T-Shirt Confidential #2

confidential 2Some people believe you can tell a lot about a person by the shoes they wear. I believe you can tell more about a person by the t-shirts they have worn. This is the story of my life, as told by the t-shirts I have worn.

DCFC0032.JPGOriginally posted as T-Shirt of the Week: WEEK 2 (June 16, 2007)
This shirt was given to me by my cousin Sean back in 1995. FREEZE was the hip-hop label he was working for at the time. Somewhere, in my vast collection of material things, I also have a few CDs from FREEZE, but this shirt got more wear than the albums ever got play.

I don’t know if other people ever take the time to think about what a particular article of clothing means to them, but this shirt means a whole hell of a lot to me. Sean gave it to me while I was on a trip visiting family in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. It was the early part of 1995, and I was still dealing with the death of my oldest friend in the world, who had been killed three days before Christmas in 1994. I bought my first video camera right before this trip, and my plan was to make a documentary about my family. Sean and his girlfriend Licia (who would later become his wife) were expecting their first child—the first of the new generation. I was determined to record a bit of our family history, so that when Sean’s daughter grew up, she would be able to know something about the people that came before her.

During that visit to the east coast I also took my grandfather on a road trip from Connecticut to southern Virginia, where he and my grandmother were originally from. It was important to see where they had grown up and met, so even though his health was not the best, it was important that I take him on this journey. I saw the cemeteries where many of my relatives were buried, and even met Miss Dora Hall, my grandfather’s grade school teacher, who at the time I met her was pushing up on 100 years old. On the ride back we spent two days in Washington D.C. with my good friend Bryan and his lady Maria. This time with my grandfather on the road represents some of my greatest memories, and I was wearing this shirt during much of that trip.

It is hard to put into words what that trip back home really meant to me. Shortly after, Sean and Licia’s first daughter Nandi was born. In many ways this marked a new beginning for me and the rest of the family. I interviewed quite a few of my relatives during that trip, mostly older folks who have since passed away in the dozen years since Sean gave me this shirt.

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Old Film Reviews – DIAMOND DOGS

diamond dogs1You might think after having endured the rather stinkified Dolph Lundgren film Missionary Man that I would be ready to call it quits with the old Dolphster. And if that’s what you’re thinking, then you, my friend, would be dead wrong. As long as guys like Dolph Lundgren and Jean Claude Van Damme continue to grace the shelves of video stores in barely watchable garbage, I will continue to watch—the notable exception being Steven Segal, or course—and afterwards I will continue to ask myself, “Why do I keep watching these movies?” Continue reading

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T-Shirt Confidential #1

Back in 2007, I launched a regular feature called T-Shirt of the Week (TSOTW) — the story of my life, as told by the t-shirts I;ve worn — which ran every week for approximately six months. When I was forced to rebuild this site several years back, I didn’t bother to re-post TSOTW. I’ve decided to relaunch TSOTW, only now it is T-Shirt Confidential. I’ll start with all the original posts (which I will upload every few days), and then start posting new stuff. Thanks. Enjoy.

confidential 1Some people believe you can tell a lot about a person by the shoes they wear. I believe you can tell more about a person by the t-shirts they have worn. This is the story of my life, as told by the t-shirts I have worn.

DCFC0028.JPGOriginally posted as T-Shirt of the Week: WEEK 1 (June 9, 2007)

This is a fairly new addition to my t-shirt collection, and one of dozen different designs promoting Logan Smalley’s documentary Darius Goes West, or DGW for short. The hands on this shirt are spelling the American Sign Language letters for D, G, and W. “Know about it” is the tagline for the film. This is my favorite of the DGW shirts, which were sent to me by Logan’s mother, Barbara.

