Archive for January, 2010

Nollywood…anyone?

Posted in 1 with tags , , , , , , on January 24, 2010 by prekosifa

I have been reading about the history of black people in cinema recently and it came as no surprise that black people in film have always been unfairly represented.

Originally, blacks were played by white people in early films. When we started playing ourselves, these first images were as water melon eatin’, big lipped having, always smiling subservient caricatures, who would do anything for their ‘Masser!’. Men were often seen as being cowardly bug eyed buffoons always ready to run away from trouble.

Black women were portrayed as ‘mammies’, non sexual, overweight and adorning a napkin on top of their heads or as oversexed and scantily clad harlots. The stories were even more ridiculous with the zenith of this stupidity perhaps being a film where the black ‘mammie’ maidservant gave up a huge inheritance, (and the chance of true freedom), from her invention, to stay faithfully with her white ‘owners’. The reasons for these images according to Hollywood, was that the American South would only pay to watch films where the image of a black person was what they were used to!

Even when blacks started making their own films they still continued producing the same comical characters. The era of self ridiculing had begun brought on by the fact that positive black role models in film would not be shown by mainstream American film studios. If you look at the portrayal of blacks in film today you could argue that things haven’t changed that much.

So where are we at today? Will Smith is the hottest actor on the planet, and he’s black! Surely that has to be good news right? Not necessarily because Will just fits into that other stereotype of blackness, the Superspade!, made popular in the 70’s. Will can do no wrong and earns more than the golden child Tom Cruise per picture and we see him in a huge number of different roles, mostly as a hero. It is a different kind of ridiculing, one that appears to be saying ‘all blacks can do this’, when in truth they are really saying ‘only the blacks that we create, can do this, and they don’t really exist’. From a character point of view, Will Smith is a kind of Richard Rowntree/Sidney Poitier hybrid, love child type…thing!

At first I was angered by this poor treatment of my people. I love watching films and want only to see a fair representation of my race. Then it hit me that the film industry in the first place was not created by blacks. It was and is very much a white phenomenon. And with this came the fact that white people can only show the images of blacks that they know and from their viewpoint. In short, the film industry is a white place that for years blacks have been knocking on the doors of in the hope to be accepted on equal terms. Unless you have control over all the areas of production from creation to distribution, you cannot hope to compete fairly in this arena.

Considering we are a very small part of the overall game, I think we are doing pretty well. Look, it is never going to be a level playing field because it is never going to be a level playing field, and instead of focussing our energies fighting for the scraps in this industry and in effect bolstering its profits, we need to be bold and start our very own.

Black film makers for years, have been looking for a way out through this white mans world, rather than start their own shit! The only way we can have a fair reflection of our race is by running our own studios. The Jewish built Hollywood, India has Bollywood and the Japanese have their film industry. Nigeria’s Nollywood is our guiding light.

Admittedly when I first watched these films I thought they were terrible. Bad plots, terrible acting and crappy technical work seemed to be a staple. But a year later I am beginning to see changes, better scripts, better acting, in fact, better everything. It is only a matter of time before they can compete on bigger terms, and this is how it should be. Old Hollywood films were not much cop either, (and some stuff that comes out now is truly shite!). But isn’t this just a part of the learning curve?

Now when I watch films and begin to get pissed off at the racial stereotyping, I just remind myself that it doesn’t matter and what I am viewing is just someone else’s image of me.

It will only really matter if we don’t now realise that there is something we can do about it.

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Haiti – What is really going on?

Posted in 1 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2010 by prekosifa

Just when I thought that this year may be different, we have a natural disaster the likes of which seem to be getting more common as I get older. Haiti, a small island in the West Indies, was hit by a devastating earthquake. Thousands are already dead and many more reported missing.

A few years ago I visited the Dominican Republic, on the west side of the same island and it was like an inverse mirror image of Haiti. Its residents were light skinned, against Haiti’s dark skinned population. The Dominican Rep was doing well in the tourist trade, Haiti very poorly for an island in paradise. And lastly, there seemed to be an air of superiority held by all over the Haitian’s, which was further evidenced in the lower positions they held as part of the hotel staff, as cleaners and general labourers, but never on the check-in desk or other areas of extended public gaze.

I was confused.

This was a country that was so important for the fight to abolish slavery but was also a country that was ridiculed by all around it.

