Monthly Archives: July 2010

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Lynn Whitfield and Jurnee Smollett in Eve's Bayou. Lion's Gate/Press

As an educator, fighting ignorance is my job. As black man who is also an expatriate educator, fighting ignorance can be an all-consuming yoke around my neck. Even some of the most highly-educated people, with many years of traveling to the US reflected in their passports, have no clue about the black experience in the United States beyond slavery, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and now Barack Obama. Luckily, I have an increasingly comprehensive body of films at my disposal that allows me to debunk myths, stereotypes, and misconceptions about my people that, with the likes of Flava Flav, persist abroad.

Through movies produced, directed by, and principally starring black Americans, I can touch on issues to which many outside of the black American community are exposed, and which connect blacks in the United States with communities throughout the Diaspora. Here are seven must-show films, listed alphabetically and replete with quotable quotes, for expats and educators seeking to provide more-than-superficial insight into American blackness (Unitedstatesian, for my Latin American brethren/sistren):

Drumline (2002) – This comedy, with Mariah’s cougar bait, Nick Cannon, updates Spike Lee’s School Daze, featuring a smart-alecky newbie on the campus of a historically black college in Atlanta. We get
daddy issues, dating issues, roommate issues, bully issues, and a peek into the inner workings of a black college marching band. Ending’s meh, but the actual drumline competition always takes me back to my own days on The Set.
Quote: “Oh look, my baby done got another ‘A’. Yes she did.” Well, I thought it was funny.

Eve’s Bayou (1997) – A moody work of art that takes place among the Spanish moss and languid mangrove swamps of 1960s Louisiana, Eve’s Bayou stars Samuel L. Jackson and Lynn Whitfield as an unfaithful country doctor and his beautiful, desperate housewife. Told from the perspective of their precocious daughter, Eve, the film delves deftly into infidelity, upper-middle-class malaise, and even voodoo, while showing us a multi-ethnic, multi-hued black society free of the impositions or validations of whites. One of my favorite movies of all time.
Quote: “Go ahead and let the little hooligans get run over. It’ll be much quieter around here!” Tell ’em, Grandmère.

Glory (1989) – A heroic drama starring Morgan Freeman, Matthew Broderick, and Denzel Washington, Glory tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the first all-black military regiment in US history, that fought for the North and the emancipation of slavery during the Civil War. The film establishes the connection amongst blacks who may not get along individually, but who unite behind the cause of freedom for their countrymen, as well as the idea of blacks fighting for a country they hope to claim as their own.
Quote: “Ten dollas lotta money.” Hell, still is.

The Great Debaters (2007) – Starring Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker, and Kimberly Elise as the molders and shapers of young minds at Wiley College in 1930s Texas, The Great Debaters fibs a bit (the real debaters went up against USC, not Harvard), but serves up major lecture talking points: historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), lynchings and terrorist acts against blacks in the rural South, segregation and skin-tone, and workers rights.
Quote: “We do what we have to do so we can do what we want to do.” Preach!

Harlem Nights (1989) – This bawdy comedy, with a cast of comedic greats—Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, Della Reese, even Eddie and his underused brother Charlie Murphy—gives us gangsters and glamour in 1930s New York and is strictly for the adult audience. Aside from profane jousting between Foxx and Reese, Harlem Nights shows that titular neighborhood could do Prohibition as good as, if not better, than any spot downtown, and nods to the tremendous increase in black wealth (albeit illegal) that accompanied the Harlem Renaissance. And you know, sometimes cursing is just damn funny.
Quote: “Kiss my en-tire ass.” Nuff said.

Malcolm X (1992) – Besides adding fantastic words and phrases to my generation’s lexicon such as “hoodwinked,” “bamboozled,” “led astray,” and “run amok,” Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, starring a magnetic Denzel (again) and the severely underemployed Angela Bassett, offers the flip side of we shall overcome: by any means necessary. A serious portrait of a serious thinker, Malcolm X is a bit long, but hardly dull.
Quote: “What do you call a black man with a PhD? A nigger!”

