Clay Cane is a New York City-based writer who is recognized for his contributions in journalism. Clay is a regular contributor for various print and online publications such as The Advocate and BET.com. He is the author of the highly anticipated novel Ball-Shaped World, which is a fictionalized account of the black and Latino ballroom scene. Also, he is the Entertainment Editor at BET.com and a member of New York Film Critics Online.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This weekend I watched Madonna's documentary about HIV/AIDS in the African country of Malawi, I Am Because We Are. I wasn't sure what to expect, Lawd knows Madonna isn't good in the film department. Nonetheless, I was so profoundly moved by this movie -- so much that I had dreams about it the next night! Finally, a documentary about HIV/AIDS in Africa that explained history, cultural traditions, but did not demonize the people.
I Am Because We Are is haunting. Originally, I thought the story would be about Madonna, but you barely see her. Instead we get the personal stories of people who are affected by the virus. A woman and her child being told they are HIV-positive. A child having his genitals cut off. A girl being forced to sleep with a man three times in one day after her child dies to "cleanse" her. On the other hand, there is the beauty and resilience of the people. As Madonna says, "Malawi needs change desperately and yet there are so many things I would never want to change. The people that live here are amazing. I often feel like we are the ones that have it wrong."
I encourage everyone to watch this documentary, which is available to watch for free on YouTube. The movie is below - please watch!
Alfre Woodard and Xzibit star in the movie American Violet, which is incredible and a must-see. The film is about drug raids during the 2000 elections and how one family is affected. This is the type of film we need to support!
I'll be interviewing Alfre Woodard, who I have interviewed before and Xzibit, who is great in the role. Please submit your questions in the comments.
Well, I'm glad someone finally said it. In an excellent article from Entertainment Weekly, the cultural war of Tyler Perry's films are examined. The story breakdowns the dichotomy of his films being terribly stereotypical, but bringing in tons of money and providing gigs for black actors. Here is an excerpt:
"Perry is being slammed for filling his films with regressive, down-market archetypes. In many of his films there's a junkie prostitute, a malaprop-dropping uncle, and Madea, a tough-talking grandma the size of a linebacker ('Jemima the Hutt,' one character calls her). ''Tyler keeps saying that Madea is based on black women he's known, and maybe so,'' says Donald Bogle, acclaimed author of Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films. 'But Madea does have connections to the old mammy type. She's mammy-like. If a white director put out this product, the black audience would be appalled.'''
Professor Todd Boyd: "But it’s what his detractors consider to be his plantation-era attitudes that trouble them. 'All of his productions demonize educated, successful African-Americans,' says Todd Boyd, professor of critical studies at USC School of Cinematic Arts. 'It’s a demonization that has long existed in certain segments of the black community.'” An example? "In Madea Goes to Jail, for instance, the ambitious light-skinned female district attorney (Ion Overman) who puts Madea behind bars is not only a snob but a conniving, corrupt criminal. In Diary of a Mad Black Woman, the successful black businessman (Steve Harris) is a wife abuser, and in Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion, the social-climbing mother-in-law (Lynn Whitfield) gets sneered at by Madea for committing the ultimate sin of trying to look 'bourgie,' as in bourgeois."
Oscar nominee Viola Davis keeps it real and says: ''There just aren't a lot of roles out there for black actors, and even fewer for black actresses, so if someone is going to give you a job, you're going to do it, even if you think it's substandard."
Nelson George, the creator of the Golden Globe winning film Life Support, says, "'Tyler Perry speaks to a constituency that is not cool,' George says. 'There’s nothing cutting-edge about the people who like Tyler Perry. So, for a lot of other people, it’s like, ‘What is this thing that’s representing black people all over the world? I don’t like it. It doesn’t represent me.’”
Excellent article. What I find the most interesting is the "audience" argument—black people are going to the movies and "theatre"! What people forget or just do not know is that the biggest supporters of minstrel shows and blackface from the 19th century to the 1950's were black people. Also, the only way black actors could get work was through blackface and minstrel shows… sound familiar? Except – it’s 2009.
