Voices Beyond the Baseline: Lebron and KD share their thoughts on the ‘Bad Coach in Chief’

Athletes speaking out about social issues isn’t exactly a new thing, but the way today’s players are using their platforms to express their views against a sitting president is anything but routine.

Case in point are the comments NBA stars Lebron James and Kevin Durant had to say in a recent interview regarding President Trump and his leadership — or lack there of.

The comments were featured in a 16 minute video on Lebron’s media site Uniterrupted. The video is done in partnership with the ride-sharing company Uber, and features Espn’s Cari Champion playing the role of chauffeur/interviewer while asking guests in the back seat a series of questions regarding their career on and off the court. There have been two other videos I know of thus far featuring Paul Pierce and Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball, with Ms. Champion being the driver in both instances. These videos give the viewer a somewhat more intimate look at today’s athletes thoughts and answers to challenges they face on and off the court.

On this particular ride, Ms. Champion had the opportunity to interview two of the NBA’s biggest stars for a somewhat unfiltered discussion on sports, politics, influence, and what drives them not just as athletes — but as men. The ride takes place in Lebron’s hometown of Akron, Ohio and features pit stops at the places that influenced him growing up.

During the ride a number of topics are discussed regarding money, influence, growing up and social responsibility. It’s enlightening to hear these two talk about things outside of basketball and give the audience some insight into what fuels them beyond the 94 feet of NBA hardwood.

One of the more interesting segments were each man’s thoughts on president Trump when prompted by a question by Cari Champion. Lebron came out and laid it right on the table when he said that Trump, “doesn’t give a fuck about the people.” Meanwhile, Durant added that the president should be showing more leadership and empowering people. Instead, according to Durant, Trump was doing just the opposite and running America like a “bad coach.”

These comments in of themselves aren’t all that noteworthy, but the mouths through which they were uttered, certainly are. The NBA — perhaps more than any other league –has been rather outspoken on number 45 and his policies. The fact that Durant and Lebron are speaking out, being the league’s two best players, only strengthen’s the NBA’s position as the league most likely to stand up to Trump.

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Lebron lets his stance be known via Instagram

Suffice to say, there were some not too happy with Lebron and KD’s words. Laura Ingraham of Fox News, called them two “dumb jocks,” “barely intelligible,” and that they should just “shut up and dribble.” In Ingram’s view, she doesn’t believe athletes should have a voice, let alone speak out against a president her employer just can’t stop fawning over.

What’s interesting is that Fox News has had plenty of entertainers and sports figures on their airwaves freely discussing issues and topics beyond their realm of expertise. Philadelphia Eagles player Chris Long, created quite the Twitter story of Fox’s hypocrisy of athletes and entertainers speaking out.

When asked about host Laura Ingraham’s comments during NBA All-Star weekend, Lebron James responded, “we will definitely not shut up and dribble. I will not do that.”

There has been a long history of black athletes speaking out in America. From Jackie Robinson, to Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Althea Gibson and others, many of them understood that their talents gave them a platform. That platform, in turn, gave them an opportunity to speak out on issues affecting millions of lives in the communities in which they grew up in, many of whom could only dream of such an audience. Even the notoriously quiet Michael Jordan has in recent years opened up.

With the ever evolving prevalence of video and social media, it’s never been easier for today’s athletes and superstars to lend their voice. With millions of followers and watchers around the world, it’d be foolish to expect them to just “shut and dribble,” without taking note of the world around them.

The Role of An Eclipse and Nat Turner’s Rebellion

Here in the United States, people were obsessing about an eclipse that could be viewed by millions throughout the country. Apparently this was possible for the first time since the 1970s. The eclipse was treated with a lighthearted celebratory fare, with the only concern being people not look directly into the sun for fear of damaging their eyes. Not everyone got the message however. It was on this day though, 186 years ago, that an eclipse proved to be a harbinger of one of the most storied rebellions in American history.

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The Internet Comes For Everybody: ESPN Layoffs Result of A Changing Era

In 2004 I was an intern at my local newspaper The Record, based out of northern New Jersey. Those were challenging days for newspapers, as many people were getting used to the fact that they could get the same information in the daily paper online for free.

Newspapers weren’t getting the same advertising rates digitally that they were getting in print. Needless to say, the more people that got their news online, the more it hurt the bottom lines of papers like The Record. Fast forward 13 years later and television companies, notably ESPN in this case, are finding out what newspapers saw coming more than a decade ago: Just as the internet changed print media, it is now changing television in ways thought unimaginable just a few years ago.

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It was a Wednesday morning in April and my timeline was buzzing. ESPN was the topic of the hour because they were in the process of laying off roughly 100 people, many of them on-air talent. This was shocking to a number of people as we are not accustomed to seeing faces we recognize on television suddenly being gone in an instant. Though it should be noted this isn’t the first time layoffs of this kind took place at the sports network. ESPN laid off 300 people in a cost cutting move mostly behind the camera in 2015.

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Filmmakers Remember the L.A. Riots

25 years ago this week, Los Angeles was up in flames over the acquittal of four police officers who were caught beating up Rodney King on videotape. Now filmmakers are using their craft to reflect on what was, and what has become of Los Angeles since that day.

NPR has a list of films commemorating the 25th anniversary of the riots, and one film of particular interest to me is “Gook.”

