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Understanding Tyler Perry, the Phenomenon April 12, 2010

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Posted at Visual Inquiry, the research blog for visual studies at the Annenberg School at Penn. Many thanks to Mark Anthony Neal for linking to this post.

Watching a Tyler Perry movie is a strange and ecstatic experience. Perry’s desire for shenanigans, inanity and heightened emotions always makes for an entertaining evening. But his films are in a strange in-between space: between melodrama and traditional drama, between alternative cinema and Hollywood style, and between black authenticity and pure elitism. Through it all, what vexes film scholars, especially critics, is how style, content, auteurism and culture clash and miss each other in Tyler Perry’s films. Understanding Perry now is crucial, especially as he embarks into new cinematic territory, most notably in next year’s adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.

Are Tyler Perry’s movies “bad,” and, whether yes or no, why should we care?

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The ‘Ugly Betty’ Finale: Wilhelmina, Betty and American Success April 8, 2010

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UPDATE (What happens!): Amanda gets her dad! Marc gets Troy and a promotion! Betty gets a career! Daniel gets Betty? Sure, I’ll buy it. And Wilhelmina (finally) gets to be editor-and-chief of Mode — and a boyfriend (Connor Owens)! More on the finale below.

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In Adult Video Online, Does Diversity Sell? April 7, 2010

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I’m assisting a lecture tomorrow on the adult entertainment industry for a course at Penn, so I thought I’d write a quick blog. Note: most links NSFW. Thanks to Queerty, Fleshbot, MOC Blog for linking.

Sean Cody, the king (or among the kings) of amateur gay, and gay-for-pay, video online, has recently included a couple of black men on his site. Sean Cody is infamous for his almost religious devotion to featuring only white performers, though he’s not the only one. Bloggers from Unzipped, Fleshbot, to Men of Color Blog were understandably flabbergasted — and delighted — at the recent shift.

I wonder: Does the change have anything to do with Sean Cody’s possibly declining numbers?

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An Actor Turns Entrepreneur: Al Thompson Sells His Web Series to Atom March 24, 2010

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Originally published on the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog

Al Thompson got his big break from an unlikely production: a New York University student short film called “3D” that screened at Sundance 10 years ago. Hollywood came calling, auditions were scheduled and he spent weeks crashing in Los Angeles with actor friends. Thompson took this couch-hopping experience and wrote a Web series, “Johnny B. Homeless,” which generated buzz at last year’s New York Television Festival, winning the People’s Choice Award.

The show’s critical success drew interest from Viacom and Comedy Central’s Atom.com, which this week announced that it had bought the nine-episode first season and committed to a second season. “Johnny B. Homeless” will also air on “Atom TV,” Comedy Central’s half-hour late night series. The first episode is planned for a May release.

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White Supremacists Are Back (On Television)! March 20, 2010

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Thanks to Racialicious for reposting this!

This post suffers from a disease characteristic of most lifestyle/entertainment news: two’s a coincidence, three’s a trend.  Blame it on my past as a reporter. It’s an illness not easily cured.

I don’t know precisely what caused it, but white supremacy is back on television! Of course, by “back” I mean white supremacists have returned as villains in several cable dramas, most recently on FX’s new drama Justified, another FX series Sons of Anarchy and in Martin Scorsese’s forthcoming – and extraordinarily expensiveBoardwalk Empire, premiering this fall.

Color me naïve — it’s a color I’ve worn before — but I always thought serious consideration of white supremacy was a no-go for television: it would alienate liberals and minorities and wouldn’t win anyone else. But the search for more provocative programming to cut through the TV clutter, along with the general tendency among certain cable networks – the premium channels, along with FX, TNT, AMC, etc. – toward “cutting edge” narratives, has allowed some room for the KKK and their ilk.

Heather Havrilesky at Salon contextualizes it well: “Since these shows revolve around likable but deeply flawed, not-very-good guys, the actual bad guys have to be very, very bad, indeed, straining during most of their time on-screen to embody pure evil.”

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YouTube’s Black Stars: A Look Back (and Ahead) January 25, 2010

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Over a year ago I conducted a little more than a dozen interviews with black vloggers on YouTube. While I never submitted the paper (draft version here) to an academic publication, I did use some of the interviews for an article on The Root. That article focused on the more popular vloggers, but recently I’ve been wondering what happened to the rest of the people I interviewed. Have they grown their audiences? Are they making money?

