Tag: Cornel West

“Creed” Director Ryan Coogler to Deliver Prestigious University of Chicago Kent Lecture Feb. 9

Ryan Coogler
Ryan Coogler (photo via blogs.indiewire.com)

The annual Kent Lecture was established by the Organization of Black Students at the University of Chicago in 1984, and was named after the late Dr. George E. Kent, who was one of the earliest tenured African-American professors at the University of Chicago, and its first African-American professor of English.

The prestigious honor was “designed to serve as a platform for community exposure to African-American luminaries” and since its inception, speakers who have given the lecture are names you would expect, such as Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Michelle Alexander.

This year, the OBS pulled off a real coup and got, for the first time, a film director. Not only just a film director, but the director of “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed,” Ryan Coogler himself, to give this year’s Kent Lecture.

According to OBS, Coogler will be discussing “blackness in mixed forms of media, specifically film, the importance of representation, and why stories such as these are so important to tell.” After his opening remarks, there will be a moderated Q&A with Coogler (no doubt there are going to be a lot of audience questions about the Oscars and “Black Panther”).

The event will take place at Mandel Hall at the University of Chicago campus (1175 E. 57th); starting at 7PM and yes it’s free and open to the public. But get there early to secure a seat because they will likely be going fast.

article by Sergio via blogs.indiewire.com

Talk Show Host Tavis Smiley Receives Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame

Tavis Smiley has what could be deemed the perfect talk show host name — upbeat and amiable — but growing up, he was often the butt of belittling schoolyard jokes.

Tavis Smiley
(Photo Credit: Twitter @TavisSmiley)

“When I was a kid, I hated my name,” says the Midwesterner whose childhood pipedream was to play first base for the Cincinnati Reds. “Tavis Smiley. I got teased so much. It was Travis, Tayvis and Smiley became Smelly and ‘Oh, you’re Tavis Smelly.’ So I hated it as a kid. But, lo and behold, years later you’re a TV guy and it works.”

Indeed it does. Hatched in 2004, Smiley’s eponymous PBS talker kickstarted its 11th season in January. The show, recipient of four NAACP Image Awards, has featured a wide and varied swath of high-profile guests, from Maya Angelou to Cornel West, from Ethan Hawke to James Taylor.  “The first time we met, we just hit it off magically,” says Smiley of the Grammy winning singer-songwriter. “There are very few guests I can say this about, but James and I actually became friends.”

But it was a desire to serve the public in a deep and meaningful way — “My whole career track at that point was to become an elected official,” he says — and not hobnob with celebrities that, in 1996, pushed Smiley, who is receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame today, to pen “Hard Left: Straight Talk about the Wrongs of the Right,” a book that worked like a karate chop on conservatives, took note of Democratic Party shortcomings and issued a political call to action.

“1996 was a seminal year in my career,” says Smiley, whose the Smiley Group Inc. headquarters are inconspicuously perched adjacent to a closed-down burger joint in the artsy Leimert Park section of South Central Los Angeles. “Within months of writing my book I was in the White House as a guest of Bill Clinton and then as a regular on Tom Joyner’s radio show on NPR. So now I’m talking to 10 million people every day around the country. A couple of months after that, BET gave me my own latenight show. At that point I realized, well, maybe the political campaign thing of mine is done.”

In 2002 Smiley became the first “person of color” in the history of the United States to have his own daily show on NPR, and then, in 2004, become the first African-American to have his own daily show on PBS. That same year, he became the first and only American — “forget my color,” he notes with a quick flick of the wrist — to host daily talkers on both PBS and NPR.

“The whole thing was always about public service for me, and I saw delivering commentary on issues affecting people as a means to provide that service. My goal has always been to empower people with information that can help them live better lives.”

Continue reading “Talk Show Host Tavis Smiley Receives Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame”

FILM REVIEW: Nas’ Essential Contribution to Hip Hop Highlighted in Documentary “Time Is Illmatic”

Nas Time is Illmatic

It’s unlikely that hip-hop documentary “Time Is Illmatic” will have many showings as thrilling as its opening-night slot at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, where it preceded an impassioned live performance by its subject, the artist born Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones and better known by his stage name: Nas. Still, this brisk, stylish and extremely heartfelt portrait of Nas’ rise from the housing projects of Queensbridge to the heights of hip-hop royalty ably stands on its own, marked by an admirable focus on the man and his music rather than hype and hagiography. Sure to be embraced by fans (but also a fine primer for neophytes), “Time” should have a long home-viewing shelf life following additional fest and select theatrical bookings.

