Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Less Than Zero

So we learned L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling was a racist jerk, again. Now what?

Nine years ago, a friend of mine was an editor for a small black newspaper in South Los Angeles called the L.A. Scoop. He knew I was a writer and filmmaker and basketball fanatic and invited me to cover Los Angeles Clippers games with him, as the Scoop had media credentials.

“Thing is, we need a photographer,” he said. “Do you know one?”

“Know one?” I said. “I am one.”

My photography skills are barely above average now and were quite less than that in 2005. Nevertheless, he took me along and I soon found myself being ushered through the media entrance of the then six-year-old Staples Center. After a brief meal, he headed to the press box and I was supposed to head to the photographers’ section behind the basket. I said “supposed to” because something about walking alone through the voluminous bowels of the newly crowned jewel of Los Angeles entertainment facilities and emerging in the pricy lower level of an NBA arena overwhelmed me and disoriented my sense of direction. In my confusion, I sat down in the front row of section 110, twenty feet from the court, to look at the map again and get my bearings. Three old, presumably rich, white men stood nearby, joking about something. One of them, with a wrinkled face and sad, narrow eyes, covered by glasses, turned to me, almost as soon as I sat down.

“Hey, hey,” he said, nearly barking. “That’s not your seat.”

It was a half-hour before game time and the entire section was empty. “I know,” I said. “I’m actually trying to find it.”

“Ha ha,” he said, “imagine someone like you trying to sit there.”

“I’m a photographer,” I said. “And I’m just trying to find the photographers’ section.”

“What paper are you with?” he said.

“It’s a small black newspaper called the L.A. Scoop.”

The L.A. Scoop?” he said. “Never heard of ya!” And then he laughed. Louder than was necessary, like the bad guy in a ‘80s cartoon. Full disclosure: I am a Christian. And I think most people who know me would say I am peaceful, patient and even keeled. But I grew up in Toledo. So punching him in his face was not out of the question.

Before I could fully entertain that idea, one of the other men cut in, reaching for my map. “Let me see if I can help you there.” He looked it over briefly and said, “You just go to the end of the aisle and make a left. It’s literally behind that basket.”

“Thank you sir,” I said, “for being helpful.” I cut my eyes at the guy with glasses and moved along.

Of course, you already know what I later found out - that the guy who mocked me was Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Even if judged purely by the franchise’s on court record, Sterling is universally acknowledged as one of the least successful owners in professional sports history. Since he bought the team in 1981, they had had just two winning seasons until the drafting of phenom forward (and witty Kia pitchman) Blake Griffin, a still controversial trade for superstar point guard Chris Paul and the later hiring of respected coach Doc Rivers suddenly made the team a winning, marketable, championship contender.

But ineptitude and apathy are the hallmarks of many professional sports owners. And ultimately, if your reputation as a loser doesn’t bother you, I’ve long been of the belief that it shouldn’t bother me either. It is Sterling’s off the court history, however, that propels him into the top of virtually all “Most Hated Sports Owners” lists. In 2006, just a year after our delightful run in, he was sued by the Department of Justice for housing discrimination against Koreans and African-Americans. The same year, he bought land in Los Angeles’s Skid Row district and ran ads in the L.A. Times stating that the land would be used to help the homeless. But here we are, in 2014, and nothing has been done with the land. Which would be fine, if Sterling wasn’t still running ads in the Timesdeclaring that it has. In 2009, Basketball Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor, a black man and longtime Clipper executive, sued Sterling for age and race-based discrimination. This is a man who heckled his own players during games and made comments about their “beautiful black bodies” to their face, post-game, while they were changing in the locker room. And then, of course, there is this, for which I invite you to grab some friends and play the always fun game “Guess How Many Things Are Wrong With This Ad?”

So once you know all this, the latest Sterling headline is neither shocking nor disappointing. His half-black, half-Mexican girlfriend (he is still married, mind you) recorded an argument with Sterling, in which he blasted her for taking a picture with, of all people, Magic Johnson. Along the way he dropped gems like, “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want.  The little I ask you is not to promote it ... and not to bring them to my games." There is a lot more, but I will spare you. Since 12 of the Clippers’ 14 players are black, I would assume that not bringing any black people to Clippers’ games would be counterproductive. Of course, adding to the drama is that his comments appeared just as his suddenly exciting and popular team is in the middle of an intense playoff matchup with the equally exciting and popular Golden State Warriors.

