Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pornographer's Son... & More

      Before I kick off this long-ass post of a book excerpt followed by assorted hip-hop odds & ends (all being typed on a loaner computer courtesy of Stephen Wu and Randy Williams,) I want to thank everyone who’s donated toward the fundraising efforts to replace my aged PC which crashed and died almost two weeks ago. The response to my last post and an email blast that I sent to friends has been amazing. To date I’ve received $1,000 and for that I am extremely grateful. I know these are hard economic times so I appreciate all donations toward the goal of raising $3,000 for a new, high-end computer. Because fundraising is ongoing, I was advised by someone who’s worked for a non-profit to be more explicit about where the money is going and why it’s crucial for me to get a new computer ASAP. First, it’s the primary tool of my trade; I’m fucked without it. As a freelance writer, I have to write everyday to pay the rent. Second, this is a crucial work phase for me. I’m prepping a book on the artist Mark Bradford and his upcoming art installation which is based on Hurricane Katrina and its after-effects. (The installation will be set up in New Orleans’ 9th Ward.) The book I’m writing will center on Bradford’s project but expand to examine larger cultural and political issues within modern Black America. I’m also in the middle of co-editing a literary anthology, working on two novels and polishing a collection of short-stories/poems. Also in the pipeline: a couple of nascent film and music projects. In short, I have a lot of work to do and need a kick-ass computer to do it. Everyone who donates will be acknowledged in a special thank-you section of the Bradford art book if you so desire. (You can remain anonymous if you prefer.) As soon as I hit the money mark, I’ll post a notice and end the fundraising. As they say on TV, no amount is too small…

Donations can be mailed to:

Ernest Hardy
7095 Hollywood Blvd.
PMB # 454
Hollywood, CA 90028

Thank you:

Eothen Alapatt / Gendy Alimurung / Mark Bradford / Bull B. Dike / Sam Green / Reginald Moore / Bernard Peaks / Sarah Schulman / Antony Yee / the Anons



(This is an excerpt from the essay “The Pornographer’s Son,” which can be found in whole in my book Blood Beats Vol. 2: The Bootleg Joints.)

May, 1998: Mother’s Day Weekend

      When you first walk into Cats, a dive on W. 48th St. in Midtown Manhattan, a man by the door checks ID. After he gives his nod, you walk down three or four wooden stairs onto the sawdust-covered floor. It’s a long, narrow stretch of ground running parallel to the bar, whose stools are all occupied by middle-aged men nursing drinks. The lights are dim and the music tinny, wafting in from the back room. Opposite the bar is a mirrored wall that doubles the room’s despair. Wooden crates soaked with stale beer are shoved up against this reflective panel to provide additional seating. A few men nod as you walk pass, some offer tentative smiles. Being that you’re under forty – and the room is dim – the assumption is that you’re a ‘ho. It’s a fair guess: Cats is one of New York’s most popular hustler bars, where men of all races (but largely white, mostly middle-aged) come to trick with the mainly Puerto Rican and Dominican hustlers.
      At the end of the bar, more stairs lead up into another room. A jukebox is to your left once you reach the second landing. This is where the music is trickling from: TLC’s “Creep.” To the right, directly across from the jukebox, is a small, elevated stage. You notice it because as you walk into the room, you feel something press against your upper arm. You turn and a dancer clad only in Speedos is grinding his crotch into your shoulder. Standing in shadow, he has the unblemished beauty of a nineteen or twenty year-old ruffneck. When he steps into the shaft of light beaming from directly overhead, a brutal twenty years are suddenly rouged onto his face. He looks at you blankly, still grinding. You nod and try to smile an apology. Walking further in, there’s another bar, another mirrored wall, and a handful of small tables, each with two or three chairs clustered around them. The crowd back here is younger, livelier. There’s a cozy feel, an ethnic “Cheers” vibe: A lot of folks know each other’s names.
      You buy a beer and sit at a table that’s pressed against the furthest wall. A lot of the guys standing around trying to pick up customers are actors from various Latin Connection (LC) films – LC being a bleak line of Puerto Rican-cast gay porn. This is good since you’re working on a piece about race and gay porn, specifically the New York based homo-hop (gay hip-hop) porn created by 30-year-old director Enrique Cruz, founder and owner of LaMancha Productions.
      After a while, you notice that you’re being watched by a drop-dead gorgeous Puerto Rican boy in his early twenties. Clad in a baseball cap, dark T-shirt and slightly baggy jeans, he’s sitting at a table with a fat white man who looks to be in his late thirties, thick glasses sliding down his nose and misery webbed into his face. The Puerto Rican kid nods and smiles. You do the same. The white guy glares. This cycle repeats. Brandy’s “I Wanna Be Down” comes on the jukebox and the kid looks at you while mouthing the words, slowly dragging the head of his beer bottle along his lower lip. Finally he comes over and introduces himself: Bug. It’s tattooed on his arm.
      He asks your name, why you’re sitting by yourself, and if you’d like some company. He says he’s a strict top and charges a hundred dollars an hour. You tell him you’re a writer from L.A., broke, and strictly doing research. That tomorrow you’re spending the day in Bed-Stuy watching a porno being filmed. You two talk a while until he says he’s going to get a slice of pizza and invites you along. He’ll show you around Times Square.
      “Won’t your friend be mad?” you ask.
      “Yeah, but don’t worry about him,” he replies. “Just wait a few minutes after we leave, then meet me out front.” You agree and he goes back to his table. Some moments later, they exit. You finish your beer, wait a few minutes, then make your way outside. When you hit the street, you see Bug and the white guy talking a few yards away but you stay put, letting them wrap up business. The door opens behind you and one of the actor / hustlers comes out, followed by an old man. You step aside as the two pass and the old guy suddenly blurts, “I don’t know about this.”
      “Oh, c’mon,” groans the kid, “you won’t regret it. I promise you.” His New York accent is thick. The old man wavers and the kid starts to walk away, then turns around after a few steps. “You comin’?” he asks impatiently. The old-timer stands for an eternity, then shakes his head. “Naw, I don’t think so.” The kid turns again and walks down the street, shouting, “Okay, your loss.” The old man just stands there looking after the shrinking figure. Bug runs up. “Ready?” he asks.

