Sister, Sister

Sister, Sister

A TALE OF 2 DIVAS: The notoriously private Beyonce (right) only shares things designed to enhance her brand; Solange exults in her flaws and has no problem speaking her mind.

We spend most of our adolescent life, mimicking people we admire and then we enter the real world and find out that all along being “us” is actually what we do best. Unfortunately, shortly after that, we find out that our careers demand us to not fully be ourselves. Even the wild career path of celebrity requires an art-directed image. I’m fascinated by the choices that celebrities make to craft their image, not only because their decisions influence the world, but also because their image makes a profound statement on what they (and their fans) think “living” really means.

I consider myself a student of the sociology of fame and I see two very distinct life choices in two celebrity sisters — Beyonce and Solange Knowles — that is reflected in every group of girlfriends I know. They both pack a healthy dose of raunchiness, and I would hesitate suggesting that young girls adopt them as role models. However, their comfort in their own skin as young African American women is worth discussing.

Beyonce’s brand is infallible. This woman does not make mistakes; everything you see from her supports what she wants you to believe. The downside to this is that you rarely, if ever, witness a “human” moment from her; she’s notoriously private about her personal life. Most people that aren’t fans of hers dislike her for this reason. They want a flawed celebrity, not a robot. But that doesn’t stop Bey from tearing down the house every time she hits the stage. Nobody can question her talent; they just want her to be more “real.”

Below, Beyonce talks about opening up after accomplishing her life goals.

I’d like to consider myself to be poised; an individual whose flaws are carefully concealed and behaviors consistently managed but then I’d be Beyonce, and that’s simply not who I am.  Like Solange, I am the proud owner of a personality that is out-spoken, confident, and at times, inescapably rough around the edges.

Below, Solange sets herself apart from Beyonce and discusses her mother’s concern for her blunt interviews.

Solange didn’t have an opportunity to create such a carefully crafted image. She was destined to be in the shadows of her mega-star big sister from the start. And after getting pregnant at only 17, married at 18, and divorced at 19, there was no way she’d ever be a “Beyonce.” But I love Solange. She perhaps exudes self-confidence at a more profound level because she lets the world interpret her flaws and all. She believes living means being true to you at whatever cost and learning from the journey.

The evidence of Beyonce and Solange’s differences is not just in their public persona, it’s also in their music. Beyonce’s soulful voice is often masked by the latest pop sound and, as a result, she tops the mainstream charts.

Watch Beyonce’s ‘Girls Run the World’ video below!

Solange’s gumbo albums include soulful melodies that are obviously challenging for her voice and retro tracks that are equally challenging for album sales. She openly admits that she is not concerned with industry expectations; “everything from my artwork to my video to the music itself has to have a message and not because it’s hot or it looks sexy.”

Watch Solange’s 60’s inspired hit single, ‘I Decided’ below!

I admire Beyonce’s approach. As a businesswoman, she is more focused on the “ends” than the “means.” Whatever it takes for her to accomplish her goals is what she’ll do without divulging too much of her private life. Even Kelly Rowland, the fellow ex-Destiny’s Child member who calls Beyonce a sister, envies Beyonce’s determination. Rowland admitted that her first album flopped because she wasn’t well-prepared and told Stylist Magazine that “(Beyonce) plans everything.”

On the contrary, Solange told an interviewer, “I stopped trying to prove and undo misconceptions a while ago. I’m unexplainable. Most humans are.” In another interview she went deeper; I think confidence is one of the best qualities to have. I’m not making apologies or begging for people to like me. I’m very optimistic that God has plans for me. When you truly find peace with yourself and who you are becoming it’s a beautiful moment.”

I respect both of these approaches to life, but the latter is more “me.” Beyonce is a master at poise and machinelike professionalism, but that’s a hard role to play for a lifetime. Solange may suffer due to her honesty, but I’d argue that her triumphs are more satisfying. What do you think?

