A Brief Complicated Review: Kanye West’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Grade: A –

 

Thoughts after First Listen:

“Dammmmnnn… Kanye has lost his mind.”  This is Edger Allen Poe-impressive. Kanye West is brilliant.

Commentary:

On this Thanksgiving Day (National Day of Mourning), I am thankful for Kanye West’s album. The experience of listening to this brilliant project truly moves me, and I didn’t think I’d feel this way again this year after hearing Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh). And to be honest, I have not felt this way about a RAP album dare I say… ever.

Hear me out:

Why the A(-):

Kanye gives me something to look forward to at the end of each track – the next song. Every detail and every layer is purposeful. He breaks up the monotony of formulaic pop songs, pushing on the envelop of the rap album formula. He continues to demonstrate his ability to raid the most obscure LP collection, mastering the use of the sample, and showing us a musical sophistication that is hard to fathom until you listen to this album on real home entertainment system. You have to listen to this album on some Pioneers, better yet some Bose, in order to really appreciate it.

Kanye offers us something that is experimental and dark, multi-layered and complicated. The kind of album where there have to be radio edits not just because of the lyrics, but also because of Radio One’s inability to play anything other than that which fits a certain structure.  Ultimately, Kanye is successful in giving us a peak into his Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and I was terrified, surprised, and pensive when I got there.

3 Songs on Repeat:

  • All of the Lights – I am amazed at the choral arrangement on “All of the Lights” which features Drake, Elton John, Alicia Keys, Charlie Wilson, and Fergie to name a few. It doesn’t follow a prescribed pattern, you can’t guess what’s about to happen next and you get tangled up in all of the lights. Throughout, I keep asking myself how did he get all these people on this track? I think he sent a mass text message, asking if people would come to the studio and sing for him.
  • Monster – Minaj is a monster. Jay-Z and Rick Ross could’ve not been on here and it would’ve been just fine.
  • Lost in the World – I really like listening to this song.
  • Runaway—Few artists can get away with a 9 minute song, but Kanye does with “Runaway” and I enjoy every minute of it, often forgetting that it’s one song.

The minus (-) in my grading of Kanye’s album is connected to the content. I’d be lying if I said that I only listen to the “beat.” No, I pay close attention to the lyrical work that Kanye does on this album and based on what I have unpacked thus far, I have an initial feminist impression that I have to share.

Feminist Critique:

Kanye West’s self-aggrandizement and misogyny go hand in hand. He loves himself so much that he can’t help but hate women, especially those “ghetto” girls who distract him from “good” girls. You can hear the way that he builds himself up is through the humiliation of women; his antics and his lyrics are evidence of that. Find a verse where’s he talking about how wonderful he is and I’ll point to one where he uses a woman, the concept of the feminine, or a woman’s body part to demonstrate his greatness. I don’t think he could imagine himself so great, if women couldn’t be made to occupy a place that was both base and low; objects to piss on, the target of his rage and the object of his fantasy. My psychoanalytic lens wants to say that he’s projecting his (love) hate for his mother, the fact that she left him, the way that she left him, onto other women.

That’s just one of many areas of possible critique where it relates to the problematic construction of his Black masculinity, but I could go on. What’s clear is that Yeezy needs therapy, but I hope I can get one more album from him before he does seek treatment—selfish I know, but the best art comes out of that tortured place in us.

Perpetuating the Myth: America is a “Post-Racial” Society

As a follow up to uncovering the undercover message in NBC’s Undercovers…. I know… I couldn’t help myself…

Here is Professor Kimberle Crenshaw echoing my sentiment that color-blind, post-racial discourse is toxic for America where we are still dealing with the residue of disenfranchisement of African Americans as well as the continual disenfranchisement of people of color, especially those who immigrate from the USA’s southern most border.

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/gdElgoC6LgI]

Thanks Laura Flanders.  We need people of all shades invested in this fight to end racism in this country and we can’t do it if we’re not allowed to bring up issues of race in public.

Perpetuating the Myth: America is a "Post-Racial" Society

As a follow up to uncovering the undercover message in NBC’s Undercovers…. I know… I couldn’t help myself…

Here is Professor Kimberle Crenshaw echoing my sentiment that color-blind, post-racial discourse is toxic for America where we are still dealing with the residue of disenfranchisement of African Americans as well as the continual disenfranchisement of people of color, especially those who immigrate from the USA’s southern most border.

Thanks Laura Flanders.  We need people of all shades invested in this fight to end racism in this country and we can’t do it if we’re not allowed to bring up issues of race in public.

