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Friday, January 6, 2017

New Year, Same Story: Same Crime, Different Charges

It's less than a week into the New Year and already we're seeing the same issues of unequal treatment and harsher punishment of P.O.C. when it comes to the American justice systems. On January 5 the news story began circulating of four Chicago youths who Facebook live streamed themselves attacking and tormenting a special needs teenager. Undoubtedly this is a terrible act, and all individuals involved should be punished for their actions. However, examining the case one can't help but notice a stark contrast to a similar case from last year involving similar circumstances with the only difference initially being the race of the attackers.
On October 23, 2015, an Idaho mentally disabled teenager was attacked by three of his peers – R.K. Howard (18), Tanner Ward (17), and an unnamed juvenile- following the team's football practice. Not only did the three teens physically assault the young man, but also sexually violated him with a coat hanger. Ward initiated the attack while Howard (pictured above) kicked the coat hanger several times while it was inserted into the victim’s rectum. It was an equally horrible and aggressive act, with stark unexpected results. Just last December, Howard reached a plea deal to avoid jail time despite his heinous crime. While initially charged with sexual penetration by use of a foreign object, Howard (miraculously) was able to plead to felony injury to a child and will receive only two to three years of probation and community service.
As swiftly as the story circulated, the four Chicago teens have been detained and each charged with a hate crime, felony aggravated kidnapping, aggravated unlawful restraint and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Their arrest took less than a day. The investigation involving Howard and company lasted several months before any charges were officially filed. In case you haven’t concluded, Howard is white while the four teens are African American.
The contrast between Howard's charges and that of the four Chicago individuals is alarming but not surprising when examining the recent string of charges reduced or dismissed against individuals who commit crimes against African American. Howard (and likely Ward) will be released back into society having learned nothing from his actions and likely to enact his hateful views and thoughts on others in the near future. The four Chicago teens, however, are highly likely to be processed and sent to prison without any type of rehabilitation, despite the chances that each were/are special needs students.
I want to remain hopeful that 2017 will be the year that equality will be incorporated into the notion of American justice for all but it is undoubtedly past due time to reconstruct our American justice system, because until we do it fails us all. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Nate Parker's Birth of Self Sabotage

Nate Parker’s (previously) highly acclaimed film, "Birth of a Nation" opened over the weekend, however, despite rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival premiere, and an estimated $10 million opening, the film is being called by many a flop after only reaching $7 million at the box office. Being that the film focuses on such an incredible story many are left scratching their heads wondering what went wrong. Well, of course, there is the controversy surrounding previous rape allegations between Parker himself and Jean Celestin, Parker’s “Birth of a Nation” co-writer. As interest and buzz in the film grew, journalist thought it appropriate to revisit the decade-old story, despite both men being acquitted in the court of law. Why the case resurfaced, I do not know. Do I think it was purposely resurfaced to distract from the film’s success? Yes, but that’s just the conspiracy theorist that lives inside my head. Like all of us, Parker likely has a past filled with topics he probably would rather not discuss, but living in the public eye opens one up to public scrutiny and one has to be appropriately prepared to handle such scrutiny. Parker is not.
As Parker made the rounds promoting and discussing his film, predictably the case was continuously mentioned in hopes of being further explored, and probably as a method of frustrating Parker, and it worked; Parker never recovered. In every interview, with every mention of the subject you could see Parker’s blood boiling and anger building. Things especially became tense during his interview with Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts when he was probed about the case. When asked whether he felt any remorse for the situation, Parker vehemently refused to address the situation, instead stating that he’d “addressed the situation enough already,” and ultimately wanted to focus on his pending film opening. Understandably, Parker’s anger ultimately got the best of him but it’s not his anger that damaged the momentum of his film, it’s his lack of accountability.
Regardless of his acquittal, something transpired in 1999 between Parker, Celestin and the now deceased woman that undoubtedly scarred all involved for life. In addressing the allegations, I don’t think anyone ever wanted Parker to take full responsibility for what transpired, but undoubtedly there should have been some type of remorse, or at the minimum sympathy, for the situation. Parker’s ultimate and final response to the situation at hand, “I was proven innocent and I’m not going to apologize for that.” So, if viewers were slightly discouraged from seeing his film simply because of his involvement in the case any chance of him winning them over vanished with his stark demeanor, callous attitude, and disinterest in restoring the public’s faith in him as a man.
Watching his previous interviews, it’s clear that Parker has a ‘take it or leave it’ type of attitude that easily limits potential and growth. An attitude that surely hurts him as a film-maker. Earlier this year Parker further alienated potential viewers and audiences with his comments on playing a homosexual character. During the Essence Music Festival, he was quoted saying, “I refuse to allow any piece of work to emasculate me for very specific reasons…That kind of shrinks the pool of available material, but the material that I am blessed to do is material that I can be proud of, that my kids can watch, that my grandmother can watch. And I think that those are the things that over time create legacies.” No, what creates legacies is superb acting and a dedication to the body of art. Parker, like many African American men, has a skewed vision and definition of what masculinity is and means, which only continues to damage African American society. While he may believe he’s taking a stance against Hollywood’s effeminating black men, Parker is pushing the dangers mindset of hyper-masculinity which continues to burden African American males. Furthermore, Parker claims to have taken an interest in Nate Turner’s story as he believes Turner is an important figure who was almost erased from history; what about the stories of Bayard Rustin, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, and other notable black gay men of whose important stories are often overlooked and are being erased?
Self-sabotage aside, there were forces beyond Parker’s control that also contributed to low turnout in theaters. The very weekend of the opening the southeastern coast was wrecked by hurricane Matthew, which devastated Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina. Although there hasn’t the number of theaters in these states featuring the movie has not been disclosed, I am sure this contributed to the lack of viewers. And of course, the movie opened at the beginning of the month where money is often notoriously set aside for rent and bills. However, with Parker’s alienation of women, gay black men, and their respective allies his audience becomes severely limited.
There is still time for Parker and “Birth of a Nation” to recover. The first step is to remove Parker as the face and spokesperson for promotion. While ultimately difficult to do being that Parker has placed himself in such a vital position for the movie (As the writer, director, and star) but if he allows one of his more (dare I say) likable costars on the press trail interest in the movie may begin to grow again. If audiences are continually put off by his character as a person then they are likely not to support him. After all, Parker does not have the luxury (whiteness) of his peers who have faced similar scrutiny for past transgressions, i.e. Woody Allen and Mel Gibson. If Parker does choose to fall into the background and allow viewers to enjoy his movie for the masterpiece it may be, Parker may want to try some sensitivity training, as he speaks louder for his works than his works do for themselves. In the meantime, hopefully, interest in Nate Turner’s story will overshadow Nate Parker’s and his legacy will prevail at the box office.

