ALWAYS THE MAID: Actress Viola Davis won numerous acting honors but also faced criticism for her role as Aibileen Clark in "The Help." (Image: Dreamworks/Touchstone Pictures)
“When they called my name, I had this feeling I could hear half of America going, ‘Oh no! Oh come on, why her? Again!’ ” Those opening lines of Meryl Streep’s acceptance speech at the Academy Awards this past Sunday verbalized my sentiments exactly, and I’m sure the sentiments of many others. Though Streep is an excellent actor, I was disappointed that Viola Davis, the gifted actor who played Aibileen Clark in The Help, wasn’t chosen as this year’s Best Actress by the committee handing out those coveted Oscars.
While I know I wasn’t alone in my disappointment, I’m sure there were also African Americans who were actually relieved that Davis did not win. That’s just how strong the displeasure among many African Americans was regarding Davis’ role as a ’60s-era Jackson, Mississippi-based maid in The Help. Based on the bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett, The Help was a source of controversy almost from the beginning, with the African American community up in arms about the movie and Ms. Davis’ decision to play a maid. In an impromptu Facebook survey of my friends, I found mostly mixed emotions about The Help. “African American actors, as well as other actors of color must be selective in the roles they choose to play,” said one friend. “They must really know the purpose behind the film, the targeted audience, and avoid stereotypical roles.” Her view seems to represent the opinion of many.
FROM PAGE TO SCREEN: The film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's bestseller, 'The Help,' features Emma Stone as Skeeter, Octavia Spencer as Minny, and Viola Davis as Aibileen.
The general consensus, as seen in the news media, is that African Americans are weary of seeing Black actors in subservient roles, as well as the lack of quality leading roles and films that offer a broader view of the African American experience. It didn’t matter that Ms. Davis did a superb job in her portrayal of Aibileen, personalizing the character through knowledge of her family’s heritage of domestic workers. Many people simply were ambivalent about the notion of another Black actor playing a stereotype. Ms. Davis, however, saw the importance of her role when she toldFresh Air host Terry Gross, “You’re only reduced to a cliché if you don’t humanize a character. A character can’t be a stereotype based on the character’s occupation.”
Ms. Davis makes a good point, but even she has acknowledged the dearth of quality roles for Black actors. This has led to the enduring perception that the Academy Awards voting committee, which a recent Los Angeles Times report observed is 94 percent White and 77 percent male, is naturally disinterested in seeing non-White actors in substantial leading roles that transcend standard stereotypes.
I confess that I had my own reservations about seeing The Help initially, having grown tired of movies with Black domestic servants raising white people’s children while often neglecting the needs of their own families. I had seen enough of it, and even heard many real-life stories about it from my own family. Many, if not most, of our ancestors in the 1960s and prior — from the North to the South and everywhere in between — cooked, cleaned, sewed, chauffeured, handled the interests of, and had a part in raising the children of white families. Most of us don’t want to be reminded, preferring instead to highlight past and current achievements of many highly accomplished African Americans in our community. So was this movie a proverbial push back in line and one of “knowing one’s place,” as the Old South would remind us? Or could it be a realistic portrayal of a not-so-distant time in American history?
Another issue raised by the film is this: Should Black people continue to be angry about Hollywood’s shortsightedness when it comes to making films that authentically reflect African American life? Or, should we simply be grateful and celebrate whenever African American actors do their jobs well, no matter the roles they’re given to play?
In an appearance on ABC’s The View, Ms. Davis talked about her initial reluctance to take on the role. “You knew there was going to be a backlash from the African American community,” she told Barbara Walters and the other ladies. “It is a story set in 1962 about maids who are not educated, and I thought that people would look at that and they wouldn’t see the work.”
Seeing the work for what it was, I appreciated the film’s artistry. After counting the few films of Davis’ I had seen, I read her filmography of 40 films to date, including titles like Law Abiding Citizen and Antwone Fisher, but also Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail. I wondered about the attention or lack thereof, garnered from Davis’ previous roles, like the characters she played as the BBF (i.e., Black Best Friend) opposite Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love and Diane Lane in Nights in Rodanthe, providing a shoulder to cry on and mother wit, to boot. And let’s not forget Doubt, where Davis earned Oscar and Golden Globe award nominations for Best Supporting Actress. In that film, Davis played opposite Meryl Streep (again!), who was nominated for Best Actress. Surely, we all saw those movies. Didn’t we?
