The Invention of Lying is A Great Film, No Lie

Nsenga K. Burton

Can you imagine a world where people tell the truth, all of the time. No matter what the situation or scenario, the people with whom you interact are going to be brutally honest. They are honest about everything — looks, intelligence, flatulence — you name it and they will tell it.

Ricky Gervais brilliantly plays the role of Mark Bellison, an average looking, down-on-his luck writer, in love with Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner), an upwardly mobile, beauty with a discerning eye for what she wants in a mate. You can imagine how this budding relationship unfolds in a world with no lies. One day, Gervais discovers how to lie and uses it to his advantage, which of course ultimately leads him back to the truth. The dialogue is witty, engaging and provocative.

Although the film is a riot, there are some dark moments, like when Bellison’s neighbor talks nonchalantly about killing himself each morning in the elevator. Who is that neighbor? Jonah Hill of Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall fame and many more stars to boot.  The Invention of Lying reinvents the comedy genre by making you laugh, think and feel all at once — and that’s no lie.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D.  is a media scholar and cultural critic for Creative Loafing.

Spitting on Black Congress Members is Unacceptable

As many of you know, this past weekend members of the Tea Party spat on Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver and called him the “N” word. They also yelled at, mocked and shouted the “F” word to Representative Barney Frank, who is openly gay. We cannot stand for this.  The Tea Party is out of control and something has to be done. Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, Independent, Green Party, Third Party supporter or conscientious objector, this type of behavior must cease.  Our lawmakers cannot continue to benefit from it in one way (Republican votes) while trying to distance themselves from what comes with it (fear, violence and hatred).

RNC Chair Michael Steele, who is African-American, has yet to stand up to this group; instead he has previously said if he were not RNC Chair, he’d be out there with the Tea Partiers. I hope that does not include spitting on and calling other Black leaders the “N” word.

Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, recently started a Tea Party Group. While he clearly gets off on being spat upon and called the “N” word, most African-Americans do not. Thomas and Steele fail to see the hate that is being spewed at their racial group. Their mere association with this group, sends a clear message that they are in support of their tactics including fear, bullying, violence and intimidation as a means of furthering their racist agenda, hidden by a pseudo-political one.

I am urging you to write to your Congress person denouncing this group. I would suggest writing to Justice Thomas and Mr. Steele if I thought it would do any good. We all know that it wouldn’t because they have cast aside their souls in pursuit of power. So please let your Congress person know in no uncertain terms that if there is any further association with this group, then they will lose your vote, since having a clear conscious is not enough of a motivator.

Do not sit back and watch this happen. African American and gay communities have a history of standing against ignorance, violence and hatred. Let’s not get comfortable and continue to allow this so-called political group to terrorize members of our nation.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. writes the blog “Tune N” and serves as cultural critic for Creative Loafing in Charlotte.

Show black women some respect, please

This past week was a rough one for black women in the news. While I am used to black women being judged quite harshly in society, I am sometimes shocked at the amount of venom that is spewed at my sisters, especially during Women’s History Month.

Now, Women’s History Month is important for all women because at one point women resided on the margins of society, lacking fundamental protections and rights that were granted to men. Many of our stories and accomplishments were overshadowed or excluded because women were considered second-class citizens. Like other disenfranchised groups, women worked and fought hard to gain civil rights. Like Black History Month, Women’s History Month was created to celebrate and commemorate the contributions that women have made to society in order to benefit all of society, including men. Celebrate is the key word here. I find it interesting that most of the headlines about black women were extremely negative last week. Let me share a few with you:

• “New Study Finds Median Wealth for Single Black Women is $5” (Daily KOS)

• “Nearly Half of Black Women Have Herpes” (The Root)

• “Juanita Goggins Dead: Once-Revered South Carolina Lawmaker Freezes to Death Alone” (Huffington Post)

• “Monica Conyers Gets 37-Month Term for Bribery” (BlackAmericaWeb.com)

Even with an Academy Award win for comedian-turned-actress Mo’Nique’s powerhouse performance in the controversial film Precious, most of the pre- and post-award coverage focused on her “open marriage,” and refusal to shave her hairy legs in spite of dominant beauty standards. Mo’Nique’s creepy obsession with her husband, notwithstanding, I did not see other actresses covered in the same way.

