West tells me that I need to check out a forthcoming book on Hoyt Fuller by Jonathan Fenderson. It’s now on the list.
The official media material says:
Black Panther earns three Oscars. Since its inception Marvel Studios’ Black Panther has provoked and stoked a wide range of interest, and now that the blockbuster film is the recipient of three Oscars the film’s acclaim extends beyond the box office.
No, it didn’t get the top prize, but it was a barrier breaker as Ruth Carter was the first black woman to ever win in the Costume Design category; and another first for a black artist when Hannah Beachler took the trophy, which she shared with Set Decorator Jay Hart, in Production Design. Additional spice arrived when Ludwig Goransson earned an Oscar for the Best Score in a Motion Picture.
These awards and other nominations for Black Panther augurs well for populist cinema that is traditionally scorned when it comes to taking home the coveted awards, particularly an Oscar, which is Marvel’s first.
It’s a good bet the honors to Black Panther will not only boost the appreciation for populist cinema, it should also enhance the appeal of a number of products and projects such as Black Panther: A Paradigm Shift or Not? the forthcoming anthology at Third World Press, edited by Haki Madhubuti and Herb Boyd. “All of the celebration and awards for the film is nothing to thumb your nose at and we at Third World Press extend all our good wishes and hope we can do as well with our publication,” said Madhubuti, the press’s publisher and founder.
The anthology, which includes more than forty writers, film critics, scholars, and activists, has a timely appearance and should be able to reap some of the renewed media attention the film has sparked. Among the contributors are Nicole Mitchell Gantt, Jelani Cobb, Brent Staples, Abdul Alkalimat, Bobby Seale, Robyn Spencer, Diane Turner, Greg Tate, Maulana Karenga, Marita Golden, and Molefi Keta Asante, et al.
As may be discerned from the contributors the anthology is a compilation of mixed views and opinions―with both praise and a critique of the film. “The film has aroused a variety of conclusions, a wellspring of differences that we felt compelled to give them a forum,” said Boyd. “Like the film, the views expressed in the book are often very provocative.”
Gary Byrd turns 70 tomorrow. I thought this was as good an excuse as any to pull this out of my 2001 doctoral dissertation–an attempt to define Black (American) media ideology–to say an early “Happy Birthday.” Any mistakes are mine, and I welcome corrections from Byrd and all others. Happy Birthday, Brother Byrd!
A Byrd Flies In Buffalo
A major portion of the story of Black media can be told through the life and career of Gary Byrd. The radio veteran, who in the year 2000 was in his early 50s, is considered one of the links between the pioneer Black broadcasters and the current generation. Byrd’s 30-year career in broadcasting in New York City and Buffalo displays all facets of how Black media function.
Byrd began his radio career as a teenager in Buffalo, N.Y. Hearing Byrd’s powerful, charismatic speaking voice in a 1965 high school play, a part-time disk jockey for WUFO asked the fifteen-year-old if he had thought about a radio career. Byrd joined WUFO and, by the time he was 17, set his sights on WWRL. He was initially offered a job, but his grandmother made him turn it down until he finished high school. After a brief period at WYSL, located in upstate New York, Byrd joined WWRL in 1969 at the age of 19. His tenure there gave him the freedom to experiment that would allow the young disk jockey and poet to grow spiritually, intellectually and journalistically on the air.
“The Gary Byrd Experience”
In 1970, Byrd was given WWRL’s all-night spot. “It was late at night at the station … [the management said,] ‘Do what you can to keep the people up.’ They left me alone.” Being left alone to test ideas on the air during a time of experimentation in FM radio, the Black Power Movement and the Black Arts Movement, Byrd developed “The Gary Byrd Experience,” a blended and layered mix of music, interviews, radio news footage and his own Gil Scott-Heron-like poetry. (This format was similar to the one Del Shields used on his “Total Black Experience in Sound” show on WLIB-FM–a station that would, in 1972, be renamed WBLS-FM–but Byrd identifies his influences then as social comedian Dick Gregory and message-oriented soul music of the late 1960s. The program’s name is Byrd’s take on rock legend Jimi Hendrix’s band, “The Jimi Hendrix Experience.”) One of the poems Byrd created that he used on the air in the early 1970s was “Every Brother Ain’t a Brother,” his 1969 commentary on the social forces surrounding the Black Power movement. He said he wrote the poem because “at that time there were some interesting contradictions in the Black community.”
