Jason Blum: “It’s Spike Lee’s Time” If Oscar Voters Do The Right Thing — Deadline

Jason Blum minted his reputation as a Hollywood producer with wildly lucrative genre franchises like Paranormal Activity, The Purge and Insidious, so it feels unexpected to find him in the thick of things this awards season with a legitimate contender. But, really, how unexpected can something be if it keeps happening? A Blumhouse production has been…

via Jason Blum: “It’s Spike Lee’s Time” If Oscar Voters Do The Right Thing — Deadline

From the article: “This summer will be the 30th anniversary of Lee’s Do the Right Thing, which was famously snubbed in the best picture and best director categories at the Oscars. Driving Miss Daisy was named the year’s best film, a scalding affront to many observers who still cite it as evidence of Hollywood’s entrenched attitudes toward race and inclusion.”

It hit me the other day. I may have been watching a documentary on the making of  John Singleton’s Boyz in the Hood (which made him the first African American director nominee and the youngest) or  this year’s Hollywood Reporter director roundtable which features both Ryan Coogler (love him!) and Lee. What hit me? Lee has never had an academy award/Oscar nomination for best director. How, Sway? He’s been nominatd for best screenplay for Do the Right Thing and best documentary feature for Four Little Girls, and was presented with an honourary Oscar a few years ago, but not only has he never won a competitive Oscar, he has never been nominated for a directing Oscar. How can one of the definitive directors since She’s Gotta Have It landed in the mid-80s, a groundbreaking director in many ways, topically and stylistically (see Jungle Fever for examples of both) who has produced award worthy fare not ever have even been nominated? Ever? And in light of that fact, how can people willfully (emphasis on the willfully) dismiss calls for diversity as tokenism, insisting on meritocracy…as if! Because if we’re talking meritocracy, Spike isn’t even the only black artist overlooked on merit alone…not by a long shot. Unless meritocracy means doing exceptional shit to run even with some stuff that’s objectively mediocre. Come on now.

But in case you want to fight me, remember Spike is the director of Do the Right Thing AND Malcolm X who has, across films like School Daze, Mo Better Blues, all the way forward (granted with some duds in between) to Blackkklansman (which granted I haven’t seen yet but it won the Grand Prix at Cannes and critics and audiences are praising it as a return to form for the director, tonally on point, narratively out of the box, with great performances) innovated and tackled ticklish topical issues from a space specifically his. Close your eyes and imagine the modern American film canon without Spike. Can’t be done. And he’s never even been nominated – this is almost as big a slight as Glenn Close never having won a best actress (or even best supporting actress) Oscar, actually no it’s a bigger slight, for the culture, especially considering that Glenn is legitimately in the running to get hers this year (sorry, Gaga).

As I’ve said here on my blog over post after post, including my current She’s Royal series, do better Hollywood.

p.s. off topic but while I’m talking film, I have, since my pre-Oscars post, seen, on the big screen, Spiderman in to the Spiderverse (and it has all my non-votes for best animated feature…what a dope film!), and, via Netflix, Joan Didion: the Center will not Hold (apropos of nothing since it came out a couple years ago and is eligible for nothing this year but which was a new discovery for me and an interesting watch) and Roma (which is …slow and quiet…and visually poetic…with rumblings under the surface that belie its seeming domesticity…and, while I don’t think it has my vote – after all I haven’t seen Blackkklansman yet – I get why it’s getting all the love and has broken from the pack in the best picture category).

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Blog Update (17/01/19)

Linking this post up with the Thrifty Thursday Books of My Heart meme (because all the books mentioned here were thrifty ‘buys’).

I’ve finished and blogged my review of Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy and of the 2018 edition of the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books. Also added to the older reads list on the 2019 Blogger on Books review page which already has 6 books (including 4 comics) listed (so…yay me?). Meanwhile, the Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera has  been added to the active reading pile and that active reading pile is tipping over in to too numerous to mention territory, but most active this past week have been  the last of the Storm comics, Fire and Fury by Michael Wolf, the PEN America A Journal for Writers and Readers #18, and an unpublished history of Barbuda.

I had some high and unplanned for stresses this week (understatement…lol), but I am feeling good about the fact that half-way in to January I’m writing and reading and exercising a bit each day (part of my current self-care regimen and it helps with the stress in my body and in my mind…so here’s hoping I stick with it). I like waking up writing…even if it’s gibberish (honestly right now this is not about writing goals, just writing). I did this week begin revisions on a play I’ve been working on – a stage version of one of my picture books (With Grace, a Caribbean fairytale). Given that it’s written for children, I workshopped the first draft of the play with children participating in a camp last summer. I literally had them read the parts so that I could hear it. It was rough going but the feedback I picked up from their read (and struggles with the read) started coming together in my head, and I started working through it, this week. It was the first time I felt like even opening the doc since last summer. So, progress (?) I take it in stride, always thrilled when a work in progress calls to me, when I can be silent and still long enough to hear and attend to it. And the little girl from the camp who enjoyed nothing so much as singing the song in the book (With Grace, a Caribbean fairytale) is my own personal cheer squad in my head. Every writer should have one.

