The show, the after-party, the hotel: metaphorically busting up American hotel rooms in his youth, before he “grew up”
Muhammad Ali always made this reviewer laugh out loud, but this may be the first time that open cackle is the result of a very serious Ali documentary. Ken Burns, in filmmaking combo Blackface and cross-dress, takes the role of Black church grandmother with the big hat, waiting for her grandson Cassius to give up that Panther mess and return to their neighborhood AME.
To Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon, Muhammad Ali is a Buddy Holly figure who got to live and grow old. He’s an Elvis-type who didn’t die suddenly on his toilet, a living, breathing hula hoop and frisbee, the dark fifth Beatle. Making a Third World activist who was a borderline revolutionary–someone who even Burns said was encouraging Afghan guerillas to overthrow the Soviet Union in his later years–into Jack Armstrong, The All-American Boy took some skillful, involved work. The trio accomplishes this by using every rock-star convention, trope and cliche–the innocence, the power, the excess, the decline, the fall. There’s Ken Burns’ and Co.’s forced narration–aptly provided by Keith David–and then there’s Ali’s actual narration, so the socio-political-cultural tension is always there: Burns keeps trying to win the bout, the most prominent examples being that the Nation of Islam is treated like some sort of annoying cult-fad that Burns patiently waits to burn out, and Ali’s calls for Black/African/non-white solidarity just a phase of his–a step toward human consciousness (which only comes through illness and the subsequent white, matured sympathetic gaze, according to this tale), not the call for self-determining power.
Proving once again that PBS can put a pale frame on anything, this future award-winner can start with this writer’s mental tropies for chronological detail, where to put the episode cliffhanger, effective use of Digable Planets 🙂 and the proper poignancy, particularly at the close. If this presentation is the “white” Ali and The Trials of Muhammad Ali and When We Were Kings are respectively the political and Pan-African Ali, that means the only Ali story left to tell is one about his relationship to religion. At his best, Burns at least comes close to that–chronicling how the sinner who, now humbled, learned to ask for forgiveness. Ali had a lot to atone for–he was cruel to his opponents, the doc repeatedly says; the Black interviewees keep reminding the viewer that he took public umbrage to those Blacks who proudly represented America during the time of a worldwide Movement. That story is not emphasized here enough (although Burns would vehemently disagree), and the rationale for that lack of emphasis is that, for the purpose of this narrative, this Ali first peaks and, later, begins his denouncement at the Olympics, symbolically draped in Burns’ Love, Americana Style.
So much has changed in the 20 years since I wrote about now-known-as “legacy media” Black Entertainment Television, Radio One, 1190 WLIB-AM and WABC-TV’s Like It Is! Turns out the “new Black media” I ballayhooed in my very-flawed doctoral dissertation back then was waaaay premature! Nowadays, my study seems more like the “last Black mass media” story, not a “new media” story. After all, the Web was under 10 years old when I graduated and Web 2.0 was just on the horizon.
(The jury might still be out on whether my promoted ideological perspective [Black media has two prongs: it fights white hegemony and reinforces Black/African spirituality] and formula have current value, but since individuals can do what they want to do now, based on their own (grounded) theories and phenemological-based values, those might be equally obselete. Shhh! Don’t tell my Seton Hall University “Mass Media and Minorities” students this! LOL! )
From my vantage point, the de-massified media world we live in now comes from a combo of cheap-to-free tech, increased corporate hegemony and, frankly, the need and want of individual or collective championing or branding, depending on ones’ perspective and/or agenda. The three factors combined can be admittedly dangerous, but I wanna see the content first before I judge.
(Between the development of these new digital networks, and the great series and book on the digital transformations of Black journalism, all happening within the last two years, I definitely feel like a scholarly and journalistic dinosaur. And perhaps that description’s accurate: Hell, my professional 2021-onward goal is still to write something as good as Gay Talese’s now 55-year-old Esquire narrative classic “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” or James Baldwin’s 60-year-old Harper’s feature “The Dangerous Road Before Martin Luther King,” articles only a little older than me! That shows you where I’m at! LOL!)
The loose, unresearched chronology I have seen and now see:
1970-1980s: Black people created grassroots and/or national newspapers and syndicated print columns in Black newspapers, public-affairs shows and syndicated radio commentaries (and BET, which, it can be argued, comes out of both Black radio’s tradition and its white hegemonic corporate conglomeration, beginning roughly in the mid-1970s).