As Brief as I Could Movie Review: “For Colored Girls”

November 7th, 2010

Grade: The border between C+ and B-

Comments:

There were good, bad, and very ugly things about this film all of which I can’t unpack in this brief commentary (I need an essay to do that), however, I can’t dismiss this work as a piece of Tyler Perryness, though I had fully expected it to be when I pre-ordered the tickets online. The grade is what it is because there were a lot of things that just saved it, particularly Loretta Devine, the concept, the issues it raised and the conversations that it starts (even if the conversations are critiques).

Me, like most colored girls, have a deep desire to see ourselves reflected on the screen, except what this film offered was an uncomfortable view of ourselves on screen: a tortured, emotional, and deeply unsettling view of ourselves. As one of the movie-goers said as she walked out before the credits even began to roll, “That was not what I expected.” I hope she didn’t expect Sex in the City but with Black people…

Commentary (No detailed spoilers):

Good

Loretta Devine, Phylicia Rashad, Michael Ealy, Kimberly Elise and Whoopi Golderburg were brilliant. Loretta Devine has done stage work and you could see it shine through wonderfully as her monologues rolled beautifully out of her pores. Whoopi gave her all, and I was not surprised in the least. I remember the way I felt watching The Colored Purple–Whoopi was able to climb inside the body of Celie and take you to Celie’s inner place with her. She took me to that place, and I was freaked out when I got there. Rashad seemed made for that role. I couldn’t think of anyone better. Michael Ealy was terrifying. And Kimberly Elise always taps into that sad and hurt place inside herself. She worked with the script she had which was ehh, but somehow made all the things that didn’t make it in the script come out in her body.

  • I appreciated the camera staying still for serious moments and allowing the actresses to just act and not be saved by a convenient camera trick.
  • Not that much make-up. The only person who was made all the hell up all the time was Janet, but her character called for it. For the rest of them, they were allowed to be just naturally beautiful.
  • The movie dealt with some things that we rarely talk about in Black sexual or cultural politics. I appreciated it: Rape. Religious fanaticism. Abortion. The failure of the state to protect our children. Physical abuse. Sex. HIV/AIDS. Condoms. And Macy Gray. That’s right, we don’t talk about Macy Gray and we should.

Bad

  • Trying to translate stage conventions onto the silver screen is difficult. You either have to scrap the stage convention and say it just won’t work, or you have to play some camera tricks which may come across as cheesy. I felt some moments were really cheesy.
  • I thought Perry was trying too hard to make this made-for-stage project into a “film” though he kept these really interesting monologues they made for moments where I struggled to follow their importance. He could have just gone all the way there–like how musicals (Hairspray, Chicago, Across the Universe) are just musicals–not worrying about fitting the blockbuster film narrative.
  • Though I understand that this movie wasn’t necessarily about men, why did they all have blah, or flat, roles? The only “good” Black man was Hill Harpers’ character and he was just kinda there.
  • All the characters went through extremely traumatic experiences–the kind of traumatic where you need to see a therapist, or live for 25 years before you start to get over–but their healing seemed instantaneous. There was little done to show us how they got from one place to the other. They just “got it.” For at least 3 of them, the horror they faced was dramatized so much that a simple monologue wasn’t enough for me to believe that they’d gotten over that trauma. How they arrived at these moments of clarity and resistance did not correlate to the depiction of the horror they went through. It somehow seemed to perpetuate the “Myth of the Strong Black Woman“.

Very Ugly

  • The Down-Low: The film recycled the homophobic, unhelpful trope of the Black male on the DL, blaming him for the spread of HIV/AIDS in the Black “community.” I thought we’d dispelled that myth already?* Heterosexual people, when sleeping with multiple partners without using condoms, are just as culpable of spreading the virus. One woman behind me say, “Ewwww, I can’t listen. I’m covering my ears.” The woman next to me cringed saying, “That’s so nasty.” They were talking about this moment where one of the men was coming out to himself and his HIV positive wife that he enjoyed sex with men. Coming out is one of the hardest experiences that people face. It is a serious crisis in self and desire, and people are so homophobic and that’s what’s really disgusting. Is it any surprise why men stay in closet? It’s because they sit in a crowded movie theater and hear everyone in there say “Ewww” when a Black man is bearing his soul about a desire that is beyond his own comprehension.
  • State Failure: There was a very horrific scene in the movie that was really brought about because the one person who represented the State’s Child and Protective Services FAILED. I mean it was an epic failure and it was not really dealt with at all. Why? Colored girls… we are failed by the very mechanisms that are supposed to protect us every day. I thought that this was such a crucial moment and it wasn’t even made an issue.
  • The Audience Reaction: Instead of tears, instead of gasps, most of the people in the audience laughed and made insensitive jokes about what was happening on the screen or the actresses themselves. They were uncomfortable, and when most people are uncomfortable, they laugh. When you don’t know what else to do, when you’ve done all that you can, but can do nothing else but face yourself in the mirror, what do you do? You find something to distract from the reality of the situation–you go turn on Richard Pryor (1970s), you go watch Eddie Murphy’s Raw (1980s), you watch Martin or Living Single (1990s) or you watch Madea Goes to Jail: the Play (2000s). Laughter is Black people’s antidote for dealing with the stress of this world, unfortunately however, our antidote doesn’t actually solve the problems at hand. Trying to unpack them, or figure out what they might mean for you, your sisters, your brothers–good, bad, or ugly–is what will actually help us heal.

