KEEPING IT REAL: Tina Campbell and Erica Campbell attending last month's New York City premiere of their new WE tv reality series, "Mary Mary." (Photo: Newscom)
Since gospel duo Mary Mary burst on the music scene with their crossover hit “Shackles (Praise You)” in 2000, sisters Erica and Tina Campbell, who named themselves after Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene, have defied what it means to be gospel artists. And now with the arrival of Mary Mary, their new reality television show, the duo have another vehicle to appeal to audiences outside of the traditional gospel realm. The show recently debuted on WE tv, the same network that brought us the runaway reality TV hit Braxton Family Values.
However, outside of being network mates and powerhouse vocalists who happen to be sisters, that is where the similarities end. There are no dead-beat husbands, sisters on the verge of alcoholism, or sisters vying for breakout status by creating catchy one-liners which all end in “dot-com.” Their show is decidedly tame in comparison — which may be both good and bad. In the first episode, we get to see what goes into being a three-time Grammy Award-winning gospel act. For Erica and Tina (who happen to be married to unrelated men with the last name Campbell — now that’s some reality TV for ya), this means balancing their career ambition while being mothers to almost eight children between them (as Tina is pregnant with her fourth child) and wives to men who also have thriving careers. Warryn Campbell, married to Erica, is Mary Mary’s producer. Teddy Campbell, Tina’s hubby, is the drummer for Jay Leno’s Tonight Show band.
The duo is invited to perform at Macy’s “Great Christmas Tree Lighting” concert (a signature event for true ATLiens) on Thanksgiving Day in Atlanta. Their high-strung manager, Mitchell Solarek, appropriately frames this invitation as a good decision professionally and bad decision personally. Nevertheless, Solarek urges them to miss spending Thanksgiving with their families in Los Angeles because the Atlanta concert would give them exposure to 100,000 people and potentially garner new fans. And Atlanta is already Mary Mary’s number one sales and media market, Solarek points out.
Erica is excited about the concert and convinces her husband to forego their traditional Thanksgiving plans with extended family and pack up their kids and head to the A on Thanksgiving. Tina, who seems to be the more outspoken sister, is not as sold on the idea because her oldest daughter, Laiah, will be performing at a glee concert during that time and her husband’s work schedule may not allow him to travel with her.
In spite of her misgivings, Tina decides to perform in Atlanta and tries to explain her decision to 8-year-old Laiah. Their conversation yields the most real and tender moment of the show, as Laiah weeps on her mother’s shoulder and chides her for missing out on important family events. In the commentary, Tina admits feeling “guilt for having this lifestyle that I have.” Still, she also admits to loving her lifestyle and wanting to find a successful balance between career and family. She takes red-eye flights to her gigs to be able to tuck her children in at night, saying, “I can function on no sleep but them kids can’t function on no love.” I found it interesting that the sisters referred to themselves as Mary Mary when it came to career and Erica and Tina when they discussed their families. They appear to understand the difference.
Another opportunity for drama presents itself in the introduction of Goo Goo, Erica and Tina’s younger sister and the group stylist. Solarek readily admits that Goo Goo would not be his first choice as stylist but is forced to accept her anyway. Styling gospel artists is a tricky endeavor, he explains, as female gospel artists are either criticized for dressing like a church lady or like Jezebel. And Solarek’s confidence in Goo Goo getting it right — not to mention her reliability — is severely tested. We also get to meet Honey, Erica and Tina’s mom, who was their first choir director at their childhood church, Evangelistic Church of God in Christ in California.
By the time they arrive in Atlanta for the concert, Tina is in funky mood and reveals her resentment at being alone in a hotel room on Thanksgiving, particularly since her family seems to be having fun without her and Erica’s family are in a hotel room down the hall. “This freaking sucks,” Tina declares. I won’t reveal what happens next, in case you still have the episode on DVR, but let’s just say the show is clearly interested in affirming the positive.
What I like about Mary Mary is that it’s a real-life depiction of successful black women, who are married to good men and trying to do right by their families. It also helps that, though we see their faith expressed, the show — like Mary Mary’s music — isn’t too churchy or preachy.
A potential problem for future episodes? I fear the show may not have enough mayhem and dysfunction to satisfy today’s reality show audiences, who have been fed a steady diet of the raucous dealings of Braxtons, Kardashians, and Real Housewives. In fact, I checked my social media sites during the airing of the premiere and was dismayed to see little to no chatter. But, then again, Mary Mary’s signature hit “Shackles (Praise You)” broke the traditional gospel mold, so maybe their show will catch fire by flipping the script on the typical reality TV formula.