In fairness, Donald Sterling is not the only wealthy man to have deplorable personal beliefs or that has made money off the backs of people he doesn’t want to be associated with otherwise.  And, of course, the Clippers are not the only employees whose boss is a jerk.  My concern is, when, do we, as Americans, as people who allegedly judge by character over race, as NBA fans, take a stand? When do we, as black people, collectively side step popular entertainment and businesses that do not have our best interests at heart? When does the NBA, which is always laser quick in disciplining players who do anythingthat is considered an affront to family-friendly behavior on or off the court, implement a code of professional standards for the owners? When do the Clippers’ players, coaches and management speak up against such mistreatment as athletes like Muhammad Ali, Hank Aaron and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did in the past? (All eyes will be on Chris Paul, especially, as he is not only a Sterling employee but President of the NBA Players Association.)

I believe that people are allowed to be human and their opinions do not have to reflect my own. However, when one has a body of work that supports racist ideologies, those who do not speak and act against it ultimately do support it.

Friday, July 27, 2012

All the Children Are Insane pitch video

http://vimeo.com/m/46201494 A two-minute pitch that I directed, filmed and edited for All the Children Are Insane, a feature film that I hope to direct soon. Check it out.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Year of Parenting Dangerously

It will go so fast.

That’s what everyone tells you when you have a child, when you’re about to have a child, when you think you want to have a child, when you even look at a child -- enjoy each moment because they go fast. I didn’t really believe it. I was a child once, and, for me, those years weren’t fast at all. 4th Grade: Crawling. 7th grade: Sluggish. High school? So ponderous, I thought we were moving backwards on some Benjamin Button ish.

But I felt that way because I was the kid. The one with no job, bills or serious responsibilities. The one whose greatest contribution to the world was that I more or less single handedly introduced N.W.A. and Public Enemy to my junior high school. (You're welcome.) So, of course time felt slothful, elastic, listless... I had nothing to compare it to.

But this little girl, man. She’s like a different person every day. Yes, one who often screams for no apparent reason at the exact moment that whomever I was watching on TV or speaking to on the phone says something important. And yes, one for whom we’re still changing diapers and snatching crayons out of her mouth and the one because of whom, we are forcibly subjected to the ulcer-inducing Upside Down Show. But Amina is still, besides all that, a different person than she was a few weeks ago or a few months ago.

It hasn’t been an easy year for me. I want film. Well, film costs and 2011 is where I pay. Unless you’ve been paying absolutely no attention at all to me this year, you know that I’ve spent the better part of this year doing everything in my power to push my most recent original screenplay, All the Children Are Insane, into production. We’ve written a business plan, scouted locations, (verbally) hired some cast and most of our crew, developed an in-depth marketing plan, gotten the script to the manager of our first choice to play the eldest brother… and then, silence. Well, that’s not all the way true. My producing partner, Will Clevinger, and I, are still courting and meeting with potential investors and more or less living our lives as though we’ll be shooting the film next week. But in terms of the level of physical activity I had, in, say, May, things have slowed a bit. And while this film is far closer to being made than any of my other scripts, I have had my fair share of the doubt and despair common to all filmmakers trying to bring a new vision into a more or less apathetic world. Which I'm sure has not always made it easy to share a house with me.

So I am thankful that Amina brings perspective. Though I’m clearly her second favorite parent by a country mile, it is a fact that she said my name first and kissed me on the lips first. (I'm a dad, that's really all I need.) She doesn’t care where I’ve been all day or whether or not I’m grumpy. She knows who I am and she wants my approval, affection and attention. It’s that simple. And food. She wants a lot of that also. And no matter where my head is when I come through the door, she lifts my spirits without saying a word. (Or at least a word that I can understand.)

Which is not to say that we don’t get on each other’s nerves sometimes. She’s kind of a rough little girl and reacts to any form of discipline like a gangster in 1930s Warner Brothers films. And, once, just once, I would like to wake up on my own. And the approval, affection and attention thing has its limits: The last time that my wife and daughter left me home alone, I was so excited, I couldn’t even settle my brain to figure out what I wanted to do. So, of course, I ended up doing nothing.

