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Back in the day, in my former life I was a working actor. Looking back at my life to that time so long ago, it does seem like it was a former life. I am certainly a much different person than back then.

Anywayzzz… when I was making my living as an actor in Toronto Canada, the experience was fulfilling in many ways, but it was mainly very frustrating. When it came to film and television roles, they were primarily U.S. based productions, so all the main characters were already cast with American actors. My first few years were working as an “extra” … basically in non-descript roles making up the background scenery. It was grueling work and somewhat demeaning. I remember many times when as an “extra”, I had to wait off to the side during meal breaks until the lead characters and the crew had eaten, before we were allowed to get our lunch and/or dinner (i.e. leftovers) from the meal table. After some time I was able to get an agent and I got cast in “better” roles in these productions. As a Black actor, I was primarily offered the role of “Black thug on the right”, or “Black thug on the left” … or if I was really fortunate, I got cast as “Black thug in the middle” , who got arrested by the lead “white” cop character and got to say a variation of the line: “hey man… I didn’t do nuttin!” After a number of these roles, my sense of self-respect couldn’t handle it, so I told my agent I wasn’t going to do them anymore and to try to get me auditions for roles that were not “race” specific. I think I went on 2 auditions after that before the agent dropped me.

When it came to theatre productions, things were a little better. There was certainly more “artistic-license” taken by producers and directors when it came to “non-traditional” casting. I played a variety of roles in numerous productions. I was given the opportunity to play “Benvolio” in a summer stock production of Romeo and Juliet. It was a fantastic experience and it led to an audition for the artistic director of the Stratford Festival. This festival is the premiere Shakespearean festival in Canada and it is world renown. I had known a couple of my peers… and I literally mean two Black actors, who had been cast in minor roles at the festival. However they were cast as background figures, non-speaking roles… “spear carrier on the right” or “servant on the left”. As a part of the festival’s training program, both were given the opportunity to “understudy” minor roles. From conversations with these friends about their experiences, it was obvious (to me at least) that the festival only hired Black actors (and other “actors of colour”) in an effort to appear to be inclusive, so as to ward off any criticism that they were racist or discriminatory in their casting.

So I decided that instead of doing a “standard” audition where I would recite a monologue and then stroke the artistic director’s ego and claim how it had always been my lifelong dream to work with him and be a part of the festival, no matter how small the role, and that I would be forever grateful and in his debt for the opportunity… I decided to put him on the spot and ask him why I should want to work at the festival? What was the advantage for me? What role(s) did he have in mind for me? I informed him it wouldn’t be worth it to me, to go there and play insignificant background roles. Needless to say, he wasn’t impressed. He gave me an exasperated lecture on the importance of respecting the auditioning process and “paying my dues” . He then ended the audition. Not surprisingly, I didn’t get an invite to work at Stratford… but strangely I felt a certain amount of pride for my stance.

I then made the decision to do low budget independent films and theatrical production dealing with social issues, primarily those relating to the Black and African community. I also worked with a collective of Black artists doing our own productions. However it became increasingly difficult to work on a continuous basis as there wasn’t much community support and the government funding for what was termed “non-traditional productions”, went primarily to “white” film production and theatre companies that had submitted proposals to do “ethnic-based” productions. I worked for a couple of these companies and found that they were very eurocentric in their perspectives on social issues, as well as blatantly condescending and patronizing in their ethnic-based” productions. Although I worked for approximately another year or so in the arts before I decided to do something else, my most rewarding efforts during this period were the productions I did with other “artists of colour”. I didn’t feel like I was a slave to the whims and self-promoting generosity of “white” producers and directors.

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I watched another heart-wrenching documentary on the genocide in Darfur. Titled “On Our Watch”, it was featured on PBS Frontline. It’s unbelievable that this atrocity is still occurring in 2008 and the leaders of our world community cannot muster the “will” to impress upon Sudan that it must stop this genocide. The documentary touched on some of the reasons why there is such a failure to act… the most vital being oil. It’s paradoxical that there are those who believe that Iraq was invaded because of it’s oil fields, while Sudan is left to continue it’s policy of genocide because of it’s oil fields.

