When Shirley Temple Met Bojangles

from the columnists.com

America lost perhaps its most famous child star in cinematic history when Shirley Temple Black passed away last week. Shirley Temple rose to fame in the 1930s at the height of the Great Depression and entertained audiences with her charm and smile. But it was her relationship with Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson that was unique to not only Hollywood, but America at that time as well.

Bill Robinson, better known by his stage name of ‘Bojangles,’ was a well known tap dancer in the early 20th Century. He played before white and black audiences alike, while making a living literally on his feet. When he first began working with Shirley Temple, ‘Bojangles’ was already in his 50s and had been a legendary tap dancer at that point. The pairing between ‘Bojangles’ and Shirley Temple would not be without its critics however.

Though ‘Bojangles’ and Shirley Temple shined well together on the big screen, their roles were anything but equal. ‘Bojangles’ — true to the form of how Hollywood viewed blacks at the time — often got stuck playing Shirley Temple’s butler. His singing and dancing may invoke some unkind parallels to the stereotypical roles another famous black actor at the time, Stepin’ Fetchit, had to play, but it’s worth remembering that these guys were at least getting work. In 2001, Gregory Hines would go on to portray ‘Bojangles’ in a movie by the same name. Below is the famous stairwell dance scene between Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson and Shirley Temple.  R.I.P. to both.

Harry Belafonte on Race & Cinema

This is from a speech made by the legendary artist Harry Belafonte at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards last week.

The power of cinema is an uncontainable thing and it’s truly remarkable, in its capacity for emotional evolution. When I was first watching the world of cinema, there was a film that stunned the world, with all its aspects and art form. They did a lot, at that time. The film was done by D.W. Griffith, and it was called The Birth of a Nation, and it talked about America’s story, its identity, and its place in the universe of nations. And that film depicted the struggles of this country with passion and power and great human abuse. Its depiction of black people was carried with great cruelty. And the power of cinema styled this nation, after the release of the film, to riot and to pillage and to burn and to murder black citizens. The power of film.

At the age of five, in 1932, I had the great thrill of going to the cinema. It was a great relief for those of us who were born into poverty, a way we tried to get away from the misery. One of the films they made for us, the first film I saw, was Tarzan of the Apes. [Ed note: The movie is called Tarzan the Ape Man.] In that film, [we] looked to see the human beauty of Johnny Weissmuller swinging through the trees, jump off, and there spring to life, while the rest were depicted as grossly subhuman, who were ignorant, who did not know their way around the elements, living in forests with wild animals. Not until Johnny Weissmuller stepped into a scene did we know who we were, according to cinema.
Throughout the rest of my life … on my birth certificate, it said “colored.” Not long after that, I became “Negro.” Not too long after that, I became “black.” Most recently, I am now “African-American.” I spent the better part of almost a century just in search of, seeking, “Who am I? What am I? What am I to be called? What do I say? Who do I appeal to? Who should I be cautious of?” In this life, when we walk into the world of cinema, we use the instrument that is our ability to try to give another impression of who and what we were as a people, and what we meant to this great nation called America. I’m glad that Sidney Poitier should step into this space right after the Second World War, and new images of what we are as people, certainly as men.

A lot’s gone on with Hollywood. A lot could be said about it. But at this moment, I think what is redeeming, what is transformative, is the fact that a genius, an artist, is of African descent, although he’s not from America, he is of America, and he is of that America which is part of his own heritage; [he] made a film called 12 Years a Slave, which is stunning in the most emperial way. So it’s a stage that enters a charge made byThe Birth of a Nation, that we were not a people, we were evil, rapists, abusers, absent of intelligence, absent of soul, heart, inside. In this film,12 Years a Slave, Steve steps in and shows us, in an overt way, that the depth and power of cinema is there for now the world to see us in another way. I was five when I saw Tarzan of the Apes, and the one thing I never wanted to be, after seeing that film, was an African. I didn’t want to be associated with anybody that could have been depicted as so useless and meaningless. And yet, life in New York led me to other horizons, other experiences. And now I can say, in my 87th year of life, that I am joyed, I am overjoyed, that I should have lived long enough to see Steve McQueen step into this space and for the first time in the history of cinema, give us a work, a film, that touches the depths of who we are as a people, touches the depths of what America is as a country, and gives us a sense of understanding more deeply what our past has been, how glorious our future will be, and could be.
I think that the Circle Award made a wise decision picking you as the director of the year. I think we look forward in anticipation to what you do in the future. But even if you never do anything else, many in your tribe, many in the world, are deeply grateful of the time and genius it took to show us a way that it should be. Forever and eternally grateful to say that we are of African descent. Thank you.
– Text provided by Vulture 

