Disney’s Black Princess

pop circumstance impactWhen I was growing up as a little black girl in California, the closest thing I had to an African American Disney princess was Cinderella. She seemed like a girl from around the way. You know what I mean — her daddy wasn’t in the picture, and she had a crazy godmother, or “Big Mama,” who always made somethin’ out of nothin’, turning rags into a flawless gown just in time for the ball. So when I heard Disney was releasing The Princess and the Frog, starring Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls) as Princess Tiana, I was thrilled. Finally, little black girls will grow up seeing themselves as princesses, without having to superimpose their culture onto someone else’s fairy tale. But my excitement over the film was diminished when I heard about the controversy over Disney’s decision to cast Brazilian actor Bruno Campos as the prince (instead of an African American actor). I’m not sure whether to be discouraged over the casting or to just be grateful the movie is being made at all. I’ve found some comfort from Keith Josef Adkins, over at The Root, who is telling people to relax — Disney had to make the film appealing to everyone in order to make it profitable. What do you think? Is the casting a commentary on America’s receptiveness to black women versus black men, or am I being hyper sensitive?

Smearing Miss California

We may need to start an official UrbanFaith Pageant Patrol to keep track of the crazy scandal around Miss USA loser Carrie Prejean. Every time we turn around, there’s a new bit of drama with Prejean’s name front and center. It all started a couple of weeks ago when we were moved by the story of the young Christian woman’s courage to stand up for her beliefs on the nature of marriage, despite the fact that doing so likely cost her the crown and won her the ire of an entire movement of people. Then last week the story took a turn for the worse when pageant officials started throwing slanderous blows at Prejean, exposing her cosmetic surgery and publicly decrying her involvement in the National Organization for Marriage’s television campaign. Now the situation has gotten completely out of hand as photos have been leaked to the press showing Prejean, the reigning Miss California, posing partially nude. Even though she’s owned the fact that taking the photos was a bad move on her part, the old photos, taken when she was a naive 17-year-old trying to land a modeling gig, are potentially a violation of the contract she signed when entering the Miss USA pageant. She currently awaits a ruling from the Miss California pageant authorities as to whether she’ll get to keep that crown. Though I think it would behoove Carrie to lay low for a while, isn’t it interesting how certain folks from the usually open-minded progressive community have gone after Prejean? One of the more interesting commentaries on the subject this week came from the left-leaning political site Talking Points Memo, where blogger Eric Wattree posed the question, “Are Progressives Becoming As Intolerant As Conservatives?”

Mormons Baptize Obama’s (Dead) Mother

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) just found one more way to give America the heebie-jeebies. Rumors were confirmed on Tuesday afternoon that the Mormon Church did indeed baptize President Barack Obama’s mother last June 2008, thirteen years after her death. The church just can’t catch a break with the bad publicity. Who could forget last year’s media frenzy when polygamist compounds of a fundamentalist sect of the church were raided in Texas? A spokeswoman for the church claims there will be an investigation into how the baptism happened, as it’s against Church policy to submit the name of a non-relative for the sacrament. However, baptizing the dead without the consent of the deceased person’s family has long been a controversial practice of the church. The White House has no official comment on the matter. However, we can assume President Obama knew nothing of his mother having any unusual sympathy toward the Mormon faith. Throughout his campaign, he often shared stories of his mother’s religious skepticism. We just wish there was more noise being made about the living Presidential family’s faith. We know they profess to be Christian, but we’d love to see them finally settle in at a solid Washington, D.C., church.

Michelle the Influential

Michelle Obama ditched her duds from J. Crew on Tuesday night to slip into a stunning gown by Azzedine Alaia for Time magazine’s event honoring 100 of the World’s Most Influential People. Last week, we mentioned that the First Lady had been named one of People magazine’s Most Beautiful People of 2009. And though we fully stand behind her beautiful biceps and recession-chic style, “influencer” is a much more appropriate title for this Princeton University graduate. I can’t get enough of Barack’s sweetheart. As eager as I am for President Obama to lead America successfully through the next four years, I’m more excited to see the impact Michelle Obama will have on the United States. Whether she is planting a garden on the White House grounds or inspiring American women to pay renewed attention to their families, Mrs. Obama is reinventing our society’s concept of what it means to be a black Christian woman.

Idol’s Got Competition

Has anyone actually been watching American Idol this season? I haven’t watched the show steadily since Fantasia won season three years ago, but I hear we’re down to the final three: Danny Gokey, Kris Allen, and Adam Lambert. And though it seems like the men are running things over at Idol, it’s a ladies’ game on BET’s Sunday Best. After a sing-off of “Jesus Loves Me” between the three finalists last Sunday, the judges narrowed it down to Y’Anna Crawley and Jessica Reedy. We’ll see what goes down this Sunday when viewers decide the winner.