In that Facebook poll I conducted, some of my friends stated that African American directors should correct the problem of limited film choices for Black actors by creating films with great Black characters. While that’s an understandable sentiment, do we need to be reminded that it takes ambitious amounts of funding and the blessing of countless (usually White) Hollywood decision makers to get any type of movie made today? Hollywood finances what the majority of moviegoers will pay for (notwithstanding the bootleg copies of released films that probably sell exponentially above the few actual ticket sales at the box office). If Hollywood won’t fund the films we want to see, we get angry with directors like Spike Lee, John Singleton, and the Hughes Brothers for neglecting to make them (as if these directors owe us.) How many times have you heard people in our community complain about the latest gangsta film featuring do-wrong black characters? Rarely.
When Hattie McDaniel became the first African American actor awarded the coveted Oscar for her 1939 portrayal of Mammy in Gone With the Wind, we applauded even as she poignantly expressed her hope that she would “always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry.” Was anyone complaining then? Fast forward some 70 years later and many of us are complaining, as Tavis Smiley did on his PBS show, about Davis’ nomination.
During his interview with Davis and her Help costar Octavia Spencer (who went on to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress), Smiley remarked: “There’s something that sticks in my craw about celebrating Hattie McDaniel so many years ago for playing a maid … [and] here we are all these years later … and I want you to win … but I’m ambivalent about what you’re winning for.” The actress shot back: “That very mindset … that a lot of African Americans have is absolutely destroying the Black artist.”
As Hollywood continues to finance movies it deems profitable, we may continue to see characters like Aibilene Clark and the young, white, savior-esque character, Skeeter. And know that the majority of the Academy is White and male.
Whether refusing to support Black artists will contribute to their ultimate destruction, as Davis contends, is up for debate. But while you stand your ground waiting for Hollywood to showcase those artists in more desirable roles, think about supporting them in the meantime. Honor their attempts to make strides in a nearly impenetrable industry that still gives crumbs to Black and other minority actors, compared to the whole slices of cake the majority often receives.
Twins are undoubtedly cut from the same cloth, and it’s not uncommon for twins to be genetically predisposed with similar inclinations. But creativity is a subjective thing. So, how possible is it for twins to duplicate their creativity occupationally?
Aaron and Alan Hicks, identical twins from Chicago, have found a way to use their dual passion for art to honor God and celebrate their African American heritage. With virtually identical styles, the Hicks brothers create unique and inspiring images of favorite and lesser-known Bible characters, as well as wholesome, true-to-life depictions of African Americans of all ages. Through their company, Twin Hicks, the brothers provide illustrations for several of the Sunday school publications produced by UrbanFaith’s parent company, Urban Ministries Inc. (UMI).
UrbanFaith caught up with the talented brothers as they launched their newest art offering — the 2012 Faith and Hope calendars from UMI.
UF: What inspired you to become artists?
AARON HICKS: Our uncle Warren Hicks inspired us. I saw my uncle draw a picture of Muhammad Ali on a paper bag when I was in the 4th grade. I liked what he did and tried to recapture that. So I started drawing on paper bags, too. I did a little drawing in school, too.
ALAN HICKS:My uncle inspired me too, but when I saw what my brother did, I started copying him. I’d draw cartoons, comic book art—like what we saw in Marvel comics.
Jesus loves the little children.
UF: Having been raised in Chicago it would seem likely that you’d grow up seeing a lot of art around the city, with all the museums and such. So what kind of art did you experience as you grew up?
AARON: We grew up in the South Suburbs and didn’t really see a whole lot of art growing up. Our uncle was our mentor. He had posters, and some of the black light posters. Nobody talked about art history and such.
ALAN: We weren’t really aware of other types of art until we went to high school.
UF: It’s fascinating that you had limited exposure to art back in the early days, and yet you both developed a talent for art. How did that happen?
AARON: I never realized that I had a talent for art or that I was getting better at it until friends and other students mentioned it. They’d tell us that our work was really good. Even our teachers in grammar school mentioned it. We just picked it up really fast.