      “So, where you stayin’?”
      “The Paramount,” I tell him.
      “Oh, yeah,” he nods. “I’m over there all the time.” He stops. “You stayin’ at the Paramount and you broke?” He arches an eyebrow.
      “I’m on assignment,” I tell him. “Someone else is footing the bill. Was your friend pissed?”
      “Naw,” sighs Bug. “That guy... He comes in there everyday. If I’m not there, he gets all pissed off. So I try to be there. I gotta be nice to him. He pays my rent, knowimsayin’? He spends so much money on me. But he’s cool. I like him. But now he’s all comin’ over my house,” he shakes his head. “About a month ago, he bought me a Nintendo 64 so now he’s coming over, like, everyday, dropping off games and shit. I wish he would just give me the money,” he laughs.
      “Sounds like the boy made the classic mistake,” I tell him.
      “What’s that?”
       “Sounds like he fell in love.”
      “Hell yeah,” laughs Bug loudly. “Hell yeah! Classic mistake! Classic fuckin’ mistake!” He slaps my back. “Man, I’m starvin.’ I could go for some grits ‘n’ cheese.”
      I look at him. “What do you know about grits ‘n’ cheese?”
      “Aw, man, see. Get it right. You think ‘cause I’m all light-skinned and shit... Naw, naw, naw. My grandmother was black. Buh-lack. We used to visit her every summer in Georgia. She could hook up some grits, eggs, bacon, biscuits... hell, yeah.”
      We walk around Times Square and Bug points out the porno arcades, differentiating those that are little more than hustling spots from those that are primarily for horny guys looking to hook up for free. “And keep moving,” he adds. “These fuckin’ cops will give you a ticket if you stop to take a breath. That ain’t a problem for me ‘cause I don’t work the street but it’s gettin’ outta hand. Giuiliani has turned this place into fuckin’ Disney. You can’t do shit no more. See that building over there?” he points to a high-rise in the distance. I nod.
      “That’s where Latin Connection shoot a lot of they shit. It’s crack central.”
      “You ever do porn?” I ask.
      “Naw, uh-uh. Man, Latin Connection is cheap. They offered me a hundred dollars to do a movie. A hundred dollars. See, what they do is wait till a muthafucka get strung out and then they can just pay you whatever they want and you’ll be grateful. Fuck that. I can make a hundred easier than that and my shit won’t be on tape, knowimsayin’? What’s that place you writin’ about?”
      “LaMancha Productions,” I tell him.
      “Never heard of ‘em.”
      I don’t bother telling him that LaMancha’s hip-hop gay porn can seem something akin to radical, antidote to the fare put that’s been out by gay porn powerhouse Latino Fan Club since the mid ‘80s. LFC made its name and forged its style by casting fresh-off-the-streets young New York Puerto Rican men in white-homo fantasies. By the time LaMancha launched in the mid ‘90s, using black and Latino casts, LFC was big dog on the block and LaMancha’s Enrique Cruz, who directs all the films, employed a classic hip-hip/upstart tactic to make his name: He talked plenty shit about the old guard. But he also spoke plenty truth, calling out the racist, patronizing depictions of LFC fare by noting that it was colored porn for white people. A war of words was soon playing out between the two companies, with an unexpected pay-off for XXX fans: LFC upped their game considerably and started putting out much improved product.
      One of the most refreshing aspects of LaMancha’s stuff is that its rawness doesn’t host the racism that floats off so much old LFC fare. Massuh don’t keep edging hisself into the frame. LaMancha’s movies evoke something of the vibrant self-determination that marks a lot of [largely white] ‘70s gay porn. Just as that older XXX material reflected the shifting mores and freedoms sparked by the gay, civil and women’s rights movements of that era, LaMancha captures something of this hip-hop defined cultural moment – not just the fashion, cadence & colloquialism, and visual sensibilities, but also the simmering power of first-person creation, celebration and revelation (all within a communal embrace) that hip-hop culture, at its foundation and at its most inspired, imparts to devotees. That it does this with the lives, bodies and sexual fantasies of gay men of color is not the violation that many homophobic heads would claim. It’s actually a return to hip-hop’s outsider roots.