Therefore, just because black folks support it and a black man is making money off of it --- doesn’t make it good or socially redeemable. We have supported plenty of garbage. I would have less of a problem with Perry's films if they weren't so terribly written , executed poorly and tragically unoriginal. It lowers the bar, which inhibits quality black films to see the light of day -- unless they dumb down their work.
Like Rosie Perez told me, "If I’m going be the maid, I better be a hell of a maid. I better have the biggest arc in the movie and there should be humility and depth to my character. Same thing if I was going to be a prostitute." His characters are not three dimensional and have no depth, it feels like Bamboozled come to life. Click here for the full story.
There are some dull movies coming out this week. But the movie to see is Valentino: The Last Emperor. Check out the reviews for Duplicity and Knowing.
Duplicity’s problem isn’t necessarily Julia Roberts or Clive Owen. The issue is an overcrowded script with endless scenes of babble that is similar to sitting in a two-hour lecture from a college professor who reads straight from the text and never makes eye contact with the class. Do you know there is an audience here? Or is this just indulgent work to prove that you are the Hollywood elite?
I've already been to more screenings I can count this year, but Valentino: The Last Emperor is the first must see movie of 2009. Mind you, I am not a fashionista and have lil' to no interest in the high-fashion world. Nonetheless, this documentary on Valentino was inspiring to watch and transcended the limitations of fashion -- plus, there is his partner of over 45 years. And people say gay relationships can't work! The movie opens in New York City today. Check out the review for BET.com.
Kathy Griffin made a "surprise" appearance at the Apollo in Harlem last night. Contrary to some reports, the racy diva was not booed off stage... however, she didn't do as well as I hoped. I was given tickets for Kathy Griffin and Amateur Night at the Apollo. I noticed immediately that the crowd was 70% white -- this was not a true Apollo audience. Some in Kathy's camp did some heavy recruiting, probably scared us black folks would throw tomatoes -- whoever thought that was a mistake.
Amateur Night was a cackle... then Rev. Al Sharpton introduced Kathy Griffin who received a good response, but she was clearly nervous and continued to rant about her ass crack sweat. She started off strong saying she was pulled over by the cops for "driving while white." She mocked the lone white girl who performed in Amateur Night and made some folks laugh about Octomommy saying, "Aren't you glad she isn't black?" This was hilarious to the black audience, but the whites in the room didn't seem to know how to take it... so things got a lil' shaky when she changed things up. Maybe she scanned the crowd and saw that it was predominately white so she used most of her time to crack on Sarah and Bristol Palin... she fell flat.
Originally, I hoped she would make jokes about Whitney, Beyonce, Chris Brown/Rihanna, Oprah -- she didn't really give anything special to the Apollo audience. Again, maybe she saw the crowd was not a true Apollo audience and went soft. Kathy Griffin would've done better with a 80% black/Latino, real Apollo audience. Whoever thought of the idea bring in more white people -- wrong!
The band started playing exit music because the second half of Amateur Night was starting, which I think may have confused some of the audience, thinking she was being booed/pulled off stage -- they always do this at the end of a comedian's set.
I love Kathy Griffin. She didn't bomb, but she didn't "kill." I'm just glad she didn't drop the "N-word" like Sandra Bernhard did years ago to a black audience.
I get a lot of emails from people asking how they can get involved in entertainment writing. While I am not Michael Musto, I have written for Men’s Fitness, The Advocate, Essence and several other places. Plus, I’ve been able to interview some amazing people—some celebrities, some not. This is not etched in stone, but here are my humble tips.
Don't expect to get paid. There are so many people who want to be writers. Therefore, magazines and web sites do not have to pay them. Only those who have a nice stack of credentials or a history with a publication will get a check. There is absolutely no money in writing in the first six months to a year. Just like singers perform at clubs for free or actors act for free, until you get a nice resume, you will have to write for free.
Go to school
If being a writer is something you want to do, it's paramount that you attend college. Sure, there are the stories of high school dropouts becoming writers, but not as many in 2009. If you want to be a serious writer, school is a necessity—nothing can replace the demands of writing tons of papers monthly and reading several books a week for four years straight.
Editors can help you, not other writers
Sure, other writers can give you tips, but it's the editors you need to be in contact with. I get emails all the time asking me how they can write for The Advocate, but I'm the writer, not the editor. The best thing to ask is, "Do you have a contact for the editor at... ?"
