Sunday, September 8, 2013

An Evening with Lee Daniels

Lee Daniels
pic by S Hamilton-Pearson
It was by sheer chance that I heard Lee Daniels, Director of the long-awaited The Butler (forced by Hollywood to be re-titled “Lee Daniels’ - The Butler”) would be the speaker at the Lincoln Center’s Film Society Summer Talk.
The Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center was packed to the rafters on Thursday August 15, with a mixed crowd in terms of ages, sexes and races; all treated to Lee Daniels in relaxed form; no doubt mellowed by the glass or two of wine imbibed before his appearance.  The one thing I took away from seeing the man up close and personal was the brutality of his honesty that was also somehow refreshing and disarming. 
The event was moderated by Eugene Hernandez, of the Film Society, who asked interesting questions and moved things along apace.  However, the best questions came from the audience, including this writer’s question of ‘what it felt like knowing that this movie could well serve as a primer for the civil rights movement from a black man’s perspective, but yet in real-time, we seem to be moving backwards from the gains made in the civil rights heyday, as evidenced by the repealing of key sections of the Voters Rights Act and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, self-confessed murderer’.  His response was long-winded, but in summary he related that when working on a project, he is totally immersed in that project and in fact had no idea of the events concerning Trayvon Martin or the Supreme Court’s recent ruling.  It makes the opening line in the movie even more poignant as the voice over comments that a white man can kill a black man at any time.  In hindsight, he felt his choice of that opening was divine inspiration.
Daniels, when asked by an audience member how to overcome the obstacles of finding funding for works by minority artists, said that he is aware that racism is insidious and pervasive in society, perhaps even more so in Hollywood; but he never acknowledged it, he never speaks of it, feeling that giving voice to this poison stunts his growth and demoralizes and demolishes his spirit.  He said this ethos led to his ‘can do’ spirit and this is what has perhaps also driven his success in amassing amazing cast members, not just for this project, but for others like Monster’s Ball, The Paperboy and Precious.
Lee Daniels’ - The Butler, is inspired by the Washington Post’s article on the life of Eugene Allen the African American White House butler who served eight presidents during his 34 years on the job.  Allen died in 2010; although he may not have served President Obama, but he was present at the swearing in ceremony of America’s first black President.
It is noteworthy to mention here that this was also the last project from producer Laura Ziskin who succumbed to breast cancer in 2011 before the movie was completed.  Daniels became very emotional as he related the sacrifice she made, leaving her work on Spiderman the Movie to breathe life into his project, especially the struggle to raise scarce funds, but expressed heartfelt gratitude for her hard work and related their excitement at the realization that the project would be partially financed by a black woman who had recently won the lotto and wanted to invest in the film!  The film has a record 41 producers and is distributed in the US by the Weinstein Company.
Daniels had always conceptualized the movie as a love story between father and son, a theme which resonated with him, as he sought to resolve his own tumultuous relationship with his father.  There were gasps from the audience as Daniels powerful words bounced off the walls and ceiling – ‘my father beat me, his father beat him, his father’s father beat him and his father’s father’s father’s father …….was a slave!!!!’  In addition, he spoke again about the dissonance between himself and his then 13 year old son.  Many parents could empathize with his statement: “I say white, he says black, I say no, he says yes, I say go to bed and he says no”.
If nothing else comes out of this movie, Daniels is at peace, he has forgiven his father as he understands the generational issues that led to his own childhood physical abuse and has a better understanding of the workings of teenagers, now in awe of his two children who he says “are much smarter than me”.
Listening to the insights of Lee Daniels and his interaction with the audience members, but not had the benefit of seeing the film, one comes away with the distinct feeling that this movie will not only break box office records and, garner several Oscar nominations for its cast, but more importantly will force the continuation of the discussions on race, class and relationships.  Above all, this movie is not just a race movie, nor a father/son love story, not just a Forrest Gump synopsis of history, it is a movie that reflects America’s progress steered by the hands of successive iconic presidents.
Starring Forest Whitaker in the title role and featuring Ophrah Winfrey who makes her return to celluloid after her long hiatus, Vanessa Redgrave, Jane Fonda, Mariah Carey, Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, John Cusack, Lenny Kravitz, James Marsden, Minka Kelly, Live Schreiber, Alan Rickman, Orlando Eric Street, Nelsan Ellis, Alex Manette, Jesse Williams, Yaya DaCosta (former ANTM contestant) and Aml Ameen with what has been described as standout performances from David Oyelowo who plays the militant son Louis Gaines. 