      Cruz is, unfortunately, often groaningly inept with his camera. His insistence on using a single hand-held to shoot the sex scenes means that basic conventions of simply decent (let alone good or great) porn are often fumbled: establishing shots, clear penetration shots, the considered rotation from medium to close-up to wide shots in order to really capture the move and flow of bodies. His films can veer into the unintentionally abstract, with weird angles and bizarre cuts thwarting the very purpose of porn. But the promise he holds should he get his shit together is enormous. And his casts, every shade of black and brown, are the definition of fuckability. I’m spending tomorrow on-set as he shoots scenes for his next feature, Off Da Hook.
      Bug and I go into a pizzeria and order slices and sodas. When it’s time to pay, I pull out a lonely five dollar bill. Bug pulls out a thick wad of cash: twenties, fifties, a couple of Ben Franklins. “I haven’t worked [a legal gig] in two years,” he tells me. “I made two thousand dollars last week. Tax free. And that was before I put up my website. Fuck Latin Connection,” he laughs.
      Going on a hunch, I ask if he has a girlfriend. “Yeah,” he answers. “That’s why I’m workin’ tonight. She wanna go tomorrow and get a lot of shit pierced. I don’t want her to but if she wants it, then I want her to have it.” A woman in line in front of us turns around with a smile, “I wish I had a man like that.” Bug and I chuckle as we step back outside.
       “Does your girlfriend know what you do?” I ask.
      He pauses for half a beat. “She don’t ask questions, knowimsayin’? She know I do what I gotta do to take care of business. She ain’t stupid.”
      His response makes me think of the ways that desperation – or just lack and its solutions – are gendered in popular thinking. So often, when a woman says, “I did what I had to do…” the assumption is that ass was sold or traded, sex was used as currency. Men say the same thing and a host of shady activities might spring to mind (including his putting women on the block), but rarely does the thought occur that he might be sucking dick, selling ass or peddling pinga to pay the bills. Bug’s hawking of self to pay for his girl’s piercings rather than having her sell ass to support him (not that those are the only two options), and the fact of their unspoken understanding about his money-making endeavors, seems a gritty 21st century retooling of chivalry and commitment. It’s certainly an unvarnished take on love, sex, sexuality, hetero coupling and economic realities.
      “So,” I ask, “would you say you’re bisexual?”
      “Do you know any Puerto Ricans who ain’t?” he asks, looking me in the eye and grinning. “I don’t. Maybe some of them old muthafuckas in church – but I bet even they just keepin’ it on the DL.”
      I tell him that sounds like the kind of stereotype bullshit pimped in Latin Connection movies.
       “Yeah,” he shrugs, “but it’s true, though.”
      It starts to rain softly and Bug wolfs down his pizza. “Look, I gotta get back to work. Here,” he hands me a business card with his beeper number and web address. “Give me a call some time. Check out my website. And tell your friends about me.” He grins, slaps my hand and takes off down the street. He has an amazing ass. A few months after our meeting, Cats was closed down by the city.
      The next day, a car service drops me off in Bed-Stuy. This is not the Skittles color-schemed place of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. It’s gray, cheerless and rundown. I’m standing in front of a brownstone that’s seen far better days. It’s all about what’s happening behind closed doors.
      Filming begins in the dark...