It‘s time for us to face the truth and level with each other
It‘s time for us to face the fact that every brother ain‘t a brother.
There are some who‘ll say to the world at large
I’m no color. I’m just a man.”
And some say to the folks uptown that Black Power is not their plan.
But through it all we fool ourselves and fool one another
By failing to face the simple fact that every brother ain’t a brother.
Now there is a kind of brother who shoots a brother and thinks that makes him bad
There‘s a kind of brother who says he’s Black because now it’s just a fad
We‘re at the point in the world today for self-evaluation
Just to find out where we really are in this racially tom-up nation
And one of the first things we must do is stop kidding one another
And get on the case of realism that every brother ain‘t a brother.
Now I said that every brother ain’t a brother
And I know you know that’s true.
But look in the mirror carefully
‘Cause that brother might be you.
Byrd began to redefine the role of disc jockey, calling himself a “disc journalist.”
His use of issues and music brought him attention from a fan of his radio show, musician Stevie Wonder, who invited him to write the lyrics to two songs, “Village Ghetto Land” and “Black Man” on Wonder’s double-album classic “Songs In The Key of Life.” In addition, Byrd recorded his own albums of poetry. With Bob Law, who became WWRL’s program director in the 1970s, Byrd attempted to bring the concept of predominately white “progressive FM” format to AM radio, but in a way tailored specifically to the needs of New York’s Black community. In 1984, Byrd would make a career move that would expand his reach and influence, and ultimately find a sphere of thought that he could claim as his own and share with his audience.
A Byrd Takes Flight As A New Experience Begins
By 1984, three years after Law’s “Night Talk,” a nationally syndicated Black talk radio program, debuted on WWRL, new talkers were on the WLIB airwaves. Mark Riley became WLIB’s mid-morning host, after the morning newscast. Gary Byrd became the early-to-late afternoon host on the daytime AM radio station. “The Gary Byrd Experience” had evolved from Black music to Black talk, and Byrd began to mix music to set the mood for his interviews and discussions. WLIB had a broadcaster in Byrd who attempted to meld the spiritual (music) with the social-political (talk) aspects of the African-American experience.
‘The Gary Byrd Experience” on WLIB, in Byrd’s mind a radio magazine, established Black rituals of sound. Each of the opening segments had its own particular sound, blending jazz with gospel, with Byrd’s voice opening and closing the show over the music. Unlike Riley’s show, which was call-in talk interrupted by music cues, Byrd, with music, rhyme and tone, tried to create a cultural atmosphere with his predominately Black audience. His “question of the day” for the audience, the focus of the leading segment of his program, was a more philosophical one than poised on the more news-oriented Riley’s show. When I began listening to him in 1987, Byrd referred to himself a “New Age Griot,” the latter French term referring to a name given to male West African praise singers who sing the history of a particular person, family or community.
A New Name, A New “GBE,” A New Site
While living and working in New York City in the 1970s and early 1980s, Byrd, who read on his own about Africa, began to be exposed to African-centered scholars such as John Henrik Clarke and Dr. Yosef ben-Jochannan (known as “Dr. Ben”), who often delivered public lectures to cultural Nationalist groups and others. Jochannan, an Egyptologist, taught that the ancient Egyptians who shaped human civilization were Black-skinned Africans. Byrd told Gil Noble during a 1999 WABC-TV “Like It Is” interview that he was prepared “to sit at Dr. Ben’s feet” when he heard a tape of a speech of Dr. Ben’s. In the mid-l980s, Byrd went to Egypt, where he was told by a priest to go to a certain place along the Nile River and perform a ritual to gain a spiritual experience. That ritual, he recalls, gave him the inspiration to give himself a name that “would give me something to aspire to every day of my life, a new place to step to.” He adopted the name Imhotep, the legendary Egyptian first multi-genius.
Byrd began using his new name publicly around 1990. It was shortly after he did a special week of programming from the Apollo Theatre honoring African-centered scholars such as Clarke and ben-Jochannan. As a result of the success of those broadcasts, Byrd was given the mid-morning slot, live from the Apollo. With this move in place, Byrd subsequently announced that his name was now Imhotep Gary Byrd and that he was re-christening his show the “Global Black Experience.” The broadcaster, dropping the “New Age” from his self-description, had now decided to become the African-American broadcast equivalent of an African griot–a living medium for African-Americans, with the mission to “make African people feel good about themselves, and to make the world feel good about African people.”