Luke Cage: The Unlikely, Uncanny, Cultural Icon

It has been twelve years since Marvel  last produced a superhero interpretation featuring an African American lead, and with the arrival of Luke Cage many of us can stop holding our breaths and rejoice ‘it’s about time.’ Starring Mike Coulter, Luke Cage arrives on Netflix as the premier superhero for hire and in an age of Black Lives Matter protest and rampant police brutality throughout the nation Luke Cage definitely resonates a lot with today’s modern issues. Yet, undeniably the hero has always signified the struggles persons of color, particularly men, have faced living in America throughout the years.
            First created and introduced by Marvel in 1972 during the Blaxploitation era, the initial character of Luke Cage was at first a stereotypical, comic relief character. Today (thankfully) that isn’t so much the case. One thing that sets Luke apart from other heroes is the origin of his powers. The backdrop to his origin is that Luke, real name Carl Lucas, is sent to prison after being framed for possessing drugs. This parallels with real life events and the corrupt American  justice system which disproportionately gives harsher sentences to African Americans for crimes than it does white peers who commit the same offenses. There are some who would argue against this but look at the case of Brock Turner as compared to that of Cory Batey.
It is in prison that Luke selected by a scientist to be used for experimentation. This too parallels the troubles African Americans have faced throughout the years as it is an allusion to the Tuskegee syphilis experiments that were enacted on African American men who were tricked into believing they were receiving health care when indeed they were being injected with the disease. In the comics, Luke is enlisted as a volunteer, for money purposes, yet is never disclosed the true intent of the experiment. Due to interference from a sadistic guard, who enjoys torturing Luke, the experiment goes awry and Luke gains his enhanced strength and unbreakable skin allowing him to escape prison and return home to Harlem where he would eventually become the hero Power Man.
As a hero, Luke is definitely unconventional. Drifting from the Marvel moniker “with great power comes great responsibility,” Luke adopts the identity Power Man and becomes a hero for hire. This may seem outrageous in comparison to his heroic peers, but unlike those same peers, because Cage doesn’t traditionally “look” like a hero no one will take him serious as a one. This addresses the real life struggles countless African Americans have faced throughout the years; being just as qualified to perform a job duty, yet being overlooked simply because of skin color. Cage, however, does not let this deter him, and in the comics purposely creates a flashy outlandish costume to distinguish himself and draw attention to himself as a new bonafide hero to whoever can afford him. He in turns uses his powers for good, but more importantly maintains a way to support himself in a world not very supportive of black men.
Ultimately the greatest cultural significance of Luke Cage is his super durable and impenetrable skin. In an age of Black Lives Matter and rampant police brutality throughout the country, it’s no secret how handy having bulletproof skin can be, especially for a black man living in America. As Marvels first mainstream televised black superhero, Luke Cage proudly (and effortlessly) pays homage to the many lives lost to police brutality from the recent killing of Keith L. Scott to Trayvon Marton, who inspires the hero’s live version signature hoodie. While Marvel’s previously explored heroes are no strangers to taking on crime filled cities and corrupt police officers and politicians, Luke Cage is the first to do so while alluding to real-world scenarios and issues helping to solidify the character’s cultural appeal and impact.
*The first season of Luke Cage premiered on Netflix September 30, ’16 and within the first weekend caused the streaming service to crash.*