Iyanla Vanzant (pictured above) is a self-help author, life coach, and star of the hit reality-show “Iyanla: Fix My Life”. Her show airs on Saturdays at 9/8c on the OWN Network (Photo Credit: TVguide.com)
However, as my relationship with God deepened in my ‘20s, I realized that Iyanla was a Yoruba priestess and maybe I didn’t need to seek that kind of wisdom from someone who didn’t share my Christian beliefs. Still, I occasionally thumbed through her books to extract the positive messages without being lured into her belief system. And then, suddenly, I stopped hearing about her altogether. Apparently, while Oprah was grooming the self-help guru to have her own talk show – similar to the way she groomed Dr. Phil – Iyanla reportedly gave her an ultimatum: give me a talk show or I’ll secure one with another media outlet. Oprah did not give her a show, but Barbara Walters did. The talk show, however, was short lived, only lasting for one season. The loss of Iyanla’s talk show marked the beginning of her descent: her husband divorced her, she lost her daughter to cancer, and declared bankruptcy.
Once Oprah started the OWN network, the media queen and her protégé eventually mended their relationship. In February 2011, the two held a raw and honest multi-episode conversation and reconciliation that revealed what really transpired just over a decade earlier. After their exchange, Iyanla received an invitation to be an expert on “Oprah’s Lifeclass” show and, ultimately, an offer to host her own show, “Iyanla: Fix My Life”, on Winfrey’s network. I watched a few of the first season episodes, but this season has set media outlets and social media buzzing. The April 13th season premiere featured DMX, a rap artist who has become as well known for his multiple arrests and erratic behavior as he is for his music, and his estranged teenage son Xavier. The episode made for gripping television: DMX nearly threatened Iyanla; shared tender moments with his son; and spoke in his trademark staccato speech patterns (which sound better in a rap song than an interview). The rapper, whose birth name is Earl Simmons, talked about being sent to a group home as a child, his drug abuse, meeting his now estranged wife Tarshera and cheating on her with multiple women. When the 90-minute show ends, the audience knows a lot about DMX and his family, but it doesn’t seem that DMX’s life has been “fixed.” In fact, he doesn’t want the show to be aired again and is reportedly planning to sue Iyanla.
In the second show, which aired April 20, Iyanla endeavors to fix the life of Sheree Whitfield, the former “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” star, and Bob Whitfield, her ex-husband and former Atlanta Falcons football player. From this episode, we learn that their marriage was troubled from the beginning: Mr. Whitfield wed his ex-wife because she was pregnant. Whitfield accused her of creating drama to be used as footage for the hit reality show and obsessing over the construction of her dream mansion Château Sheree. Sheree, on the other hand, accused her former husband of being a deadbeat dad because of his refusal to pay child support and take care of their two children. By the end of the episode, both parties readily admitted they don’t like each other and Iyanla admitted that she had not “fixed” their lives.
Today’s episode will feature popular Atlanta DJ “Sasha the Diva,” her 17-year-old son, and her new husband. Apparently, the son she raised as a single parent is acting out now that his mother has gotten married. I heard Sasha speaking about the episode a couple of weeks ago as she was the host of a seminar at a bridal show I attended. She said before she called Iyanla, she thought she was going to have to either choose her son or her husband, but Iyanla helped her to maintain both relationships. Well, I guess we will have to see for ourselves what transpires because if the past two episodes have been any indication of what is to come, there will be a whole lot of business sharing but not as much fixing.
Nevertheless, I must admit that I am a fan of the show. Iyanla has highlighted issues impacting the black community – such as drug abuse, single parenthood and blended family drama – in a way that addresses them without exploiting them. At the same time, I wonder if being on a single episode is helping families resolve issues that will likely take years of counseling to address. And while I haven’t heard Iyanla make any pointed references to her religious beliefs, I wonder if she is promoting them in any way as she counsels her show’s participants. Her new show is entertaining and educational, but Christians may need to be discerning about her advice.