Copyright 2008. Ernest Hardy

To read the rest of this article, purchase Blood Beats Vol. 2 at Amazon:
click here

Buy Blood Beats book directly from Redbone Press and you’ll be supporting an indie, black-owned publishing house.

You can mail your order and a money order or cashier’s check to:

Redbone Press
PO Box 15571
Washington, D.C 2003

For more info on purchasing either Blood Beats volume, phone Redbone Press at: 202.667.0392 (Fax is 301.559.5239)

      In my coverage of the Dances With Films festival, in the LA Weekly this week, I wrote this brief review of the documentary Diamonds in the Rough:

Brett Mazurk’s Diamonds in the Rough fuses two currently popular documentary subjects — global hip-hop and strife in Africa — to tell the story of Silas, son of a slain Ugandan revolutionary, who returns home from Canada (where his family fled after being brutalized by the government) to bring his own message of revolution via hip-hop. Though Silas is just so-so as a rapper, his passion and the movie’s succinct but detailed refresher course on Uganda’s tortured history are riveting.

      What I really found most interesting (and didn’t have the space to go into or develop) was the body language of Silas, both as onstage rapper and offstage political and social commentator. He reminded me of something I wrote in the essay “Punks Jump Up to Get Theirs,” in my first book. Track 5 of that essay reads:

      Since it’s birth, hip-hop has evolved and captured the globe. It’s become a common global language, an American Negro-rooted worldwide youth culture that voices political dissent and simmering cultural revolutions. But much of it also acts as a stealth bomb whose active ingredients are unbridled capitalism, the celebration of mindless consumerism and the reassuring brace of dated gender and sexual models. The false stability of rigid and retro gender/sexuality roles that so much (certainly not all) hip-hop provides is a desperately held anchor in a world of rapidly blurring racial/ethnic identities and morphing sexual mores.
      But it’s not only the big-money exports of pop and gangsta rap that can be oppressive in their uniformity. Check many undaground or alternative hip-hop spaces, and you’ll see the same gender divides and manners of physical carriage found in mainstream outlets. That last item – the physicality – is especially noteworthy; it’s the uniform’s foundation.

      It’s not just the swagger of the b-boy stride or the droop of his baggy pants. It’s the way fingers are locked and splayed before they jab the air, the way shoulders are squared as they move through the crowd. It’s the way performers, with one flailing arm as oar, glide across a stage, either surrounded by an army of robotic and joyless dancers or backed only by a deejay. It’s the pimp walk / gangsta lean that is the default setting for the way niggas, wiggas and latter-day CEOs move. Check the percussive hand movements of MCs as they emphasize a lyric’s dopest point, simultaneously raising a knee, hunching their backs, and contracting their bodies to the beat. Tellingly, these hood-honed mannerisms also make up the movement vocabulary of every angry-white-boy fronted hip-hop/rock outfit – as well as the Disney-spawned boy-bands. Peep the music videos or performance footage of hip-hop and pop artists from Cuba to Russia, Japan to France, and it’s all eerily the same.

      One of the few things that still interests me about hip hop culture is its Trojan horse quotient, the little critiqued soothing lull of conformity even by (or especially by) practitioners who are declaiming their individuality, idiosyncrasy or eccentricity. It’s especially noticeable when the tales are of hard knock lives. Check out the cookie-cutter agitation from:




This clip from Cuba is actually quite controversial on Youtube, where there are heated exchanges between folks who claim to be from Cuba or to have relatives there, and they say the kids in this news clip are pawns being used by the U.S. media to paint Castro’s Cuba in a bad light, and that the racism these kids say they’ve experienced is actually a narrative they’ve picked up from American rap and embraced as their own. Other voices, also claiming to either be from Cuba or to have relatives there, counter that these kids are speaking truth, that Cuba does indeed have “a race problem” and is not the colorblind utopia of popular leftist lore. Not being Cuban and not having relatives there, I can’t speak on the topic. But I do find the mannerisms and body language of the rappers to be interesting for their very… familiarity.

MISC. (These are my favorites, especially the last one.)