The “New GBE: Africentricity,” as he called it, was done on the Apollo stage, a center of Black American culture. Still essentially call-in talk radio, it was done with a live studio audience, who came in from the street to see the show. Guests were onstage talking with Byrd–wearing dreadlocks and dressed in flowing African robes–while the members of the studio audience lined up to ask questions or to win prizes in a Black history quiz question Byrd would ask on-air.
The show became politically and culturally stronger in tone-as strong to the Black Cultural Nationalist left as white mainstream talk show radio hosts Bob Grant and Rush Limbaugh of WABC-AM were to the white right in the 1980s and 1990s. The new “rituals of sound” were more African and less African-American. The “new” GBE began with a recorded call to “Speak, Drums! Tell the real story.” After the theme, Byrd would read aloud the Nguzo Saba–the seven principles of Kawaida theory developed by Black Cultural Nationalist Maulana Karenga and popularized by the Karenga-inspired African-American holiday, Kwanzaa–at the start of every show. These principles include calls to African unity, self-determination and purpose. Then Byrd would read the headlines from The Daily Challenge, the city’s only Black daily newspaper. On “Black Press Thursday,” the day most of the city’s weekly Black newspapers would be on the newsstands. He read headlines from all of the city’s Black press. Byrd took advantage of the use of a well-known stage and culturally-eager studio audience to honor people who had made significant contributions to African and African-American life.
The significance of the “New GBE,” from a cultural standpoint, cannot be overemphasized. Byrd, by 1990 a cultural hero of sorts and opinion leader in New York’s cultural Nationalist and activist communities, was now broadcasting an African-centered show from the Apollo Theatre, a legendary Harlem landmark on 125th Street–the same street used by many of the streetcorner orators, including Malcolm X. These ancestors now had descendants with new, more sophisticated stepladders and megaphones. The unedited voices of these “children” could now be heard around the nation’s No. 1 local media market–the New York tri-state area–in cars, homes, or on Walkmans while jogging. Black senior citizens and others who learned about Black history and culture from Byrd and his guests could now drop by to see them in person and ask questions. Teachers set up class field trips, as I helped to do in 1992 for journalism and broadcasting high school students attending the Seton Hall University Upward Bound program. “The New Negro Movement” of the 1930s had become a 1990s African-centered renaissance, live, on-air. The “New GBE” allowed Blacks to participate in a collective African-centered media experience, using the most powerful medium in Black communities, the radio.
This is the movie that “Green Lantern” should have been. Very serviceable, and a good origin story–more for NICK FURY and SHIELD than the lead. All involved struggle against the worn out superhero-origin-story format, and succeed perhaps to the limit they can. Only for the most Marvel hardcore–and/or for cat and Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg lovers. 😉
I had some free time at my theater, waiting for “Captain Marvel” to be screened last night. So I bought a ticket for–and saw–“The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.” (It was OK, but the thrill was clearly gone.) I, um, somehow got lost getting back to the lobby, so I watched the climax of “Fighting With My Family” (amazing how the U.K.’s working-class whites are portrayed in films as being just like Black people in the ‘Hood!), and then, continuing my lost journey, watched “What” from the beginning.
Um….why did, for the entire time, Henson remind me of Luther’s almost-but-not-quite crossover songs? She wants white people to like her REAL BAD. She tries to keep her “edge,” but she also wants their comfort level kept. A movie that could–and maybe should–have had serious edges copped out. And it’s clearly hard to write rom-coms: not because of the rigid format, but the fact that you have to be funny enough to make the audience forget it. This failed.
So Cory Booker is running for president. (Insert .gif here 🙂 )
Below is a .pdf of the actual page in The Crisis magazine that featured my Q+A interview with him, back in 2006. (No copyright infringement intended.) It was after he had just become mayor of Newark. And here’s what I wrote about the aftermath, which was part of this.
And then there was this 2015 coda of sorts.
To be alive is the most extraordinary thing there is. To be Black and alive is to be stalked by danger. To be Black, alive and daring to love is to court that danger. To be Black, alive, in love and fighting for freedom is the most powerful danger to be in. This is what Barry Jenkins understands from James Baldwin, and he delivers, in picture, word and tone. A melancholy masterpiece.