Directed by Justin Chon, “Gook” tells the story of two Korean-American brothers and their friendship with an African-American girl during the outset of the riots. Chon actually lived through the riots himself, witnessing his father’s shoe store get looted as a child. Chon felt it was important to tell the riots from the perspective of two Korean brothers rather than immigrants, as he points out that too often recent immigrants and those who had been living in L.A. for sometime were just lumped together as Koreans without much context.

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My 2016 Film of the Year

Some films just grab you. They wrestle with your emotions, force you to consider other perspectives, and leave you uncomfortable at moments. ‘Moonlight’ did all this to me and for that, it is my Film of the Year.

‘Moonlight’ is directed by Barry Jenkins and it takes place in Liberty City, a smoonlightuburb of Miami. It is here where we meet our protagonist, Chiron, as a young boy constantly being picked on and bullied. It is also at this point that we meet Chiron’s best friend, Kevin. The two strike up a quick rapport and their friendship continues into high school.

It’s here where the film really picks up as Chiron begins to come more into himself and his sexuality while also dealing with the accompanying drama that comes with adolescence. The friendship between Kevin and Chiron deepens and the two even share a moment on an abandoned beach. The bullying however, doesn’t stop, and Chiron responds in a way that is both frightening and cathartic. In the last third of the film, both Chiron and Kevin are grown men with separate lives and their relationship has evolved too with the years.

This is a very basic synopsis of ‘Moonlight’ and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention young Chiron’s relationship with the neighborhood drug dealer Juan (played by Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend Teresa (played by Janelle Monae). There’s also Chrion’s deteriorating relationship with his drug induced mother, who just so happens to be a client of Juan’s.

Watching ‘Moonlight’, I was moved by the story and the cinematography held
my attention, in particular the various close up shots of Chrion and Kevin through the years. We literally see boys become men dealing with a cornucopia of emotions in ways we rarely see by men in American cinema – much less so by black men at that. What also is refreshing about ‘Moonlight’ is that the characters aren’t one dimensional representations of certain beliefs or stereotypes. For instance, Juan, though he may be the neighborhood drug dealer, he takes in a young Chiron and accepts him in ways Chiron’s own mother refuses to.

For its depth, character development, story cohesion and cinematography, ‘Moonlight’ earns my 2016 Film of the Year nod. Nobody should miss the picture regardless of their background, for I believe everyone can take something away from it.

5 Years of FilmSwag

The Fall of 2011 doesn’t feel all that long ago, but at the same time feels like ages ago if that makes any sense.

Yesterday September 26th, marked 5 years to the day that this blog was founded. 5 years in the books and I’m still learning about this blogging thing if we’re being honest. I don’t post nearly as much as I used to, but nevertheless, FilmSwag remains near and dear to my heart and a platform I view as important as ever in these trying times.

I started this blog out of a need to say something about people of color (specifically black people) and how it related to film and media in general. It was an interesting time as media was also evolving. In 2011 the word ‘web series’ was still just coming into the public lexicon. Now we have people who have used the platform to make the jump into the more traditional world film and television including one awkward black girl who’s come a long way from her Youtube debut in 2012.

Over the last 5 years video has gone from a nice thing to have to a must-have for many media companies. With the rise of HD video and the proliferation of smartphones, video is as ubiquitous as its ever been. Even Instagram, known more for its photo filters at first, now in features 1 minute videos up from 15 seconds earlier this year.

With as much video has increased over the last 5 years, not all of it has been for the better. People of color are still underrepresented in the major Hollywood studios and media outlets alike. Also, as more people have cellphones with video capabilities, we’ve seen a number of black men end up dead at the hands of the police, just within the last few months alone. Police brutality and mistrust among the community it serves are not new problems, just newly exposed problems with rise of new technology.

I’ve covered a number of topics beyond film and cinema on this blog, and intend to keep doing so. I think it’s important to touch on issues that may make some folks uncomfortable for it is there where the fight for real solutions begin. Let’s continue to keep getting educated together.

 

The Significance of the BET Awards

Sunday night I was playing NBA 2K16 and realized I had messed up.

I switched off my Xbox and turned on my TV only to realize I had missed the Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar performance. And with that, the BET Awards show kicked off and the disparate parts Black Twitter came together to laugh, criticize, throw shade, rbet-awards-2016ejoice, and all in all just enjoy the moment.

The BET Awards got off to a bit a rough start 15 years ago as it had to -like most brand new programs- find its sea legs of sort and figure out what it wanted to be. Was it going to be primarily focused on the awards? Was it going to be more about the performances? Was it going to be more about who showed up and shown out on the red carpet? In reality, it’s all of these things under the umbrella of celebrating black excellence in music and film. The rise of social media – in particular, Twitter – has only helped fuel this growth but allowing the viewer at home to become an active participant.

The most stirring performance of the evening belonged not to a musical act, but an actor during a speech – Jesse Williams. Williams, known primarily for his work on Grey’s Anatomy, gave a speech that was so poignant and powerful, that people rose from their seats and clapped. He addressed issues regarding police brutality, black lives matter, and the freedom that black people are still seeking some 397 years after our arrival.

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It’s moments like this that keep the BET Awards fresh, hip, and relevant in an ever changing media landscape. I look forward to next year’s version.