      This is the little discussed downside to the frequently trotted out observation (yeah, even by me) that the Black American male is the most clocked / watched / imitated creature on the planet… ‘cause this shit is just straight comedy. Yo, Ali G, where you at?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Message From My Local Internet Cafe

My asthmatic, long suffering computer finally and permanently unplugged herself a few days ago, so this is being posted from my local internet cafe. A loaner computer is on its way from a friend, so hopefully I'll be putting up new posts and getting back to work soon. The last few days have been a whirlwind of panic, fear, elation (yay, I backed everything up) and mild despair (fuck me... I didn't back everything up?) It's been like having an internal organ just shut down. As The freelancer's gig (as you might imagine) doesn't allow for the creation of a nest egg you can break open for such emergencies, so I'm fundraising for a new computer that will be up to the task of completing the four books I'm currently working on (1 project on Hurricane Katrina, 2 novels, a collection of short stories and poems) as well as the film, music and hard-to-describe projects I have in the pipeline. If anyone would like to contribute to the cause, I'd be eternally grateful. Mailing info:

Ernest Hardy
PMB # 454
7095 Hollywood Blvd.
# 454
Hollywood, CA 90028

Paz, amor y gracias,

(Forgive my butchering of my grade-school Spanish.)

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Grace Jones is 60... and can still kick your ass

Here's Grace Jones' latest video. It's for the lead single off the album she is scheduled to drop this fall. (I hope it does come to be. Grace is forever scheduled to drop a new album, and sometimes she even gives us a new single as a tease. Then... nada.) This new shit is pure, classic Grace. Song, visuals and vibe. She's a perfect example of someone who has created a larger-than-life persona that would have swallowed a mere mortal whole, but 60-year-old Grace is a titan. No matter how many substances might be carbonating her bloodstream at any given time, no matter how out-of-her-head she may seem or actually be, she's always in control of "Grace," whose signature song and philosophical anthem could well be "She's Out of Control." This video shows Jones both playing up and playing with her otherworldy-alien-kindamuthafuckinscary persona, bringing it firmly into the here and now but staying absolutely true to who she has been. Legacy, present and future all rolled into one. And the lyrics are just my cup of tea, dropping menacing commentary on the menace of corporate culture and the hold it has on us all. Ladies and gentlemen, Grace Jones...

Monday, July 07, 2008

Press Conference: July 7, 2008


Where: Verizon store 3829 S.Crenshaw Blvd. Los Angeles CA 90018

When: Monday, July 7th 2008

Time: 11:00 a.m.

What: Civil rights activist Najee Ali executive director of Project Islamic HOPE and a coalition of Civil rights organizations are calling for Lowell C. McAdam who is President and CEO of Verizon Wireless to withdraw the Verizon Wireless contract and distribution deal with Loren Feldman president of 1938 media.

According to Ali, "Feldman has a history of using the internet to promote racism and demeaning and negative racial stereotypes against African Americans on his internet site. He is responsible for and appears in what he calls "TechNigga." This clip on his website is racist and demeaning to Africans Americans and women. The Verizon distribution deal with Feldman sends a horrible message that Verizon seeks to partner with racists like Feldman and at Verizon and CEO McAdam find nothing offensive with "TechNigga," Verizon CEO Lowell C. McAdam needs to demonstrate that Verizon understands they should demonstrate corporate responsibility and will not tolerate racism, or bigotry. The Verizon distribution deal with Feldman sends a horrible message that Verizon seeks to partner with racists like Feldman and that Verizon and CEO McAdam find nothing offensive with TechNigga. Our community nationwide should contact Lowell C. McAdam and let him know that you will boycott Verizon unless this distribution with Feldman is severed. There are plans for an upcoming national day of protest against Verizon stores nationwide if our calls for a meeting and our demands are not met."

Project Islamic HOPE
National Action Network (Rev K.W.Tulloss President LA.Chapter )
L.A.Humanity Foundation ( Melvin Snell CEO)
Sister Tammy Lee ( Sister Lee Media group )

Friday, July 04, 2008

"Lift Every Voice and Sing"

The current controversy over the song sent me (where else but) to Youtube to see if I could find a cool version of the "Negro/Black National Anthem." Here are a few I found that I liked:

And below, the self-described "magnificent" Miss Leontyne Price goes off in a diva-centric, Black-pride/self-pride speech that leads into her version of the song:

Tardy Slip: Cornel West On Obama & More...

