Thursday, February 24, 2011

Colonize your mind--PLEASE! part 1

First let me apologize to "the MAN." I have been blaming you for all that was wrong with my peeps and the under-development of Africa. You do, of course, deserve some blame. After all you did pillage and plunder the continent for centuries, then leaving the people in disarray, confused, fighting and severely psychologically damaged. But that was then...

This is now... A continent ravaged in war, run by cruel leaders and dictators who pillage their own countries and share none of the wealth with their people (hmm sounds like today's USA), still living in a time long gone by and unable to get even the simplest of tasks done.

I had, what I thought, was the great fortune of being accepted in competition at the FESPACO Film Festival. FESPACO is 'Festival Pan African du Cinema et de Television de Ouagadougou' at 42 years it is one of the world's oldest film festivals. Often referred to as 'the African Oscars' or the Cannes (as in film fest) of Africa, 'AfriCannes', it is the biggest festival on the continent. It takes place in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (the former French colony, Upper Volta) in WestAfrica.
The festival only happens every other year so you would think they'd have it down to a science, 'you would think.' Well, as they say, "TIA" or This IS Africa, & organization is the one thing that does not exist.

Unfortunately, of all the habits left over from colonization, this was not one of them, neither was an awareness of time. I know, I know, you're saying but people of colour are always on 'CP time.' Africa time is something else. My business partner, Michael, put it best, "CP time is an improvement of Africa time" and he's Jamaican! "Soon come."

For several years I have been trying to get into Fespaco. I tried with my documentary, Paper Trail: 100 years of the Chicago Defender. I sent in the necessary paper work but was told, too late, that it had to come thru the American arm.

I tried two years later with my short film, Morning Due, sending it to the American arm, but was told, too late, that they had a new sheriff in charge of Fespaco and were not using the American arm anymore. Alrighty then.

So out of habit, (honestly, I don't even remember filling out the paper work) I submitted my latest documentary DuSable to Obama: Chicago's Black Metropolis. And voila, it's accepted! (Must have been the French name 'DuSable'.) You can imagine my joy when receiving a letter that said not only was the film accepted in competition, but that they would provide airfare, food and lodging. Hooray, hooray!

Naturally, I send in everything they tell me to: PAL copies of film, posters, pictures, etc. etc., in a timely manner. Oh, they are asking for it again? But I already... hmm, I'll just remind them that they have it, and I'll take extra copies with me, just in case.

Okay so there I am singing, "I'm going to Africa! I'm going to Africa!" Whoa, not so fast Missy. You have to get your ticket first. Not a problem, they're sending it;-) But when? I send email after email, then I start calling, then I start calling with a French interpreter. It's getting closer to the time I am to leave. Now several friends call on other friends in Ouagadougou to go to the Fespaco offices. 'It's coming, it's coming right away" they tell them. Now it's the week before I am to leave and still no ticket.

We all begin to worry. Three sleepless days of calling, writing, disappointment and it's two days before I should leave. Michael and Calvin have left already, but I'm sure I'll meet them there, I think... And bam! my itinerary arrives. (It's scheduled on the wrong day and my name is backwards, but that can be easily corrected). For joy, for joy, that is, until I call Air France and find out my ticket has been booked but not paid for. WTF!!

Back to the phone calls, emails, fears and tears. It's now 4 hours before I'm suppose to leave, I'm packed but I have no ticket. My friend, Rakina, who has been helping thru her contacts in Burkina, now also leaves for Fespaco. She wishes me luck and tells me everything will work out. I keep checking for that email and finally 2.5 hours before my flight the email comes. (no more 'for joy', I've lost all excitement and confidence in the process)

I call Air France and miraculously just minutes ago the ticket was re-booked and PAID for, now with an 8 hour lay over at Charles de Gaulle in Paris, and if I get there within the next hour I can
make the flight. Zak whisks me off to the airport. (He never needs an excuse to drive like a madman) I make my flight and I'm on my way to Paris, more from Paris later...

