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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sean Combs: A Raisin in the Sun - 1.30.2008.1

Sean Combs is many things. Grandstanding, self-aggrandizing, successful, lavish, intelligent, somewhat talented, and thoughtful. As you can tell by my description of the personas Sean “Puffy” "P.Diddy” Combs evokes mixed emotions in me.

I respect his drive and proven ability as a business man. I dislike the rap music and most of the clothing lines he has promoted and created a minor empire off of. He both exceeds and dwells firmly within the stereotypes of a Black man in hip hop. Perhaps neither is the real persona that his close friends and family know, but I can only go by what he presents to the world.

In a way I also admire the determination and self-confidence that Mr. Combs has. He has jumped into several different fields of the entertainment industry. Most have met with general success and moderate to high acclaim. Even the stuff you may not like is balanced by the work and effort he has place in other endeavors. Because of that alone you have to respect what he has done.

But all things are not equal. Sean Combs may be a decent hip hop artist, and a better producer, but he is hardly what might be called an accomplished actor. I in fact would barely call him an actor at all. His lack of training, minimal experience, and pairing with far better entertainers have never worked to his advantage. Suffice to say, were it not for his success in other entertainment and business genres he would never be in a major motion picture like Monster’s Ball.

It is that other than acting success that has given him the title actor. But I will give him the fact that he has tried to grow in his ability. His work in the theatre is part of that growth. The mixed reviews he received for his portrayal of the Sidney Poitier renowned role of Walter Lee in A Raisin in the Sun show that he is far from ready for such a prominent role.

“Then there's Combs, a music star who has appeared in a couple of movies but has no real stage experience. It shows. He has a tendency to act by protruding his lips, but seldom does much with the rest of his face, body, or voice. More importantly, he doesn't have a firm grasp on Walter's dreams; a major part of the plot concerns Walter's desire to buy a liquor store, but his emotional state doesn't seem to change whether he just desires it, sees the opportunity slip away, or experiences the final result of his attempts. The rest of Walter's major moments receive similarly ineffective treatment.”

Yet he brings in an audience that is new to the theatre. Many of today’s youth are unfamiliar with the stage, or the many rich stories that are found there. The stage is not something you can listen to on an Ipod, or be immersed in on a laptop, and thus has impacted few as compared to the past. This is most notably true among African Americans and minorities.

It’s a true shame. The youth of today have no idea what it’s like to have seen Dreamgirls live on stage. They love the movie, but no matter the emotional power of watching Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson on the big screen, seeing it live is superior. At least that is the comparison I can make having seen the live play in my younger days, and the movie.

Couple that with the relative lack of knowledge by many in the hip hop generation of great actors and stories and I must admit a cringe escapes me. Sidney Poitier is a phenomenal actor, who rose up in a time (roughly a short 40 years ago) when America ‘suddenly’ realized that African Americans can do more than stand agape in the background. [I do NOT mean that to diminish the many Black actors that preceded the 1960’s. They made possible every actor after them, like Denzel Washington, Jennifer Hudson and everyone else. But I am commenting on the standard roles that America limited most of their performances to, wasting the talent that was available to the nation merely because of prejudice and racism.]
Photo found at
The rich stories that can be found outside of jump-scene, frenetic, CGI dominated, action oriented films of today are virtually beyond count. The best of which have often become not just one movie but several. And the actors in which often become the strongest and most famous actors we all recognize on site, or by a mere utterance of a line.

While this may all seem like a digression, it is not. My point of all this is that A Raisin in the Sun is now coming to a broadcast television near you. On February 25th, ABC will be broadcasting the televised version of the play. It will star Sean Combs in the title role, and will also have Audra McDonald, Phylicia Rashad, Sanaa Latahn and others reprising the roles they had when the play was revived recently.

This is a powerful story that delves deep into the lives and hopes of a Black family in Chicago. The fact that the timeline takes place in the past is irrelevant to its ultimate meaning. So I am happy that Sean Combs took on the role of executive producer to get it into a format that the youth of today can connect to. Sadly though the titular role is that of Walter Lee, which Combs portrays.

The good is that this will add diversity to a generation that has been fed films like Teeth, Soul Plane, and the Honeymooners (miserable remake of a television show). One can only hope it will inspire some to look for the original motion picture, and delve into the movies like In the Heat of the Night, that starred Sidney Poitier and other actors of that time. Perhaps it will be the first step of some on a career that will be grand and rewarding.

"Sometimes people come to a place and don't expect to get the message. This generation, they come for entertainment ... then they realize, 'oh man, this movie is really touching. It's making me really appreciate my family."' - Sean Combs

The bad is of course what I mentioned before. Sean Combs is not an actor, or at least of any serious quality. He does not deserve this role, on television or in a play. His fame may drive viewership and ticket sales, but he isn’t worthy. Maybe he will be one day, with far more training and a lot more work in less significant roles.

