Category Archives: Engage

Oscar Night: Thoughts on Beast of the Southern Wild and Child Naming

The little actress, Quevenzhane Wallis, is thought to be a strong contender for the Best Actress award in tonight’s Academy Awards. She definitely did a great job but I want to overall say how happy I am to have an original movie with a predominately African-American cast reach this level of praise and recognition. Black movies with Oscar buzz have traditionally centered around movies retelling the lives of the famous (Ali, Ray, Malcolm X, Lady Sings the Blues), horrific events ( Hotel Rwanda, The Last King of Scotland), music (Ray, Lady Sings the Blues, Cadillac Records, Hustle and Flow, Dreamgirls), or overcoming the system (The Color Purple, The Help, Glory, The Green Mile, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, the Blind Side, etc.). Others have focused on the affects of urban decay and the broken family through action movies (Boyz In the Hood, Training Day) or dark dramas (Precious, Monster’s Ball).

What makes Beast of the Southern Wild stand out is that it forgets about all of these agendas and standbys and just relies on what makes all great movies great – storytelling. Here you have a rich, uniquely African-American story full of wonder and visuals which  takes the bold risk of going without the traditional villains of racists and the system, the crowd pleasing music and big stars, or the safe path to Oscar glory by simply recreating history. Another unique element of Beasts is the rural setting. We seem to forget about all of the Black families who don’t live in the ‘hood’ and ignore our rural community. But these communities are still prevalent, especially in the South. All of those other movies are greatly entertaining, and I think no less of them. I think because of the past oppressions of Blacks in America, many directors have been limited on what kind of stories could get a green light to be made. But Beasts of the Southern Wild is a rare treat, and I hope it is just the start of a wave of amazing, original, atypical stories coming out of our long and rich culture.

Now here is the only negative I have to say about this topic: we really need to give a lot of thought into naming our children. The young actress, Quevenzhane, has a name which means ‘fairy’ in Swahili. I’m not sure how accurate this is though since one poster of a message board who speaks Swahili said there is not a ‘Z’ nor accents in the language. Anyway, I know we have a tradition of getting creative with names or looking to African cultures for inspiration, and I’m not totally against this, BUT you have to think about a number of things before making your child’s name final:

1) Can it be pronounced in the community and country where she is going to live? It’s nice to pick a Swahili name but how many people speak Swahili in the US again? I do think if she had an easier name, she would be in more conversations as a future star. But most people only can say ‘that cute girl’ when describing her. Of course, there aren’t a lot of Barak Obama’s floating around in the US either, but the syllables and letter combinations in that name can at lease be tackled by an English speaker. Most people wouldn’t even know where to start with Quevenzhane. Even worse, the name is NOT pronounced how it is spelled. That is not fair to the girl nor the people trying to communicate with her. Now, learning that her mother’s name is Qulyndreia, perhaps it’s a family tradition but you would think someone would want to change it.

2) What are the life outcome trends for people currently having that name? Are you naming your kid a name commonly shared with CEO’s of businesses, professionals, community leaders, etc. or one commonly shared among jail populations and pole dancers?  Sorry to say but in the real world, people draw conclusions of family education level, behavior, and values based on your name. It’s not right, but many resumes have been rejected because of how decision makers feel about a name.

3) Is the spelling of the name consistent with the rules of the language? We all want out kids to be different, but if you are naming a boy Zhtaool and telling us it’s an alternative spelling of Paul, that is a YOU problem. No one should need training on new English rules just because you want to throw some letters together.

I will say that this advice is not just limited to us. White America has gotten on the bandwagon as well. It’s great that you are finding rich names by looking into your Irish and Gaelic heritage. But please stop making us struggle with the Aine’s and the Sadhbh’s. And do we really need 100 different spellings of Kaitlin.

Anyway, I hope that the ‘cute girl’ in Beast of the Southern Wild, whatever her name is, gets her shining moment tonight and more such movies will be produced.

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Thrift Shop : Potentially The Rap That Changes Hip Hop

It’s good to occasionally check in on top 40 radio. You can get a good sense of cultural directions and trends. So, last week I heard a song that had an infectious hook and had to listen in. What blew me away though wasn’t the sound but the lyrics, which were about celebrating thrift store shopping for fashion. One part mentions how silly it was to spend $50 for a t-shirt that everyone else was wearing. The fact that this was a rap had me extra excited, as rap is well known for pushing the value of high fashion and expensive taste. Suddenly, I began envisioning this song as a trailblazer; a turning point away from the urban values which have caused poor spending habits as parents don’t have a dime in their kid’s college fund but routinely drop $100 or more for the latest shoes or jeans. A rap glorifying used clothes and hand me downs wasn’t something I ever expected to hear in my lifetime. Hip Hop moving away from superficial consumerism and towards the hipster lifestyle could be nothing but good news. Nothing saddens me more then hearing the non-stop stories of kids getting shot for his brand name coat or due to stepping on some thug’s $300 sneakers. And I love the thought of Kanye at the Salvation Army or Jay-Z dumpster diving.

When I got home I immediately looked up more about the song. ‘Thriftshop’ is by a rapper named Macklemore along with Ryan Lewis singing vocals.

I was truly surprised to see that he was a white rapper. I was also disappointed as I think the song would have a greater impact on the Black youth of the rap community if he was also Black. On the otherhand, his Youtube video has over 70 MILLION views and the it is already a top 10 song, so it has obviously struck a cord with many people. And it is definitely a refreshing rap and I hope a new direction for the genre.