There is lots of blame to go around for this failure to act, from the U.N; the U.S. (which has taken a hardline and imposed strict economic sanctions on Sudan, but could obviously do more… see here); the European Community, The Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Iran, The African Union, The Arab League and China… to name just a few of the major players. Let’s not forget about the Afrosphere, which could do much more to advocate for the people of Darfur. If half as much energy, focus and commitment was utilized by bloggers of African descent to organize, petition and demand action to stop the genocide in Darfur, as was generated to support the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama, there would be more pressure on our leaders, both community and political, to address this issue. If we don’t show we care by taking action, they certainly won’t! For some of us, it will be a historic achievement to have a black face in the White House… while for others, it’s a historic achievement to survive the day without being raped, tortured or killed… and being able to have one meal for the day. Let me give a “dap and a big up!” to Yobachi over at BlackPerspectives.net, who has been constant in his commitment on keeping Darfur an issue in the Afrosphere.

Below are links to the PBS Frontline documentary and other informative sites on Darfur. There are also links on these sites giving you the opportunity to get involved in stopping the genocide.

  1. On Our Watch
  2. sudanreeves.org
  3. Eyes on Darfur
  4. Save Darfur
  5. Save Darfur: Partner Campaigns

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Recently I have been contemplating if the church has any real significant and positive influence on the world today, especially in the beliefs and actions of western society in particular. There was a time when Christian ideology, through the church was very influential (good and bad) in shaping political, social, cultural and even personal beliefs and viewpoints. I would argued that today this influence is not as great as it was say… even 30 years ago.

I read an analytical report on The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life website which somewhat dealt with this issue, from an interesting point of reference. This article entitled: “Science in America: Religious Beliefs and Public Attitudes”, discussed the findings of a survey which concluded that “when scientific evidence and long-held religious beliefs come into direct conflict, many Americans reject science.” 

According to the authours of the report, American society has a unique dichotomy in that on one hand, it is the most religious of the advanced industrial democracies, while on the other hand, it’s leadership in scientific research and application has been instrumental in making it a powerful nation. This has… not surprisingly… created some conflict between faith and science on societal beliefs, particularly on controversial issues such as evolution, homosexuality and global warming. The report primarily looked at the influence of religion and science on these three topics in American society.

The report contended that a close reading of the survey shows that large majorities of the American public respect science and scientists, but where scientific evidence and long-held religious belief come into direct conflict, “many Americans reject science in favor of the teachings of their faith tradition.” However, surprisingly today such areas of explicit differences are not common. 

It was interesting to compare the beliefs of Black and White Christians (specifically Evangelicals) on the above three issues, as well as secularists, Conservatives, Moderates, Liberals, college and high school graduates. The results were not as straightforward and/or obvious as one would be expect. There are definite mixtures and combinations of scientific and religious influences which run through even strong held beliefs and opinions.

The report does not necessarily answer my original question on whether the church, Christianity and religion in general is a positive driving force on western society, but it does offer some insight on what motivates beliefs and therefore actions… which can have obvious implications in areas such as the formulation of government statutes and public policies. 

Don’t ask: “Why does God allow this to happen?”

Pray: “God… give me the wisdom and strength to do what I must to stop this from happening?”  

 

As I have been following the current news events out of Africa, it is disturbing to see all the images of chaos, death, disease, greed, genocide and corruption. Is that all there is or is that only what is being fed to us? I have always believed that western society’s (and the global) view of those of African descent starts, is influenced and perpetuated by these negative media images from the Motherland. I also believe that these images have an effect on how “we” see ourselves here in the Diaspora.

