Check It Out: Links of Interest, 4/13/09

Here are links to some recommended reads.

Abagond has a blog entry about actress Ellen Holly:

Ellen Holly (1931- ) is an American actress, the first black actress ever to appear regularly on a soap opera. She played Carla Hall on “One Life to Live” from 1968 to 1985. She also played the president’s wife in “School Daze” (1988).

Holly grew up in New York, the daughter of a chemical engineer and a librarian. She studied acting at Hunter College and went on from there to act on stage. By 1956 she was on Broadway. She got in to the Actors Studio, the first black woman ever to do so. She later got parts in film and television too.

In 1968 Holly wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times about what it was like to be a light-skinned black woman. Agnes Dixon, who was then starting a new soap called “One Life to Live”, read that letter. It led her to create the character of Carla Gray (later Hall). She offered the part to Holly herself. Holly took it and became the first regular black female character on a soap. Other soaps soon followed their lead and had black characters of their own too.

I remember watching Holly on One Life to Live as a teenager. At the time, I didn’t appreciate that she was breaking new ground for black actors in the soaps.

I can see why so many people thought she was white: it wasn’t until the late 1960s that color TVs started selling in large numbers. On black and white TV, her light skin did make her look white.

She started out on the show doing a story line where she is a black person passing for white. A white male character on the show actually proposed to her, but she had to reject the proposal because she was not white. I later found out that the theme of the “tragic mulatto who passes for white” was a not an uncommon one for Hollywood (see Imitation of Life). But at the time, I was shocked that this kind of race-sensitive stuff was being shown on daytime television.

Monroe, Louisiana is a city of about 50,000 in north central Louisiana. It’s about a half hour drive from Grambling University. The following is from a recent story in the Monroe Free Press, which is one of the city’s African American newspapers:

Monroe: The city where it’s safe to say Nigga
City won’t fire or reprimand foul mouthed department heads

It started a few years back when we started reporting about the tendency of our police chief to curse and use extremely foul and graphic language publicly. In one instance he even told the police chief of Sterlington to get under the table and suck his…

There were no reprimands, lost days of pay, or other slaps on the wrist. The subliminal message is that such language is acceptable for department heads…

The most recent problems occurred this year when Sean Benton the Superintendent of Monroe’s Water Distribution plant was accused of referring to black employees of his department as Niggas and routinely using foul language and expletives in his references to others. Police had to be called once when Benton took off his shirt to fight a subordinate…

What raises eyebrows is that Benton is black. Most of his “Nigga” comments were made to blacks. The issue that this raises is whether or not “Nigga” is an generally offensive by whites but acceptable when used by blacks.

Because Benton has not been fired or reprimanded by the city’s black mayor it appears to be an endorsement of “Nigga” as acceptable language for a black professional in a department head status to use toward subordinates.


There’s been a slew of articles written in the past year or so about Tyler Perry. A recent piece about him in Entertainment Weekly, titled Tyler Perry: The Controversy Over His Hit Movies, claims to go “inside black America’s secret culture war”:

Medea Goes to Jail has already earned more than $75 million, making it Perry’s highest-grossing film to date. And his seven movies — starting with his 2005 big-screen drag debut as Madea in Diary of a Mad Black Woman — have grossed more than $350 million combined, putting him on track to join John Singleton and Keenen Ivory Wayans as one of the most successful black filmmakers ever. He may already be the most divisive.

At a time when Barack Obama is presenting the world with a bold new image of black America, Perry is being slammed for filling his films with regressive, down-market archetypes. In many of his films there’s a junkie prostitute, a malaprop-dropping uncle, and Madea, a tough-talking grandma the size of a linebacker (”Jemima the Hutt,” one character calls her).

”Tyler keeps saying that Madea is based on black women he’s known, and maybe so,” says Donald Bogle, acclaimed author of Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films. ”But Madea does have connections to the old mammy type. She’s mammy-like. If a white director put out this product, the black audience would be appalled.”

But it isn’t just the stereotypes in Perry’s movies that trouble his detractors. It’s also what they consider to be his plantation-era attitudes about class. ”All of his productions demonize educated, successful African-Americans,” says Todd Boyd, professor of critical studies at USC School of Cinematic Arts. ”It’s a demonization that has long existed in certain segments of the black community.” The schism reaches back to the days of ”house” and ”field” slaves — when the first African-Americans were segregated even from one another — and persists today in distinctions between light- and dark-skinned blacks.

”Tyler Perry is simply reflecting the thinking of a lot of uneducated, working-class African-Americans,” Boyd says.


The Florida Courier, a black newspaper, reports on a controversy that’s erupted over the use of certain types of models in ads featuring Sean Combs AKA Puff Daddy AKA P Diddy:

An Internet ad copied from an email, then uploaded to a Miami-based modeling web site, set off a legal and ethical firestorm on Tuesday, forcing hip-hop mogul Sean “Diddy’’ Combs and his organization into full-scale damage control to prevent the Internet from taking down a prestige liquor brand.

The ad, which appeared on Miami-based Ethnicity Modeling’s web site, read as follows: “Ciroc Promotion. Ciroc promo is this Friday, March 27, 2009. Time: 3:00pm – 7:00pm and 12:00am – 3:00am Requirements: Race: White, hispanic or light skinned african american. Height: At least 5’6 or taller. Size 7 or smaller. This is a cash @ wrap job and the booking will be thru our partner. Please submit asap. Talent will only be contacted if the client is interested in booking you!!! Compensation: $35.00 per hour.”

The problem: The promotion solicitation was clearly illegal under various anti-discrimination laws, but it didn’t originate from either Ethnicity Modeling or from Diddy. Neither Diddy nor his in-house advertising agency Blue Flame, which is responsible for all of Ciroc’s advertising and marketing, authorized it.

Yesterday was the 70th anniversary of African-American opera singer Marian Anderson’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial. As noted in wikipedia,

Anderson became an important figure in the struggle for black artists to overcome racial prejudice in the United States during the mid twentieth century. In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused permission for Anderson to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall. Their race-driven refusal placed Anderson into the spotlight of the international community on a level usually only found by high profile celebrities and politicians.

With the aid of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Anderson performed a critically acclaimed open-air concert on Easter Sunday, 1939 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. to a crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions.

Yesterday, Anderson’s concert was commemorated with an event held in Washington, DC. As reported by AP prior to the event,

On Sunday afternoon, 70 years later, there will be another free concert at the Lincoln Memorial, this one designed to commemorate the 1939 landmark event. The Sunday concert will incorporate songs from Anderson’s event and remember its significance during America’s era of segregation.

A modern African-American opera star, Denyce Graves, will sing classical songs at Anderson’s anniversary concert. Chicago Children’s Choir, the women’s a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock and the U.S. Marine Band are also scheduled to perform.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell will recite excerpts from Lincoln’s second inaugural address during the concert. Following the hour-long performance about 200 people will be sworn as U.S. citizens, symbolizing the rights all Americans are guaranteed.


Here’s something funny from the folks at SuperNews:

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