YouTube remains a mixed bag for minority vloggers, though I tend to air on the side of optimism. Several personalities have achieved stable and even growing audiences, as you’ll see below!

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“Avatar” Inspires Visually, But Leaves Me Cold December 22, 2009

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Original at SpliceToday. Writer’s note: The following review is a bit harsher than my first thoughts on Avatar, mainly because I realized that my lack of emotional involvement in the story was more meaningful than I’d originally thought, signaling the film’s ethnic and political paradigms were not as sophisticated as its visuals.

I’m a pretty lenient grader. I tend to evaluate films on their own terms. I watched Transformers II and managed to keep my lunch down. I even defended The Women, Lord help me. I’m not a snob.

It’s not as if I hated Avatar. I liked it. Avatar is a great cinematic experience. Everything you’ve heard is true: the visuals are spectacular and engrossing. Many times I completely forgot I was watching computer-generated images. Even now I think of Avatar not so much as digitally rendered and impressively filmed and created.

But I didn’t love it, and that’s a problem. I feel the need to counteract a lot of the raves I’ve been hearing and reading.

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Best TV of the Decade! (Top Three, For Me) December 19, 2009

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I normally dislike “best of” lists. I don’t read them and dislike writing them. But I’m writing a chapter for a book on a very solid television series, and I thought: I have to give this some praise.

So instead of doing a “Top 10” I decided to keep it simple. My top three television series of the 00’s. (UPDATE: Here’s a great compilation of “best of” TV lists by Chris Becker…Thanks for linking to mine).

Warning: Not on this list: The Sopranos, The West Wing, Mad Men, Lost, 24, Six Feet Under, Battlestar Galactica, The Office, The Comeback, and probably a dozen other critical darlings. There was too much solid television this decade to be comprehensive. The following shows are not only emotionally meaningful to me — my television habit matured in the aughts — but also revolutionized, in my opinion, what we think of as “television.”

In general, these are three shows, which, I think, proved television is in fact better at storytelling than film.

Here we go!

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Breaking Down “Avatar:” Going Native December 18, 2009

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It’s probably too much to ask that the script for a film like Avatar be as extraordinary as its visuals. Avatar is visually stunning; the 3D is seamless — Cameron doesn’t do what most directors do and throw a bunch of things at you, which can ruin the sense of realism. The colors are brilliant. The world is scrupulously drawn. You feel transported. I basically forgot the whole thing was CGI.

Will it do well? I’m not sure! Certainly Titanic burned slowly, amassing solid numbers for months (remember it opened at a mere $28 million, and went on to gross 20 times that domestically, then double that internationally.) It’s all going to depend on word of mouth. My midnight screening was overwhelmingly male — and immature, laughing at every sentimental moment — though they loved it in the end. The film has work to do with women. And the sticker price doesn’t help.

What about the writing though?

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“Invictus” and the Politics of Idealism December 12, 2009

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I tend to avoid in films what we see in Invictus: rugby, sports, Matt Damon, Morgan-Freeman-as-Deity-figure, sports, and Clint Eastwood. I should be ashamed of avoiding Eastwood, but his recent films have often been marketed as morally simplistic (and his Republicanism doesn’t help): we know with whom we are supposed to identify and who is evil (exceptions might be Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima). Yet Eastwood’s films are majestic, regal, and magnanimous.

Invictus is, in fact, morally simplistic: we root for South Africa and deify Mandela. But it’s nonetheless an important meditation on the politics of idealism, a film particularly relevant for Americans right now, especially progressives trying to make sense of the 2008 election. Invictus shows us idealism, even amidst mounting reasons for pessimism, is necessary.

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“Orlando’s Joint:” Urban, Stoned And Running A Business December 11, 2009

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Originally published at Ronebreak!

There’s a long history of “urban” and black cartoons in the U.S., most of which I don’t know, so I won’t get into it. Needless to say, the lo-fi web series Orlando’s Joint, about a young man who inherits a second-rate coffee shop, is an interesting contribution to a genre dominated now by Aaron McGruder’s Boondocks. Orlando’s Joint — as in a shop, but also, you know, that other kind of joint — is a comedic series that explores running a local urban business, growing up and being not-so-rich in contemporary Los Angeles. Oh yes, it’s also pretty funny.