UF: Tell us about another great influence that has affected your art.
ALAN: I would have to say that John Cash, our high school art teacher, was a great influence as well. He really opened my understanding and enlightened us to other things. He took us to the next level and got us to create, instead of copying. We also got into art competitions because of Mr. Cash and developed accountability. Because of him, we took a class at the Art Institute [of Chicago] and eventually went on to win some art competitions.
AARON: I once did a portrait piece against 20,000 other entries and won 1st Place. It was a scholastic art contest and it really made me push to improve my skills as an artist.
UF: So things really started to take off for you in high school. How did you decide to study Biocommunications/Medical Illustrations in college?
AARON: I thought, what kind of job can I get with this talent? Mr. Cash told us about the program at the University of Illinois and it seemed right.
ALAN: Coming out of high schoolwe got a lot of negative feedback, but we wanted to continue creating art. Biocommunications was a growing field at the time and we believed we could find work in the field and still do art. Our training showed us that what some people think is not important, it really is important. After we got our bachelor’s degrees in 1985, we worked at Richard Rush Studios. And then we created art in health halls at the Field Museum where we worked on large 3-D exhibits of the heart — painting, sculpting and doing touch ups. It’s a joy to see our art go all across the U.S. in exhibits that teach children, in trade shows, and in murals. We also teach and that inspires children to pursue art.
Moses parting the Red Sea.
UF: You went from creating medical art to biblical and more personal, everyday images. Tell us how your faith moved you into this type of artwork.
ALAN: Faith is our base on everything we’ve done. We’ve been in church all our lives and came to Christ at age 13. I thought it was exciting to get visual images of what I read in Bible storybooks. When some commercial art companies started downsizing in 1998 we decided to freelance. God was in it and steering us from the beginning and we believe that God does everything well. In all our ways we acknowledge Him and He’ll direct us.
AARON: We’ve been in church all our lives and have never really seen many biblical images depicted at this level (from an African American perspective). Then people started approaching us about doing images from the Bible.
UF: Your art is unique and the depictions are so life-like. In your new calendars for 2012, we get to see images that may not have been done before, such as the woman with the issue of blood, found in the Gospels from Luke, Matthew and Mark.
AARON: We’re very excited about putting on canvas the stories that people talk about, but never have seen. Like Jesus walking on water, and Daniel in the lion’s den. The woman with the issue of blood is on the cover of the Faith calendar. We had been selling our prints to a company years ago and they put them into calendars. They liked them so much because they said our art looks more photo-realistic.
Hearts of worship.
ALAN: We’ve always wanted to portray images that inspire, uplift, and images that are positive. This is why we chose children as the subject in the Hope calendar. We created art that shows children pretending and playing dress-up in positive ways. We’re all about family. You can put these calendars up in a child’s room or anywhere. It reminds you of when you were young. We like artists such as Vermeer, Van Gogh, Salvador Dali, Thomas Blackshear and others that influence how we capture images of real people.
UF: What’s in the future for Twin Hicks art?
AARON: Teaching art to children and maybe do a one-man show in a gallery. I’d like to paint more anatomy and fantasy, surrealism—using real bright colors— and some realism. I have to do some soul searching first!
ALAN: We’ll continue painting for the market’s needs to make a living, especially because there’s greater flexibility in airbrushing. But I’d like to get back to drawing with pencil, oil painting with brushes and creating more classic art.
UF: And as we close, what would you say to other aspiring artists?
ALAN: Continue doing what you’re doing. Don’t stop and practice every day. LeBron James and Michael Jordan practiced every day so you should, too. Keep cultivating your art and explore other mediums. It’s important to stay open.
AARON: I would say keep after your passion and don’t let anyone deter you. The more you do, the better you become. And remember, it’s good to experiment with different things to find your strengths and weaknesses. That’s why we did 3-D art; because we never really had experience with sculpting and shaping, so we learned.
It seems Marvin Sapp, the talented singer and pastor who scored a huge gospel/R&B cross-over hit a couple years ago with “Never Would Have Made It,” is still making it — big time. Last week his latest CD, Here I Am, debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 charts, just below Lady Antebellum and above Ludacris.
“Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth” (3 John 1:2, KJV)
You’re probably hearing a lot of people saying they want to get in shape for the summer. As a matter of fact, you may have said it your self. But just because you don’t have to wear a swimsuit in front of your friends, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to eat right or exercise daily. Healthy habits should not change with the seasons; they should be a consistent lifestyle.
Easier said than done, right? Let’s be realistic. Convincing yourself that you need to optimize your health just for the sake of living a longer and more comfortable life sounds like a monster task. It’s hard to pass a fast food restaurant when you are really hungry. It’s hard to stop eating when there’s plenty of food left over and you don’t have the feeling that you’re full. It’s hard to exercise every day, especially with all the work you have to do; believe me, I understand. But no one said it would be easy. I will guarantee, however, that it will be worth it. If you want to start a consistent healthy lifestyle, don’t wait another day. Here are eight steps to get you going.
1. Decide to care for your health. You must make a choice to live a healthy lifestyle. Until you make up in your mind to do so, you will continue to change with the seasons. It shouldn’t take someone you know and love to die from health complications for you to decide to be healthier. Neither should it take you to be diagnosed with a disorder to force you to change your habits. Choose health so you can breathe easily, think clearly, and just plain feel better.
2. Drink life. Your body needs water and fresh, unpasteurized fruit and vegetable juices. How much you need depends on your age, current weight, activity level, metabolism, and even climate. The average is eight cups of water and two cups of fresh fruit and vegetable juices.
Why not just grab a half gallon of juice from the grocery store? Why do we need unpasteurized? Pasteurization is the process of heating liquids to destroy viruses, bacteria, and harmful organisms. What you get is juice that really isn’t as pure as it could be if it came straight from the fruit or vegetable, which means the vitamins and minerals are reduced.
3. Eat life. Eat raw, living fruits and vegetables every day. When foods are cooked, their natural enzymes are killed, and some of the fibers in the foods are broken down. Cooking (and especially overcooking) foods can reduce the amount of vitamins and minerals.
4. Eat fewer animal products. That’s right; meats and dairy products. They have no fiber, and they are the primary means that we ingest cholesterol.
5. Break addictions. Avoid smoking; reduce or eliminate caffeine, salt, and sugar. They all make your body systems work harder than they have to and cause strain on these systems.
6. Exercise. Do whatever you want to do that gets your heart rate up. Three times a week for twenty minutes per session will help. Check with your health care provider if there are physical challenges you have to work with.
7. Rest Trust God, don’t worry, get enough sleep, relax your mind, remove or minimize stress, and do something enjoyable. Resting doesn’t always mean logging more sleep hours. Take yourself away from your routines, even if it is for 15 minutes a day. Shut the phone, television, and radio off. Be still.
8. Cleanse your environment Treat yourself kindly by using natural products on your body and in your home. Man-made chemicals are all around us–in our foods, in the products we use, and even in the air we breathe. Be aware of them and try to avoid as many as you can.
Optimizing health can be done if you take small steps or huge leaps. Decisions have to be made because everything we eat, anything we spray, or even how long we sit will affect our health over time. Do research. Make sure there are different colors of food on your plate every day (if it’s all one color, you’re missing some nutrition). Be active. Use what God gave you, and don’t settle for what’s easy. You are worth the time and effort that it takes to be healthier.
Recently in Utah, state Senator Chris Buttars (R-West Jordan) proposed a way to save his state up to $102 million dollars — make the 12th grade optional. With a budget deficit of $700 million, Utah lawmakers must be scratching their heads over whether or not to embrace untraditional means to alleviate their budgetary distress — especially when school districts in places like Kansas City, Missouri, are being forced to use draconian measures to stay afloat financially.
Senator Buttars, who has since backtracked a bit on the proposal, believes that a lot of seniors slack off in their final year of high school and just “play around.” This ends up costing school districts money that perhaps may be allotted to extracurricular activities which some may deem unnecessary. So he favors a system of “accelerated graduation” that would get some students out of the system sooner. Opponents of the proposal argue that senior year is still necessary because it helps to mature the students, providing another year to excel academically, athletically, and creatively.