In fact, Howard Stern came under fire for saying that Gabourey Sidibe would never make another film in Hollywood because she is too fat and black. In defense of Stern and his “Girl Friday” Robin Quivers, they happened to say what everyone in the Hollywood film industry was thinking, but would not dare say publicly. If you know anything about casting and Hollywood, then you know that Sidibe is working against all odds. The point is, even though this young woman gave an incredible performance in this film and was cast despite all of the factors against her, the media still chose to focus on the negative instead of the positive — the fact that she gave an incredible performance and just might inspire Hollywood to weigh substance over size, pun intended.

It wasn’t just that story — there were so many more. In fact, I posted so many negative headlines about black women that some of my friends boycotted my Facebook page. They turned away from it because there was too much negative information on it about black women in the media. Some of the words that they used included hurtful, mean-spirited, demeaning, harmful and sad. My goal was not to ruin my friends’ week — it was to expose just how negatively black women are talked about in the press, how common it is and the real-world consequences. I didn’t have to go digging; these were major headlines.

In 2008, I wrote a column titled, “Leave us alone: Black women are much more than negative media portrayals,” in which I raged about the venom with which people talk about black women in the media and how freely they do it. I said it then, and I’ll say it again: Black women are tired of being beat up on. Perhaps we don’t pay enough attention to the positive stories that involve African-American women; maybe they aren’t promoted as heavily as the negative stories.

The fact is that black women are constant targets. If you take your cultural cues from the media about black women, then we are too fat, unattractive, unhealthy, bearers of every friggin’ disease in the known world, lazy, too smart, not smart enough, argumentative and combative. Even when we do wonderful things like educate ourselves, gain financial independence, head businesses and organizations and serve the community, it is tied to something negative. For example, single, black, college-educated women in their 30s will never marry because of all of those same factors. It feels like we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t.

We are sensitive and, like everyone else, black women have feelings, too.  I understand that some stories are written to create awareness, but they rarely address the causal factors that create these conditions.

Celebration is something that is missing from Women’s History Month as it relates to black women.

Maybe it’s because people think of us as “black” first and “women” second. Maybe it’s because the media knows that these headlines sell papers or get clicks. Maybe it’s because we don’t matter as a group unless it is that familiar space as a whipping post, pun intended.

I’m here to say that we do matter, and we need to be uplifted and upheld in the ways that other groups are. We are thinking, feeling people who deserve the same level of deference and consideration afforded to others. Let’s make history and show black women some respect in the media, at least during the month of March.

This article originally appeared in Creative Loafing, where Nsenga serves as cultural critic.

Leadership and the Media – Podcast

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. appeared on Dr. Milondra Coleman’s Radio Show last night on Equipping Them to Lead. We discussed leadership in media and engaged topics like power, access, gender and parental involvement. It was a very energetic conversation. Check it out!

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/leadershiplessons.

Freaknik the Musical: A Sad Day in Black Pop Cultural History

So, the first hour-long black televised animated cartoon is Freaknik the Musical which ran on the Cartoon Network no less. I love the Cartoon Network, particularly Adult Swim, because it appeals to the teenage boy trapped in this 37-year-old female body. I watch it night after night, Family Guy, Robot Chicken, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Squidbillies, Moral Orel, Boondocks — you name it, I watch it. I love it.

While I was a bit mortified to learn that they were making Freaknik the Musical, with that lame rapper known as T-Pain, I thought to myself that I would reserve judgment. Afterall, it is Adult Swim and they manage to pull off the most offensive, subversive, outrageous comedy on television, and pretty much under the radar. Imagine my disappointment when watching Freaknik the Musical which was just offensive, not funny, not subversive, not engaging, not provocative, but pretty lame. To think that many rappers that are at the top of their game (Snoop Dogg and Lil’ Wayne) signed on to this weak garbage is even sadder.

The animation wasn’t even good and the black characters were so exaggerated that they looked more bizarre and horrific then even the most heinous of Goya’s black paintings. Did I mention that there was no real storyline, and the overworked one that they proposed was ridiculous — how exactly do you go from Florida to New Orleans en route to Atlanta?

The animation was not visually stimulating and lacked any finesse or demonstration of real skill. It was just a cacophony of stereotypes set to music with dope beats. It was like the most base level music video stretched out for an hour. Imagine an hour of Nelly’s Tip Drill without the fine women. A colossal waste of time and talent. Adult Swim’s sure hits have finally missed the mark.

