A Tale of Two Jordans

ON THE AIR JORDAN: Actor Michael B. Jordan's television work can be seen on Friday Night Lights and Parenthood.

Actor Michael B. Jordan’s compelling roles on two underappreciated TV dramas illustrate the need for biblical manhood and fatherly guidance in our society.
As an avid Portland Trail Blazer fan, I never thought I would enjoy saying this again, but I’ve been having a great time watching Michael Jordan in his prime. I’ve seen some amazing, compelling performances from him. He’s all over my TV. The only weird thing is, his dominant sport is football, not basketball.

I’m speaking, of course, of Michael B. Jordan, rising star in Hollywood. Early fans knew him as Wallace on HBO’s The Wire. Since then, he’s been on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Burn Notice, and Lie to Me, to name a few.

I’ve had the pleasure of watching him most recently on two shows in particular. In the fifth-and-final season of Friday Night Lights (currently on DirecTV, later to air on NBC), Jordan plays quarterback Vince Howard, a troubled kid who gradually becomes a team leader under the tutelage of legendary coach Eric Taylor. Jordan also plays Alex, the unlikely love interest to teenager Haddie on NBC’s Parenthood.

The most striking thing about both of these nuanced, three-dimensional portrayals is that they seem to typify the need that young Black men have for older male role models. Every time I watch his self-assured, vulnerable humility on-screen, I think to myself, ‘that guy needs better men in his life.’

I realize the last thing we need is another piece on Why Our Young Black Men Need Fathers. It’s obvious. If you don’t already believe that, you have bigger problems than this article can address.

It’s also obvious that impartations of manhood are not limited to fathers, and that they’re most necessary in situations where fathers aren’t doing their jobs. For most of Jordan’s run on FNL, Vince’s dad was in jail. Meanwhile on Parenthood, Alex’s dad was an alcoholic.

What’s not always obvious is that this impartation happens in ways that defy our expectations and preconceptions of manhood is supposed to look like.

One man to another
But before we can explore this, we have to define our expectations. Manhood is imparted when one man calls it out in another; when he recognizes it, validates it, and supports it. That’s how it’s shown many times over in the Bible; that’s how it works. This is one of the lessons of To Own A Dragon by Donald Miller and his mentor John MacMurray. A great read, Dragon (which was recently revised and re-released under the title Father Fiction) is a window into the impact one man can have on another when he chooses to live as an open book. It’s a stunning portrait of discipleship, one interaction at a time.

It should go without saying that this impartation can only happen through men, because you can’t pass on to someone else something that you don’t have yourself. Unfortunately, this is no longer common knowledge. The Root recently featured an exploration of professional women considering single motherhood, which, considering the plight of today’s young Black male, is naïve at best and destructive at worst. Just because there have been many single Black women who have done a great job compensating for the lack of men in their sons’ lives, doesn’t mean that the need doesn’t exist.

FRIDAY NIGHT TRUTH: Michael B. Jordan portrays high school football player Vince Howard on NBC’s Friday Night Lights. He’s pictured here in a scene with his coach, Eric Taylor (played by Kyle Chandler).

The good news, though, is not just that you don’t need to be a father to impart manhood, but you don’t even have to be an official “father figure” … you don’t have to join a mentorship organization or program. You just have to keep your eyes open, and make a difference where you can.

You see this if you watch my man Mike B. in both of his recent roles. Men who were not his characters’ biological fathers were still able to make meaningful gestures to impart manhood. Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler), Adam Braverman (Peter Krause), and Vernon Merriweather (Steve Harris) all made decisions and had conversations that served to affirm the character of Vince or Alex. None of them were particularly affectionate or emotional, yet all of their interactions were meaningful.

(I’d say more, but you know … spoilers.)

Great results, great expectations
In a recent interview, Michael B. Jordan admitted mild frustration at having such a famous namesake. On that level, I can sympathize. Yet, I believe it’s no coincidence that he’s turning out such impressive performances. With famous names come great expectations. And there’s something about high expectations that help young people respond well.

This is the main lesson we’ve learned from the Tiger Mother phenomenon, as documented by right here at Urban Faith by writer Kathy Khang. We do our young ones a disservice when we lower our expectations for fear of them crumbling under the pressure. As Cliff famously said to Theo, it’s the dumbest thing ever.

And yet, it’s not enough to have high expectations. We’ve got to be able to help our young men navigate the battery of hazards and pitfalls that accompany great talent and great expectations. My heart was heavy as I watched fictional quarterback Vince Howard’s father illegally negotiate with Division-I schools, knowing that real-life quarterback Cam Newton of the newly-crowned BCS champion Auburn Tigers, is still under investigation for the same thing. (And by the way… Newton’s father is a reverend. Lord, have mercy.)

Clearly, we need more men in our country who can and will continue to take the opportunities around them and make positive impacts in the lives of our youth.

Find a spot, and take it
That’s one thing I consistently saw from my own father, a reverend himself, growing up. If I had to pick only one positive attribute that I could take from him (trust me, there are dozens), that’s the one I would want to emulate. Even now that he’s retired, during outreach events, church services, or on afternoon bike rides, my father is always on the lookout for a young man who needs an impartation of hope and destiny. And when he sees an opportunity, he goes for it.

It’s for this reason that, as I’ve continued to grow as a musician, he implores me to continue doing hip-hop music that offers hope and models discipleship. And that’s why, if someone is feelin’ our material, they should just go ahead and take it.

