King of the Big Screen?

pop circumstance impactThe children of America’s greatest peacemaker, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., are once again squabbling over the rights to their parents’ estate. Following DreamWork’s announcement that Steven Spielberg would produce a biopic of King’s life, it came to light that only one of the three surviving siblings, Dexter King, actually gave permission to the studio. The others now say the sale of these rights is invalid. What a shame. As of now, DreamWorks says it will not move ahead with the project until all the King siblings are on the same page.

If the film does actually make it into production, we’re curious about who Spielberg will get to play the starring role. Sean Smith at Entertainment Weekly is throwing Jeffrey Wright’s name in the ring. You’ll remember him from Casino Royale (Felix Leiter), Cadillac Records (Muddy Waters), and W (Colin Powell). He delivers strong performances in all of his flicks and even played King in the 2001 HBO movie Boycott. He could be a great choice, but to be honest, the pickings are slim. All of the standby black male leads like Denzel Washington, Will Smith, or Forrest Whitaker aren’t right for the role, either due to age or body type. Perhaps this will be the career-making breakout role for an emerging black actor with little notoriety. We want someone who can allow us to sink into King’s life, evoking the aura of the great preacher, without the ghosts of his previous roles haunting the screen.

Idol Thoughts

By now, you’ve probably heard about 23-years-old church worship leader Kris Allen’s win on American Idol. Though he clearly lacked the crowd appeal of competitor Adam Lambert, past crowd-pleasing winners have taught us an important lesson: American Idol viewers don’t always translate into CD buyers. Last year’s winner David Cook has experienced only minor success despite his popularity and talent. The question now is what kind of album will Kris Allen make? Will the support of Christians that likely pushed him to the top on Idol ultimately help or handicap Allen artistically as he goes to work on debut album? Time will tell.

‘Game’ Over

In case you’d forgotten how old you’re getting, this past week marked the 25th anniversary of The Cosby Show. Most of the cast celebrated with a reunion on the Today Show on Tuesday. However, celebration over the inroads African Americans have made on television was short-lived for some fans as news surfaced Thursday of the CW network’s cancellation of The Game and Everybody Hates Chris. While the content of both shows lacked the strong moral character of The Cosby Show, sometimes reinforcing negative stereotypes of the black community — The Game‘s Wendy Raquel Robinson’s colorful “ghetto hustler” persona and the ongoing baby mama drama storyline between Tia Mowery (Melanie Barnett) and Pooch Hall (Derwin Davis) are examples — many African Americans were just happy to see black actors on television in lead roles that offered realistic portrayals of African American life. UrbanFaith’s own Nicole Symmonds broke down the lack of multi-dimensional black characters on television for us at her Loudmouth Protestant blog, saying she doesn’t think the CW is prejudiced, just shortsighted. The network “does well at depicting the many faces of white America while giving black America short shrift. We exist!” Is there any positive urban programming left on television? What are you watching these days?

Ciara’s ‘Mama’ Drama

The drama surrounding pop and R&B singer Ciara’s controversial change in management has extended to the release of her film debut in the gospel movie Mama, I Want to Sing! Back in 2007, websites like BlackVoices were buzzing about Ciara’s starring role opposite Patti LaBelle and Lynn Whitfield. But since the studios originally had hoped to piggyback off of Ciara’s album promotion, when the record label delayed Fantasy Ride‘s release the studios were forced to push back the film as well. Now FoxFaith and CodeBlack have scrapped plans for a movie theater release, sending the film straight to DVD this August or September. We sure hope the movie’s worth all the trouble. Mama, I Want to Sing! is the longest-running off-Broadway black theater musical in history, about a preacher’s daughter who leaves the church choir to become an international pop star. The original stage play was written by Vy Higginsen and loosely based on her sister Doris Troy’s rise to fame.

From Beyoncé to Smokie

BET has released the nominees for the 2009 BET Awards, set to air live on June 28th at 8 p.m. ET/PT. We’re sure all the usual suspects will appear, like BeyoncĂ© and Kanye West who are both scheduled to perform. But we’re more interested in the gospel music category, as its always telling to find out who’s garnering the most attention in the secular music arena. Nominees for Best Gospel Artist include Regina Belle, Smokie Norful, Shirley Caesar, Trin-I-Tee 5:7, and Mary Mary. It’s nice to see Smokie Norful and Trin-I-Tee 5:7 getting some love, as both were passed over for Dove Award nominations. Who do you think should win the category?

DMX the Televangelist?