On the evening when more African-Americans were honored by the Academy Awards in several different categories, including documentary short, supporting actress and screenwriting, which by the way is unheard of, the Cartoon Network manages to dole out this crap. The word undermine comes to mind. Do you remember A Great Day in Harlem? Apply that to this travesty and you’ll get A Sad Day in Black Popular Culture. That about sums up Freaknik the Musical.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. writes this blog Tune N, which examines pop culture through the lens of race, class and gender. She also serves as cultural critic for Creative Loafing.

Blaxploitation Films Kick Ass

People are often surprised that one of my favorite eras of film is the Blaxploitation era. Marked by cheaply produced films featuring black casts, soundtracks and urban locations from 1971 to 1976, Blaxploitation films are a guilty pleasure. They are notorious for having bad acting, poor production values and tired story lines, but there is something magnetic about the films. Perhaps it’s the cool characters that are colorful — Think the Mack, Dolemite and Willie Dynamite; super bad — think John Shaft, Cleopatra Jones, Foxxy Brown; they are unapologetically unafraid of the man a.k.a. “Whitey” — think Black Caesar or Super Fly.

The soundtracks alone are bar none some of the greatest ever made — think Isaac Hayes and Shaft, Earth, Wind and Fire and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, James Brown’s Black Caesar and Curtis Mayfield’s Super Fly soundtrack. They’re also cool because you get to see great performers like Richard Pryor, Billy Dee Williams, Lola Falana and Diana Sands grind, trying to make a name for themselves or stay relevant in the film world. Former professional athletes like Jim Brown, Bernie Casey and Fred Williamson are doing the same. Their standout performances in The Mack (1973), The Final Comedown (1972), Black Brigade (1970) and Willie Dynamite (1974) make all the stereotypical characterizations and narratives worthwhile.

Even when the films aren’t “watchable” like Falana’s Lady Cocoa (1975), her on-screen presence is so captivating that you cannot look away from the screen. Think Jim Kelly in Blackbelt Jones (1974) or Diana Sands in Willie Dynamite. Even Morgan Freeman starred in 1973’s Blade as a serial killer pimp. The talent in these films is undeniable — having the opportunity to see Diana Sands in her final role as a prostitute turned social worker in Willie Dynamite before succumbing to cancer. Her performance was dynamic, honorable and classy. Actors that might have been superstars in Hollywood if they had been white, achieved superstardom in this genre of film — think D’Urville Martin, Thalmus Rasulala, Julius Harris, Sheilah Frazier, Gloria Hendry, Antonio Fargas and Dick Anthony Williams.

Say what you will, blaxploitation films are problematic, but their staying power suggests that there is more than meets the eye.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is a media scholar that serves as cultural critic for Creative Loafing.

2010 CIAA Tournament: A Perfect Storm

The CIAA has finally arrived. The 65th annual Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament took over the Queen City last week as the five-day tournament returned for its fifth year in Charlotte.  The CIAA is the premiere basketball conference for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Over the years, it has evolved from a regional basketball conference to a national destination for upwardly mobile African-Americans due to numerous special events, activities and conference basketball.

If the conference is in its fifth year of operation in Charlotte, why has it finally arrived? Because finally the City of Charlotte has gotten over itself and realized what we’ve been saying all along – the college educated black folks that attend CIAA are here for a cultural experience that includes networking, socializing, spectatorship and fellowship.

The trepidation, with which Charlotte greeted the CIAA conference in 2005 when it first arrived, has largely been replaced by open arms, with local businesses and venues literally rolling out the red carpet for conference attendees.  This year felt different from previous years. Most businesses were welcoming, events were well planned, organized and executed and attendees seemed to be delighted with the outcome.

Some would argue that Charlotte businesses and venues were so jovial and welcoming because of declining dollars throughout the year due to the recession.  There is money to be made during the tournament, which has been consistently proven, even during rough economic times.  According to the conference website, CIAA accounted for the direct spending of over $25 million and a total economic impact of $38.2 million dollars over the one-week period in 2009. Neither the recession nor bad weather kept the dollars from rolling into the city during last year’s tournament.