I had the privilege of screening Darius Goes West earlier this year at the Longbaugh Film Festival, which I used to run. Those of you that know me have probably heard me rave about this film, but it really is an incredible, life-affirming documentary. In a nutshell, Darius Goes West documents a group of young men as they travel cross-country with their friend Darius Weems, a 15 year-old with Duchene Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). Their initial goal is to get on MTV’s Pimp My Ride so that it will trick out Darius’ wheelchair, and in the process call attention to DMD, the number one genetic killer of children in the world. I wrote a much longer piece on DGW, which you can read HERE.

To say this documentary has changed my life would be an understatement. Because of this film, I plan to spend part of my summer as a counselor at a camp for children with muscular dystrophy.

To find out more about Darius Goes West, or to get your own t-shirt, check out the website.

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Old Film Reviews – DEATH TOLL

death tollThere is only one word that comes to mind while watching the new jaxploitation urban thriller Death Toll, and that word is “wow.” Wow—the writing and direction in this film are terrible. Wow—the action in this film is atrocious. Wow—there is nothing good about this film. Wow—this garbage keeps getting worse and worse. Wow—I’ve been watching this crap for twenty-minutes, but it seems more than an hour. Wow—this is a total piece of crap. Continue reading

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Old Film Reviews – TRE

tre2Charlotte Sometimes, the feature film debut of director Eric Byler, was one of the most impressive movies of 2002. A beautifully realized character study that was as deftly acted as it was written and directed, Charlotte Sometimes hinted at the possible arrival of an incredibly talented filmmaker on the independent landscape. With eager anticipation I have awaited Byler’s follow-up, hoping that the raw humanity and attention to character-driven narrative that drove his first film was not a one-time fluke. And with the arrival of Tre, one of two movies he made in 2006, Byler has delivered a worthy companion to his debut dysfunctional human drama. Continue reading

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Why GONE WITH THE WIND is a Dangerous Movie

gone_with_the_windThere’s been a lot of talk about banning the Confederate flag recently, due in large part to horrific massacre that occurred last week in Charleston, SC. Many discussions have arisen, including one critic’s call to ban Gone with the Wind. Don’t get me wrong…I don’t like that movie. It is a dangerous piece of racist propaganda, but I don’t think it should be banned. Instead, I think people need to recognize it for what it is. In my book, Becoming Black: Personal Ramblings on Racial Identification and Popular Culture, I discuss Gone With the Wind at length. Here are some select excerpts from the essay “Lies of History and History of Lies: How Popular Culture Made Us Black.”

The American War of Racial Ideology is exactly what it sounds like—a conflict at the center of which is the perception of race. On one side of the battle are those looking to destroy the myths of White superiority and Black inferiority, creating in their place an ideological construct of equality for all human beings. Both the Civil War and the abolition of slavery represent significant battle victories in the American War of Racial Ideology, but a close examination of Reconstruction and its failure reveals that the war itself was lost. Millions of Blacks were freed during the Civil War, but their status as citizens of the United States and human beings was held at bay by ideology. If slavery is the crucial defining factor in the racial identification of Blacks in America, then it is the failure of Reconstruction that allowed the prevalent ideologies to endure, which in turn leads us to Gone with the Wind.
Written by Margaret Mitchell and published in 1936, Gone with the Wind is the embodiment of the failure of Reconstruction, and the decisive victory of anti-Reconstructionists in the continued perpetuation of racial ideology. Mitchell came from a family with strong roots in Georgia that favored slavery, supported the Confederacy, and were staunchly opposed to Reconstruction. Anti-Reconstructionists were not only opposed to civil rights for freed Blacks, as a culture, many Southerners saw the Confederacy as the victims in what they called the War of Northern Aggression. Within this cultural context, Reconstruction was another humiliation in the face of defeat at the hands of an oppressive regime that had destroyed their way of life while trampling over their rights. Having endured one defeat, the former Confederacy refused to concede the ideological battle represented through Reconstruction. As resistance to Reconstruction grew, it threatened to keep divided a nation that had endured a brutal war that had pitted neighbor against neighbor, until Reconstruction itself gave way to the demands of the South.
The backlash against Reconstruction found its way into the mass media and popular culture of the post-Antebellum South, emerging as an alternative perspective to the Civil War and slavery, a newly formed mythology known as the Lost Cause. The myth of the Lost Cause was the former Confederacy’s way of explaining and reconciling the war, but this reconciliation did not come without exacting a major toll.