Haiti was ‘discovered’ by that piratical doyen of the seven seas, Christopher Columbus, and from that bad start things could only get worse. In the years that followed, the local population was decimated by the Spanish and then the French. The indigenous Indian population were wiped out in some sickening ways, hanging, drowning, roasting alive, buried in anthills or termite mounds, decapitated, eaten alive by wild dogs, the sick list is endless. The first Africans arrived in the 1503 and in 1791 the slaves revolted and freed their land. Fighting between the rights of the Spanish, the French and the freed slaves for control of the Island would eventually lead to the split of the Island into 2 countries, Haiti in the East and the Dominican Republic in the West.

Why was it fought over so much? Well, this single colony, roughly the size of Maryland or Belgium, produced more sugar and coffee than all of Britain’s West Indian colonies combined. Haiti is the world’s oldest black republic and the second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere, after the United States.

For such an important country, why were things not put in place should disaster strike? Do you think Los Angeles would suffer in the same way? Another question I have is why is it that when we hear of thousands upon thousands of people dying in a natural disaster, they are always black or some variation thereof? Why is it never white people? Am I to believe that people of colour are just unlucky in this world? Have all the ‘safe’ spots on the globe been taken up by ‘smarter folk’? None of these points are ‘believable’, but I would like some answers. Perhaps the truth may lie in the world of conspiracy, a world that I don’t really want to acknowledge exists.

But then racism doesn’t always show itself in the way that it once used to. It isn’t always hard violent acts instigated against black folk who can’t protect themselves. Sometimes it is evidenced in the lack of services available to handle a natural disaster, or the help that doesn’t quite arrive on time. It happens all too often these days. New Orleans was the real wake up call for a lot of us, but its absolute horror allowed for us to not be with it. Have you noticed that when something is really bad or hard for the palette, we tend to turn away en masse and focus on something else. If we see too many pictures of horror and devastation, we become numb to it, the pictures having no effect, enabling us to carry on with our lives as if nothing has happened. And then we get the images and the news reports of these people looting and killing each other, we think ‘you act like animals, do you deserve our sympathy? The end resultatrocities can carry on without the moral condemnation of the masses.

At a time when anything can be done, I sometimes allow myself to believe that perhaps some natural disasters may not be so ‘natural- after all. I sometimes get so down about it that I start to believe that man is capable of doing such a thing. If history is anything to go by, man is certainly capable of some despicable acts of cruelty and it has been clearly shown that he will stop at nothing to get what he wants. I look at the countries that have been affected by war, famine and natural disasters and ask myself if any of these countries have anything in common, have anything valuable. It would seem a simple plan, acquire land, remove population, and take riches. A tried and tested formula and one which Avatar is proud to show still has some success. I don’t want to believe these things but it is getting easier to do so whenever something like this happens.

No matter what the real truth behind this depressing event, people are still suffering and will continue to do so until the hands of the world reach out to support it, which they will. It’s already happened in Ethiopia, Darfur, Rwanda, Somalia, Sierra Leone and countless other places.

On every cloud there is a silver lining and what is refreshing in this case is the amount of love that is going out to these people in their hour of need. It instils a sense of pride in my ageing heart and restores my faith in humanity, if only for a few weeks. But then, the question arises that if countries like America do send help now, why didn’t they send it before. Haiti has been an impoverished country for a very long time; in fact it can be argued that it has suffered ever since it proved it wouldn’t be dictated to all those years ago. Is it possible that countries in the West, true to other capitalist regimes, only offer help when there is a profit to be realised or a gain to be made?

I suppose time will tell and when it does, only then will we see the true cost to Haiti of this kind of Foreign aid.

Avatar – Great film or a history lesson?

Posted in 1 with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2010 by prekosifa

I went to see the long awaited and highly anticipated film, Avatar, by James Cameron the other day. I wasn’t going to. I have never been one to jump on the bandwagon of a so called must-see movie since watching the 3rd, and weakest, instalment of the Matrix trilogy many moons ago. Anyway, I succumbed to the temptation of a theatrical treat when my daughter, son, brothers, various friends, various newspapers and even Jonathan Ross went on and on about how good it was. I bought my ticket, smuggled in popcorn, drinks and a packet of Minstrels, (have you seen the prices of cinema food!), and eagerly awaited the opening credits, along with the rest of the people in the packed auditorium.

When I left, I was very impressed.