This year’s tournament had even more events and much better weather, so the anticipated economic impact is tremendous from this year’s receipts.  According to veteran live music promoter Michael Kitchen of The Sol Kitchen, “Last year’s tournament was negatively impacted because of the bad weather. Even though there were a lot of people here, some promoters felt the heat because there were fewer attendees than during previous years.  Those that came spent less money. This year was much better because people came out in droves because the weather was much improved, which helped to make this year’s tournament one of the best ever financially and socially.”

April Garrett, 31, of Miami shares Kitchen’s sentiment. “I went to North Carolina A&T, so I always attended the conference. In Raleigh, everything was spread out and there wasn’t a lot to do. This year’s conference is the best because there is so much going on – parties and events and Charlotte is such a nice city.” First-time attendee, Craig Robinson, 31, of Washington, DC says, “I came down because I heard a lot about it from my friends. I think it’s cool because the conference has a small time flavor to it, but it is a major event.  It is great to see African-Americans coming together to support HBCUs and you can’t beat the networking. Everyone is getting along, which is great.”

Like the city of Charlotte which is becoming more and more diverse in terms of its influx of young, urban professionals, the CIAA tournament is attracting people from all over the country. Dallas, Miami, DC and Chicago boasted strong contingencies. Event planner Felicia Gray who was co-hosting a party with the Digital Divas at Zink stated, “It surprises me the number of people from Chicago and Dallas. We’ve met three people tonight that are from Minnesota. It’s amazing.”

CIAA caters to a broad range of African-Americans. It is one of the few places where you can find African-Americans of various generations intermingling and sharing space, which lends itself to the huge number of events that are ongoing during the conference. CIAA events included the Ford Fan experience at the Charlotte Convention Center, Food Lion Women’s Health & Wellness Symposium and Laugh 4 Life in the Time Warner Arena. Performers included En Vogue, Ginuwine, and local artist Lacee who sang the national anthem on Saturday.

CIAA added Chowan University to the conference this year, which shocked the hometown favorite JCSU Golden Bulls, by knocking out the two-time defending champions in the first round.  The conference also welcomed TV ONE as a television partner, which aired the men’s quarterfinal and semi-final rounds of the tournament, which was a first for the CIAA. The St. Augustine Falcons won the men’s tournament and the Lady Broncos of Fayetteville State won the women’s tournament.

Basketball games and CIAA sponsored events were buoyed by events hosted by celebrities and entrepreneurs. Rick Ross, Allen Iverson, Greg Oden, Melanie Fiona, Michael Vick, Diddy, Lil’ Kim, Doug E. Fresh, Chuck Brown and MC Lyte were among the celebrities in attendance who either hosted or performed.

Perhaps the most anticipated celebrity party of the weekend was Taylor Massey Entertainment ’s (TME) party at the Ramada Hotel at Woodlawn, hosted by Diddy, who made an appearance around 1 a.m. The event was well attended and had lots of buzz and energy, recovering nicely from a shaky start due to organizational challenges.

The Sol Kitchen’s Friday party at Mez was packed, with partygoers singing along to every cut that Grammy award-winning producer and DJ 9th Wonder spun. While the party was fantastic, there was gouging going on in V.I.P. with bottle service starting at $800.  If folks wanted to pay those prices, they would party in Las Vegas, Miami or New York. Part of the charm of Charlotte is the affordability of the city, which seems to disappear during CIAA when hotels raise rates exponentially.  In addition, V.I.P. is sky high during the tournament and includes little to no personal attention or additional services. Add drink prices that are triple what is normally charged, and Houston, we have a problem.

Although the parties seem to get better each year, they are still marred by novice issues like ticket issuing. Part of the reason for buying tickets in advance is to avoid standing in line. If people buy advance tickets, then there should be a designated entrance for ticket holders separate from those who need to purchase tickets. Unless there is a capacity issue, advance ticketholders should not be standing in line with folks waiting to purchase tickets. This happened at a number of venues.

Despite challenges with tickets and lists, which always seem to be somewhere floating around inside of an event as opposed to being at the door, the day parties are by far the best.  People are partying, networking and socializing in the middle of the day. 3 p.m. in Charlotte looks like midnight in New York. This is something that is specific to the CIAA and rarely happens in other cities, even during other major sporting events. The only thing better than the day parties is the DJs spinning throughout the day.

