie was especially enjoyable for Henson because Bill Duke, who in Los Angeles taught her the basics of Acting 101, directed it.

Duke’s lesson: Acting is a spiritual process.

“He was the first person to let me know how spiritual acting is,” she intimated. “You have to allow yourself to disappear into your character. He’s a brilliant mind and really knows the craft of acting.”

But getting to that acting class with Duke in LA was a journey in itself. Rejected by the Duke Ellington School of Performing Arts High School, Henson shied away from acting and decided to go another route. Stung by the vestiges of rejection, she enrolled in North Carolina A&T.

“Eeny-meeny-miny-moe…electrical engineering! That seemed like it would pay well so I picked that,” she reflects.

But then she ran into Calculus. And Calculus won by knockout.

“I failed calculus!” she said, laughing. “I called my dad and told him that I failed and he basically told me ‘I’m glad you failed, so you can fall back on your faith. You need to be acting!’”

She soon transferred to Howard University to study Theater. It was there where she honed her art, fighting in a very competitive thespian environment, sharpening her edge with each audition.

“Howard prepared me for Hollywood, big time. There were no handouts and nothing was given lightly. You had to earn your roles in that drama department,” said Henson.

Upon graduating from Howard, she stayed in D.C. for a brief period. Then she made the move. With a one-year old baby boy in tow, at the behest of her father, she packed up and moved to Los Angeles. Since that move, her route has been replete with challenges and a steady rise that has rewarded her courage. Her dad instilled in her a backbone of hope and faith. She rolls around knowing that the galaxy is her limit, unbounded by gender or background or circumstance. A-list is her goal, and faith demands that A-list is what is she is going to get.

Daddy spoke that into her and now she lives it. One powerful role at a time.

“That’s how I know that faith works, because I’ve lived it,” Henson says emphatically. “No Plan B’s or C’s show great faith. I just knew that I had to be in Los Angeles. For me, there was no Plan B.”