Many parenting rules/cliches have been proven true already:

1) I love her more than I love myself. (Which says a lot because I'm on some serious Jasonphilia.)
2) The first time I disciplined her for being defiant, it hurt me more than it hurt her. (I think.)
3) I see the best of myself and my wife in her.
4) Raising a child produces (or unleashes) reservoirs of patience previously undiscovered.
5) Just because it is on the floor does not mean one should try to eat it.
6) Hiding my car keys under the couch is NOT COOL, infant or not.

I am, almost always, in search of the future; unable to assess how far I’ve come because I was ignoring the journey. But with Amina, finally, I’m present day like never before. I’m not looking forward to her being 10 or 16 (God, no) or 26. I recognize these things will happen, Lord willing, but I’m content to see each day and each change, each minor movement in her life.

What I failed to accept from the Holy Bible (Matthew 6:34) or from the parts of my life that were accelerated (Hi Pittsburgh!), Amina has taught me in her own little way: the future will be here faster than you think.

Happy birthday my Mina face.


Monday, July 25, 2011

RIP Amy Jade Winehouse

It's okay in the day I'm staying busy

Tied up enough so I don't have to wonder where is he

Got so sick of crying

So just lately

When I catch myself I do a 180

I stay up clean the house

At least I'm not drinking

Run around just so I don't have to think about thinking

That silent sense of content

That everyone gets

Just disappears soon as the sun sets

This face in my dreams seizes my guts

He floods me with dread

Soaked in soul

He swims in my eyes by the bed

Pour myself over him

Moon spilling in

And I wake up alone

If I was my heart

I'd rather be restless

The second I stop the sleep catches up and I'm breathless

This ache in my chest

As my day is done now

The dark covers me and I cannot run now

My blood running cold

I stand before him

It's all I can do to assure him

When he comes to me

I drip for him tonight

Drowning in me we bathe under blue light

His face in my dreams seizes my guts

He floods me with dread

Soaked in soul

He swims in my eyes by the bed

Pour myself over him

Moon spilling in

And I wake up alone

And I wake up alone

And I wake up alone

And I wake up alone
"Wake Up Alone" by Amy Winehouse

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Man Who Would Be King

I originally wrote this around the time Brooklyn's Finest came out. Wesley Snipes saw it and even though he never commented on it, he began following me on Twitter shortly thereafter. Then I pulled it because I hoped to have it published in a prominent film journal that shall remain nameless. But they gave me crickets, so I'm bringing it back. Hope you likes. And, yes I will say it - Free Wesley Snipes.

The Man Who Would Be King
Jason Gilmore on Wesley Snipes

To talk about Wesley Snipes in a historical context, you almost have to reach back to Woody Strode - the former pro athlete turned actor -- to get such a raw mixture of athleticism, stage presence and charisma, clustered in a dark-skinned, high-cheekboned package, that, while not conventionally handsome, has sent more than their fair share of female hearts swooning. The two men have the same initials, sure, and were born six days apart, but Woody came of age at a time when comedic roles or dancing roles would've meant playing the buffoon. As a result, he was unable to  show his range as an actor until well into his 50s. And he never had the opportunity to become a major star.

This is an important distinction. Let's be clear: Denzel Washington took the Sidney Poitier template and ran to the moon, just as Kobe Bryant took Michael Jordan’s and did the same. But there was no real blueprint for Wesley Snipes, no rational explanation for the variety of ways that he electrified audiences throughout the 1990s. In a row they came: his magnetic star turn as Nino Brown in New Jack City, the savvy basketball hustler Sidney Deane in White Men Can't Jump, the blond, evil warlord Simon Phoenix in Demolition Man, the first commercial black superhero as Blade.