Because whether it’s in the context of doing Christian hip-hop music, coaching football, leading a church ministry, or just talking straight with the young man who wants to date your daughter … every man has an opportunity to call out manhood in a young man who needs it.

And you don’t have to be Michael Jordan to make it happen.

The series finale of Friday Night Lights airs Wednesday, Feb. 9th, on DirecTV. NBC, which co-produces the series, will begin its broadcast of the final season on April 15th.

Why I’m Not a Fan of ‘The Game’

Why I’m Not a Fan of ‘The Game’

Two weeks ago, I was counted among the 7.7 million viewers who tuned in to BET to watch The Game. I will admit that I must have been living under a rock because I thought The Game was an actual football game. I didn’t realize it was a real show until I started seeing a slew of social network statuses and tweets, counting down to 1/11/11, and tons of advertisements posted on buses and billboards. I was curious to see what was this great show that everyone was raving about?

For the clueless, like myself, The Game is a dramedy that follows the lives of three African American pro football players and the complex relationships they have with the women in their lives. This season opened with the characters experiencing an array of issues, from “baby mama” drama to sleeping with the boss’ wife … I was not impressed, and the show did not gain a new fan. Passionate fans suggested that my “not getting it” was a result of me not seeing any of the previous seasons, which was necessary to fully appreciate the show and each character’s story. They advised I watch the reruns.

The creators of The Game attribute its popularity to the fact that it’s relatable and represents a down-to-earth, Black woman’s perspective. And the viewers seem to agree. With a major public outcry, the show’s fans were able to resurrect it from the TV graveyard two years after it was canceled by the CW. Now the show’s ratings are higher than ever, and BET’s gamble has apparently paid off. There is something to be said about this show’s ability to harness such viewing power. Meanwhile, it’s also opening doors in Hollywood by putting talented Black actors to work who might not otherwise be as competitive in the majority market.

Though the show serves up a platter of stereotypes, at times it’s clear that the writers intend for us to laugh at the characters rather than with them. The opening dialogue in the second episode of this new season began with the character Tasha (played by Wendy Raquel Robinson) apologizing to her white friend, Kelly (Brittany Daniel), for hooking up her ex-husband with his new girlfriend. “I don’t know what I was thinking interfering with a strong intelligent, beautiful, white woman, and the love that she found with her light-skinned Black man,” Tasha says. “I guess it was just another case of a Black woman hating on a white woman.” “Well, your people are very emotional,” Kelly responds, as the camera pulls back to reveal that this “real” moment was actually part of the taping for a reality show starring Kelly. It’s clear that Kelly is still fame hungry after racking up a fortune from divorcing her NFL husband, and we’re meant to take her show as a commentary on — or perhaps even a mockery of — programs like Basketball Wives.

I recognize that any sitcom featuring a majority Black cast that has ratings that can contend with the “big boys” like The Office (which draws about 8 million viewers) is an important feat worth celebrating. Yet the celebration of this milestone is somewhat bittersweet, as it comes for a show that’s a carbon copy of every Black stereotype and one-dimensional character we’ve seen before — better executed, perhaps, but still more of the same.

Although I may be late to The Game, I’ve discovered that I’m not alone in my disenchantment with it. Despite the show’s hardcore following, it has drawn criticism from some who believe it reinforces negative images of African Americans. Ironically, the show’s lead actress, Tia Mowry, is best known for her 1990s TV series, Sister, Sister, and roles in Disney films that project a more positive and wholesome image, which is probably another reason why viewers like me find it hard to embrace The Game.

In an interview with BET.com, Mowry complimented The Game‘s creator, Mara Brock Akil, stating that she felt blessed to be able to play real down-to-earth characters. “That’s one of the main reasons why people love Mara and her writing. She writes these characters that are grounded, who are real, who are not perfect….”

Controversy is nothing new to Akil, who prior to The Game created Girlfriends, which also received some heat for its negative portrayals of Black people.

But don’t get me wrong. I understand that these shows represent a slice of Black life that many people find appealing, and it would be unfair to hold them up to the standard of a family series like The Cosby Show. The Game is more comparable to Desperate Housewives. Both shows feature wealthy women, with loose moral values, who have more secrets than truths.

Ultimately, The Game is a soap opera, and if you try to see it for anything more than that, you’re likely to be disappointed like me. For all its success, the show feels shallow, with predictable plots centered on catfights, sex, and paternity scandals. And while it may be giving “the people” what they want, I think it’s another example of how television thrives on the crudest aspects of Black American life.

Are You Kidding Me?

Are You Kidding Me? for urban faithEvery now and then a week comes along in pop culture that leaves us feeling entertained, inspired, and hopeful. And then there are those weeks that leave us completely befuddled, scratching our heads in confusion while mumbling, “What is this world coming to?” Last week was one of those weeks. Here is a sample of some of the pop culture questions that left us stumped.

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The End of Ebony and Jet?

pop circumstance impactLike Kool-Aid and hot combs, Ebony and Jet have been fixtures in African American households for decades. As a little girl I dreamed of my mocha almond skin appearing on the cover of Ebony, and I got my weekly fix of black news from Jet. So this week when I received an email that’s been making its rounds through the black community pleading for people to subscribe to both publications, I was surprised by my own apathy. Are Ebony and Jet still worth saving? To be honest, I traded in Ebony for Essence, and Jet for TheRoot.com a long time ago. So as with all moral conundrums, I took to the Internet to see what the bloggers were saying and found that many people share my guilt-ridden lack of enthusiasm about the possible shuttering of these historic publications.

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