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ENGAGE: The Wire…death of Prop Joe

Robert F. Chew, who played Proposition Joe, died today in Baltimore. And just like on the show, his death was sudden and surprising. His cool, calm character was one of the many, many favorites I had on The Wire.  This is thought of as one of the greatest showed every produced, and it is certainly in my top 3. When I first saw the show, I didn’t know what I was really watching. I thought a film crew just decided to set up shop in an open drug market as a documentary. The Wire gave us the most realistic view of modern, urban life in America and showed you just how integrated drugs and violence are in communities.  The biggest lesson you can take from the show is that there are no real heroes 100% of the time and everyone is just trying to succeed at the job at hand. They say many of these young Black men that drop out of school to sell drugs aren’t smart, but I challenge any economist or business major from Harvard or Wall Street to master the intricacies of the open drug market and survive like these men and boys have.  These are bright, ambitious minds and the challenge we have going forward is directing them to a greater path. Anyway, thank you Robert F. Chew for being a part of a program which opened the eyes of millions of Americans who only knew of urban violence from crime reports on the news.

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ENGAGE: Deception – Black FBI Agent Uncovers A Murder Mystery Amongst White Prestige

The new NBC show Deception, staring Meagan Good, features an FBI agent uncovering secrets involving the death of her best friend. We always like seeing beautiful, Black women in roles that showcase leadership and intelligence, but what particularly stood out to me was the highlights that featured her White male love interest. And the fact that the interracial romance doesn’t seem part of the story or the drama. Compared to the 70’s show The Jeffersons, where comments were made about race by the lead character every time the White man/ Black woman couple entered a scene, this is definitely progress.

Another such romance is featured on the ABC comedy Happy Endings. While it is great that such relationships are so accepted that they no longer are worth speaking of, I do think are sometimes used to give shows a modern feel like the show Modern Family which also features an interracial (Latina/White) relationship. Interracial relationships can be an easy way to insert diversity into a show. Lena Dunham followed this trend when she added a black boyfriend during the current season of the hit show Girls.

Just a side discussion, Lena Dunham may have felt pressured to do this because of the lack of diversity on a show set in Brooklyn.  The same criticism was aimed at Friends. I’ve never seen the big deal with this. Just because you have a show featuring an all Black or all White or all women cast doesn’t mean there is some underlying discrimination taking place.  Most of us have closest friends who share our cultural background. This isn’t some rare and untrue event. Forcing show producers to make shows more diverse then they envisioned is like someone knocking your door down and saying ‘Hey, see this person of an ethnic group unlike the people here…well you need to now have them as one of your friends or we will judge you negatively’. There is something about forced diversity that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Here are some opinions concerning Deception and what it says about race.

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Pretty good article and figured I would try this reblogging thing for the first time.

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ENGAGE – The Big Bang Theory

It took me awhile, but I finally have had the chance to check out and become a huge fan of The Big Bang Theory. This comedy sitcom with sometimes adult situations features four, young science professors living as roommates, with an attractive neighbor next door. Why this is promoted as a BlackNEK show to watch is that it celebrates being smart and knowing stuff. It shows how having a unique knowledge set can lead to fantastic and high paying career opportunities. And even possibly getting the girl.

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Happy New Year- Celebrate Health

Be safe as always as you bring in the New Year. I honestly am wary of the large crowd celebrations in these unpredictable times and would prefer just a simple gathering of friends and family. As you make your resolutions, think of ones you can keep permanently as lifestyle changes. BlackNEKS should aim to be available for their family, which means being in reasonably good health. You can’t help or protect if you can’t even get off the couch. My goal for this year will be to quit soda cold turkey. The bad health affects of sugary drinks are well documented and contribute to our overall obesity levels. Wishing everyone a great 2013.

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ENGAGE: The Cleveland Show

The Cleveland Show is an animated adults only comedy staring a Black family in Virginia. A spin off of the hilariously edgy Family Guy, this show has always caught my attention as being unafraid to push the envelope on racial topics and expectations. Many feel that a show featuring a Black family has to be extremely positive and wholesome. Overall I would say that it promotes positive messages but also does not restrict itself or take predictable sides on issues. This makes for a refreshing comedy and a must see BlackNEK show.

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BlackNEK movie preview: Django Unchained

Either you like Quentin Tarantino or you don’t. Every since he brought Samuel L. Jackson to the screen as a Bible quoting, foulmouth hitman in Pulp Fiction, I have been a fan. To be fair, his movies tend to be on the violent side and are not anything close to family friendly. But his stories, characters, and dialogue are some of the most original to come through Hollywood.  And like a whirlwind comes Django Unchained. From

Set in the South two years before the Civil War, Django Unchained stars Jamie Foxx as Django, a slave whose brutal history with his former owners lands him face-to-face with German-born bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Schultz is on the trail of the murderous Brittle brothers, and only Django can lead him to his bounty. Honing vital hunting skills, Django remains focused on one goal: finding and rescuing Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), the wife he lost to the slave trade long ago. Django and Schultz’s search ultimately leads them to Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), the proprietor of “Candyland,” an infamous plantation. Exploring the compound under false pretenses, Django and Schultz arouse the suspicion of Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), Candie’s trusted house slave. — (C) Weinstein

I am excited about this film mainly because every movie which has come near the topic of slavery in America has been handled in very safe, sanitized ways. So no fresh or new stories could come out of this shameful but historic part of the past. Past movies have obvious good characters (the slaves, abolitionist) and obvious bad characters (slavers, plantation owners) and predictable story lines. I hope this is just the start of a new look at this era, the way that The Help brought to life the thoughts and lives of black women working as maids in the 60’s South. The more fresh stories the better.


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