1980s-1990s: Black people created a) print magazines, then b) syndicated radio shows, then c) websites.
2000-present: Black people attempted all of the above, and then added radio and TV networks (Cathy Hughes’ TV One being the most prominent). Then website TV and podcasting, micro-blogging (FB and Twitter), social media TV and podcasting, and now, thanks to YouTube’s and now Zoom’s, and Crowdcast’s, etc., tested viability, the new era (and this time I think I’m right :)) of Black people creating their own BETs!
In my view, this chronology exists because of two reasons: the tech to produce and distribute became cheap or free and corporate America stepping to get every market they can.
It’s a golden era, really. As long as everything is archived and everyone is to the left of Larry Elder ;), I’m fine with it!
If Season Three of Genius was about Aretha Franklin standing on her own two feet and not letting men dominate her, then this very-fast moving, more symbolic story is about the protection only a true parent can provide. Surrounded by domineering men, Jennifer Hudson portrays the Soul Queen as a woman puttting together, then self-destructively pulling apart, the puzzle pieces of her life. It is only when she embraces her dead mother and her Heavenly Father does she fully form. Interestingly enough, perhaps we need even more hours of Franklin to really understand her.
If Marvel wants to dominate the next 25 action-adventure movie cycles, it is going to have to dial up to 11 and stay there, particularly with new characters and concepts. Formula is stifling any real character and plot innovation. Just giving characters a really good story so they can get their MCU membership passes is not enough. Awkwafina and Michelle Yeoh saved this almost-ambitious movie about Asian mythology from mediocrity, but not by much. Being better than Black Widow is not a great accomplishment.
The show’s first season begins with the death of a mother and ends with the burial of a father, with the middle filled in with what family members create. A very radical combo of Man of Steel, Smallville and Lois and Clark merges with the last 30 years of Superman comics into a meditation on the sustaining of the family unit from primarily two sources–the Kents and the Cushings (Lana Lang’s brood). The finale teaser for Season 2 shows the reconstitution of a third as a result of, appropriately, a rocket landing at the Kent farm. The CW-ish, almost-emeging-adult inside shows that the family dynamics have just begun to shift, with Lois being given one hell of a personal retcon of sorts and the boys gaining a sister (pun intended). Having Superman go to a mental-emotional space where he has to prioritize the world most important to him at the moment will continue to make him not only relevant, but even a more permanent part of American folklore.
John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Art by L. Fury and Nate Powell.
New York: Abrams Comic Arts, in conjunction with Good Trouble Productions, 154 pp., $24.99.
The change of artist did nothing to hinder the entrance into John Lewis’ world: one of bloodshed, and courage and almost constant activity and sound. Kudos to co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist L. Fury, who took the baton well from Nate Powell. The award-winning March (examined by this reviewer here) is followed up with a new triology, completed in text just before the congressman’s death last year. In this first installment, Lewis slowly realizes that the attributes that propelled him to Movement leadership–Christian witness, closeness to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King (derisively called “Da Lawd” by some youth activists) and a belief in integrated work–has got him ousted from his beloved Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. It’s a time of X marking new spots, of Watts and draft cards afire, of Black Power shouted, of Stokely Carmichael ascendant, of Black self-determination on Black terms, and Lewis is exhausted. To Be Continued in Book Two. After all these decades, it is sad to see Lewis still refer to Black nationalism as Black “separatism”–as if such nationalism was still some abberation–but at least he explained in detail here why some thought it justified. Wedded to American thoughts and ideals, the hero decides not to put on a new face but to find a new place and space.
The Male Principle and The Female Principle, grit and fierceness inner and outward.
Coming out of the 1960s into the 1970s, both pioneers filled with revolutionary consciousness, both using work to create new space for words to propel The Race forward.
Personal versus/and ideological.
But both understood the power of planting yourself within a role, and then being left to the never-ending, back-breaking, un-privledged, un-advantaged labor of pulling out your own weeds.
And, by doing that, creating your own eras.
Critics are hard on this film because it is a betrayal of the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies spirit of parody and satire. No one at WarnerMedia cared about skewering itself–The Simpsons and Fox, anyone?–so the movie has way too much product placement done in the name of homage to more than 50 years of entertainment. The goal should be to generate laughter at the expense of the product and the studio, not to humble brag about how you have the world’s minds on lock.
P.S. See below for a classic example of Warner Bros. making fun of itself.