The 1991 double punch of Jungle Fever and New Jack City certified it: Wesley Snipes was a star. Action scripts began to pour in and the first he signed onto, Passenger 57, was an absolute smash. He filled a nice void. He was the first black man regularly kicking butt in mainstream Hollywood films, ever. Others had tried. Jim Brown. Fred Williamson. But they were too early. Jim Kelly? He couldn’t even stay alive through Enter the Dragon. Then, by the ‘80s, it was all about making people laugh. The biggest black stars were comics. By the end of the decade, however, even those blacks were asserting themselves more. Eddie Murphy played an African prince in the ever popular Coming to America, then directed himself in the maligned but profitable Harlem Renaissance-era comedy Harlem Nights. Arsenio Hall injected a badly needed dose of soul into late night television, with his groundbreaking, eponymous talk show. By the 1990s, thanks in no small part to the popularity of rap music, our collective distance from segregation, and the emergence of take no prisoners black filmmakers like Spike Lee and John Singleton, the stage had been set for a black man to save everybody on the plane, without breaking a sweat. A brash star was needed for a brash decade.

He was a real alpha male, the kind black Hollywood hasn’t seen since. Denzel was the man, but of course he was the man, he was Denzel. He was an ideal. Something about Wesley Snipes screamed accessibility. If Denzel was The Beatles, Snipes was the Rolling Stones. Anti-establishment. Rough around the edges. Who in the hell let this guy in the door? But it was all deception. He wasn't that rough around the edges. He was an actor. In 1995 he starred in three movies, in which he played 1) a drag queen, 2) a New York City transit cop and 3) a married man who shares a tender, non-sexual night with a vulnerable, separated Angela Bassett. An actor. An actor without limits, who surpassed Hollywood's expectations, then the African-American community’s, then found himself more or less blacklisted and relegated to straight to DVD bins at Best Buy.

WESLEY TRENT SNIPES was born on July 31st, 1962 in Orlando, Florida. His father was an aircraft engineer, his mother a teacher’s aide. They divorced when he was an infant. He grew up in the Bronx, where, as he recently said, ‘The Bronx teaches you to survive. It's like, ‘Bring it on!’” He was a small, tough child, who gravitated to martial arts early and thought, deep into his adolescence, that he wanted to be a dancer. His aunt entered him in talent shows as a child, which resulted in his being cast in an off-Broadway play in middle school. After attending I.S. 131 and the LaGuardia High School of Music and Art (best known as the school from Fame), his life was thrown into a tailspin when his mother -- concerned about their rough neighborhood -- decided to move the family back to Orlando. The pace of the south bored him, but it was in the drama department at Jones High School that he fell in love with acting.1 He did puppet theater and mime for several competitions, and starred in school productions of The Odd Couple and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. After graduation, he caught a Greyhound bus back to New York and enrolled at the prestigious theater program at the State University of New York at Purchase (Edie Falco, Stanley Tucci and Ving Rhames were there around the same time). Being one of a handful of black students there was difficult for Snipes. He found solace in the teachings of Malcolm X and became a Muslim.

After leaving the school, he got married, and, like many actors, worked an assortment of odd jobs to provide for his young family, while auditioning for various parts. His athleticism served him well: his screen debut was as a high school football player (at the age of 24) in the Goldie Hawn-starring, Bad News Bears knockoff Wildcats. (It was also the screen debut of Snipes’s future comrade Woody Harrelson.) The same year, he played a boxer in the underrated Streets of Gold, holding his own alongside brooding upstart Adrian Pasnar and the great Klaus Maria Brandauer. Even in this early stage, the vintage Snipes persona is almost fully formed: street smart, hip, boisterous, yet with great comedic timing.

A year later, he was chosen by none other than Martin Scorsese to play Michael Jackson’s bully in the long version of the video for “Bad.” It was only supposed to be a three day shoot, but it turned into nearly a month. Jackson's high performance level, even in rehearsal, inspired Snipes, even as the higher visibility opened new doors. Spike Lee saw him in “Bad” and wanted him to play a small part in Do the Right Thing. Snipes declined, to take a bigger part in the box office smash, Major League. Playing another athlete, Snipes dazzled as the brash, flamboyant speedster Willie Mays Hayes.

But Spike was persistent, and he kept after Snipes, casting him as saxophonist Shadow Henderson in Mo’ Better Blues. As leader of the Bleek Gilliam Quintet, Gilliam (Denzel Washington) and Henderson are in competition almost from the beginning, over solos, over women, over the direction of the band. Spike shot of the lot of the confrontational scenes in the movie hand held, which added to the tension between these two dynamic actors. Snipes worked overtime to mimic the finger movements of a veteran sax player. The end result is one of the most realistic looking bands in cinema history. (Of course, it helped that the band's drummer, Jeff "Tain" Watts, is an actual jazz drummer.)