Brother Geary's Birthday Gospel Concert - Saturday August 31, 2013


Bro. Gary and wife Judy Smith
all pics by Karlene Murray
Saturday August 31 was the date Gary Smith, more popularly known as Bro. Geary (the Caribbean intonation emphasizes the e which is not present in the English pronunciation) hosted his Birthday gospel concert held at the Mahalia Jackson School in Brooklyn. Artists well known in church and reggae gospel circles thrilled those who packed the large auditorium. Outstanding artists like Hopeton Lewis, Jabez, Second Chance, Cora Williamson, Wayne Johnson, Gerry Thompson, Bro. Paul and the Empress of Gospel Reggae, performed with spirit filled fervor.

Cora "Praise Jesus" Williamson, received polite applause, but it was artists like Second Chance who got the crowd worked up into a holy ghost frenzy with songs like "My Heart is Willing", His adaptation of Tarrus Riley’s popular She’s Royal was definitely a hit with his gospel conversion to "He’s Royal".

Hopeton Lewis dipped his toe into the gospel genre in the 1980s and has not looked back, steadfastly recording gospel albums like "This Is Gospel", "Reaching Out to Jesus", "
Lay Your Hands on Me Jesus", "Caribbean Gospel Jubilee", "Inner Peace", "Hopeton Lewis Sings Country Gospel", "The Many Moods of Gospel" and "The Inspirational Hopeton Lewis" over the past 30 years. In the secular world he is fondly remembered for classics like "Take it Easy", "Sounds and Pressure", and the 1970 Jamaican Festival Song Contest winner "Boom Shaka Lacka". In deference to his longevity across both spans of musical styles, he was warmly greeted by the crowd who gave him a standing ovation after his short performance waving their brightly colored kerchiefs. Some, in readiness for the upcoming Labor Day celebrations also displayed flags representing their respective Caribbean island homes.

Rev Jerry Thompson
Evangelist Downer performed 'Little is Much, When God is in it' followed by the Rev Jerry Thompson, whose build up to his stage entry gave a short profile of his life before conversion of a bad man who terrorized the streets of Kingston. A tall man, he looked very imposing with his ten gallon black Stetson and white jacket. "Glad to be Home Again" ended with a mighty appreciative roar from the rapt audience, as he moved into his "Coward of the County" medley which included "Onward Christian Soldiers", finally moving to "When the Roll is Called", with a thumping dancehall beat, the temperature in the auditorium spiked as beads of perspiration trickled from the faces of his energized admirers.

Minister Wayne Johnson’s very very moving rendition of "Bridge Over Troubled Waters", with its message of redemption and victory over adversity seemed to touch the hearts of many who were almost moved to tears at his passion and spirit-filled performance. An alter-call at this juncture would have perhaps been a fitting interlude. Reinforcing the message that God is always there - "God is Standing by" the George Nooks classic went down well with the predominately female audience.

Minister Jabez
Jabez the popular young gospel artist ramped up the atmosphere again with his foot-stamping, body moving "Ah No One Prayer", he also performed one of my favorites "Drinking from My Saucer", as the show moved along swiftly, giving all slated to perform a chance to get their praise on. Michael "He’s My Daddio" Reid also performed on this bill.
Sister Elliott and Second Chance
There were many comedic elements if anyone knows Bro. Gary, then you know he is a master comedian, with his finger on the pulse, one could say there was never a dull moment, but the highlight must have been Second Chance singing "Around the Walls of Jerico" to the tune of "Bruk it Dung", with one Sister Elliott showing the audience how the walls of Jericho did indeed bruk dung!

Sis. Arlene, the main MC for the night, did an exceptional job as she kept the crowd entertained with jokes before introducing each artist.
The introduction of the headline feature The Messenger aka Luciano was given over to the capable hands of Bro. Patrick Tyson. Not really marketed or promoted as a gospel artist; Luciano did a sterling job in appeasing the mainly Christian crowd with his gospel tinged selections, "Knocking on Heavens Door", "Its me Again Jah", with him dramatically dropping to his knees; "Lord Give me Strength", "Your World and Mine". Backed by Althea Hamilton and Monica Kitson, two of the best backing singers I’ve heard for quite some time, you could hear their melodious harmonies, but at no time did they overpower their leader. An impressive guitar solo by Cosmo Brown and percussion provided by a very last minute replacement
Gabriel all contributed to a very tight backing band.. Luciano definitely garnered more fans from an unlikely source as the Christian audiences received a valuable lesson that some Rastas worship the same God as them. 

It was, in fact, Bro. Gary's goal to bridge the spirit gap between Christians and Rastafarians, as well as dispelling some of the misconceptions about some Rastas. This Gospel concert featuring Luciano without a doubt accomplished his objective. At the end of the evening's entertainment, all were spiritually enriched.

Sis Arlene - MC for the evening
 

Section of the Crowd