Can’t Forget New Jersey

Two years ago today, in a packed Prudential Center in downtown Newark, the Nets said goodbye to New Jersey.

The New Jersey Nets played 35 years in the Garden State, in three different arenas, and to mostly sleepy crowds and little back page exposure. They had more losing seasons than winning ones and always seemed to fall off just as things were looking up. Being a Nets fan during the New Jersey years was often times anything but fruitful.

Drazen Petrovic

This was the franchise that went from winning the ABA championship with Dr. J as the league’s most marketable star, to entering the NBA a year later with no Dr. and playing at Rutgers’ athletic facility while their stadium was being built. There would be more bad news over the years: bad draft picks, washouts, trade demands, guys who didn’t care and the way too early death of Drazen Petrovic.

Despite all of this, in 1998, I won tickets to my first Nets game and been a fan ever since.

Sports wields incredible influence in American society. For me it was seeing a team representing the state I was living in and was generally fun to watch in spite of the losing. One memory in particular stands out. In 2001 I was in the barbershop and taking some good natured ribbing from my barber for being a Nets fan. Angrily, I told him the Nets would not only make the playoffs, but make the Finals and play the Lakers. He broke out in laughter and told me “that will never happen.”

One year later, it happened.

Seeing the Nets make the Finals in 2002 and 2003 are memories that I will remember for the rest of my life.

These days the Nets play on the corners of Fulton and Atlantic at the 18-month-old Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Perhaps years from now I’ll take my son to a Nets game and tell him about the wizardry of Jason Kidd, the box office appeal of Vince Carter, the euphoria of making the NBA Finals, the horrors of 12-70 and moving on from a previous identity. The stadium may be different, the uniforms may have changed, the fan base may still be relatively new, but in the end, I’ll tell my son, you can’t forget New Jersey when discussing the Nets.

Using Art to Put A Dent in Street Harassment

“Hey ma, just come over here right quick.”

“Hello sweetie you got a sec?”

“Dem clothes look real good on you. You got a man?”

These are just some of the things said to women on street corners across America every single day. Many women might continue walking and ignore the verbal slings, but artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh decided to take a different path.

The Brooklyn resident, who herself has admitted to being street harassed, speaks to various women about their experiences with street harassment, and with their approval, draws their portraits and puts their faces up in differing locations as a way to bring attention to the issue. I think Tatyana’s project emphasizes that these taunts are going after women who possess feelings and emotions just like everyone else. And through this project, they’re not only making their voices heard, but sending a message.

Stop Telling Women To Smile from Dean Peterson on Vimeo.

Happy Jackie Robinson Day

On this day 67 years ago, Jackie Robinson made his major league debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers and ushered in a watershed moment in American history. As the first black men to play in the big leagues, Jackie Robinson experienced insults and a racial animosity that no American athlete before — or since– has gone through. Today Major League Baseball commemorated the man who carried a burden in which we all rest upon.

42: Right Movie, Wrong Perspective

There are some advantages in life when it comes to procrastination. One of those advantages extends to seeing movies long after they’ve been released. Seeing a movie in theaters six weeks after it opened guarantees you two things: 1) there’s a good chance there won’t be many people in the theater 2) you have about a 95% chance of getting a good seat.

So after taking my time seeing the movie “42” I finally watched it a week ago, and while there were certainly enjoyable parts of the film, it left me wanting more. It’s like going to a restaurant and only having money to buy a couple of appetizers, but you really wanted the steak entree. At the end of your meal, you may be full, but not necessarily satisfied. I felt the same way towards “42.” Good attempt, but it wasn’t the entree I was hoping for.

“42” is the story of major league baseball’s first black player, Jackie Robinson. Robinson is widely recognized around this time of year for the hell he had to put up with for integrating America’s pastime. One can’t even begin to imagine the immense pressure that was on Jackie’s shoulders. He wasn’t just representing himself out there, he was representing a race of people for better or worse, and if he failed, the reverberations would be felt far beyond the field.

When “42” starts we see Branch Rickey — the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers — sitting in his office with his aides at his side. It is here we see Branch Rickey speak on the possibility of bringing in a black ballplayer. This is significant that the movie begins with Branch Rickey and not Jackie. Though the story may be Jackie’s, we see it through the prism of Branch Rickey’s eyes.

Later in that opening scene, while trying to determine which black ballplayer currently playing in the Negro Leagues they will call up, they come to Robinson’s name. One of Branch’s aides brings up the fact that Robinson was court-martialed for refusing to sit at the back of the bus. Instead of depicting that scene, Director Brian Helgeland instead shows Rickey in his office expressing admiration towards Jackie’s stance.

Throughout the movie we see the different obstacles Jackie must go through to be accepted. From having to leave his home in the middle of the night for fear of it being bombed, to being berated by fans and opposing coaches, to gradually winning the acceptance and admiration of his white teammates. Some of it’s particularly moving as a harsh reminder of America’s not too distant past.