Orlando Reed, our protagonist, is a “stoner” (something of a slacker), but he inherits an coffee shop — that isn’t Starbucks — and clearly intends to reinvigorate it with the help of two friends a few kooky characters.  The series creator Terence Anthony said in the interview below he wanted to buck stereotypes and be a bit provocative.

I noticed some interesting links between this series and other independents I’ve encountered. One is an interesting coincidence: both Anthony and Chris Wiltz (from yesterday’s post about Semi-Dead) are alums of Bill Cosby’s film fellowships! Another has become predictable: in order to produce a completely no-budget series you need good friends and, most importantly, passion (passion breeds passion). No surprise there. The last thing I hear often is a general disenchantment with the TV industry; that’s from nearly every producer, no matter how successful they were in the biz.

I spoke with Anthony about the show, being independent and what it means to make a black web series today.

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Beyond “Black Hulu:” Rowdy Orbit’s Ambitious Bid To Build A Web Series Market December 7, 2009

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After 90 episodes of about a dozen web shows published less than three months into its beta launch, Rowdy Orbit founder Jonathan Moore claims this is only the beginning. The site plans to launch six to ten webisodes in the next two weeks, and hopes to be going at a rate of 12 to 15 new shows a month in 2010 — plans I teased in my earlier post, “Black Hulu: Creating a Home for Independent Online Video.”

Needless to say, that’s a lot of shows by and about people of color! Are there even enough series out there to support this kind of development? (more…)

“Blind Side” Success: What If Sandra Bullock Starred In “Precious”? November 29, 2009

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Note: This is not a review, but an essay based on the film’s marketing.

UPDATE (12/7): Three weeks into its run, The Blind Side is still doing well and now beating New Moon in weekend grosses.

ORIGINAL: Tambay Obenson over at Shadow and Act is asking what scores of cineastes have been asking over the past week: Who in America is watching The Blind Side (and recommending it) and why? Like Tambay, I saw the trailer and immediately rolled my eyes deep into my stomach, itself about to hurl. Black cineastes naturally recoil at dramas that dramatize the uplift of the Magical Negro by a rich white family.

Yet here we are. The film has passed the $100 million in record time; it’s already taken the trophy for highest grossing sports drama opening; it’s a career-best opening for Sandra Bullock; and received an A+ from CinemaScore moviegoers, which, while an unreliable metric, signals that audiences are likely recommending the movie to friends.

What’s going on? A few guesses: (more…)

“Drama Queenz” Returns With A Fierceness (And A Few Guest Stars!) November 29, 2009

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The vast majority of original, independent web series never make it to season two. Producing season one takes so much time and money, when the millions of viewers never materialize, creators can’t bring themselves to invest more precious time and money. (At this point, I’d almost prefer most market themselves as “miniseries until proven otherwise”!)

Drama Queenz, a show about three black gay men trying to make it in New York’s theatre world, and its creator Dane Joseph then deserve a huge pat on the back. It’s a Herculean effort.

Remarkably, Joseph edited and marketed the first season while in graduate school at Columbia University, then shot season two, which comes out today. Now that, as they say in theatre, is gumption!

What’s more, the second season promises lots of hijinks, along with guest appearances  from some of my favorite YouTube personalities!

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“Kindred,” A Spirited Web Series On A Mission November 29, 2009

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Living Single and Girlfriends exist today in nostalgia, firmly in the annals of television history but only occasionally as a rerun on a niche network.

Who are their children? Certainly cable networks have tried to pick up the torch by giving Jada Pinkett Smith, Jill Scott and Sherri Shepherd their own shows, each of which (HawthoRNe, No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and Sherri) have had varying levels of success, most of it good.

But television currently lacks a show by and for “sistas.” Enter SistaPAC productions. The five-year old independent production company, having explored theatre and short film, has released what may be their most ambitious effort yet, a web series: Kindred.

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B. Scott Reimagines Celebrity Online November 23, 2009

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You’d be hard-pressed to find a web personality more fascinating than the splendiferous, divine B. Scott. Ever since Madison Moore introduced me to the blogger and YouTuber a couple years ago, I’ve been ever more intrigued!