Facing the Hollywood Giants — and Winning

Facing the Hollywood Giants — and Winning

There was a girl named Alicia who said her dad had abandoned her and her siblings years ago, but he showed up for her brother’s wedding. When there was a break in the festivities, she and her sister took him to see Courageous. They were sitting in the theater watching the film and her dad began to cry. During the film’s climatic church scene, where men are urged to declare their commitment to become better husbands, fathers, and leaders, Alicia’s dad stood up alone in front of the whole theater in response to the film’s virtual altar call. Soon, other men stood up in front of their seats. Alicia and her sister began to cry. That moment, she said, was the beginning of a needed healing process for her entire family.

In Panama, 700 police officers gathered from across their nation to watch Courageous because they had heard so much about it. When they left the theater, they couldn’t stop talking about how they could follow the film’s call to action and sign a resolution to be men of honor. They said they could change Panama if government servants like them would operate in integrity.

There was a soldier who had served in Afghanistan. He’d gotten hooked on a pain medication that caused him and his family to fall quickly into a downward spiral. He watched Courageous then called his wife and said, “I have to do the courageous thing to save my family, so I’m checking myself into rehab. I now have hope.”

A man had blocked out of his mind that he had fathered a child out of wedlock when he was in college. Now decades later, after seeing Courageous, he realized he needed to reconnect with that child. “God wants to turn the hearts of children back to their fathers and fathers back to their children,” he said.

These are four of the over 320,000 Facebook posts written as a result of people, especially fathers, seeing the film Courageous and sharing their life-changing stories. After a successful four-month run in theaters last fall, Courageous was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc last week.

SENDING HOLLYWOOD A MESSAGE: 'Courageous' producer and Sherwood Pictures co-founder Stephen Kendrick.

Stephen Kendrick and his brother Alex, both ministers at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, are the filmmakers behind Courageous; the brothers co-wrote the script, Stephen produced, and Alex directed and starred in the film as police officer Adam Mitchell. The Kendricks, whose film company Sherwood Pictures previously produced such features as Facing the Giants and Fireproof, have become the Tyler Perrys of evangelical Christian movies, creating immensely popular films on a relatively small budget.

Courageous, in fact, was more successful than Fireproof in its first weekend, grossing $9 million ($2.2 million more than Fireproof), making it the No. 4 movie the week of its debut, and No. 1 if you take into account that the film opened against movies with three times as many screens as Courageous and budgets 20 times more than its $2 million production cost. The film went on to gross $34.5 million at the box office.

God Opening Doors

Stephen Kendrick can’t help but be pleased with the success of Courageous, but contrary to what some might think, he did not go on a wild spending frenzy or flaunt his success as a sign of his arrival in the big time. Instead, with each success he’s become more humble. Kendrick is quick to assign the credit for Sherwood Pictures’ good fortune to God’s answer to fervent prayer. From their first movie, Flywheel (2003), which was produced with $20,000 and ran successfully for six weeks at a single location in Albany; to 2006’s Facing the Giants, which was made for $100,000 and grossed $10 million; to 2008’s Fireproof — $500,000 budget, $33 million gross; and now Courageous, Stephen says it has been God who has opened doors.

Starting with the backing of their church of the movie ministry, and later the backing of Provident Films and TriStar Pictures, success still means giving back to God through supporting their church, their families, and others, with the aim of bringing attention to God’s message of hope.

Kendrick says their goal is to keep improving, and to a large degree they have made much headway in their efforts to do so. However, the stinging reviews of critics such as Rotten Tomatoes, the L.A. Times, and New York’s Village Voice hangs in the air. Stephen, in his customary humility, addresses the critics of Courageous this way: “People don’t need to be afraid of critics and criticism, because sometimes they are your best friends to help you realize how you can grow and how you can do better. When we have read reviews, whether on Rotten Tomatoes or Christian websites, and have seen consistent trends where different people are noticing the same things, then we know that we have to address those issues.”

At the same time, says Kendrick, some of the reviews were clearly anti-Christian anything, good or bad, or so far in leftfield that they did not bear much thought. However, one of the recurring criticisms of the film, from both secular and Christian reviewers, was that it was overly preachy. Kendrick doesn’t back away from that critique.

AS FOR ME AND MY HOUSE: In 'Courageous,' Ken Bevel portrays Nathan Hayes, a dedicated police officer trying to avoid the mistakes his absentee father made.