Ultimately though, I left the film wanting to know more about Jackie Robinson. Things such as where was he from? How did he grow up? Even things like how he met his wife are startlingly absent in this film. While I do understand the time limits when filming a movie, “42” does a poor job of fleshing out Robinson’s character beyond that of an American icon. Yes, we know he integrated the game, but why did he even choose baseball to begin with? What types of relationships did he develop while in the Negro Leagues? What about how he couldn’t even get work in the majors after he retired?

All these things are relevant, but sadly are left out. Jackie Robinson is more folk hero than a living, breathing, man whose character flaws and back story are never truly revealed in “42.” That type of perspective makes for a real good appetizer, but not quite a full meal.

Looking Back 20 Years Later at "Just Another Girl on the I.R.T."

Last month I had the opportunity to catch a screening of the profound and powerful film “Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.,” marking the film’s 20th anniversary. Even now, 20 years later, the film’s themes remain as strong as ever as it continues to educate, inspire, and enlighten.

“Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.” tells the story of Chantel Mitchell (played by Ariyan Johnson) as she navigates her senior year of high school. Chantel aspires to be a doctor, and she has the grades and aptitude to achieve it. Unfortunately, Chantel also has a bit of an attitude problem to go along with a foul mouth, much to the chagrin of her teachers. Later in the movie we see Chantel as she meets her new boyfriend at a party, gets pregnant, and undergoes a transformation from hopeful college-bound student, to pregnant teenager trying to grasp her new role as expectant mother, lover, and friend.

What makes “Just Another Girl” different from your classic teenager-gets-pregnant drama, is that Chantel doesn’t fit the stereotype. Here’s a young woman who plans on going to college and becoming a doctor. She has her head on straight and her academic aptitude is never in question. Even after becoming pregnant, Chantel continues to go to school and pursue her dream of going to college. The fact that this story is told through the eyes of a black woman was especially important for director Leslie Harris.

When “Just Another Girl” came out it in 1993, it was released at a time when there seemed to be a heightened interest in urban dramas. Flicks such as “Boys N’ The Hood,” “Menace II Society,” and “Straight Out of Brooklyn,” were captivating media attention and audiences unlike anything seen before. These films often overtly centered around men with women reduced to little more than ancillary roles. “Just Another Girl” broke the mold in not only featuring a black woman as the lead, but by also being directed and produced by a black woman.

In the videos featured below, director Leslie Harris and Ariyan Johnson discuss the impact of “Just Another Girl” and the significance of women of color in cinema and television.

Editors Note: For some reason there are about 10 seconds of audio missing in each video. Not sure why, but I blame the phone for that.

Diversifying The American TV Family

A few weeks ago on the African-American themed cable station Centric, I came across a show by the name of “227” that piqued my interest.

“227” revolved around the daily lives and experiences of a middle class black family residing in 1980s Washington D.C. The show starred actress Marla Gibbs, who had achieved fame as the maid in “The Jeffersons.” Also featured was a young Regina King in what would be her first substantive role in a long career. Then there was Jackee Harry, who is probably better known to my generation as the television mother to this famous set of twins.

This got me curious. When people think about a prominent black family featured on television, one of the first images that probably comes to mind is “The Cosby Show.” After all, “The Cosbys” featured a ‘well off’ black family headed by doctor Cliff Huxtable (Bill Cosby) and his lawyer wife, Clair Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad). The couple had five kids between them and resided in a place that’s come a long way from when the show first aired: Brooklyn.

Some criticized “The Cosbys” saying it wasn’t a realistic portrayal of how the majority of black people were living at the time and that it was almost a little too perfect. Damned if you do, damned if don’t, I say. What I don’t think can be lost is that while “The Cosbys” may have been somewhat unrealistic for many people of color at the time, it doesn’t mean the show had any less of an impact to the people who tuned in every week. “The Cosbys” would in fact open the door for another well heeled African-American family while setting the stage for one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars. Only this family was situated a little further to the west. About 3,000 miles west.

When “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” debuted on NBC in September 1990, nobody could have foreseen it becoming one of the primer shows of a generation. Even now, years later, your bound to get a group of people singing along to that catchy opening theme song. “The Fresh Prince” touched on a variety of issues regarding everything from racial profiling, to dating, to Will’s antics with his Uncle Phil. “Fresh Prince” didn’t just make you laugh, it could also enlighten as well, while generally being safe for younger audiences so that everyone could watch.

These were just a few shows that helped diversify the American family television landscape, but they were far from the only ones. Here’s a few more, stretching from the mid-70s to as recently as a few years ago:

“The Jeffersons” (1975-1985)

“The Cosby Show” (1984-1992)

“227” (1985-1990)

“Family Matters” (1989-1998)

“The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” (1990-1996)

“The Hughleys” (1998-2002)

“My Wife and Kids” (2001-2005)

“George Lopez” (2002-2007)