New episodes will air in the show’s regular timeslot, Thursdays at 9 p.m. Eastern Time, beginning April 5. If you’ve watched the show already, what do you think?
A week ago, I was reminded of something that I didn’t realize I needed to be reminded of. I’m a Christian, so I know that I am loved, that I was created with and for a purpose, that I have power available to me that doesn’t come from this world. But as a Christian black woman, I was reminded that I also rock.
I haven’t had cable television for years, so this was my first time watching the BET broadcast of the Black Girls Rock! awards event. And when I saw previews for the show, old questions like those that have been asked since the initiation of Black History week-later expanded to Black History month-crossed my mind. Questions like, Is this type of show really necessary?If white women televised an event called “White Girls Rock,” blacks would go crazy and call it racist. Isn’t this kind of show racist, too? And finally, any recognition of girls and women automatically includes black girls, so why should the whole society have to especially recognize black girls?
On a more personal level, I wanted to form a faith-based opinion of both the movement and the show that would be airing. So I asked myself, Is it okay for me, as a Christian woman, to accept a recognition and celebration of something created specifically to honor just women of color, particularly black women? Is this an exclusionary event, and what’s the right way to think about it?
Furthermore, I must admit to a little stereotypical thinking. Was everyone going to look like an audition prospect for a Lil Wayne video? If so, I was definitely not interested. So I felt some hesitation. But I am so glad I did watch.
The power of the show comes from the purpose of the movement. Black Girls Rock! was started by former model and DJ Beverly Bond as a way to “build the self-esteem and self-worth of young women of color by changing their outlook on life, broadening their horizons, and helping them to empower themselves.” Her organization does this by exposing girls age 12-17 to diverse arts-based experiences including writing, Broadway performances, and a workshop that teaches DJ’ing skills and techniques. Back in 2006 when she started BGR, Ms. Bond was concerned about young black girls’ likely inability to process and resist the onslaught of negative media images of themselves, and the consequences they were vulnerable to because of that inability. Five years later, Black Girls Rock! has evolved into a meaningful brand which includes the awards telecast.
Check out the video below for background on the movement’s history:
Everything about the show reflected not only BGR’s purposes to uplift and inspire, but also Ms. Bond’s personal commitment to integrity, a visual ethic, and dignity. The overarching themes of strength and resilience were strikingly displayed in Mara Brock Akil’s characterization of black women as those who never give up, and her entreaty to us to make our voices heard in all kinds of conversations at every level in society. This was echoed in Angela Davis’ Icon award acceptance speech in which she challenged black girls to imagine themselves part of a community of resistance. Jill Scott’s bold performance of “Womanifesto,” Estelle’s haunting “Thank You” to a former lover, and Mary Mary’s vibrant remake of “Keep Your Head to the Sky” were part of a memorable soundtrack of the evening.
What pulled the whole experience together for me was the segment highlighting the role of faith in helping black girls experience the strength and resilience they are being encouraged to develop. Seeing Shirley Caesar accept the Living Legend Award resonated with me as a Christian and helped answer my questions about possible conflicts between the movement and the Christian faith.
My hesitations are eased because I see that while this effort to specifically empower black girls and women could possibly be portrayed as a misguided and exclusionary attempt to engender feelings of superiority, it is actually just the opposite. It challenges the exclusionary rhetoric of superiority by strengthening the self concept of those being excluded as inferior, and elevating equality as the basis of inclusion. In fact, this movement could be especially game-changing for Christian women of color by helping us re-frame our identity so that we include ourselves among those creations of God which He called “good,” rather than how others image us. It actually puts ethnicity in perspective. Ethnicity and color are means to an end, not ends unto themselves. They are ways to show the glory, beauty, and wisdom of God; to demonstrate the truth of His claim that He uses the things considered weak in the world’s eyes to shame those who consider themselves mighty (1 Cor. 1:27); and to prove to us that because He has overcome the racism, prejudice, misperception, and oppression of the world, we can too (John 16:33).
So to all the black girls and women out there who love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ, yes, we rock too!
If you’d like to encourage a girl or woman of color you know who rocks, give her a shoutout by listing her name in the comments section below.
On Friday, May 20, 2011, the US reached the 60-day deadline according to the War Powers Act that requires military forces to cease action without approval from Congress. Congress introduced the Act during the Vietnam War. The President has the option to begin a 30-day withdrawal period.