In his feature directing debut, the former graffiti artist and graphic designer One9 smartly avoids trying for a comprehensive career portrait of Nas, instead centering on the rapper’s humble origins and the making of his landmark 1994 debut album, “Illmatic.” Comparable in its impact on hip-hop to that of Jackson Pollock’s splatter paintings on the art world, “Illmatic” seemed a prodigal work, constructed of airtight rhythms and intricate rhymes, steeped in the violent realities of ghetto life yet far-reaching in its lyric and musical allusions (including “samples” that ran the gamut from jazz to Michael Jackson), as intimate as a diary while also serving as a very public statement of artistic intent. Nas was all of 20 at the time, and best known for his electrifying guest rapping on popular singles by Main Source and MC Serch.

Two decades later, Nas is close to an eminence grise, but the figure who appears onscreen for much of “Time Is Illmatic” appears humbled by his massive success and is quick to acknowledge those who helped pave the way (like the pioneering female rapper Roxanne Shante, who gave the teenage Nas an early break as part of her crew), as well as those (like childhood friend Willie “Ill Will” Graham) who were less lucky at surviving the Queensbridge mean streets. To this, the film adds a carefully selected mix of testimonials from friends, family members, artistic collaborators and assorted lions of old-school hip-hop. But save for a couple of fleeting appearances by Cornel West and Henry Louis Gates, “Time” eschews third-party critical analysis in favor of keeping the focus on neighborhood and personal experience, a cinematic “trip down memory lane” to complement the one Nas rapped about on “Illmatic” itself.

The pic’s first half devotes much of its energy to anatomizing Nas’ childhood and early performance career, with particular attention to his parents — the jazz sideman Olu Dara and his wife, Ann Jones — who raised their two sons (Nas and younger brother Jabari, aka “Jungle”) in a bohemian cocoon of art, books and music very different from the Queensbridge norm. After a brief childhood flirtation with the trumpet, Nas had already begun writing rhymes by age 8. Curiously, it was Dara himself, by then divorced from Ann, who persuaded both boys to drop out of New York’s public school system (where he believed they were receiving an inferior, resource-starved education) after completing the eighth grade. He wanted them to follow their entrepreneurial dreams, which was easier said than done in the New York of the pre-Giuliani, crack-besieged late ’80s and early ’90s.

Fans of old-school hip-hop will take particular delight in the docu’s evocation of the neighborhood rivalries and MC battles that played out in the form of tracks like Marly Marl and MC Shan’s “The Bridge” and KRS-One’s “South Bronx,” and helped to stoke the young Nas’ creative fires. (The opening cut of “Illmatic” featured a prominent sample of the seminal 1983 hip-hop feature “Wild Style,” also excerpted here.) Returning today to the old neighborhood, Nas reflects emotionally on the devastation wrought by drugs and gang violence and how, but for a few strokes of luck, he too might have become another victim.

In its second half, “Time” shifts gears to the recording of “Illmatic,” with Nas and his quintet of illustrious producers (Nas, Large Professor, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, L.E.S. and DJ Premier) offering insightful, track-by-track deconstructions of the album’s most enduring cuts: “Life’s a Bitch,” “One Love,” “The World Is Yours” and “It Ain’t Hard to Tell,” with its inspired sampling of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.”

The documentary occasionally reveals its multiyear gestation period in the variable range of video formats used to capture the interviews, but otherwise sports a polished, professional sheen.

review by Scott Foundas via Variety.com

 

Black Authors Thrive Through Business of Black Book Clubs

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Over the last 20 years, the channels for discovering new books, especially books by first-time and emerging authors, have shrunk or disappeared. Newspapers and magazines dedicate mere slivers of arts sections to book reviews — if at all. Those papers like the New York Times that do devote more space to book coverage rarely review debut authors. Likewise, bookstores prefer to invite already established, bestselling, or celebrity writers to do readings and signings. That leaves Oprah — and the Queen of Talk has endorsed only 72 books since she started her eponymous book club in 1996, including the two she has recommended since her 2.0 reboot.

It’s even more difficult for black authors — new and established — to get their books on readers’ radars. As it is, African-American interest books receive a mere fraction of the coverage noted above, and with the closing of more than 100 black-owned independent bookstores in the last 15 years, as well as the shuttering of Black Issues Book Review there are even fewer places for black authors’ work to gain visibility. MosaicAfrican Voices, and the new Spook can only review so much.  “The last [issue of] Essence covered the same book Oprah covered,” observed Troy Johnson, founder of the African-American Literature Book Club better known as AALBC.com.

In this landscape, black book clubs offer authors a valuable — albeit extremely competitive —promotion and sales channel. “[Book clubs] have advanced far beyond the small get-togethers in someone’s living room,” says Carol Mackey, editor-in-chief of direct-to-consumer book club Black Expressions.

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GBN Quote Of The Day

“You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people. You can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.”

–Cornel West, educator, author, activist