While finishing up a 90-day jail sentence for drugs, fraud, and animal cruelty, rapper DMX told reporters about plans to start his own Christian TV show called Pain and Perseverance. He said, “It’s about how I can reach people that the average person can’t reach because I’m grounded. I’m going to give my first sermon, in the church. That’s going to be incredible for me and hopefully the congregation of that church.” This isn’t the first time DMX has talked about going into ministry. Back in March 2003, he toyed with the idea of retiring from rap, but eventually decided to continue his career after seeking advice from born-again rapper Mase. “I talked to Mase. I said, ‘Dog! I’m fed up with this rap sh–. I know the Lord. I know my true calling is to preach the Word, where do I go from here?’ He was like, ‘As long as the Lord gives you the talent to do what you do, do it. He’ll call you when he’s ready.'” Fast forward a few years and X was back to battling the demons of drug use and other criminal activity from his past. But maybe now DMX is ready. God’s clearly had a hold on his life for some time, as X often talks about his strong desire for a deeper relationship with Christ and a hunger for his Bible. We want to give him grace and trust that he’s serious this time. But we’ll believe it when we see it.

Second Thoughts About ‘God In Me’

mary mary blackI am not going to lie: When I first heard Mary Mary’s “God In Me,” I loved it. It quickly became one of my favorite songs from their latest album, The Sound. It stayed in constant rotation in my personal playlist for about a month. But it wasn’t in heavy rotation because I thought it was profound. Not at all. It was more so because the song made me feel good. It has a catchy beat attached to words that are innocent enough that I could feel free to jam on it rather than “Blame It on the Alcohol.” But now, with the release of the single and the video on the airwaves and the Internet, my feelings have changed.

You see, upon the umpteenth listen, I realized that the song, while expertly produced for the ears of the Christian (or non-Christian) who isn’t sold on a traditional gospel or CCM sound, features lyrics that could be misconstrued as prosperity gospel. At first I thought I was reaching by drawing such a conclusion, but upon closer inspection of the song, I find that what sisters Erica Campbell and Tina Campbell claim as the “God In Me” could be confused as preaching a sort of prosperity gospel.

Verse 1: You’re so fly you’re so high
Everybody around you trying to figure out why
You’re so cool you win all the time
Everywhere you go man you get a lot of shine
You draw like a magnet better yet I have it
Everything you wear people say they gotta have it
From the sweat suit to the white tee to the Gucci
You can probably say people wanna get like me

Hook: But what they don’t know is when you go home
And get behind closed doors man you hit the floor
And what they can’t see is you’re on your knees
So the next time you get it just tell ’em

Verse 2: You see her style you think she nice
You look at her whip you say the whip tight
You look at her crib you thinks she’s paid
You look at her life you think she’s got it made
But everything she’s got the girl’s been given
She calls it a blessing but you call it living
When it comes to money she can be a hero
She writes them checks with a whole lot of zeros

Now the first verse is a little bit closer to what I’d expect someone to claim as evidence of the God in them. But it all goes downhill from there, as the duo trades inner-man change shown outward for the accumulation of goods as evidence of the God in them.

Side note: I will not take away from the fact that Mary Mary is giving it up to God and acknowledging that He is the source of all they have. That’s not what I take issue with. I take issue with the fact that it seems they are steering people toward a false understanding of God by boasting about prosperity as opposed to the real power of God in the believer’s life. This could present a problem for the babe in Christ who doesn’t have a deep knowledge of what God in them is supposed to look like. They may be deceived into thinking that the prayers of the righteous availeth much Gucci, nice whips, and lots of money. But in reality, “God in us” reveals so much more than the sum of our possessions. It’s dangerous to portray God to the world as one who does a good job of blessing us with things before you show the world how He broke you before He could give you any of these things.

I realize that this song has amazing crossover potential, since it sounds like any old secular song; and if you put the video on mute, you might think you were watching a secular video. But therein lies the problem. This video and song have potential to be played the world over, and it may be some people’s first time hearing about God. So you have to wonder, What will someone get after listening to this song? A healthy understanding of God, or a fractured one that highlights the part everyone can get excited about?

I worry that the sisters are not presenting a holistic view of what the God in a person looks like. They are not wrong to say that the God in them draws people to them, blesses them with fly clothes, hot whips, money, and cool friends, but God is so much more than that. I want people to see that He is to be worshiped not for the things He gives us but for who He is. And really, if we are going to worship Him for giving us something, let’s worship Him for Jesus.

In the end, I respect Mary Mary for making music that bridges the gap. I am a fan. Last year, I gave The Sound high marks in an earlier UrbanFaith review. I just want these talented young women to make sure they are being more careful with their theology when trying to be “all things to all men.” Like many of their colleagues in the industry, they need to be ever cognizant of the fact that everything they do as gospel artists must communicate biblical truth in a way that does not mislead unwitting fans or misrepresent a holy God.

All Things to All People

All Things to All PeopleI have not always been a big Mary Mary fan — at least not compared to people I know who go rabid at the sound of sisters Erica Atkins-Campbell’s and Tina Atkins-Campbell’s voices. But a close friend had been pumping me up for weeks about their fourth studio album, The Sound. Prior to purchasing the album the other day, I hadn’t heard as much as a single cut. Still, I was hopeful that this would be a sound that would minister to me.
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