Tzyna Pynchback, one of my good writer-friends and I decided to have a conversation about 2009 in all of its beauty and ugliness. We examine the personal and the public and what I think this blog is all about–interrogating culture. What it all means and what can we gather from the music, films, and books that build our cultural lives. This will be the last post for 2009.
abdul ali: Tzyna, thanks so much for talking to me about 2009. We’re less than three days out of this year….decade!
aa: what are some of those things this almost decade have taught you? I’ve learned so much about faith–not so much in an institution but in the divine and how we’re a part of that spirit world. We have the power to manifest our visions
t: this decade has been one of personal transformation. i think it’s important for individuals and for artists to be aware of their ability and need to be a changeling, and to embrace reinvention.
aa: can you speak more on the idea of changeling?
t: at the start of this decade I was a messy twenty-something– half wife, half mother, leftover daughter–even worse, I was a messy writer without focus.
t: at the end of this decade, I am a better writer because I better understand who I am and who I am not.
aa: that’s awesome…
t: tell me, do you feel 2009 was a profound ending to this decade or just more of the same?
aa: hmm…well as my friend says, 2010 is the actual bookend to the decade but I think there’s always the changing same. There was so much hope and excitement around Obama and it’s difficult to see so much of that waiver. But, I’ve always felt that New Years offers a sense of possibility
t: I think 2010 will be the birth of some collective awareness for people globally (and now I sound like a new age wanna-be guru). I started to feel this way at the year’s half way mark. 2009 was ripe with tumult: hope riding shotgun with fear, despair, and longing.
aa: I suppose it’s what we make it (or don’t make it) i the end. But, you have to admit there were so serious things that happened this year. Michael Jackson’s passing was huge and it was interesting to reflect on why it was so huge.
t: his death came around the time I reconnected with my first love from high school. I learned of MJ’s death via txt message sent from a friend in St. Louis, just as I had been found by a former lover on Facebook. That first night of his death, I sat up most of the night singing all the songs from his Thriller album with my brother.
t: I remembered sitting in the living room of my parents house waiting for the world premier of the music viedo Thriller, I remembered my brothers, my excitement at being the only family on the block to record that video on VHS.
aa: What does his songs mean/represent to you? For me, they signal the slow co-option of black culture by cultural forces. That’s what his life reminds me of. But his music celebrates life. I really enjoyed it. Still do. He was a genius.
t: MJ’s songs were the soundtrack of my tweens–that wonderful time when you just aware of everything around you and everything is still beautiful. MJ reminds me of being 12 years old and having a crush on the boy across the street and daydreaming of my first kiss, before I understood this world is not safe.
aa: I remember black and white. Thriller was played on TV when music videos began to take off but what I recall most was how lavish his lifesyle was. He seemed bigger than anyone, even himself. I wonder was that the media’s doing or his own orchestration?
t: Maybe both? There has to be a comfort hiding behind spectacle.
aa: ha ha. MJ reminds us of the images of black people on and off the camere.I continue to be unimpressed with what’s happening with Black Cinema, at least as far as American black movies go. Skin was an indie film about a South African situation that was compelling.
t: Recently I saw the film Yesterday, won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film (note: i will check the exact award title) amazing story of a woman in a small African village living with AIDS and trying to get her young daughter into school.
aa: Why is it films about black folks in other spaces seem more compelling than what’s happening here in the states?
t: I am underwhelmed by what passes as Black Cinema in this country.
aa: Absolutely, by why is this? Black Americans are a dynamic people. Why isn’t our film showing this?
t: I watched The Jefferson’s the other night on television, and George replied to another character, “Nigga please!”, I was shocked, and then suddenly I was not. So much of what is on television, in fiction, on film today is a high-tech rehash of the same outcry from three decades ago.
aa: I’m not so bothered by “Nigga please! I am, however, disturbed to see improvements in so many aspects of black American living but with our art it seems as it it’s frozen, stuck in a time machine. I rarely see myself reflected in film. In fact, I see more of myself in the films like “Revolutionary Road” and “The Reader” that have no black people in the film. This is painful to admit.
t: I look at performers like George Lopez and consider the arc of his comedic career and what that reflects for Mexican-Amercians. Lopez’s new late night show is the spin on the Arsenio Hall show from the 90’s, almost twenty years later how far has Black entertainment evolved?
We talk about film often, the two of us, and so often the films we discuss, we love, are not Black films.
aa: Not very much. There’s been a paradigm shift. You cannot assume that just because you throw a script together with some black actors that ALL black people will love it.
We’ve become more sophisticated as an audience. I wonder if black writers and directors should eventually stop writing “black” stories as they’re so ridiculous.
aa: and just write good stories. which will mean we need more visionary casting directors so that a black actor can get casted in a script that calls for an actor not black person necessarily
t: one of my favorite films this decade was “Closer” with Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Judd Law. The dialogue is sexy and the characters and their relationships and interactions with one another are loving, and wretched, and loathsome–real. I am so immersed in the film, and the characters, the fact they are not black is of no concern or consideration. I see the faces of my friends, of myself in these characters and situations.
Often when I am watching a black American film, their blackness never leaves me, it’s always worn on the top layer of skin. Publisher’s Weekly recently had an article that speaks to that in publishing.
aa: do you mean that their humanity dosn’t show—only their blackness?
t: I think the writing formula for too long has been: 1)black; 2)woman/man/child/
aa: So, after all is said and don what do you think as writers can do in our small way to contribute to the change we want to see?
t: There are too many stories on screen, on page where the emphasis is how, why, when this black man/woman responds to a particular catalyst.
Tell the stories we want to read.
aa: or maybe we should write the stories we want to read and see to quote Toni Morrison.
t: yes, you know i stole that quote from ms. Morrison lol exactly
Publishers Weekly printed a great article on AA Books in Today’s Marketplace. http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6711430.html
t: Highlighting what some refer to as the ghetto of publishing: major publishing houses with black imprints. books by, for, and about black people.
t: I do think it comes down to change, reinvention. Black art is ready, dying for reinvention.
aa: I wonder if it needs to die in order to have a rebirth or renaissance…
t: a little death is not always a bad thing. it has not gone gentle into that good night, lol