President Obama Speaks on Race and Trayvon Martin

Last Saturday a Florida jury determined that George Zimmerman was not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin. For those of you reading this who may not be aware, in February of 2012, Trayvon Martin was walking home from the store when he was approached by Mr. Zimmerman. A fight ensues and Trayvon is left dead. It turns out George Zimmerman had been following Trayvon in his vehicle, and when he asked a 911 operator whether or not he should go after Trayvon, he was told, “we don’t need you to do that.” Despite this, he ignored the operator and pursued him anyway. So what exactly was that suspicious looking man in the neighborhood armed with that Zimmerman decided to pursue? A pack of Skittles and an Arizona Ice Tea. I gave my thoughts about this case last year.

In the following days across the United States there were protests in cities from New York to L.A. In New York’s Time Square, protesters halted traffic dead in its tracks with the streets swelling with thousands of hurt, angry and disappointed people. It wasn’t just the fact that George Zimmerman was found not guilty, but that he wasn’t even initially arrested until people started protesting. Many talking heads on the news networks stated their opinions on the verdict, but it seemed everyone (well, many black folks at least) was waiting on the thoughts of one man in particular.

On Friday President Obama gave his thoughts and the nation listened.

Speaking from the deeply personal perspective as a black man in America, Obama spoke of black men being followed in stores, women clutching their purses while in the presence of black men and car doors locking as black men walked by. How does he know these things? Because they’ve all happened to him. Perhaps his most powerful statement was identifying that Trayvon Martin could have been him 35 years ago. To hear a sitting American President speak to the nation in those terms is unlike anything we’ve see before in our nation’s history. I encourage everyone to watch the speech at least once, but more importantly, listen.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/video/videoEmbed.html?uuid=1bd5fa26-f09b-11e2-9008-61e94a7ea20d&noheadline=0

A Little Girl, A Bowl of Cheerios, and A Whole Lot of Hate

It’s somewhat ironic that a 30 second Cheerios commercial could show just how far America has to go when it comes to race and media.

The Cheerios commercial that has ignited a racist backlash is rather simple in its premise. A young girl – who happens to be biracial – asks her mother if Cheerios are good for your heart. Her mother responds that they are indeed healthy for your heart. The commercial then cuts to her sleeping father on the couch who awakens to see an avalanche of Cheerios on his chest. Here’s how it all plays out:

As you can see, the mother is white and the father is black. More than a few people apparently couldn’t stand to see an interracial couple being featured in a commercial in 2013 America. What followed were some pretty nasty and hateful comments left on the commercial’s Youtube page. The vitriol was so bad that General Mills (the brand that makes Cheerios) disabled comments on the page.

Now what does this commercial say about race relations in 2013 America? That there is still much work to be done. Many people want to believe that race is not as big of an issue as it was say in the 50s and 60s, however I tend to believe that race isn’t as public a topic as it used to be.

Photo by MixedNation

What these hateful comments and this backlash shows is that unfortunately there are still many who harbor racist views of not just blacks, but a multitude of people within our society. This was true in the 60s as well. The key difference? Today, people (by and large) aren’t that stupid to express their racist attitudes in public. It’s a lot easier to spew hatred anomalously via the the black box that is the internet. And these racist comments aren’t limited to commercials either. This has been a problem in the gaming community for years and the issue was addressed at this year’s SXSW festival.

Ultimately, despite the racist attitudes of many, it’s worth noting that there were a number of people who supported the Cheerios commercial for its diversity. At a time when American families are integrating more than ever, this commercial is a reflection of the changing makeup of society, if not changing thoughts. Perhaps Camille Gibson, who is the vice president of marketing for Cheerios, said it best when she stated, “We felt like we were reflecting the American family.”