Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was arrested and sentenced to death in Iran because of his Christian beliefs.
In international news, 1.) dictators Kim Jong-Il and Moammar Gadhafi died. UrbanFaith editorial director Ed Gilbreath provocatively asked if Ghadhafi was a martyr and Helen Lee, daughter of a North Korean refugee, shared her thoughts on what it means to love an enemy like Jong-Il. 2.) The Arab Spring captured our attention and historian Kurt Werthmuller offered lessons from the revolution. We covered 3.) various crisis in Africa, including those in Somalia, Uganda,Malawi, and Sudan, and 4.) we wondered if race played a role in the London riots that preceded the European financial crisis. Finally, 5.) DeVona Alleyne reminded us that real persecution is that which is faced by believers like Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was sentenced to death for his faith.
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.
The 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.
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.
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 Beyoncé 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.