Finally, new on the blog this week is the fifth installment of the She’s Royal series – a series I’m doing spotlighting alternative recommendations for Hollywood beyond the Elizabeths they so enjoy making movie after movie about. I hope you guys, whoever you guys are reading this, read that; I’m really enjoying rolling out that series of articles.

She’s Royal #5

Preamble: From the Dahomey royal from last week’s post, we now move to a Zulu royal.  I grew up hearing about King Shaka (Zulu) but never knew anything about his mother, or his kingdom really; he was more myth than man. But, he is a man with a mother. And she’s the latest feature in this #wcw #womancrushWednesday She’s royal series that I’m doing as my note to Hollywood.  Preamble-post-note: I am aware that some of the women featured do less than noble things, and some are quite violent, but they’re not presented here because they’re angels (though some are, in fact, quite heroic and each is fierce in her own way) but because they’re lesser known (at least in the west) royals with interesting life stories; and Hollywood, after its fixation on certain popular European royals, some of whom also have blood on their hands, some of whom are also not angels, might want to give them a looksee. Just to mix things up a bit.

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Nandi (Queen Mother of Shaka, King of the Zulus)

Her story: Of the 1828 assassination of Zulu king, Shaka, history.com writes “In 1827, Shaka’s mother, Nandi, died, and the Zulu leader lost his mind. In his grief, Shaka had hundreds of Zulus killed, and he outlawed the planting of crops and the use of milk for a year. All women found pregnant were murdered along with their husbands. He sent his army on an extensive military operation, and when they returned exhausted he immediately ordered them out again. It was the last straw for the lesser Zulu chiefs: On September 22, 1828, his half-brothers murdered Shaka. Dingane, one of the brothers, then became king of the Zulus.”

Nandi’s life which began in 1760 was quite interesting, and any chapter would make for a dramatic self-contained tale but the full span of it is epic. Long story short, Nandi, got knocked up by a Zulu chieftain during uku-hlobonga “a form of coitus interruptus allowed to unmarried couples”. There were all sorts of pregnancy and paternity denials, but eventually Nandi and her son Shaka found a place in his father’s household, for a time. The marriage was reportedly problematic for a few reasons, including being interclan, and Nandi eventually re-settled elsewhere with Shaka and his sister – bad treatment and bullying arguably forging a special bond between them. When Shaka became king, Nandi had some influence – “it is said that Nandi was a force for moderation in Shaka’s life, suggesting various political compromises to him rather than violent action.” (Source) The stories surrounding her death are confusing and contradictory – one story being that Shaka himself killed her after she permitted a member of his harem to leave with his son (because he might kill her for getting pregnant and bearing an heir who could then take his throne?). In any case, after her death, Nandi had the burial rituals befitting a Nguni chief and there was murder and mayhem amidst a year long period of enforced mourning. Soaps can’t manufacture this kind of drama.

Possible casting: Danai Gurira.

Next: A queen who reportedly has her roots right here in Antigua.

Blog Updates (11/01/19)

Blogger on Books 2019 has begun with a Storm.

CREATIVE SPACE has not but I hold out hope for its return – I’ve even been receiving suggestions re things to cover since the start of 2019, but to continue the Antigua and Barbuda arts and culture series is seeking sponsors. Businesses (operating in Antigua and Barbuda) are invited to sponsor a post, boosting local art and culture while boosting your brand. Posts are syndicated to Antiguanice.com to reach thousands more after its original posting on Jhohadli.

Another series on the blog, this one a limited series, is She’s Royal. In which I offer up some royal women outside of the two (or three) usual (usually European) options Hollywood prefers.

There’s a new Reading Room and Gallery (the 32nd installment in that series) over on the Wadadli Pen blog.

While you’re there, check out the in memoriam for Caribbean writers we lost in 2018.

She’s Royal #4

Preamble: After last week’s Queen Makeda, the royal women series #wcw continues… and I have had to re-interrogate some of the information I’d previously gathered for this entry and others. But hopefully if not the full story, this and the posts to continue will provide, as accurately as possible, enough information to give a sense of the women and perhaps spur more inquiry and, where necessary, correction.

Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh (“God Speaks true”)

dahomey-girl
Much like Black Panther’s Dora Milaje (who were reportedly based on them), the Dahomey amazons (as they were called by the Europeans, a nod to the amazons of Greek mythology) or N’Nonmiton, or minos, (“mothers” in the language of the Fon people of Dahomey) was an all-female military regiment of the Kingdom of Dahomey (then one of West Africa’s most powerful states; present day Benin). They were led, in the 19th century, by Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh.

Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh’s inclusion in this royals series is on technicality, as in the women warriors of Dahomey were technically wives of the king though he didn’t have sexual relations with them, rendering them effectively celibate for life. This – and the young age of recruitment – is an aspect of the Dora Milaje found in the Black Panther comics but scrapped from the film. There are conflicting tales of the actual beginnings of the Dahomey amazons/minos beginning, some dating back to the 17th century, but essentially they seem to have been fearless female hunters-cum-palace guards-cum-battle hardened warriors.  But by the time of Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh’s leadership, they numbered in the thousands and defeat was rare (though it did happen).

Their fearsomeness – and in particular Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh’s – though is the bigger part of their legend. The stories of their training, initiation, and military activities are bloody. When in 1889 the French took control of part of the Dahomey kingdom, Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh is said by some sources to have been a key figure in instigating war during an attack on a village under French rule, when she beheaded the chief of the village with a cutlass, and presented his head, wrapped in the French flag, to her king. She was, also, according to some sources, part of the army to face France in the war that followed (the first Franco-Dahomean war, 1890). She and her amazons/n’nonmiton’s burned fields and villages rather than let them be taken by the French, and were among the last to surrender when the kingdom was defeated (in 1894); and even then, they fought, secreting themselves in the enemy camp and taking the place of women of Dahomey who had been taken custody, seducing members of the French army, and cutting the army men’s throat with their own bayonet while they slept. (Smithsonian)

Details on Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh specifically are sketchy (and the record of the Dahomey amazons themselves is not exactly fleshed out as the French did everything they could to disband the troops, their structure, and their memory, so that much of what remains is fractured oral history). She is believed to have been born in 1835 and had begun her training at age 10. By 15, she had risen to leadership and led her first raid, 6,000 warriors at her back, against the Egba fortress of Abeokuta in 1851. She reportedly returned with the spoils of war, including the head of the leader of the rival army to present to her king. This seems to have been her go-to move as the only specific mention of Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh was in the journals of British navy commander, reported abolitionist, and member of the Royal Geographical Society, Frederick E. Forbes, Dahomey and the Dahomans; being the journals of two missions to the king of Dahomey and the residence at his capital in the year 1849 and 1850. The book includes a sketch of her holding a severed head.

Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh is on record as a highly effective (i.e. lethal) and highly esteemed (i.e. treated like royalty) leader. But there are conflicting tales of her end – either she died well before or during the Franco-Dahomean war or lived long enough to train another generation of female warriors and then retire.`

Possible Cast: After the athleticism displayed in Steve McQueen’s Widows, I’m thinking Broadway alum Cynthia Erivo.

Up Next: still Africa…this time among the Zulus.

Jhohadli Writing Project Creative Writing Workshop Series (2018) – the Reading List

The Jhohadli Writing Project CWWS ran all through 2018. I’ve not yet decided what will happen with this programme in 2019 (though I’m leaning toward once a month critique sessions plus written critiques for people with works in progress, what do you think?) but I thought I’d share the 2018 reading list. Meaning the published creative writing we discussed in our sessions and from which we hoped to learn (we discussed unpublished writing as well but those will not be included on this list). My reading lists change and evolve, so while some of these may cycle back in, if when I continue the series, I don’t think it’s telling tales out of ‘school’ to share them here for your reading enjoyment. So, without specifics re how we used them or what we learned by using them, here was my 2018 JWP CWWS reading list.

Stories:
The Bamboo Stalk by Saud Alsanousi
Black Stones by Amy Bonnaffons
By Way of a Life Plot by Kelechi Njoku
The Cat has Claws by Joanne C. Hillhouse in Akashic Books’ Mondays are Murder series
City of Specters – A Short Story Smuggled Out of North Korea From Bandi’s (aka ‘Firefly’) Translated Collection of Fiction – (Trans. Deborah Smith)
Corn Curls and the Red Bicycle by Shakirah Bourne
Eel by Stefanie Seddon
Game Changer by Joanne C. Hillhouse in Moko: Caribbean Arts and Letters
Greetings from a Violent Homeland by Ritu Monjori Kalita Deka
Last Chapter on Hotel Stationery: A Short Story By Ursula Villarreal-Moura
Light by Lesley Nneka Arimah
Little Prissy Palmer by Joanne C. Hillhouse in The Machinery
Ngoma: a Zimbabwean Origin Story Retold by Gerald Hausman and Seth Cohen
Mary When You Follow Her By Carmen Maria Machado, Illustrations by Sergio García Sánchez
The Other Daughter by Joanne C. Hillhouse
The Reformatory by Tananarive Due
“Run, Lola, Run” by Jeton Neziraj and translator Alexandra Channer
The Second Waltz By Madeleine Thien
Something from nothing by Barbara Jenkins
Stickfighting Days by Olufemi Terry
The Price of Happiness An Excerpt from Chechen Writer Zalpa Bersanova’s Novella ‘The Price of Happiness’
The Ways by Colin Barrett
We Always Smile for Photos by Shakirah Bourne
What will happen to the Sharma Family by Samrat Upadhyay
Who Will Greet You at Home By Lesley Nneka Arimah