Later on in the essay I go on to write…

Compared to The Birth of a Nation, Gone with the Wind is a tame depiction of the Lost Cause. Gone with the Wind has no scenes of the Ku Klux Klan riding to the rescue of hapless Whites being besieged by murderous Negroes, as does The Birth of the Nation. Indeed, the slaves of Gone with the Wind are happy with their lives of servitude, content to serve their White masters, who put up with the comical sass that all happy-go-lucky slaves use to express their lot in life. At the same time, the film and the book upon which it is based, is a by-the-numbers representation of the Lost Cause from start to finish, filtered through the 1939 lens of Hollywood. That is to say that Gone with the Wind is as revisionist to history and dehumanizing to Blacks as audiences of that era were willing to accept. For all of its oppressive polices towards Blacks, American had moved forward enough that the narrative of The Birth of a Nation was no longer completely palatable. Gone with the Wind is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a deviation from the narrative ideologies of The Birth of a Nation, it is just a watered down version, presented with a kinder, gentler face, presented in glorious Technicolor.

You can read the entire essay in my book, Becoming Black: Personal Ramblings on Racial Identification and Popular Culture, available from Amazon.

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Old Film Reviews – CLEANER

cleanerThere can be a certain stigma attached to films that by and large skip any sort of significant theatrical release, and instead go directly to video. This stigma is compounded when the film has a cast of well-known actors, and is directed by someone with a proven track record. When you stumble across these films at the video store, and look at the box, and see everyone involved in the production, it’s not all that unfair to ask, “What’s wrong with this movie that I’ve never heard of it?” And that’s pretty much the case with Cleaner, one of those movies that seems like something you should have heard of, but haven’t, making the whole thing all the more suspect. Continue reading

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Old Movie Reviews – FINISHING THE GAME

finishing the gameA title card at the beginning of Finishing the Game sets up the film’s premise: in 1973 martial arts superstar Bruce Lee died unexpectedly while filming Game of Death. Lee had only shot 12 minutes of footage, hardly enough to complete the masterpiece he envisioned, but that did not stop unscrupulous producers from completing the film by using a series of ridiculous tricks to mask the fact that Lee was not in the movie. Finishing the Game is a fictionalized, mocumentary account of the search to find an actor to replace Bruce Lee. An interesting idea though it may be, Finishing the Game stops just short of being a complete failure, emerging instead as a disappointing comedy that produces few laughs and very little by way of entertainment. Continue reading

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Old Film Reviews – ART OF WAR II: BETRAYAL

AOTWSomewhere, someone was sitting around thinking, “What Wesley Snipes’ movies should there be a sequel to? Is there a Wesley Snipes’ movie with so many unanswered questions at the end that it demands being revisited? In making a sequel to a Wesley Snipes’ movie should we go with one of his awesome direct-to-video titles, or one of his even more awesome theatrical releases?” And even though this person—we’ll call him “Bootsy”—asked these questions to many people, the answers were always the same: “none,” “no,” and “who cares, most of his movies suck anyway?” But that didn’t stop “Bootsy,” and when all was said and done, the decision was made to make The Art of War II: Betrayal, a bad follow-up to a bad movie that needed no follow-up. Continue reading

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Old Film Reviews – 36th CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN

36thchamberofshaolin2If you are a true fan of martial arts flicks, then you no-doubt have seen this film in at least one of its several incarnations, which includes the alternate titles Master Killer and Shaolin Master Killer. If, however, for some strange reason you have never seen this movie, then you can’t, in any way, shape or form, consider yourself to be a true die-hard fan of kung fu films. As harsh as that may sound, the reality is that for every genre and sub-genre of film you can imagine, there are only a very small handful of films that are essential viewing within that particular group. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is one of those films. Continue reading

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