On the last day of shooting Mo' Better Blues, Spike told Snipes that he had “something for him.” Something turned out to be his first lead role, as architect Flipper Purify in the controversial Jungle Fever. Lost in the contention over the film’s frank discussions of interracial dating and Samuel L. Jackson’s star making turn as Flipper’s crack addict brother, Gator, was Snipes’ subdued portrayal. Flipper Purify is the least “hip” character of his career to date. He speaks with a nasal tone that is unsettling, his body language is rigid. Snipes struggles a bit with it, especially when his character gets upset, in the scene with Lonette McKee after she throws him out of their home for cheating.

Still, Jungle Fever established that he could carry a movie -- that he could play roles that did not require him to be slick or shoot a gun or play a sport. He had another admirer, screenwriter Barry Michael Cooper, who had been looking for sometime to write a fictionalized story on the exploits of legendary Harlem kingpin Nicky Barnes. The original script, by Thomas Lee Wright (who had also written an uncredited draft of The Godfather, Part III) was rewritten by Cooper, who had Wesley Snipes in mind for the role of enterprising drug dealer Nino Brown.2

Brown is the head of Cash Money Brothers, a brutish group of childhood friends that introduce crack cocaine to late 1980s New York City. A pair of renegade cops (Ice-T and Judd Nelson) lead a team trying to bring them down. Pookie (Chris Rock), a former stick-up kid turned recovering crack addict, is recruited to work undercover to help them gather incriminating evidence. Arrogance divides Nino from his gang and leads to their downfall.

Nino Brown was an anomaly amongst movie drug lords. He was highly intelligent and articulate and -- despite the litany of heinous things he does throughout the course of the film -- funny and engaging. He is both the most and least likable person in the movie. He is also one of the most consistently quotable characters in film history. Witness:

Cancel this bitch! I’ll buy me a new one.”

Sit your five dollar ass down before I make change.”

You gotta rob to get rich in the Reagan era.”

Yeah, we takin’ over the Carter. We gon’ bum rush the whole damn thing. Now if the tenants cooperate, oh, it’ll be lovely. They’ll be loyal customers, if not, fuck it, it’ll be like in Beirut, they’ll be live-in hostages.”

This was all very exciting to quote in 1991, just as it must’ve been exciting to quote Cagney sixty years before (“...there you go with that wishin’ stuff again. I wish you was a wishing well. So that I could tie a bucket to ya and sink ya”). Oh, and if you, at any point in the ‘90s, said, “See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya,” you too, were quoting Nino Brown.

Think back on all your favorite movie gangsters of the twenty years that preceded New Jack City: trot out your Michael Corleones and Tony Montanas and whomever else you want. None of them, not one, jump as quickly and convincingly from alluring to evil as Nino Brown. What is most amazing about the character is that there isn’t much of an arc. He begins the movie evil and ends the movie evil. (He throws a white businessman off a bridge, in broad daylight, three minutes into the movie.) The only thing that escalates are the levels of his insolence and paranoia. The only time he even seems human is seconds before he murders his best friend. It really shouldn't have been as effective as it was, but Snipes’ enchanting coldness keeps us spellbound. Wesley Snipes should have received an Oscar nomination for New Jack City, and if anyone besides Anthony Hopkins were running that year for any film other than Silence of the Lambs, he should’ve won.

The influence that New Jack City and Snipes’s portrayal of Nino Brown had (and continues to have) over the African-American community was monumental. It was everywhere. Even now, nearly twenty years later, Snipes recently told Parade, “It was interesting to watch how Nino, who I played in New Jack, became this urban folk hero of sorts. Guys would actually come up to me and say, ‘Yo, Snipes, I’m the real Nino. That’s me.’ It was like a badge of honor and they wanted me to be patting them on the back or buying drugs from them. I'm not with that.”3 Of course, it’s all over hip-hop. Rap megastar Lil’ Wayne has named not one, but three albums Tha Carter, in tribute to his own last name, sure, but also in tribute to the apartment complex that Nino Brown used as the headquarters of his drug empire. (Not to mention the obvious tribute his label, Cash Money, is paying to Nino’s gang.)

