Entries from June 2004 ↓

Headliners

As I perused the news on a Monday morning, I came across the following:

Michael Moore’s red-hot documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11″ earned more in its first three days of release across North America than his previous record-breaking movie did in its entire run.

Even before ‘Fahrenheit 9/11′ opened at theaters, the White House and its right-wing allies tried to smear both the messenger and the message. But the facts support the film.

A court ruling slams the Bush Administration for rewriting regulations to favor media corporations. The FCC must protect – not undermine — the public interest, the court
says.

A group of U.S. investors have agreed to buy the Loews Cineplex Entertainment theater chain for $1.46 billion. Among them, the Carlyle Group, cited in Moore’s movie as the intersection point for the Bush family and Saudi oil money.

With thousands of Republicans set to invade New York city this summer, high-priced escorts and strippers are preparing for one grand old party.

Gay Pride 2004

I can’t hear thanks to the wall of music and noise I was immersed in for five hours. My feet, ankles and knees are throbbing from standing all day and trying to dance on a moving float. I’ve got tan lines that will look odd if I wear anything other than a t-shirt. But I had fun.

Today was the annual Gay Pride march in New York City and the 35th anniversary of the riots at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village that started what is considered the modern day gay rights movement. For the fourth straight year I’ve been a participant, this year riding the float sponsored by my employer. I got hip to the float way of travel last year after two years of walking the 50-something blocks of the route.

It is officially a march and not a parade, although most fail to see the distinction. It has everything to do with city permits. Its origins date back to the year following the Stonewall rebellion when there was no such thing as gay rights of any kind. Getting a permit to “parade” would have been impossible, but because everyone is entitled to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, a permit allowing people to express their political point of view could be obtained. Thus it was and thus it has always been, a political march.

Whatever you call it, it is one of the largest gatherings annually held in the largest city in the country. An estimated 500,000 people participate and at least that many watch. It struck me the first time I marched that the throngs of people lined the length of 5th Avenue were cheering us simply for being gay and that’s a remarkable accomplishment when you consider that New York doesn’t give anybody anything. At least not without extracting a hefty toll. You usually have to land on the moon or win the World Series to get this treatment.

So when you consider again the origins of this “march”–an all too routine raid in 1969 by the NYPD against patrons at a gay bar simply for purposes of harassing and humiliating them, patrons who weren’t doing anything other than “being gay” at a time in history when it was illegal to be so–we have indeed flipped the script.

There was of course a very small handful of anti-gay protesters expressing their right to free speech. But among the half million spectators they were hardly noticed. Barricades surrounded St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 50th Street (Cardinal Egan didn’t even come out and wave). Perhaps it was to protect gay youth from the “avowed celibates” inside.

Laws that allowed police raids in the 1960’s (it was illegal for gays and lesbians to gather in any place where alcohol was served) weren’t erased from the books in NYC until the mid-70’s. In those days the masses of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people were closeted, afraid of losing their jobs, their home and their reputations in the community. Over the past 35 years there have been substantial gains, yet still a great deal more left to do.

The same homeless gay youth population that touched off the riots still face rejection from parents and life on the streets today. While courts rule that actions between two consenting adults in the privacy of their own home are no one else’s business, a president wants to pass a constitutional amendment preventing consenting same gender adults from affirming their love through marriage. And while we spend billions on a war that was totally unnecessary, the millions needed to combat an increase in HIV infection among LGBT people of color goes wanting.

To affirm our right to “just be” the march must go on.

Fahrenheit 9/11

Go see it. Thats all Im gonna tell you. Just go see it.

Then, if you are still as angry as I am, vote Bush out of office in November.

While one can argue if Michael Moore actually proved his points, he raised enough questions that only the most delusional person would be able to excuse Bushs actions.

Strong Black Bucks for Sale

Step right up and feast your eyes on these young Black bucks. They’re strong, run fast and can jump real high. They aren’t very educated, but they’ve trained their entire lives for this work. What am I bid?”

Dwight Howard.jpgOk, maybe equating the NBA draft with a slave auction isn’t entirely accurate or fair, but as I sat watching it Thursday night I couldn’t help making the comparison.

Every year the league’s 30 teams select new players from the college ranks, foreign countries, and increasingly American high schools. In a sport where all but one of the owners is White (the expansion Charlotte Bobcats are owned by BET founder Robert Johnson), the majority of the players and new draft picks are Black.

The event itself is part award ceremony, part game show, part graduation. Held at Madison Square Garden in New York, NBA Commissioner David Stern steps to a podium before throngs of rabid basketball fans waiting to see which player is selected by their favorite team. Stern reads the name of the lucky winners off a card given to him by each team representative. This scene repeats itself through two rounds or about 60 selections.