‘The Soloist’ Revisited

pop circumstance impactIt’s rare that I mention a movie twice, but I would be a total fraud if I didn’t encourage you to at least think about seeing The Soloist. Last week, after getting caught up in Jamie Foxx’s drama with Miley Cyrus, I almost skipped one of the best films released this year. Based on a true story, The Soloist is about Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.), who develops an unlikely friendship with a homeless man on Skid Row named Nathaniel Ayers (Foxx). While walking through the park, Lopez discovers Ayers and eventually learns that the musician is a former student of Juilliard who dropped out due to mental illness. I wouldn’t say the film is Oscar-worthy. Having spent time hanging with the homeless in Los Angeles, I was a bit put off by the film’s one-sided depiction of the people on Skid Row as drugged-out, crazy, and violent characters. However, the movie does spark an interesting question of what it means to unconditionally love a friend and the lengths we must go to help someone in need. Check it out, if only to watch a moving recitation of “The Lord’s Prayer” and sweeping shots of life on the streets.

‘Godfather of Gospel’ Passes

The Reverend Timothy Wright passed away on Thursday, April 24th at the age of 61, due to injuries sustained during a devastating car crash last July. That crash killed his 58-year-old wife Betty, as well as his 14-year-old grandson. Known to many as the “Godfather of Gospel,” Wright founded Grace Tabernacle Christian Center in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. The Grammy-nominated singer most recently recorded the live album Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, featuring a song (the title track) written by his late wife. His son David Wright told the New York Daily News he is “glad his suffering is over. He was a great man of God and a great father.” Reverend Al Sharpton, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Governor David Paterson all expressed kind sentiments, calling Reverend Wright a monument and pillar to the community.

Queen of Soul, Ph.D.

She’s been called a living legend, an original diva, and the Queen of Soul. But now Aretha Franklin can add “Doctor” to her long list of titles. On May 24th, Brown University will present her with an honorary doctorate of music for the phenomenal contributions she has made to the music industry. For nearly 50 years and over 40 albums she has been the sound of soul music, and whether she’s singing “Respect,” “Amazing Grace,” or humming “Happy Birthday” while doing the dishes, her voice is the definition of gospel. Of course this isn’t the first time Franklin’s been recognized. In 2005, Franklin was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. And who could forget her hat … I mean, her rendition of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” at President Barack Obama’s inauguration?

And We Still Can’t Remember the Real Winner’s Name

The Carrie Prejean Watch continues. The tall blond who didn’t win the Miss USA Pageant, but who impressed lots of folks — and infuriated others — when she gave a respectful but politically incorrect answer to a question about gay marriage, is featured in a new television campaign launched this week by the National Organization for Marriage. Pageant officials for the Miss USA competition were quick to express their disappointment over her decision to lend her voice to such a “divisive and polarizing issue” while abandoning her platform of the Special Olympics. If their public disapproval wasn’t bad enough, now pageant directors are selling Prejean out by exposing the cosmetic surgery she had six weeks before the Miss USA competition. It’s getting ugly. Actually, out of all the press about Prejean, I found this post at Christianity Today‘s Her.meneutics blog last week to be particularly thought-provoking. The gist of writer Katelyn Beaty’s argument: With the evangelical media’s rush to celebrate Prejean’s defense of traditional marriage, have they conveniently forgotten that the Miss USA competition (unlike Miss America) is primarily driven by how sexy the contestants’ bodies look in their two-piece bathing suits?

The Clark Sisters Keep Bringing It

After serenading comedian Sherri Shepherd on The View last week for her birthday, the Clark Sisters are coming back to the small screen. The Grammy-winning gospel quartet is set to perform “Higher Ground” on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, airing May 5th. The song appears on the new Oh Happy Day: An All-Star Music Celebration album, an interesting project from EMI Gospel records honoring the impact gospel rhythms have made on all forms of music, from hip-hop to country. The project pairs contemporary artists with popular gospel singers to remake gospel standards like “This Little Light of Mine” and popular radio hits like “A Change is Gonna Come.” Also contributing to the album are Mavis Staples, with singer-songwriter Patty Griffin, and Jon Bon Jovi, who collaborates with the Washington Youth Choir.

The Really Beautiful People

People magazine has released its “Most Beautiful People” list for 2009, and it’s no surprise that Halle Berry is back on the list at #2. Can someone just remove her from the running entirely or give her a lifetime beauty award? She should bow out of every future competition, like when Oprah decided to withdraw her talk show from Emmy consideration after winning every year. Other notable beauties on People‘s list this year are singer Ciara (#4), Slumdog Millionaire star Frieda Pinto (#7), 90210 actor Tristan Wilds (#14), and First Lady Michelle Obama (#12). I’ve always viewed People‘s “Most Beautiful” list as a chance to gauge the world’s current standard of “who’s hot.” But what if the list recognized a higher standard of beauty? Just think, we might get a special issue full of food pantry volunteers or women like sweet Mrs. Winslow from across the street who faithfully prayed for you every day when she saw you jumping rope in your front yard. Ah, but that would be horrible for magazine sales. Anyway, if you were compiling the “Most Beautiful” list, whom would you include?

Michelle As ‘Helpmate’

Michelle As 'Helpmate'Last week a lot of folks were in a frenzy about the number of times–four–that the word “helpmate” was used in Michelle Obama’s cover story in the March 9 issue of People. I love when folks create a dustup out of things they don’t understand. Some are bristling because they think that calling her a helpmate doesn’t give her equal footing. But I’d like to help clear things up and show people that being called a helpmate is nothing bad at all. In fact, it’s an honor.
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