I hope that his involvement does not spew a trend, even more than has existed for some time, of rappers and hip hop artists that believe they have talent in every entertainment field because they are popular in one genre. It’s fatiguing to see the pitiful attempts of the majority that have already tried to cross over. Few are capable to any degree. And fewer are willing to take the time and effort that Will Smith, Queen Latifah, LL Cool J and one or 2 others have strived to do to achieve the recognition they deserve.

So is this a positive or negative? Should we be happy or upset with Sean Combs? Both. Like all his endeavors he provides a living visage of what yin and yang can be. Is ability may be lacking, but his spirit is strong. He may be unqualified for this role but it will draw attention and hopefully inspire. He will extend the life of this story, and the scope of a generation in what they consider art and worthwhile.

In the end we all will make our own decision on February 25th. I can only hope to be pleasantly surprised.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Discussing 50 cent interview on Fox News

It’s amazing what money will make some people do. Some have sex for it; others sell poison (drugs) to children. The prisons are filled with thieves and petty robbers, and sometimes there are those willing to prostitute themselves just for a buck. In this case I’m referring to 50 cent (Curtis Jackson) appearing on Fox News with Neil Cavuto at 4:50pm Monday, to market a new line of Pontiac cars that he was involved in creating (in other words he put his name on it).

Considering the broad net cast upon Fox News, and the general mood in the gangsta rap industry for the channel I found it amusing that Jackson would appear. But then again, trying to sell the new Pontiac on BET wouldn’t really be possible.

    1. There is no news program for him to be on
    2. Gangsta rap targets young poorer African Americans
    3. The rating suck as few really watch the channel compared to most other cable network programs (though I think they exceed CNN)

So I find it interesting that Jackson went on the channel to pitch the new car essentially to a more conservative, generally White, predominantly Republican, basically older audience. But since he is getting paid (no doubt a licensing deal and or record company perks I imagine) he goes where he is told. But don’t confuse gangsta rappers with sell-outs! That’s just not fair or Black, so I’ve been told.

For those that missed the interview, it was no hatchet job. It was fair and generally stayed on point about this promotion. I found it interesting that for a guy ranking #2 on the Forbes list of top rapper incomes, he only has 3 cars (he never mentioned if any were the car he was pitching). The modesty seems far from the persona he markets on stage, video games and that movie flop.

Which lead to a question about his film coming out next year, April 12th. Sadly I will find something more interesting to do than see him in the film, like take a nap, but I was shocked to hear that Mr. Robert DeNiro and Mr. Al Pacino are in the film. How did he pull that? It’s not like he has talent, nor is he having sex with the director (I presume) so I don’t know what got him the role. I am going to guess it’s a very minor role that will be marketed and hyped as if he were the lead in a $100 million film. No matter what you think of the guy, the fact is he is no Will Smith, or even an Ice Cube.

While this was ongoing, Neil Cavuto referred to a conversation he had with Photo found at Mr. Sean Combs. They showed a brief clip and the difference in the style between Mr. Combs and Jackson was stark. Mr. Combs looked professional, sharp, casual and wealthy in his suit. Jackson looked like he was just at the gym and paid too much for the quality he had on.

But I digress. Neil Cavuto asked a question of interest about how gangsta rappers are all trying to go mainstream, getting into movies and pretending to be actors. The question was, and I paraphrase both the question and answer,

“I notice that there seems to be a move away from the violence and more to the mainstream. Are you moving away from the violence?

[50 cent] It’s not a move away from aggressive content. Success removes us from the environment, we aren’t writing about those things as much. That doesn’t mean they aren’t there or that someone isn’t writing about it. We’re just not around it.”

Again, I am paraphrasing. If anyone can show me an official transcript I will gladly correct the wording, but the essence has not been changed. And “aggressive content” was exactly the term Jackson used. He was coached very well by his PR people. I was almost impressed by the ex-convict. The subtle change in terminology changing violence, which is what, is advocated and accurately describing the actions described in gangsta rap, to aggressive content implies that his lyrics are no worse than a game of touch football. Talk about spinning a scenario in your favor.

And it’s interesting to note that for the most successful rappers, the ones most in favor of the n-word, being ghetto fabulous, and living the thug-life, (in general) are the ones that have left the ghetto, and lead lives mostly without any connection to the actions they continue to promote. From what I interpreted from Jackson’s words, he believes that essentially the top and longest running rappers are fakes since they have no connection to the events they proclaim rap is meant to ‘keep real’.