If you can stand to wait to see this movie for a couple of weeks, until the theaters aren’t packed, I would. It was hard to watch, and it was even harder to watch when I felt like I was surrounded by folks who weren’t there to be made uncomfortable, but were there to be “entertained.” Decompress afterwards too. And talk about how it really made you feel.

Lessons: Remember the “down-low” is a myth, thank God for Roe v. Wade, if you’ve been sexually assaulted, you need to heal; therapy is good for you, and religious fanaticism is dangerous.

* “Why does such a problem exist? No compelling evidence suggests that blacks have any special genetic susceptibility to HIV. The CDC offers a laundry list of reasons of why African American men and women have relatively high rates of HIV infection and AIDS. The two most convincing explanations on the list: poverty and sexually transmitted diseases. The 2000 U.S. Census found that one in four blacks lived in poverty, and studies clearly have shown a strong link between poverty and the risk of HIV infection. Poor people also receive lower-quality healthcare, which means they will often progress from HIV infection to AIDS more quickly. And the link to sexually transmitted diseases, which create open sores that facilitate the spread of HIV, is equally clear-cut: Blacks are 24 times more likely to contract gonorrhea and eight times more likely to get syphilis.” This excerpt is from Jon Cohen’s A Silent Epidemic: Why is there such a high percentage of HIV and AIDS among black women? published in The Slate.  To view the whole article, click here.

As Brief as I Could Movie Review: "For Colored Girls"

November 7th, 2010

Grade: The border between C+ and B-

Comments:

There were good, bad, and very ugly things about this film all of which I can’t unpack in this brief commentary (I need an essay to do that), however, I can’t dismiss this work as a piece of Tyler Perryness, though I had fully expected it to be when I pre-ordered the tickets online. The grade is what it is because there were a lot of things that just saved it, particularly Loretta Devine, the concept, the issues it raised and the conversations that it starts (even if the conversations are critiques).

Me, like most colored girls, have a deep desire to see ourselves reflected on the screen, except what this film offered was an uncomfortable view of ourselves on screen: a tortured, emotional, and deeply unsettling view of ourselves. As one of the movie-goers said as she walked out before the credits even began to roll, “That was not what I expected.” I hope she didn’t expect Sex in the City but with Black people…

Commentary (No detailed spoilers):

Good

Loretta Devine, Phylicia Rashad, Michael Ealy, Kimberly Elise and Whoopi Golderburg were brilliant. Loretta Devine has done stage work and you could see it shine through wonderfully as her monologues rolled beautifully out of her pores. Whoopi gave her all, and I was not surprised in the least. I remember the way I felt watching The Colored Purple–Whoopi was able to climb inside the body of Celie and take you to Celie’s inner place with her. She took me to that place, and I was freaked out when I got there. Rashad seemed made for that role. I couldn’t think of anyone better. Michael Ealy was terrifying. And Kimberly Elise always taps into that sad and hurt place inside herself. She worked with the script she had which was ehh, but somehow made all the things that didn’t make it in the script come out in her body.

  • I appreciated the camera staying still for serious moments and allowing the actresses to just act and not be saved by a convenient camera trick.
  • Not that much make-up. The only person who was made all the hell up all the time was Janet, but her character called for it. For the rest of them, they were allowed to be just naturally beautiful.
  • The movie dealt with some things that we rarely talk about in Black sexual or cultural politics. I appreciated it: Rape. Religious fanaticism. Abortion. The failure of the state to protect our children. Physical abuse. Sex. HIV/AIDS. Condoms. And Macy Gray. That’s right, we don’t talk about Macy Gray and we should.