Do you want to be a writer or be famous?
Writing will not get you fame. Yes, there are the small percentages, but 95% of writers do not become famous. If you think this is your avenue to becoming Oprah, it's not. No one cares about writers except for others writers. No one reads interviews and remembers the writer’s name. You are the vessel, nothing else. If you want to be famous, a personality, a gossip columnist, that is different.
Don't comprise your beliefs
I've never written a review I didn't believe in. I may have changed my mind, but at the time those were my true thoughts. In the cases where I have been told to say something was good when it was bad or say something is bad when it was good (yep, that happens too!)—I have politely declined to do the story. Sure, you might tone things down, but don't comprise or people won't believe a word you say. Thankfully, when you do more objective writing your opinion doesn't matter.
Don't take advice from people who aren't writers
Sure, words like, "Go with your heart," from your mama is fine. But when random people "advise" you how to do a story, how to ask a question, what you are doing right and what you need to do right—and they have never been published, don't get paid to critique others and just think they know because they can form a full sentence—ignore them! Call up fellow writers and ask them. Unless they have a Master's degree in English Literature, they are to be ignored.
I don't care if you are writing for the most ghetto or hood publication on the planet—be professional. Be on time, don't curse, dress appropriately and don't get comfortable. You are doing a job. As much as some people like to think, “I don't do interviews, we just have conversations.” No. Celebrities don't care what you think unless they ask. They are on their twentieth interview of the day, they want to go home, they are exhausted. Trying to act like you are sisters since the river was young will only give you a bad interview.
It truly is getting harder to support Kimberly "Lil' Kim" Jones, especially after my interview with her on Friday for BET.com.
When she was finally ready for our phone interview from Los Angeles (after being one hour and forty-five minutes late), I asked her a diverse amount of questions about Dancing With The Stars, hip-hop and more.
With only a limited amount of time, I eventually went to the question everyone wants to know and the main question that was submitted. I gave her the option to not answer and nicely asked, "Let me ask you this Kim, this is a big question that we get from everybody and you can decide if you don't want to answer it. There is a perception in the African-American community that Lil' Kim didn’t like the way she looked as a black woman so she got plastic surgery to make herself look less black. What's your reaction --" BAM! The call ends.
Her extremely nice publicist calls minutes later and tried to sell me a story that she had to get off the call because she was walking into rehearsals. Yeah right, I listened to the audio and it's clear she hung up. If you are being rushed away you would say, "I'm sorry, I have to go - thank you BET for all your support." Nothing. The publicist tells me, "Oh - she would never hang up, especially if you gave her the option to not answer. Never!" Stop the madness, I got no time for fake ones.
It isn't a problem that she didn't want to answer the question -- plenty of celebrity pass on questions, but to hang up is ridiculous. Lil' Kim needs to realize that my time is just as valuable as hers. To hang up on a journalist, and especially BET who has supported her from the start of her career, is completely disrespectful. She has been in the industry for almost 15 years and didn't have enough tact to just say, "I don't want to talk about that." I wasn't given a list of questions I couldn't ask. Furthermore, I respect when someone declines to talk about something. I have even taken out questions that a celebrity has answered but their publicist wanted out.
Lil' Kim's plastic surgery is confusing for many of her supporters and she has rarely addressed it. Kim wouldn't disconnect on Vanity Fair or People --- oh, yeah, Vanity Fair or People wouldn't want to interview Kim, even if she considers herself to be the "Black Madonna." Does Kim want the support of the African-American community? Or are we just a bunch of darkies in Kim land?
In the interview she said, "I love who I am." I don't believe it. Kimberly Jones strikes me as an insecure woman with extreme self-esteem issues who has been deeply affected by fame. Plenty of people have talked about surgery and said it with confidence -- Vivica A. Fox, Dolly Parton, Cher and more. If you're going to chop your face up -- own it!
I'm chatting with Kim today - I can't wait. In the meantime, check out my review of Rosario Dawson's new movie Explicit Ills, which premieres in New York City today. Explicit Ills also includes Black Thought from The Roots. No big explosions, no low-blow comedy -- just a good script. Check it out...