I finally understood what all the hype was about and realised that like Jurassic Park, Matrix (the 1st one), and Terminator before it, this was a film that would change the way we viewed films in the future. The special effects were amazing, the attention to detail so specific as to be unbelievable, (in fact at times I forgot I was watching a ‘cartoon’). I was amazed.

About an hour later the effect wore of. There was something else lying behind the whole thing that troubled me. A few years ago I probably wouldn’t have noticed but now, as I near my fortieth year on this earth and am infinitely wiser than I used to be, it hit me like a slap from an angry ex!

The story was a piss take!

A beautiful world full of wonderful but strange characters; the immense material wealth that these people were ‘unknowingly’ sitting on, angering a ‘race’ of people who ‘knew’ better; the lack of respect these people had for the natural order of things; the heavy handed tactics they employed to get what they really believed was theirs to have; the infiltration of these people by people pretending to be friends, with an ulterior motive; the great white chosen one who was to be the saviour of this ‘new’ world. It all amounted to a story that we had all seen, heard about and witnessed before.

Show me the difference between Pandora and any country in Africa when the settlers came. Show me the difference between the antagonists in this film and the colonialists from back in the day. In fact, show me the difference between the white hero of this movie, Jake, and Tarzan!

Pandora looked different in black and white!

This is a film that ‘white’ people will love because it excuses all of the bullshit they did in the past to indigenous populations in Tasmania, Australia, Sierra Leone, America and countless other countries. The pursuit of diamonds, oil, sugar and whatever else was valuable led to the loss of countless lives and hushed up atrocities. The lessons that should have been learnt then were not learnt and it still goes on today in places like Nigeria and Afghanistan. A lack of respect for the people of these countries is compounded by the heavy handed tactics that are used to acquire what is wanted by any means necessary. Instead of being lauded as a great technological marvel, Avatar could instead have been used as a teaching instrument to show what happens when Western desires outweigh everyone else’s sensibilities.

In watching this film I was left with the image of a race of people who look on all the shit they have done in the past as par for the course, and now, so comfortable are they in the fact that they have buried the past, they recreate the story for the big screen. The antagonists in the film are both the heroes and the villains. Do you get the imbalance or am I standing on a slope? Those first missionaries that went to these countries, perhaps with the best intentions, were in no doubt villains and the worse thing that could have happened to those vastly more superior and intelligent people.

The big problem with this film for me was that the story was simply a rehash of other racist Hollywood fodder from yesteryear. The Navari people needed the help from the ‘great white man’ who not only knew how to fight better, but also got the best girl in the village, was the bravest of them all, saved an entire species from harm, and then in the ultimate act of leniency, didn’t execute the people behind the atrocities, but simply let them go home, their lesson surely learnt! Pass me the sick bag, please!! It was the Lone ranger all over again and I was 7 years old! Question – why would a race of people who have been victimised, murdered, looted and disrespected, be so fuckin’ understanding? – answers on a postcard please!

So I am left divided.

I give props where props are due, the film is something special, an amazing achievement in sound and film technology, but the story, which was really a history lesson on the origins of racism and genocide, instead ended up being a ‘white’ Western re-imagining of their ‘perfect’ world. The only plus point was the strategy used to defeat the colonialisation threat, the element of surprise, after all, who does watch the watcher? Africa, take note.

Avatar 2?

I don’t think so, mate.

The Dating Game?

Posted in 1 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2010 by prekosifa

I went to a club on New Years Eve. I don’t usually do the whole club thing anymore and to be honest I was pretty much expecting it to be a washout with overpriced entry, overpriced drinks and hundreds of people overly drunk and getting on my nerves. Not that I am super cynical. It’s just that I know how these things always end up. My only saving grace was one of my Christmas presents, a book called ‘The Definitive Book of Body Language’ which I had read cover to cover already. When shit got boring I hoped that my new knowledge of non verbal skills would provide some alternative entertainment for the evening.

ON ARRIVAL

When my partner and I walked into the club together, we were noticed by everyone. The other couples checked us out first, looking for similarities or reasons to dislike us. I noticed a couple of ‘circlers’ attempting to take a closer look. Luckily, my partner knew a few people in their and so we had ‘nominees’ striking up conversations, looking for info about our origins and length of stay. All the while our perceived threat level was being established. This behaviour lasted for about 30 mins, until another unfamiliar couple entered the club!