Since then, B. Scott’s star has risen. His website has seen its traffic balloon (Compete, Quantcast) and his YouTube channel has kept apace.

Last month when I heard B. Scott snagged an interview with Mariah Carey and launched his new B. Scott Show, I thought: this is it! B. Scott continues to revolutionize the production and consumption of celebrity on the web.

What has he done?

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“Sons of Anarchy” Proves Cable Deeper, More Provocative Than Broadcast November 23, 2009

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sonsofanarchy_season_2

Originally posted at Ronebreak. Please comment there!

The penultimate episode of Sons of Anarchy airs Tuesday at 10PM, with a 90-minute season finale the following week. You can catch up on episodes at Hulu or iTunes, or you can check Sidereel for more options.

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It takes The Sopranos and adds neo-Nazis. It grafts onto Hamlet a throng of motorcycles. Sons of Anarchy, FX’s drama about a California motorcycle gang, is among the best and highest rated shows on cable, so why haven’t you been watching it?

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“Buppies” Review: Drama With A Light Touch November 21, 2009

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Check out other reviews at Thembi Ford, Shadow and Act. Thank you to Racialicious for reposting this!

I’ve written and spoken a lot about Buppies for this blog and elsewhere, but that’s only because I think it’s a significant development within the history of original web shows.

Buppies is upon us; the BET-distributed, CoverGirl-sponsored scripted web series premieres this Tuesday, Nov. 24th (Hopefully. BET has already pushed back the premiere once to expand its marketing).

The show is a “mad-cap romp” through a day in the life of Quinci, played by Fresh Prince‘s Tatyana Ali, a socialite and publicist enduring lots of drama amidst L.A.’s black upper crust. During this very bad day, she and her friends face issues of sexuality, pregnancy, dating, race, and careers and, most importantly, handle them in fabulous clothes! (more…)

New York Times, Myself on “Precious” November 21, 2009

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The New York Times has a great little article out on the debate  over Precious, over whether or not it’s a responsible representation of black people. Felicia Lee asked for my opinion, based on an essay written for this blog:

Aymar Jean Christian, a doctoral student in communications at the University of Pennsylvania said he found “Precious” brilliant and added, “In some ways, the debate’s not about the movie, it’s about the idea of the movie,” and black concerns about representation.

On his blog, Televisual (at blog.ajchristian.org), he wrote that Precious was “by far the scariest movie for anyone invested in having only ‘good’ representations of black people (‘The Cosby Show!’) in film and TV.”

The article explores the film’s historical predecessors, markedly The Color Purple, and its televisual antithesis, The Cosby Show. Professor and cultural critic Mark Anthony Neal (under whom I researched YouTube, black vloggers and identity) lays out the connection:

A father repeatedly rapes and impregnates his daughter in “The Color Purple” (as does the father in “Precious”), enraging some critics (mostly men) who asserted that the book and the film treated black men harshly. “Precious” has avoided that kind of backlash, but “people are suspicious of narratives that don’t put us in the best light,” Professor Neal said. The roots of that suspicion, he said, can be found in a long history of negative images in popular culture that helped keep black people in their place by reinforcing the notion of their inferiority.

Most black people, the article implies, aren’t wholesale against the movie — except Armond White — but some are still wary of it, especially scholars, because of a long history if demeaning images of black people (minstrelsy, early radio, film and television) and the persistent threat of stereotype.

This strikes me as true. The enormous popularity of the film, especially among black people, signals there’s a demand for these kinds of stories. I’m not sure if it’s about a kind of “authentic” black narrative, or if it stems from a larger narrative of struggle, but whatever the case, the story has resonated in print (Sapphire’s novel Push) and now in film. This is meaningful, and in my opinion not particularly damaging.

Rethinking “Post-Racial” November 20, 2009

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Organizing for America | BarackObama.com_1256938818070

I’d originally planned to do reams and reams of reading on this, and an extensive literature review, but I’m so busy writing, curating, filming, editing and researching other things I won’t get to it for another year, and I don’t want to cite some theories and miss others. Eventually I will have to do a full lit review on this, tying in key works from the critical race theory, etc., for my dissertation. When that happens, I’ll update or redo this post.

The subject has been bothering me to such a degree that if I don’t write it now, I’ll implode.

Now the question:

What does “post-racial” mean and why must we move past it? Come take a ride with me…

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