Last week, Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned as the head of the International Monetary Fund in the aftermath of the charges he’s facing for allegedly forcing himself on a hotel maid. The media focused on how sexual assault allegations against the French politician will affect his career and (along with the Arnold Schwarzenegger scandal) returned the spotlight to the predatory and sexually imperious behavior of powerful men, but the affair also brings to light the dangers hotel maids face working in isolation, as well as issues related to class and race. Strauss-Kahn’s alleged victim, a West African immigrant, reportedly is feeling overwhelmed and threatened by the global attention being paid to the case.
The 2011 tornado season has been particularly aggressive, killing more than 450 people and destroying millions of dollars worth of property. A series of devastating storms roared through the Midwest over the weekend, including a horrific tornado that killed at least 89 people in Joplin, Missouri. Our prayers go up for those affected by these and earlier storms. Check out these safety tips from ABC News for advice on preparing for the unpredictable weather activity of this crazy storm season.
Mary Mary continues to evolve. They know what their loyal fans want and they know how to grab a new batch of fans with every album release. The album debuted at number ten on the Billboard top 200 charts, with 42,000 copies sold in the first week. Watch Walking below!
Chris Barbic is the superintendent of a new special “Achievement School District” in Tennessee. The district includes five of the state’s worst-performing schools. Barbic, who has a reputation for his successful charter school career, seems more than qualified to lead the test run of the President’s reforms. Unlike previous school reforms, the state will control a small group of underperforming schools, rather than addressing the issue state-wide.
Groupon Now is designed to allow business’ to fill seats on slow days. The deals are only valid during certain hours and usually expire within 24 hours. This model allows business’ to manage their perishable inventory. This model is sure to change the way people view business in general; it gives local businesses a way to maintain a buzz rather than survive on ebbs and flows of business.
Netflix now accounts for nearly 30% of all broadband traffic during peak hours. BitTorrent is second at 21.6%. “Internet service providers, have argued that TV shows and movies streamed from Netflix add as an unsustainable burden to their network.” Providers are looking into placing caps on broadband and extra charges. Based on the growing internet usage, your monthly bill may soon be based on usage rather than speed or bandwidth alone.
The new Angel’s will star Minka Kelly, Annie Llonzeh and Rachel Taylor. The original series, which began in 1976, starred Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith. The executive producer, Drew Barrymore, is also a former Angel. Unfortunately, after watching the preview, I predict these angels won’t have their wings for long.
Never Back Down, released in 2008 and made $41 million worldwide. This summer, Sony Pictures will release Never Back Down 2, which White says will have a “darker installment…with more of a Dark Knight feel.” The film centers around the world of four fighters from different backgrounds training together under an ex-MMA star.
Oprah Winfrey, who has inspired millions, donated millions to charity, and created an empire founded in humility and service, was honored last week at a star-studded surprise thank you event at the United Center, in Chicago. Everyone from Tom Hanks to Michael Jordan showed up and shocked Ms. Winfrey with gratitude for her commitment to quality entertainment, inspiration and philanthropic deeds. Watch the event TONIGHT!
After a few weeks off, Pop & Circumstance is back! (Did you miss us?) As you probably suspected, we’ve got plenty to talk about, including the return of BeBe and CeCe, Mary Mary’s questionable new pursuits, and a new book that will rock your world. But first, let’s check in with our favorite born-again sister from The View.
In this Juneteenth edition of Pop & Circumstance, we consider the U.S. Senate’s late-but-official apology for slavery and Jim Crow, Tweets from a revolution, Jazz at the White House, ‘Speidi’ and the problem with reality TV religion, and what will Mary Mary sing at the BET Awards?
Senate Apologizes for Slavery — and Spartacus Wins
This week in “Current Events You Thought Shoulda Happened 40 Years Ago,” the United States has officially given its “my bad” on slavery. On Thursday, led by Iowa lawmaker Tom Harkin, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution apologizing for the “enslavement and segregation of African-Americans” and recognizing the “fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws.” Though the apology is official, there was concern among some senators that the language in the resolution would leave the door open for lawsuits or a demand for reparations.
While African Americans are certainly delighted with the apology, presumably 92-year-old Spartacus film icon Kirk Douglas is also happy. The actor had been petitioning Congress for an apology for slavery for years. Just this past April, Douglas wrote on his MySpace page: “As I told you quite some time ago, in my last book Let’s Face It, I wrote about the importance of our country showing the world that we are capable of humility by making an apology for our behavior towards African Americans before and after the Civil War.” The veteran actor also collected signatures in support of the apology on MySpace. Isn’t it interesting that a resolution like this hadn’t happened already? Well, better late than never.