THE SPOT

When we found our spot, the area where we would be chilling out for the evening, the activity didn’t stop. Singles were drawn to us like predators in the wild, sniffing out the availability and competition level of either of us. The Female singles followed a standard procedure. First they looked for recognition. Within the first few minutes we were a party to the ‘walk past’, where women and men of all shapes and sizes found it necessary to walk as close to us as was physically possible. This was professional flirting at its most direct, and its aim was to be seen.

After the ‘walk past’, there were some women who decided to flirt from afar, attempting to gain eye contact with me, knowing they could be seen by my partner. This was the female single asserting her position, her dominance and her imposing threat to my status quo. My partners’ attempts to block these feeble attempts only worked in close up. She slowly paced around me, establishing her territory quickly dealing with some amateur flirters who soon found no success at trying to penetrate this inner sanctum.

The Male flirters went straight for the jugular and tried to challenge me head on. An old friend of my partner quickly introduced himself and used the basic territorial technique of the arm around the shoulder to establish dominance. I countered by allowing 4 mins of conversation before I cut in with a playful nudge in her lower back, and a jokey whisper in her ear. The message was clear and the threat had been neutralised!

THE DANCE FLOOR

While dancing my partner became the unsuspecting female victim of the Dance floor predator. These slimy predators are mainly men, (but sometimes big women), and look to cop a free feel by taking advantage of the rhythmic effects of the music, sidling up quietly behind their victim. This one was easily placated by a show of Alpha male dominance on my part and some female masculinity from my partner. Her daggered look was backed up by my ownership claim, a touch of her arm. The threat, usually ‘Lovers not fighters’, quickly shrank into another area of the darkened club. No harm. No foul!

When my girl went to use the bathroom, the women predators saw it as open season. I felt eyes on me, checking out my moves, a girl walked past me and brushed my back with her arm, I spun around just as another moved quickly in front of me. From the other side of the club I could feel eyes on me from the darkness. I felt like a Parisian city being bombed by the Luftwaffe. I knew the purpose of this behaviour was to get me interested, to see if I could be tempted away from my mate. When she returned I made sure I wasn’t doing the electric slide with the four scantily clad divorcees in the corner!

THE BAR

Part way through the night I went to get some drinks. The rules which applied now were different from the ones that applied when we first got here. Usually only one of the couple will go to the bar, more often than not the man, me. The bar trip took around 20 mins and my girl established her dominion by requesting a bottle of water, (even though she still had one). Her request gave me a purpose to go to the bar and more importantly, a reason to come back.

A predatory woman at the bar, upon hearing me order 2 drinks, knew straightaway that I was attached, but she was a die-hard who wasn’t giving up that easily. She moved quickly to establish communication by offering to pay for my drinks, the proverbial ice breaker. I declined with a smile and was thus tricked into a conversation. I knew time was of the essence and she did too. She had only the speed of the bartender, plus 2 or 3 minutes on top, to establish…something between us. Her aim was to waylay me as long as she could, knowing that my woman would soon be wondering where I was. Guys, do like I did, just get your drinks and get the hell out of there! (unless you are genuinely interested, in which case you have only moments to get the necessary details!)

THE TOILETS

A final trip to the toilets for my partner before we left had the predators outside hoping they had caught a ‘drifter’, (someone unhappy with her current beau and willing to hit anything else!). I think the only thing it managed to do was to have her realise what it was really like to be single in Club land today. She moved quickly to use the facilities and returned to my side, a little bit more grateful!

The night club experience is more than about looking god and more than enjoying the music. It is a battle ground and the rules of engagement are clear and understood. I thought raving was about the music when in fact it is about so much more. It is a David Attenborough wildlife program set to a soundtrack of soul, reggae and hip hop. You see how the game is played and the other players involved, and as soon as you enter the arena, the doors to the club, you are a part of the game. The bouncers are only ther eto make sure you play according to the house rules! Your only choice is whether you play willingly or not, your strategy for winning, being your decision.

Noticing all of this made me truly enjoy my night out because I realised that it wasn’t because of the music, which was good, or the company which was great. I enjoyed watching the people around me and I enjoyed playing the game behind it all, even the hard legs who hit on my girl when I went to get her coat, provided me with entertainment. They were just playing the game according to their rules.

I have found a new way to enjoy a night out and next New Years, I will be looking forward to much more of the same.