Passing Strange: The Movie (2009) – The semi-autobiographical, gospel/pop/rock-infused story of a black, middle-class, angst-ridden teenager who jets off to Europe in search of “The (ever elusive) Real” in the early 80s, Passing Strange is a stage musical taped by Spike Lee on the last night of its two-year Broadway run back in 2008. Starring a cast of young, energetic stage actors and headed by writer and musician, Stew, the musical takes on racial and cultural identity, artistic struggle, familial relationships, and existentialism with foot-tapping intensity.
Quote: “Culture is cosmetic.” Damn.

Also in the repertoire: The Josephine Baker Story, I Like It Like That, Boomerang, Precious, Amistad, The Color Purple (duh!), Devil in a Blue Dress, Jungle Fever. Any others I should add?

Currently, I’m running around São Paulo collecting data and testing out adjectives for use in the reviews I’m writing for the Total São Paulo guide.  Meanwhile, I’ll leave you armchair travelers with a little retro footage from SP’s nemesis, Rio de Janeiro, to spark the wanderlust and maybe incite a couple of ticket purchases to Brazil.  Taken from the 1967 film Ritmo de Aventura (Rhythm of Adventure), we follow the director in his flying machine over the streets and beaches of the Marvelous City. Hope you like:


Please don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @FlyBrother, and “like” me on Facebook! You can subscribe, too! ;-)

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Choc Quib Town

A powerful triumvirate of lyricists, CHOC QUIB TOWN hails from Quibdó, the impoverished capital of the mostly-black, oft-maligned, and federally-neglected department of Chocó, on Colombia’s Pacific Coast. In what is virtually the Mississippi of Colombia, the African heritage of the residents, relatively un-integrated with the rest of the country, foments a profound but largely overlooked culture, while the scant resources sent to the region are stolen by corrupt officials and starvation, illiteracy, and narco-trafficking are rampant. Out of this struggle, of course, comes amazing creativity, manifested in Colombia’s world-class entry into the realm of hip-hop.

Having released their first full-length album, Somos Pacífico in 2007, CHOC QUIB TOWN—composed of the brilliant and stunning MC Goyo, dashing and energetic MC Tostao, and suave, smoky-voiced MC Slow—came out of the gate with a sound and energy warmly reminiscent of The Fugees, but delving into a broader Diasporic fusion of North American hip-hop stylings and Latin American, particularly Afro-Colombian, melodies and rhythms. The lyrics speak of an intellectual resistance to systemic oppression, hinting of a very understandable, “you better be glad we vent our frustrations creatively, rather than violently,” but at the same time offering an intimate tour of the Pacific region and its people.

The newest album, Oro (translation: that shiny yellowish metal that the conquistadors killed themselves and millions of others over), released last year and receiving muted attention in the States, roots the listener still further into the sound and images of the Colombian Pacific, especially with a lilting golpeao similar to the Spanish of its Caribbean cousins, while touching on race (“Prieto”), politics (“Oro”) and partying (“Rumba Sin Pelea”) from Quibdó to Kingston to Queens.

Buy. Listen. Hear. Then go see them live…trust.

If you’ve slept on getting that little blue book, the price tag’s gone up quite a bit as of today. But you still can’t put a price tag on the personal development and enjoyment that comes from international travel, and you can’t get fly without a government-issued passport.

By age thirty, everyone should have one. If you are over thirty and don’t have it, I won’t waste any time criticizing (triflin…). I’ll just say that there’s no better time than now to start the process, and I’ve tried to make the process a little easier by sifting through the US State Department’s travel site – travel.state.gov – for information on obtaining a US passport. I’ll also say that the folks thinking they can pop down to Mexico or the Bahamas with their driver’s licenses these days are in for a rude awakening at the border.

The State Department operates several passport agencies, located in Boston, Chicago, Denver, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Norwalk (CT), Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington (click the city name for info on that particular agency). Lastly, passport applications can be picked up and submitted at almost all US Post Offices.