The Revolution in 140 Characters or Less
Lest we think Twitter is just another useless digital platform to share a constant stream of the minutiae of our lives, the social networking site that asks members to share what they’re doing in 140-characters or less just got more interesting. Following the controversial election in Iran, protesters who were blocked from using other forms of online communication by government officials took to the Twitterverse to share their discontent. Sympathetic Twitter users from all across the world joined in the protest, spreading word about the election and even encouraging greater mainstream news media coverage of the events. Some even helped protect Iranian protesters from being tracked by changing their Twitter location and time zone to act as “proxy or ghost Iranians.”
The viral nature of Twitter allowed those of us who may not be politically savvy or aware to instantly participate on the front lines of a massive international protest against a Middle Eastern government from the convenience of our laptops or mobile phones. I had no idea about the Iranian election, but found out about the protest from my friend Kyle Westaway who is an attorney in New York City. He sent out the following Twitter update to all of his followers: “Twitter Friends: Change your location and time zone to Tehran and +3.30 to help the protesting Iranians from being tracked. #iranelection”. Since his Twitter account links to his Facebook profile, he alone spread word of the event to hundreds of people with just one click.
The implications of this kind of mass mobilization are great, particularly for people of faith who are called to bring the needs and concerns of society’s marginalized people to the forefront of our culture.
Jazz at the White House
As much as I’m trying not to be all Obama all the time, I can’t help it. The First Family just keeps getting cooler. On June 15th, the White House hosted a Jazz Studio, featuring musicians from the Marsalis family, the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival and the Thelonius Monk Jazz Institute. In her remarks to the 150 high school students who attended the event, First Lady Michelle Obama referred to jazz as “America’s indigenous art form” and the best example of American democracy with its emphasis on “individual freedom, but with responsibility to the group.” UrbanFaith’s resident Jazz Theologian, Robert Gelinas, calls jazz more than music. He says, “[Jazz] is a way of thinking and a way of viewing the world. It is about freedom within community. It is a culture, that is, a set of values and norms by which we can experience life in general and faith in particular.” We couldn’t agree more, and it’s a pleasure to see the Obama White House encouraging creativity and re-imparting value on artistic expression.
Reality TV Piety
When Stephen Baldwin baptized Spencer Pratt a couple of weeks ago on television’s I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here, we let it slide. It didn’t seem right to comment on such a clearly misguided publicity stunt, despite the Christian relevance. Besides, the rest of the media was already making a mockery of the incident. NBC, the network that produces the show, titled video clips of the baptism as “Stephen Baldwin shoves the devil out of Spencer” or “Saved by Stephen.” The whole thing was ridiculous, but this kind of behavior is par for the course when it comes to the former MTV Hills reality show star Spencer Pratt and his wife Heidi Montag. The couple has been injecting itself into tabloid headlines for months with self-generated drama. For a while they bought a few extra minutes of reality star fame by selling the story of a feud between Montag and Hills co-star Lauren Conrad. Then it was plastic surgery and a botched music career for Heidi that culminated in a Pratt-directed beach video. Most recently the couple invited paparazzi to their rushed wedding in Mexico.
But now things have gone too far. Montag, a self-proclaimed Christian who often “tweets” about her faith, is posing for Playboy, and she’s justifying the decision by calling herself a “modern day Mother Teresa.” As my mother would say, if she thinks she’s Mother Theresa, then she’s got another think coming. And though we’re not in the business of judging anyone’s faith here at UrbanFaith, we can express our disappointment over how “Speidi” is portraying Christianity in popular culture. We wish they would keep quiet about their faith until they figure out what they really believe. In the meantime, they’re probably doing more damage to the Church’s reputation. What do you think?
The Word on BET
A couple of weeks ago we shared with you the gospel nominees for the upcoming 2009 BET Awards. Now we have more information on the performers. Set your DVRs for 8pm ET/PT on June 28th because Mary Mary will take the stage. We hope the gospel gals sing something deep from their recent album, and perhaps bypass the secular-friendly “God In Me” single. It’s a toe-tapper, but with this kind of platform, they might want to deliver a message with a little more gospel truth. Also scheduled to perform are Beyoncé, Kanye West, Maxwell, Ne-Yo, Fabolous, Young Jeezy, and Soulja Boy.