Snipes and Harrelson would team again in 1992’s timeless White Men Can't Jump, playing hustlers who learn about life and friendship and love on the raffish outdoor basketball courts of Los Angeles. The role was vintage Snipes, he was better cast here than possibly any other movie in his career. In one film, all his strengths came together: his street tough bravado, thoughtful dramatic chops, brilliant comic timing and raw athleticism (a basketball film starring guys who can play!). The “opposites attract” chemistry hinted at in Wildcats was proven to be dynamic. Both stars in their own right, Snipes and Harrelson bounced off each other as effortlessly as Martin and Lewis.

Sidney Deane (Snipes): Hey hey man, what's the score? Yo! Chump! I'm talking to you! I'm talking to the fucking air. 
Billy Hoyle (Harrelson): My name ain't chump, it's Billy Hoyle. 
Sidney Deane: Billy Hoyle. BILLY HOYLE. Billy Hoyle. Okay Billy... can you count to ten, Billy?
Billy Hoyle: Yeah. 
Sidney Deane: Good. What's the score... Billy? 
Billy Hoyle: I don't know. 
Sidney Deane: Then you're a chump. 
Billy Hoyle: I may be a chump. I just said that wasn't my name.

The two brought out the best in each other, until they brought out the worst in each other, in 1995’s disappointing Money Train.

Snipes starred in another action film, Drop Zone, then took another dramatic turn in Sugar Hill, playing Roemello Skuggs, a drug dealer trying to go straight. His mercurial brother, Raynathan (Michael Wright) is the counterpoint, threatening to pull him back in. Snipes’s performance anchors the film, even as other normally solid performers (Abe Vigoda, a miscast Ernie Hudson) over or under act all around him. When Snipes’s best friend (Steve Harris) is murdered, a grief stricken Wright flies into a wild revenge speech that ends with the trailer-ready line, “This is the flavor that they savor up here, neighbor!” Wright’s performance is erratic, but then, so is his character. Snipes diffuses Wright’s attempts to rally the troops without raising his voice or moving much, while standing at least twenty feet away from him. The scene sums up their characters but it also sums up their portrayals.

The film has great ambitions, but by 1994, all the gangster film cliches had been done to death (Wright’s character even goes so far as to name check GoodFellas right in the middle of the movie) and Sugar Hill borrows a little too liberally from many of them. The ending seems tacked on. In spite of all these factors, or maybe because of them, Snipes gives one of the best performances of his career. He works as Roemello Skuggs because his drug dealer is three dimensional: he is by turns, violent (in one scene, he head butts an arrogant African drug dealer so quickly, you feel like he head butted you), funny (in counteracting the tension between his brother and father -- a magnificent Clarence Williams III, as a more destructive version of Prince’s father from Purple Rain) and sweet (in his lush, romantic arc with the luminous Theresa Randle). We see the weight that he carries -- despite his always cool demeanor -- and that he wants to live a decent life, even if we know, somehow, that the odds are against his getting there. It is cliche to compare his performance in the recently released Brooklyn’s Finest to Nino Brown in New Jack City. But the former is actually closer to his turn as Roemello in Sugar Hill, with all its pathos and wanting to make up for lost time.

The action movies, even as his career ascended, became interchangeable (Boiling Point? U.S. Marshals?) but provided him with the opportunity to also act in low-budget, intimate projects (The Waterdance, One Night Stand). After taking 1996 off and a very humdrum 1997 (the highlight of which was his turn as a Barry Bonds-like player stalked by Robert DeNiro in The Fan), he became the first successful (grossing $150 million worldwide) black superhero in the sublime vampire action film, Blade.

JUST WHEN IT SEEMED like he couldn't be stopped, he was. The 1990s were drawing to a close and, just as he had ridden the tidal wave of the decade’s aggressiveness, conservative times were on the horizon. The trouble began in Ebony Magazine, of all places, where Snipes spoke of the appeal of his (then) Asian girlfriend within the context of angry black women of his past.

