I first heard about Zora Neale Hurston while taking an African American literature class back in college, and since that time have grown only more enamored with her work. Hurston was born in 1891 and spent much of her early years living in Eatonville, Florida, before departing for New York where she would become one of the more well known figures of the Harlem Renaissance Movement. Below is a short video biography of Hurston and an audio clip of Hurston’s life narrated by Vanessa Williams.
By now, most people have probably heard of Solomon Northup due to the release of the film “12 Years A Slave” last October. Well, on January 3, 1853, Solomon gained his freedom. Now more then 160 years later, we get to see Solomon’s diverse descendants speak on their very famous relative.
When we talk about the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, there are a few names that stand above the rest. Dr. Martin Luther King. Rosa Parks. Jesse Jackson. All very important and influential people. However, it could be said that the legacy of Malcolm X — perhaps not as clean cut as those other Civil Rights icons — is no less important and should not be treated as such. Fortunately for Malcolm, on this day 48 years after his assassination, his legacy is more than just a man known as a fire-and-brimstone orator, but as a man whose rise and conversion later in life was nothing short of remarkable.
In 1992, the biographical film “Malcolm X” was released starring Denzel Washington as Malcolm X and directed by Spike Lee. The film portrayed a man far deeper than just the angry dude pointing his finger in most textbooks. In the film we see a young Malcolm terrified as the Ku Klux Klan burns a cross on his lawn at his home in Nebraska. We see Malcolm’s maturation from a young hustler, to an educated prisoner, and eventually into one of the key leaders for the nation of Islam. Along the way we watch Malcolm become transformed with a pilgrimage to Mecca. Finally, there’s the dramatic scene of Malcolm’s death.
Personally, I thought the film was well done. Denzel was of course excellent, and I felt Spike did a good job of showing the audience the different moods and complexities of Malcolm X. Too often it becomes easy to label people –especially historical figures– through the narrow prism of good, bad, or insignificant. “Malcolm X” doesn’t allow for such easy assertions.
It’s worth noting that while filming “Malcolm X” Spike Lee went over the initial budget set by the studio and hence was fighting to secure more money to get the film released. Warner Brothers refused to pony up more cash and that’s when some well known African Americans stepped up and contributed to the project. Micheal Jordan, Magic Johnson, Bill Cosby, Janet Jackson, and Prince, were just some of the people who contributed to making this movie a reality.
“Malcolm X” was critically acclaimed upon release and opened many people’s eyes (including mine) to who he was and the legacy he left behind. 48 years later after his death, people continue to be educated.
46 years ago this month, the world said goodbye to Dorothy Dandridge.
Dorothy Dandridge is a name that is too often forgotten when it comes to women in the early days of Hollywood. Everyone has heard of Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and the like. Well, Dandridge was every bit the onscreen presence these women were, but as a black actress in the 40s and 50s it was hard to get noticed and even harder to find consistent work. Hell, truth be told it’s still hard for women of color to find steady work in Hollywood and get recognized (see Taraji P. Henson).
What makes Dandridge so compelling is the fact that she wasn’t just an actress, but a singer as well. She was what you would call an all around entertainer. Perhaps best known for her work as Carmen in the movie ‘Carmen Jones,’ Dandridge was electrifying on screen and would even garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in 1954. She didn’t win, but maybe more importantly, she proved she belonged.
Sadly, ‘Carmen Jones’ proved to be the high point of Dorothy’s career as she would spend the next decade with diminishing roles and increasingly high personal debt. The fact that she was even able to get prominent roles in Hollywood films could be seen as an accomplishment in itself considering the rampant racial discrimination of her era. Dandridge’s career might best be described in the last line of her biography on her IMDB page: “Had she been born 20 years later, Dorothy Dandridge would no doubt be one of the most well-known actresses in film history.”