Africa is indeed resource rich. However, despite the dismal news reports and negative images, Africa has much more to offer the world other than it’s material resources, that is being raped and stolen for the benefit of former neocolonial regimes and to enrich their propped up African overseers! One of the resources we don’t utilize enough as people of African descent, are the many voices that are available to be “mined” for our benefit. There are cultural, political, econimic, artistic, literary and spiritual gems of experiences, knowledge, beliefs, values, insights and opinions, which are available to help bring clarity and strength to our being. The continent is rich in books, films, magazines, music, websites and blogs, etc., which are the invaluable jewels that their best and brightest have to offer the world.  

For this month’s carnival, let’s share and exchange some of the priceless resources from the Motherland that have enriched and brought joy to our lives. Create a post on your page with African based web links, as well as book, music, magazine, movie and blog lists, etc., and submit a link to Afrospear@hotmail.com by this Sunday 10th February. I will compile the links and publish the carnival on Monday the 11th. 

They always operated within the realm of darkness. Whether it was under the cover of the darkness of night or during a bright sunny day under the darkness of hate… their ultimate goal was to spread the darkness of fear.

They would seize upon their Black prey like a pack of hyenas with an insatiable thirst for blood. His only crime: being a human being… or more accurately… acting like a human being. This would never do. Whites were human beings. Blacks were… if not animals, they were somewhere in-between… but certainly not human beings. Not equal to Whites. Maybe 3/4 humans…but that ultimately was for God to decide on “Judgment Day” when we all get to heaven. Until then… the White mob would decide on what would become “Judgment Day” for the Black man here on earth. 

So they would set upon the Black man with clubs, stones and bricks. He was beaten, whipped, kicked, punched, dragged and spat upon to an “inch of his life”. They purposely made sure that death wouldn’t come so easy… or quickly. He would be dragged mercilessly, all the while crying and begging for his life, to a tree which would be furnished with a rope. Sometimes he would be stripped naked. Most times he would be immersed in coal oil. Every time he would be hung on the tree.

The Black man, barely conscious and now numb due to the shock of all the trauma, would remember the sermon he had heard in church on what was now to become his last Sunday morning. The sufferings of a “White” Jesus would return to his mind and he would try to identify and sooth his soul that like HIM, he was bearing his cross. Like HIM he was innocent of any crime. Like HIM he was being led like “a lamb to the slaughter”. BUT as he takes his last breaths… as he looks through his swollen eyes into the hate filled souls, see the crooked smiles and hear the shouts and jeers of the citizens of the realm of darkness… there is a stirring in his soul… a moment of clarity of his mind… that he is not “White” like his beloved Jesus. No… he is a Black man. This is not a religious experience… a crucifixion to save the world. No… this is a terrible injustice. This is a lynching.    

Some of the perpetrators would cut off body parts for souvenirs… ears, toes, fingers. Pictures would be taken. If some thought and planning had gone into the event, a picnic, a barbeque with other festivities would take place. Then he would be set ablaze. A human torch. A beacon of light in the realm of darkness. 

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I find reading the discussions of Obama here and over at thefreeslave quite amusing. Since his win in Iowa (and he is predicted to win today in New Hampshire), and surge in the polls, there is a renewed (or maybe it just more focussed and serious) debate of whether his nomination as the Democratic presidential candidate or even win of the Presidency would be advantageous for African-Americans. As an outsider here in Canada looking through the window of America, this is my take on some of the issues in the discussions surrounding Obama, voting and “Revolution American Style”. 

In general, I have always been amazed of how much African-Americans have primarily thrown all their eggs into the basket of the Democratic Party. I shake my head at the emotionally charged and irrational polarization between Blacks who support the Democratic and Republican Party, signified by the back and forth name-calling which I have observed, which has only benefited the “divide and conquer” strategy of the dominant society well. Even within the Afrosphere, I have seen Black bloggers, some of our brightest and best, who self-label themselves as “progressives”, quit working coalitions with other Black bloggers, because they didn’t want to be associated with those who identify themselves as Republicans! Ridiculous and shameful! 

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