[Why do people keep saying that? What does it mean? Keep it real. Like you can fake life. Like there is a choice in being alive. This isn’t the Matrix, when stuff happens it happens. The statement is ignorant, a result of minds refusing to stretch to find the words that actually convey the thought in their head.]

Now add to all this the fact that Jackson likes Senator Hillary Clinton, because he liked her husband. What President Clinton has to do with her holding the Presidency makes no sense to me. She did not gain experience in running the government by osmosis, nor did she have a real power or position when she was First Lady. And her policies, if you can figure out what they are, seem to not match his.

Of course, like most I’ve noticed in support of Senator Clinton, Jackson is strongly against President Bush. When you call the sitting President “without compassion” you clearly state your reasoning. This is not a good reason to pick the next President though. President Bush is not going to run again. He is not going to be elected again. The logic runs false.

And how dare he call any sitting President “without compassion”. I may not agree with all the actions of President Bush, but that is not the same thing as to insult the leader of our nation. I can respect that Jackson may want to bring the troops home, but I also realize that this ex-convict is hardly the most astute political thinker.

While President Bush may be slightly more articulate than 50 cent, he is advised by far greater minds, and has always acted in a manner that seems to be guided by a belief that his actions are in the best interest of the nation. Disagree if you wish, but there has not been a successful terrorist attack in this nation to date, several attempts have been made but all were thwarted. And the economy, while not perfect is good.

All in all I found the interview interesting. Curtis Jackson left me unimpressed, his efforts to sell whatever increases his personal wealth left me unfazed. I was amazed that he found himself in a film with quality actors, and learning his political beliefs just makes me hope he keeps them to himself in the future. But it was a fair and mild interview.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Planes, Ferrari's, and Soceer - 3.27.2007.1

So as there is constant news out about Mr. Eddie Griffin crashing a million+ dollar sports car, the world turns. I’m happy to mention that Mr. Griffin was unhurt in the accident, though the fact it was caught on videotape will probably hurt his ego more than anything else. The executive producer, of Redline which Mr. Eddie Griffin stars in, though is at least publicly taking it in stride since the car was an Enzo Ferrari which he owned. Of course Mr. Daniel Sadek is correct when he says, “There's people dying every day. A lot of worse things are happening in the world.” And if this accident adds any interest to those going to see the $26 million dollar film, I’m sure he will be able to afford one of the remaining 399 Ferrari’s out there. Considering its cost and stylish nature, not to mention the ability and reputation of Mr. Griffin I’m sure he will.

In other movie news there is something that I think has potential. It might even capture the attention of the few Soccer (futbol) fans out there. Discussions are ongoing for a film featuring the life of Pele. For those unfamiliar, Pele is one of the first entertainers to be known simply by one name. One of the greatest soccer stars ever, he helped create the environment that lead to the current American national soccer team. While Team USA is rough around the edges, at best, there was no real interest prior to the appearance of Pele playing here. In addition it’s said he was able to create a cease-fire in a civil war just because he was playing. Now tell me that isn’t something worthy of making a movie about. In terms of recognition and ability among athletes throughout the world, this single name ranks along with Mr. Muhammad Ali. Do I seem excited? You bet. The big question is who is in shape enough, and has enough acting talent, to play him in a movie. If any names of rappers come up, I guarantee the movie is doomed.

As a side note, I just saw Mr. Donny Osmond speaking about his new television show American Vote. I have to say the man does not look like a 50 year old grandfather. He looks like he did back in the 1970’s. Yes I’m old enough to have seen the Donny and Marie Show and remember it.

So since I mentioned rappers I should mention my deep sadness that all Britain’s must be experiencing now. The cause of this national depression emanates from the news that a tour featuring Snoop Dogg and P. Diddy (otherwise known as Calvin Broadus and Sean Combs) has been canceled. It seems that Snoop cannot get a visa to enter England. This is obviously in reaction to the ruckus that Snoop caused the last time he was there. [You can see my comments on that incident at Breaking the law entertainer-style]

Good for merry ol’ England. It’s about time someone smack a little reality and responsibility on those rappers that choose to treat laws, and people, as mere toys. Perhaps the lesson of respecting people and laws will sink in a bit. Though with Mr. Broadus this one action may not be enough. I say this because it is hardly the first time that he has been penalized for his misbehavior. Still, the funds lost from the 5 performances should have an impact on him and Mr. Combs. Perhaps Mr. Combs will be able to say something so that future trips anywhere in the world will be more civilized. Considering how motivated many rappers seem to be by money, this could be the key. Especially if other nations, and airline companies, step up and do the same thing to those that flaunt common decency. Again I say Hurrah to the Brits.

This is what I think, what do you think?

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