In a large waiting area offstage, the hoop hopefuls, all decked out in new designer suits tailored to their oversized yet often skinny frames, sit with their entourages of family and friends until their names are called. The anticipation is heart stopping and when the moment arrives, it often results in shouts, hugs and tears from mamas overjoyed to see their boys getting picked to play in the NBA. And this is where I have the most problem.Mom Sheryl Howard.jpg

At this point, all they’ve really won is an opportunity. While the prospect of a large multimillion dollar contract is there, only first round selections get guaranteed ones. Even so, nothing is ever guaranteed in sports. An injury, an inability to learn the team’s system or off court problems could all spell the end of a career before it even gets started.

This year, the number one pick in the draft was Dwight Howard, a high school player from Atlanta. This is the fourth year a high schooler has gone first. Lebron James was number one last season. Of the first 19 players drafted, 8 were players with no collegiate experience.

While the number of young Black males entering and graduating from college is in steep decline, and too many see their opportunities as limited to either sports or rap music, this will undoubtedly influence even more young Black kids to put down the books and pick up the rock, spending inordinate amounts of “study” time in the gym.

What they don’t grasp is how easily they are being exploited. A college player with even a couple years of experience, can conceivably negotiate a higher contract. A high school player, no matter how highly touted, is going to have to wait to get paid, after he’s earned the right through league play. By then, he could be gone. The average NBA career only lasts 3-5 years.

Know that with 30 teams and approximately 16 players per team, there are only around 480 jobs in the entire league. Every team has their veterans and stars who are fairly certain to return each year, thus the job openings are actually fewer than that.

Emeka Okafor.jpgThese young men who may have been able to apply their skills towards an athletic scholarship and earn a degree that could guarantee them lifelong opportunities, have put all their balls in one basket.

What they never see are the players from last season, sitting on the end of the bench barely playing, who will now be leaving the league because they just aren’t needed any more. Every year there’s another draft and another population of former players.

Ironically, the number 2 pick in the draft was a young man who recognized the benefits of higher education. Emeka Okafor led the University of Connecticut Huskies to the NCAA National Championship last April, while majoring in finance and keeping his GPA near 4.0. He was an Academic All-American as well as a star player and earned his bachelors degree in three years.

If by chance he gets injured or can’t play again, Okafor has career options. Can the same be said for all the other young men with big dreams of an easy life? If not, are they any better than hired field hands, totally dependent on someone giving them a job, but always at risk of being let go or sold away?

Enter Laughing

Last Comic Standing.jpg

I have never been the biggest fan of reality television. I made my living as an actor for 14 years and the idea that producers are making a lot of money without having to spend any on professional actors or writers, doesn’t sit well with me. And I think most of them are contrived situations that have very little to do with the “reality” of everyday life.

Nevertheless, they are apparently here to stay in some form or other. But I watch selectively.

I thought MTV’s Real World was an interesting concept when it debuted 14 years ago, but I lost interest after the season in Boston. The house mates all seemed to be playing to the cameras by then.

Like everyone else,I got hooked on last season’s runaway hit The Apprentice and will probably watch when season two premieres in September. I caught a few episodes of American Idol this season and last, but never in consecutive weeks. However most of the other programs leave me cold.

Except one.

Last Comic Standing ironically, but not coincidentally, combines the best qualities of all the aforementioned shows but also adds comedy as its main focus.

Hosted and executive produced by actor/comedian Jay Mohr (“Jerry Maguire”). the show is a nationwide talent search for professional and nonprofessional comedians. Once the selection process is narrowed to 10, they follow the comedians as they live together in a house and compete for the ultimate prize–an exclusive talent contract with NBC.
The comics have challenges to face and each week one of them gets eliminated following a head-to-head face-off in front of a voting audience.

Last summer comedic newcomer Dat Phan was the “Last Comic Standing,” beating out nine other seasoned veterans, who in typical reality show fashion, formed alliances to conspire against him. It backfired on them. While I don’t think he was that funny, unlike them, he played to win. Since then, Phan has become the headlining act at comedy clubs nationwide and recently made his acting debut.

Weeks one and two this season narrowed the field, and in week three the 10 chosen comics moved into a mansion in Hollywood. Among the cast of characters are two brothas, Corey Holcomb and Alonzo Bodden (Real World never dared put two Black men in one house); an openly gay man, Ant; the obligatory “weird guy” Jay London; and now five other male and female comics of varying abilities. One woman, Bonnie McFarlane quickly displayed a cocky attitude but not a lot of humor, and was eliminated when she was forced to face off against another comedian John Heffron.

While comedians make their living getting other people to laugh, this show illustrates how a deep need for attention and validation is a powerful motivator. The pressure of living under one roof and facing elimination creates highs as tense as any Survivor competition and lows as devastating as a Simon Cowell critique. It’s not just about on-stage ability, but a test of their show business mettle. And it’s a lot of fun to watch.