DJ DR, DJ Jazzy Jeff, 9th Wonder, Kid Capri, DJ Drama, DJ Stacey Blackman, DJ Skillz, DJ Bro Rabb, DJ D-Nice, DJ Vince Adams, DJ Slice, DJ Kool, DJ Trauma, Biz Markie, DJ Bonie B and DJ Daddy D were on the wheels of steel, moving the crowd and keeping the parties jumping.

Perhaps there is a little too much focus on partying and too little attention on philanthropic events during the conference which were well attended, but not “packed” like the legendary day parties and celebrity sponsored events.

For instance Uptown Charlotte / VIBE’s Friday event at the Ritz Carlton was a fundraiser for the CIAA General Scholarship Fund. Instead of attending the event, tournament attendees hung out in the lobby socializing. Some said that they didn’t go upstairs to the event because of the large number of people congregating in the lobby. They thought that the event was in the lobby, although there was clear signage directing people upstairs to the charity event.

While the parties are an important part of the CIAA experience, the philanthropic efforts need to be remembered and supported. The basketball tournament is already a fashion show with more people walking around the game profiling and chatting, than sitting and watching the actual game. There’s something that doesn’t sit right with dropping copious amounts of money at the bar, but not ponying up a few dollars towards a scholarship fund.  As the conference grows, more time, money and energy needs to be spent marketing philanthropic events to a greater extent so that they stand a chance against the outstanding entertainment events, especially in the Uptown area.

Jamell Hamilton, 34 of Charlotte who has attended the conference in Charlotte and other cities enjoys attending events in Uptown. “Uptown is able to accommodate so many people because there are so many venues. In Charlotte, you have 20 parties in a 3-block radius. At the EpiCentre, everyone is hosting something. That’s unheard of in other cities that host events like this.”

Event planner Tiffany Jones of Digital Divas agrees. “We host events Uptown throughout the year and have gotten excellent service, so naturally we continue to do this during CIAA. Zink is a great location because it’s two blocks from the arena.”  Promoter George Spencer’s D.M.V. Takeover Party Featuring Allen Iverson and DJ Quick Silva @ Strike City was a major success. “We had over 1,100 people attend throughout the night. I think Charlotte is a great location for the CIAA because of its cosmopolitan flare. Uptown’s killer combination of the EpiCentre, Time Warner Cable Arena, Ritz Carlton, and upscale restaurants, gives Charlotte that touch of swag that compliments the historical tournament.”

While most people enjoyed the tournament, there were some complaints. Garrett, who loved the day parties, disliked her stay at The Blake Hotel. “They ran out of hot water for the weekend and people were paying up to $300 a night to stay there.” According to a promoter, some of the artists he booked at the Blake Hotel last year suffered the same challenges. The conference is also marked by gridlocked traffic, particularly on Saturday night.

Spencer is concerned about the infrastructure in downtown, particularly 2nd to 7th streets. “There needs to be a better job of handling the traffic. Providing alternate routes and transportation options is something the city can work on. For example, keeping the rail open later or providing additional public transportation via shuttles would be invaluable to attendees and help alleviate traffic concerns,” he said.  Uncovered parking, like that at 935 and the Ramada, needs to be better managed.  When promoters are expecting hundreds of attendees, there needs to be a parking plan in place.

CIAA is clearly a national destination and next year is the last year on the contract. Just as the tournament appears to be hitting its stride, there have been rumblings about cities like Atlanta and Washington, DC making a major push to win the tournament. “I’ve been going to CIAA on and off for a long time. I’ve seen it grow so much. This is the best it has ever been and this is the most money that it has ever made. It would be foolish to leave Charlotte. We are the next biggest thing between ATL and DC, 25% black, and none of the other cities can hold it. Charlotte is the only city that can handle a conference like this.”

Many people staying positive, hoping that the CIAA stays in Charlotte because it has added value to the Queen City, just as the Queen City has added value to it. A truly reciprocal relationship exists between the two and should continue to grow and expand.

Keeping the CIAA in Charlotte makes sense. Besides, if the majority of HBCUs are located in North Carolina, why move it to another state?

This year, a perfect storm occurred – decent weather, great venues, positive attitudes, packed parties, veteran promoters, world-class talent and discretionary income made for a great 2010 CIAA conference. Is this enough for the Queen City to do what it takes to keep CIAA in Charlotte? Only time will tell.

An edited version of this article appears in Creative Loafing, where Nsenga serves as cultural critic.