Musical Youth

Books (excerpted):
Ayiti By  Roxane Gay
Musical Youth by Joanne C. Hillhouse
Oh Gad! by Joanne C. Hillhouse
The Price of Happiness by Zalpa Bersanova

*The particular excerpts of my book are not available online but you can read the first pages for Oh Gad! and Musical Youth. Please note that while some of my books (and stories) are referenced, it was in great part due to familiarity with the material (and the intention); participants were not obliged to buy my books – the relevant section was often excerpted in the Kit (or text) I created for each theme (Plot, Characters, Openings, Pacing, Tension, Setting etc.) covered during the course of the year.

ViewFinder: My Year in Pictures

This is 2018 in pictures with some commentary. Images were selected randomly, and are posted in random order.

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This was my view for about a week in summer 2018 while in Barbados for a writers’ workshop. It’s the most relaxed and at the same time the most stimulated I’ve felt all year. Can you hear those waves?

The workshop, sponsored by Commonwealth Writers and facilitated by Jacob Ross and Karen Lord, brought together a handful of writers from across the region for a bit of professional development and, as it turned out, a public showcase, some hiking, some dancing, and considerable conversation and bonding. Out of this workshop, I sold a piece ripped from the headlines workshop to the Commonwealth Writers website and gained a mentor, who, domino effect, facilitated an introduction that resulted in me submitting to and being accepted for inclusion in the New Daughters of Africa. Dominoes are still falling.

But those waves though, can you hear them?

 

Rescheduled

The Jhohadli Writing Project Creative Writing Workshop Series, like the CREATIVE SPACE series here on the blog, ran all year and though it never got the numbers I’d hoped for, it was a good experience for me and (if their performance reviews are to be believed) the participants, and I’ll have to think through if/how/when to offer it in 2019.

I’ve been offering workshops for several years but this year I kept it going in four week cycles as long as there was even one person showing up (and sometimes it was just that). The Jhohadli Writing Project as a moniker through which my workshops were offered dates back to 2013 when I offered the first Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project, though my actual experience facilitating workshops goes back further. This year, for the first time, I also tried to include off-island participants (or participant, if we’re being technical). There is room for improvement in that area.

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Another year, another Wadadli Youth Pen Prize. The Wadadli Youth Pen Prize exists to nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda; my books aside, it’s the project I am most involved with and most satisfied with, and most drained by. But no matter how drained I am, the awards ceremony is always a delight.

I first began planning the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize in 2003 and launched the first annual challenge, its signature but not its only project in 2004, inviting young Antiguans and Barbudans to write (as a challenge to themselves, re-imagining and writing their Caribbean). In some ways I can’t believe it’s still here.

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The Wadadli Pen Challenge will not be there in 2018 but Wadadli Pen, which has never been about just the annual competition, itself has not gone dormant. In fact, while the break is being taken to catch our breaths, we have, perhaps counterintuitively, taken on other projects and activities, some behind the scenes. And some like the #readAntiguaBarbuda #voteAntiguaBarbuda Readers Choice Antigua and Barbuda initiative very much in the public view and requiring public participation. All genres are represented but pictured are the children’s picture books in the running, including one of my own.

with Geoffrey Philp

A highlight of my year was finally getting an invite to participate in the Miami Book Fair. I’ve been hoping for this since Oh Gad!, an adult novel, came out in 2012. It took a little picture book named Lost! A Caribbean Sea adventure to win myself a seat at this particular table. It was a delightful experience and provided opportunity to not only reconnect with authors I’ve met along my travels but to meet authors I’ve only connected with via social media such as Geoffrey Philp, author of Garvey’s Ghost, pictured.

en route to Abras 2018 birthday lime

This is a personal one. It’s early in the year too, since my birthday is in very early January. It’s me just back from a night of dancing (as evidenced by my pink arm band). One of my best birthdays in recent memory.

 

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And one final personal one, the final night of 2018. I was eager to celebrate this Old Year’s Night, as we call it in Antigua, not just because of the drinks, fireworks, and opportunity to get out and dance barefoot on the beach, though all of that was fun, but because 2018 has been perhaps my most challenging year (one of certainly) and I may not be out of the woods…but I’m still standing, yeah yeah yeah.