You can also download and print a first-time passport application: here.

The total cost (in United States Dollars) for a first-time passport is now $135 for anyone aged 16 and over and $105 for anyone under 16. The charge is broken down into the passport fee ($110 for 16 and over/$80 for under 16) and the execution fee ($25 for both). If you apply for your passport directly through the State Department at a passport agency, the total cost may be made in one payment and in several methods. If applying through the post office, the application fee must be made payable to the US Department of State, while the execution fee must be made payable to the US Postal Service (check or money order only).

Additional requirements include a copy of your birth certificate as proof of United States citizenship and a state- or federal government-issued photo ID for proof of identity, along with two 2×2-inch passport photos that can be taken at any FedEx Office or certain stores and pharmacies like Walgreens, CVS, or Wal-Mart. A list of other acceptable documents and forms of ID can be found here.

Passports can take up to 6 weeks to arrive, but can be expedited by visiting a passport agency, or requesting rush service with the application at the post office, for an additional $60. More information on an expedited passport can be found here.

You can also check on the status of your passport application here.

Passports for adults are usually valid for 10 years. Passports for children are valid for less time and require a different application procedure (check here).

Most foreign governments require that a US passport be valid for at least another six months after the conclusion of the trip. An adult renewal passport costs $75, and more information can be found here.

For international ballers who are running out of room in their still-valid passports, extra pages can be ordered, or you can get a newer, thicker passport here.

September 11 has, of course, caused a tightening in travel documentation requirements, hence the establishment of the WHTI – Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Essentially, all the formerly passport-free areas for road trips and cruises – Canada, Mexico, and much of the Caribbean – will by 2009 require either a passport; a newfangled device called a passport card, good for border crossings by land or sea; or other “WHTI-compliant document.” The cards cost $55 for a first-time adult applicant, $40 for a first-time child applicant, and $30 for current valid passport holders. All air travel to these regions will continue to require a traditional passport book.

Any other information you might want, need, or forgot to ask…check the website, because, hell, the State Department ain’t payin’ a brother.

Me, Zez (left), and one of his cousins visiting me in Barranquilla in 08 (I think).

Ages ago, when a young, collegiate Fly Brother was interning on Capitol Hill in DC (we’re talking at the turn of the century), I was asked by one of the other interns if I was Cape Verdean. Cape Who? She was from Boston and told me I looked Cape Verdean, and I was like, “Whatever the hell that is, I’m not it!”

During that semester, I ended up meeting another intern from Massachusetts, one José dos Anjos, who had a crazy-ass last name that we all kept trying to pronounce the Spanish way: “dos AN-hos.” None of us had a clue that his name was Portuguese, and he was barely any help to us as he always introduced himself as “ho-ZAY.”

Almost ten years on, I can pronounce his name properly, am well-versed on the history of the Cape Verdean community in New England, and have been to three of the ten islands that make up the archipelago floating a few hundred miles west of that tip of Africa with the same name, Cape Verde.

And José (pronounced “zho-ZEH,” though we call him Zezito) has since become an emerging authority on Cape Verdean familial histories both in the States and on the islands. He started tracing the genealogies of his friends and family, which has turned into a major project that has even rattled the nerves of folk wanting to keep illegitimate births under wraps.

Yesterday, he was featured in his hometown newspaper and I was inspired to write this little missive in honor of a good friend who’s shown me every nook and cranny of Southeastern Mass with his rack of cousins, rode-out with me to my university homecoming and Calle Ocho in Miami, and with characteristic patience, still remained my friend after I yelled at his ass for almost making us miss our boat between Santo Antão and São Vicente cuz he was trying to holla at some chick he’d never see again (never going to forget that one; we had to climb through the cargo hold since they had already raised the gangplank).

Yes, Zezito, you will one day be US Ambassador to Cape Verde (or Cape Verdean Ambassador to the US, since you hold dual citizenship, right? One a them).

Read all about my adventures with Zez in Cape Verde.