“Every movie preaches,” he says. “The religion of the world is externalized in their art, you look at James Cameron’s movie Avatar; he’s preaching a message about environmentalism and saving the earth. In our situation, when people know that we are Christians, they automatically are super hypersensitive for any kind of [religious] messages to be in the movie, especially when we have been didactic or use dialogue more than imagery to convey the message.”

The charge that the movie “unabashedly preaches to the choir” is right on target, Kendrick says.

“We do want to preach first to the choir, because the church doesn’t need to tell the world to get their marriages together if we don’t have our marriages together. We don’t apologize for it because we believe that God has led us in that direction. Our number one audience is the church. If you look at the way Jesus taught, he taught parables to the masses and the messages were embedded or hidden in the storyline, and then he taught by preaching, like the Sermon on the Mount, up front and overt to his audience. Our movies have been more like the latter. We’re not against doing the symbolic parable type movies, and if the Lord leads us that way, we’ll do it.”

Aiming for Eternal Fruit

Criticisms notwithstanding, overall audiences viewed Courageous as a life-changing film — not simply one that will prompt an emotional buzz and a superficial tear, but one that truly gives viewers, and especially men, something to think about in their personal lives.

And although Kendrick would love to see Hollywood take note of Sherwood Pictures’ success and begin producing more positive fare, his primary aim is to transform souls.

“Eternal fruit is our ultimate goal,” he says. “We pray for fruit that remains. Movies will come and go. Sending a message to Hollywood, or seeing Hollywood make more redemptive movies, those are nice secondary benefits. But our hope is that people will find a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.”

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Dissecting the State of the Union

Dissecting the State of the Union

Tweeting Cynicism

I may have watched one too many Republican presidential debates. At least that’s what I thought after re-reading my tweets about President Obama’s State of the Union address last night. I detected a note of cynicism in them that I surmise is a symptom of election season fatigue. The president struck strong notes for the middle class when he talked about ending tax breaks for U.S. companies that export jobs overseas, but lost me when he highlighted a laid-off 55-year-old man who found a green energy job. Clearly he hasn’t looked for work in four years.

Through a Middle-Class Lens

For a straightforward report on the speech, check out Cynthia Gordy’s at The Root. She summarized it like this: “The president largely focused on the economy through the lens of the struggling poor and disappearing middle class. Laying out his blueprint for restoring the economy through manufacturing, clean energy, education and a revised tax code, he also touched on what he called ‘the defining issue of our time’ — delivering on the American promise of hard work and responsibility paying off with the ability to own a home, raise a family and retire.”

Others weren’t so generous.

More Partisanship

At The New York Times, John Harwood declared the speech “more partisan than presidential,” saying the president’s “promises to heal the rifts between red America and blue America have fallen flat,” so “he is now trying to highlight his differences with Republicans in an effort to win a second term and new leverage.”

More Spending

Times Columnist Ross Douthat basically agreed, but concluded that “the substance of the speech could be summed up in one word: More.” More spending on, well, everything, “all of it to be paid for, inevitably, by more taxes on the wealthy.”

More Gridlock

The president’s new policies may not do much for Black unemployment, said Perry Bacon Jr. at The Root. This is because experts tie African Americans’ high jobless rates to their disproportionate work in America’s disappearing manufacturing base and in the public sector. “Obama’s speech included a number of ideas to further speed up the revival of American manufacturing. But many of his ideas, such as provisions to raise the tax rates for companies that ship jobs overseas, may not pass the Republican House of Representatives,” Bacon Jr. concluded.

More Republican Critique

Newser has a nice summary of Republican responses to the speech, including that of Herman “I’m Not Going Away” Cain. He focuses on Tea Party complaints like “Obamacare,” class warfare, and the “liberal media,” Newser reported. Cain also reportedly said sexual impropriety allegations like the ones that derailed his campaign have failed against Newt Gingrich because “the American people are waking up to dirty, gutter politics.”

Oh, is that why? Whoops. My cynicism is showing again.

What do you think?

Did the president’s speech inspire you or merely tire you?