Part 1

Part 2

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

RIZE: excerpts from the essay

      In its final incarnation... the brief (84 minutes) documentary is LaChapelle’s worshipful look at the origins, participants and multiple meanings tucked within krumping – a raw, frenetic, hip-hop derived / African rooted style of dancing that blends sharp-focus athleticism with unbridled personal catharsis. On the surface, this counterculture dance form is violent and hyper-combative; it’s like watching a ballet performed atop a field of live grenades. It’s also a gritty new link in the cultural chain that stretches from break-dancing battles and the hip-hop cipher to the competitive balls and familial Houses of vogueing. Like its predecessors, krumping flowers from the shotgun marriages of class struggle and race, imagination and ambition. There’s a lovely, moving depth of spirit inside the hardcore outlines of its practitioners who furiously pump, pummel and stomp against erasure and invisibility.
      The film opens with black & white newsreel footage of the 1965 Watts Riots; a plaintive Negro gospel song accompanies images of the enclave burning. Cut to: video footage of Los Angeles’ 1992 Rodney King riots, at which point the movie segues into color. The camera zooms in on a trio of black girls who have a fourth bent over the hood of a car as they seem to deliver blow after blow to her body. But as you watch, the violently swung arms loosen and wave jubilantly. The three assailants begin to playfully jump up and down and are soon joined by their laughing “victim.” Encapsulated in that cheekily recreated performance of Rodney King’s LAPD beat-down is a layered metaphor for the Negro experience in America. Rize teases that metaphor of the transformation and transcendence of the historical violence inflicted upon the black body – representing both its corporeal self and the Negro spirit – into a movie that’s naggingly flawed. It swoons with adoration for its young black subjects, so much so that it’s almost impossible for the viewer not to get swept up in the giddiness of the love affair.
      The strength of the film lies in both LaChappelle’s intelligent capturing of the hyper-kinetic, sexy dancing and in his simply letting the cameras roll as the kids speak on the world around them. To achieve the former, the director largely eschews MTV-style fast-paced edits and showy camera work, realizing they’d not only be redundant but would actually short-circuit the power of the dancing. (The film begins with the disclaimer: “The footage in this film has not been sped up in any way.”) Having absorbed violence, loss, indifference and assorted strains of pain, and working from a vocabulary of percussive hip-hop movement that has been honed into something both new and eerily ancient, the dancers bounce it all back with so much force and joy-inside-my-tears defiance that they don’t need any technical assists. The jaw-dropping special effects are already part of their personal software, so steady wide-shots, medium shots and a few carefully chosen close-ups do the trick. From the salacious hip/ass/pelvis grinds of the “stripper dance” (which the more macho guys sneer at) to the darker, poetically assaultive moves of krumping, the dance sequences in the film are often dizzying.

      Without putting too fine a point on it, krumping could be described as a faith-based movement – faith in the Divine, faith in self, faith in the divinity of self. The film opens with a gospel track, closes with Edwin Hawkin’s “Oh, Happy Day” and has an a capella version of “Amazing Grace” sung at a crucial moment in the film’s center. The movie is thick with talk of God and spirituality, only becoming cloying in a church sequence (set to an extended version of Lauryn Hill’s gospel-infused “Tell Him”) in which Dragon puts aside his street-hewn gift for krumping to perform a pseudo modern-dance routine before a church congregation (think Thelma, from Good Times), seemingly under the mistaken belief that the traditional, socially sanctioned dancing is a more fitting form of prayer than is his own means of expression. At another point in the film, a girl collapses after dancing an especially fierce krump session. The crowd is delighted, with one boy explaining, “She just struck [had her spiritual epiphany/breakthrough]. That’s what we been waiting for.” At one point, Dragon says directly to the camera, ‘In the midst of krumping, there is a spirit.'”

      What keeps Rize short of the classic status that’s just within its reach is its director’s refusal to go deeper into issues of politics, history and the assorted ways that oppression really works in America. It’s so determined not to risk discomforting the viewer, to not disrupt the easy flow of its feel-good uplift (though it does brake for tears) that it pointedly sidesteps the opportunity to link crucial political and cultural dots. To that end, LaChapelle made the decision early on to forego using social analysts and cultural critics in order to let the kids speak the world as they see it.
      “I was going after something else,” he says thoughtfully, “and I needed to just be really clever on how I did this film. Because if I did an academic film, if I did a political film that was really overt, the kids aren’t gonna see it. I needed to do it the way I did so that people could go to the theater and see it, number one, and fall in love with what they’re seeing – to find some heroes and find some inspiration. I had no desire to make an art-house film. I wanted to make something popular, that kids would go see. If suddenly I had put in there someone to break it down with expert advice or opinions or statistics, it’d have been a different film.
      “I understand what you’re saying and I know there are some people who wish the film would be more political, but it’s really difficult to do a popular film that is very explicit in its politics. You have to be [he pauses]… I wanted kids to go see this film. The bigger picture for me, too, is that these problems exist in the ‘hood and there are many documentaries and articles written about them. But has that really called people into action? Has it really changed anything?”