I know we've all been hurt, and we’re all very wounded,” he said in November 1997. “We have to acknowledge that, both male and female, in the Black experience. We’re a wounded people... We don’t want to compromise. We feel like we’ve compromised enough. But in any relationship you have to compromise... And I say to Black women also, brothers who are very, very successful, or who have become somewhat successful, usually it’s been at a great expense, unseen by the camera’s eye.... I want to come home and I don’t want to argue. I want to be pleasing, but if I ask you to get me a glass of water, you’re going to say, ‘Them days is over.’ please. Come on... He doesn't want to come home to someone who’s going to be mean and aggravating and unkind and who is going to be ‘please me, please me.’.... So it’s very natural that he’s going to turn to some place that’s more compassionate.... You’ve worked hard and you deserve to come home to comforting.”

The fallout was swift and immediate. No African-American movie star has become such without the ardent support of black women. News of the quote spread and was discussed and internalized and personalized and misquoted and demonized. Wesley Snipes is arrogant. The fame’s went to his head. He thinks he’s too good for black women. That’s why he’s doing all this martial arts stuff, who this dude think he is, Bruce Lee? Was it true that he physically abused a famous black actress? Snipes threw a couple of well-intentioned alley oops to what was left of his black female fan base: he executive produced and co-starred in the little seen, Maya Angelou-directed gem Down in the Delta (which finally made good use of Alfre Woodard). Then he produced (and miscast himself) as the male lead in an HBO adaptation of Terry McMillan’s Disappearing Acts. But things were never the same.

The early 2000s were quiet, then turbulent. He remarried and had four more children. Aside form Blade’s sequel and (horrible) third installment, there wasn’t much going on. Then, in 2005, Snipes sued New Line Cinema in regards to the last Blade film, accusing them of withholding his salary, leaving him out of key casting decisions and cutting out his scenes in favor of his young, white co-stars.4 A year later, he was back in court, facing serious tax evasion charges that have continued to mar his name. In the meanwhile, his slide into the straight to DVD market began, a period where, as he recently told The Washington Post, “They were selling toasters, you know, and they just needed Wesley as the piece of bread.”5 Everyone had forgotten him. And another stylish, black action superstar slash thespian had become the biggest movie star in the world in his wake. Again, the same initials, but this guy's name was Will Smith.

In Brooklyn’s Finest, Snipes is well cast as a drug dealer fresh out of prison and looking to get his life back on track. Director Antoine Fuqua has said repeatedly that he cast Snipes because he thought his real life troubles might help mirror his character’s disorientation of being back on the block. Watching him onscreen, one is quickly reminded that it has been at least ten years since we’ve seen him and that those ten years couldn’t haven’t been easy. Acting alongside Don Cheadle, Snipes seems like the elder statesman, even though, in real life, they are just two years apart. Snipes’s movements are measured and when paired with the intense Cheadle, the contrast is startling. As an audience member, it is impossible for us to divorce his absence from our screens from the isolation his character, Cas, projects. It is the same reason why Mickey Rourke was so perfect in The Wrestler. It is ok for art to imitate life.

It is not yet clear if Brooklyn’s Finest is the kickoff to another outstanding decade of work for Wesley Snipes. I hope that it is. We need him -- and actors of his ilk -- desperately in this microwave age, where reality stars have longer television resumes than trained actors who have sacrificed to learn their craft. Robert Downey Jr., a two-time co-star of Snipes (in Murder at 1600 and One Night Stand) has found his way out of a far darker past and has emerged as an Oscar nominee and box office behemoth. The new decade is still undetermined, but it can be whatever we want it to be. And maybe he will never be the star he was, but he really doesn't have to be. To see him, still exciting and thrilling us, still defying the odds after all this time, on a platform worthy of his considerable charm and talent, is (for now at least) enough.

1 http://www.answers.com/topic/wesley-snipes
2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Jack_City
3 http://www.parade.com/celebrity/celebrity-parade/2010/03-01-wesley-snipes-brooklyns-finest.html
4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wesley_Snipes#New_Line_lawsuit
5 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/25/AR2010022505178.html

Monday, March 21, 2011

Saul Bass Appreciation

This guy had some of the most amazing title sequences & posters in film history. Complex pays respect.

Some of my faves:

Thursday, March 04, 2010

New blog coming soon

Stay tuned for new blog from me, coming soon.

This one will probably be deactivated.

Stay posted.