It wasn’t very presidential for President Obama to appear on a daytime talk show like The View, cried his critics. But when Barbara Walters and the other hosts asked him about race in America, his honest response pointed a divided nation in the direction it needs to go. (more…)
Mo’Nique’s Oscar-winning performance in Precious came from a dark place in her family history. Say what you will about the actress and the movie, her Academy Award victory caps the unlikely rise of a black woman who turned personal tragedy into professional triumph.
Well, Mo’Nique did it.
The movie, Precious, for which she won the Academy Award for supporting actress, may have made us uncomfortable, but doggonit, Mo’Nique did it.
The sadistic way in which she’d make Precious, played by fellow Oscar nominee Gabourey Sidibe, wait on her like a slave and tell her that she wouldn’t amount anything. The pain and rage in her bloodshot eyes as her chapped lips sipped a cigarette bud revealing yellowed teeth. Mo’Nique, who broke through showbiz as a foul-mouth standup comedian, was absolutely believable as a dramatic actor.
And I’m sure she believed the Oscar would come.
By now you know Precious, based on the novel Push, is about an illiterate teen mom who triumphs after having been abused by just about everyone. She’s ridiculed at school and in her neighborhood. Family life is even worse. Her young child and newborn are from her father, who raped her. Her mother is arguably the most abusive and least sympathetic character in the movie. This is the role Mo’Nique worked into an award-winning performance.
The movie caused a stir, even anger, because it, yet again, put on display a highly dysfunctional black family. Even C. Jeffrey Wright, CEO of UrbanFaith’s parent company, chimed in about what many viewed as the movie’s lopsided portrayal of African American life. During the Oscar Night edition of The Barbara Walters Special, which aired before the 82nd Academy Awards, Mo’Nique addressed this. Abuse is “colorless” and that the actors just happened to be black, she said.
True, abuse and other dysfunctions exist in families of all ethnicities and races, but black dysfunction is too common in movies and throughout the media. This gives the impression that dysfunction is the only state of the black family. I realize family hell sells better at the box office, so I’d settle for more positive black characters in these same movies. Write in a black doctor who has it together, or an honest black business owner.
Truthfully, there are few families that are not dysfunctional and this is what many of us spend our careers — our lives — trying to overcome.
Mo’Nique’s Oscar winning-performance came from a dark place within her family. She was abused as a child. During the Walters interview, Mo’Nique discussed the sexual abuse she endured at the hands of an older brother beginning around age 7. Fear kept her from telling their parents until about age 15. Her brother went on to abuse someone else, and served prison time.
Mo’Nique modeled her Precious character after him. She told Walters that the last time they spoke and were together was as adults while she was in the hospital after birthing twins. Visiting, her brother picked up and held one of the babies in his arms. Bad move. I can only imagine the rage the welled inside Mo’Nique. She wasn’t specific about the encounter, but must’ve torn into him. With therapy, and the help of her husband, Mo’Nique released the burden, she said.
Faith is about believing deeply in what you can’t see despite the reasons to doubt that are before you. You can’t please God without it. As Mo’Nique’s name was announced as the winner, she paused and then stood and composed herself before heading to the stage. In her acceptance speech, she invoked the late Hattie McDaniel, the first black woman to win an Oscar back in 1940, and alluded to the politics that typically go along with being nominated for an Academy Award — politics that Mo’Nique boldly refused to partake in. It was at once clear that this Oscar victory — and her involvement in Precious — was much bigger than just playing a role in a movie. As I watched, I thought about all those rough times she must’ve endured, and perhaps, like Precious, how she might’ve wanted to give up. How Mo’Nique must’ve willed herself to focus not on the immediate trials in her personal life and career, but on the future rewards she envisioned.
You may not like her opinions or lifestyle choices, but Mo’Nique did it. She kept the faith.
“To every last person that celebrates a victory of being abused, and you can stand baby, congratulations,” she said backstage to the thank you cam. “…To the whole world I simply say I thank you and let’s start loving again, unconditionally.”
Now that’s a storyline we ought to be comfortable with.