      ...To reiterate, it’s the failure to fully contextualize that place which hamstrings the film. Watts burned in ’65 not because that’s simply what Negroes do, but because industry and income had been taken out of the area, replaced with… nothing, save mounting frustration and despair, which were exacerbated by status quo police brutality. The years following that unrest were filled with broken political promises and pointed indifference. By the time the riots went off in 1992, a culture of deprivation and defeatism had taken hold in the hood – not in all residents, but in enough to cast a powerful pall. Rize ends up short-changing LaChappelle’s adored subjects, their struggles and their triumphs, by not fully mapping out all that they are up against.
      The recited litany of ‘hood ills, and even the heartbreaking footage of yet another black mother weeping over the senseless death of her child, dissolves into the white noise of cultural clich√© despite the painful truths they contain. It’s the downside / reductive impulse of the old progressive war cry, “The personal is political,” where individual narratives are placed at the foreground but boiled down to a laundry list of “effect” with little or no serious attention given to “cause.” That’s especially crippling in a film that purports to celebrate an art form that springs from (and is an act of resistance to) the American cultural / historical / political apparatus of racism and poverty.
      Without critical grounding and analysis, the ghetto becomes this self-created / self-sustaining (and, of course, self defeating) entity detached from history and the machinations of larger, more powerful forces. It becomes a tool for authenticating the grit of a cultural commodity without forcing the shopper to appreciate real costs. In truth, the kids in Rize are doing battle with thriving legacies of bigotry and mutated / mutating consequences of prejudice. They’re up against not only the racism and white supremacy of white politicians and their multi-ethnic/multi-racial gate-keepers, but the ineptitude, corruption and cowardice of Negro politicians and leaders as well. The ghetto is no accident and it’s not just a by-product. It is gardened and maintained.

Copyright 2008 By Ernest Hardy

Complete essay can be found in Blood Beats Vol. 2: The Bootleg Joints

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One From the Heart: Donna Deitch

Director shoots from the hip about the Hollywood gender gap and the soon-to-be sequel to her most famous film

      ‘I feel really honored,” says director Donna Deitch, the recipient of this year’s Outfest Achievement Award, between sips of coffee at Masa of Echo Park. “Outfest is an organization that does much more than have a festival for one week or 10 days of the year,” she adds. “There’s the Outfest Legacy Project, which archives and preserves gay and lesbian film. That just doesn’t exist anywhere else, and it’s such an important aspect of the preservation of the culture. But, also, in terms of people who have preceded me in receiving this award, it’s good company.” Those previous recipients include Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant and Sir Ian McKellen. “I’d like to see more women, but ... ” Deitch’s voice trails off in laughter.
      Best known for directing the 1986 queer cinema classic Desert Hearts, about the lesbian love affair between an emotionally guarded, newly divorced college professor and the untamed cowgirl who teaches her to sing more than the blues, Deitch has also directed cable and network-TV movies, including the Emmy-nominated The Women of Brewster Place, The Devil’s Arithmetic and Common Ground; the award-winning documentary Angel on My Shoulder; and countless episodes of episodic TV. Currently, she’s working on a half-dozen projects, including a sequel to Desert Hearts and a film adaptation of her partner Terri Jentz’s recent nonfiction book, Strange Piece of Paradise, for which Jentz is writing the script. The Weekly sat down for a conversation with Deitch three days before she flew to Zambia with Gloria Steinem and the activist group Equality Now for a conference on female sex trafficking.

You reveal in your documentary Angel on My Shoulder that you’re the daughter of a fashion designer mother. What do you think you inherited or absorbed from her, not just mother to daughter, but artist to artist?

DONNA DEITCH: Well, let me add something about my mother, which is not apparent from that film. My mother came to this country as a non-English-speaking immigrant, who worked in a sweatshop as a seamstress in New York. In many ways, it was my mother’s history and struggle that had more, or equal, impact on me than the fact that she was a creative person. My mother was Jewish and ultimately got her entire family out of Hungary before the Nazis got in there, and that was the story she told to us as children.