Bad

  • Trying to translate stage conventions onto the silver screen is difficult. You either have to scrap the stage convention and say it just won’t work, or you have to play some camera tricks which may come across as cheesy. I felt some moments were really cheesy.
  • I thought Perry was trying too hard to make this made-for-stage project into a “film” though he kept these really interesting monologues they made for moments where I struggled to follow their importance. He could have just gone all the way there–like how musicals (Hairspray, Chicago, Across the Universe) are just musicals–not worrying about fitting the blockbuster film narrative.
  • Though I understand that this movie wasn’t necessarily about men, why did they all have blah, or flat, roles? The only “good” Black man was Hill Harpers’ character and he was just kinda there.
  • All the characters went through extremely traumatic experiences–the kind of traumatic where you need to see a therapist, or live for 25 years before you start to get over–but their healing seemed instantaneous. There was little done to show us how they got from one place to the other. They just “got it.” For at least 3 of them, the horror they faced was dramatized so much that a simple monologue wasn’t enough for me to believe that they’d gotten over that trauma. How they arrived at these moments of clarity and resistance did not correlate to the depiction of the horror they went through. It somehow seemed to perpetuate the “Myth of the Strong Black Woman“.

Very Ugly

  • The Down-Low: The film recycled the homophobic, unhelpful trope of the Black male on the DL, blaming him for the spread of HIV/AIDS in the Black “community.” I thought we’d dispelled that myth already?* Heterosexual people, when sleeping with multiple partners without using condoms, are just as culpable of spreading the virus. One woman behind me say, “Ewwww, I can’t listen. I’m covering my ears.” The woman next to me cringed saying, “That’s so nasty.” They were talking about this moment where one of the men was coming out to himself and his HIV positive wife that he enjoyed sex with men. Coming out is one of the hardest experiences that people face. It is a serious crisis in self and desire, and people are so homophobic and that’s what’s really disgusting. Is it any surprise why men stay in closet? It’s because they sit in a crowded movie theater and hear everyone in there say “Ewww” when a Black man is bearing his soul about a desire that is beyond his own comprehension.
  • State Failure: There was a very horrific scene in the movie that was really brought about because the one person who represented the State’s Child and Protective Services FAILED. I mean it was an epic failure and it was not really dealt with at all. Why? Colored girls… we are failed by the very mechanisms that are supposed to protect us every day. I thought that this was such a crucial moment and it wasn’t even made an issue.
  • The Audience Reaction: Instead of tears, instead of gasps, most of the people in the audience laughed and made insensitive jokes about what was happening on the screen or the actresses themselves. They were uncomfortable, and when most people are uncomfortable, they laugh. When you don’t know what else to do, when you’ve done all that you can, but can do nothing else but face yourself in the mirror, what do you do? You find something to distract from the reality of the situation–you go turn on Richard Pryor (1970s), you go watch Eddie Murphy’s Raw (1980s), you watch Martin or Living Single (1990s) or you watch Madea Goes to Jail: the Play (2000s). Laughter is Black people’s antidote for dealing with the stress of this world, unfortunately however, our antidote doesn’t actually solve the problems at hand. Trying to unpack them, or figure out what they might mean for you, your sisters, your brothers–good, bad, or ugly–is what will actually help us heal.

If you can stand to wait to see this movie for a couple of weeks, until the theaters aren’t packed, I would. It was hard to watch, and it was even harder to watch when I felt like I was surrounded by folks who weren’t there to be made uncomfortable, but were there to be “entertained.” Decompress afterwards too. And talk about how it really made you feel.

Lessons: Remember the “down-low” is a myth, thank God for Roe v. Wade, if you’ve been sexually assaulted, you need to heal; therapy is good for you, and religious fanaticism is dangerous.

* “Why does such a problem exist? No compelling evidence suggests that blacks have any special genetic susceptibility to HIV. The CDC offers a laundry list of reasons of why African American men and women have relatively high rates of HIV infection and AIDS. The two most convincing explanations on the list: poverty and sexually transmitted diseases. The 2000 U.S. Census found that one in four blacks lived in poverty, and studies clearly have shown a strong link between poverty and the risk of HIV infection. Poor people also receive lower-quality healthcare, which means they will often progress from HIV infection to AIDS more quickly. And the link to sexually transmitted diseases, which create open sores that facilitate the spread of HIV, is equally clear-cut: Blacks are 24 times more likely to contract gonorrhea and eight times more likely to get syphilis.” This excerpt is from Jon Cohen’s A Silent Epidemic: Why is there such a high percentage of HIV and AIDS among black women? published in The Slate.  To view the whole article, click here.