Now back to "the MAN." If you had to leave all your colonial baggage for the African people to sort through, why couldn't you at least leave a few of your more positive things. (Yes, I hate to
admit it but, sigh, you do have some positive qualities--there I said it.) Like organization, efficiency and punctuality and... um, hmm --clears throat-- well I'm sure there are others, I just can't think of any more right now. Anyway I would settle for those three!

I've got it! Since they are all French anyway, maybe the Cannes Film Festival could colonize Fespaco.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Frank Sinatra's Black History Month

I kept thinking I should blog for Black History Month. After spending the past year and a half on Black History as I produced and promoted the documentary 'DuSable to Obama; Chicago's Black Metropolis" I have become enamored with the history I never knew.
So tonight I woke up from a strange dream and couldn't sleep, so I naturally picked up a book about Frank Sinatra. Everyone knows I love him, ever since I was a kid playing my mother's old records. She was always amazed when she'd come home from work to see that I have found those old records she'd put away. Maybe she was amazed that I was a Sinatra fan too!

What a generous person he was. Yeah, yeah I know he was somewhat of a thug, but who wasn't back then. We all know about that, but you never hear about all the things he did for civil rights and racial equality. In the 1940’s Sinatra was branded a ‘Red’, cause he was one of the first major stars to speak for the poor and the oppressed. He risked his popularity in 1945 to challenge the status quo and campaign against racial intolerance, intervening in a series of racist strikes at schools where parents opposed integration.

He did a 12 min documentary film in 1946 called 'The House I Live' where he gathers Whites who are fighting Blacks and sings the tune, 'The House I Live In, A Part of Earth, The Street.' (Yes I've seen it.) The movie showcased Sinatra's position on peace among races, social tolerance and family values. Duke Ellington called him 'a primo non-conformist'.

He opened up doors of opportunity for his Black friends in show business; Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, Lena Home, Ella Fitzgerald (his favorite singer),Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Diahann Carroll. He wouldn't go in a hotel where Blacks couldn't stay or  entertain. He would never perform before a segregated audience, ever.

Sinatra was heavily influenced by Black performers, and unlike other White performers, he always gave credit to them. He said, "Billie Holiday, whom I first heard in 52nd Street clubs (in New York City) in the early 1930s, was and still remains, the greatest single musical influence on me."

He once took Lena Horne to the Stork Club and they didn't allow Blacks. So the manager fumbled around, pretended to look at the reservation book, and obviously, they weren't going to seat her. The manager said to him, `Mr. Sinatra, who made your reservation? We don't seem to have it.' And Sinatra said, `President Abraham Lincoln.' Bee-yatch!
(I added the bee-yatch part;-)

He also integrated Las Vegas, for real! No more back door entrances for Lena, Ella, Sammy etc. Sinatra would not play in a hotel there unless Black entertainers could have the same
facilities and go through the same entrances. In his personally written article in 1958 for Ebony Magazine, "The Way I Look At Race" (July 1958), Sinatra protested the use of racial slurs and called bigotry a disease. He said , "My friendships were formed out of affection, mutual respect and a feeling of having something strong in common. These are eternal values that cannot be racially classified. This is the way I look at race."

He also gave generously of his time and money to help Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Civil Rights Movement in the '50s and '60s. Jesse Jackson Sr. has said "In the '60s at the height of our rebellion against apartheid in the South, when we were facing beatings, murders, abuse and governors blocking school doors, Dr. King reached for voices of the culture that would speak out and stand with us." Jackson remembers, "Frank Sinatra came South, along with Sammy Davis Jr. and Harry Belafonte. His presence was a huge international statement. It allowed the best of people to stand up and change the worst of people..

He an even did a Rat Pack benefit for Dr. MLK in 1961!
In 1960 Wilberforce University gave him an honorary Doctorate in Humanities degree for his practice of true democracy.
Sinatra said 'Professionally and musically I cannot begin to evaluate the tremendous importance of Negro singers and musicians to my development as a singer. The debt I owe them is too immense ever to be repaid. It has been much more than a long association. I have been on the receiving end of inspiration from a succesion of great Negro singers and jazz artist..."

Happy Black History Month from Ol' Blue Eyes
The Chairman of the Board;-)