Quite often when the term queer sensibility is used, it really refers to categories of gay-male aesthetics, cultural politics and practices. Outside of academia and lesbian-focused publications, there doesn’t seem to be much consideration given to what might be the lesbian equivalent of a “queer sensibility.” Do you think there’s such a thing as a specifically lesbian sensibility?

To respond to the earlier part of your remark, about the lesser attention given to lesbians vis-√†-vis queer or homosexual issues or identity or sensibility, well, that simply parallels this [larger] society, because there’s less attention given to women than men. So naturally, there’s less attention given to lesbians than gay men. I mean, it’s pervasive. Nothing new there. Now, is there a lesbian sensibility? With regards to what?

Well, let’s take film, and even non-gay film. For example, Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge — regardless of Luhrmann’s actual sexual identity — are quite often cited as having a queer sensibility and, more specifically, a gay-male sensibility.

Ah, yes, yes.

Would you say there is an equally identifiable lesbian sensibility?

Not that I know of. But I’m certainly not an expert. Someone else might say something different.

What do you think of the feminist critique of the history of cinema as being largely defined by a male gaze?

Women’s experience in the world is very different from men for very obvious reasons. First of all, the world is a much more dangerous place for women than it is for men. Women are not yet equal to men. Women are second-class to men, right? And, therefore, women’s experience is different. Everything we do as artists comes from our own experience, so I think women tend to see things — I’m speaking very generally now — differently than men do.

Let me give a specific example. When I was thinking about the love scene I was going to be directing in Desert Hearts, I decided I was going to look at a lot of love scenes to study what was wrong with them. Why weren’t they moving me in so many instances? Now, what was available to look at were primarily male-directed scenes because men direct most of the movies. I don’t know if I saw any directed by women at the time. There probably just wasn’t anything out there. What I was trying to do differently — is that something that wasn’t the male gaze? I’m not sure. But it had to do with the fact that I didn’t see any intimacy in most of those [male-directed] scenes, which was all right, but if there was no intimacy, then I needed a certain type of heat to replace that intimacy, something to connect with [the scene]. I mean, there were some great, hot [scenes], but those were the minority. Did that have to do with the male gaze? I don’t know. It’s hard to say, because so many of the films were made by men, so it’s very hard to make the juxtaposition, to be able to look at what is different and what would be a female gaze.

What do you feel comfortable sharing about the sequel to Desert Hearts?

Well, I’ll tell you that it’s an unconventional sequel. It’s more about the world of Desert Hearts, not specifically about the two characters, although they are in it. It begins to grow in terms of the characters. It is set in the heart of the so-called second wave of the women’s-liberation movement, in Manhattan. It’s just the next upcoming sequel to Desert Hearts, but then there’s going to be another one. I’m beginning to see several sequels. And I’m wondering if I might have a sci-fi sequel at the very end.


Cass Tech 84, Need I Say More?!

      I lived in Detroit from 1980 – 1984. During that time I attended Cass Technical High School, located in the heart of the city, and took either the Grand River or Linwood buses to school. My radio was always set to the Electrifyin’ Mojo. After-school TV was always, always “The Scene,” which was gauche and gorgeous, tacky and trend-setting all at once. Bougie Negroes clowned it (ask me how I know) but never missed it, and would hold mocking send-ups of the show, its dancers and dances, that allowed them to access the niggerish side of themselves. The show was hugely popular and influential. Vanity 6 and The Time were frequent guests when they were in town. The combo of Mojo and “The Scene” gave me an eclectic, electric foundation of musical diversity that I knew even as a teenager was something special. In this Clear Channel moment, I now feel like I got in the last thrust at the last orgy in Rome before shit collapsed. So, here’s my tribute to Detroit and Cass Tech, with special nods to the folks in PA, and the teachers we drove crazy but whose imprints are on us for life. The first few clips are from “The Scene” back when I was watching it. The rest of the clips are the songs you’d have heard on the Electrifyin’ Mojo’s show; some of them have video, most are audio only.
      R.I.P Ms. Hurd

Classic Scene shit…

Kano: “I’m Ready”

Slingshot: “You Shook Me All Night Long”

Tom Tom Club: “Wordy Rappinghood”

ELECTRIFYIN’ MOJO: A Partial Play-list

Bus Boys: “Did You See Me?”

Alisha: “All Night Passion”

George Kranz: Din Daa Daa

Howard Johnson: “So Fine”

Skyy: “Call Me”

Linx: “You’re Lying”

Culture Club: “Miss Me Blind / It’s a Miracle”